Do CrossFit's Risks Outweigh Its Rewards?
CrossFit is characterized by pushing people to their limits, but it's this principle that makes the workout controversial both in the public eye and among fitness experts. Watch out for these potential pitfalls if you decide to give CrossFit a try.
CrossFit was developed in 2000 as an alternative to traditional gym exercises. Every day around the world, CrossFitters get together to perform a workout of the day (known as the WOD), which may include:
- Olympic weightlifting
It's not unusual to see CrossFit participants lugging sandbags or flipping heavy tires as part of their exercise routine. CrossFit aims to keep the body guessing by adding variety to each workout. Although CrossFit encourages members of all fitness levels to join, this high-intensity program may not be for everyone.
Data on CrossFit injuries
When reviewing the data for CrossFit, it turns out the perception of danger may be worse than the reality. The most common injuries occur in the shoulder area, consistent with similar forms of exercise, like gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting.
Per every 1,000 hours of CrossFit training, the injury rate is between 2.4 and 3.1. Walking, swimming and cycling come in at a lower rate of 1 to 2 injuries per 1,000 hours, while sports like soccer, basketball and football have a much higher injury rate, in the 5 to 9.6 range.
Surprisingly, studies show it's not beginners who are most at risk for CrossFit injuries. Competitive CrossFitters who have participated in the sport for more than a year are 82 percent more likely to sustain injuries than newbies. This disparity could be because beginner classes may offer a greater focus on form to help keep new CrossFitters safer. After getting comfortable with the sport, people may be more likely to take chances or try to progress faster than they should.
The most common injuries in CrossFit are as follows:
- Muscle strain: 41 percent
- Overload injuries: 26.2 percent
- Contusions (bruising): 17.3 percent
- Fractures and dislocations: 5.6 percent
A rare but dangerous condition called rhabdomyolysis is possible with any form of vigorous physical activity. In rhabdomyolysis, muscle tissue breaks down rapidly, releasing compounds into the bloodstream that can damage the kidneys. Symptoms include dark-colored urine, weakness, muscle swelling, and extreme muscle soreness and stiffness. Contact your healthcare provider right away if you suspect that you may be experiencing the signs of rhabdomyolysis.
How to practice CrossFit safely
According to the USAW, an essential component for lifting weights is knowing how to "miss" safely. Serious injuries can happen when a weightlifter doesn't have a prepared way out of an exercise, particularly when lifting heavy weights and performing the overhead moves common to Olympic weightlifting and CrossFit.
As with any exercise program, rest and nutrition play crucial roles in recovery. Many people begin CrossFit intending to reduce body fat. However, it's important to consume enough protein and calories to support this intense exercise program. Without enough fuel, your body can't build the muscle necessary to raise your resting metabolic rate and improve body composition. Going to bed early and bumping up your hydration are smart strategies to support an active lifestyle.
Although CrossFit encourages participants to exercise 3 to 5 times per week, you may want to consider extended rest periods as you begin to take on more demanding challenges. Incorporating lower-impact workouts, like swimming or biking, can help you avoid overtraining.
Should you try CrossFit?
Whenever you challenge your body's current fitness level, there will be a chance of injury. By choosing a reputable CrossFit program with experienced trainers and taking the time to progress at your own pace, you can help reduce your risk of getting hurt.
CrossFit is an intense workout. If you take medication for a health condition such as diabetes or heart disease, talk to your doctor before signing up. Individuals with a history of previous injuries may not be the best candidates for CrossFit. Fortunately, there are many ways to modify your exercise program to reduce your risk and increase your rewards.