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Is CrossFit Dangerous? A Recent meta-Study of 12,079 CrossFitters Reveals the Truth

 Written by 

Julien Raby

 Last updated on 

Is CrossFit truly a dangerous fitness regime, or is it just misunderstood? 

Dr. Jordan Feigenbaum, host of the Barbell Medicine Youtube channel, delves into the data and separates fact from fiction regarding CrossFit injury risks. 

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Uncover the truth about injury rates in CrossFit compared to other sports and training methods. 

Discover how CrossFit stacks up against traditional resistance training and learn about the unique risks faced by beginners. 

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is defined by its official website as a fitness program producing measurable outcomes through lifestyle changes centered on training and nutrition. 

Workouts consist of constantly varied, high-intensity functional movements, typically performed in a competitive setting. 

These workouts, known as WODs (Workout of the Day), blend gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, traditional resistance training, and endurance exercises.

Historical Criticisms of CrossFit

Despite its popularity, CrossFit has faced substantial criticism. 

Over 15 years ago, coach Mike Boyle warned that high-rep Olympic weightlifting, a common CrossFit component, is dangerous. Alan Cosgrove criticized CrossFit’s programming for being inconsistent and less effective compared to other training methods. 

Organizations like the ACSM and NSCA have also raised concerns, citing studies that claimed high injury rates in CrossFit participants. 

CrossFit’s legal victory against the NSCA for publishing false data in 2013 highlighted the contentious nature of this debate.

Understanding Injury Rates

Injury rates are typically measured per 1,000 participation hours. However, the lack of a universally accepted definition of what constitutes an injury complicates comparisons across studies. 

For example, some studies define an injury as any physical complaint causing time lost from training, while others use more inclusive definitions, leading to significant variations in reported injury rates.

Injury Rates in Traditional Resistance Training

Traditional resistance training generally shows injury rates of about 2 to 4 injuries per 1,000 participation hours. 

Most injuries are minor, resolving on their own within two weeks. By comparison, activities like cycling and walking for exercise report lower injury rates, ranging from 0.5 to 2 injuries per 1,000 participation hours.

CrossFit Injury Data

Research on CrossFit injuries is primarily retrospective, relying on participants’ recollection of past injuries, which can introduce recall bias. 

One study of 381 CrossFit participants reported an injury rate of approximately 2.4 injuries per 1,000 participation hours. 

Another survey with over 3,000 responses found injury rates between 0.27 and 0.7 injuries per 1,000 hours, with shoulders and back being the most commonly affected areas.

Comparison with Other Sports

CrossFit’s injury rates are comparable to those in traditional resistance training and lower than in contact sports. 

For example, rugby, soccer, and cricket report injury rates of 18 to 81 per 1,000 participation hours. 

Three studies comparing CrossFit to other sports found similar injury rates, indicating that CrossFit is no more dangerous than other intense physical activities.

Special Considerations for Beginners

Beginners in CrossFit may face higher injury risks. 

A study of novice CrossFit participants in Denmark reported an injury rate of 9.5 injuries per 1,000 participation hours. 

This suggests that untrained individuals are more susceptible to injuries during the initial weeks of CrossFit training. Introducing auto-regulation strategies, such as using RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) and pacing, can help mitigate these risks.

The Role of Rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis, a severe condition involving muscle breakdown, has been associated with CrossFit. Although the overall incidence is low, it appears higher in CrossFit than in other resistance training forms. 

Risk factors include high heat, excessive training volumes, and competitive settings. Understanding and mitigating these risks are crucial for safe CrossFit participation.


CrossFit’s injury rate is similar to other resistance training forms, around 2 to 4 injuries per 1,000 participation hours

Despite criticisms, there’s no substantial evidence that CrossFit is uniquely dangerous. The benefits of exercise, including CrossFit, generally outweigh the risks. 

CrossFit has significantly contributed to the fitness industry, especially in promoting strength training among women and improving the availability of gym equipment.

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Final Note

Adhering to exercise guidelines and safety practices can minimize injury risks in any training regime. 

Consulting fitness professionals and incorporating safe training habits is essential for maximizing the benefits of CrossFit and other physical activities.

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