CrossFit Safety: How to Do It Right and See Results

Updated:

CrossFit has really taken off in the last few years. For quite a few runners, it’s their chosen form of cross-training.

It’s not hard to see why people are choosing it – many people have seen dramatic results in terms of both strength and fitness!

However, if done incorrectly, Crossfit can also be one of the more dangerous forms of cross-training. So how do you make sure that you’re doing it correctly and minimizing your chance of injury?

Here’s our advice to runners who do (or want to start doing) Crossfit as a form of cross-training.

What Exactly Is CrossFit?

CrossFit is one of the most popular forms of training on the planet. It’s actually quite a new way of training, only starting in 2000.

The Crossfit website calls CrossFit a lifestyle, which hinges on some very specific points about both exercise and nutrition.

Firstly, as CrossFit says, “the magic is in the movement”. A mix of heavy lifting and bodyweight training, high-intensity levels, and an emphasis on “functional training” are what CrossFit is all about.

Secondly, nutrition. No gym program is complete without eating properly, and CrossFit emphasizes a no-carb or low-carb diet.

Lastly, and possibly the most well-known part of CrossFit, is the community. Somehow, CrossFitters always find each other in the room and they’re like a big, happy family even if they’ve never met before.

Chances are you know someone, somewhere, who’s enthused about their CrossFit family, being in the box, Knocking out their WODs, or doing AMRAPS. It’s a culture, a way of life.

Should You Do CrossFit As Cross-Training?

CrossFit can be highly effective, but it’s not for everyone. Just like any other kind of cross-training, you need to enjoy it, be able to do it safely and be able to stick with it as a sustainable form of training.

We advise that you put a fair bit of thought into it before starting CrossFit. As a beginner to weight training, leaping into CrossFit training without priming your body for the load can lead to disaster!

Although the exercises are progressive and can be adapted for any level of athlete, there are some definite pros and cons to this type of cross-training.

Pros and Cons of CrossFit As Cross-Training

As with all forms of cross-training, CrossFit comes with some excellent pros and some concerning cons. Consider these factors before choosing CrossFit as your form of cross-training!

Pros

Promotes a Healthy Lifestyle

The CrossFit website promotes a healthy lifestyle, not only in terms of exercise. They believe in eating healthy and moving your body, which are the foundations of a healthy life.

At their core, these are the real fundamentals of healthy living. Being part of a movement that emphasizes these things is a positive, although it does require some thought and research on your part too.

Scalable Exercises

Generally, the exercises that CrossFit is based on are progressive. That means there are various forms of the same exercise, from easy to difficult, so anyone from beginners to advanced lifters can do them effectively.

This is extremely handy because it allows the workouts to be accessible for everyone, of any fitness level.

Passionate Community

Being a part of a community that loves their choice of training can be a huge positive, especially for people who are new to it. Whether you’re new to Crossfit or an experienced athlete who has a quick question, the community is there to help.

You’ll most likely make a bunch of new friends, which is also wonderful for accountability and motivation. Being surrounded by people who love fitness can be hugely inspiring on those days when you feel a little less motivated.

Fairly Accessible

You can find a CrossFit gym almost anywhere! Wherever you are, chances are there’s a CrossFit box near you. Even if you can only find an old-school gym nearby, you can do CrossFit-style training in any gym.

Cons

High Potential for Injury

Unfortunately, CrossFit has a higher potential for injury than traditional weightlifting. Research suggests that CrossFitters are almost twice as likely to get injured and seek medical attention than old-school weightlifters! That’s significant.

Studies suggest that more than half of CrossFitters have sustained a CrossFit-related injury during their training. About 7% of those required surgery.

And remember – if you sustain a lighter injury and go back to heavy lifting and high-intensity training before it’s properly healed (ie. without giving it the necessary few weeks of not training), chances of you reinjuring that part are very high.

Poor Form

There’s the potential for poor form to sneak into any type of training. However, because Crossfit is high-intensity and participants tend to push themselves through exercises quickly, there’s an even greater potential for poor form in this kind of training.

Naturally, doing high-intensity exercise with the wrong form leaves you much more open to injuring yourself.

High Level of Competition

Competition isn’t a bad thing in itself. However, when you’ve got a combination of highly intense exercise, fast-paced circuits, poor form, and people pushing each other, it can become a potentially dangerous situation.

Low-Carb Diet Isn’t for Everyone

Although Crossfit does promote a healthy lifestyle, the low-carb diet isn’t for everyone. Carbs are not the enemy! While avoiding processed carbs is a great idea if you want to lose weight and get fit, going low-carb isn’t always the answer.

Some people may find that they feel worse after a few weeks on a low-carb diet. Not everyone’s body does well on a high-fat diet, so going low-carb may not be the optimal choice for every athlete.

The CrossFit Safety Concern

One of the reasons CrossFit really produces results is that it’s a combo of lifting heavy and exercising intensely. In other words, it’s both strength training and cardio in one.

When you combine this with healthy eating and a calorie deficit or surplus (depending on your goal), you’re bound to see exceptional fat loss and muscle building results.

However, there’s a concern about the lack of form and the potential for serious injury when it comes to Crossfit training.

This isn’t necessarily due to the training itself. It often comes down to over-zealous trainers and hyped-up fellow CrossFitters pushing less experienced athletes to overreach.

However, if you want to do CrossFit for weight loss, muscle building, and health benefits, it’s a simple matter of taking some steps to make sure that you stay as safe as possible and have a reduced risk of injury.

How to Stay Safe When Doing CrossFit

Being safe during CrossFit training is just a matter of being smart!

Listen to your body, and listen to your brain. Here are our top tips for staying safe while training CrossFit-style.

Start Slow & Low

If you’re new to CrossFit, the worst thing you can do is lift too heavy. Start ridiculously too low, and work your way up. It may take some experimenting, but you’ll eventually find your ideal weight to be lifting.

The best weight to lift is one which allows you to do between 6 and 10 reps with perfect form. Once you can hit 10 reps with perfect form for 3 sets, you can increase your weight.

Pay Attention to Form

Poor form is probably the biggest factor that contributes to injury, both in CrossFit and other forms of cross-training. Whichever exercise you’re doing, there’s a right way and a not-so-right way to do it.

Doing your exercises with incorrect form is a sure way to wreck your joints and leave you on the sidelines for weeks!

The best way to ensure your form is spot-on is to take your time with your exercises. Rushing through your workout or trying to perform your lift as fast as possible is a surefire way to injure yourself.

Also, warm up properly before you get into your proper sets. Diving into hard workouts with cold muscles can lead to injury.

Train with the Right People

The people you surround yourself with are extremely important. CrossFitters are known for getting super excitable during workouts and pushing each other to go harder and faster, but in some cases, this kind of attitude can be damaging.

Find a CrossFit coach and friends who allow you to take your time, find your feet, and do your exercises your way. Don’t allow anyone to push you beyond what you’re comfortable doing.

Choose to surround yourself with people who encourage you to be healthy and safe. Your CrossFit buddies should be as concerned with your form as you are! Surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart.

Eat the Right Way for You

The CrossFit lifestyle advocates a low-carb diet. There’s nothing wrong with eating low-carb if it works for you, but keep in mind that your body does need carbs for energy.

The Keto diet and Banting are all about eating less carbs and more fat, with the view that your body will be more inclined to burn its own fat when it’s not getting carbs for energy.

However, the inherent problem with this idea comes down to calories in versus calories out. One gram of carbs contains 4 calories. One gram of fat contains 9 calories. Therefore, when you’re eating fats instead of carbs, you’re eating less food for the same amount of calories.

Choose a nutrition plan that works for you. Don’t feel pressured to go low-carb just because it’s “the Crossfit way”.

Also, keep in mind that if you’ve been running for any length of time, carbo loading is a thing! Runners tend to prioritize carbs over fats, so don’t go changing your diet just because you’re doing CrossFit.

Don’t Forget to Rest

CrossFit is high intensity and go-go-go! Especially when you’re part of an excited, motivated community, it can be easy to dive into hard workouts every day, every week, and never get proper rest.

You should be taking at least a day or two off during the week. Every 8 to 10 weeks, you should also be taking a week off completely, to give your body some space to recover.

If you’re doing CrossFit as cross-training and running is still your main sport, then you’re likely to be doing it just a couple of days a week, which is great.

CrossFit and Running

Running is excellent cardio, and it also often builds impressive leg muscle. But runners often neglect the importance of strength training. This is why cross-training is such a helpful and positive part of a runner’s training.

Choosing to do CrossFit as your form of cross-training may or may not be a good idea, depending on your goals. Is it for you? Let’s find out.

Who Shouldn’t Do CrossFit?

As we’ve mentioned, CrossFit is not the ideal form of strength training for everyone. You should probably avoid CrossFit if you:

  • Are extremely focused on running as your sport
  • Don’t want to gain muscle or bulk up
  • Don’t have time in your running schedule
  • Have underlying health conditions
  • Are prone to joint problems
  • Like to workout alone

Who Should Do CrossFit?

If you’re looking for a new, effective form of cross-training, CrossFit could work for you if:

  • Want to gain strength and build muscle
  • Have a clean bill of health
  • Have time to spend in the gym
  • Enjoy socializing and group workouts

Conclusion

CrossFit might still be all the rage, but it’s just one in a long list of potential cross-training options. It’s popular, and there’s a high chance of seeing great fat loss and muscle building results.

But at what cost? Choosing to leap into CrossFit without doing your homework and making sure you’re doing it with the right form and intensity could set you back not just weeks, but years.

On the other hand, if you go into it knowing what your goals are, how to keep your form, what’s healthy for you and what’s not, you could see a lot of success with it.

Worth trying? Totally up to you, but in the end, make sure you’re doing what’s best for your body and your mind.

Photo of author

AUTHOR

Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.