October 24, 2014
Is Crossfit a little too much?
26-year-old youth’s death triggers more doubts about fitness’ latest trend
Yesterday’s news of a young man suffering a cardiac arrest during a Crossfit session has spurred an increasing number of speculations about the training programme’s methods. So far, the story is as follows: Manuel López Pujato, aged 26, arrived Monday night to one of his weekly Crossfit training sessions at Bigg Recoleta, a specialized gym (often referred to as “boxes” in the Crossfit argot). During the warm-up preceding the actual session, his heart failed, prompting his death. Pujato was in good shape, had been doing sports throughout his entire life and was no newcomer to Crossfit. Nothing seems to indicate that his death was due to that day’s exercises — also, Bigg Recoleta sustains that all medical examinations were duly presented as required by any gym or sporstclub. (Although his brother Federico yesterday told La Nación daily “he had suffered heart problems as a kid.”)
Nevertheless, questions arose all the same: is Crossfit a healthy, dynamic alternative to other physical activities? Or is it maybe a little too much?
Esteban Aguirreche has been a personal trainer for the last 18 years, having also trained Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting (two of Crossfit’s inspirations). When asked about the “Crossfit take” on exercise, he says that “Crossfit generates a huge physical strain that is sometimes paired with harsh diets such as the Paleolithic diet — generating considerable amounts of weight-loss while sustaining very demanding physical activity. Crossfit’s dynamic is categorized by several stringed exercises comprising small-numbered repetitions, weight changes and maximum performance speed. There’s a lot of demand on the nervous system too, due to the low — or inexistent — resting periods. Instead of resting, Crossfit tends to lower the weight charge. This kind of routine — focused mainly on building strength — dramatically increases the possibility of suffering different kinds of lesions, especially joint injuries.”
Gym buffs know strength-building routines pretty well — when done right under a trainer’s guidance, they constitute no harm and are an important part of the big bodybuilding-scheme. The difference between strength-building routines and Crossfit mainly lies in the resting periods: while these gym-oriented routines include resting periods averaging one minute, Crossfit has none, thus taking body and mind to a state of fatigue that increases the possibility of accidents. “There’s also a psychological factor in Crossfit’s routines that is linked to constant group-encouragement, in spite of the logical fatigue that one may suffer during these kind of exercises. The body and the mind are pushed to a limit that can’t be good for the heart,” Aguirreche added.
When asked if he would recommend Crossfit to his students, Aguirreche firmly says that “personally, I would never recommend Crossfit to a student of mine, it is not necessary. Professional sportsmen seldom train in the Crossfit way, their trainers would never allow it and there’s a reason behind that; you will never see a professional wrestler or martial artist relying on Crossfit as an exclusive training method. For me, the best thing to do is to find a sport you like and go on with it. Nevertheless, Crossfit is a brilliantly marketed activity, hence its increasing popularity.”
Aguirreche’s opinion largely echoes Dr. Carlos Bevilacqua’s, a long-time proffesor at UBA’s medical school with decades of experience in E.R. Bevilacqua stresses that Crossfit “is definitely trendy nowadays, but I wouldn’t recommend it. At least I would suggest previously going through different rigorous tests such as an ergometry, a resistance-testing electrocardiogram and an echocardiogram, just to be sure. Also, I would further recommend progressively increasing effort.” Still, no matter what amount of tests an individual passes, Bevilacqua also warns of prior health conditions that may never come up during the tests. “There’s a couple of risk factors that are sometimes overlooked. For instance, a patient with a small coronary atheroma — almost undetectable in the aforementioned studies — may be exposed to a fracture in that atheroma during highly-demanding physical exercises, that may allow the formation of a clot that could obstruct the artery, leading to the sudden death of an individual with no previous heart conditions. That could perfectly happen during physical or emotional levels of high stress,” he said.