Crossfit: Dangerous, Effective or Both?

With the rising popularity of Crossfit, here's some important information you should know before doing your first WOD

Credit: Flickr/Amber Karnes

Crossfit is one of the hottest trends in fitness, but it comes with some risks

Crossfit gyms are popping up everywhere, but are they as effective as they claim?

Crossfit is a high-intensity circuit training regime that uses weight lifting, gymnastics movements and interval training to build fitness. It’s become so popular that even researchers are starting to take notice.

A recent study put 43 men and women through a 10-week “crossfit-based high intensity power training program.” All the participants improved their aerobic fitness and body composition, so the program is effective.

But there was a disturbing statistic. Sixteen percent of the study’s subjects dropped out due to injuries. This drop-out rate is very high compared to other weight training programs, especially since the workouts were done under supervision of the American College of Sports Medicine certified professionals.

To give you a comparison, normal rates of injury1 in various weight training regimes are:

  • Weight training: 1 injury per 85,733 hours;
  • Powerlifting: 1 injury per 121,208 hours
  • Olympic weightlifting: 1 injury per 165,551 hours.

Criticisms of Crossfit

The fact that high intensity training is effective isn’t new. Hard workouts can provide great results with less time required than more moderate workouts.

But such gains must be weighed against the possible risks of injury. A sixteen percent injury rate is too high for a gym-based program.

One of the biggest criticisms against Crossfit is the structure of its “workouts of the day” (WODs). Participants are often instructed to perform highly technical exercises such as Olympic lifts for a specified amount of time without rest, or to achieve a best time. With fatigue becoming a major issue, proper technique and execution become difficult and the risk of injury increases.

Another common critique of Crossfit is that not everyone is capable of performing the prescribed exercises of a specific WOD. They may have limitations that prevent them from performing a particular movement with good form.

Should You Do Crossfit?

While there has been well deserved criticism of the methodology and safety, Crossfit has created a supportive atmosphere where people can motivate each other to push their limits. It uses effective weight training exercises like squats and deadlifts along with bodyweight movements so it provides a thorough full-body workout.

If you’re the type of person who likes to train hard and enjoys friendly competition, Crossfit can be a great place to go. As I’ve said before, social support is important to long-term success. Having fun while training hard makes it more likely you’ll stick to an exercise program.

I would advise asking these questions before joining a Crossfit gym. (I’d recommend doing this before signing up for any health club, class or trainer, not just Crossfit).

  1. What are their qualificiations? Find out the qualifications of the instructors and what type of training they’ve had. I’ve known a few Crossfit coaches and in my experience, the best ones are those with additional training besides the Crossfit certification. Any certification, Crossfit or otherwise, has its own particular slant on exercise. Being exposed to different schools of thought makes for a better coach.
  2. Can the training be customized? They should be able to adjust the training to suit your particular needs and scale the exercises to match your current abilities. I think it’s great to push your limits and learn new skills but this must be done in a progressive manner.
  3. Can they provide references? Have they worked with people like you before and can you talk to some clients to ask them about their experiences?
  4. Does the operation seem legit? Do they appear professional and organized and is the facility clean and tidy?
  5. What are the class sizes and the instructor-to-student ratio? If it gets too big there’s no way the coach can provide adequate supervision.

As I said, these questions apply to any gym or class. I’ve had clients who’ve injured themselves in yoga classes and bootcamps because they were encouraged to push their limits too far. But the high intensity and the highly technical nature of some of the exercises used by Crossfit make it especially important to proceed with caution.

There are plenty of Crossfit gyms around B.C. to choose from, so do your homework before joining one. Train hard but be smart about it. Read more about Crossfit from someone who tried it.


1. Brian P. Hamill, “Relative Safety of Weightlifting and Weight Training,” Journal of Strength Conditioning Research, Vol. 8, No. 1(1994): 53-57