CrossFit – Injury Prone Or Misunderstood

It has been 14 years since the invention of CrossFit. The sport that claims to forge elite fitness. Now boasting over 7000 “boxes” all over the world, and an Olympic style competition called The CrossFit Games. The sport is growing exponentially each day.

With over a decade under it’s belt, the sport still inspires heated discussions that are nothing short of religious debate. Many “traditional” fitness and olympic weightlifting athletes express their distain for CrossFit. Which in turn inspires CrossFit zealots to defend their sport. Two view points, on opposing sides of the aisle.

The Injury Argument

A quick scan of any comment thread regarding CrossFit will typically lead a reader to the prevailing argument, that CrossFit is an injury prone sport. High repetition combined with a heavy load while measuring time, is often the reason for argument.

One of CrossFit’s most famous workout of the day or WODs, is FRAN. Three rounds of 21-15 and 9 repetitions for time, of 95 lb. thrusters and pull ups. To the untrained eye this does not look daunting. In fact, some of the sports top athletes can finish this WOD in under three minutes. Which is where much of the allure of CrossFit is derived. Short workouts and quick results. Intensity, weight, and speed, factor into each WOD and this is where the injury argument takes off.

Let’s consider injury in other sports and how injury is actually caused. Overtraining, poor warm up, and accidents are the leaders. The recent discussion about concussions in American Football, specifically the NFL, have sparked new rules and techniques to lower the rate of injury. Helmet manufactures, and technology companies have created wearables to measure the force at which a helmet is hit. There is even talk that banning helmets could prevent injury. Yet, it is unmistakably clear that the way a person is tackled, is what leads to a head injury. From this, we can conclude that proper form is the key to prevention.

If we can agree that form or proper technique can prevent injuries, then we can conclude that perhaps it is not the sport of CrossFit that is the problem, but it could certainly be the culture.

The Culture and The Zealots

Too often you see CrossFit athletes glorifying their injuries. Do a search for CrossFit injuries and you’re sure to find numerous grotesque pictures of torn apart hands, knee surgeries, lower back surgeries, vomit, and hospital beds. There is a subset of the community, like many communities, that thrive off shock value.

TIME Magazine, ABC News, and The Huffington Post, have all covered stories about Rhabdomyolysis in CrossFit. What is it? Very simply, it is the bodies inability to process the amount of broken down muscle tissue that occurs during intense physical activity. To be clear, rhabdomyolysis can happen in any form of physical activity where the body experiences over exertion. One of CrossFit’s mascots is called “Rhabdo the clown”. Another product of this subset community.

A recent and very unfortunate injury to top CrossFit athlete Kevin Ogar, sparked an even larger debate about the sports safety. It should be noted that this injury occurred during an Olympic Weightlifting event that was not specified as a CrossFit event, and the injury was truly a freak accident.

Cultures and communities are often judged by the most radical subset. This is the plight of humanity. The CrossFit zealots that fervently defend their sport are akin to a cornered lion, because of the judgment of the subset. Often times they are forced to defend against naysayers who use the injury glorifiers to disprove the legitimacy of their sport.

You’ll find that the greatest supporters and influencers in the sport are well trained, former olympic weightlifters and nationally certified fitness trainers. If you disregard the radicals of the CrossFit community, you may find that the whole is more closely related to the naysayers.

Scaling and Modifying

When you first learned to ride a bike, did you just jump on and begin riding? Regardless of sport or fitness regimen, changing the way the activity is performed is fundamentally accepted as a way to improve. Most likely you began to ride with training wheels and gradually worked your way to riding without them. This is called scaling. We see it in the most basic of life experiences.

Scaling can be done with almost any WOD or Olympic lift, and in boxes and gyms with intelligent coaches and trainers, scaling is fundamental to increase each athletes skill. An example of this would be, substituting an overhead squat for an overhead lunge.

Is the level of training and intelligence needed to instruct complex movements in sports such as CrossFit up to par?

Personal Experience

I’ve now been doing CrossFit for three months. Before CrossFit, I would go to the gym and do what I call “The Standard”. 2-3 days of lifting and 1-2 days of “cardio”. This becomes stale quickly and after 8 years of this I was ready for something new.

My degree is in Kinesiology, from Michigan State University, and how I ended up here is an entirely different story. I’ve worked in different fitness facilities over the course of my career and I know the importance of form, and the importance of good instruction in physical activity.

In any fitness facility you’ll quickly notice who is a poor coach/trainer and who is not. This same assessment can be applied to each independently owned Box. Some coaches lack the integrity, knowledge, and know how, to properly instruct and push their athletes. Which undoubtedly leads to injury and a poor overall perception of CrossFit.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I was first exposed to CrossFit, I was adamant that these people are insane. Glorifying injury, encouraging people to push well beyond their limit, and the awful workout attire. However, the aforementioned does not represent the sport accurately.

I am very grateful that I can do my WODs at a box where my coaches and fellow athletes hold form, safety, and instruction in the highest regard. While still knowing how to push athletes to their limit and provide effective results.

I have a healthy fear of injury because I enjoy my WODs, and any injury would set me back. I do not let my fear limit my workout. Calculated breaks, and knowledge of your body can prevent injuries.

Conclusion

The polarizing topic that is CrossFit, is likely due to a lack of knowledge on both sides of the aisle. One side does not recognize that a small extreme subset of the community does not represent the whole, and the other perhaps doesn’t understand that there are coaches and trainers who are not qualified.

As a whole, keep in mind that relative to Olympic weightlifitng, Marathon Running, Strong Man Competitions, Football, Baseball, and Basketball; CrossFit is still a very young sport with a lot of opportunity to grow.

 

Comment and share your experience.