CrossFit has more than 13,000 licensed affiliates, aka “boxes,” worldwide, each one independently run by CrossFit-certified trainers. By joining an affiliate in your area, you gain access to group classes where you can learn the foundational movements and get acclimated to the program. 

These workshops take place over two days at various locations across the country. The Level 1 certification course is for clients and aspiring trainers who want to learn the fundamentals of CrossFit methodology and movement; it offers a combination of classroom instruction and hands-on, small group training on the basic movements. The Level 2 certification is for trainers who want to improve their coaching skills. Specialty courses are for clients and trainers interested in exploring specific topics in more detail; specialty courses confer Continuing Education Credits for certified CrossFit trainers.

Check 3 GPS Ready Score

Your supervisor may use the following checklist to determine whether you have adequately addressed the risk factors for participating in CrossFit training. If you can answer “yes” to all the questions below, you should be good to go!

Y / N         1. Are you generally fit and used to working out?

Y / N         2. Do you have some familiarity with weightlifting exercises?



Y / N         3. Do you have knowledge of proper techniques for basic CrossFit movements?



Y / N         4. Have you joined a registered CrossFit affiliate?



Y / N         5. Have you been cleared by a physician for high-intensity exercise of this type?



If you answered “yes” to all the questions above, you should be good to go!


Top Hazards and How to Mitigate Them

1. Working without a coach

Mitigate: Since CrossFit publishes its workouts as well as instructional articles and videos online, many people choose to work out on their own. But the program is grounded in moves from Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and other demanding sports that take years to master. Especially if you are new to weightlifting or exercise in general, it’s not a good idea to go it alone at the start. All CrossFit affiliate gyms require new members to take a one-month introductory course. Beyond that, their certified trainers can make sure you are using proper technique and suggest adaptations to fit your experience and current level of physical fitness.

2. Working with a coach

Mitigate: Some CrossFit coaches may have little training outside of the two-day training course and 50-item multiple-choice exam completion required to achieve Level 1 Trainer status. In contrast, strength and conditioning experts have years of training in kinesiology, biomechanics and exercise science. As a beginner, it might be best to seek out one of CrossFit’s higher-level trainers or a personal trainer with expertise in exercise physiology to help you get off to a safe start.  


3. Pushing beyond your limits


Mitigate: Even though CrossFit’s mantra is to always push to the limit (every set, every rep), you can take it too far. Studies have shown that as many as 3 out 4 CrossFitters sustain an injury during a workout.  In addition, CrossFit has been linked to a rare but serious, sometimes life-threatening condition known as rhabdomyolysis, in which excessive exercise causes muscles to break down and release chemicals into the bloodstream that are toxic to the kidneys. Pain is your body’s way of telling you that all is not well; learn to listen to the signals and stop before you do serious damage.  


4. Poor form

Mitigate: CrossFit workouts are fast, fatiguing, and inherently competitive, which can cause many participants to sacrifice good form, thereby increasing their risk of injury. Prioritize proper technique at all times by working with a knowledgeable trainer and regularly reviewing the written instructions and videos on the CrossFit website.


5. Paleo-like diets

Mitigate: CrossFit’s published nutrition plan is similar to the Paleo diet in that it recommends consumption of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat. Such diets have lower carbohydrate and higher protein intake than recommended by the American Dietetic Association. In a U.S. News and World Report ranking of diets in terms of weight loss, nutrition, safety and other factors, the Paleo diet tied for last place. CrossFit’s plan was not developed by a dietitian, nor does it fulfill the USDA’s recommended dietary allowances. In short, take the CrossFit nutrition plan with a grain of salt!

Meet Uncle Rhabdo

Screen Shot 2019-01-04 at 2.44.27 PM.png

Rhabdomyolysis is a potentially life-threatening medical condition brought on by excessive physical exertion. It happens when muscle fibers break down and leak toxic substances into the bloodstream, causing damage to the kidneys. Rhabdomyolysis can also result in cardiac arrythmia due to electrolyte imbalance. Due to the extreme and intense nature of its workouts, CrossFit has been a likely suspect in many rhabdo cases over the years—so much so that CrossFit, itself, created the gory Uncle Rhabdo cartoon figure pictured here to warn participants not to overdo it. In a seminal article on the subject, Crossfit founder Gary Glassman talks about five CrossFitters who were hospitalized after suffering from rhabdo and how to mitigate the risks going forward.

First off, it’s important to know the symptoms of rhabdomyolysis and consult a physician of you think you might be in trouble:

  • Abnormally dark urine

  • General weakness

  • Extreme stiffness

  • Soreness and swelling of affected muscles

Glassman points out that all the Crossfit cases were people with a good baseline level of fitness, but newcomers to the CrossFit program. “The settings, circumstances, age, gender, background and trainers involved vary widely in our five cases but each victim was brand new to CrossFit. Each was wounded by a first or second workout,” Glassman writes.

In another article about the dangers of rhabdo, Dr. Michael Ray points out that people at highest risk seem to be athletes who “have sufficient muscle mass and conditioning to go hard enough to hurt themselves but do not have the protection that develops with regular exposure to real intensity.”

The consensus is that rhabdomyolysis is a real and dangerous medical condition which creates a need in the CrossFit community for introductory workouts that are appropriate and safe for new clients, or as Glassman puts it, “a longer on-ramp to the highway of full intensity.”