NEWS | March 24, 2016

CrossFit: Helpful or Harmful?

By Cory Sandberg, student physical therapist 628th Medical Group

CrossFit is a popular workout routine combining strength training, Olympic style weight lifting, speed work and explosive jumping movements.  The increasing popularity has also led to some extreme opinions about the program. Answering the question whether CrossFit is safe or dangerous has become increasingly complex. Some CrossFit exercises are quite difficult and require coordination of multiple joints to ensure proper movement. Physical therapists (PTs) are experts at analyzing these types of movement patterns.  PT's commonly see CrossFitters in the physical therapy clinic to treat injuries that have occurred during exercise. PT's are trained to find the biomechanical dysfunctions causing pain and assess physical movements to make sure pain never occurs. Those who are new to CrossFit or are considering joining a CrossFit gym should consider the pros and cons listed below prior to beginning the program:

Pros:

Forges Fitness: The high intensity interval training of a CrossFit workout is among the best ways to develop and improve muscle strength while maximizing cardio. Additionally many individuals don't know how to effectively train total-body fitness. CrossFit is designed to do this, thus enabling participants to become well rounded with their fitness.

Community: In the CrossFit culture there is a strong sense of community and camaraderie, which is highly beneficial to completing challenging exercises. Additionally, with a close-knit team to work-out with you will be more likely to stick with the workout program.

Competition: When implemented correctly competition is an excellent tool to throw in the mix when it comes to exercising. CrossFit utilizes the "Workout of the Day" to compete against others or to set personal goals.

Cons:

Lack of Personalization: Not everybody completing the "Workout of the Day" is at the same skill and fitness level. Assigning the same workout for both advanced trainees and beginners is a mistake and can lead to injury. Individualizing programs for specific populations is likely limited to the trainers' skill level.

Frequent Injury: CrossFit injury rates are substantially higher than most fitness programs. Herniated disks, muscle and tendon ruptures, and ligament sprains are all common injuries. Even with carefully watching your technique you are at increased risk because of the significant stress placed on your joints. Some of the techniques in CrossFit are highly challenging and may take years to perfect. Additionally many times people become fatigued towards the end of the workout and do not perform their final rep(s) properly because their attention has waned.

Competition/Peer Pressure: Competition can be a motivational and beautiful thing under the correct circumstances. However, when you prioritize personal records or outperforming your workout buddy over proper form, injures will almost certainly follow. Additionally, this type of atmosphere can lead to participants lifting heavier weight than they should. There is a fine line between healthy encouragement from your friend and dangerous weight lifting. This is not a criticism of an approach that involves prioritizing big numbers and steady progression. However, if you decide numbers matter more than everything else, you will likely end up injured.

CrossFit is a great option for your fitness regimen. However it's safest and most effective for people who already have experience in the gym. If you are searching for a CrossFit gym to join, look for a trainer with an unrelenting eye for technique. This will help prevent injury and keep you pushing forward toward your ultimate goal. The bottom line is CrossFit should be undertaken with caution especially if you are a beginner. To put it bluntly if you're getting injured from working out, you're working out wrong. Working through pain reinforces improper form and further contribute to your issue. Be smart with your exercises and listen to your body. Otherwise, you may end up in the physical therapy clinic with an injury you could have prevented.