Is CrossFit Good or Bad For Your Health?

August 17, 2016

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Lauren
Lead Copywriter

This is something we’ve been wondering for some time: Is CrossFit good or bad for you?

From the surface, it’s tough to tell. We’ve heard success stories and horror stories, have seen CrossFit referred to as a cult and have talk to friends who have said that its changed their lives for the better–or they’ve gotten horribly hurt.

CrossFit, which rose to popularity in the aughts, has been a much discussed and controversial workout.

Popular because of the quick results participants see; controversial because of the serious injuries it can cause.

We did a little bit of research to learn if CrossFit is good or bad for your health. Here is what we found:

PROS

“My shoulders and chest are changing for the better,” James Dodds, a CrossFit enthusiast and former KindHealther told us. “And I’m getting closer to lifting weights I did in high school when I was a power lifter. But now with good form.”

The majority of CrossFit participants we talked to couldn’t sing the regime’s praises enough. One respondent, Kelly, told us that she switched from long-distance running to CrossFit in order to feel stronger. “Lifting weights has given me self confidence and makes you realize how capable your body is of doing things!” she said.

Sometimes the effects can be even more life-changing, as Alyssa Royse, owner and operator of Rocket CrossFit in Seattle, Washington, told us. “In the 5 years we’ve been open,” Royse said, “I’ve seen people go off of all meds, build strength, gain mobility and get their lives back.” She also spoke to us about the easy accessibility of the regime: “Unlike many traditional sports, you don’t have to have any particular skill or strength in order to start, or to keep doing it. You just have to be willing. So it’s easy to start, and easy to stick to.”

And course there is the communal element. Many people enjoy CrossFit due to the camaraderie that forms between participants. Working out with others helps you stay focused, fend off boredom and celebrate wins and nurse losses together. One respondent, Roxy, told us, “[It] puts me in a better mood and I often go with a friend. I’ve made great friends at my gym.” Aaron, who has been a CrossFit participant for four years, added, “And you’ll hear people say it all the time, but the community plays a big role.”

CONS

When we put the call out to our friends to share their experiences with CrossFit, this comment from a sport doctor (who prefers to stay anonymous) stood out: “As a sports medicine doc, it keeps me busier than any other exercise fad. I see lots of back & leg injuries. Upper extremity over use injuries.

It’s true that CrossFit has people doing high-intensity interval training and weightlifting, and it’s true that many people end up getting hurt. In Forbes’ article “Is CrossFit Safe? What ’60 Minutes’ Didn’t Tell You,” author Dan Diamond cites a 2013 Journal of Strength and Conditioning study that found 97 of 132 participants “reported getting hurt during their CrossFit training.” However, researchers of the study corrected these numbers after being subjected to a lawsuit by CrossFit and the owner of the gym that participated in the study.

Since CrossFit is a relatively new sport, studies are difficult to come by. Most injury reports come from word of mouth or the plethora of CrossFit fail videos that populate Youtube (p.s. they’re painful to watch). It’s fair to say that participants need to go in with the right expectations. James told us, “I’d recommend my gym to anyone – all fitness levels. The coach makes all the difference. Good coaches prevent injury and teach form first.” Alyssa seconded that: “I’ve seen terrible coaching and programming. So it’s a “buyer beware” situation. Ask lots of questions, ask other people.” (Note: Rocket CrossFit reports no major injuries out of their gym.)

Separate from the physical effects of CrossFit, some feel that it breeds a misogynistic culture. A quick Google search finds countless blog posts and Reddit threads about CrossFit’s “bro culture.” For example, one CrossFit participant was banned from a gym after she took offense to a class called “Tough Titsday.” (Side note: all Crossfit gyms are independently owned and must apply for and pay for use of the CrossFit name). Others have taken offense to the sexually suggestive photos that CrossFit HQ shares of its female participants.

Our ruling: 

CrossFit is excellent if you’re looking for quick results, challenging workouts and a workout community. However, do your research before joining a gym. Have you heard good things about the trainers? Have there been injuries coming out of the gym? And also make sure that the community you immerse yourself in is one that makes you feel good about yourself.