As a Crossfitter, one of the most common criticisms I hear is that Crossfit is dangerous. Time and time again I hear the criticism that it causes injury. Using clinical studies I hope to show why these claims are inaccurate. I hope to show that Crossfit only poses the same risk as any other sport or activity…
Read time: 15 minutes
Before I go any further I want to make it clear that I am a Crossfitter who is currently getting over an injury. In addition, I got this injury whilst in a Crossfit gym. Me saying this may seem odd, why would I highlight this even though I’m trying to prove exactly the opposite? Well, for two reasons…
- It gives you some reassurance that I understand both sides of the argument. I’m not just in a Crossfit bubble that’s waiting to burst.
- I know why I got injured and as hard as it was for me to admit, it wasn’t any fault of Crossfit. Ego, thinking I’m young enough to ignore warming up and neglecting recovery caused it.
Unfortunately, it is often people who have little or no exposure to Crossfit making the injury claims. They have heard it from a friend, read one article or watched a video without doing any real research of their own. This causes a BIG problem, it creates a 3rd person snowball effect of inaccurate information and butchered facts.
So, taking a step back, here are some studies that have investigated injury within Corssfit and the implications they have…
This was the first study that looked into the injury rates of those participating in Crossfit. Published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2013. The findings of this study were initially grim reading. In simple terms, according to the findings participating in Crossfit is likely to cause injury.
However, there was great controversy over the findings with Crossfit successfully filing a lawsuit disputing results. The fall-out from this was a statement in an October issue of the journal advising readers to ignore previous findings. Basically, researchers misrepresented and inflated findings, even falsifying the gym owner’s accounts. Athletes who did not submit or return answers were automatically attributed as being injured.
Therefore, whilst this study arguably kicked off the research trial into Crossfit and injury rates, the findings are somewhat irrelevant.
This study is the product of a group of researchers from Wales, UK in 2013. This study again initially seems to provide grim reading, of 132 respondents, 73.5% reported having sustained injury during Crossfit training.
The researchers clearly distinguish between injury prevalence and an injury rate (more detail can be found here). Put bluntly…
- Injury prevalence is: Those that report having an injury out of the total amount of people in the group – I.e. 50 people out of 200 = 25%.
- Injury rate is: How likely you are to get injured over the time doing an activity – I.e. 50 people x 150 hours per person = 7,500 hours of CrossFit. So, 50/7500 = 0.0067 injuries per training hour.
So what does this mean? Well, the study (whilst having its criticism) essentially shows Crossfit is only as dangerous as other sports such as, power-lifting, gymnastics, rugby union and rugby league. Even with all of the hype behind Crossfit being an injury prone sport, this study shows it isn’t anymore dangerous than other recreational activities.
A final point of interest in this study is the research into rhabdomyolysis. Crossfit is notoriously associated with this condition. Rhabdomyolysis is the byproduct of training too intensely for the body to handle (Marathon runners may also suffer from this). Basically, muscle fibers break down rapidly and release their contents into the bloodstream causing severe illness. Any sport done to the extreme could cause this, a 24 hour intense ping-pong marathon has the potential for rhabdomyolysis. The good news….. The study found no incidences of rhabdomyolysis.
The third study I want to look at aims to formally examine injury rates among CrossFit participants. The authors acknowledge that – to their knowledge – this had not been done at the time of publication.
The injury rate in this instance for Crossfitters is 19.4% and males are more susceptible to injuries than females – possibly a potential ego factor? Gymnastic movements tended to impact the shoulder more frequently with power lifting movements having greater effect on the lower back. I’d argue this really doesn’t show anything new, both sports in isolation will likely have the same findings. More importantly, the majority of injuries were only moderate aches and pains.
In addition, the study highlights that proper coaching reduces injury rates. So, I would argue that Crossfit is no different to any other sport. What this study shows is that by engaging in Crossfit you may get injured, however with proper coaching this (already fairly standard rate) can be reduced.
Think of it this way, if I play ice hockey the chances are I’ll get injured. If I play ice hockey with poor technical coaching I’ll almost certainly get injured. So, there’s no real difference here.
The fourth study published quite recently in 2017 looks at the rate, location and factors contributing to injury in Crossfitters. The study found that the most commonly injured areas were the shoulder, knee, and lower back. So, this again falls in line with other studies.
Secondly, injury prevalence was 26% which is similar to the first study and injury rate was also similar at 2.3/1000 athlete training hours. When you split this out, for non-competitive athletes, they have a 19% chance of getting injured (as in study 4) and this only rises slightly within competitive athletes. The study even concluded…
the rate of injury in CrossFit is similar to other forms of exercise
The significance of this? The stress and strain we put our bodies though at a competitive level is obviously going to be higher. This is the same in any sport, therefore Crossfit is really no different to any other sport. If you’re a non-competitive athlete, well, quite simply you’re at no additional risk doing Crossfit to any other sport.
The final study I want to look at investigates the injury risk that exists with CrossFit training and the factors that contribute to that risk. More importantly, the study takes into account how well people move. It considers whether this plays a role in injury rates.
The study acknowledges that the efficiency that people move with when performing functional movements – a big feature of Crossfit – is a risk factor with other athletic sports. However, they note that whether this is a factor in Crossfitter’s is not known. The efficiency of people’s movement and the impact on injury within Crossfit needs greater research.
So what does the study tell us? Well, again, the injury rate is consistent with other sports at 2.1/1000 training hours and men are more likely to get injured. (What is it with our ego’s hey!). However, the study does state:
The injury incidence rate associated with CrossFit training was low, and comparable to other forms of recreational fitness activities.
Furthermore, previous injury was also a risk factor, as Crossfit is a new sport, this is not surprising. We’re only now starting to see younger athletes starting Crossfit as their first sport. The majority of participants (Older than 15 years old) have already participated in sports throughout their lives. So, it is not implausible to consider that some injuries causing issues may be a result of other sports and not Crossfit itself.