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.
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!
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