Over the past several years, CrossFit has become one of the most popular forms of training on the planet. Athletes and “normal” people have used it to reshape their bodies, and CrossFit has even developed into a sport of sorts. But as with any popular physical activity, CrossFit has attracted plenty of critics who claim that the CrossFit programs dangerous.
But is there any evidence that CrossFit can lead to injuries, or worse?
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What Science Says
The truth is that CrossFit is such an eclectic protocol that it’s tough to study in a systematic way, but researchers at Ohio State University took on that task in 2012.
In all, the OSU researchers reported on results for 43 subjects, who showed significant decreases in bodyfat and increases in cardiovascular fitness levels.
Great, positive results.
This study also planted a CrossFit landmine, though, in the form of one little sentence:
Of the 11 subjects who dropped out of the training program, two cited time concerns with the remaining nine subjects (16% of total recruited subjects) citing overuse or injury for failing to complete the program and finish follow up testing.
If you do the math, that means one-sixth of the original 54 subjects dropped out of the study for what the scientists reported as overuse injuries.
The owner of the club where the study was performed then sued OSU for damages to his business, but the study was enough to get the media waters churning. While the lawsuit claims that the injury numbers were faked and OSU maintains they weren’t, the overall conversation points out potential dangers of high-intensity, high-velocity, high-frequency training.
Among the potential dangers of any intense training program are the following:
Overtraining is a general condition wherein your training is too intense or too frequent to allow your body to recover adequately between sessions.
Acute overtraining can help you reach new levels of performance
Chronic overtraining on the scale of weeks or months, though, can compromise your immune system and leave you susceptible to colds. It can also set you up for the other problems on this list.
To avoid overtraining, ease into new workout protocols, get adequate nutrition and sleep, and take your foot off the training pedal occasionally.
Tendinitis is an irritation or inflammation of a tendon, the thick connective tissue that holds your muscle to your bone. Tendinitis can be caused by repeating the same motion too often, or by multiple similar movements around the same joint in a short amount of time.
Once you have tendinitis, rest is generally part of the treatment, and that means missed gym time.
CrossFit and many other programs involve dynamic movements wherein you move quickly against a load or “explode” from one position into another. This type of motion creates a tremendous amount of force on your bones, muscles, and connective tissue and can cause severe injury under the right circumstances.
Taking pains to stay hydrated, warm up properly, and perform your movements with great care can limit your chance of injury.
Intense running, jumping, weight lifting, and other activities that form the heart of CrossFit demand a lot of your muscles and other body parts. Your blood will pump like crazy, your muscles will fire like pistons, and your organs will work overtime to deliver the hormones and other substances necessary for top performance.
You need water to transport vital nutrients throughout your body AND to keep you cool enough to work out hard. The longer and more intensely you train, the more water your body will need, and the easier it will be to get dehydrated.
To avoid dehydration, drink enough water so that you need to urinate every hour or so and to keep your urine nearly clear.
Taken to the extreme, dehydration and a sudden, severe uptick in workout volume and intensity can lead to rhabdomyolyis, or “rhabdo.”
Rhabdo is a condition in which your body breaks down muscle protein and passes it through your kidneys. The symptoms include brown urine, severe fatigue, and terrible muscle pain.
Rhabdo can be deadly and requires immediate medical attention. The good news is that you should be able to avoid rhabdo by easing in to any new program, including CrossFit.
Just because CrossFit can cause you problems doesn’t mean that it will.
Any exercise program can injure you or drive you into overtraining if you don’t take precautions.
Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.
Stay hydrated. Eat well. Add exercises and workouts slowly. Get your rest.
Don’t do any movement that causes you joint or tendon and ligament pain.
If you take a common-sense approach to your workouts, you should be able to train safely for a long, long time.