Over the past few weeks we have been asking our members and followers to vote for their answer on a range of topics.  For example:

  • Which is the bigger test of strength, the squat or the deadlift?
    • The response showed a 51%/49% split
  • Would you rather compete in a team or as an individual?
    • 80% team vs 20% individual – a clear winner.

This week we wanted to put something a bit more challenging out and asked if CrossFit caused injuries. Now we could have included a lot more options for this, e.g.;

  • No as long as they don’t lift too heavy
  • providing the athlete is skilled enough
  • Yes if coached poorly
  • Yes if done at a high level

But we decided to keep it simple giving only a yes or no option. Not knowing what to expect we checked the results and fairly surprisingly we had 70% response to No, and a 30% to Yes. This sparked a healthy debate between some of the coaching team including Rich, our resident Osteopath, and Luke, our lead S&C, highlighting some interesting areas for as coaches and some we feel our members maybe need a bit more education on.

Simply put, CrossFit may cause injury, however it’s not quite that simple. Firstly it’s important that we look at CrossFit in 2 ways;

  • Using CrossFit as a training methodology aiming to take people with normal lives and jobs and generally improve their quality of life through building strength, increasing their cardiovascular endurance and improve the way they are able to move their bodies.

In short we want to help them run around with their kids without pulling a muscle or having a heart attack and be able to stand up from their chair when they are 90 years old.

  • Secondly there is CrossFit the sport, where individuals choose to take this methodology to an elite level, often training multiple times per day, pushing weights and reps to the limit.

With the first example, which the majority of our members use, there are a number of factors that will contribute to an increased risk of injury;

  • Poor Coaching
  • Your individual musculoskeletal imbalances or weaknesses
  • Pushing beyond your body’s abilities

Personally, I think that the coaching element plays the biggest roll, and CrossFit has a very low standard  in terms of educating a coach.  The current qualification model in CrossFit means after a weekend course an individual is deemed practiced enough to teach Olympic weightlifting to members of a gym, potentially with no previous experience of coaching. Not only that, they teach these movements to be performed at high intensity and conceivably under extreme fatigue. Simply put - if you’re going to a gym that has a coaching staff with limited experience, who decided to become an overnight coach after enjoying training, The CrossFit level 1 certificate is exactly that, it’s a basic introduction to the movements and structure of a CrossFit session. It does not and cannot teach participants the necessary detail required to coach individuals on how to adjust their lifting technique to better suit their lever lengths or how to identify someone with a reduced range of motion in their shoulder and how to address this before teaching variants of pull ups or overhead positions. These skills take years and hours upon hours of coaching to develop and cannot be learnt in a weekend. CrossFit do have Level 2 and above certifications and it would be unfair for me to comment on these as I have not attended them myself and am not 100% sure on the requirements to fulfil this qualification, however the issue at hand here is that it is too easy to get a badge that says “Hi I’m Steve and I can coach you in some of the most complex high skill movements you can do” Cheers Steve, not today thanks mate.

Let’s now presume that you are a member of a facility that has a good practice;  the coaches are on point and masters of their trade, you have undergone some form of MSK screening to highlight any imbalances or weaknesses, the coaches are attentive and always keep you within your ability range and you are rarely failing reps due to the load being too high………..will you get injured? Unfortunately, yes you probably will, but in as much that anyone could get injured or get niggles from going to their local globo gym and doing bench press and running on the treadmill.  The truth is, the balance of probability says that everyone will get injured at some point regardless of sporting endeavours (or lack thereof!). Good quality, well programmed training is there to maximise health benefits whilst minimising injury risk. However zero risk is not achievable and if you are training 3+ days per week on a regular basis then you will be lucky to go for years and years without some form of muscular strain, niggle or in some cases a full-blown injury. You can mitigate some of this risk by keeping on top of your sleep, nutrition, hydration and doing plenty of active recovery. Listening to your body and tweaking your training accordingly is important as is having an open dialogue with your coach when it comes to technique and niggles.

The elite CrossFit athlete who competes at a higher and higher level throughout the year has significantly higher risk of injury. It’s no coincidence that many top CrossFitters have had surgery of some description in their career, Brooke Ence, Sam Briggs and Josh Bridges to name a few.  If you’re training to compete in CrossFit as a sport, it would be wise to expect some injuries along the way, purely from the stress that it puts on the body. However, it’s also important to note that this is no more the case than in any other sport; for example rugby players will rarely complete a season completely injury free and the same can be said for Football and most other sports, pushing the body to its limit has consequences and whilst you can limit these by training smartly, it will likely happen to at some point.

Here is a published journal looking at CrossFit injury rates and how they compare with other form of physical activity:   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28253059/

To summarise, yes CrossFit can cause injury, but no more than any other form of training or sport. It’s important to remember injuries can be limited by ensuring you have a good coaching team, you look after your body and you don’t push beyond your capabilities.

James Shields

Team TAC

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