The National Strength and Conditioning Association is asking the public to disregard the claims its study made regarding injuries in CrossFit. After two years of inaction and litigation, the NSCA has finally issued an erratum, or correction, regarding one of its most prominent studies.
The study, “Crossfit-Based High-Intensity Power Training Improves Maximal Aerobic Fitness and Body Composition,” claimed that 16 percent of its subjects cited “overuse or injury” as their reasons for not completing the training. The full text is available here.
Furthermore, the NSCA study employed its alleged injury rate to caution readers about the risks of CrossFit training, explaining,
A unique concern with any high intensity training program such as HIPT or other similar programs is the risk of overuse injury. In spite of a deliberate periodization and supervision of our Crossfit-based training program by certified fitness professionals, a notable percentage of our subjects (16%) did not complete the training program and return for follow-up testing. While peer-reviewed evidence of injury rates pertaining to high intensity training programs is sparse, there are emerging reports of increased rates of musculoskeletal and metabolic injury in these programs(1). This may call into question the risk-benefit ratio for such extreme training programs …
The NSCA study reported that 16 percent injury rate without the slightest base of evidence. CrossFit Inc. and CrossFit 614, the affiliate where the study’s training occurred, each filed lawsuits to protect themselves from the NSCA’s willingly-published false information.
The facts are clear: Every relevant subject in the study has sworn to the court that the study’s injury claims were false. The subjects have also all sworn that the authors made their claims without ever asking the subjects their reasons for not completing the study.
When CrossFit Inc. contacted the NSCA and reported that the authors had failed to substantiate their claims, the NSCA editor-in-chief William Kraemer responded that peer review was sufficient evidence of the study’s validity. In fact, it was not. The NSCA published the Devor study despite knowing the researchers had failed to substantiate their claims.
The NSCA’s Admits it Published False Information
On Sept. 11, 2015, the NSCA’s “Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research” published ahead of print an erratum.
Erratum, Latin for ‘error,’ is a term some academic journals use in place of “Correction.” Oxford University’s dictionary defines its plural, errata, as “A list of corrected errors appended to a book or published in a subsequent issue of a journal.”
Here is the full text of the NSCA’s admission:
In reference to Smith, MM, Sommer, AJ, Starkoff, BE, and Devor, ST. Crossfit-based high-intensity power training improves maximal aerobic fitness and body composition. J Strength Cond Res 27(11): 3159 –3172, 2013, the authors have stated that the reasons for participants not completing follow-up testing, as reported in the article, were provided to the authors by the club owner. The club owner has denied that he provided this information.
After the article was published, 10 of the 11 participants who did not complete the study have provided their reasons for not finishing, with only 2 mentioning injury or health conditions that prevented them from completing follow-up testing.
In light of this information, injury rate should not be considered a factor in this study. This change does not affect the overall conclusion of the article.
Note that NSCA’s erratum is based on sworn statements made in the context of litigation. Without litigation, the published errors would almost certainly have stood unchallenged. CrossFit’s and CrossFit 614’s lawsuits have proven essential to correcting the scientific record.
While the NSCA’s confession is a first step, it still propagates at least two falsehoods:.
Falsehood 1: Subjects Got Hurt Doing CrossFit Training
The NSCA’s erratum states two subjects mentioned “injury or health conditions that prevented them from completing follow-up testing.” This gives the false impression that the Devor study’s injury allegation was partially true. And it omits crucial publicly available information.
Neither of those two subjects got hurt doing the CrossFit classes at CrossFit 614. In fact, one of the subjects had a pre-existing medical condition that prevented him from completing the study. The other subject injured himself outside the CrossFit training program examined in this study.
Clearly, injuries cannot be reasonably attributed to the training intervention profiled in the NSCA study. Why does the NSCA omit this fact?
I can’t control what they’re doing outside of when they’re doing CrossFit or when they’re in the lab. And you’re right, they could have, for all I know, fallen off a ladder and had an injury, and that’s why they didn’t come back, but they’re reporting to us, in some way shape or form, that I’ve got an injury, but—. You’re right, it might not be from directly from doing CrossFit.
Falsehood 2: The NSCA’s Correction Does Not Affect the Overall Conclusion of the Article
The last line of NSCA’s erratum appears to play down the significance of the correction by claiming it “does not affect the overall conclusion of the article.”
As CrossFit CEO and Founder Greg Glassman has said, this “is an obvious lie.” Injury is not a passing line in the Devor study; it motivates an entire paragraph in the Discussion section, cited above, in which the authors editorialize on the significance of the unsubstantiated injury rate.
The paragraph claims that injury is a “unique” concern with this style of training. The claim was baseless when the article was published, and it’s even less true now.
Take the injury claim away – what do you have? The study found that this style of training “significantly improves VO2max and body composition in subjects of both genders across all levels of fitness.”
That aspect of the article may remain unchanged, but now there’s no need to “call into question the risk-benefit ratio for such extreme training programs”—a very significant change indeed.
CrossFit just works.