Sunday, February 17, 2019

Is CrossFit Safer Than Running?

Picture by Kylie Siu 
There, I thought that headline will catch your attention. More on that statistic later in the article.

CrossFit comprises of calisthenics, Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, plyometrics, high intensity interval training (HIIT), gymnastics, running, rowing and other exercises. Participants complete daily WODs (workouts of the day) to build cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility etc.

CrossFit Inc was founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000 in Santa Cruz, California. It was started earlier as Cross-Fit In 1996. After the couple fell out, Glassman bought over her share with a huge loan.

CrossFit was also made popular by military personnel, law enforcement agencies, fire departments etc who can do WODs anywhere by accessing it online.

I've seen many CrossFit athletes come to our clinic, mostly by word of mouth referral. I'm told by some of them that they like to see me because I don't ask them to stop training as they're often when they see someone else when they have an injury.

Other doctors and other health care practitioners often tell them that CrossFit has a high risk of musculoskeletal injury. I usually allow them to train (modified of course) while getting them better. One such patient asked if I can write about CrossFit injuries.

So here's what I found from published articles. Those of you reading this because of the title, thank you for reading this far.

Most of the research suggest that CrossFit is not more dangerous than other strength based training. like weight or power lifting. Researchers found CrossFit results in roughly 2.1 injuries per 1000 training hours. It was actually higher for endurance sports like running. Recreational running resulted in 8 injuries per 1000 hours of training. For novice runners the figure shot up to 18.

Athletes new to CrossFit (less than 6 months) were definitely injured more often. This finding is important and coaches and athletes need to focus on correct movement patterns. Workouts need to be modified for beginners.

Common injury locations were in the knee, lower back and shoulder. Majority of the injuries were reported as chronic/ overuse in nature. Possible causes included bad/incorrect form to lift a heavier weight, fatigue, old injury and too little/ bad coaching.

Because the WODs were constantly changing and varied, CrossFit athletes are often sore or will have some discomfort from training. This can result in an inability to do the next day's workout fresh, resulting in a higher chance of injury.

Majority of injuries we see in our clinics tend to be chronic/ overuse in nature. They can definitely be remedied by coaches through modification of complexity, volume and intensity of workouts. The healthcare practitioner treating such athletes will need to modify their training around their current injuries. A simple example is an athlete with a Right lower limb injury is still able to continue CrossFit by training the upper body and L lower limb.

Bear in mind that CrossFit for general strength and fitness is different from competing in CrossFit competitions. While competing, you need to go all out with fixed weight and exercises. When performing workouts for general fitness, you can reduce the weight, drop the reps or change to a similar but less technical exercise.


Claudino JG, Bourgeois F et al (2018). CorssFit Overview: Systematic Review And Meta-analysis. Sports Med Open. 4:11. DOI: 10.1186/s40798-018-0124-5.

Mehrab M, De Vos R et al (2017). Injury Incidence And Patterns Among Dutch CrossFit Athletes. Orth J Sp Med. DOI:

Poston WSC, Haddock CK et al (2016). Is High Intensity Training(HIFT)/ CrossFit Safe For Military Fitness Training. Mil Med. 181(7): 627-637. DOI: 10.7205/MILMED-D-15-00273.

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