Wednesday morning as I was getting ready to hit the first of two workouts planned for the day, I tore my meniscus. I had been warming up for about a half hour and, as I have a million times, did some air squats to loosen up my hips. Standing up from one of the air squats, I heard a pop in my knee and couldn’t straighten it. After a few minutes, I had a pretty good idea of what I thought had happened but was hoping I was wrong. I wasn’t.
Lately, I have heard so much about how CrossFit is this dangerous sport that is leaving its participants beaten up and injured on the sidelines. I thought this would be a perfect time to shed some light on why there is a potential for injury in CrossFit.
I will start with my injury. Why do I think this happened? I am 100% sure as to why this happened. There is no doubt in my mind. For nearly 4 years, my goal has been to make it to the CrossFit Games. I have pursued this goal relentlessly, putting my body through training that any doctor would say was more than a little “reckless”. I knew this was the case, Baity and I had talked about it frequently. We wondered how long my body could withstand the type of training I was putting it through. Because I am not naturally gifted like Rich Froning, Dan Bailey, or Ben Smith, I had to train in a way that risked these types of injuries. I had to force my body to do things that it really wasn’t meant to be doing. At nearly 250#, hundreds of pullups and other gymnastics movements are not exactly in my wheelhouse but these skills were necessary to develop if I wanted a chance to make it to the Games.
The point is, I knew the risks associated with my goal of making it to the Games and I was fine with that risk. I knew that it wasn’t a matter of “if” but more “when” something would give out. It would be ridiculous for me to sit back and say that “CrossFit” hurt me. No, it didn’t. I hurt myself. Too many of us want to point fingers at someone else when things go wrong, 9 times out of 10, you should be pointing that finger at yourself.
Was I frustrated that this happened, sure. Was I angry, absolutely. But I wasn’t angry with CrossFit, I was just angry that it happened, no one likes being hurt and sitting on the sidelines.
Now, lets look at what I think happens to the majority of people that get “hurt” doing the sport in which I love, CrossFit. I will put them into a few groups…
Group 1: “The I don’t have time to warm-up group”
These are the guys that skip the warm-up, show up late and just jump in the workout. They usually complain of not having the time to get to the gym when class starts. They will usually last about 6-9 months before they start to have some issues with some minor aches and pains. When these things happen, they are curious as to why……this is comical to me. It is obvious as to why, they show up late, they don’t warm-up and then jump into a workout. It is impossible NOT to get hurt this way. Some of them will blame the weights or will blame the program but the only person to blame is themselves.
Strength building as it relates to CrossFit. Because CrossFit uses functional movements, an emphasis has to be placed on the importance of building the pre-requisite strength in order to safely continue to do these movements. Some examples of these can include: strict pullups, scapula pullups, L-sits, GH Raises, Supermans, Goodmornings, Sotts Press, etc. etc. At Vitality, I incorporate these during the strength/skill portion of the workouts. You have heard me say many times that in my mind, these strength movements are as important, if not more important, than the actual workout of the day. When you show up late, what usually happens is that you spend the time warming up during your strength/skill time and never really attack that portion of the workout. This causes imbalances in your overall strength which will ultimately lead to higher probability of injury….which, you guessed it…is nobody’s fault but your own.
Group 2: “I played sports 15 years ago, I am ready to go!”
I love this group and I have a little more sympathy for these folks….a “little” more. These are the folks that played sports in high school or college…..nearly 20 years ago. Yeah, when I was 15, I could play basketball for hours without needing a break. Now, If I play more than one game, I am sore for days. These guys forget that in the 15 years since they played sports, they have rarely done more than walk to the mailbox for exercise. Their bodies are no where near conditioned the way they “think” they are. They get into the competitive atmosphere of CrossFit and the switch in their mind flips back to the good old days….however, the switch in their body is no where near ready to turn up the intensity yet. Coaches are constantly stressing to these guys that there is no hurry to ramp up the intensity or the loads, however, it is a constant battle. It is inevitable that if they don’t control that ego that is telling them to go heavier and move faster, they will end up hurt…..again, this decision is one that THEY will have to make. As a coach, I will stress to you the importance of patience, but at the end of the day, if you don’t want to listen to me, you’re on your own and you WILL hurt yourself.
Group 3: “I want to make it to the CrossFit Games”
There are some sub-groups that I will all roll into this one. I think this one is the most dangerous of the groups. I truly believe that CrossFit is the most complete fitness program on the planet. It has changed thousands of people’s lives and continues to bring communities of people together through fitness and overall health. However, when you take this Sport to the extreme of wanting to make it to the Games, there in lies the problem. The amount of training and time needed to commit to this goal is amazing. The first issue is that many people think they want to make it to the Games but they really don’t. They aren’t ready for the commitment needed to make this goal a reality. So what happens is…..They end up ramping up their training and getting twice the work in that they have been used to. However, they don’t put the focus on their recovery through proper sleep, nutrition, mobility, etc. etc. This is an equation that only has one answer, injury. Many people think that wanting to compete only entails increased training volume. They don’t understand that the training is probably the lesser of the time commitment as it relates to recovery.
Now you take folks like me, I do understand the time and commitment needed to train for the Games. However, my body type isn’t ideal for this sport, not an excuse, just a statement. There are lots of athletes out there that are on the smaller side or bigger side and in order to be competitive, you have to push your body to do things that it naturally isn’t meant to do. This obviously causes some issues.
My advice for those that want to compete is simple. You probably shouldn’t. I think there are VERY FEW people whose circumstances are ideal for that of competing in CrossFit. Let me clarify this, I absolutely don’t mean you shouldn’t go have fun in your local throwdowns that happen every weekend across the country. I am talking about those of you who are setting their sights on being at the Games on ESPN. The amount of time needed in order to do this is unfathomable…Hours of training (yes, hours…if your sitting here reading this saying, “I can get in and out of the gym in 60 minutes”. No, you can’t. Not if you warm-up correctly and cool down the way you should…go back and read Group #1). Hours of recovery. No alcohol. No late nights. I know what your saying….”Rich Froning eats peanut butter and milk and trains 6x/day and he is fine….yes, that’s correct, however, your not Rich Froning and you never will be. Why would you want to give all that up. The beauty of CrossFit is the community. If you go out and enjoy CrossFit, have fun, don’t take yourself too seriously, listen to your body, listen to your coaches, this can be sustainable for a long time. It is when we lose touch with reality or we get lazy that things go wrong and we get hurt.
The bottom line is that we are in control of how intelligently we follow the CrossFit program. CrossFit preaches form before intensity. There is no hurry to Rx your workouts. Listen to your body and the coaches at your box. If you decide to steer away from the way CrossFit was meant to be implemented, you made your bed, be prepared to sleep in it.