CrossFit: High Risk for Injury?

Training is not a path to be taken with blinders; it is a journey that requires one to utilize all the tools at their disposal to become a truly fit individual.

Time and time again I am jokingly asked by clients whether CrossFit athletes keep Massage Athletica in business. The answer, probably a yes! But I’m always quick to justify my response with most CrossFit athletes are incredibly dedicated to performance and recovery care as is illustrated by the popularity of practitioners such as Kelly Starrett and his book “Becoming a Supple Leopard”.

For those unfamiliar with CrossFit it’s a company that provides a routine that combines interval training, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics and other dynamic movements to create well-rounded athletes rising to any challenge and overcoming any obstacle in their path. In the quest for fitness though, one is not without danger. The workload, technical skill required to execute certain lifts and range of motion (ROM) are all issues that contribute to injuries seen across the sport.

Common Injuries – Acute

Many acute sports injuries find themselves derived from two sources; (1) the ego and (2) poor technical execution, and CrossFit is no exception. Many of the lifting techniques and workout routines (dubbed “Workouts of the Day” or “WODs”) are dynamic and explosive – requiring the body to work as a unified and precise machine. Take for example, the clean and jerk, a move from Olympic weightlifting that requires one-hundred percent bodily effort in order to execute an explosive drive and subsequent jerk overhead. The movement itself begins with the hamstrings and lower back to pull the bar off the floor, followed by an explosive triple extension of the ankles, knees and hips into a shrug to pull the bar onto the deltoids. Once the weight has been ‘racked’ the athlete front squats into a position where they can ‘jerk’ the barbell overhead. In just this one exercise, the entire body is utilized – it is easy to see how without proper technique, one might miss a necessary link in this chain and ultimately injury themselves.

Some of the most common acute injuries one sees from these types of movements are in the lower back, knees, hips, shoulders and wrists – the lynchpins of the body during these exercises. Generally, the lower back and hips endure a higher degree of stress (from force or ROM) due to the added momentum of the dynamic movements. Using the clean as the example, the initial pull from the ground may induce a lower back strain, or the second pull into the rack position may aggravate the hips, knees and deltoids. It is crucial to ensure proper technique during these lifts and exercises in order to prevent devastating injuries.

Common Injuries – Chronic

While attention is usually on the acute sports injuries, the most prevalent in fitness routines like CrossFit are recurring, nagging and generally unpleasant aches and pains that keep you from pushing one-hundred percent. As aforementioned, acute injuries find their place amongst the novices more often than naught, whereas those who have been with the program suffer from injuries brought on by overtraining. The repetition ranges, time spent exercising and constant training drive lead to many not so subtle breakdowns from minor wear and tear – mostly strains, but the occasional stress fracture or pinched nerve occurs as well. These injuries though, are easier to prevent than their acute counterparts are. By being proactive, many of these chronic injuries can be avoided altogether with proper rest and care.

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