Healthypedia
Brenton Barker

The Truth About CrossFit Injuries

Although CrossFit is booming in popularity and has numerous health benefits, the sport also has a reputation for being dangerous. But is that really true? Let's dig deeper to find out.

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Over the past decades, we’ve seen countless fitness crazes come and go. Whether it was Zumba, Jazzercise or Billy’s Bootcamp, many of these activities turned out to be fads. Although I must say, Billy’s Bootcamp is still going strong decades later.

Enter CrossFit, the brainchild of Greg Glassman, which according to Greg, was designed and developed over decades of training. We all know the benefits of CrossFit, from increases in strength and conditioning to boosting confidence and self-esteem.

But in recent years, CrossFit has garnered somewhat of a ‘bad wrap,’ with some studies saying the movements may leave participants prone to injury.

But is this really the case? Are you more prone to injury doing CrossFit? Let’s find out.

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a form of training incorporating weightlifting, gymnastics, and aerobic exercises to boost health and fitness. The sessions or workouts of the day are intense, to say the least, and are generally completed in 60 minutes or less.

The workouts include speed and strength, with the main focus being improving functional movements in everyday life, such as picking the shopping up off the floor and squatting while gardening.

Many experts, myself included, are big fans of CrossFit because the sports cover a wide range of fitness elements, including:

  • Speed

  • Strength and conditioning

  • Flexibility and mobility

  • Aerobic fitness

  • It provides a real sense of community and fun

For me, the most beneficial aspect of CrossFit is that the benefits make performing everyday tasks much easier. CrossFit workouts and exercises are also scalable, meaning regardless of skill and fitness level, anyone can join in and get the most out of the sessions.

Although being physically fit does reduce the chance of injury, it’s also important to note that CrossFit might not be for everyone. Keep in mind there are other forms of exercise that are just as beneficial, such as yoga, pilates, cycling, and walking.

What are the causes of CrossFit injuries?

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Let’s make no bones about it, CrossFit is a physically demanding activity that pushes participants to their absolute max by performing weight training combined with gymnastic-style movements. CrossFitters are undoubtedly the most passionate, dedicated, and supportive group of gym-goers you’ll find.

On the flip side, CrossFit has gained a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to injury. There are a few reasons why people tend to get injured while performing CrossFit, and the fact that the training sessions are conducted in such a high-intensity manner exacerbates the problem.

Common reasons for CrossFit injuries:

  • Beginner to the sport

  • Incorrect technique

  • Low level of base fitness

  • Inexperienced coaching

  • Overwork

CrossFit follows what they call a ‘workout of the day’, or WOD, which on the face of things, seems like an excellent idea; everyone in the class performs the same exercise at the same time. However, problems arise when people in the class cannot perform those exercises at the same intensity and pace as the others.

Many of those participants feel pressure to perform, and as such, they push well beyond their limits and subsequently injure themselves.

Five common CrossFit injuries and prevention strategies

One study showed that 56% of Dutch CrossFitters were injured in one way or another while performing CrossFit. It’s important to note, though, that many fitness gyms offer ‘CrossFit-like’ classes but are not affiliated with CrossFit itself. This means that many of the coaches are unqualified to deliver CrossFit workouts which could account for the increase in injury.

Let’s take a look at five common CrossFit injuries and, more importantly, tips on how to prevent them.

1Tennis elbow

I know what you’re thinking, tennis elbow from CrossFit? Tennis elbow is simply an overuse injury, but it’s generally associated with tennis and other racquet sports like squash and badminton and throwing sports like baseball and softball.

However, repetitively lifting heavy weights with poor technique will lead to inflammation of your elbow joint and tendon, ultimately resulting in tennis elbow.

Prevention Tip: Stretching your entire body, including your elbow, before and after your workout is non-negotiable. Additionally, icing your elbow at night will help to reduce the build-up of inflammation

2Lower back strain

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Lower back strains are common in all sporting activities, not just CrossFit. Lifting heavy weight above and beyond what you can handle is a surefire way to injure your lower back. The main culprit is generally heavy weight, poor technique, and a failure to warm up correctly.

Prevention Tip: Stretching is absolutely vital to preventing injuries, but it’s not just the lower back muscles you need to stretch. Ensure you warm up your glutes, hamstrings, and calves, and ask your coach to check your form while squatting and deadlifting.

3Iliotibial band syndrom (IBS)

Many gym-goers experience pain in their quadriceps muscles, particularly on the outside of the leg down towards the knee. Iliotibial Band Syndrome (IBS) is a common injury among cyclists, but CrossFitters can also fall victim, especially if repeating lower body movements such as squats and lunges with poor technique.

Prevention Tip: Spending 10 minutes daily to stretch and strengthen your hip abductors and adductors will significantly reduce the chance of developing IBS. Exercises like Lying Clams, Single Leg Clams, and Side Leg Raises are recommended.

4Patellar tendonitis

Perhaps one of the most common CrossFit injuries is patellar tendonitis. Many CrossFit movements, such as box jumps, jumping rope, and burpees, place a great deal of stress on the knee, which can lead to injury. Again incorrect form, along with overwork and a lack of rest, are generally the main reasons behind patellar tendonitis.

Prevention Tip: Stretching and strengthening your tibialis anterior will greatly reduce the chance of injury. I recommend using resistance bands placed around your feet to help you flex and release the muscles.

5Wrist sprains

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Wrist sprains are common in most sports and can be quite painful, resulting in an extended time away from working out. CrossFit movements such as clean and jerks, overhead presses, and pull-ups place the wrist under significant stress.

Prevention Tip: Again, warming up and stretching your wrist before and after your workout is a must. Improving your grip strength is also probably one of the best ways to prevent wrist sprains. Additionally, keeping your weight light until you can perfect the correct technique is highly recommended.

CrossFit injuries: let’s sum up

Here’s the bottom line: CrossFit is relatively safe compared to most sports, particularly contact sports. The key to reducing injury, regardless of the sport, is to seek the advice of qualified and experienced coaches who can help guide you on your journey to a healthier you.

CrossFit offers numerous health benefits that crossover into daily life and helps make functional movements like walking, lifting, pulling, pushing, and squatting much easier.

There is a chance of injury with any sporting activity. Still, if you follow the practical prevention tips outlined above, there’s no reason you can’t safely enjoy all the health benefits CrossFit has to offer.

Happy CrossFitting!

Want to learn more?

Below is an in-depth and highly informative video published by CrossFit in which they detail elements of exercise, such as recovery and injury prevention protocols. Dr. Kelly Starrett also looks at the impact that proper sleep and eating a well-balanced and healthy diet have on CrossFit injury.


Healthypedia FAQ

According to data, shoulder injuries are by far the most common type of injury when it comes to those who perform CrossFit. The main reasons for shoulder injuries are lifting weights that are too heavy, lifting with improper technique, and not warming up correctly. Exercises like pull-ups and dips can also place unwanted stress on the shoulder joint.

CrossFit is a fun sport that provides many health benefits to the participant. That being said, CrossFit exercises can be quite demanding and require a good level of base fitness and proper technique. Many of the injuries occur because beginners go ’too hard too early,’ and without correction from the coach, the result will almost certainly be an injury.

Well, that depends on your fitness level and experience performing the complex movements CrossFit requires. However, this can be said of almost every type of sport and fitness modality. The key is gradually increasing your intensity and workload as you get fitter and more comfortable with your activity. If you're new to fitness, talk with your CrossFit coach so they can scale and modify the exercises for you.

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