Yep. So is walking down the street if you think about it in a certain way, and sitting at your kitchen table for that matter. There has been a lot of talk on my social media feeds (thanks to me being “internet friends” with a lot of fitness people) about the potential health risks of high intensity exercise, or what we know as CrossFit. So, I thought I’d offer my take on all this jabber.
Well wait a sec, just so you don’t go mouthing off to me that this post is meant for those people who are actually hurt. But then again, on this pre-post tangent, I would be willing to put a good deal of money on the fact that most of you out there have some form of injury going on right now; whether you know it or not. Most major injuries (strained, pulled, torn muscles, busted joints, messed up ligaments and/or tendons, etc.) are after-effects of micro-tears or minor imbalances. What this means is that injuries and other problems going on in your body, most of them you are probably not even aware of, could very well lead to a major injury not too far down the road.
Okay, sweet, now that I have scared the living hell out of everyone and made the claim that we are all mortally injured it's time to move on to the real point of this post! While this is for people with very noticeable injuries, I think that pretty much everyone could benefit from the perspective. And while some readers of my blog are not CrossFitters, the basic concepts can still be understood. So, weather you kip or not with your pull ups, you all should take the time to really think about weather or not your programming is helping or hurting you.
So, CrossFit. Even though I promote a pretty different-from-normal approach to CrossFit than almost any affiliate I have been to, hearing the word CrossFit still conjures up a pretty specific thing. I think barbell lifts, box jumps, wall balls, pull ups, burpees and short sprints and/or double unders. I am extremely aware of the fact that there is so much more to CrossFit than just that, but in all honesty, that short list there (and the endless combination of workouts with those types of exercises) can easily be considered “Classic CrossFit”.
Now that that point is made, let’s go ahead and look at a case study (names and some details may be altered/invented a bit :-):
Adam is in his late thirties, he played a little baseball and football in high school, intramural sports and semi-professional beer pong in college. After graduation he went off to work a 9-5 where happy hours and business dinners were a somewhat regular occurrence each and every week. He would hit the gym 2-4 times per week, no real workout program but he’d bang out a handful of sets of bench, lat pull downs, bi's and tri's and such for an hour or so before jumping on the treadmill for about 20 minutes. Then one day Adam finds a CrossFit gym. He comes in for the free Saturday workout and is sold on the spot; so, he signs up for foundations. Four months later, Adam is down to about 12% body fat (down from the 18% he was at a couple years after college), eating clean most of the time, getting to CrossFit class about 3-4 days a week on a regular schedule and has just signed up for his first competitive event post-college, a brutal Tough Mudder! A week later Adam’s shoulder starts to really hurt. His left knee is bothering him more and more, and his wrists get these random sharp pains that wake him up in the middle of the night.
If this sounds familiar in any way at all, you are probably in the majority of CrossFitters out there. Because of this, it has come to my attention that there is a common belief out there that this is “just the way it is” with CrossFit, and having these “mild” injuries just sort of comes with the territory.
Wrong. Being on a fitness program to become healthier should do the following:
1. Reduce body fat
2. Increase lean muscle mass
3. Decrease stress
4. Increase REM sleep
5. Increase metabolism
6. Balance the body’s inner workings (Gastrointestinal, Nervous, and Muscular systems, etc.)
7. Rehabilitate and avoid injury
8. Increase energy
You get the picture here. I could throw out another 30 things on that list but the main one I’m trying to get at is number 7. If you can see your abs, have tons of energy, and are sleeping better, but your shoulder hurts like hell and you sometimes can’t walk because your knee hurts; well shoot man, something is WRONG. I totally understand how this sort of thing gets overlooked, or is even seen as a non-issue because of all the positive things going on (numbers 1-6 and 8). But, imagine how awesome you’d feel if you had all the positive side effects of CrossFit, and NONE of the negative ones?
Well, it’s an easy fix. Take a look at your programming. A little example of a typical CrossFitters week (4 x per week attendance):
- Warm up with 3 rounds of 10 air squats, lunges and a few other body weight movements
- 4 sets of front squats
- Short MetCon with squat cleans and toes to bar
-Warm up with KB swings, KB high pulls and KB cleans
- L-sit practice
- Long MetCon with wall balls, burpees and double unders
- Warm up with light-weight barbell bear complex (power clean, thruster, back thruster)
- 6 sets of power snatches
- Short MetCon with heavy overhead squats and running
- Warm up with rowing and light KB swings
- 4 sets of deadlifts
- mid-length “chipper” MetCon with power cleans, broad jumps, overhead lunges, sandbag throws, tire flips and hammer strikes
Let’s break this down: First off, I am sure to most this seems like a pretty harmless, typical looking week of CrossFit. In some people eyes this may even look like a damn fun week! Our buddy Adam gets all sorts of fired up for weeks like this because barbell work is something he loves to do! He sees this week and he sees a crap-load of fun. In my eyes, I see a disaster. Not just for poor old Adam, but for everyone. Before I go into why, and before you jump to the conclusion that I’m just a defeatist or something, do me a favor. Look back over the four workouts and the progression (don’t even worry about associating this week with Adam) and let me know by posting to comments why you either like it or don’t like it.
Adam’s shoulders are going to be shot after this week. I would assume the local masseuse and physical therapist will be happy to see his worried face yet again, but I’d bet he would LOVE to not have to take the entire next week off because of shooting pains down his right arm. You see, the Average Joe out there (taking from Adam's training background before CrossFit) has spent 30+ years creating massive imbalances in his/her body. Over-developed pec muscles is the most common imbalance in men, while shortened hamstrings, leading to tightness in the lower back (thank you sitting in chairs most of your life!) are common in both men AND women. Weak hip flexors and unstable knee joints are common in both but more common in women thanks to the natural alignment of their hips and legs; decreased range of motion (ROM) in the shoulders is just about one of the most common imbalances I see in all people. Take these limitations and then jump yourself into a week of weighted, dynamic, high-repetition exercise and you are basically asking for injury.
Monday’s workout has relatively insane volume on the hip flexors. Add heavy weight to the front squats and I’d be surprised if even the fittest of the fit walk away without major soreness. Tuesday through Friday show little rest for those poor legs, while the shoulders take more abuse then I would like to think about. Rep after rep of weighted movement, joints grinding and being forced into momentum-based ranges of motion they have a hard time getting into naturally. Ouch. Forget Adam here people, anyone following this style of programing day in and day WILL get injured. I would put money on it!
So how do you avoid bad programming, over training, injury? Well, this is where things get really tricky, you can't really. I'm sad to say that the awesomely impressive growth of Crossfit brings with it only a few negatives in my eyes; and the inability to avoid these things is easily the greatest one. I cannot expect all people to educate themselves with proper programming and exercise progressions. I cannot expect people to search for the perfect coach; because, well, how the hell is one supposed to know what’s perfect? With 2800+ CrossFit affiliates out there, I would put all the money I won from people betting me they wouldn’t get injured (and then losing miserably) on the fact that well over 2000 of them have crap for programming. I have read endless posts about athletes complaining about injuries and not knowing why. I have read endless posts on coaches bitching about how their athletes keep getting hurt! No, no, no! This just breaks my heart; and can NOT go on!
Take a second to look past all the great things that have happened to you thanks to CrossFit. DO NOT SETTLE FOR BEING INJURED!
Do this starting next class and for the next 8 classes: Take a notebook or some paper and write down the following two movements:
Now, after each class I want you to write down how many times you performed one of those movements and classify your count into two categories: weighted and unweighted. For example, you warm up with three rounds of 10 squats and lunges; you performed 60 total unweighted repetitions of hip/knee flexion. Then you do 4 sets of 6 heavy front squats; that’s 24 total weighted repetitions of hip/knee flexion. Or, 4 sets of 8 push ups and pull ups are 64 reps of unweighted shoulder flexion. This is followed by 6 sets of 3 power snatches for 18 reps of weighted shoulder flexion.
Do this for 8 training days (make sure to note how many days rest you get between those 8 training days) then count how many total weighted and unweighted reps you performed combined. Let me say this: if it’s over 500, you’re putting yourself at a MAJOR risk. Oh, and I mean 500 weighted and unweighted combined for each movement here. I would seriously be interested in seeing your results with this by the way, so please feel free to post them up or email them to me.
To wrap all this up for today; I have no intention of discouraging people from getting after it in all its CrossFit glory. I personally love the sometimes-insane demands of CrossFit as a sport, training method and community, and enjoy all it has to offer. All I am trying to get across here is that the rapid expansion of the community dilutes the intelligent programming that exists. And without demanding all athletes become fitness experts themselves, all I can do is ask that you NOT settle for being injury prone. Remember, the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. If you keep on following the same programming that is bothering your body, you are going to continue to get injured. And coaches: if your athletes are continuously getting injured, it is NOT because of their lack of focus, it is because of your crappy programming!
There are tons of awesome trainers and coaches out there. I recommend shopping around. Talk to their athletes. Ask them about injuries. If most of the people you talk to seem healthy (and I mean healthy in the sense that they fall into ALL the categories numbered above, not just some), and if your coach/trainer can answer all your questions well, well maybe you found the right place!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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