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.
This past weekend I had an absolute blast. I was lucky enough to join a good sized group out at a lake a couple hours away in Napa. We went wake surfing (where you ride the wave behind a boat on a board that's a bit of a cross between a wake board and a surf board), cliff jumping and basically had an all around blast all day out on the lake.
I am very much looking forward to getting back out there on a regular basis to find some even higher cliffs and to get some more practice on the wake board. But for this post I wanted to talk a little about an injury sustained from my first attempt on the board. As I was failing miserably at getting my feet set on the board, I was jolted when the boat accelerated forward without me being set firmly. My arm was the only thing that took all the force and I instantaneously felt some pretty sharp pain in my left shoulder. My excitement of the day allowed me to ignore the pain and I continued to play around on the board and jump off the cliffs a few times. But by that night my shoulder hurt so badly that I couldn't raise it up more than a few inches. Not going to lie, I was pretty damn scared.
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.
Well after my wonderful outing with tons of toes to bars and rowing, I was met with a mild strain in my abdomen. Now it turns out this is the third time something like this has happened (the first time being really bad) and I am now officially aware that I need to make a certain number of changes in my programming to address the situation. First off, I need to snap out of the frustrating funk of needing to take three full days off in the middle of a very serious training schedule, crap happens and I need to just roll with it!
Ok, now that that;s over with, let's move on to how to fix the problem. I have very weak hips. SO weak n fact, that I rarely even use them while doing most movements. I overcompensate with my adductors (the inside of my legs, or my groin muscles) when flexing my hip (bringing my knee towards my chest) and I also tend to overuse my glutes when training or functioning where my lower body is involved. So, when I need to perform in a manner that acutely utilizes my hips, I tend to break down pretty quickly. And here is where my CrossFitting ends up biting me in the ass. If i were asked to do 10 strict toes to bar (hanging from a bar and bringing my feet up to touch the bar) I would probably not be able to do so. But is I was able to do kipping toes to bar, I could probably get 40 or so unbroken. How is this possible? Well, the strict movement calls for my hip flexors to be the primary movers; and, since they are damn weak, I am left failing the exercise. Kipping allows other muscle groups to engage and take over the movement, along with momentum. So what ends up happening is that i have an improper firing sequence of muscle and am left with imbalances in my gains. This also leads to a greater risk of injury because I have muscles NOT being used, along with muscles being used TOO MUCH. And there you have it, the over-strain on my stomach because of my lack of strength in my hips on this movement have led to a mild injury. I am just thankful it is not worse.
This leads to a huge discussion on the dangs of improper CrossFit training. While I could go into this forever (and LOVE doing so), I will through out one argument and leave the rest for another, longer, more detailed post on all this. I know of SO many CrossFit affiliates who teach the kipping pull up early and often. This is a pull up where you use all kinds of momentum to get your chin over the bar. While I utilize this move, and the crazier version of it, the Butterfly Kip, on a regular basis in my training, I am more and more hesitant to get people doing this. I say this because I know that if you can't do like 10 or more strict pull ups, under complete control, you'll do nothing but exacerbate existing imbalances and create new ones by kipping all the time. You are basically completely neglecting all the ACTUAL pull ups muscles when kipping. Proof of this is that i know a great deal of people who can bang out 10+ kipping pull ups but can't actually do a single strict one! This is insanity to me! Kipping is cool, i know, it looks cool, it feels cool and it makes you blast through "Fran" like nobodies business. But, to be brutally honest, if you are not a competitive CrossFitter, it's a pretty stupid move to do on a regular basis.
Don't get me wrong, kipping is a hugely important skill to understand in terms of over-all athleticism and health; but so is building all your muscles to fire, engage, activate and de-activate properly. So if you're like me (and I would comfortably assume that well over 90% of the world out there has some pretty serious imbalances), take it easy with going "balls to the wall" all the time. Remember to stabilize and CONTROL your body. If you can't use a portion of your body correctly, don't use it incorrectly.
Now all I can do, as a competitive CrossFitter, is work on healing enough to get after Open Sectionals Workout #3. Here's to a recovery-filled Friday!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Today I was brought back to a topic I have had discussions over for a while now. Brendon (owner and head coach at CrossFit San Mateo) and I were talking programming and the topic of shoulder volume came up. It's a pretty interesting adventure to search through affiliates workouts and see how coaches approach all these intricacies of programming. Let me give you a couple scenarios and we'll talk through them.
Looking at both of these very quickly there's not that much to worry about to be honest. Pretty clear there is a bit of a strength bias, but besides that, typical CrossFit-style programming. Take these relatively different programs and keep a similar progression each week and there you have it folks, classic, common CrossFit.
Well, for those of you who think this is a fine collection of workouts, or for those of you who don't care (yea I realize this is a geek out post, but trust me, the more you understand about programming, the easier it will be to get damn fit!), this is NOT good programming. To be honest, I don't even have to separate the two examples there, they both fail for the same reason. They involve way too much dynamic volume on the shoulders. Break it down and look at it. Example one has high load and dynamic motion with the cleans, then high volume on the same joint thanks to rowing, thrusters and pull ups. Next sessions includes an indirect demand and load on the shoulders with the deadlifts, then even more dynamic volume with burpees and ball slams. And finally, no rest for the crazy fatigued shoulders at this point (although you may not actually FEEL all that fatigued) with more load on presses and yet more volume with muscle ups, wall balls and swings. Yeah, holy shoulders!
Take anther look at workout number two and all of a sudden you'll see the same pattern. Now that your attention has been grabbed, go ahead and search around the around 2500 affiliates out there and just look back at a lot of their programming; you are likely to see a good deal of this. And not to glorify my own programming (although I do spend a CRAP-LOAD of time and take a bit of pride in it), look back through it and you may catch me doing the same thing.
This is CrossFit folks. Real quick, check out the exercises below, and if you are a CrossFitter, let me know if they sound VERY familiar.
Handstand push ups
Presses (strict, push, jerk)
Sumo deadlift high pulls
Variations and modifications of all these
Well, I'm sure all these play a pretty dominant roll in most CrossFit programs, and they all have one thing in common: dynamic shoulder motion. Add one more aspect to the mix: it is very safe to assume that you'll see most of these exercises programmed in the 8 rep range and up (sometimes in the 30, 40 and 50 rep range!). Talk about volume people! To put things in perspective, world class performance specialist Eric Cressey hesitates to prescribe an athlete too much more than 80 reps of shoulder volume PER WEEK. A typical CrossFitter will see anywhere between 100 and 500 reps of shoulder motion each week and that would probably be a very conservative number. Now I don't claim to be a shoulder expert like Cressey (although I am confident in my knowledge of the shoulder and what it can and can't take), but even an athlete who has been trained to have perfectly balanced strength and stability throughout their entire body will inevitably end up with some form of shoulder injury with that kind of volume. The shoulder is made up of great deal of muscles, and most of them pretty small, just imagine what a workout like Angie (100 reps each of pull ups, push ups, sit ups and squats) is actually doing to that poor joint!
Right, so now that I have potentially scared the crap out of some of you, don't go omitting all shoulder work from your program. It's just a matter of being a little smarter, taking the time to actually visualize what you are asking yourself to do each day. This is more than just what you do in the gym, it should also include any other activity you are doing. If you're a climber, or a baseball player, or a swimmer (to name a few) and you just had a crazy intense day with your sport, a workout like Fran (21-15-9 of thrusters and pull ups) is probably not the best thing for you to do. Always be sure to factor in your lifestyle when programming your gym work.
That's step one. The next step would be to chill out with the kipping pull ups. Yeah, yeah, I know all you CrossFitters just dropped your bison jerky to the floor in shock with that comment, but it's true. The kip (and the butterfly kip even more so) is a skill. Besides the fact that it completely and totally crushes the crap out of your shoulder girdle (yep, "crushing the crap out of" is an official medical term...), it's just so much cooler to be able to string together 15+ strict pull ups then to do so while flailing your body around. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of kipping, I love it in fact. But that does not mean I am going to be ignorant enough to think that it is ideal for me to be doing hundreds and hundreds of them without screwing up my shoulders at some point. Learn to control your body through space, strict pull ups are easily the greatest test of body control and strength. Kip more sparingly and only when necessary. On a similar note, besides when doing the annual "Fight Gone Bad" event, try to avoid Sumo Deadlift High Pulls as a regular exercise in any program. Read this article from Whole9 for more on that.
I could write about this for hours but I'll just leave you all with one more step: do not program more than three days in a row of high volume shoulder training. And if you choose to do so, be sure to give them a good three days rest after you crush them. It's easy to spot, just take a week of training (this will look either just like the examples above, or more) and visualize each exercise in each session. Literally count the reps you will be performing on any given joint. And if you find yourself in the hundreds, well, tone it back a smidgen.
CrossFit rocks people! But just like anything in the world, if you do it wrong, your going to screw yourself up. It may not be in the near future, but it's bound to happen. Programming is a very, very serious aspect of good coaching. Of the very few issues I have with CrossFit as a whole, one of them is that too many unqualified people are allowed the power to design programs. Because of this, it should be the duty of not only coaches, but all CrossFtters, to learn more about this stuff and become smarter athletes. Deadlifting 500 and getting a sub-3 Fran is great; but, how great is it really if you end up with a torn labrum and the inability to function comfortably at an old age?
There are a ton of resources out there to learn about all this, and there are more than plenty of awesome coaches out there who truly understand this. If you're a CrossFitter, serious or no, take the time to try to understand what good and bad programming is and make your gym choice accordingly. For more information, here's a bit of advice: go to google, type in "shoulder injury and CrossFit", read away!
Here's to a life of healthy and injury free CrossFitting folks! Email, or post to comments if you have any questions! Oh, and if you feel the need to spread the word on healthy training, forward this post around for goodness sake!
Never Stop, GET FIT.
Get Discounts Below!