CrossFit Bullying Scientists?


Last March, a CrossFit-affiliated gym in Columbus, Ohio, sued the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) and exercise scientists from Ohio State University who conducted a 2013 study that showed the potential benefits of aerobic fitness and body fat decrease with CrossFit training. The Ohio Crossfit gym alleged that the researchers claimed that nine of the athletes dropped out of the study because of “overuse injuries” and suffered more than $25,000 in damages, according to the lawsuit. The 10-week challenge had 54 participants, but only 43 of them (23 men, 20 women) completed the study. Since this is the first lawsuit from a CrossFit-affiliated business, Outside inquired whether this is a case of bullying when a company does not like the data and results or scientists deliberately “peddling fraudulent data” to defame CrossFit?

CrossFit is well-known for is re-introduction of Olympic weightlifting to the general public as well as its high-intensity, muscle-burning workouts. Among the fitness and exercise science industry, there is an ongoing debate about the risks and hazards of CrossFit, especially among those who are non-athletes or are less-than-average physically fit. In fact, scientists from the few published studies showed that CrossFit could provide more benefits than harm, not the “bullying” stereotype that some people perceive.

A study published in the November issue of Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that among the 132 responses of a questionnaire in the CrossFit online forums, 97 (73.5 percent) replied that the subjects had sustained an injury during CrossFit training. Researchers estimated that the injury rate is about three for every 1,000 hours trained, which is not that different from Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, or powerlifting. In fact, the injury rate is lower than most competitive contact sports, such as rugby. Based on this data, appropriate CrossFit training has low risks, comparable to similar types of training.

Mitch Potterf, owner of Fit Club where the study took place, sought legal action against the scientists and NSCA because they did not reply to his complaints about the inaccurate study. “I don’t like people lying about me,” he said. According to the lawsuit, the plaintiff stated that the defendants never spoke to him or identified the athletes who “failed to test out.” Fit Club also stated, “None of the athletes who failed to test out were injured.” Instead, they did not complete because of scheduling issues and other factors that were unrelated to the gym or study. The defendants have yet to follow-up with “injured” athletes or verify the data.

Although Potterf never spoke to the scientists directly, one of CrossFit’s counsel, Russell Berger, performed a recorded interview with Dr. Steven Devor, who conducted the study. Devor said that the nine athletes told him that they were “injured during the challenge.” When Berger asked for more details, Devor “changed his story two different times.” Devor said that he didn’t know the participants’ names because he was “blinded” in the study, and the participants were identified in numbers. If these nine “injured” athletes did not return for the retest and Devor was blinded, how could those nine athletes told Devor that they were injured?

Devor did not respond to an inquiries by Outside and referred them to his attorney and the attorneys representing Ohio State University. No one from the university of NSCA made any comments to the media. Currently, it is unknown who is really “bullying” who, but until the scientists and NSCA respond to CrossFit, the truth has yet to be revealed.

By Nick Ng

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
Strength and Conditioning Research

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