Is CrossFit Bad For You?

CrossFit has a strong cult following with its members claiming its many benefits. But how safe is its high-intensity style of training and how can you protect yourself from injury?


Nicolle Monico
Updated 24 March 2022
Is CrossFit Bad For You?
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CrossFit is bad for you.

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CrossFit is an effective way to lose weight; build flexibility, strength and agility; and improve aerobic fitness for some. Those looking to get a great workout in but don't have a lot of time to do so can also benefit from this style of training.

Its potential for injury and overtraining, though, means individuals should proceed with caution and take time to learn proper form before jumping into a class. If you have a serious health condition, are injured, or are new to HIIT training, consult with your doctor before joining CrossFit.

Sections on this page
  1. What is CrossFit?
  2. The Advantages of CrossFit 
  3. The Dangers of CrossFit 
  4. CrossFit Nutrition
  5. The Bottom Line: Is CrossFit Bad For You?

The age-old debate: Is CrossFit bad for you? Founded in 2001, the workout methodology has grown a steady cult following over the years and now has more than 15,000 CrossFit affiliates in 150 countries.

But its deep focus on “intensity” for every workout has some questioning whether it’s safe on the body long-term and whether its “no-quitting” mentality can push some to overtrain and injure themselves both physically and mentally.  

We took a look at the popular fitness brand to determine whether its workouts, nutrition, and coaching styles are safe for athletes. Here’s what we found. 

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) that combines functional strength and conditioning workouts paired with a physical fitness philosophy developed by CEO Greg Glassman.

So, what’s functional fitness? Functional fitness is based on movements that are essential to how our bodies move naturally throughout our daily lives, such as sitting down, squatting, and standing up.

CrossFit’s form of training is meant to increase the overall power necessary to perform these movements by increasing stamina, improving flexibility, and building muscle and strength. 

Typical CrossFit Workouts 

Each day, there is a “workout of the day” (WOD) that everyone participates in as well as modifications that allow all fitness levels to perform the circuit.

The CrossFit method involves working out at least 3-5 days a week doing high-intensity exercises with 5 to 15 minutes to complete as many sets as you can.

Workouts typically involve circuit training, a combination of six or more exercises performed for either a set number of repetitions or a specific amount of time with short rest periods.

The movements within a CrossFit class can mostly be placed into three categories:

  • Powerlifting (e.g., squats, deadlifts, bench)
  • Olympic lifting (e.g., snatches, cleans, jerks)
  • Gymnastics (e.g., skipping, handstands, handstand push-ups) 

The Advantages of CrossFit 

Studies have shown that HIIT is a great way to improve your overall health and potentially help you lose weight. Additionally, this type of training may be better at maximizing health outcomes than moderate intensity exercises.

Because CrossFit workouts are high intensity, you can easily get a good workout in within a short period of time.

Not All WODs Are Created Equal

Each day there is a new WOD which may help some remain consistent and eliminate the struggle of repetition or boredom when doing the same workouts each week.

Centered around functional fitness, the movements done in class are also a great way to build strength and endurance for everyday activities in your life. This style of exercise is also beneficial as a supplement to a well-balance fitness routine to add variety and encourage cross-training.

CrossFit’s exercises may also help burn more calories than other workouts, with men averaging 13-15 calories burned per minute and women 15 to 18 calories burned per minute.

Comparatively, traditional weightlifting burns around 9 calories per minute and 11 calories per minute, respectively.

The Dangers of CrossFit 

Unfortunately, CrossFit has a reputation for causing serious injuries. One study found that while doing CrossFit-endorsed workouts, 20% of the participants injured themselves.

In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, nearly three-quarters of survey respondents reported getting hurt with a total of 186 injuries and nine leading to surgeries.

Common CrossFit injuries include:

  • Rotator cuff tendonitis
  • Low back pain
  • Tennis elbow
  • Knee injuries
  • Achilles tendonitis

Daily WODs have also come into question, with some wondering whether the uniformity of the workout does a disservice to those of varying fitness levels and/or genders.

Proceed With Caution

While HIIT can be beneficial for weight loss and overall performance, the extreme nature of CrossFit workouts may be too overwhelming on the body when done consistently.

Lastly, CrossFit instructors only need to take a weekend certification course to teach CrossFit classes, which leaves plenty of room for instructors to offer poor advice when it comes to understanding the body. 

CrossFit Nutrition

When it comes to nutrition, CrossFit encourages its members to follow an eating plan that consists of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat to get the best results. This type of diet is similar to other fad diets such as Paleo or the Zone.

Is CrossFit bad for you?
Example of a nutrition guide for CrossFit athletes. (Source: CrossFit Davidson)
It promotes a balance of lean proteins, non-starchy vegetables, low glycemic fruit, seeds, nuts, and a limited number of refined sugars and starches. However, it does not fall within the dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and was not developed by a registered dietician.

Additionally, its low carbohydrate and high protein intake don’t meet the recommended amounts established by the American Dietetic Association for active people.

Benefits of a CrossFit Diet

More research is needed to determine how effective the CrossFit diet it is at improving athletic performance. But in general, eating low-glycemic carbs has been shown to fuel exercise by enhancing glucose stores (glycogen) in your muscles.

Plus, CrossFit’s carb guidelines may be helpful for some in preventing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

One study found that in people with type 2 diabetes who followed the Zone Diet for six months had an average blood sugar decrease of 11% and waist size decrease of 3%. Participants also supplemented the diet with 2,400 mg of omega-3s daily.

Disadvantages of a CrossFit Diet

The drawbacks to the Crossfit/Zone-style diet, however, typically center around the amount of carbs and protein allowed. The low number of carbs in the diet may not be enough to sustain the energy needs of the typical CrossFit athlete long-term.

Further, those with a health condition that require them to restrict the amount of protein consumed (e.g., chronic kidney disease), would see a negative impact on their health on this high-protein diet.

Finally, the strict limit of saturated fats within the CrossFit diet takes away from the positive effects that some saturated fat contain, such as in dairy products which may have a positive effect on health.

Overall, there is limited research in this area to draw conclusions on either side of the CrossFit diet.

The Bottom Line: Is CrossFit Bad For You?

Yes and no. There is limited research on whether CrossFit is bad for you, but in general, even healthy behaviors can become dangerous if not careful.

There are advantages to this style of training, but it is best done as a supplement to less high-intensity workouts to prevent long-term damage to the body.

If you’re new to CrossFit, its essential to ensure you’re doing each movement properly and keep an eye on form. Improper form paired with high-intensity exercises and heavy weights is a quick way to get injured.

New members should begin by lifting lighter weights at a slower pace until you’re able to master your form and build up to heavier weights.

Who Should Avoid CrossFit?

CrossFit may not be safe for you if you’re:

  • Pregnant
  • Already injured
  • Struggling with serious health conditions
  • Over the age of 65

Check with your doctor before starting or work with a personal trainer or physical therapist first to determine whether CrossFit may be the right workout for you.

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