You’ve heard someone say it before “CrossFit is dangerous” or “People get injured doing CrossFit all the time” and those of us in the CrossFit community wonder why the whole world seems to have this impression that if you start CrossFit then you will get injured. Everyone seems to say it’s science and science doesn’t lie, right?
Well, the science all stems from a study published in 2013 by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) containing false and fabricated data that was designed specifically to harm CrossFit’s business and reputation and mislead the public opinion about CrossFit’s injury rates. CrossFit has since sued NSCA successfully for nearly 4 million dollars and the paper has long since been retracted.
So, what does this have to do with us?
While the article published by the NSCA has been retracted, CrossFit has to continue to fight against those who (somehow) continue to cite the (retracted) paper and weave it into newer data.
Here’s what we know.
In 2013 the NSCA journal published findings from a 10-week challenge held at an affiliate where a number of participants did not return to finish the challenge, two reported due to time restraints and 16 percent (9 participants) of these were cited as not finishing due to an overuse injury. However, when CrossFit investigated the injury data by speaking with the data coordinator, gym owner and study participants, they found the data published was questionable and could prove it was false (Berger, 2020).
CrossFit identified those that did not complete the study and ten of the 11 have sworn in court that they never told researchers they experienced overuse injuries.
Side note (before we go any further): In 2015 the number was changed down to two people dropping out due to injury and when you look at factors not mentioned in the article (such as the definition of injury or overuse injury) things start to get very questionable, simply because delayed onset muscle soreness is injury to some while a torn callous on the hand is an injury to another and a muscle tear is an injury to another. The devil is in the details.
The article causing all of the drama has since been retracted and CrossFit have recently been awarded nearly four million dollars in damages. But this isn’t what they are trying to achieve. They are trying to clean up a mess that left us all having to justify that what we do is, and always has been, safe.
There have been studies since the damaging one by NSCA that have noted the benefits of CrossFit and (since the debate of CrossFit and safety is a tough one to put to rest now) they have also run the numbers on safety in comparison to other sports to find that all shoulder injuries happened at a rate of 1.94 injuries per 1000 hours of training to find it comparable to other methods of recreational exercise (Summitt, Cotton, Kays & Slaven, 2016). When overall injury rates were observed, researchers saw rates of 2.4 injuries per 1000 hours of training (Giordano & Weisenthal, 2014) to 3.1 injuries per 1000 (Hak, Hodzovic & Hickey, 2013) hours of training.
Note: the testing pool from Giordano et al. was three times the size of research from Hak et al. and had a more thorough follow up. The Hak et al. study was a single online questionnaire while the Giordano et al. study had a conversation with each participant via phone three times through a year on four month intervals for follow ups.
When we consider the rest of the numbers for physical activity, we can see that CrossFit is safer than most regular physical activities, such as running (3.6 per 1000 hours), tennis (4.7 per 1000 hours), soccer (7.8 per 1000 hours) and basketball (9.1 per 1000 hours) (Parkkari et al., 2004). These are activities that we tell our children to do.
Is CrossFit more dangerous than other regular gym training? Not if you believe Giordano et al. In their research, they discovered 3.1 injuries per 1000 hours of training versus the 2.4 per 1000 hours previously mentioned for CrossFit. That places CrossFit’s overall injury rate up with elite weightlifting and power lifting (Raske & Norlin, 2002), long distance running (van Gent et al., 2007) and triathlon athletes (Burns, Keenan & Redmond, 2003).
Why is it so important to us that CrossFit HQ keep fighting these legal battles to clear the name? Because when it comes down to the numbers, there is no question that we we bring the general population into a higher level of fitness than any other form of training or exercise. Yes, that can sometimes lead to injuries - but at no higher rate of incidence than other activities. So, should people should avoid CrossFit because of the injury rate? Quite the opposite. With the quality of coaching and continued education provided by CrossFit, people should be actively trying to find their closest CrossFit box to help them avoid injury and live a long, healthy and happier life.