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I don't think there's much evidence to demonstrate that high-rep olympic lifts done by a trained person are any more dangerous then low-rep lifts at high weight. Yes, if you don't have good technique you're asking for trouble, but that's not what we're talking about here.

I don't think form breaks down after a few reps nearly as much as you say. There's probably a point at which it will, but there's a lot of room for breakdown that doesn't meaningfully increase your risk of injury.

> but the competitive culture pressures you into continuing

Hogwash. Each person is responsible for their own actions. Yes, competition might help people push themselves, but that shouldn't turn you into a mindless machine that will self destruct just to get the win. If it does, then you have no one to blame but yourself.




> Hogwash. Each person is responsible for their own actions.

I have observed that hazing exists, including among adults. People die in hazing events, or are subjected to physical harm, coerced sexual activity, and emotionally abusive behaviors.

As you say, "Each person is responsible for their own actions." Using only that logic as a guide, then everyone who dies in a hazing event - in those cases where it's voluntary to join the organization which practices hazing - is solely responsible for their own death.

I do not take so narrow a view of that. We also have a responsibility for others as well. It isn't only the hazee who is responsible but also those who were involved or knew about the hazing but did nothing to stop it.

Similarly, while I agree that people are responsible for their own well-being in training, I use my same reasoning to say that they are also partially responsible for the well-being of others.

If you see someone else using equipment in a dangerous and fool-hardy way, with a high-likelihood that they will be seriously hurt, will you do nothing?

If you notice that week after week people doing a specific exercise end up with twisted backs, will you do nothing?

Or will you encourage people to work at it and try harder? Does culpability ever exist?


When did we jump from encouraging someone to improve themselves to hazing? This had got to be one of the biggest straw men I've ever seen.


Really? After nearly 6 years on Hacker News? I should get an award! (Though I suspect you are exaggerating, so there will be no prize for me tonight.)

Since you don't like it, take out all references to it. I said "I agree that people are responsible for their own well-being in training [but] they are also partially responsible for the well-being of others." Surely that's a stand-alone statement.

The rest of my post gave examples in an exercise context where I think it would be unconscionable to say "Each person is responsible for their own actions. ... you have no one to blame but yourself."

The entire point of the essay is, of course, that at some point "encouraging someone to improve themselves" may become "encouraging someone to hurt themselves". At some point there can be a justifiable claim of culpability, and coaches have been sued for bad advice.

To deny that culpability doesn't exist, and that it's only the person's recklessness which caused the problem is to be blind to both ethics and the law.


I don't deny that culpability exists. I think that normal CrossFit gyms won't come close to meeting the criteria for culpability. I've been to several gyms and I've never seen anything even close.


The statement you objected to was "the competitive culture pressures you into continuing." You vociferously denied the concept - "Hogwash!" - and denied any sense of culpability ("you have no one to blame but yourself").

Now you say that there may be culpability, but that "it won't come close in normal gyms".

Thank you for changing your mind!

In any case, the evidence presented is that involuntary urination, throwing up, and rhabdomyolysis are three example of things which occur at a higher rate at CrossFit gyms than others.

These are not healthy things for the body, and are to be avoided, yes? If the competitive culture pressure is not an influence for the increased rate, then what is? Poor training practices?

Or is the presented data incorrect?


> the competitive culture pressures you into continuing

This was referring to CrossFit competitive pressure specifically, not general competitive pressure. I've been involved with CrossFit since 2007 and I've never seen anything close to that level of pressure. You invoked the legal definition of culpability, and if you can't establish that, then my statement "you have no one to blame but yourself" is exactly what you have to come back to. Even TFA doesn't invoke that argument, because that would change the focus to individual trainers rather than CrossFit as an organization. Are there trainers that would lose a culpability lawsuit? Mayyyyyybe. But those are going to be very rare and extreme cases that are impossible for CrossFit HQ to prevent. Also, that's why gyms have you sign waivers. The waiver informs you in no uncertain terms that this stuff is dangerous.

So, we agree that culpability is not the subject here. That brings us to your new point: that it's somehow a problem that CrossFit has a higher rate of rhabdo. That's like saying that surfers are more likely to be the victims of shark attacks. No duh. IOTTMCO. Shark attacks are not healthy things for the body and are to be avoided, yes? Of course. Looking life with that view effectively paralyzes you. Everything is risky, so it's not about avoiding risky things. It's about making a tradeoff.

> Or is the presented data incorrect?

There is no presented data. TFA was nothing but anecdotes. Scary, sensationalist anecdotes. And for every one of those, I've got thousands of overwhelmingly positive anecdotes. In my case I got stronger and more fit. My body fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure decreased and I have actual data to prove it. I also noticed increased quickness, agility, and reaction time in everyday life.

So we agree there is a risk. But I (and many others) believe that the rewards are more than worth the risk. If you are one of the rare people who has gotten rhabdo while doing CrossFit, then you probably will be less comfortable with that tradeoff. And that's ok too.


> You invoked the legal definition of culpability

I invoked culpability. There a legal definition, yes, but there's also a moral meaning. I meant to include both, and not limit it to legal.

> TFA doesn't invoke that argument, because that would change the focus to individual trainers rather than CrossFit as an organization

Why would it?

You need only look at the history of consumer protection laws to see counter-examples. Consider the classic "Unsafe at Any Speed". It covers many examples where automotive manufacturers know that certain practices were unsafe, but did not change them, for various reasons. Some were considered unimportant and ignored, others were "too expensive", or bad user interface design, or putting design over engineering.

One chapter was even about how drivers were considered to be the only ones to blame for accidents and injuries. But the manufacturer, more than the car dealer, must share culpability.

I do not believe that what the car companies were doing was illegal, so they were not legally culpable. They certainly were morally culpable, and we passed laws to make those practices be illegal. Now we have much, much safer cars than in the 1950s.

You see this pattern in other consumer protection laws, like in the pharmaceutical industry. If a drug has known serious side-effects, but the company decides to hide it, or doesn't have the systems set up to handle reports about side-effects, then it's the company which is most culpable, and not the doctor who prescribed the drug.

Sound familiar?

Culpability can be shared. I have no problems saying that the person exercising, the trainer, and the organization who licenses the name and training style, may have shared culpability. Even if it isn't illegal.

> that's why gyms have you sign waivers. The waiver informs you in no uncertain terms that this stuff is dangerous.

Ahh, so the car companies should have required people to sign a paper saying "driving is dangerous. I accept all responsibility", and not been forced to change a thing. Great solution!

Three states don't allow liability waivers. Does this mean that CrossFit or any other sports can't exist in those three states? (Since Montana, Louisiana, and Vermont have sports clubs, I conclude the answer is "no.")

I don't think you understand how the law regards liability. Shark attacks are an inherent risk in surfing. Getting hit by a baseball is an inherent risk in playing baseball.

But some things are not inherent risks. If a coach forces the surf team to hit the waves when there's been a shark report, and someone gets attacked by a shark, then that's not an inherent risk. (Eg, once while at the beach the life guards called us out of the water because a helicopter flying by saw a shark in the water.)

Let's look at concussion. More people have had concussions than rhabdomyolysis, so it's easier to find information about it.

See for example, "new research suggests that the medical staffs responsible for protecting college athletes often don't have the authority to do so." ( http://chronicle.com/article/Trainers-Butt-Heads-With/141333... ), which will likely affect an NCAA class-action concussion lawsuit http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/writer/jeremy-fowle...

Or there's the tentative NFL settlement, where "The NFL has agreed to spend close to $800 million to diagnose and compensate potentially thousands of retired players who develop dementia and other brain disorders they blame on the violent, bone-crunching collisions that pro football has long celebrated in its highlight reels."

Or the new lawsuit by four ex-NFL players suing "the league and its helmet maker, claiming they hid information about the dangers of brain injury." http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000237961/article/four-...

You want to bet that they signed liability waivers?

Thus, we see that people who are engaged in sports, where there's of course an inherent risk of danger, and where they have signed liability waivers, can still reasonably sue because of other reasons.

And the reason - I am not a lawyer - is likely because at some point it's not an inherent risk, like you think it is, but caused by negligence or even gross and criminal negligence.

Here's what's supposed to happen in a case like this. (In my optimistic world.) CrossFit-the-organization has now heard that there might be a problem. They gather information about the rates of rhabdomyolysis and other severe training problems, while also working to ensure that this purported issue is either not real, or to realize that it is an issue and work to reduce it.

Failure to do so is, in my non-lawyer, pro-consumer viewpoint, gross negligence and therefore not subject to liability waivers, because that information should be available in order for people to make an informed decision.

> TFA was nothing but anecdotes

More correctly, it's epidemological evidence that may or may not indicate a deeper persistent risk. Others have written about the same topic. It appears widely understood that some members view vomiting during a workout as a 'badge of honor', as http://health.yahoo.net/articles/fitness/inside-cult-crossfi... says. This doesn't sound like simple friend-of-a-friend hearsay.

Given persistent "anecdotes" as you call it, coming from what appears to be non-correlated sources, means it's worth investigating. Just like early reports of Pinto rear-end accidents, or of the fatal side-effects of fenfluramine/phentermine, lead to changes. And lawsuits.

That's not to say that early reports are necessarily correct, or even presumptively correct. My point is that if it's correct, then 1) culpability doesn't have to lie only in the person exercising, but also in the trainer and/or the organization, and 2) failure to investigate and possibly rectify this possibility is (or at least should be) negligence in its own right.

Your argument point seem to be that 1) it isn't correct and 2) there are plenty of benefits and must be included. Those are both good points, but only related to the point I was making.

> In my case I got stronger and more fit.

Congratulations. For me it was dancing. About 25 hours per week at my peak, and over the years including salsa, swing, Scottish country dance, Swedish folk dance, Argentinian tango, modern dance, and flamenco.

> I (and many others) believe that the rewards are more than worth the risk

Your logic cannot be used as the basis for a good sense of morality. For one, you haven't established that these are on the same balance scale.

If there is a systemic problem with the current CrossFit training method then it might be that a small change leads to a 50x reduction in rhabdomyolysis rates while not affecting the benefits for people like you. Double-plus-good!

For another, if known risks have been deliberately concealed from you, then you cannot make a proper risk/reward judgement.

And as you pointed out, your observations are subject to survivor bias.


The original subject of this sub-thread was the role of competitive pressure. Your long and informative post has gone off into different territory where it sounds like we are in agreement.

> some members view vomiting during a workout as a 'badge of honor'

This is a different issue from the question of rhabdo. It's obviously a much less serious condition. And for the record, I don't hold that view.

> For me it was dancing.

Awesome, me too. Mostly Argentine Tango. If you've danced in NYC recently, we might have seen each other. :)


You're heavily underestimating group pressure. Have you never been in a 'chug, chug, chug, chug!' type of situation?

Peer pressure makes people do LOTS of things they wouldn't otherwise do.

In a certain sense, they're responsible for their actions. But it's silly to ignore the role that group persuasion has. If Crossfit creates pressure for harmful actions, then they share responsibility.


People pushing you to go harder in a workout and "friends" pushing you in a chug-chug situation are not at all the same things. I choose to steer clear of those "friends", but that's beside the point. People cheering for you can never know your state, and there's really very little external pressure. If a coach is screaming at me and I don't feel it's safe to do more, I stop. And I'm sure that's what CrossFit will say too. You can't blame CrossFit for random people with a broken internal governor doing their workouts unsafely. CrossFit workouts are a powerful tool. When someone shoots themselves in the foot with it, they are the ones responsible assuming they have been educated properly. Hence Uncle Rhabdo.


The point is that it matters at the margins.

You'll stop. And some people will foolishly keep going without the coach.

But are you seriously arguing that the screaming coach has no marginal impact?


There are people that would encourage others to do street racing, take dangerous drugs and light their farts for youtube video. And there always will be idiots who do it. That can happen in a gym setting too. So what? There are dumb people. Try not to be one of them. I think this message is universal and doesn't have anything to do with CF. What is the message that has something to do with it?


>>There are dumb people. Try not to be one of them.

Peer pressure can make smart people do dumb things. And since Crossfit has peer pressure and competition built into its very core, the rates of injuries and potentially-fatal medical conditions like rhabdo are a lot higher.


Well, I think it depends on how you approach to it. It doesn't have to be a competition with anyone but yourself. I agree that tracking results is at the core of CF, and when there's something measurable in a group setting, there is ample space for the competition. But it doesn't have to be - the choice is for the person to make. If you can let your mind and not your ego drive you, then you don't have to harm yourself for no reason.

As for peer pressure - I think when a person above 22 or so of age is not able to withstand peer pressure to do something he thinks is harmful for him/her, there's something wrong happened on the way. Adults are supposed to be able to say no. Of course, you may make a choice to push yourself and take a risk, but that's what being responsible adult is all about - seeing where are the bounds of acceptable risk (and those can be different from person to person) are for you. Of course, again, good teacher is important - so you could always can consult what would be good for you on this exercise. Good coach can see how you do the exercise and tell if this weight or this form is good for you or you have to scale it down. That's where you have to, again, master your ego and be responsible too.

And of course it is a given that you shouldn't go to a group which has different views on how competitive it should be and pressures you into something you're not ready for. There's a lot of difference between supporting and cheering somebody when one chooses to push oneself and pressuring somebody into doing something one is not ready for. If you find yourself in a group that does the latter and not the former - just leave. There are a lot of better settings.


I wholly agree with you that dumb people exist in every sport/field/hobby/interest, but I think the comparison is unfair.

Obtaining fitness is generally a universal goal, whereas obtaining skill/popularity/fame in street racing fringe to begin with.

To me, the issue that many people seem to have with CF is that it's "unsafe" for most people despite it being marketed as such. And this being due to the irregular quality of the coaches (which is apparently related to the way HQ runs itself).

Personally, I think if you're lifting some multiple of your BW in any capacity you're not part of the norm, you're several deviations away from that, even if most people have the capacity to become that strong if given the time/training/discipline.


It is no more unsafe than any other strenuous exercise program or any other activity that involves exerting oneself seriously. As for quality, of course quality varies - no HQ can ever ensure every coach is good and of course following one specific methodology by itself does not make the coach good. In fact, I was always told (not in CF but in other training context) many times that choosing good teacher is more important than choosing style/methodology - styles have their merits and demerits, but you can only appreciate them if your teacher is good.

So if the point is that you need to approach CF carefully with an eye for a good teacher - this is absolutely true.

>>> Personally, I think if you're lifting some multiple of your BW in any capacity

Hopefully, one day :) So far I don't think I have reached 2x of my BW in any exercise. But I'm working on it, let's see what comes of it in a couple of years :)


While obtaining fitness is generally a more popular goal than obtaining fame in street racing, I wouldn't call it generally universal; at least not in the US.

Studies have shown that the majority of people in the US get far less exercise, and even move far less than their grandparents did. While there is a sizable minority in the US who engage in regular exercise; I would probably describe Crossfit as a fringe activity here - albeit a currently faddish and loudly marketed one.


>I don't think form breaks down after a few reps nearly as much as you say.

Then you don't know much about training the Olympic lifts or power movements in general. Take a look at this graph -- http://i.imgur.com/vFP0D58.png -- from Practical Programming for Strength Training (Rippetoe, Kilgore, & Pendlay, pg. 131). "Figure 5-3. Electromyogram (EMG) and force production tracings from a high-rep set. Note that the muscle fatigues as more repetitions are completed and that motor control erodes with fatigue, as evidenced by the amplitude scatter of the EMG tracing. This effect can result from a single set, as presented here, or can be the cumulative result of repeated sets." Even by the seventh rep of a single set there's a noticable breakdown shown in the graph. Multiple high rep sets are going to show more and more issues of coordination from even the first rep, especially mixed into circuit training with other high intensity exercises like you'll find in Crossfit WODs.


I actually own that book and have read the whole thing...most of it more than once. I'm not saying that motor control doesn't go down. I'm saying that it doesn't go down enough to make it dangerous at the lighter weights. I have been doing high and low rep Olympic lifts since 2007. The only injury I ever got was on a 1RM clean and jerk. That might have been technique related, but it's probably more related to me having a history of previous injury which happened before I ever heard about CrossFit.


For the love of God please stop with the anecdotal evidence.


I don't see you busting out any peer-reviewed studies to support your claim. If you don't have that, then it's your word against mine. The fact that most of the people who have done these movements do them in low reps and really high weight doesn't prove your point either. I have actually done the movements under question in both rep schemes, and it doesn't sound like you have.


>>Hogwash. Each person is responsible for their own actions. Yes, competition might help people push themselves, but that shouldn't turn you into a mindless machine that will self destruct just to get the win. If it does, then you have no one to blame but yourself.

Bullshit. A Crossfit trainer telling you to do high-rep barbell deadlifts is the equivalent of a doctor prescribing you ten times the dose of a drug you need. What happens when you are hospitalized? Is it your fault because "each person is responsible for their actions"?


No, they're not at all equivalent. As I wrote elsewhere in this thread, in the six years I've been doing them high-rep olympic lifts have never injured me, but a 1RM clean and jerk has. So until you can come to me with a large scale study supporting your point, you are just making baseless assertions that are contradicted by my personal (albeit anecdotal) experience.


The quality of discussion on HN has fallen so far that we are now using anecdotal evidence to argue that doing a complex multi-joint mechanical movement with heavy weights in a high-rep, high-tempo fashion is not dangerous, and the burden of proof is on dem non-Crossfitters to use large scale studies to prove that it is.

I, too, have written elsewhere in this thread. Specifically, I wrote that these lifts are so complex that Olympic athletes spend years learning and mastering proper form, and go through very strict regimens to ensure their form does not break under heavier loads. There's a reason for that: the human body operates within certain parameters and going outside those parameters in the name of "pushing your limits" can permanently cripple you.

So there is your "large scale study:" look at how Olympic athletes do it, because that's the way to do it safely and without destroying your muscles, joints and internal organs.


That's not your large scale study because they are focused on something completely different--namely max weight. A 135 lb clean and jerk is quite light in the grand scheme of things, but it can do a whole lot for your fitness when viewed in a holistic program that includes other exercises. Anecdotal evidence may not have the weight of a large-scale study, but it's not meaningless. In the absence of any other evidence, it is an indication that the mean probably tilts towards one side. And I have yet to see any real evidence that high rep olympic lifts are dangerous other than the non sequitur that they're complex motor movements.


Regarding the reps and high weight.

Westside Barbell changes program structure from 3 sets of 5 repetitions into 5 sets of 3 repetitions (or even 8 sets of 2 repetitions) precisely because it allows athlete to control form of exercise. The volume is the same, the breakdown is different. As Westside Barbell is trying to keep traumas low, it is a good example why you should not perform complex lifts in long series.


Can you expand on that? I've been doing 3 * 5. I prefer injury minimization to strength gains.

What kind of rest period do these use between sets? And do you have data on rep form decomposition at 5 vs. 3?


Okay, here's the link: http://www.westside-barbell.com/index.php/the-westside-barbe...

The relevant part:

In the squat, what is too heavy to train with and too light to train with? In Russia , much research revealed that 65-82.5% of a 1 rep max is best to build strength in the squat. They suggest 2-6 reps per set.

At Westside Barbell we do sets of 2 for 2 important reasons. One, more than 2 reps tends Cause bicipital tendonitis and shoulder discomfort. This pain is commonly felt while benching but, in fact, comes from squatting. The bar shifts to some degree, causing damage. Having your hands spaced too close on the bar may also be the culprit. Two, in a power meet, we don't do reps so if we do 12 sets of 2 reps we are getting 12 first reps per workout. If you do 4 sets of six reps, then you get only 4 first reps.

This is closest thing I was able to find. The site was reorganized after I visited it last time and many PDF articles are in HTML format.

I highly recommend Westside Barbell, because it operates using principles, not the hardwired percentages and prescribed exercises. You can build your own conjugate system, for your goals or abilities. I did.

I also recommend another system, also seen here in HN, Hypertrophy-Specific Training: http://www.hypertrophy-specific.com/hst_index.html

HST also incorporates strategic deconditioning and high-rep phase to lower trauma rate.




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