The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

A Word from NYC Sports Medicine Doctors: Examining the Controversy Surrounding CrossFit

Posted by on Thursday, September 25th, 2014


Over the past five years, the number of CrossFit gyms have grown from 250 affiliates to more than 10,000. To say the blend of strength, calisthenic, and cardio training workouts are “popular” would be an understatement. With that being said, it’s not for everyone in the way that a relaxing session of yoga appeals to the masses. These super intense workouts have been somewhat controversial. As ESPN defines it, one camp says that CrossFit is the best and most challenging fitness program on the market, and its critics say it’s a “program that recklessly pushes practitioners into danger zones.”

We tread lightly on the subject of CrossFit. We feel it’s gotten a bum rap. We have seen clients come in showing inarguable results. They are impressively chiseled and, well, fit! It’s hard to argue with that. Our sports medicine doctors also think it’s awesome that people are so passionate about their workouts! The structured program is helping a lot of people lead healthier lives. The CrossFit crowd has found a sense of community and commitment, which is hard to achieve otherwise.

One valid argument is that exercisers should be careful not to overtrain. We have seen examples of overuse injuries, particularly among newcomers as the sport goes more mainstream.

crossfit tips
CrossFit is a controversial workout, but our NY sports medicine doctors have tips to help you do it safely. Image Source:


CrossFit Injuries: Separating Anecdotal Evidence from Research

Many of the “horror stories” you’ll hear are on a case-by-case basis, rather than evidence of a larger trend. As a recent article in BusinessWeek puts it, “CrossFit gyms can push people to attempt things they may not be ready for.” Perhaps you have seen the YouTube video of Kevin Ogle’s CrossFit injury. That sort of stuff is scary, but tragic, freak accidents can happen in any sport. These extreme cases seem far and few between. The average CrossFit participant isn’t trying to lift a 240-pound barbell, after all. In spite of this, the Kevin Ogle story was enough to cast a negative light on the sport across the media. We have heard of many more cases of tendonitis, muscle strain, flat-foot injuries, skeletal misalignment, and sore joints — a far cry from disabling spinal cord trauma.

Some say the sport has only been popular for about five years, so academic studies regarding injury rates are just beginning to surface. The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine published one such study. According to the study, the injury rate in CrossFit was approximately 20%. Out of 486 participants, 84 sustained injuries,

– 21 shoulder injuries sustained during gymnastic movements,

– 12 lower back injuries during power lifting exercises, and

– 11 knee injuries.

The researchers also noted that injury rates decreased with an increase in trainer involvement, lending credence to the argument that CrossFit is a great workout — if you’re doing it right, with the right trainer. Other studies cited in Men’s Journal magazine have found injury rates as high as 51% (with 10-15% requiring a trip to the hospital) or as low as 3.1% per 1,000 sessions, which is about the same as competitive weightlifting or triathlon training. It appears to depend on many factors.

Why Are People Getting Injured Doing CrossFit?

There are many theories as to why CrossFit members may be slightly more prone to injury:

– People tend to think of gyms as a “safer” workout, compared to snowboarding or mountain-biking — but in reality, it’s more intense than your typical cardio session. People need to recognize this, and understand that their minds and bodies will be tested far beyond the monotony of normal workouts.

– There is a tendency to overtrain with too many reps and not enough recovery. This is especially true if the instructor is not mindful of differing base fitness levels among participants, or if the exerciser gets caught up in the competitive atmosphere.

– Former athletes in their thirties and forties carry the mentality of a star athlete, but fail to realize that the physical attributes of the body have not kept up.

– All advertised “CrossFit” workouts are not created equal, especially when instructors are not formally trained. According to The Examinera Virginia jury awarded $300,000 to a former U.S. Navy technician, Makimba Mimms, for injuries sustained during a CrossFit workout in 2005. The workout was not led by a certified instructor, but rather, “someone who oversaw the workout” at his gym. He said he was told to do 90 reps of a lower-body exercise without rest, water, or slowing down. The 34-year-old suffered rhabdomyolysis and swollen legs, which caused permanent disability.

CrossFit Injury Prevention

CrossFit is not the beast it’s made out to be. It just takes knowing your body and working out SMART. To prevent injury, it is important that you understand your “red line,” and stay well behind it. Instead of thinking “win at all costs,” think “live to fight another day,” says Men’s Journal. You can push yourself, but do so by no more than 10 percent (in reps or time) each week.

Be a stickler for form in the beginning, and it will pay off when you increase the workload. Resist “the rush to originality and risk,” as puts it. You want to be a pro at doing the basic movements without any weights at all and practice “virtuosity” — by “doing the common uncommonly well.” So, then, when deciding whether to scale up or not, ask yourself, “Am I getting the type of response I’m supposed to get out of this?” If you can’t complete the recommended workout, try dropping thruster weight from 95 pounds to 30 pounds, do pull-ups with elastic bands rather than unassisted, and try to complete the workout in six minutes versus twenty. The goal is “short, high-intensity” training. Start off doing only two or three workouts per week and progress from there.

Look out for signs of overtraining like:

– Extreme muscle soreness

– A general feeling of extreme fatigue during the day

– Mood swings or irritability

– Decreased performance at the next workout

– Elevated resting heart rate in the morning

Lastly, be sure you look for a certified trainer who is willing to scale the program to its participants.


Sports Medicine Doctors Help with CrossFit Injury Prevention in NYC

The professionals at The Center for Podiatric Care & Sports Medicine are happy to oversee you while you begin a new fitness routine to check for signs of overtraining, improper technique, or a developing injury. Contact us here.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.