CrossFit: Safe or Dangerous? Study finds that your shoulders are at risk, and it could be the culture’s fault

CrossFit is a popular weightlifting sport that has been attracting participants from all walks of life for its many reported physical health benefits. However, some experts argue that CrossFit also exposes participants to an increased risk and severity of injury.

Is CrossFit dangerous? Researchers from Pennsylvania State University conducted a retrospective cohort study on the safety of CrossFit. Their findings suggest that CrossFit participants are 1.30 times more likely to self-report an injury and 1.86 times more likely to seek medical attention than those using a traditional weightlifting routine. Among both CrossFit and traditional weightlifting participants, shoulder injuries were the most commonly reported type of injury.


The Appeal of CrossFit

CrossFit’s popularity can be attributed to several factors. First, CrossFit is a “functional fitness” program that purports to train participants in activities that they are likely to perform in their everyday lives. Second, CrossFit workouts are typically short (30 minutes or less) and high-intensity, which appeals to busy decision makers. The popularity of “Workout of the Day” or WOD, also takes the decision-making out of the effort of working out on a regular basis.

CrossFit has been criticised in popular media as having high rates of injury, however the recorded statistic do not show this to be a big factor, as injury rates are similar to other sports.


Rates of Injury

Rates of injury can be measured by looking at incidence of injury per 1000 hours of training. Studies have reported CrossFit incidences of injury varying from 2.71 to 3.1 per 1000 hours.

In comparison, we can look at injury rates for other sport:

Recreational Tennis: 1.6 – 3.0 injuries per 1000 hours

Triathletes: 2.5 – 5.4 injuries per 1000 hours

Traditional Weightlifting: 2.7 – 5.5 injuries per 1000 hours

The Pennsylvania study compared injury results between CrossFit athletes and traditional weightlifting. Traditional Weightlifting was defined as any action that involves the participant using free weights consistently.


“When the comparison of injury was adjusted for sex and age, the likelihood of sustaining an injury in the past 2 years was 2.26 times higher in the CrossFit group. Both groups appeared to exercise the same number of hours per week.”

Elkin et al, Likelihood of Injury and Medical Care Between CrossFit and Traditional Weightlifting Participants.


Shoulders account for 46.41% of all injuries

The shoulder is the most common location of injury for both CrossFit athletes and traditional weighlifting, indicating the need for shoulder stability, strengthening, and monitoring of shoulder fatigue, range of motion, and detecting early signs of shoulder injury before training makes it worse.

In both groups, the shoulder was the most common site of injury (46.41%), followed by lower back (38.28%) and hip (9.09%)




CrossFit participants most commonly reported being injured while performing the following movements:

Clean and Jerk movements – 18.9%

Deadlift movements – 18.9%

Snatch Movements – 16.2%

Traditional weightlifters were most commonly injured while performing:

Barbell and dumbbell bench press movements – 23.7%

Deadlift Movements – 21.5%


Causes for injury

Poor form, and incorrect weightlifting technique could be the main causes of injuries. In CrossFit, the intense workouts that mix complex movements with weightlifting exercises could mean that athletes’ muscles are already fatigued when training at high intensity.

However this is not to say that traditional weightlifters do not train with such intensity.

The authors state “Specifically, an individual’s motivation to achieve his or her personal goals may increase when that person is exposed to a perceived obligation to either outperform others or to live up to the expectations of others cheering for the participant. This situation may lead CrossFit participants to push themselves beyond their physical fatigue limit and may ultimately lead to technical form breakdown, loss of concentration, and injury.”

Furthermore, many of those who reported an injury concluded that the gains obtained from their workout routine outweighed the injury risk.

What are your thoughts? Do you think that the culture of CrossFit promotes unsafe training?

Or do CrossFit and traditional weightlifting need more of a conversation around shoulder health?


Elkin et al,  JL, Kammerman JS, Kunselman AR, Gallo RA. Likelihood of Injury and Medical Care Between CrossFit and Traditional Weightlifting Participants. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine. May 2019. doi:10.1177/2325967119843348

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