Beware the dangers of CrossFit

If you’re on a quest to become super-strong, CrossFit is a brilliant choice. But pushing your physical limits comes with a few risks.

CrossFit is all the rage – a good thing when you consider that not getting enough exercise is one of the leading risk factors of death worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise throughout the week (or a combination of both).

If you’ve resolved to get fit this year, sweating it out at your nearest CrossFit “box” will certainly get you there. After all, this training method is described by many as “the most efficient and effective exercise programme out there”.

But as with most forms of exercise, CrossFit can be risky if you don’t take the necessary precautions.

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is an “extreme conditioning programme” that involves constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.

Developed in the United States by Greg Glassman, the workouts are both intense and measurable, leading to dramatic gains in both strength and endurance over time. As groups of people train together, a sense of camaraderie develops.

“All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more,” explains the website. “These are the core movements of life. They move the largest loads over the longest distances, so they’re ideal for maximising the amount of work done in the shortest time.”

The goal, ultimately, is for participants to gain broad, comprehensive fitness that will prepare them for any physical challenge.

How safe is CrossFit?

Research shows that people participating in CrossFit and other types of extreme conditioning programmes (e.g. Insanity and Gym Jones) don’t suffer from more injuries than those participating in weightlifting and other recreational activities.

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Still, any form of physical training comes with a risk of injury.

In research studies, injuries that relate to extreme conditioning programmes such as CrossFit, range from overuse injuries (e.g. stress fractures, tendonitis, shin splints) to acute, traumatic injuries.

The most frequent injuries are those located in the:

  • Shoulders
  • Spine
  • Arms and elbows
  • Hands and wrists
  • Knees, hips and thighs
  • Ankles
  • Neck
  • Chest
  • Feet

Shoulder and knee injuries are especially common – a result of frequently extending the muscles beyond the normal range of motion and/or overloading the muscles and joints.

Rhabdomyolysis also sometimes occurs with extreme conditioning programmes. This is the breakdown of muscle tissue that leads to the release of muscle fibre contents into the blood. These substances can harm the kidneys and, in extreme cases, lead to life-threatening kidney failure.

Stay safe from CrossFit-related injuries 

  • Only train with a certified, experienced CrossFit professional.
  • Always warm up and stretch before and after your workout. The improved flexibility from stretching will help you maintain good form while you train.
  • Work closely with your trainer to figure out the type and intensity of exercises you should do. Don’t exercise beyond your personal physical limits.
  • Take care to follow proper technique. Check in with your trainer as often as necessary.
  • Rest when you must. When you’re too tired, your technique suffers, increasing your risk for injury.
  • Stay properly hydrated while you exercise.
  • Follow your training session with a healthy, balanced meal to restore lost nutrients.
  • Stop as soon as you feel pain or discomfort.
  • Never exercise when you’re feeling sick.

Working with a good trainer is crucial if you’re doing CrossFit. Look for a CrossFit gym that’s been around for a while, has a good reputation, and has trainers who are at least Level I CrossFit Certified.