As a Physical Therapist who works in a CrossFit box, I get asked this question a lot. Both by people who are members, as well as outsiders, so I figured it was time to share my thoughts.
If we look at injury rates in CrossFit, a 2017 study by Klimek showed that injury rates are very similar to other popular sports such as soccer, ice hockey, powerlifting, gymnastics, and even, yes, running!
CrossFit Vs. Running
Now I’ve never heard anyone say that running is unsafe or that we should never run, but injury rates for runners have been reported at 2.5-12.1 per 1000 training hours, vs 2.1-3.1 per 1000 training hours in CrossFit. (Moran 2017, Hak 2017, Montalvo 2017, van Mechelen 1992).
CrossFit injuries occur because we are training with increased intensity and load for a longer duration of time. Montalvo found that competitors and those who trained more frequently were more likely to experience an injury. A lot of boxes will program more intense workouts than what @crossfit actually recommends.
With that said we need to look at load and volume management. Tim Gabbet showed a 70% increase in injury risk when training volume is too high or there is a big spike in volume.
Due to the high volume in many workouts that also require a high degree of technical precision, we tend to see increased injuries as a result of technique errors as well as from a lack of muscle strength/endurance. I think this is due to the fact that a lot of athletes will train above their maximal recoverable zone, which will allow them to build up strength for a period of time, but eventually catch up with them in the form of a CrossFit injury.
In CF Level 1 classes coaches are taught to compose workouts with a single strength or skill exercise or a metabolic conditioning workout with a 2 days on/1 day off or 5 days on/2 days off schedule.
However most gyms will program a strength component as well as a conditioning component on the same day 6-7 days/week. This is significantly higher than what CrossFit HQ actually recommends and I believe this puts athletes above their maximal recovery zone and makes them more susceptible to injury.
Common Medical Opinion
If we look at what most medical professionals say when it comes to CrossFit, AKA “Just Stop”, then we shift to the other end of the spectrum and we know that an inactive lifestyle can be associated with higher risks of: Chronic pain, obesity, depression, heart disease, diabetes, shorter lifespan, etc.
I think its pretty obvious which one is better.
Overall, a comprehensive approach needs to be taken to prevent CrossFit injuries. An individualistic approach to volume and load management, technique, and muscle strength/imbalances can have a real positive impact on this sport which has already done a great job encouraging millions to live a healthy, active lifestyle!
If you’re a CrossFitter, live in Washington DC, and have suffered an injury, you don’t have to suffer in pain. Big League Performance and Rehab is here for you! We specialize in helping active people like you get back to the things they love to do!
If your interested in talking 1 on 1 with a Doctor of Physical Therapy about what you’ve been dealing with you can email Dr. Mike right here- Contact