Exercise and heart health series: CrossFit

A quick look at CrossFit and the impact its varied, vigorous exercise regimen has on your heart health

[3 MIN READ]

If your idea of the perfect workout is one that tests how far you can push your body’s limits to improve your health and wellness, CrossFit may give you just what you’re seeking.

CrossFit features a mixture of activities including weight lifting, aerobic exercise, gymnastics, and endurance training. Short, intense routines called workouts of the day, or WOD, make up the bulk of training. 

In a conversation with Seattle-based CrossfitRE owner, Darrick Bourgeois, he pointed out that WODs come in all shapes and sizes. In his own words, “At CrossfitRE, our coaches and community take pride in a scaled approach to every WOD we create. Whether you’re 22 and want to challenge yourself to be competitive, or 72 and want to maintain muscle mass so you can be fit into your senior years, we build our programming to map to virtually any body type and goal.”

A CrossFit workout typically involves your entire body with a combination of running, pushing, pulling, and squatting. It gets your heart rate up—giving you maximum benefits for your efforts. Your heart should beat at 50 – 70 percent of its maximum heart rate and around 70 – 85 percent during strenuous physical activity, according to the American Heart Association. CrossFit exercises are designed to get your heart pumping at its highest capacity.

It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you attempt a new exercise routine, but the punishing physical requirements of CrossFit make it particularly important to get the official go-ahead before you get started.

With its emphasis on cardiovascular strength, CrossFit is typically best for people who are healthy and active enough to participate without undue risk. It’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before you attempt a new exercise routine, but the punishing physical requirements of CrossFit make it particularly important to get the official go-ahead before you get started.

Most CrossFit businesses—called “the box” in CrossFit circles—offer a variety of scaled approaches to the workouts. The scaling system ranges from the prescribed or RX (heaviest weights; most challenging) through level two and down to level one (lightest weights; least challenging). It’s also acceptable for you to work outside of the documented scaled system to find a weight and challenge that is right for you. If you’re going to venture into this type of fitness routine, we recommend finding a “box” that offers these scaled options.

Here are a few of the pros and cons of CrossFit exercise and its effect on your heart health.

Pros:

  • Improved heart health. Exercise slows your resting heart rate, reduces blood pressure, improves cholesterol levels, and helps keep your weight in check.
  • Wide variety of routines. You choose from a huge assortment of WODs to design a personalized exercise regimen that maximizes the boredom of a monotonous routine with variety and choice.
  • Sense of community. CrossFit provides a sense of belonging to a group with similar values and goals, which improves your overall sense of satisfaction and increases your motivation to continue. There’s even scientific evidence that it’s true.

Cons:

  • Myopathy. Significant muscle pain, weakness and dark or low urine output can be a sign of myopathy. Monitor any symptoms closely as they could be a sign of developing rhabdomyolysis, condition of muscle breakdown that can lead to kidney failure and other complications. Can be caused by overexertion, dehydration or other conditions that damage muscle tissue.
  • Risk of injury. Some research finds the intense workouts of CrossFit can increase the chances you’ll get hurt, especially if you’re just starting out on your fitness journey or have physical limitations. Pro tip: listen to your body and your coach.
  • Peer pressure can be intense. A personal cheer squad can help you test your limits and push through the pain to gain results. While that can be a major advantage, it can also lead to serious injuries if it causes you to exceed what you can do safely.

Red flags

Although some muscle stiffness and soreness are normal when doing vigorous exercise, you shouldn’t experience extreme pain or the inability to move without undue effort. If you experience any of the following signs, see your doctor to ensure you’re not doing more harm than good.

  • Chest pain
  • Dark red or cola colored urine
  • Extreme shortness of breath
  • Excessive fatigue

Find a doctor

If you’re ready to see just how hard you can push yourself physically, you need a physician who can help you safely evaluate your options. Find a doctor who helps you reach your goals in our provider directory. Or use one of the regional directories below:

Alaska

California

Montana

Oregon

Washington

Related resources

Is a Personal Trainer Right for You?

A Matter of the Heart: Unique Program is Changing Hearts and Saving Lives

5 free (and fun) ways to stay fit with your family

Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine study: Injury Rate and Patterns Among CrossFit Athletes

National Institutes of Health study: CrossFit Overview: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

 

 

About the Author

The Providence Heart & Vascular Team is committed to bringing you many years of expertise and experience to help you understand how to prevent, treat and recover from cardiovascular diseases and conditions. From tips to eating better to exercise and everything in between, our clinical experts know how to help you help your heart.

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