Is CrossFit Dangerous? Context is Everything.

Posted on Apr 13, 2015

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I am a weightlifter, with a unique perspective on both the sport of weightlifting and Crossfit. I have had the opportunity to visit dozens of gyms around the country and watch thousands of athletes train both for sport and fitness. I started as a fitness professional at a “Globo” gym. I lift weights for sport, and I do Crossfit for fitness. It is very important to recognize the difference. After reading many articles and listening to many critics on the safety of my activities, I decided to give a perspective. I know this is a hot topic, and everyone reading this has had this conversation at least in part. What I present is entirely anecdotal. It has not been observed, analyzed and published in a controlled study. Injury and fitness are on opposite sides of a health spectrum. If someone is injured, they are (at least for the moment) not entirely healthy. Nobody’s health and fitness goal is to be injured. The same is to be said for sport. As an athlete being injured is not on the list of their accomplishments. Many of us still choose every day, to participate in Crossfit and weightlifting for fitness or sport. We are aware at least in part of the implications of that choice. I originally was just going to write a rant about how tired I am of uninformed people telling me “how dangerous weightlifting is”, or “why they don’t do Crossfit.” I will rant a little, but I want to offer a different yet clear perspective for fans and critics alike.

 

First off, let me restate. This is all anecdotal, and thats the whole point. Nobody has done a study (at least that I’m aware of) that states the safety or even effectiveness of Crossfit. When people say “weightlifting is dangerous” or “Crossfit kills your gains” they are speaking from a myopic viewpoint, one they very well may just be repeating. If I were a bodybuilder, then doing crossfit could be counter productive. Even still how do we define what Crossfit is. I superset my deadlifts with pull ups at 24 Hour Fitness. Did I Crossfit? I did a powerclean at football practice. Did I do weightlifting? Surprise, Crossfit (for fitness) is just another form of working out. Circuit training, boot camp classes, Body Fit classes; they are all the same. Just a method of fitness. Theres a huge difference between saying we think our way is best for us, and saying another’s way is stupid. Science may favor certain defined methods over others, but for the most part, the general population does not have the education, experience and time to communicate how and why effectively.

 

Sport and fitness are vastly different. Sport is not necessarily physically safe or healthy. Running 26 miles at a time does not make your body feel great afterwards. Steroids, overgrown muscles and 3% body fat can destroy your body long term. Putting yourself underneath a barbell that weighs much more than you could potentially cause serious long term injury. 250# men putting hard plastic on their head and slamming into each other will cause concussions. And working out with high intensity, 4 times per day, 3 days in a row, is bound to cause some unpleasant effects. Sport is not inherently great for your physical health, but its great for the soul. I play lots of sports. I have destroyed my knee wakeboarding and skateboarding. It will never be fully healthy again. I still wake up with foot pain from an old pole vaulting injury. Every time I climb higher than 13,000 feet, I get dizzy sick and I vomit. I’m so glad I spent my teen years flying through the air on a wooden board and fiberglass pole. Nothing is more enjoyable than slicing through a still lake  behind a boat with friends. The top of Mount Whitney was one of the most spiritually forming moments of my life. Sport is not easy, but it’s worth it. (for me)

In the 2 years I have been at Crossfit Stompinground over 250 different people have come through for thousands of individual workouts. The only serious injury I have witnessed there was my own. I was not doing “crossfit” I was not lifting weights. I was screwing around before class swinging from bar to bar like a monkey and I slipped. I am speaking only from personal experience, but I think the sample set is still a pretty big one. I have seen however, hundreds of pounds lost, friendships built and lives changed for the better. My experience as a weightlifter is no different. In just the last year, I have torn a tendon in my foot… playing basketball. Nobody gave me a hard time for the late night pick up game. I pulled a hamstring… rounding 3rd in my Monday night church softball league. Rather than tell me I was irresponsible, they prayed for me. I hurt my back… walking on my hands. Everyone assumed it was because I was “lifting too heavy.” People are likely going to get hurt. From my unique perspective, it is no more likely than playing any other sport we love. There are over a million members of Crossfit gyms. At least 200,000 of them at least in part do it as a competitive sport in last years open. Here’s some numbers for you just to give you an idea. (Sidenote, my major in college was statistics. I’m a nerd for this kinda stuff. If Crossfit wanted to simply add in an injury report option for the Open we could get some pretty good data. I’d be happy to run the numbers.  Send me a check Castro!) 80,000 men signed up for the Open and completed at least the first workout. Of those 80,000, 1500 stopped part way through for some reason. Even if we assume that every one of those 1500 stopped due to injury thats less than 2%. According to the NFL players association report, 16% of players were placed on the injured reserve for at least 1 game over a 5 week period.

 

Any type of exercise can be dangerous. So is diabetes. Weightlifting is strenuous. So is living with osteoporosis. If you want to look like The Incredible Hulk, go ahead. If you enjoy running for hours on end, please do. If Pilates is your things, then do it. Something is better than nothing. If you think flipping a tire for a workout is silly, I won’t make you do it. If putting a barbell overhead scares you, then don’t come to my classes. It won’t hurt my feelings. We do the hard things in life because choosing them makes us stronger.

 

Stop making uninformed statements. You can’t tell me that Crossfit is too intense for you, if you have never done it. You can’t tell me that I’m irresponsible for putting my 33 year-old body under a heavy barbell if you don’t know what it does for my spirit.  Context is everything.