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The CrossFit craze is only dangerous for one main reason

Avital Norman Nathman is a freelance writer whose work places a feminist lens on a variety of topics, including motherhood, maternal health, gender, and reproductive rights. Her work has been featured in Bitch magazine, Cosmopolitan.com,...

There's no danger in CrossFit, as long as you follow one important rule

Every few years a new diet or exercise trend blows up, attracting a large number of devotees. Some fade out in a few years, but others have some significant staying power. One of those in the latter group is CrossFit, the intense strength-training workout system that has many people singing its praises. But what about the potential downside to CrossFit? Is it for everyone?

It's hard not to come across somebody in your circle that has been wooed by CrossFit. Maybe they're posting about it on Facebook or chatting you up about it every chance they get. And to be honest, if you like to work out, get all sweaty and enjoy routine, then CrossFit might sound super appealing. But, like any other high-impact/intensity workout, it pays to be careful and cautious.

There have been many reports about the potential dangers regarding CrossFit. In a study published last year in The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, researchers found that 73.5 percent of participants had sustained an injury that had prevented them from working, training or competing. Of those 97 CrossFitters, nine required surgery for their injuries.

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Dr. Derek Ochiai, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon trained in sports medicine, talked with SheKnows about some of the health concerns that surround CrossFit and how you can better protect your body if you decide to try it out.

"CrossFit in and of itself is not dangerous," says Dr. Ochiai. "The dangers come with being over-aggressive in starting a regimen — usually by going from a relatively sedentary lifestyle to starting CrossFit with too advanced/strenuous exercise. Also, beginners may not know the difference between being sore from working out, and actually tearing or injuring tendons/muscles. Finally, if one tires quickly, some of the exercises can lead to falling and more acute injuries (ankle sprains, fractures, rotator cuff tears of the shoulder)."

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While more men than women are involved in CrossFit, Dr. Ochiai says that sex doesn't matter when it comes to injury, but rather how intense one gets. "It really depends on how aggressive the CrossFitter is in doing the routine," he explains. "Men and women can both be over-aggressive."

If CrossFit still sounds like a workout trend you want to try, Dr. Ochiai has some tips on how to best avoid injury.

  1. Listen to your body! Exercise is not supposed to hurt, and if a person is feeling pain with an exercise, stop or step down intensity.

  1. Realize why you are exercising in the first place (improving longevity, weight control, improvement in overall energy level) and that getting to those goals is not a race.

  1. Go at your own pace and try not to compete against someone else.

  2. Check your ego at the door. Don't try to do something just because you think you could have done it 10 years and two children ago.

However, Dr. Ochiai notes that any exercise that gets people excited and moving should be applauded, as the health benefits of moderate exercise far outweigh the potential for risk. But remember, "... exercise is for life," he stresses. "If you start an exercise regimen, only to overdo it and injure yourself, you're less likely to re-start exercise after you heal. Perhaps safer exercises would be to do light elliptical trainer workouts at the gym, coupled with doing the weight lifting circuit on the machines (where the weight can be dialed in, and you can pull the cord afterwards, so nobody knows how much weight you were just lifting!)."

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