Not everyone finds the concept of the new CrossFit marketing video so hilarious. Photo: YouTube
Any exercise program is open to abuse by trainers who are unaccredited, participants who do not follow good technique, or fanatics who deliberately push themselves to injury and beyond, where the goal seems to no longer be pushing themselves but competing with a gung-ho mentality.
And CrossFit, a program where people squat, kettle-bell and high-intensity interval train their way to fitness during timed workouts is perhaps more open to this abuse by virtue of the fact it has a huge following. The ‘military style’ training program seems conductive to a more hardcore mentality, which can be a recipe for injury and unsafe form.
But you would think any brand, including CrossFit, would distance itself from unsafe practises. And with so many female participants, CrossFit would surely avoid anything that smacks of female degradation. Instead, it has firmly sided itself with the extremists and unsafe trainers through a recent marketing video that encourages people – specifically women – to work out until their bodies literally break. Not only that, but the video for the Reebok CrossFit games makes a mockery of a treatable but potentially devastating women’s health condition.
It’s bad enough that the video reeks of soft-porn spreads in lads mags with its ‘Watch these women go so hard that they pee’ message. The choice of background music and quotes like ‘I get wet during workouts’ and ‘We’re just putting-out’ adds to the sleazy feel. The interviewer then creates a bogus health term – Exercise Induced Urinary Leakage – to describe what is actually called Stress Urinary Incontinence; a serious health issue that the Australian Physiotherapy Association [APA] says affects 5 million Australians. The video quotes a gynaecologist and also shows demeaning footage of a woman cleaning up after herself.
The APA is outraged by the video – which has attracted almost 140,000 views - saying it flies in the face of research supporting rehabilitation for the pelvic floor. Untreated, women with the condition are at risk of bladder problems, loss of bowel control, and prolapsed pelvic organs. “The video is shocking, disturbing, and normalises this debilitating condition,’’ said specialist continence and women’s health physiotherapist from the APA, Shan Morrison. “It is not normal to lose urine during exercise or at any other time and it should certainly not be seen as a badge of honour. For a company that prides itself on promoting exercise, CrossFit Inc is not sending a positive health message.”
When reading the comments below the ‘promotion’, it is clear many women - and men - are upset by the video and the poor health messages it depicts. If it was supposed to be funny, it has clearly missed the mark for most, bar a few typical YouTube trolls. Imagine if a well-known sports or workout brand posted a video promoting torn ligaments or broken bones as a sign of toughness and strength. That’s what Reebok and Crossfit do with this video, with the added whammy of demoralising women along the way. Despite the disgust, CrossFit have not pulled the video or explained themselves.
“It was most disturbing to see a gynaecologist in the video express that, in her professional opinion, it was ok to urinate when working out,’’ Ms Morrison said. “By stating that we needed to invent something to help these women, she clearly demonstrated that she hasn’t kept up to date with the strong evidence that shows urinary incontinence can be successfully treated by pelvic floor rehabilitation.’’
The video can not be remotely praised for bringing what may be considered an embarrassing issue to light. The purpose of the video is not to educate people about an otherwise unspoken about issue. It is purely there to promote the idea of Stress Urinary Incontinace being a sign of a CrossFit workout well done, of female strength. They deliberately run quotes from women to support this idea. One woman describes incontinence as ‘’a correlate of intensity… maybe [we’re going harder than everyone else].’’ Nowhere does the presenter, who we can only hope is not a trainer, offer helpful suggestions or accurate medical information to women. It will be seriously disappointing if CrossFit tries to claim they were just shedding light on a health issue.
The health and fitness industry has a responsibility to keep its consumers well informed and safe. CrossFit and Reebok have seriously breached this responsibility, leaving thousands of women asking ‘what the hell?’ along the way. They should be held to account as rigorously as any other industry that prides itself on consumer health. And it will be interesting to whether the companies adopt the ‘any publicity is good publicity’ mantra off the back of this colossal stuff-up.
Melissa Davey is a health and medical journalist with the Sydney Morning Herald and completing a Masters of Public Health at the University of Sydney. Twitter @MelissaLDavey