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Is crossfit dangerous ?

Posted by Pascal Landshoeft

May 4, 2015 7:27:00 AM


Is crossfit dangerous ?

To make a long story short, yes it can be very dangerous if certain criteria are not met and you do not apply common sense. Becuase common sense is not always as straight forward as it sounds here some tips and insights, how I personally see the crossfit cult and why you should love it, too (surprised after this headline ?, thought so).

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What is crossfit ?

For definitions I always like to go to the primary source. If you type "What is crossfit" into Google the first definition after the first hit you will get is this one

"CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide.
Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist."

- Source: Crossfit

From my personal experience and if you follow what is online it is accurate that Crossfit addresses a general fitness level development for real life application in multiple disciplines. It is one of the greatest / if not the best principle I have come across to date to get results quick and hold yourself accountable for it.

I personally think this definition is a good start, but I find crossfit to be more than just that:

  • A marketing machine
  • A rapid growing business
  • A rapid growing sport
  • A cult
  • A community
  • An evolving industry
  • Polarising topic in various forums

It is a marketing machine, as the owners seem to be eager to own their own message and to protect their brand. I had several instances where fanboys and ladies like me have been mussled by the crossfit department if they are not paying fees to the crossfit empire and become part of the franchise. This is completely understandable for a business, but there are others out there who do not play the brand police (i.e. the company I work for) and avoid alienating their support base. This discussion is as old as the internet where enthusiast are being kept in check by big business, but still I think it has to be mentioned.

If you want prove if Crossfit is a rapid growing business just check out the amount of new sneakers that have been brought out by nike and reebok to adress the crossfit community. These businesses do not make decisions light hearted to invest in new product groups. Futhermore check out the videos on youtube of the crossfit games and how many spectators you will find at the event from 2009 until today and how many sponsorships you can count surrounding the athletes. For me the growth is pretty apparent.

The cult and community aspect comes in when you join a box (nickname for a crossfit gym) and I see it happening at my workspace. You attend mass (workoutof the day, crossfit class) 3 - 5 times a week depending on the programme you have signed up for and discuss the gospel (your current program) with your fellow believers (the other crossfitters). You also believe in your faith and defend it vigorously against the haters. I personally think this is a good dynamic, because it helps to create a positive mindset, something to believe in and to push through when it gets hard. But as usual with cults, observe what is being brought to you with a critical mindset.

From the polarising perspective I think it is fair to say that I have seen many comments on YouTube describing crossfitters as "whimps" and "cheaters" due to bad form for exercises. If you put an emphasis of the most amount of work done in the shortest amount of time, which crossfit is all about, you will most likely deviate from the traditional forms of performing a certain exercise (isn't that what innovation is all about, let's pause and think here...). Most prominent example is the strict pull up vs the kipping pull up. I do not understand the argument that is being made, as you will be hard pressed to find a crossfitter who disagrees that a person who can do 70 strict pull ups in a row is stronger than one who does 70 kipping pull ups in a row. A strict pull up is just not the most efficient way to get your chest to the bar as often as possible in the smallest amount of time.

So for me crossfit is the best way I found so far to achieve my personal goal of general fitness for everyday life, being a strong, endurable and explosive athlete which created an industry with which I disagree in some instances.

 What does dangerous mean ?

Danger is defined as

"The possibility of suffering harm or injury."

"A cause or likely cause of harm or injury."

"The possibility of something unwelcome or unpleasant happening."

I personally think it is important to remind yourself what dangerous actually means before diving into the discussion if Crossfit is dangerous or not. There are crossfit centers out there who flat down deny that crossfit is dangerous and is very easily accessible to beginners. I would not necessarily agree with that, as all of the boxes above are ticked and also the very first people crossfit mentions in their own definition of crossfit are

  • Police officers
  • military
  • Martial artists
  • Hundreds of others of elite and professional athletes

Now Tai chi would not necessarily start of its definition with these folks. To be fair the website does describe that they have scaled versions of their programmes for beginners a few paragraphs further on which you can check out yourself, but this is not where they originally come from and this has to be considered as the sport makes its way into the mainstream.

What are the benefits of crossfit for you ?

There are a multitude of benefits that crossfit brings to you which are:

  • It forms (in my opinion) bodies which are being perceived as generally attractive and fit, which only running or bodybuilding in the traditional sense will not sculpt
  • It has a high degree of variety to keep you motivated
  • It is data and result driven and therefore measurable with clear goals. A feature that a lot of commercial gym programs in my opinion lack
  • It incorporates competition to push you to be the best possible version of yourself and learn from others
  • It makes you humble, as there is always someone better than you in at least one workout of the day (this even holds true for all dominating champion Rich Froning, check out the statistics)
  • The Workouts vary in length so there is always something you can do based on how much time you can invest
  • There is something for every fitness level and the workouts are designed to be able to scale
  • It will make more aware of your overall body and improve coordination due to the gymnastics parts of it
  • There is always the possibility to set a new record in something to keep you motivated, which you did not attempt yet

These are all effects which I have observed for myself and it does work. 

What are the downsides to crossfit for you ?

As with most things the biggest strenghts are at the same time the biggest weaknesses

  • The sheer amount of possible workouts will be overwhelming at the beginning and you will not know where to start
  • The prescribed options of the workouts of the day are in my opinion way too hard for beginners and should not even be attempted. If attempted there needs to be advise in place to properly scale the exercise
  • Beginners get exposed to olympic lifts too quickly, these are complex movements which have to be learned properly before executed for the athletes safety
  • It can be expensive compared to other free options which can achieve similar results ( but in all fairness in my opnion are way less fun)
  • Crossfit needs equipment to be performed tht you do not necessarily have or will take up a lot of space in your home (barbell, plates, jump box, pull up bar, medicine balls etc.

Going back to the definition of danger and what is crossfit here you can see that "The possibility of suffering harm or injury" for beginners is fairly high for beginners if left unsupervised. This is not the fault of the crossfit industry itself perse, as there is plenty of documentation and advise available for free on their website to prevent injury from happening. But who reads the manual nowadays?

Now if you give laymen a complex tool and describe it as easy combined with a role model (Crossfit games athletes) which is far removed from their current status of skill, this is a recipe for disaster not just in sports, but in every single occupation you can possible think of. Because they laymen will strive to build something they lack the skill to build with a tool that will multiply their ineffecencies before fixing them,

I am personally of the opinion that some of this dynamic is currently happening around the world.

What can happen if you do not have control in crossfit can be easily seen in this video:


What are the recommendations ?

In General:

  • Check if the gym you join has enough space, too much stuff or people crammed in there is not a good sign in terms of how it is run
  • Be honest with your current level of fitness and accept that most likely you will be not fit enough to go all guns blazing into the crossfit journey and there will be a considerable build up phase to perform the moves, especially if yu never touched a barbell before or only used it for bench presses
  • Get a coach / Spotter
  • Know how to scale and be not too proud to do it, I am personally one of the strongest and fittest people in my local gym and I still scale most of the WODs or do not even attempt them, for example I am staying away from the olympic lifts until I have mastered them with a broomstick

For beginners:

  • Work with your coach
  • Go gentle on the overhead lifts, of you do them at all, do them in a power rack
  • Break the movements of the several exercises down and master them stage by stage before doing the full movement
  • Focus on perfecting body weight exercises first, there is plenty to be explored in crossfit
  • Focus on weight loss first before challenging yourself on endurance and strength goals (cut off the fat, than enhance performance, not the other way around)

For intermediates (where I see most dangers):

  • Scale back, just because you bench 150kg that does not necessarily mean you can clean a 100kg and the experience of being trapped under 100kg is not pleasant
  • Muscle ups and kipping pull ups require skill. Do not attempt them without developing the skill first or you risk shoulder injuries.
  • Even though you might hate it, admit that you need a coach to tame this beast and be willing to invest them money, even though you know best ;)

For experts / professional athletes:

  • You will most likely do most of these exercises in some way or another
  • For you the variation and being able to compare yourself on beyondthewhiteboard might give your performance the boost it needs to claim that next medal or record you want to get

 Further reading


Topics: Can marathoners be good crossfitters?