Crossfit followers do timed workouts of the day (WODs) that incorporate bodyweight exercises, weight lifting and cardio. “The main premise of Crossfit—the bodyweight exercises, plyometrics and weight lifting—is great if done properly, by the right individuals,” says physical therapist Matt Hyland, president of the New York Physical Therapy Association. “The injuries we see are typically the result of two things: either the participant wasn’t in appropriate shape for Crossfit, or they were performing exercises with poor technique and form.” We asked Hyland and exercise physiologist Neal Pire, spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine, to share the Crossfit moves that pose the most danger—and suggestions for safer ways to get your sweat on.
Sumo Deadlift High Pull
How to: Stand with feet slightly wider than hips, holding a bar or kettle bell. Lower into a squat. With a smooth, fast motion, straighten your legs to standing and bring the bar or bell toward your chest, lifting your elbows upward to a 45-degree angle.
Watch It: Sumo Deadlift High Pull
The danger: “The deadlift high pull puts tremendous strain on the knees, because it requires dropping your buttocks below them in the squat,” Hyland says. The move can easily aggravate the most commonly injured rotator cuff muscle.
The fix: Many Crossfit gyms do not incorporate this move, a good thing according to our experts.
How to: Hang from a pull-up bar, palms facing outward. Begin rocking your hips forward and backward to create a swinging motion, which will help you propel your upper body toward the bar.
Watch It: Kipping Pull-ups
The danger. “The kipping pull-up is an incredibly powerful move,” Hyland says. “With anything this complex, the risk of injury goes up significantly. If done properly, the risks associated with it are to the shoulders. If done improperly, injury to various body parts is possible, including the neck and back.”
The fix: Hyland and Pire say the traditional pull-up is the way to go. If you’re a rookie, try flexed arm hangs: Standing on a bench at the bar, pull yourself up so your chin is above the bar. Bend your knees to lift your feet off the bench, and hold.
How to: Stand in front of a plyo box (typically 20 inches high). Bend your knees and jump from the floor onto the box, then back to the floor; repeat as many times as you can in the allotted time.
Watch It: Box jump
The danger: “I have seen many Crossfit guys post photos of bloody shins because they missed the box,” Pire says. “The goal is always to jump higher and faster, but if you’re fatigued, you shouldn’t do another jump.” Plus, several commenters on Crossfit message boards have shared stories of torn Achilles tendons from box jumps gone wrong.
The fix: If you are uneasy about the box, jump up and step down; step up and down; or forgo the exercise.
RELATED: Is CrossFit Fit for Beginners?
How to: Stand with feet hip-width apart, holding a bar with both hands behind your head. Lower down into a squat and lift the bar up, extending your arms fully. Return to standing and lower the bar to starting position.
Watch It: Snatch
The danger: “The snatch lift puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders,” Hyland says. “Olympic lifts like the snatch where there is momentum developed with the bar and your goal is to do them quickly can compromise your form,” Pire says. “In general, when doing explosive movements like the snatch or clean and jerks, the risk for injury is higher than when you are doing controlled, slower movements.”
The fix: If you’re a newbie lifter, get coached from an experienced trainer, and perform them with control and a reasonable amount of reps.