In any activity that involves physical movement, from walking down the street to playing football to Olympic weight lifting, there is some level of injury risk involved. Of course, the chances of breaking your collarbone while walking your dog are very slim compared to that of tackling a quarterback at full throttle. Bottom line is, with all compound movement comes some level of risk for injury.
If you’re like me, you love to push yourself beyond your bodily threshold. Nothing feels as good as collapsing after a metcon because you know you just exerted every ounce of physical and mental power through the finish. You’re rolling around on the floor trying to find a position that will help to relieve the muscle fatigue and pain. But all the while, you feel fantastic because it’s a good kind of pain. The rush of adrenaline and endorphins is incomparable…It’s the highest of highs!
However, with that great physical and mental power comes great responsibility. Training smart is just as important as training hard. Lack of bodily awareness might land you in a situation where injury prevents you from doing the activity that you love the most. Trust me, I know this from experience! Luckily, there are a lot of different things you can incorporate into your programming that help lower the risk of injury while performing constantly varied movements at a high intensity.
One of the most practical things you can do to prevent injury is properly warming up. I always begin my classes with some type of moderately paced heart racer. It could be jogging, rowing, assault biking or jumping rope at a conversational pace for three to five minutes. This allows you to slowly increase your heart rate and blood circulation before performing any compound movements. Next, think about what muscle groups you will be exercising in the main set of your workout and spend ten to fifteen minutes doing dynamic body weight movements that work those same muscle groups.
Lets say, for example, Fran is the workout of the day. This spicy lady benchmark WOD is a killer set of 21-15-9 thrusters and pull-ups. Warm up is a must! Do two rounds of; air squats, Sampson lunges, PVC pass throughs, empty bar push presses and ring rows to activate and open up your hips and shoulders. Only after that should you gradually start to build up to your working thruster weight, and do a few practice pull-ups prior to the start of the metcon. Spending this much time warming up may sound tedious, but it is one of the most effective ways to prepare your body for the task it is about to endure.
Once you’ve completed Fran (and the inevitable rolling around on the floor that comes after it) it is crucial to spend time actively cooling down. This is the first step in the muscle recovery process. It not only allows your body to re-regulate blood flow, but also initiates the flushing out of lactic acid. After a metcon like Fran, foam rolling the lats and upper back, smashing out your quads with a kettle bell, head-to-toe stretching and extremely light rowing or biking for at least fifteen minutes would be a good basis for a cool down. Cooling down also helps to prepare your body for the next workout you do. The more generally physically prepared you are, the lower your risk of injury becomes.
In addition to proper warm up and cool down, accessory work is a great way to help round out your overall fitness while contributing to a lower risk for injury. Accessory work is, in short, the little exercises you do to compliment the bigger ones. For example, planks, L-sits and hollow holds (little exercises) will help you become more aware of what your core should feel like under tension while you perform more complex movements, like a kip swing or a muscle up (big exercises). Other examples of accessory work can help to improve your capacity in physical adaptations such as balance, coordination, agility and accuracy. Awareness of your body is key when it comes to avoiding injury. Always be listening to it!
Earlier I mentioned how not training smart puts you at higher risk for injury. In May 2017, I tore a muscle in my left wrist due to lack of accessory work on my forearms and wrists. This stopped me from doing any upper extremity pressing or pulling for four weeks. Then, just two weeks into January 2018, I sprained my right rotator cuff doing a lousy burpee. This happened during my first workout after being out with a wicked week-long flu. I was still exhausted and my body wasn’t ready for the high intensity workout that was programmed for that day. I should have scaled back, but as a result of not training smart, I once again could not do upper extremity pressing or pulling for two weeks (BUMMER!)
Now, if you do find yourself injured and limited to the movements you are able to do, this does not mean that you have to stop going to the gym altogether. Metcon and strength sets can be modified to work around your injuries so that you still get in a good workout. For example, in my case, I supplemented upper extremity work for core and lower body movements. CrossFit coaches are equipped with the knowledge to scale any workout to fit your needs, so don’t be afraid to ask! And most importantly, listen to your doctor and do everything that he or she prescribes for you to achieve the fastest recovery possible.
Injury risk is an unfortunate aspect of being an athlete. The setbacks of experiencing an injury go far beyond physical pain. Not being able to practice a sport you love to your fullest potential is frustrating, discouraging and even depressing. In CrossFit, consistent high intensity training without taking proper injury prevention measures can be considered reckless. And note there is an abundance of additional things you can do to prevent injury beyond this blog post. Just ask one of the coaches!
Your mind and body will thank you if you incorporate regular preventative practices into your workout programming. Doing this in addition to consistent awareness of your body allows you to stay strong, train hard and train smart!