There is little doubt that CrossFit is the hottest topic in fitness and training right now. It has drawn a ton of attraction from supporters and haters alike. Clearly, the people that do CrossFit and support its philosophy on training have had great experience with it. The haters take issue with just about everything related to CrossFit. From kipping on a pull-up to extreme workouts that cause a condition called rhabdomyolysis. Both sides offer very aggressive arguments. Who is right? Is CrossFit really safe?
It’s generally accepted as poor conversational etiquette to answer a question with a question. But, bear with me. You’ll get the point. Is flying in an airplane safe? Is riding in a car safe? Is surgery safe? Most people would agree that each of those examples comes with inherent risks. That risk is diminished or greatly enhanced by many factors. Airplanes remain one of the safest ways to travel. However, mechanical failure, weather and human error play a significant role into whether a plane lands safely. The same can be said for car travel. The condition of the car plays some role in the safety, but mostly it comes down to the human operator; texting and driving, driving under the influence, or just your run-of-the-mill inexperience or inattention behind the wheel. Surgery is a great example. Surgery is very specific and requires a great deal of skill. Most of us wouldn’t go to a knee surgeon to have a heart transplant. So the skill of the surgeon plays a significant role in the overall safety of the procedure. There are hundreds of examples of the relative safety of an activity changing dramatically based on critical factors. Exercise is no different.
Know the proper technique
I consider myself a “gym rat”. I’ve been in and out of hundreds of gyms since high school both for workouts and work. Exercise is generally considered safe. It becomes much less safe when a person does too many reps, uses too much weight, does it too often, doesn’t do it correctly or has been prescribed exercise by a trainer/coach who doesn’t know what they are doing. Throw these factors into the same gym and you are guaranteed to have injuries. No exceptions—injury is inevitable.
CrossFit is comprised of workouts that vary from highly technical movements such as a clean to more mundane, yet much-hated, burpees. There is little doubt that the workout of the day (WOD) is generally hard. But, it’s not the exercise that hurts people, it’s the EXECUTION of the exercise. Bad mechanics, too much weight, or too much intensity can all contribute to the overall danger of a movement. When you complete a movement appropriately, the risk of injury drops dramatically. They safety of CrossFit boils down to programming. Inexperienced or overzealous coaches dramatically increase the risk of injury to clients.
Choose the right box (gym)
To avoid injury, choose the right box (gym). Do your homework on the coaches. They should have one or more of the various CrossFit certifications. Others have extra certifications not related to CrossFit such as a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) or USA Weightlifting (USAW) Certification. Take a tour of the box, paying close attention to the cleanliness, condition of the equipment and the satisfaction level of the people there. Facebook and Google are magical places that offer a TON of reviews on individual boxes and coaches. Most places will also offer an introductory workout. Take them up on it and see if that workout jives with you. Keep in mind, the WODs are meant to challenge you, so expect that. They aren’t meant to hurt you. If you think it might, it’s probably not the right place for you.