The Crossfit Debate
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit’s specialty is not specializing. The goal is to optimize performance in all 10 fitness domains: endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Put simply, CrossFit’s goal is to develop overall fitness or “functional” strength.
Since its debut in 2000, CrossFit, considered one of the hottest workouts on the market, has been questioned about its safety. Known for short, high-intensity intervals that combine strength and cardio exercises, a typical Workout of the Day (WOD) lasts about 30 minutes and demands a high level of fitness and technical skill. Since there’s a timed element to most WODs, workouts can become competitive. CrossFit advocates boast of the fitness improvements associated with workouts that include gymnastics, running, rowing, power lifting and various exercises performed with and without equipment, but there’s concern among fitness experts that CrossFit workouts lack the instruction and supervision necessary to ensure the proper execution of its large library of exercises, thus leading to a high number of injuries.
A study done by Smith et al (2013), sought to examine the effects of a crossfit-based high intensity power training (HIPT) program on aerobic fitness and body composition. Healthy subjects of both genders (23 men, 20 women) spanning all levels of aerobic fitness and body composition completed 10 weeks of HIPT consisting of lifts such as the squat, deadlift, clean, snatch, and overhead press performed as quickly as possible. Additionally, this crossfit-based HIPT program included skill work for the improvement of traditional Olympic lifts and selected gymnastic exercises. Their data showed that HIPT significantly improves VO2max and body composition in subjects of both genders across all levels of fitness. The main pros seem to be efficiency, variety and adherence. The CrossFit program’s continually changing routines can both improve strength and overall fitness in less time than traditional workouts when done with proper technique. Because the workout is constantly changing, it helps keep people’s interest and maintains a challenging, fun workout experience.
The main concern is around the risk of injury since CrossFit workouts often involve high repetitions of some lifts and lifting heavy weight while fatigued, with potentially inadequate supervision. One of the problems is that people can go online and follow the workout of the day without being in a supervised environment. A study by Hak et al. (2013) estimated the risk of injury to be 3.1 injuries per 1,000 CrossFit hours trained. Overall rate of injuries sustained during training are broadly similar to that reported in the literature for sports including weightlifting, powerlifting and gymnastics, and lower than that reported in competitive contact sports such as Rugby League and Rugby Union,” stated the researchers. As for how CrossFit measures up against the injury rate of more general fitness pursuits like running, triathlon and training at the gym, the numbers compiled by the researchers suggest no increased risk for CrossFit enthusiasts. That said, the high rate of shoulder injury found among the CrossFit crowd is cause for concern. The injury rate is higher than that attributed to elite and competitive Olympic weightlifters; CrossFit’s reliance on overhead movements combined with a propensity to lift heavy weight is the source of many of the shoulder injuries.
Based on the information gathered, more emphasis on proper lifting technique and less on the speed and total number of repetitions performed can reduce the rate of injury for CrossFit enthusiasts. Performing the workouts under the supervision of certified coaches who can correct improper technique is also recommended. Any injuries sustained should be assessed and treated appropriately.
At Corona Station Physical Therapy, we assess and treat the main musculoskeletal injuries sustained by overuse or trauma related to CrossFit. Common injuries will be addressed in a subsequent article. For any questions or comments please feel free to contact us and ask to speak to one of our physiotherapists.
Smith MM, Sommer AJ, Starkoff BE, Devor ST. CrossFit-based high intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Nov; 27(11): 3159-72.
Hak PT, Hodzovik E, Hickey B. The Nature and Prevalence of Injury in doing CrossFit Training. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 – ahead of print.