I have recently started doing CrossFit at a local box (CrossFit gym), and from the reaction I’ve received from pretty much everyone I’ve told (including my own wife!), it seems that the first thing many people think of is ‘injury’! I’ve received many admonitions to ‘be careful’, and warnings about CrossFit causing shoulder injuries, knee injuries, back injuries….you get the picture. I have wondered if many of those warning me are thinking, “Surely as a PT you should know better!” Certainly, I have seen and rehabilitated some CrossFit injuries over the years, but as a form of exercise, it can provide a great base for people to enjoy life and perform better in their sports. But is it really true that CrossFit is inherently more dangerous than other sports? If it is, why is that? If it’s not, why is there a perception that it is?
Well, thankfully I’m not going into this blind! A few months ago, I had the fortune of meeting Scott and Lori Bean, owners of CrossFit Nomad. Very quickly I was impressed with the care that Scott and Lori expressed for their members. They want to do everything they reasonably can to keep injuries to a minimum. My focus on injury prevention and risk reduction resonated with them, as well, and so we have agreed to partner together to support each other in our goals! I’m now available to Nomad members at the box several times throughout the week (or anytime by phone/email!) to answer injury-related questions, screen potential injuries, and provide guidance on injury risk reduction. In return, I am working out at Nomad as any other member would, working on improving my own fitness (which I have sadly neglected while raising small kids and starting my own business!). This is really allowing me to truly understand and appreciate CrossFit! I want to tell you a little more about CrossFit Nomad in particular, but first let’s look a little more closely at what CrossFit is, and what the research says about CrossFit and injuries in general.
CrossFit – What Is It, and Who Is It For?
CrossFit is a form of cross-training exercise – meaning that it is a mix of cardio and whole-body strength and flexibility training. Many of the exercises are a little unusual or maybe things you wouldn’t have imagined yourself doing (or doing again) – like headstands, rope climbing, jerry-jug carries, sled pushes…along with some more traditional weight lifting moves like squats, clean-and-jerks, dead-lifts, pull-ups….
So maybe you’re thinking – good grief, that stuff was hard in high school, I can’t-do that? Stay with me! One of the great things about CrossFit is that all of the workouts can be scaled to your current ability level – and you will still get a great workout. That said, there is definitely the possibility of injury when you’re starting a new exercise routine, so what is the real injury risk with CrossFit?
CrossFit Injury Compared to Other Sports
A recent systematic review found that CrossFit’s injury rates are lower or comparable to those for Olympic lifting, distance running, track and field, rugby, football, ice hockey, soccer, and gymnastics. With respect to most commonly injured body part, 25% are shoulder, 14.3% and 13.1% were lower back and knee, respectively. The quality of the research available is not of the highest caliber, but is also not the worst!
What can CrossFit do to Keep Injury Rates Reasonable?
The above research noted that it appears that injuries occur more where supervision is not always available to the athlete, or they do not actively seek supervision. I had often heard from CrossFit athletes that some boxes don’t have great supervision and have more injuries. Some boxes and athletes may even wear pain and even injury as a badge of honor! The paper quotes other research showing that in CrossFit males were less likely to seek help from coaches. That Y chromosome and our testosterone do seem to make us a little more likely to plow onwards without such regard for technique and safety. I have seen this in other sports as well, so I feel pretty confident it is not isolated to Crossfit! Even though males are perhaps less likely to seek supervision, perhaps the mark of a good CrossFit box is one where the coach is paying good attention to those who are not seeking it!
CrossFit Nomad’s Approach to Injury Risk Reduction
If supervision is key to reducing CrossFit injuries, then Nomad is definitely on the right track. Each new member attends 3-6 private personal training sessions, where you learn the basics of the various techniques employed in CrossFit workouts (or “WoDs” – workout-of-the-day). The focus of these sessions is technique rather than any weight or achievement. (Though, I can attest that they are still really good workouts – I was drenched with sweat from head-to-toe after each one!) I really enjoyed the personal training sessions as although I was broadly familiar with CrossFit I did not know all of the different exercises. So before you ever go to a regular workout session, you are laying a good knowledge foundation to be able to safely progress.
Now that I’m going to the regular WoD classes, I continue to be impressed with all the coaches and their attention to detail. The coach who is leading the workout is constantly keeping an eye out on everyone’s form (not doing the workout themselves!). Also, the coaches themselves come to classes for their own fitness and I have noticed them helping even when it is not their class. As a male, I acknowledge that perhaps I am slightly more likely to plow onwards even when wrong, so I have been happy to see that I have received coaching input both when I have looked for it and when I have not! In the past, my natural competitiveness has caused me some injuries, so I am glad that although there is the encouragement to perform and better myself, there is no push for me to do stuff I am not comfortable with.
Exercise for Everyone!
Overall, I’ve found working out at CrossFit Nomad to be a great experience of challenging workouts and a fun community. If you’re looking for a new way to get in shape and have fun, with a little more variety than your typical “weekend warrior” sports, I would encourage you to check out CrossFit. In fact, whether your thing is running, golf, tennis, soccer, softball, CrossFit is a great way to improve your strength base and improve at your primary sport. Whatever your reasons for starting, just make sure the box you’re at is providing you adequate guidance as you learn the workouts, and don’t push through pain – give me a call or schedule a free injury screening if you have concerns. My experience so far makes me excited to be doing CrossFit and I look forward to seeing where it takes me!
Klimek C, Ashbeck C, Brook AJ, Durall C. Are Injuries More Common with Crossfit Training than other Forms of Exercise?. J Sport Rehabil. 2017;:1-10.