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In the balance, not exercising is far riskier than exercising. But that doesn’t mean that training hard carries no risks. A survey recently found that more than 70% of Crossfitters had experienced some sort of injury during training – which is similar to the injury rate for professional gymnasts and Olympic lifters.
Injuries, it seems, are inevitable. Accidents happen. Runners sprain Achilles tendons, swimmers get ear infections and programmers get repetitive strain from using a mouse too much.
CrossFit training is intense, and the stakes are high. As a physiotherapist, I’ve seen and treated minor twinges & tweaks to full on injuries in CrossFit athletes of all kinds. Here’s my advice for getting the most out of your workout without incurring too much damage along the way.
Especially if you are a CrossFit newbie, it pays to go slow and train good form from the beginning. Squats, deadlifts and cleans are all excellent exercises. The trouble is that poor form on any of these lifts is difficult to spot. You may make it through your set and decide that your form is just fine, but you don’t notice the extra weight you tip forward onto your toes, for example, until a month later it results in an ankle injury.
Physiotherapist and author Gray Cook recommends mastering deadlifts and holding off on squats if your form is not perfect. Even if your form is spot-on, watch out for pushing past your optimal performance. In other words – don’t train through pain.
Aching and soreness are signs your muscle fibres have torn and are repairing themselves, which is exactly what you want when strength training. But sharp pain is a warning sign to stop. Pushing past this will only lead to tissue damage and eventually injury. If you’re unsure of your form, get a pro to weigh in.
Sure, it’s not as sexy as gruelling through a WOD, but mobility work is essential. I see plenty of limited ankle dorsiflexion in CrossFit athletes, which puts strain on other joints especially the knees and hips. Thankfully, it’s an issue that’s easily addressed with appropriate mobility work. Keep your joints loose and limber and your overall performance will benefit. Plus, you’ll be less prone to injury.
Make it a habit to move and warm up each morning. When learning new lifts and movements, spend time on getting it just right before adding any weight. It seems obvious, but weight added to poor form is a bad idea. Instead, get your body comfortable with squatting down on your haunches before adding weight for a full squat, for example.
Unfortunately, if you push through bad form and ignore your body’s red flags, most people won’t try to stop you. While CrossFit’s group mentality of pushing through the pain can be great at encouraging you to smash mental barriers, it also makes injury more likely. Ignore sharp or shooting pains at your own peril, especially if it lasts multiple days. This would be a good time to have your movements evaluated by a physiotherapist.
Trusting your gut is not only about stopping when your body sends out warning pain, though. Sometimes, you may get a vague sense that something just isn’t right. Pay attention. Notice, also, if you tend to dread going to gym. Test your limits, by all means, but don’t force your body to do what isn’t working.
Those ripped CrossFit athletes you seen on TV didn’t get that way overnight. Just like any sport, it takes a long time to reach that level, and CrossFitters have put in the hours. Trying to rush this process won’t get you there quicker, it’ll only get you injured. The only way to make long term gains is to be consistent, and the only way to be consistent is to keep yourself injury-free.
So, take it easy and ramp up the intensity gradually. Err on the side of maintaining gains rather than pushing for new ones. Training to failure each time may pump up your ego but leave your tendons shredded and your body full of inflammation. Instead, find that sweet spot where you challenge but don’t injure your body.
CrossFit has such massive appeal because it’s so challenging. The thrill of confronting your limits and breaking them through sheer strength of will can be addictive to say the least. But temper this all-or-nothing attitude with some smart decisions. Spare a thought for your poor joints – sometimes hanging back a little leads to gains in the long term.
Go easy on your body. Include a variety of natural exercises in your repertoire. Include plenty of collagen and gelatin-rich bone broth in your diet to fortify your joints, and sleep well to support your body’s resilience.
Nothing in life is without risk, and injuries during exercise are just a fact of life. But with good technique, a respect for your natural limitations and a hefty dose of patience, you can optimize your workouts and greatly reduce the chance of injuries.
To Your Health,
Jason Dyck, PT