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Thinking of trying CrossFit? What’s behind the popular – and controversial – fitness trend

Exercises work up a sweat during a military-style fitness class.
Exercises work up a sweat during a military-style fitness class. Photo courtesy 16x9

TORONTO — Greg Glassman — the founder of CrossFit — has created the largest gym chain in history over the past 15 years.

“One reason CrossFit’s grown so fast is because just about anyone who wants to open a ‘box’ can after paying a $3,000 yearly fee and passing a two-day seminar. It’s how the company makes most of its money,” 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi reported earlier this month.

Glassman’s company (which includes 12,000 “boxes” around the world) is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a 60 Minutes special this month. Not bad for a college dropout.

So what does the intense workout entail? Swinging kettle bells, jumping on boxes, doing dozens of burpees, chin-ups, climbing ropes, and swinging off Olympic rings — just to name a few.

CrossFit can transform anyone, Glassman promises, delivering them to their full “genetic potential.” But over the years, there have also been concerns that the fitness trend is a little too extreme.

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WATCH: 16×9 examines the extreme culture of CrossFit

CrossFit’s reputation of pushing the limits has sparked a couple provocative and controversial cartoon mascots. There’s “Pukey the Clown,” throwing up next to a set of dumbbells as well as “Uncle Rhabdo.”

The latter is hooked up to a dialysis machine, standing in a pool of  blood, with his kidneys dangling from his body. Uncle Rhabdo is named after the medical condition, rhabdomyolysis – a condition whereby muscles are damaged and begin to release a protein called myoglobin into the bloodstream. Left untreated rhabdomyolysis can cause fatal kidney damage.

READ MORE: Working out ’til you’re sick? Doctors warn of deadly condition linked to over exercising

What does Glassman have to say to those people afraid of trying CrossFit for fear of getting hurt?

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“Stay in your chair where you’re sure to get hurt, and you’ll become one of the 300,000 people that will die next year from sitting in their chair doing nothing.”

With files from 16×9