CrossFit has become popular quickly, and that’s really put in under the spotlight. Whilst it’s growth has been incredible, it also mean’s it’s attracted more than it’s fair share of ‘haters’. Perhaps the aspect that’s most often used by in arguments by CrossFit’s detractors is it’s supposedly bad injury record.
Whilst most of this press around CrossFit and injuries is unfair and often untrue, whenever you’re training at a high intensity and include technical movements such as olympic lifting and gymnastics, there are going to be niggles, strains and sometimes more serious problems. That’s just a fact of life regardless of whether you’re training for the regionals, or you just want to lose fat and get fit. So Let’s look at some ways to prevent injuries in your training, so you make sure you can accomplish your goals without visiting your local ER room in the process!
1. Find A Box With Good Coaches
Surely Crossfit is CrossFit right? Wrong! There are good and bad coaches out there just like in everything else, and to get certified as a CrossFit coach just takes some money and a weekend. With more and more affiliates springing up you should have plenty of choice, but how do you judge a coach, especially if you’re just starting out and don’t really have anything to compare your experience too?
When you first join a box, a good coach will always ask you about your goals and motivations to do CrossFit, then they will look at your range of movement to assess your flexibility, and identify any motor control issues or areas of pain. They may suggest a mobility program to follow to address any problem areas. Also a good coach and box will make sure all new CrossFitters complete a basics or elements program to gradually introduce you to the main movements of CrossFit.
Then they will identify to what level you can complete the exercises in the skill section and the WOD, and they will be able to clearly communicate to you how to properly scale to your physical abilities, as well as allowing you to understand a clear path for your own progression. We all know CrossFit is on one level about pushing your limits, but a good coach will always make sure you are moving well, before you lift heavy or fast.
2. Make Sure Your Box Has A Structured and Varied Training Program
Constantly varied functional movement is the cornerstone of the CrossFit philosophy, so make sure your box follows this. There should always be an emphasis placed on quality of movement rather than just performing to the max, and every movement programmed must have a workable alternative to accommodate individual capabilities. WODS throughout the week need to vary the body parts focused on, if for example you are continually working one body part then it can lead to injuries.
Also whether you are training on your own or as part of a class, make sure the warm ups include active stretching. Active stretching as opposed to static stretching, (where you flex a joint and then keep the same position for the whole stretch), is when you are moving throughout the whole stretch. Examples of active stretching include squats, lunges and hamstring walkouts.
Active stretches help to loosen a greater range of muscles, and studies have shown that static stretching can actually lead to a temporary loss of strength, so should only be used after a workout. The Active stretches should focus on activating the muscle groups that will be used in the skills focus of the WOD class and the WOD itself. If the WOD includes technical movements, the skills focus should lead up to those technical movements. When your classes follow this structure it will reduce the chance of any injuries.
3. Leave Your Ego At the Door
A good coach can only do so much. Ultimately, your safety is down to you, that’s why you have to sign a waiver when you join up. Sure, it’s a competitive environment, and we all want to improve and get better, faster and stronger, but you have be honest with yourself. If you can’t get through a set with proper form, reduce the weight or scale the movement. For many people this takes work, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen guys come through my box who have pushed like crazy to finish first, or hit the most rounds. They don’t last long before they get injured.
4. Listen to Your Body
This is a skill in itself. It takes a bit of self compassion, which often in our society is not something that comes easy. If your body is hurt, or tired, then don’t workout. Working out when your body is beat will lead to injury. Your training schedule should include at least 2 rest days a week, and it’s a good idea to rest for a whole week every couple of months.
If it’s difficult for you to take a break, then remember, the gains actually come when you’re resting not when you’re in the Box. It’s only when you rest that your body can rebuild itself stronger, replenish glycogen stores and flush out the excess stress hormones, like cortisol, which are produced during training.
Listening to your body is also something you need to do during WODS. If something feels wrong then it probably is. if for example you feel pain during a movement, tell your coach and get them to give you an alternative. For example, if your wrists are hurting during front squats, your coach may suggest substituting for goblet squats, as well as way to work on your wrist mobility.
5. Work On Your Weaknesses
This is written on the wall at my box. CrossFit has so many different movements, there will always be some that come to us less naturally. But that is why we need to work on them. Yes, we all like to do what we’re good at, but working on the movements we’re not as good at will not only make you a better CrossFitter, it will also reduce your injury risks. Sooner or later your weaknesses will feature in a WOD, and the better you can be at them, the better you will move through them as you fatigue. The better you move, the less stress you place on your body, and the less your chance of developing problems.
6. Eat Properly
Your body needs good food to grow strong, and to stop itself breaking down. A good box will have someone to help you with your nutrition, and many CrossFitters choose to eat a predominantly Paleo diet. Whether you choose to eat Paleo, Primal, Ketogenic, Zone, Vegetarian or anything else, it’s all ultimately about getting ‘real’ nutritious unprocessed food. It’s not rocket science, just eat as well as you can for your budget, get good quality protein, research and eat anti-inflammatory foods, make sure you are getting enough omega 3’s, and include some fermented foods, or use a good probiotic. Your body will thank you for it.
7. Consider Using Protection
Jokes aside, many of the movements in CrossFit place stress on the knees and elbows. Movements such as goblet squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses are a few of the exercises that will put you joints under tension. Sleeves for your knees and elbows help protect them, and they are not very expensive to buy, and the few dollars you spend on them could save you far more in the long run.
Weight belts are another piece of valuable equipment. There still some debate on whether they should be used in lifting programmes, but for WODS, when there are high rep movements involved they are a huge help.
8. Make Sure You’ve Got Proper Footwear
Looking good in the latest gear is fun, but Reebok Nano’s, Nike Metcons and No Bull shoes are about more than showing off. These shoes have flatter more solid soles to allow you to lift properly, without losing balance or rolling on your ankles. They also allow you to run and jump at least for the shorter distances found in most WOD’s.
If your budget doesn’t stretch to new shoes just yet, lift in your socks, but don’t throw the running shoes away, there might just be a 5 mile run planned for a WOD around the corner.
9. Don’t Let Your Muscles Tighten Up During Rest Periods.
In CrossFit there are often rest periods programmed within WODS (for example Fight Gone Bad, where you rest a minute between rounds) and between WODS in Mash Ups. However, completely stopping during these periods can be counter productive and cause your muscles to tighten, then going straight back into high intensity movements can cause problems. Try to stay at least partially active during rest periods. Walk, stand, stretch a little, sure you need to replenish the gas tank and slow your breathing, but don’t spend the whole time lying or sitting in the same position.
10. Be Aware of Your Surroundings.
If you’ve ever had someone counting your Double Unders during a WOD, you’ll know how easy it is to think you’ve done more than you actually have. That’s because when you push yourself and start to fatigue you lose focus of your surroundings, and everyone get’s tired sooner or later.
Missing the edge of the box and scraping shins on box jumps, hitting yourself or someone else with an Oly bar and neck strains from descending too fast in handstand push ups are just a few of the injuries that happen in every box. So take an extra few breaths before starting a set, be aware of what’s around you, chalk your hands if you need to, and make sure spare weight plates are stored far away from anywhere you’ll be dropping the bar prior to starting a WOD (a bar full of weights will bounce off weight plates which can be very dangerous). A couple of seconds here or there will not make real any difference, but it could save you, or someone else from an injury.
11. Mobilize, Stretch and Mobilize Again.
Ok so most CrossFitters are not aspiring Yogi’s, so for many this might not be their favourite part of a training program, however, once people start a regular stretching routine many are surprised just how good regular stretching can make them feel!
Flexibility has always been my achilles heel, however I now do Ashtanga Yoga 3 times a week, and it has had a remarkable effect on my ability to perform the more complex moves like overhead squats, as well as helping me mentally and in reducing my niggling injuries and strains. If you are moving better you will get injured less, and if I had to recommend just one thing to reduce injuries and improve recovery for CrossFitters it would be this.
Also make use of the soft tissue tools found in boxes such as foam rollers and lacrosse balls. They provide a form of self-myofascial release, where you can directly release tension or trigger points in the muscles allowing you a wider range of movement. Kelly Starret’s Mobility WOD site is also a great reference library for all forms of movement problems. If you’re not already familiar with Kelly, I highly recommend checking his site and YouTube videos out.