CrossFit can be dangerous, Kim Fleischhaker admits; but so are everyday activities. The tall blonde proudly displayed a bruised set of fingers, with the nail of one index finger in the black stage that comes before you lose it. The injury happened not during a workout, but when she dropped a metal plate and her fingers caught it between the weight and the floor.
Like Fleischhaker’s injured fingers, 95 per cent of the injuries the members of Fleischhaker’s CrossFit gym experience happen outside the gym - but that doesn’t stop the criticism.
CrossFit was created by gymnast Greg Glassman in the mid 1990s, and the company was officially founded in 2000. It combines gymnastics, power lifting, Olympic weight lifting and mobility training to deliver a high-intensity workout. The activities are varied each day, which is what drew Fleischhaker to CrossFit.
Seven years ago, Fleischhaker was a lifeguard and YMCA athletic director who was looking for a change in her fitness routine, when her sister introduced her to CrossFit and she was hooked.
"I just found everything really boring until I found this," says Fleischhaker. "It’s something that challenges you and you’re always doing something different. It’s fun and it actually works."
Fleischhaker shed 50 pounds, and only took time off to give birth to her son Charlie in 2013.
"I stopped training about two and a half weeks before giving birth," she says. "Then (I was) back in training two weeks after."
Fleischhaker partnered with her sister and brother-in-law to buy CrossFit Regina in 2012. Nestled in a matte black, 9,000 square foot warehouse space, CrossFit Regina now has over 250 members and 15 coaches.
But the challenge that attracted Fleischhaker to CrossFit is often what repels others. The movements associated with the workout are repeated as many times as possible in a minimum time frame.
According to Barclay Dahlstrom, a kinesiology and health studies instructor at the University of Regina, this is where the controversy lies.
"CrossFit surrounds a lot of Olympic lifting and gymnastic techniques that people spend years and years working on to try and perfect," said Barclay. "If you put them into a circuit-type program, with no rests before and you’re doing a lot of other exercises, you’re trying to now do those lifts in a very fatigued state with, sometimes, quite a bit of weight. People get injured that way."
Darren Candow, associate dean of graduate studies and research at the U of R faculty of kinesiology and health studies, said muscle soreness is common with all exercise and is often very beneficial. When taken to the extreme, which can happen with CrossFit, there can be negative effects. But Candow said these types of injuries are still rare. His concern is how CrossFit coaches are trained.
"If there’s no specific certification or mandate underlining exercise prescription, anybody can call themselves a certified anything," said Candow. "Injuries will occur even under certification, but until there’s a governing body that will document or govern this, it’s very difficult to underline the certification of the CrossFit community."
To be a CrossFit coach, you must take a two-day course to get your Level 1 certification. However, Fleischhaker said CrossFit Regina works differently than other CrossFit gyms.
"All our coaches have been doing this for years. You have to go get your Level 1, but we also encourage (our coaches) to do more certifications (in) mobility, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, power lifting (and) other different streams of it," she said.
Keenan Flegel, Fleischhaker’s brother-in-law, does have a kinesiology degree and programs all the gym’s workouts. He customizes every movement for people of all ages and abilities, so injuries are minimal.
"When you start, you have to do our foundations (course), then do our health and fitness classes for the first three months," said Fleischhaker. "So that eases you into it."
Like any other fitness program, participants balance the risks with the rewards. To Fleischhaker, the biggest reward is the comradery among CrossFitters.
"It’s not like you just come and work out on your own," said Fleischhaker. "It’s like a community thing. Everyone knows each other, everyone pushes each other and helps each other out.
"You’re not just coming to get fit, but you’re coming to be part of a community," said Fleischhaker.