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Are the Benefits of CrossFit Worth the Risk?

Ever since the company was founded in 2000, CrossFit has received mixed reviews by critics and users alike. There are those who praise the innovative style and tout a myriad of life-changing fitness benefits … but there are others who consider it ineffective at best and dangerous at worst.

No one denies that CrossFit is an extreme activity that, while beneficial in many ways, also carries certain risks. Even CrossFit’s founder Greg Glassman concedes the sport’s danger. A report on CBS’s 60 Minutes suggested that CrossFit is “… about as safe as gymnastics or weightlifting and less likely to cause an injury than running.” But a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research pointed out that nearly 3/4 of the respondents reported getting hurt during CrossFit training.

Are the benefits worth the risks? Some say yes, others say no … but there is also a core group who oppose throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. It’s not just about doing CrossFit, they argue; it’s about doing CrossFit right … and that involves a lot of different factors.


For example, one of the central critiques of CrossFit is the lack of one-on-one training that results from CrossFit’s classroom approach. CrossFit Coach Patrick McCarty agrees with this:

“If you are coaching a CrossFit class where the strength portion is … ten minutes to build to a tough power clean single … and there are twenty people in that class, I am not sure there is a coach in this business who can adequately give instruction, correction, and supervision to all twenty people.”

This is from a professional CrossFit coach!

But criticizing is not the same as condemning: McCarty himself makes the statement that “I criticize CrossFit because I love CrossFit.”

And that takes us to the basic difficulty in trying to nail down the benefit vs. risk factor of CrossFit: CrossFit is not that simple to define. It’s often discussed as if it were a one-exercise methodology, but that’s really not the case. CrossFit gyms are independently owned and operated, so the CrossFit experience will vary depending on the situation.

Comparatively speaking, opening a CrossFit gym (called a Box) is fairly simple: all you’ll need a weekend-long course, one that doesn’t even include a written exam. After completing the course, you’re allegedly qualified to teach complex powerlifting moves as well as other facets of well-rounded fitness training.

Proponents argue that the user experience will depend on both the experience and the commitment of the coaches, the attitude of the group, and even the condition of the facility.

Getting in with the right group is crucial: CrossFit athletes’ love of the program can border on fanatical (and in many cases, crosses the border at every opportunity!), and newbies can easily feel they should be pushing themselves to unrealistic extremes right from the word go.

But one of the worst things one can do in ANY workout regime is to think you know what you’re doing without consulting those with more experience. Not working out with a coach, trying to push yourself to limits your body isn’t ready for … those errors in judgement can lead to injury.

Fanaticism isn’t confined to CrossFit; it isn’t even limited to exercise. A quick look through this article on the website clearly demonstrates that people tend to be fanatical about whatever they enjoy … and whatever works for them.

Sometimes, that is a combination of CrossFit and other disciplines–running, yoga, diet, whatever. But the opinions that seem to get the most airtime are the ones of the fanatics. Some of them can be quite compelling, and some can seem downright maniacal … but the one thing that consistently seems to get lost in translation on both sides is that people are talking about what works for them.

CrossFit fans may be louder, bolder, and more insistent–the program seems to attract people like us–but in the end, it is up to the individual to do the research and make the decision.