One Key Way CrossFit Disciples Are Hurting Their Health

Exhausted man lying on the ground after a brutal CrossFit workout | Source: iStock

Exhausted man lying on the ground after a brutal CrossFit workout | iStock.com

CrossFit has swept the nation. For the uninitiated, CrossFit is a specific type of workout — or “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity,” to put it in the creator’s words. You’ve likely seen CrossFit gyms around your town, as its popularity has grown enormously over the past several years. It’s a novel concept that, while having earned the ire of skeptics and many doctors, has also won over millions of converts.

CrossFit is new and exciting and gives the traditional workout a twist. It’s very intense and fast, and if you’re in a class, you’re typically surrounded by several other people who are incredibly enthusiastic about what they’re doing. Compare that to a typical workout, during which you may find yourself alone and fighting to stay motivated, and it’s easy to see why this trend has caught on.

Even still, disciples are also putting themselves at risk for injury when participating in certain exercises. There are numerous sources out there that dig into why CrossFit isn’t necessarily good, mostly because the intensity and speed associated with specific movements increase the odds you’ll get hurt. While it seems to work for some people, that doesn’t mean it’s the perfect system.

Case in point, some new research has pointed to one specific area in which many CrossFitters are dropping the ball — and it’s actually leading to some health problems. The good news? It’s very easy to fix.

The problem itself is CrossFitters hate to take rest days.

Rest days

Man in a deep exhausted sleep

Man in a deep exhausted sleep | iStock.com/Ammentorp Photography

Crossfitters can attest to the addictiveness of the workouts, and for that reason, many people like to go to classes several days in a row. While it’s hard to knock anyone’s willingness to work out every day, doing so deprives your body of much-needed recovery time. And when you don’t get the rest you need, you can actually compromise your system.

A new study, published in Frontiers in Physiology, has found actual evidence that stringing multiple days of CrossFit workouts together actually does have real, verifiable effects on your body’s ability to recover. That can lead to impaired immune function — meaning you can get sick or succumb to injury more easily.

Researchers had CrossFitters work out on consecutive days to measure their body’s physical responses to gauge whether or not the participants were experiencing any negative effects of consecutive workouts. “They found that the workouts provoked a strong metabolic response and reduced the levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines, which are proteins produced by white blood cells that act to dampen inflammation,” a corresponding blog post reads. “This means that the consecutive workouts were actually suppressing normal immune function.”

In other words, you need to rest — or take rest days more seriously — in order to keep your body’s immune system functioning properly.

Avoiding injury

runner sitting in the grass holding a leg injury

A runner nursing a leg injury | iStock.com

Of course, this concept isn’t only for CrossFitters; getting enough rest is essential for everybody. But if you’re a fitness nut or tend to work out a lot, you need to make sure you get plenty of sleep and downtime, allowing your body to recover, build muscle, and fight off injuries. For CrossFit fans specifically, that means working out no more than two days in a row.

“For non-athlete subjects who want to improve their health and quality of life through CrosFit training, we recommend that they decrease their training volume after two consecutive days of high-intensity training to prevent possible immunosuppression,” said Dr. Ramires Tibana, lead author of the study.

If you find you just can’t take a break, for whatever reason, there are plenty of ways you can spend your rest days that allow for scratching that itch. Dr. Tibana even points out a few: “Regenerative training (with low intensity and volume), massage, and cryotherapy.”

The point, though, is that you should be giving yourself a break. CrossFit, specifically, can be infectious and exciting, making it hard to want step away — even if you’re injured. But you need to take your body’s best interests to heart if you’re serious about getting in shape and living a healthier lifestyle. Rest is essential, and you won’t do yourself any favors by overlooking its benefits.