The 4 Most Damaging Types of Training

by Dr. John Rusin

Bodybuilding, powerlifting, CrossFit, running: Which one will mess you up the most and how can you prevent it?

Which type of training causes the most physical damage? It’s one of the most passionately battled debates in sports medicine. With the recent popularization of CrossFit, the fiery debate has been doused with kerosene.

There’s no doubt that CrossFit has put its dysfunctional stamp on the fitness industry, but where does it compare to the traditional joint-crushing training methods like powerlifting, bodybuilding, and running in terms of orthopedic health and function?

It’s time to pledge your allegiance, pick a side, and get ready to wage war. As a doctor of physical therapy and a soft tissue specialist, here’s where I stand on which training methods are helping us achieve a greater overall level of fitness and health, and which methods should be banned in all 50 states.

And if, despite my warnings, you still refuse to face facts and continue to inflict damage to yourself, at least play an active roll in limiting the damage by using the sport-specific self-myofascial release techniques I prescribe at the end of each discussion.

Fourth Most Debilitating: Bodybuilding

Sure, bodybuilding has continued to draw some negative attention due to the blatant and obvious use of performance enhancing drugs, even within the “natural” divisions. For those athletes that compete in the open divisions and embrace the drug culture, I say they’re at least being up front and honest in their pursuit of muscle and performance. The same can’t be said for any other sport in the world.

Honesty does not exclude bodybuilding from its spot on the list of the most debilitating forms of training in the fitness industry, though. Throwing slabs of muscle onto your less-than-adequate frame for purely aesthetical reasons is bound to cause some dysfunction sooner or later. If you want to continue, you better find a way to preserve the mobility you have left.

Though bodybuilders are some of the most structured and intelligently programmed athletes in the fitness world, they’re still prone to some serious forms of overuse injuries. The use of PEDs throws the body into an anabolic shit storm of muscle growth that the non-contractile tissues (tendons, ligaments and fascia) just can’t adequately support. Also, the common use of active muscle isolation leads to an increased rate of muscular adhesion, thus causing an increase in intramuscular scar tissue formation.

The presence of scar tissue is a precursor to decreased movement capacity and overall dysfunction. If bodybuilders want to continue to compete on the big stage, it’s imperative they get their soft tissues cleaned up. And no, the monthly trip to your Active Release Techniques (A.R.T.) guy isn’t good enough. You must take your mobility and soft tissue quality into your own hands, literally.

Here are the top three sites of dysfunction specific to bodybuilders that can be self-treated. Get hands-on with your own tissues. Your body, and your performance, will thank you:

Third Most Debilitating: Powerlifting

With a combination of explosive power and technical ability, powerlifting separates the pretenders from the elite athletes in a quantitative manner.

If you didn’t already know it, these are some of the baddest dudes in the business. You don’t get that strong by mistake. The body is put under some excruciating muscle tearing, tendon stretching stresses in order to adapt to handling the loads that produce PRs. Even with intelligent training methods and technical proficiency, debilitating injuries are as much a part of the game as the ability to place in your weight class.

Training for the big three puts the body under extremely challenging conditions. There’s a fine line between progression and injury, and it’s a line that’s straddled every day for those who live to not only stay competitive, but also victorious. The bench, squat, and deadlift weren’t designed for extreme volumes and frequencies, but that’s exactly what powerlifters are doing with them.

The body can only withstand so much torture before it retaliates. Here are the three most effective self-treatment techniques to keep you moving some serious iron off the floor while still maintaining your ability to crawl up to the podium:

Second Most Debilitating: CrossFit

If exercise is your only goal, you’re most likely a CrossFitter. Like it or not, unless you’re on ESPN crushing Fran with the likes of Rich Froning, you’re not considered an athlete of any sort. Just as the average 60-year-old woman likes to get jiggy with Zumba every Saturday morning, you’re just another wannabe sweating your way towards traumatic injury and shitty Olympic lifting mechanics.

As a sports performance physical therapist, I first have to thank CrossFit founder Greg Glassman for keeping my schedule full of CrossFit newbie train-wreck cases. Yes, he’s achieved his goal of creating a culture where even he’s considered in elite shape, but in the process, he and his weekend-certified coaches have put an end to many unpromising careers, largely due to preventable injuries that could be absolutely avoided with just the slightest hint of fundamental programming.

Congratulations, mission accomplished, as GWB once said. And once again, thank you for all the referrals!

Shoulder injuries have never been more prominent in the fitness industry than after the popularization of CrossFit. I’m convinced that the wildfire spread of CrossFit is due to the initial investments of orthopedic surgeons worldwide. What’s better than surgically correcting an injury that you had a hand in causing? Charlie Sheen would call that winning and since this is America, you aren’t truly winning unless other people are losing. Welcome to our medical system.

This year, over 70% of CrossFitters will be sidelined for over a week at a time due to injury. A majority of that 70% can be attributed to shoulder injuries. The rest of the injuries are split between programmed random acts of stupidity (also known as WODs) and spinal issues.

In my article, Do-It-Yourself Mysofascial Release, I tackled the techniques that could be used to self-treat some of the deeper structures of the shoulder complex. With the waddle rate strikingly high in boxes across the world, the lower back dysfunction created by CrossFit is an entirely different beast in itself.

Here are a few techniques to limit that shitty anteriorly tilted pelvic posture that you’ve developed through strategically sacrificing looking good naked and being healthy. If you insist on losing your gains through light load, high-rep Olympic lifting, make sure to limit some of the trashing your body is about to endure with self-myofascial release. Save your back and simultaneously save your ass with a just a few moves:

Most Debilitating: Running

Ah running… the most widely practiced physical activity in the world with nearly two billion people jiggling their way to a body only a mother could love. From those staggering numbers it’s confirmed that we, as an industry, have failed the general gluten-free cupcake eating public.

Let’s be honest, in 2014, it’s pretty damn hard to make CrossFit look like the less shitty alternative to an unsafe and ineffective form of training. Though CrossFit is gaining ground, the overall numbers don’t lie. For every one bandwagoning CrossFitter flopping around on the pull-up bar, there are 800 people consciously working their way towards metabolic syndrome accompanied by a total knee replacement, one painful step at a time.

I don’t know about your country, but the American infrastructure wasn’t designed to withstand this kind of punishment. The streets deserve better.

In an attempt to save our roadways and orthopedic health, let’s take a deeper look into how running has continued to do absolutely nothing to eradicate the American obesity epidemic while adding to the ever-rising orthopedic dysfunction and injury rates plaguing our questionable medical system.

Running has single-handedly made the presence of pain the norm in an American society that’s struggling to be active. Up to 80% of runners are in pain on any given run, no matter the distance, intensity, or course. If you accept this statistic as “part of the game,” you’re just as much to blame as Phil Knight and the injury rainmakers over at Nike. Time to question your own beliefs and help evolve our poorly educated society, one runner at a time.

An ideal running stride is as rare as the thousand-pound squat. Just because you can run doesn’t mean you should. Without the ability to achieve proper biomechanics, your running is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. Would you squat if you couldn’t keep from drawing attention from you atrocious form? I think not.

With every gait being as uniquely awful as the next, there are some common dysfunctions that show up no matter if you’re running the four minute mile or run-walking your way to another oversized T-shirt. If you’re truly passionate about running, fine, that’s your prerogative; here are some self-myofascial release techniques that will limit your ever-impending doom:




  1. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: CF Injury.