Is CrossFit doing more harm than good? U of M experts weigh in

You’ve probably seen information around CrossFit, a growing workout trend, on TV or among the posts occupying space on your friends’ Facebook timelines. Over the last few years CrossFit’s popularity has grown tremendously and in response, gyms dedicated to the practice have popped up all over the country.

For those unfamiliar with CrossFit, the training program involves a series of explosive movement patterns that require both athleticism and movement IQ. This video will give you a better idea of what we’re talking about.

Undoubtedly, many people who regularly participate in CrossFit programs see physical changes to their bodies and that’s a big reason why they do it. In addition, the intensity and community-based workouts can combine to make CrossFit almost cult-like and addicting says Stacy Ingraham, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota.

But is there a downside to participating in CrossFit programs?

According to Ingraham, the intense ballistic movements required in most CrossFit programs are really geared for younger, elite athletes who are already in good shape. When older, non-athletic or sedentary people try to do these movements, there is a major danger in overloading the spine. Injuries to the L4 and L5 discs of the lumbar region of the spine are common.

“Women who are already more hypermobile than men are even more vulnerable to joint injuries due to their inherent laxity, which fluctuates in a monthly cycle when compared to men. Regardless of sex, if over a lifetime we have “X” amount of loads and rotations at any given joint, you might reconsider spending those, lifting a child out of a car seat, rather than overloading the spine at angles that are predictable of injury,” said Ingraham. “Even in athletes, the value of a certain plyometric might not be worth the gain, even if the athlete is athletic enough to successfully complete the task. The gain is not always worth the risk, specific to injury potential.”

There is also a danger in entrusting your body to a trainer or instructor without the proper credentials, such as a degree from a 4-year institution or a background in exercise physiology.

“Just because they have defined deltoids, triceps and biceps that look appealing in a “trainer” t-shirt, these characteristics don’t always mean they have the credentials necessary to teach highly technical movement patterns under stress,” added Ingraham.

Wendy Hurd, P.T., Ph.D., is a physical therapist and assistant professor in the University of Minnesota Medical School’s Physical Therapy Program and has been a member of a local CrossFit affiliate for more than three years. Hurd says that all exercises can be scaled back but oftentimes the ego and competitive nature of the classes get in the way.

“Each individual needs to take personal responsibility for doing what is right for them and their physical abilities,” said Hurd. “From my experience, I’ve seen high instances of cervical disc injuries from behind the neck pressing, shoulder tendonitis from overhead work and unfortunately lots of trauma including: Achilles rupture, disc ruptures, etc. that stem from the high volume, high impact nature of the workouts.”

Both experts agree that doing something is better than nothing but fitness is about doing things that will enable you to operate physically throughout your lifetime.

Bottom line regarding CrossFit from Hurd: “Each individual should focus on the quality of work and realize they are not one of the competitive, professional CrossFit athletes.  Investigate the qualifications and training your coaches have undergone to ensure you are receiving instruction from qualified individuals.”
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities