CrossFit is the most popular form of High Intensity Functional Training (HIFT) which involves high-intensity exercise with functional (multi-joint) movements. A recent 4 year study conducted by Yuri Feito of Kennesaw State University, Georgia, USA from 2013 to 2017 concluded that CrossFit training is relatively safe compared to more traditional training modalities however there were 3 categories of CrossFitters who were found to be more at risk of injury:
Those in their first year of training
Those who engage in this training modality less than 3 days per week
Those who participate in less than 3 workouts per week
There have been many other, mostly controversial, publications on the incidence of injury during CrossFit and the general consensus is that the injury rate is 2.4-3.1 injuries per 1000 hours which is actually a similar risk level as Olympic weightlifting, distance running, track and field, rugby, football, ice hockey or gymnastics.
It is noted that CrossFitters mostly get hurt in 3 areas:
In one explanation for these somewhat common injuries the authors suggest that some of the exercises-like traditional kipping pull ups- push athletes beyond their usual physiological range of motion and cause injury in that way.
Injuries could also occur simply due to exhaustion due to the number of reps inducing muscular fatigue which can lead to poor form, especially in the case of newer CrossFitters.
Injuries are more likely to happen because of high competitiveness (going too hard too fast) and low skills, also more likely to appear in the first months (12 months as mentioned previously) after athletes pick up CrossFit training. The reality is that the same principle applies to most sporting activity.
Here are some tips to help prevent injury during CrossFit:
Warm up: Starting into any intense workout without warming up is the easiest way to sustain an injury. We recommend a sports-specific warm up which may involve simply a lighter version of the workout you are about to do (eg WOD) for 10-15 mins.
Support: be it your coach or a workout buddy, having someone there to help you to stay in top form will help to prevent injury. A buddy system particularly for heavier movs will help you to stay safe.
Practice good form: It can be easy to get caught up in competitiveness but slowing or lightening up the load to ensure better form is the best way to reduce the risk of picking up either poor lifting habits or an injury.
Good body awareness: Listen to your body to decide how far to push yourself and when to pull back and scale down your workouts.
Post workout recovery: Always take a minimum of 5-10 minutes to cool down and stretch after a CrossFit workout concentrating on the areas on which your workout was focused. Soft tissue mobilisation such as massage/foam rolling/trigger ball release can be helpful in between sessions to improve mobility and flexibility which can further prevent injury.
The benefits of CrossFit are increases in all 10 fitness domains - cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy as well as the social benefits of the gym/“box” community. But do the benefits outweigh the risks ? I think that they do for a subset of athletes.....those committed athletes who are willing to exercise regularly and put in the time for prep-work and mobility sessions. If you are not part of this sub-set there may be other forms of exercise and fitness which could suit your needs better.