While there are many people that fall in love with fitness through CrossFit or see incredible improvements in strength and body composition with CrossFit classes or workouts, there are also plenty of people that have concerns about the safety of CrossFit.
Is CrossFit good for you? Is CrossFit bad for you? Is CrossFit dangerous?
Whether you are a current CrossFit fanatic or interested in starting but have concerns about the risks and safety, keep reading to learn about the concerns about CrossFit, whether CrossFit is dangerous, and potential reasons that people ask, “Why is CrossFit bad for you?”
We will cover the following:
- What Is CrossFit?
- Is CrossFit Bad for You?
- Tips to Make CrossFit Safer
Let’s dive in!
What Is CrossFit?
Before we try to settle the debate by answering the question “Is CrossFit bad for you?”, let’s briefly discuss what exactly CrossFit is and what CrossFit workouts typically entail.
CrossFit is a varied style of fitness training that first made waves in the fitness scene in 2000.
CrossFit training often takes place in group-style classes in CrossFit box gyms that feature barbells, strength training platforms, plyo boxes, squat racks, kettlebells, medicine balls, and dumbbells, along with more specialized and unique weight training implements like tires, weight sleds, and battle ropes.
Cardio equipment such as rowing machines, jump ropes, and fan bikes are also used for high-intensity sprints to boost metabolism and challenge aerobic and anaerobic energy systems.
Although many people participate in CrossFit training in a group exercise setting, you can also perform CrossFit workouts or CrossFit-style workouts on your own in a regular gym or even at home if you have the right equipment.
CrossFit workouts are typically high-intensity and incorporate interval training with bodyweight exercises, strength training exercises, metabolic conditioning or met con style training, plyometrics, and gymnastics moves.
Is CrossFit Bad for You?
So, is CrossFit dangerous? Is CrossFit bad for you? And if so, why is CrossFit bad?
CrossFit, like most types of exercise, isn’t necessarily inherently bad for you or dangerous; however, one of the primary risks of CrossFit workouts is getting injured.
With that said, although most types of physical activity have some risk of injury, the primary reason why CrossFit is often considered “dangerous“ or that people say CrossFit is bad for you is due to a particularly high risk of injury with CrossFit training versus many other forms of exercise.
So, why is the risk of injuries from CrossFit high? What makes CrossFit training dangerous?
Again, we want to reiterate that CrossFit workouts can certainly be safe and effective for many people, but there are factors that can increase the risk of injury from CrossFit.
Here are some of the top reasons why CrossFit can cause injuries:
#1: CrossFit Workouts May Be Too Challenging
While there are some beginner-friendly CrossFit workouts, if you are doing a CrossFit workout that exceeds your current fitness level, the risk of injury can be quite high.
#2: Proper Technique Is Key for CrossFit Workouts
Additionally, CrossFit uses a lot of high-intensity, high-impact exercises such as box jumps, burpees, Olympic weightlifting exercises, kipping pull-ups, and tire flips.
These exercises are inherently associated with a higher risk of injury due to the magnitude of the impact forces, speed of force generation necessary to perform the exercise, weights or loads used, and dynamic nature of the movements, which requires tremendous coordination, core strength, body control, and kinesthetic awareness.
If you do not have a good understanding of the proper technique and you have not received instruction about crucial form cues to prevent injury, you could incur an injury.
Indeed, studies have found that improper form contributes to a higher risk of CrossFit injuries.
To that end, if you are taking a CrossFit class, you need to ensure the instructor is knowledgeable and the group is not too large so that you will be able to receive individualized attention and guidance.
The instructors need to ensure that you are performing a movement with proper form.
If you have a CrossFit coach that is not knowledgeable, they may not even recognize that you are doing something unsafe or may teach you improper movement mechanics.
#3: CrossFit Workouts May Be Too Repetitive and Competitive
Two other aspects that can make CrossFit workouts bad for you and increase the risk of injury are the repetitive nature and competitive nature of the CrossFit training and social climate.
For example, one of the common CrossFit workout styles is the AMRAP workout.
This stands for “as many reps as possible,” and as the name describes, a CrossFit AMRAP workout involves performing as many repetitions of the given exercises as you can, either until failure or within a given amount of time.
Either scenario can lead to sloppy form and overdoing it.
For example, if you are trying to rush to beat your personal record (PR) for as many kipping pull-ups as you can do in a minute, you might start to cheat on your form or use too much momentum to squeeze in more reps, which may cause shoulder injuries or other issues.
Similarly, if you are doing AMRAP back squats to failure, your form might start to break down so that you can eke out more reps to beat your previous best score to land on the CrossFit leaderboard with an impressive number of reps.
This may cause injuries to your knees, hips, ankles, back, or any of the musculotendinous structures or bones in your body.
Repetitive exercise, particularly when your body is under a load or exerting force to lift a load, can increase the risk of injury when you perform your sets to failure.
Muscle fibers have a certain capacity, as do joints, tendons, bones, and other connective tissues.
You can get an acute injury if you try to push through a rep when some tissue has reached its capacity or if you use poor form because you’ve reached neuromuscular fatigue.
CrossFit can also cause overuse injuries such as tendinitis, bone stress injuries, and shin splints from the repetitive nature of any of the workouts.
One of the risks of injuries from CrossFit also has to do with the competitive nature of CrossFit classes.
Whether you like to compete with yourself and you are trying to set a PR or better your performance in a previous workout, or you are trying to set a record among the other class members of your gym, there is a fairly inescapable competitive spirit to CrossFit.
Competition isn’t inherently bad; it can push you to perform your best and not back off when the workout is tough. In this way, one of the benefits of CrossFit is that you might be able to achieve better performance than you would with a less structured workout or in a lackadaisical environment.
The harder you work—to some degree—the greater your gains in strength and fitness.
However, things can be taken too far, which can lead to the potential dangers of CrossFit workouts. We often let our competitive spirit override the logical side of our brain or the physical cues that our bodies are sending us that indicate that we need to stop or slow down.
When we ignore these signals and get caught up in rivalries or our own personal best, the risk of injury and overtraining increase significantly.
For this reason, studies have found that the risk of injuries with CrossFit may be higher than with traditional weightlifting due not only to the high-intensity nature of CrossFit training but also the atmosphere that causes participants to potentially push themselves too hard.
#4: CrossFit Workouts May Lend Themselves to Overtraining
This point is rather subjective, and there is not much evidence to substantiate it.
However, many people who start CrossFit workouts fall in love with the style of training and the community aspect provided by the CrossFit gym.
If you attend a gym that has unlimited CrossFit classes with your membership, you might end up doing too many CrossFit workouts per week without giving your body adequate rest.
This can lead to overtraining syndrome and will increase your risk of injuries.
While it can be great to do CrossFit a couple of times per week, studies have found that people who train more frequently with CrossFit workouts are at an increased risk of injury.
For example, one four-year study examined the incidence of CrossFit injuries and found that 30% of CrossFit participants dealt with some sort of musculoskeletal injury in the previous 12 months.
CrossFit athletes who trained between three and five days a week were at the highest risk of injury compared to those who did fewer CrossFit workouts per week.
Tips to Make CrossFit Safer
Here are a few tips to help reduce the risks of CrossFit so that you can enjoy the benefits while helping mitigate the potential dangers of CrossFit workouts:
- Work with a knowledgeable coach and make sure that you have mastered the proper technique for all of the key CrossFit exercises in a workout before trying to blast through them at a high intensity and fast speed.
- Keep your workout routine varied so that you only do CrossFit training 1 to 3 times per week with other lower-impact, lower-intensity workouts on other days.
- Work to correct strength imbalances and deficits that you identify.
- Always focus on form and technique over speed, weight, and reps.
- Progress slowly both in terms of the frequency with which you are doing CrossFit workouts as well as the weights that you are using, the difficulty of the exercises, and the rigors of the CrossFit class you are taking.
- Modify exercises and work out when necessary if you cannot properly or safely perform a movement.
- Listen to your body rather than get caught up in competition with yourself and others.
So, is Crossfit good for you or bad for you? If you feel like the pros of CrossFit outweigh the cons, and you want to give CrossFit a try, check out our guide to the best beginner CrossFit exercises here.