You are here

Do You Think CrossFit Will Hurt You?

A fierce trainer and former whitewater athlete, Kelly Starrett is changing the way athletes understand the basics of human physiology and mobility. His philosophy: If you’re not still exercising at age 100, you've been doing it all wrong.

Kelly Starrett looks more like an Olympic weightlifter than your typical physical therapist. At 6'2" and 227 pounds, he’s thick, imposing, and covered in a hodgepodge of tattoos that stream down his left arm and cover his bulging calves. So it’s fitting that when this doctor of physical therapy launches into a sermon about athletic performance, he skips the anatomy lesson and uses race cars to make his point.

You can drive a “Beemer” around a racetrack in second gear at 60 miles per hour, but you can’t do it forever, he says. Not only are you undermining performance, but you’re also priming the car for catastrophe. Starrett says this is what we do with our bodies on a daily basis: We sit all day, shortening our hip flexors, hamstrings, and calf muscles. Then we hit the gym with dysregulated tissue and complain when we get knee pain. It’s like we’re driving around with the emergency brake on, and eventually we blow out a knee or a hip. “So we need to fix our basic spinal position before we go after poor movement in the hips or shoulders,” he says. “You’ll never fix the big engine if the chassis’s broken.” 

His race car analogy isn’t a groundbreaking observation, to be sure, but simple nuggets of wisdom like these, delivered in his trademark upbeat and accessible way, have made Starrett one of the most successful and sought-after trainers in all of fitness. He’s a celebrity thriving within the world of CrossFit, the hardcore mishmash of training styles that now encompasses nearly 10,000 gyms across the world. Few amateur gymgoers, one could argue, need a stronger chassis than CrossFitters. 

If there’s any criticism continually aimed at CrossFit and its high-intensity workouts (like, say, multiple rounds of wall-ball shots, sumo deadlifts, box jumps, push presses, and reps at a rowing machine—WOD name “Fight Gone Bad") it’s the notion that they’re not for the average person—at least until that person is properly conditioned. In April, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry published a study that found that 19% of a group of 486 CrossFitters sustained an injury over a four-month period, mostly in the back, shoulders, or knees.

“With CrossFit, you’re training and working out really hard,” says Zach Even-Esh, a respected strength and performance coach and the founder of New Jersey’s Underground Strength Gym. “And when you push yourself—whether in CrossFit or something else—you get bumps and bruises. But people get injured from sitting too much and eating crappy as well. Once you get injured, you go to a doctor, you get painkillers, and you’re told to stop working out. Kelly’s become the guy who does the opposite. He fixes people.”

Starrett doesn’t deny that people get injured doing CrossFit. But he argues that the injuries pale in comparison with the ones sustained in other daily activities. “If you take a holistic view of sports, CrossFit is safe,” he says. “Eighty percent of runners get injured every year—and there are 30 million runners in America.” He attributes any rise in CrossFit injuries to the greater numbers of people doing CrossFit. “What I teach is proper positioning. Once people have good biomechanics and good motor control, then we increase intensity. The problem is, just as in any other sport, moving at high intensity without proper biomechanics is a recipe for disaster.”

CrossFitters aren’t the only ones flocking to Starrett for instruction. His client list spans the entire big-name pro-athlete spectrum: Olympians, English Premier League soccer stars, guys in the NBA, MLB, and NFL, as well as world-class cyclists, endurance athletes, and classical ballerinas. He’s even trained breakdancers. They all come to 

Starrett to get his distinctive take on the fundamentals of mobility—he’ll teach a world-class sprinter the proper way to stand, for instance—and to master his singular methods for eradicating physical pain. 

Kelly Starrett: The CrossFit Superstar >>> Page 2

7 Things to Consider Before Taking the CrossFit Plunge >>>



Want more Men's Fitness?

Sign Up for our newsletters now.

You might also like