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Can CrossFit’s ‘army of doctors’ change the fitness industry?

Can CrossFit’s ‘army of doctors’ change the fitness industry?

In a recent interview with South China Morning Post , CrossFit founder Greg Glassman said he has one priority for CrossFit this year.

The sport recently underwent a massive shift as it tries to push the focus away from the widely popular CrossFit Games and more onto its health and wellness campaign.

The move was both criticised and applauded, however Glassman has been unwavering in taking the branded fitness regime in a new direction. CrossFit has been dolling out diet, wellness and active lifestyle advice on its website, and picking fights with Big Soda and various lobbyists hell bent on watching the company flounder. Branded “dangerous” by various outlets, the sport has grown immensely in the two decades it has been around and now features more than 15,000 “boxes” in more than 120 countries.

Glassman said he is working on a secret weapon to combat CrossFit’s enemies and help further legitimise the workout regime, and it has already started in America.

“We’ve got about 20,000 doctors in the US alone who are regularly going to boxes,” said Glassman, who noted he wants to add as many physicians as he can to his “army”.

One of Glassman’s poster girls is Dr Ronda Rockett, a former Wellesley, Massachusetts, general practitioner who left family medicine after 12 years in 2013. Rockett was getting frustrated with the amount of patients coming through her office with similar ailments such as diabetes and obesity who were all on multiple medications. Rockett, who discovered CrossFit back in 2008 in her 40s, decided on a massive career change: she quit medicine and opened a CrossFit box in her home garage.

“I felt like CrossFit was entering my exam room after a while,” said Rockett, who is 51 and has a benchmark dead lift of 240 pounds (108 kilograms). “I would be getting down on the floor to do burpees and push-ups and showing people proper technique. And then showing them how to eat properly and exercise, and so you’re showing them and giving them good information, but it’s not the right forum for making behavioural changes.”

Glassman, who is now running CrossFit MDL1 training courses for coaches specifically geared towards doctors (which was partially designed by doctors), said he has heard stories like Rockett’s hundr of times.

“They’re all telling me the same thing, that they don’t have the time and it isn’t the avenue to help these people.”

Rockett said when she did have a patient take to CrossFit, her role as a doctor essentially stopped.

“The process would take over and pretty much my job would be done. The community in the CrossFit gym and the coach, if it was a good one, would help them make much more lasting changes in their diet and exercise regime.”

Rockett said she currently has more than 80 members who regularly come to her Launch pad garage (which is CrossFit licensed), running seven days a week. She said having an actual warehouse or space to move into would be ideal, however her house is in a prime location when it comes to the layout of Wellesley which allows some people to bike or even walk to workouts.

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“We’re very respectful of the neighbours, and it’s children mixed with adults, I have an eight-year-old athlete and 74-year-old athlete and they can work out side by side in the same room. And the community aspect is incredible, someone will pick up someone else for a ride, or help with babysitting, or someone driving someone else’s kids to practises.”

While thousands of doctors like Rockett, who are either running boxes or regularly attending CrossFit classes, the movement has caught on with various local communities, however the mainstream press and various established medical communities are still taking jabs at the branded fitness regime.

A 2013 University of Minnesota Health Sciences release took a rather negative approach to CrossFit, stating there is “a danger in entrusting your body to a trainer or instructor without the proper credentials, such as a degree from a four-year institution or a background in exercise physiology”.

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Stacy Ingraham, an exercise physiologist in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota, said CrossFit is only safe for younger people, and that women, older, non-athletic or sedentary people are at a much higher risk of injury if they do CrossFit. She also took a shot at CrossFit trainers.

“Just because they have defined deltoids, triceps and biceps that look appealing in a ‘trainer’ T-shirt, these characteristics don’t always mean they have the credentials necessary to teach highly technical movement patterns under stress.”

Rockett, whose husband is a orthopaedic surgeon and also does CrossFit, said the last thing she does is take a beginner and throw them into complex movement routines. Instead newbies are slowly integrated into workouts given their physical and mental backgrounds. Rockett, who went to medical school at Boston University’s School of Medicine said the key is having coaches who know what they’re doing and are trained properly.

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“When it is done right, it works. It really, really works, the science of it, the exercises of it, and then add on top of it the whole community aspect. The programming for most of us has changed now, you still have your world elite athletes who are doing ridiculous things and training for competitions, but most of the programmes have been changed to be more sustainable decades into the future. So that may be why there’s a negative association with that still.”