Crossfit - the good, the bad and the ugly

Crossfit is the fastest developing training method in recent years. According to the data available on the official website, training boxes are located in nearly 142 countries. About 10,000 clubs bought the affiliation alone. Note, however, that despite the fact that the idea of CrossFit has many advantages, there are unfortunately also disadvantages. Therefore, this article will cover all the most important aspects.

Content of the article:

  1. History of Crossfit
  2. Crossfit concept
  3. What effects can be obtained thanks to Crossfit workouts?
  4. Traumatism in Crossfit
  5. CrossFit and professional sport
  6. CrossFit and martial arts
  7. Increased physical activity - CrossFit as a measure to save the civilization diseases of the 21st century

1. History of Crossfit

Let us start with the fact that the idea itself was initiated by the gymnast Greg Glassman around the 1970s. Of course, there are also voices according to which he created the concept together with his wife. Regardless of what the actual beginning was, over the years this concept has evolved to obtain the name that is now known worldwide since 2000.

2. Crossfit concept

Glassman's concept was to create a training method that would be a strength and conditioning program. For this purpose, aerobic, calisthenic exercises and weight lifting were combined. As a definition of this method, the most common statement is that these are „"constantly changing functional movements performed with high intensity in a wide range of time and modal domains”. Therefore, it can be stated purely in theory that this type of training is also circuit training, and any other form of exercise that combines these three elements (e.g. tabata). This is also confirmed by the opinion expressed by Glassman, who pointed out that "CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program, but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competences in each of the 10 recognized fitness domains". Therefore, CrossFit should be considered as a training idea that aims to significantly increase physical fitness. The competences to be developed in this way include:

  • cardiovascular and respiratory endurance,
  • stamina,
  • strength,
  • fexibility,
  • power,
  • speed,
  • coordination,
  • agility,
  • balance,
  • accuracy.

Note that CrossFit has been applied to the development of physical fitness, various military, police and fire-fighting formations. Despite this, the method itself causes a lot of controversy. This is due to the fact that it does not have a formulated methodology that was described by the founder himself as „empirical".

3. What effects can be obtained thanks to Crossfit workouts?

When analyzing Crossfit, let us start with the effects that can be obtained thanks to training. While referring to the results of scientific research, it should be noted that due to the lack of training methodology that occurs, e.g. in the case of strength, aerobic, anaerobic training, etc., it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of this type of training. It is the reason of the difficulty of choosing the direction of research by scientists. There is currently relatively little research in which we find the phrase "CrossFit".

Smith et al. (2013) conducted studies analyzing the effect of CrossFit training on body composition and aerobic capacity. It is worth noting that the participants followed the Paleo diet. It was shown that the body fat decreased by 3.7% and the efficiency increased to 13.6%. Sanchis-Gomar et al. (2012) reached similar results. In addition, the authors showed an increase in lean body mass. In his analysis of the research, Meyer also cited the results that CrossFit may contribute to the reduction of lean body mass. However, it is not specified whether the decrease is related to muscle mass or to other components.

Choi et al. (2017) conducted research on young people around the age of 19. In this case, the trainings were planned into 2 training units (each for 70 minutes). The experiment lasted 14 weeks. According to research results, this type of effort can significantly affect the body's recomposition. More precisely, it helps to reduce body weight while increasing muscle mass.

In recent years, more research related to CrossFit can be found under the phrase HIFT. This means High Intensity Functional Training. Haddock et al (2016), analyzing the impact of HIFT training (Crossfit, SEALFIT, etc.), showed that this type of training takes 25 - 80% less time than traditional military programs while maintaining a high level of effectiveness.

4. Traumatism in Crossfit

Tafuri et al. (2019) conducted research on people aged 21-36 (454 people). According to the data, 39.9% reported a muscle-related injury. 16.7% reported tendinitis.

Merhab et al (2017) analyzed the responses of 553 respondents. More than half, as many as 56.1% of the respondents suffered at least one injury within 12 training months. The most frequently indicated injuries were in the shoulder girdle (28.7%), lower back (15.8%) and knees (8.3%). The most vulnerable people were participants whose internship did not exceed 6 months in CrossFit training.

It is also worth citing the research conducted by Elkin et al (2019). For two years, researchers analyzed the impact of CrossFit training and typical strength training on trauma. It was shown that people in the CF group were 1.3 times more likely to suffer injuries. Moreover, in this group, people seeking specialist medical help can be found 1.86 times more often. They also confirmed the observations of the above-mentioned authors regarding the injury sites. The most common injuries were in the CrossFit group in the area of the shoulders (46.41%), lower backs (38.28%) and hips (9.09%).

Although when we look at the data presented by Daoud et al (2012) and Weisenthal et al (2014), who in their research showed 74% of the percentage of injured among runners compared to 19.4% of people training CrossFit, it seems to be the result is small. However, I still think it is a poor consolation.

Let us conclude with the research conducted by Klimek et al. (2018). When analyzing the available studies on CF trauma, the researchers noted the lack of randomization of the trials, and more specifically the training methodology, which does not make it possible to effectively determine the negative impact of CrossFit on trauma. In this case, they concluded that CF training has a similar risk of injury to other forms of training, such as strength training.

5. CrossFit and professional sport

At the moment, CrossFit has not conquered professional sport. This is due to the fact that there is no compatible methodology and research results confirming the effectiveness of this method. We should also note that it is very difficult, or even impossible, to use periodization within CrossFit, i.e. training variability. Okay, there may be voices that CrossFit is based on a multi-cycle microcycle (throughout the week). Currently, however, the formation of a sports form depending on the required discipline is based on other principles with which CrossFit loses. Maybe in a few or a dozen years, the scientific knowledge will so much influence CrossFit training that it will be possible to discuss this topic on the basis of arguments. However, there are currently too few data available, and the methods used seem to better prepare players for the demands of their disciplines.

To better illustrate this assumption, let's refer to CrossFit Games and team games. In the first case, i.e. in CFG, we are dealing with an effort that almost 100% corresponds to the methods of conducting training units. In this case, CrossFit itself is both a method that affects the development of general and special physical fitness, and a form of starting effort. Let us also refer to the special fitness, which corresponds to the actions that the competitor is subjected to during the starting effort / competition. In the case of team games, the situation is quite different. In this case, for example in football, motor training does not fully correspond to the effort that the player undergoes during the match. During training for CFG, we train in a way that practically resembles effort during competition. In football, however, we will not translate it this way. Despite the fact that CrossFit develops all the motor skills that a footballer needs, the movement patterns in CrossFit do not quite match the match effort.

6. CrossFit and martial arts

Theoretically speaking, if we were to consider the legitimacy of using CrossFit in any sport, it would most often be martial arts. However, CrossFit, because it is based on a specific effort, will not allow you to build as much muscle strength as a typical strength training can. This issue is extremely debatable, as theoretically it can be a good solution during the initial weeks of the preparatory phase. However, the mere lack of definition of the methodology may lead to the fact that peripheral training may also be called CrossFit by supporters.

6a. Building strength in CrossFit

Leaving aside the philosophical considerations, let us pay attention to the very concept of WODs, i.e. the attitude towards a specific competence or motor ability during a given training. The very concept for improving overall fitness is perfectly correct. However, in relation to combat sports or other disciplines, it does not meet the requirements of competitors in other disciplines. Of course, you can often meet people in boxes who carry huge loads. Most often, however, in their case, training sessions are typically focused on muscle strength. Otherwise, getting huge gains in muscle strength would be impossible. This is due to the fact that CrossFit is based on a specific long-term effort that is not conducive to building muscle mass or strength. Atego also if you train mainly on the basis of typical CrossFit workouts, developing muscle strength, especially by advanced people, would be practically impossible.

Training in which we do not train with weights exceeding 80% of the RM, with breaks between sets lasting on average 2-3 minutes, will not allow significant development of muscle strength. In recent years, of course, there are studies that show that it is mainly training volume that is responsible for building muscle strength. However, referring to the specificity of muscle work, the above-mentioned recommendations will still be more beneficial when building mass or maximum muscle strength.

Overall, the topic is extremely complex and could be discussed for days on end, and die-hard supporters and opponents of CrossFit would probably not have reached a compromise anyway. Therefore, due to the aforementioned lack of CrossFit methodology, CrossFit should be separated from motor training targeted at specific disciplines.

7. Increased physical activity - CrossFit as a measure to save the civilization diseases of the 21st century

Moving away from the topic of sports efficiency, CrossFit is undoubtedly a social phenomenon. The idea that contributed to the creation of a CrossFit community around the world has increased the activity of many people who would otherwise never decide to try to change their lives. This idea has conquered the whole world for almost 20 years, and for several years has had a positive impact on the lifestyle of Poles.

Therefore, after all, CrossFit had a positive impact on the lives of many people who were very often glued to the office and spent the vast majority of the day passively. Of course, it has also gained supporters of other forms of physical activity, mainly due to the community that is created by people who participate in training together. Looking at the number of people struggling with overweight, obesity or type II diabetes, it is a huge plus.


In order to consider the effectiveness of CrossFit, it is worth emphasizing once again that, unfortunately, due to the lack of a strict definition and methodology, it is difficult to compare this method with other solutions at the moment. Therefore, in order to draw far-reaching conclusions, it is necessary to wait for further scientific research and meta-analyzes, i.e. critical reviews of the literature by scientists. The most important element of the research here will be checking the most popular units, so "Angie", "Barbara", "Grace" and many others.

We should also remember that CrossFit training takes place in the form of group classes. Knowing that they are burdened with a high degree of risk of injury, it is worth checking the competences of the person who conducts this type of training. Very often it is the details relating to the performance of a particular exercise that play a major role in whether the exercise is safe or not.

As for the use of CrossFit training in the case of professional athletes, i.e. people living from sports mainly due to the risk of injury, it is not recommended. In addition, due to the many inaccuracies related to the lack of methodology or the lack of definition of what this method actually is, it is difficult to talk about the introduction of CrossFit training. Therefore, considerations about whether CrossFit will be effective in building a sports form should always refer to the individual case of the player. Only on this basis will it be possible to effectively discuss this topic.

Undoubtedly, a huge plus is the encouragement to physical activity of thousands if not millions of people who have changed their own lives. A huge role in this case is played by trainers who, having knowledge of sports methodology, as well as anatomy and biomechanics, create effective training programs that support the achievement of results determined by the community.



Klimek C, Ashbeck C, Brook AJ, Durall C. Are Injuries More Common With CrossFit Training Than Other Forms of Exercise?, J Sport Rehabil. 2018 May 1;27(3):295-299

Sanchis-Gomar, F., Lippi, G., Mayero, S., Perez-Quilis, C., García-Giménez, J. L. (2012). Irisin: A new potential hormonal target for the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Journal of Diabetes, 4, 196.

Smith, M. M., Sommer, A. J., Starkoff, B. E., Devor, S. T. (2013). CrossFit-based high-intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27, 3159-3172.

Daoud, A. I., Geissler, G. J., Wang, F., Saretsky, J, Daoud, Y. A., Lieberman, D. E. (2012). Foot strike and injury rates in endurance runners: A retrospective study. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 44, 1325-1334.

Weisenthal, B. M., Beck, C. A., Maloney, M. D., DeHaven, K. E., Giordano, B. D. (2014). Injury rate and patterns among CrossFit athletes. The Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 2(4).

Haddock CKPoston WS, Heinrich KM, Jahnke SAJitnarin N. The Benefits of High-Intensity Functional Training Fitness Programs for Military Personnel, Mil Med. 2016 Nov;181(11).

Menz V, Marterer N, Amin SB, Faulhaber M, Hansen AB, Lawley JS. J Sports Sci Med. 1;18(3):497-504. eCollection 2019 Sep. Functional Vs. Running Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training: Effects on VO2max and Muscular Endurance.

J.Meyer, Morrison J., Zuniga J., Workplace Health & Safety, 2017.

Tafuri SSalatino GNapoletano PLMonno ANotarnicola A.,The risk of injuries among CrossFit athletes: an Italian observational retrospective survey.J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2019 Sep;59(9):1544-1550

Merhab M, de Bos R-J., Kraan G.A., Mathijssen N.M.C., Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 5(12), 2017.

Elkin J.L., Kammerman J.S., Knuselman A.R., Gallo R.A.,

Likelihood of Injury and Medical Care Between CrossFit and Traditional Weightlifting Participants, Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 2019.

Schmidt D, Anderson K, Graff M, Strutz V., The effect of high-intensity circuit training on physical fitness. The Journal of sprots medicine and physical fitness, 56(6), 2016.

Wilke J, Kaiser S, Niederer D i inni. Effects of high-intensity functional circuit training on motor function and sport motivation in healthy, inactive adults, Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 29(1), 2019.

Tabata I, Tabata training: one of the most energetically effective high-intensity intermittent training methods.J Physiol Sci,2019.

Opublikowany dnia 18.11.2019 Piotr Walczyński 2002

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