CrossFit: Know Your Goals and Your Limitations!

Mira Rasmussen

CrossFit Inc. claims, “The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind.” Though this statement may be true, a good trainer should still be able to modify or exchange an exercise so it works for the individual’s needs—not just the program. Most of us, no matter what our athletic ability, have some degree of postural misalignments or muscular imbalances that affect the way we move. When we put a great amount of stress on these weaknesses, our body naturally tries to compensate. And unfortunately, the body compensates in ways that deteriorate our health instead of improve it. Therefore, knowing your limitations is crucial to meet your fitness goals and improve your health. In this blog, we’ll discuss just that.

Disclaimer: Before starting any exercise program, please consult with your healthcare provider.

CrossFit notoriously compromises proper form for a more intense overload effect, claiming the result is superior fitness. In reality, going into CrossFit unprepared puts you in a very vulnerable situation where you must know your limits and be responsible for your own safety. This can become exceptionally hard in a competitive environment like CrossFit, where its method of group training can bring on peer pressure to perform. Your peers may be shouting, “You can do it!” But the question remains: should you? For some, who’ve progressed through levels of training, built their musculoskeletal foundation [see part one of this blog series], absolutely. For those that haven’t fortified their body yet or are pushing past pain, giving into irrational encouragement is the worst thing you can do.

Be aware of the way you feel as you train. At first, you may have trouble distinguishing between muscle pain and other types of pain. If your muscle is burning because you are working as hard as possible, push! That kind of burn will only bring rewards. The burning will stop as soon as you have completed the exercise, only leaving fatigue in its place. However, if you feel pain in your joints or a strained muscle, stop the exercise and reassess your form or the weight you are using. If there’s still pain with the movement, choose a different exercise. “No pain, no gain” only leads to injury, not achievement. Many injuries start with micro-traumas, small injuries that build up in an area throughout time, accumulating into an injury that can’t be ignored. So it’s important to acknowledge even small amounts of pain. A knowledgeable trainer will help identify movement dysfunction before injury ensues, ultimately using exercise to advance your abilities. In part, knowing your limitations means you are willing to put your health ahead of your ego. No one wants to disappoint a crowd and everyone wants to perform at some level, but the best way to identify muscular imbalances or postural mis-alignments is to have a qualified individual spot your form and to speak up when something doesn’t feel right.

Another limitation to be aware of is your overall exertion level in high intensity training. You may have heard of a condition called Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (“Rhabdo”), a state of muscle breakdown that is life-threatening as it releases byproducts into the bloodstream which harm the kidneys, possibly to the point of failure. It’s important to understand that every exercise breaks down muscle tissue to a certain extent. Then, at rest, your body responds to that damage by rebuilding muscle so it’s stronger than it was before. This is how your body builds muscle, which is why it’s important to give a good exercise your best effort. However, when your body is pushed to a point of overload it can’t recover from, you put yourself at risk for Rhabdo. The body is a marvelous machine, but the stimulus-to-risk balance must be respected to attain superior fitness.

It’s telling that CrossFit is well-associated with this condition, or what Crossfitters call, “Uncle Rhabdo.” They promote t-shirts and posters of a clown suffering, hooked up to a dialysis machine, with its internal organs hanging out. Some say it’s a fun way to point out the inherent risks of CrossFit, but, to me, it makes a mockery of the risks and feeds of the egos of naive participants, making it a point of distinction whether they can withstand this sport’s possibly lethal effects. In regards to those suffering from Rhabdo, Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, admits, “From our perspective, it seems abundantly clear that these folks were exposed to too much work in too short a time.” I agree with him. CrossFit claims they are taking steps toward this problem, but without the authority over programing in their affiliate locations, it’s doubtful these promises will lead to actual changes. In any type of training, give your best effort possible with your current physical limitations in mind. In doing so, you will become empowered instead of injured.

In summary, this blog has discussed many aspects of training and has compared them to CrossFit, which is a high intensity power and performance sport. With any sport the benefits of playing may outweigh the risks associated to it—if that’s your sport. However, if you are trying to achieve general health, a specific fitness goal, or just trying to improve your appearance, then it’s best to find a trainer who can create a training program around you.

Below is a method for outlining your goals, so you know what to achieve and what training will help you do so.

There are two types of goals: progress goals and process goals. You need to identify both to make achievements.

      • A progress goal is a goal that when achieved demonstrates your progress.
      • A process goal is a written commitment describing how you are going to attain your progress goal.

For example, a popular goal is to lose weight, but a process goal describes the exercise and nutrition process you will follow to achieve it.

A few other guidelines to follow when goal setting are:

      • Clearly define your objectives.Which goal do you want to achieve? If there are many, which one is your priority?
        • Examples: develop muscles, slim down, improve performance, maintain health, etcetera.
      • Quantify your objective:
        • Lose five pounds of fat in one month, gain ten pounds of muscle in six months, train for a sport or event that is in six months, etcetera.
      • Questions to ask before you start a training program are:
        • Why am I exercising; for sport or for health?
        • Does this training method increase my risk of injury? Is it necessary to accomplish my goals?

Good luck on your journey to fitness! I know by applying the principles I’ve outlined you will be empowered to find what works for you. Please respond with your questions so I may better assist you in developing and achieving your goals!

To view Part 1 of this blog series, CLICK HERE. To view Part 2 of this blog series, CLICK HERE.

About the Author
An exercise physiologist and health professional for the last eight years, Mira Rasmussen, BS, ACSM, is passionate about personalizing the path to wellness and being a guide through that life-changing process. She has worked with all populations and has utilized her psycho-physiological skills in eating disorder recovery, addiction, corporate wellness, personal training, and nutrition. Mira has worked side by side renowned dietitians, doctors and psycho-therapists using physical fitness as a vital tool for clients to reach and sustain a well-balanced life.

Disclaimer: This blog post does not reflect the views of the OAC, the National Board of Directors or staff. Information contained in this blog post is not based on scientific research and has not been validated. The OAC does not endorse any merchandise or program mentioned in this blog post.



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