“CrossFit is dangerous!”
“CrossFit is a sure way to pick up an injury.”
“CrossFit gave my friend’s friend Rhabdo…”
These are some common things you may hear when telling people you train at a CrossFit gym. Most of the time the person’s knowledge of CrossFit extends to a few YouTube videos they watched back in 2009. Even so, the injury risk of CrossFit remains a controversial subject.
As the lead author of a recently published study titled “Rates and risk factors of injury in CrossFit”, I believe I have something to contribute on the topic.
The Study (link here)
We followed 117 people training at CrossFit facilities in the Bath area over a period of 3 months. An injury was defined as any physical complaint sustained during CrossFit training that stopped the participant from taking part in future CrossFit training, or having to modify their session in any way.
Injury incidence, which is the most commonly used way of expressing injury risk, is calculated by looking at the total number of injuries and the number of hours doing the activity. This is a much better measure than injury prevalence, which is simply the percentage of people who had an injury. In our study, we found an injury incidence of 2.10 per 1000 training hours.
For comparison, let’s have a look at the injury incidence of other sports:
- CrossFit = 2.1 injuries per 1000 hours
- Long distance running = 2.5 injuries per 1000 hours
- Triathlon = 4.6 injuries per 1000 hours
- Football = 8.0 injuries per 1000 hours
- Schoolboy Rugby = 35 injuries per 1000 hours
As you can see, CrossFit had a very similar injury risk to other “fitness” sports, and far lower than contact sports like Rugby!
Other interesting findings from our study were that men were more likely to get injured compared to women, as were those who had suffered from a previous injury in the last 6 months. Neither of these are surprising. Men typically do more careless stuff, like trying to train through pain. Previous injury is the biggest risk factor for injury in the majority of sports – often people try to rush back into training far too soon.
Why does CrossFit get a bad rep for injury then?
Let’s look at the reasons people commonly give, one by one…
- People lifting with poor technique (often showing a YouTube video titled “CrossFit Fails” as a reference)
In any sport, you can find people lifting with bad technique – so it’s a shame that those few can be used to blame a whole sport. It’s true that bad technique can put you at a greater risk of injury, which is why at ION we require new members with no prior experience to take the Fundamentals Course before starting, so we can teach you correct technique and movement.
Additionally, we have experienced coaches who supervise every class and will ensure you aren’t lifting dangerously. However, when training on your own, it is YOUR responsibility to ensure you are lifting with correct technique. If you aren’t sure, ask a nearby coach/member! We’re a friendly bunch at ION, and more than willing to help.
- Programming highly technical exercises (e.g. Olympic Lifts) as part of a conditioning circuit.
Some of the CrossFit benchmark WODs contain Olympic Lifts for high reps. A beginner attempting these more technical WODs can put themselves at risk. That’s why we recommend being a high level of strength and technical proficiency before attempting certain benchmark WODs. Again, if you aren’t sure, ask!
Here at ION, the owners Rob & Mike write the workouts for the classes very carefully. Heavily loaded exercises where technique is important are performed when fresh, before the conditioning part of the workout.
- Almost anybody can open a CrossFit gym or become a CrossFit coach.
Back in the day, when CrossFit was still new, gyms were popping up everywhere. This led to some people opening up gyms for the wrong reasons, and without much coaching experience. Now that CrossFit is more established, and competition is high, these gyms have mostly been wiped out.
Whilst true that somebody can become a CrossFit Level 1 coach by attending a 1 weekend course, here at ION our coaches are assessed on their coaching experience and motivations before they are employed. New coaches are upskilled very thoroughly by the owners – Rob & Mike – who have decades of coaching experience between them.
- Doing too much, too soon
CrossFit workouts are tough. There’s no questioning that. Therefore you need to build yourself in gradually. Whilst the coaches at ION will do their best to prevent anyone from overdoing it, ultimately this is your responsibility.
Practically, this means:
- Being sensible about how many hours you’re training a week, and refraining from sudden increases in your quantity of training. Especially when first coming back from an injury.
- Always scaling your workouts appropriately (not sure? Ask!)
- Don’t attempt to train through pain! Let a coach know, and we can modify your session.
- Injury risk in CrossFit is no higher than other health & fitness activities like running and triathlon.
- Having said that, you can reduce your own risk of injury by:
- Carefully selecting a CrossFit gym with experienced owners and coaches.
- Always using correct technique.
- Not doing too much, too soon.
Please share this article to spread awareness!
Written by Seb Moran, ION Strength and Conditoning