The thunk of metal punctuates the grunts and groans resounding through the no-frills gym at CrossFit Bethesda as several people lift and lower barbells loaded with heavy plates in a white-walled, mirrorless room.
Workout participants—including a college kid in a baseball cap, an older woman with a neat silver bob and several fit-looking middle-aged men and women—move swiftly through several exercises. They do “double unders,” jumping rope so quickly that the rope passes beneath their feet twice for each jump; use gymnastic rings to do reverse pushups; and hurl heavy medicine balls high against the wall in front of them, catching them on the rebound.
“Come on! Push!” instructor Marcus Taylor shouts as he circles the room.
Less than 20 minutes later, the group staggers to a halt, the workout complete. Several lie flat on their backs, exhausted.
“That happens a lot,” CrossFit Bethesda owner Judd Borakove says, grinning as he surveys his sweaty devotees.
Welcome to CrossFit, a short, intense workout program that has exploded in popularity in recent years. Greg Glassman, the former gymnast who invented CrossFit in Santa Cruz, Calif., in 1995, defines his program as “constantly varied, functional movements, executed at high intensity,” aimed at those training for everything from combat to a 5K race.
Originally favored by military and law enforcement types, CrossFit now draws participants of all fitness levels to more than 5,000 locations around the world, including several in the Bethesda area.
But even as it has grown in popularity, CrossFit has stirred controversy and drawn criticism. The American College of Sports Medicine, among other organizations, has warned that its focus on speed and intensity can sacrifice form—and even lead to exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis, a potentially fatal condition that leads to the release of muscle fiber contents into the bloodstream.
On CrossFit message boards, the condition often appears in cartoon form as “Uncle Rhabdo,” a companion of “Pukie the Clown,” who shows up when you work out so hard that you vomit. But the possible health risks are no joke.
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