Category Archives: CrossFit

Crossfit, Community and Social Health

CrossFit Community

One of the things great about Crossfit is that the boxes (gyms) serve as mini-communities.  The young boy in the photo below is a third-generation Crossfitter.  Here some fellow box members share interest in a toy truck while grandmother and dad work out.

There’s not a lot out on the social/psychological benefits of Crossfit.  However, there is a new book, published a couple of weeks ago by Tuttle Press called The Power of Community: Crossfit and the force of Human Community.  The book, quoting the publishers’ description:

CrossFit Psychology

“The power of community is about making lives better and helping people achieve their goals.  Psychologist Allison Wenglin Belger describes the importance of group affiliation–of having a network of mutual support and human connection in the midst of our hectic, technology-driven lives. With candor and grit, the author takes the reader on a journey from her childhood in suburban New York as she follows her passion for competitive sports and wilderness adventure, to her present-day connection to CrossFit, a dynamic, functional fitness and conditioning program with an emphasis on camaraderie and community. 

Belger shares stories of military wounded warriors and everyday heroes who have faced life-threatening crises–with the help of their community affiliation. She relates inspiring examples of individuals who have created communities and support networks for populations in need, including cancer patients and at-risk youth. Drawing on her doctoral research, she documents the emotional and physical benefits of group participation. With her unique perspective as psychologist and athlete, Dr. Belger explores the mind-body connection and how it can relate to all of us.  Through her compelling narratives, each of which intersects with the CrossFit experience, she encourages us to examine our lives and relationships so that we may find meaning in a stressful world–if we are open to the power of community.”

We found the book to be right on the nail.  It will be interesting to people wanting to know more about CrossFit as a social phenomenon.

Rowing tips

A lot of us have a tendency to be a little intense.  I’ve always enjoyed pushing myself to the sheer edge of whatever cliff encountered.  When I started using the rower I would crank the resistance to the max and clench the seat with my biscuits to avoid flying off backwards.  It just didn’t feel right to row without really experiencing weight.  This will wear you down during a WOD, which may be the whole point of the thing, but if we are going to compete, efficiency matters. One of our most experienced rowers says the best approach is a smooth fast one.  I suppose that could be read a number of different ways.  I was afraid to ask. For competitive Crossfitters there are gains to be made by optimizing technique.  An interesting and detailed article, by rowing coach and Olympic Champion Bob Kaehler, highlights the importance of strength in optimizing rowing performance and provides great insight on the importance of technique. 

Crossfit and the Ketogenic Diet. And a little about Crossfit Vegetarians

Ketogenic diets have proven helpful to people with uncontrolled epilepsy and may be of benefit to epileptics in general, to victims of stroke and other forms of brain injury and possibly cancer. They come with other effects that may not be worth the discomfort or unintended risks to healthy people.

Ketogenic Diets for Healthy People

Some of the problems that may show up along with Ketogenic Diets are kidney stones and, in women and girls, amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is associated with bone loss, increasing risk of osteoporosis, and indicates problems in hormone balance. Supplementation with calcium may help with this, but then again, it might not. Physiology can be quite complex, and consumption does not necessarily indicate absorption is occurring. It is quite possible that something that causes hormonal imbalance in women may also cause hormonal imbalance in men. Playing with one’s physiology, when we don’t know the unintended outcomes of such play, may be inadvisable, especially long-term.

womens shirt crossfit or kettlebell shirt
Birth of Venus and her Kettlebells in Blue: Athletic shirt for crossfit women, kettlebell enthusiasts, and crossfit vegetarians

I have been a vegetarian for 30 years and an athlete all my life. I have excellent bone density, low blood pressure, low resting heart rate, low fasting blood sugar, excellent blood lipid profile and great strength to body weight ratio. I’m happy and healthy, even though I thoroughly understand I represent but a single data point. I do get a lot of advice from well-meaning crossfit friends that I need to eat meat and would be much healthier if I followed a ketogenic diet.  Vegetarians are often described by some Crossfit participants as weak and “skinny-fat”. I will leave it at this: The “optimal diet” for one person may not be the “optimal diet” for another, nor the optimal diet for all conditions. Humans are omnivores and physiologically polymorphic and adaptable. This has given us tremendous abilitity to survive in wildly different climes and environments, and has made us such a resilient species. It is also quite possible, that our individual resilience allows our bodies to adjust to dietary and environmental change.

The current state of research indicates no harm though, from short-term ketogenic diets. I have not found much in the way of research on the risks and benefits of long-term ketogenic diets in healthy adults. Anyone who wishes to add a citation, please feel free.

Kossoff, E., Zupec-Kania, B., & Rho, J. (2009). Ketogenic Diets: An Update for Child Neurologists Journal of Child Neurology, 24 (8), 979-988 DOI: 10.1177/0883073809337162

Bergqvist AG, Chee CM, Lutchka L, Rychik J, & Stallings VA (2003). Selenium deficiency associated with cardiomyopathy: a complication of the ketogenic diet. Epilepsia, 44 (4), 618-20 PMID: 12681013

Brinkworth GD, Buckley JD, Noakes M, Clifton PM, & Wilson CJ (2009). Long-term effects of a very low-carbohydrate diet and a low-fat diet on mood and cognitive function. Archives of internal medicine, 169 (20), 1873-80 PMID: 19901139

Anti-bacterial soap, male fertility and endocrine disruption

Triclosan is used in many personal care products as an anti-bacterial agent. You can find it in soaps, toothpaste etc. Triclosan has estrogenic properties  or estrogen boosting properties.  This means it can behave like natural estrogen in the body.  Or, it may increase the power of natural estrogen.  Estrogen, like other hormones, is a chemical messenger.  It passes through cell membranes, attaches to estrogen receptors and “tells” genes it is time to make some product or activate some process.  Adding estrogen-like chemicals can result in increased activity.   Too much estrogenic activity can increase risk of cancer in estrogen-sensitive tissues: Breasts, for example.  In men, too much estrogen can reduce fertility.  The role estrogen plays in men is still under investigation.  Here is a recent article from the NY Times on estrogen and aging in men that will help explain things.  In rats, triclosan has been found to cause abnormal testicular development and abnormal “other” male tissue.

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Other interesting findings about triclosan are:

  • People with high triclosan levels also have higher BMI on average
  • Are more likely to suffer from allergies, including food allergies

Paul et al. (Dec 2010) have demonstrated that triclosan alters thyroid hormone levels early in lactation. Thyroid hormones are especially important during fetal and infant development because they play crucial roles in brain development. Early thyroid hormone deficiency alters neurological function in animals, and in human, reduces IQ and increases ADHD-like behavior. There are many environmental contaminants that interfere with thyroid hormones including PCBs, PBDEs, perchlorate, and nitrate. It is difficult to study the impact of exposures to these chemicals in humans because its hard to know how much people are exposed to over time, and people are probably never exposed to just one agent at a time. Its important to consider additive (or synergistic or antagonistic) effects and not consider them individually. For now, its probably best for pregnant and lactating women to limit their exposure to triclosan.  Guys, you too.

Paul KB, Hedge JM, Devito MJ, & Crofton KM (2010). Developmental triclosan exposure decreases maternal and neonatal thyroxine in rats. Environmental toxicology and chemistry / SETAC, 29 (12), 2840-4 PMID: 20954233
Lankester J, Patel C, Cullen MR, Ley C, & Parsonnet J (2013). Urinary triclosan is associated with elevated body mass index in NHANES. PloS one, 8 (11) PMID: 24278238
Stoker TE, Gibson EK, & Zorrilla LM (2010). Triclosan exposure modulates estrogen-dependent responses in the female wistar rat. Toxicological sciences : an official journal of the Society of Toxicology, 117 (1), 45-53 PMID: 20562219

Savage JH, Matsui EC, Wood RA, & Keet CA (2012). Urinary levels of triclosan and parabens are associated with aeroallergen and food sensitization. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 130 (2), 453-600000000 PMID: 22704536

Kumar V, Chakraborty A, Kural MR, & Roy P (2009). Alteration of testicular steroidogenesis and histopathology of reproductive system in male rats treated with triclosan. Reproductive toxicology (Elmsford, N.Y.), 27 (2), 177-85 PMID: 19118620