Why Do Injuries Happen in CrossFit?

Aim Sports Medicine - Working Out Feels Good

By Dr. Nathan Luczynski:

While there are many underlying factors that can lead to injury in all athletes, such sleep, nutrition, hydration, stress, and prior injury, there are four other factors to consider: 

  1. Existing dysfunctional movement patterns
  2. Negligence of Self-care 
  3. Competitive in nature
  4. It feels good to work out

1: Existing dysfunctional movement patterns:

Aim Sports Medicine - Movement Patterns
We spend a lifetime developing our movement patterns.

Every single person spends their lifetime developing movement patterns. These patterns can be influenced from previous injuries, posture, work demands, sleep habits, etc. A lifetime of your body adapting to awkward postures leads to movement patterns that are actually harmful on your body and can lead to asymmetrical wear and tear. This asymmetry can then result in pain and even warrant medical intervention. So when a new athlete decides they want to try CrossFit, they need to literally retrain their body how to be held in a safer and biomechanically advantageous way. When athletes try to lift too much weight or do too many reps with their existing unsafe movement pattern, the end result can be injury. It’s better to listen to your coach and not add more weight just because you can muscle your way through a movement with disregard to safe technique. 

2: Negligence of Self-care:

CrossFit forces people to use their body in new ways. Improving functional movement patterns means that connective tissues need to be reorganized, a process that takes time and involves the breakdown of existing tissues. Many people have lived their lives putting little to no amount of time into their own recovery process. The need for such recovery is no longer a suggestion when adopting a CrossFit fitness regimen: it’s mandatory. Small aches and pains can rapidly spiral out of control into injury when an athlete neglects their own recovery process. Some examples of self-care could be foam rolling, lacrosse balls, yoga, or even soaking in hot baths. While self-care can suffice for minor aches and pains, it is imperative to visit a highly trained soft tissue care specialist routinely, too. 

3: Competitive in nature:

CrossFit can bring out a person’s inner competitor in a fun and healthy way by pitting them against their friends, or a previously recorded time you had for the same workout. However, athletes should be encouraged to check their ego at the door. While competing can be exciting, a recreational CrossFit athlete should be competing no more than 10% of the time. That means that if the athlete works out 5 days per week, 25 days per month, 2 of those workouts should be done with winning in mind. The rest of the time athletes should be focusing on improving their conditioning (45%) and practicing their skillset with moderate to low heart rate (45%). Competing is especially demanding on the body and should be reserved for competitions such as online qualifiers, onsite competitions, and the CrossFit Open. Regardless of the intention of the workout, the process of establishing correct mechanics first, followed by consistency of safe movements need happen first. Once that happens then, and only then, should intensity be introduced.  

Aim Sports Medicine - Working Out Feels Good
It feels good to work out!

4: It feels good to work out:

As many CrossFit athletes can tell you, it can be hard to take a day off. Aside from the whole social aspect of seeing your friends and sharing physically challenging workouts with them that test your limits, there is an actual physiologic release of chemicals that happens in your body when working out. The intensity of CrossFit workouts stimulates your body to release powerful chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. These neurochemicals are your ‘feel good’ stimulators. During a workout, these chemicals spike, creating a workout high that is difficult to describe, but powerful to experience. When these chemicals peak, pain can often be masked, which does not mean that further damage can wreak havoc on your body. Taking inadequate rest days does not allow your body time to recover.  

  1. Hak PT, Hodzovic E, Hickey B. The nature and prevalence of injury during crossfit training. J Strength Cond Res 2013:1
  2. CF NM,Klimek C., Ashbeck C., Brook A.J., Durall C. Are injuries more common with CrossFit than other forms of exercise? J. Sport Rehabil. 2018;27:295–299. 
  3. van Mechelen W. Running injuries. A review of the epidemiological literature. Sports Med. 1992;14:320–35
  4. Hak PT, Hodzovic E, Hickey B. The nature and prevalence of injury during CrossFit training [published online November 22, 2013]
  5. Feito, Y., Burrows, E. A 4-year analysis of injuries among crossfit-trained participants. Orthop J Sports Med. [published online October 24, 2018]
  6. www.cdc.gov
  7. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, vol. 21 (3), pp. 461-467, 1993. Injuries in Recreational Adult Fitness Activities
  8. Sports Med. 1992 Nov;14(5):320-35. Running injuries. A review of the epidemiological literature.


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