Staying Safe During CrossFit

What Is CrossFit:

  “Increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains” (CrossFit, 2018). CrossFit, a community-based fitness regimen and competitive sport, was created by Greg Glassman in Santa Cruz, California in 2000. A mix of cardiovascular-directed exercise, body-weight mechanics, and Olympic-style weight lifting, CrossFit is often described as constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity. Athletes turn to CrossFit for a competitive atmosphere heavy in gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing, and calisthenics. 

The appeal of CrossFit can be connected to the combination of weightlifting and high-intensity interval training, providing the benefits of both strength training and cardiovascular exercise in a daily defined workout. High intensity interval training alternates short phases of intense aerobic exercise with low intensity recovery periods and has been shown to aid in weight loss and visceral fat reduction (Roy et. al, 2018). Controversy surrounds the quickly growing CrossFit industry, and patients and competitors alike must engage in educated decision-making when implementing a new exercise regimen and determining what is safe for one’s own physical limits.

Who is at Risk for Injury in CrossFit? 

As with any sport or workout routine, risk of injury is present, but there may be unique factors that may increase this risk among participants of CrossFit. Patients who train more hours per week, have higher body mass indices, and participate in CrossFit competitions are more likely to experience an injury according to a study published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine (Montalvo et al., 2017). Additional factors including pre-existing conditions, poor exercise form, over-training, and lack of knowledge of a previous injury have all been shown to negatively impact body mechanics and predispose patients to harm.

Various injuries in the CrossFit world can be exacerbated or worsened from movement-specific mechanisms. For example, high-intensity kipping pullups have the potential to cause shoulder injuries (link: or aggravate pre-existing shoulder weaknesses. Likewise, deadlifts and power-cleans can strain muscle groups like the hamstrings (link:, a major muscle used in activities like running, jumping, and lifting. 

While the potential for injury exists, new research is being done to compare the risk of CrossFit injuries with that of other high-impact sports including Olympic weightlifting, rugby, soccer, or gymnastics. A study published in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation determined that the risk of injury from CrossFit was “comparable or lower than some common forms of exercise or strength training” (Klimek et. al, 2018). 

3 tips to Stay Safe and Avoid Injury: 

Avoiding injuries is a top priority for all athletes, not only CrossFit competitors. Staying safe and using proper precautions can help you plan ahead for unexpected injury and avoid losing valuable time spent in rehabilitation and recovery.

(1) Workout With a Partner

Open gym might fit your busy schedule better, but planned “WODs” (Workouts of the Day) that integrate partner workouts can assist competitors in maintaining proper form and allow for additional guidance in some more advanced moves. Coaches and trainers have multiple members to supervise, which means not all of the attention is on you all the time. Participating in partner WODs guarantees you a designated spotter available to assist you and ensure you stay safe during heavy lifting and more intense exercises.  

(2) Listen to Your Body

No one knows YOU better than YOU! WODs and fitness regimens are created to challenge your limits and push your body to achieve new milestones, but knowing your body’s stopping point can help you gain strength while avoiding harmful injuries. Cramps, pops, cracks, or strains are your body’s way of telling you to slow down and let you know you’ve had enough for the day. Listen and rest to allow yourself to do more the next day and keep your progress sustainable. 

Additionally, allowing yourself the right amount of rest following any type of injury is another way of taking cues from your body. Activity restriction, modification, and limitation allow for proper healing and can give you time to assess your readiness for a full return to activity. Jumping back into a high-intensity exercise regimen, such as CrossFit, before you are ready has the potential to set you back farther than you initially started. Bottom line: give yourself the time to rebuild and repair before pushing your limits and getting back too soon. 

(3) Focus on Form

CrossFit is an environment centered around community and competition, where members push each other to reach new goals and gain new personal records. Along with this camaraderie can come an unspoken competition to surpass the person next to you – whether it’s rowing 50 meters farther or finishing your WOD 2 minutes earlier than your competitor. Sometimes this competition is all you need to push through a plateau and get your fitness to new heights, but it can come at a cost when you sacrifice form for reps and time. 

The beauty of CrossFit is the ability to modify exercises, times, styles, and expectations to all members. Rarely are the WOD’s performed “as prescribed” or as written by the coaches and trainers. Modifications and alterations to WOD’s allow all members to finish the exercises in a safe and maintainable fashion. Keeping these modifications in mind while working out is important, because commonly your level of activity will be different from the person next to you. This eliminates the need to “out-perform” your neighbor and leaves only true camaraderie, allowing you to focus on your own form.

Paying attention to proper form and practicing good body mechanics will strengthen your muscles where it counts, letting you surpass your records at a safer and more maintainable pace. Your muscles and joints will be able to keep up and push you farther than if you put form and safety on the backburner. 


By Stephanie Gillooly and Arivand Balaji