CrossFit is Dangerous...right?
If you hear something often enough it becomes the truth...right?
As the head of CrossFit Orangeville here at the Athlete Institute, I am clearly biased when it comes to promoting what I believe to be a worthwhile health and fitness program. I truly believe that CrossFit is one of the most effective forms of strength and conditioning for nearly everyone based on the numerous reasons that I have spoken and written about in the past.
This blog, however, is meant to address the giant elephant in the room whenever the topic of CrossFit comes up - safety. Some question it, “Isn’t CrossFit dangerous?” Some flat out state their beliefs, which they generally believe to be facts, “CrossFit is dangerous, you’ll just get hurt!”
Although I would like to say that these unfounded and unreasonable comments come from the “average Joe” or the misinformed, many similar comments can, at times, come from health professionals as well.
I suppose it seems to make sense - CrossFit is thought to be dangerous for the very same reasons that make it extremely effective. We use constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity. This can include moving either our bodies or external loads (barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells, etc.) though space as quickly as possible.
CrossFit’s mantra is that form and safety should be a priority long before intensity is ramped up. The participant or individual should be able to move the same body or external weight through space regardless of load. All of this tends to be the opposite of what you maybe hear about or see on YouTube “fail” videos.
Despite my best efforts to not only convince some that, when executed properly, CrossFit is extremely safe, some just simply do not want to hear it. Not only that, but when you hear something repeated often enough, it tends to be become truthful and these skewed “truths” get repeated verbatim, or even exaggerated, without further thought.
“To those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, none will suffice.”
So, despite the fact that some will not believe what this study has to say anyways, here is some proof that CrossFit can be a highly effective form of exercise.
BACKGROUND: CrossFitTM is a strength and conditioning programme that has gained widespread popularity since its inception approximately 15 years ago. However, at present little is known about the level of injury risk associated with this form of training. Movement competency, assessed using the Functional Movement ScreenTM (FMS), has been identified as a risk factor for injury in numerous athletic populations, but its role in CrossFit participants is currently unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the level of injury risk associated with CrossFit training, and examine the influence of a number of potential risk factors (including movement competency).
METHODS: A cohort of 117 CrossFit participants were followed prospectively for 12 weeks. Participants’ characteristics, previous injury history and training experience were recorded at baseline, and an FMS assessment was conducted.
RESULTS: The overall injury incidence rate was 2.10 per 1000 training hours (90% Confidence Limits: 1.32 - 3.33). A multivariate Poisson regression model identified males (rate ratio [RR]: 4.44 ×/÷ 3.30, very likely harmful) and those with previous injuries (RR: 2.35 ×/÷ 2.37, likely harmful) as having a higher injury risk. Inferences relating to FMS variables were unclear in the multivariate model, although number of asymmetries was a clear risk factor in a univariate model (RR per two additional asymmetries: 2.62 ×/÷ 1.53, likely harmful).
CONCLUSIONS: The injury incidence rate associated with CrossFit training was low, and comparable to other forms of recreational fitness activities. Previous injury and gender were identified as risk factors for injury, whilst the role of movement competency in this setting warrants further investigation.
So, first and foremost. This was a prospective cohort study. Why is that important?
Prospective means that the study participants were observed over the course of the study so that either the participants (or their coaches) could report their injuries first-hand.
Retrospective, on the other hand (not this study), means that study participants are surveyed at the end of a time period to reflect back on what they experienced during a set period of time.
Generally, studies that are prospective are more accurate since, in this case, injuries are reported as they happen rather than reflecting on them in the past. Retrospective is generally less accurate.
So what did this prospective cohort study tell us? Injury rates for CrossFit were found to be 2.1 hours for every 1,000 training hours. This puts CrossFit right in the mix of things when compared to other power/strength sports such as Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting, which has an injury rate of 0.24-5.5 injuries per 1,000 training hours. It is also comparable to middle-range running events which has an injury rate around 1.4-5.4 injuries for every 1,000 hours training.
Compare the injury rates of CrossFit to other team and individual sports and you will be amazed at how much safer CrossFit can be. No, this doesn’t mean that competitive sport shouldn’t be popularized, instead, understand the risks and hazards to any sport and stop criticizing a sport/activity like CrossFit for being theoretically “unsafe.”
To be honest I always chuckle and shake my head whenever I hear individuals talk about how dangerous is for either themselves or even their children, yet they won’t think twice about either themselves playing weekend hockey or enrolling their kids in sport.
How many times do you hear about grown adults who play recreational sports, also known as “weekend warriors,” who sit at a desk at work all week only to go out on weekends and beat themselves up with their weekly activity?
Not only that, but parents who don’t want to hurt their children with something as scary as weightlifting, yet will allow them to strap on pads and risk injury on the hockey rink. I played competitive hockey growing up as well and would love for my kids to play, but the fear of injury from something such a weightlifting in a structured environment (i.e. CrossFit) is overblown. Oh, and by the way, all of these myths and mistruths about kids and weightlifting are completely bogus.
There are inherent risks to anything we do, especially when you are physically pushing your body to its limit. Having said that, CrossFit, under the correct supervision from highly trained coaches and trainers, can be a very safe form of strength and conditioning to not only get ‘fit,’ but to improve all other areas of your fitness as well.