I recently wrote a tweet sharing my opinion that I feel that Olympic lifting (Snatch / Clean) under fatigue against time or for as many reps as possible places people at increased risk of injury. As the title suggests I am referring to the fitness training craze that is CrossFit. So.....Am I a hater?? Absolutely not! Am I worried for those participating?? Yes I am for the follwing reasons...
There is no doubt that the CrossFit movement has increased activity levels, drawing millions of people into gyms (boxes in CrossFit code) around the world. As a Charetered Physiotherapist I see this as a very positive short-term effect and must admit to enjoying the intensity and competition of some of the sessions designed. It must also be said that the phenomenal success of the 'CrossFit' brand is not a reason to hold a grudge against it....they must be doing something right? At the end of the day people vote with their feet!
So what am I banging on about you may ask?? My concern is for the long term musculoskeletal health of CrossFit 'athletes' the world over. I have indulged in many CrossFit sessions and thankfully I have not suffered any major issues apart from tearing the skin from my hands and fingers (a CrossFit badge of honour!!).
To my mind I have no doubt that high repetitions of Olympic lifts significantly increases risk of injury. In my opinion it is not possible to maintain correct form under such levels of fatigue. More to the point these are complex compound movements aimed at increasing athletes explosive power - so why perform such high reps???? Surely that's developing endurance over power??
My main concern is the medium to long term effect that regular CrossFit training will have on athletes musculoskeletal health. At the clinic here in Cardiff we are already treating an increasing number of CrossFit participants presenting with injuries including acute back pain, shin splints, knee tendinopathy's, elbow tendinopathy's and a variety of shoulder issues....Should we really be seeing so many injuries from what is essentially a form of training?? I fear the effects of heavily loaded repeated movements into lumbar extension, with poor lifting technique may present us with significant degenerative lumbar spine and joint pathology in the long term.
Don't get me wrong, from my time working as a physio in professional rugby I understand that the risk of injury is part and parcel of any sport. I also acknowledge that CrossFit has televised competitions at the elite end with big prize money for the "pros", but it's for the millions of regular CrossFit folk I hold my concern.
So what's the answer? Where can we find a solution??
My advice is to find a gym or qualified instructor that will program complex Olympic lifts appropriately - focussing on technique, for fewer reps... never against the clock. It is my belief that WODs or MetCon's (CrossFit code) should include less complex exercises and movements such as burpees, wall ball, prolwer push, battle ropes, rower, ski-erg, assault bike. These exercises are 'low skill' and therefore (in my opinion) can be used safely to work on endurance for maximum reps or against time.
Personally, I have enjoyed Crossfit training and observed excellent coaching at a number of CrossFit facilities in the past. ION Gym in Cardiff being one of my favourite loacation for the facilities and environment, but most importantly the quality of coaching led by Robin Sowden-Taylor and Mike Catris. However, my underlying concern for long term CrossFit die hards remains and only time will tell (along with quality unbiased research), if my worries are justified...
Thank you for reading and please share your views in the comments section below or contact me via twitter - @PhysioCardiff