Let’s get real, for any form of exercise you choose to practice, minor tweaks and injuries are inevitable. But what about CrossFit? Does the philosophy of “Constantly-varied functional movement performed at a high intensity” put you at more risk? Among your peers, you might get a lot of remarks like “CrossFit is not safe for women” or ” you are going to kill yourself!” But is it really true? If you are like me, you would like to have more facts. Here are some numbers to clear things up.
Three recent studies showed that CrossFitters who accumulated 1,000 hours of training got injured between 2 and 3 times. In this same training time period, runners got injured up to 4 times more than CrossFitters! Researchers concluded that the number of new injuries associated with CrossFit training was low, and comparable to other forms of recreational fitness activities.
In CrossFit, injuries are often a combination of poor technique (especially when weightlifting) and/or overuse of a muscle. CrossFitters commonly get hurt in their shoulders, low back and joints.
Most Common Crossfit Injuries
Shoulders are one of the most overused muscles in the body.
In CrossFit, they are used in almost all upper body workouts: push ups, pull ups, overhead squats, deadlifts, clean and jerks, and many more movements. As a result, shoulder injuries are one of the most common in CrossFit. Ideally, good programming should seek to spread out the work our shoulders do evenly over the week. Many gyms, like CrossFit New England, even have 1 day per week that is strictly NO shoulder-related movement.
Knees and other joints:
CrossFit programs also incorporate a lot of stress on the knees through various type of squatting, lunging, and running. Plyometric movements, like box jumps, can also lead to knee problems. The idea is that the muscles involved in these exercises exert maximum force in short intervals of time with the goal of increasing power (speed-strength). However, it can cause a great deal of stress on the joints and ligaments.
Back injuries are another common CrossFit injury.
Back injuries most often occur when you try to lift too much weight with poor form. Lumbar strain, sciatic pain or a herniated disc are some back injuries that CrossFitters could experience. A strong core can ease strain on the back.
Handstands, lifting dumbbells, and doing deadlifts, cleans and bench press that are too heavy for you, can cause a searing jolt of pain in your wrists. The wrist is an important yet fragile joint that makes all CrossFit workouts possible. Improper form can cause tendonitis, sprains, muscle strain or cartilage tears.
The cervical spine (neck) is the most mobile section of the spine, which also makes it one of the most easily injured. A sprain/strain is often caused by over-stretching the neck. For CrossFit athletes this can be experienced when doing overhead movements or handstand push-ups. The most common symptoms are neck pain, stiffness, and tension or spasm of the muscles on one or both sides of the neck.
Here’s our 10 tips to prevent CrossFit injuries
So now that you have a better understanding of the injury mechanics let’s get into some general tips that will help you prevent these injuries from occurring.
- First and foremost, proper technique and posture will decrease the risk of getting injured. Even a single rep with bad form is enough to injure your joints and muscles.
- Proper warm up/cooldown. Warm ups are important for getting your mind and body prepared for the WOD. Cooldown is going to help relieve soreness and bring faster recovery by renewing blood flow to your muscles.
- Dedicating yourself to a 10-minute body stretching session daily.
- Take rest days. Without proper rest, a muscle cannot repair. It becomes fatigued and overused which can directly lead to injury.
- Work on your mobility. It is not good to force your body into positions it is not ready to handle. This goes hand-in-hand with proper form.
- Get enough sleep. The majority of our muscle recovery process takes place while we are sleeping. Be sure to get at least eight continuous hours every day!
- Drink enough water. We all know that hydration is important for endurance, strength, and muscular response. But how much is enough water? These are the recommendations that the American College of Sports Medicine gives:
Before working out:
Drink 16-20 ounces of water (2-3 cups) at least four hours before exercise.
Drink another 8-12 ounces of water (1-2 cups) 10-15 minutes before exercise.During:
Drink according to your thirst sensation; no more or no less.Post work-out:
Drink 20-24 ounces (3 cups) of water or sports beverage for every one pound lost after a workout in order to return to full hydration.
- A good rule of thumb to prevent shoulder injuries is to focus on your position. You should generally try to keep them back and down while working out. This position stabilizes them and engages the chest, back and core.
- Work with a coach and learn to identify your weak areas. For example, knee or lower back pain can be caused by not having enough activation in your glutes. If you can learn where you are weak, you can not only focus on improving it, but also understand how to avoid poor form while you are still working on that weakness. An example of this is to make sure to flex your glutes before you go down into the squat in every rep, this balances weight, squares your hips and prevents unnatural pressure build-up in the knees. It also prevents hip injuries.
- Use the right gear, they provide stability and compression. Wearing knee sleeves, wrists wraps, weightlifting belts, etc. is an easy and effective way to prevent injuries. Know when to use this equipment so that you don’t overcompensate.
BONUS: Record yourself performing weightlifting movements to ensure you’re keeping an appropriate form. Then, send it to your coach at 2am and ask him if it looks okay 🙂
A heavy training volume and high-intensity exercises can get you injured. Knowing your body’s limits is as important as the work itself. If injuries occur, allow your body to recover and heal well. Don’t get let your competitive spirit take too much control. It’s important to stay focused on your own personal goals and why you’re working out in the first place. Remember to periodically “check in” with yourself during and after a workout. Muscle soreness is part of the drill, but severe pain during a movement or in the following days could mean a serious injury. Listen to your body!
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Giuliana is a yoga instructor and Crossfitter from Peru who is currently living in Chiang Mai, Thailand with her Crossfit Coach (and husband) Tim.