Every so often, I get that question, “What do you think about CrossFit?” This is the time of year that it comes up more than usual, so here’s what I think.
I think CrossFit has some great things going for it. It uses a big variety of movements, and very few machines. Both the intensity of the workouts and the atmosphere of encouragement lead to a great feeling of camaraderie, as well as significant strength gains. I also like that a lot of parameters are measured, which makes it a lot easier to track progress. People love that CrossFit pushes them farther than they thought they could go, and they really enjoy their workouts. Sometimes it’s difficult doing hard things for a nebulous future goal (“being fit”), but we’ll keep coming to something that we enjoy, and since we’re there consistently, we will eventually get fit.
However, some of the very benefits of CrossFit are some of the things that make it more likely to lead to injury. The intensity of the CrossFit workout is some of the biggest draws for the Crossfitters that I know, but it is also one of the things that leads to increased injury rates. The volume of lifts that are performed in a short amount of time can lead to fatigue and loss of form very quickly, which leads to injury. We all respond well to an encouraging community, which can push us to new heights, but can also make us ignore signs of limitations (slight pain, fatigue, strain) that are warning us of impending injury. Tracking progress can help us make gains, but we can also be so focused on hitting a PR (personal record) that, again, we push through limits to lead to injury.
None of these downsides are unique to CrossFit. They are true of all fitness programs. It’s just that the nature of CrossFit can magnify some of these problems, and because of the intensity of the workouts, some of the injuries can be that much more significant.
For those that are in CrossFit (or any high intensity workout), or are considering it, here are a few things to consider.
- Be aware of your posture and alignment. If you are having difficulty with this during normal daily activities such as standing and walking, it is going to be even more difficult to maintain correct form with high intensity exercises. When you add weight, it is an even bigger stressor.
- Form, form, form. Many CrossFit coaches are great about teaching you how to perform the movements correctly, as well as how to modify movements as needed. Make sure that you are using good form, and if you have any questions, ask. (Also note that not all CrossFit coaches are created equal. Some have had a lot of training in exercise science before they started at CrossFit, but not all have. Be sure to ask.)
- Notice how you are feeling, whether you are getting tired and unable to adjust form. If you are having an off day from being too sore or too tired, think about taking a day off if you need it, or taking it a little easier.
- Be patient with progressions. Sometimes we look for a certain goal, like a strict pull up and think that if we’ve been working on it for a few months we should be able to do it. For some people, that can take months or even a year or more. It is hard to be content with gradual progressions, but as long as there is consistent progress, it’ll happen eventually. If there is a plateau in progress it may be a sign that you are compensating somewhere for a slight injury or range of motion restriction.
I am all for people challenging themselves, and any challenge can bring with it a risk for injury. However, being aware of these things can help reduce the risk.