CrossFit Injury Rate: Is the Popular Workout Safe?

CrossFit Injury Rate: Is the Popular Workout Safe?

According to studies, CrossFit® can help lower body fat, increase muscle mass and maintain motivation. [1][2]

But is the injury risk worth the fitness benefits CrossFit athletes (CrossFitters) stand to gain?

What’s Crossfit Again?

(If you already know, skip this section →)

CrossFit is a popular global workout program known for its high-intensity workouts, gritty exercise equipment and motivational culture. If you’ve never been inside a CrossFit gym, here’s a quick breakdown of what you can expect:

Intense, Functional Workout Routines

CrossFit combines high-intensity interval training (HIIT) with functional fitness movements. But the structure can vary from class to class. A typical class may include a variety of movements inspired by Olympic weight lifting, gymnastics, weight training, plyometrics and other types of physical fitness.

Gritty Gyms & Equipment

CrossFit gyms are known for being gritty and full of character. They often have exercise equipment not found at a typical gym, including giant tires, massive war hammers, sandbags and battle ropes. They also typically have squat racks, bumper plates, suspension training equipment and various other equipment options inspired by other forms of exercise.

Tires are used as training equipment at some CrossFit gyms.
Giant tires are often used as functional training equipment at CrossFit gyms.

Motivation Community

Studies show CrossFit provides a motivating climate that trumps other physical fitness programs. Ask any CrossFitter what they like most, and they’re likely to reference the motivation they get from the CrossFit community. Chalkboards with the personal records (PR) on them, encouraging partners to spot you and a general sense of team all add to the motivating environment surrounding CrossFit. [3]

Worldwide Popularity

CrossFit was founded by a former gymnast, Greg Glassman, in 2000. Since then, it has grown into one of the most popular forms of exercise around the world, with over 13,000 CrossFit gyms in over 120 countries, as of 2016. Today, it’s popularity, and loyal community has led some to describe it as a “fitness cult.”

A Library of Acronyms

If you follow any CrossFitters on social media, you’ve probably noticed they love a good acronym. WODs and PRs are just two common examples, but CrossFitters are known for tapping into a seemingly endless library of workout-related acronyms. Sure, when you first get workout instructions in 2-to-5 letters, it can be confusing, but once you catch on, you feel even more like part of the team.

What’s the CrossFit Injury Rate?

As noted above, CrossFit was founded in 2000. So, research surrounding the risk of injury is still somewhat limited. That said, here’s what research has told us so far about CrossFit’s risk of injury:

  • 30% of people reported experiencing an injury over the previous year due to CrossFit training, according to a survey conducted by the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine that was sent to 3049 CrossFit participants between 2013 and 2017. [4]
  • In that same survey, they found that the most commonly injured areas were the shoulders (39%) and lower back (36%), among CrossFit participants. The knees, elbows and wrists were also somewhat prone to injury. [5]
  • CrossFit participants’ risk of injury may be similar to participants in Olympic weight-lifting, power-lifting and gymnastics according to an online survey conducted by Paul Taro Hak, Emil Hodzovic and Ben Hickey in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. [5]
  • Males were more likely to sustain an injury than females according to a survey conducted by the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. It included 386 participants, all who were CrossFit participants in the US. [6]
Training until you can’t get up can often lead to injury.

Why do Crossfit Injuries Happen?

Like any intense physical activity, you’re more likely to get injured during CrossFit workouts when you don’t pace yourself and follow instructions. Here are just a few of the most common causes of CrossFit injuries:

Going too Hard, too Fast

With so much excitement, it can be tempting for new CrossFitters to jump in head-first into their newfound workout routine – a common mistake. Studies show that those within the first six months of CrossFit training were much more likely to suffer an injury. [5]

Inconsistent Training

While overtraining can cause increase the likelihood of sports injuries, working out too little can also increase the risk of injury. Studies suggest that people who take part in CrossFit workouts less than three days per week are more likely to suffer Crossfit-related sports injuries. [5]

Inadequate Coaching

CrossFitters that learn proper form from a trainer are less likely to suffer injuries during CrossFit workouts, according to research. So, if you’re new to Crossfit workouts or performing an exercise for the first time, don’t be bashful and ask your trainer for help! [7]

Overtraining

Overtraining syndrome is a condition that occurs when you push yourself too hard. It can lead to reductions in appetite, sleep disturbances, persistent fatigue and a myriad of other health conditions. Even extremely well-trained athletes are susceptible to overtraining syndrome. As such, all CrossFitters need to know their limits.

CrossFit gym - olympic lifting with bumper weights.
Adding too much weight while performing advanced Olympic lifts can also lead to injury.

How can I Stay Safe When Doing CrossFit?

So, now that you know the common causes of Crossfit injuries, you probably want to know how you can avoid them, right? Here’s a breakdown of the best ways to prevent injuries during CrossFit training:

Follow the 10% Rule

So, how much is too much? According to the American College of Sports Medicine, you should never increase your training volume (reps, time, weight) by more than 10% at a time. That rule applies to all sports conditioning programs, not just CrossFit. [5]

Get Quality Sleep

Your body needs consistent quality sleep to recover from CrossFit training. Sleep deprivation can also have a detrimental impact on your workout performance and fitness gains, causing you to get exhausted quicker. [5][8]

Leave Time for Recovery

If you want to see results from CrossFit conditioning programs without suffering sports injuries, recovery time is vital. To avoid injury, rest between 24 to 72 hours, depending on the intensity and volume of the Crossfit workout. [5]

Fuel Your Body

Proper recovery from CrossFit training requires adequate protein and carbohydrate consumption. Staying hydrated is also essential. If you’d like to learn more on this topic, check out this article.

Listen to Science, not Sayings

The phrase “no pain, no gain” is perhaps the most misguided notion in sports and conditioning programs. And it’s not the only ill-informed rallying cry you may hear at CrossFit gyms. Just don’t be coaxed into pushing yourself too hard when you hear it, and you’ll be A-OK!

Kipping can increase the CrossFit injury rate
Kipping pull-ups require your shoulders to go beyond their normal range of motion, which can lead to injury.

Consider Skipping the Kipping

Kipping pull-ups are a gymnast-inspired workout commonly performed at CrossFit gyms. They require your shoulders to complete a move that goes beyond their normal physiological range of motion, which can increase the likelihood of shoulder injuries. [9]


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