How Crossfit Could Be The World's Safest Sport

Crossfit could become the world’s safest sport.  Safer than jogging or rollerblading or croquet.  It’s entirely doable.

First, let me clearly state that I don’t know if crossfit athletes are more or less prone to injury than any other sport.  While every serious crossfitter I know has nagging injuries, so does every serious runner I know.  Undoubtedly, crossfit as a health and wellness program is getting a bad reputation.  I have friends who tell me it’s too dangerous and that sentiment is regularly all over various websites.

Beyond the danger a poorly performed rep poses to the sport is that in our focus on better performance, we’ve lost the realization that even one injury is too many.  Rather than argue at what rate people are getting injured doing crossfit, the community should address it head-on with the same vigor that it creates a forum for competition or schools in Kenya.

Why Are Injuries Occurring?

When the common crossfit exercises are done correctly, injuries don’t happen except for true mishaps like a falling off a box or dropping a weight.

Injury happens when people move incorrectly or have limited “give” in their system due to mobility problems.  Too many folks are squatting with poor form due to tight hips, running with tight hamstrings or doing muscle ups with inflexible shoulders.  It’s been discussed by many people (Spencer Arnold here and Kelley Starrett at like every post he does at mobilitywod.com) including me.

So, lowering the injury rate is straightforward: get people to move correctly and the way to do that is to fix mobility issues.

Lowering The Injury Rate

We already arm the coaches and athletes with the knowledge of HOW a movement should be done correctly via the Level 1 Seminars, specialty seminars and the Crossfit Journal.  But, secondarily, we need to train the entire community in HOW to modify people’s bodies if they can’t exercise correctly due to limited range of motion or strength.  If an athlete is fundamentally broken such that they can’t squat without damaging their knees, the community knows they’re doing it wrong but everyone involved is usually unable to fix them.

No one group can fix the problem.  Change will have to happen at all levels of the crossfit world:

FROM CROSSFIT (The Company):

  1. Expand the Level 1 introductory seminar to 3 days.  The third day is the entirety of Kelly Starrett’s mobility seminar or some variation of it.
  2. Offer a free 1-day Mobility and Injury Prevention Seminar at every affiliate.  Do it every six months, for free.
  3. Engage in active tracking of athletes from around the world and their injuries.  Employ folks at HQ to track this.  Create a feedback database accessible to affiliates.  Anonymize the data so the community at large can see if we’re on the right track.

FROM THE AFFILIATES (The Gyms):

  1. Make mobility a part of every class, every day.  Educate instructors so they understand enough physiology to recognize what’s going wrong with athletes and recommend mobility activities to address them.*
  2. Track athlete injury rates on a per-gym level.  Use that as a feedback into improving local programming.
  3. Put aside the Pukey attitude of never scaling workouts and badly done reps “at any cost.”  For example, make deadlifts with a weak back be no-reps.  No longer accept bad movement patterns.
  4. Make mobility a part of any on-ramp program.  For gyms that require athletes to “test out” of beginner classes, test their mobility knowledge as well as their familiarity with the basic movements.
  5. Pre-screen all athletes prior to starting any classes.

FROM THE ATHLETES:

  1. Every athlete should learn the basics of movement analysis.  What’s going wrong?  Why?
  2. Every athlete should learn the basics of mobility treatments.  How do I change my body so it can move correctly?
  3. Create a culture of putting ego aside.  One fellow crossfitter noted:

People off the street with no athletic background are sure to hurt their back or pride quickly.  And with Crossfit there is no way to “dip your foot in the pond.”

Why This Matters

In crossfit, there is no place to hide if you have mobility issues since the movements are total body and require full range of motion.  As one friend eloquently put it:

Unlike many sports, if you have a pre-existing condition or weakness, crossfit will find it. Simply because it is total body.  Right handed tennis players could play for decades with an immobile left elbow, for instance. No chance in crossfit.

Clearly, the current attitude of insisting people aren’t getting injured regularly in the sport is unsustainable.  Just as the sport has grown quickly because people look hot in crossfit t-shirts and make huge life changes, the pendulum can swing just as quickly when too many people get broken by crossfit programs.

What gives us hope is that none of the above requires large investment or complete reengineering of crossfit.  Instead of denying that people are getting injured, we should spend that energy on fixing the problem before too many people get hurt.  Otherwise, the inevitable is that the sport will go the way or rollerblading and dozens of other failed fad exercise crazes.

  • One friend noted that many if not most affiliates have no one trained or knowledgable about physiology. Ultimately, the only way to bring in the expertise is by bringing in an expert in physical therapy or similar fields.

Michael Girdley