I thought that it would be a good time to write up some thoughts I have about injuries as they relate to not only CrossFit but any training program available to people. Injuries are always the topic that people like to dance around when the conversation about them comes up. I don’t feel the need to avoid the conversation at all. Any quality program will have injuries, period. This simple fact doesn’t make them any more enjoyable when they show up, but being realistic is a good start. As a box owner, injuries are always the piece that I despise the most about my job. As trainers, it is our job to do everything within our power to mitigate the risk through quality coaching. It should be one of the first things that we think about as we come up with a training protocol for individuals or groups. Unfortunately, injuries are the necessary evil to any effective training program. I am sure there is someone reading this on their couch shaking their head saying, “I have been following my own plan for years and have never been injured”. I will address this statement a little further down the blog- keep reading. First, let’s talk about the 3 most important pieces of a fitness program (Defined by Coach Glassman):
2. Efficiency – Meaning that there is no wasted time or energy.
3. Efficacy – A clearly articulated intended effect
Just because Safety is 1st on the list, this doesn’t mean that an effective training program, or any training program for that matter, can be 100% safe. That is impossible. What I can tell you is that CrossFit has been proven to have the same injury percentages as that of running. I can also tell you that with quality coaching and well thought out programming, the injury rate within CrossFit can be even further mitigated, but not eliminated.
If you look at any type of training, you will see injuries. Any sport specific training such as football, basketball, baseball, track, etc. will see a fairly high injury rate. When looking at those training for marathons, triathlons, and ironman competitions, the same will also be seen. The difference between all of these is simply the threshold for acceptance as it relates to injuries. For those training for a professional sport, the threshold is pretty high because this is their full-time job and their livelihood depends on how physically prepared they are for whatever sport they play. The threshold in CrossFit for the average athlete is much different. This isn’t the job that they are getting paid to do. This is a hobby that they take part in for personal enjoyment and to become more fit. However, this doesn’t change the prevalence of injuries, it just changes the reaction when people get hurt. For example, no one bats an eye when an NFL running back blows his knee out in practice. Obviously we feel bad for the athlete, but we don’t sit around questioning why he was doing whatever drill he got hurt taking part in.
In CrossFit, if one person out of 100,000 blows their achilles out doing box jumps, CrossFit box owners start making the blanket statement that box jumps are stupid and they should never be done for the rest of your life. Now, I realize I am walking the fine line of jinxing myself by talking about it but I think it is worth the risk:) In the 6 years of coaching at Vitality, I have yet to have an athlete rupture an achilles from doing box jumps. Why is that? Because we mitigate the risk. We explain to people the thought process behind bounding box jumps and who should and shouldn’t be doing them. We encourage 95% of our athletes to jump up and step down. However, there are a percentage of people that are more than capable to bound box jumps. We ensure that we teach people how to prep their calves and ankles for box jumps and provide time to do so before we do box jumps. It’s as simple as that. Will someone eventually hurt their ankles/achilles while doing box jumps, absolutely. About 8 months ago, Eric Harrison broke his ankle coming down off the box. The injury had nothing to do with rebounding box jumps or not being capable to do a box jump. His ankle had a weak spot, the box exposed it and it broke. I felt terrible for him but the reality is, if it didn’t happen that day, it was going to happen at some point. Coming down from a ladder, stepping off a curb, it was bound to happen, CrossFit just happened to be the activity he was doing when it happened. He took some time off, rehabbed properly, and is back at it and hasn’t skipped a beat. Was it enjoyable for him to break his ankle and be on crutches? Absolutely not. Is that a reason to throw in the towel and say that CrossFit is just too dangerous? Of course not.
I hated seeing Molly injure her wrist doing cleans the other day and most likely, she will be unable to train with her hand for about 4-6 weeks. Molly was working up to a heavy squat clean and as she was standing up with the bar, her wrist got trapped in an awkward position as she missed the lift. Is it frustrating for Molly, absolutely. But we can’t be afraid of some risk involved with our training program. What if I told you when you started that you would have a 2% chance of experiencing an injury during your time at Vitality. Would you take that risk? I can count on one hand the number of broken bones that have happened over the past 6+ years. Some quick math tells me that we have had over 11,000 classes at Vitality since opening. I will round up and say that we have had 5 broken bones or serious injuries throughout those 11,000 classes. That means we are at roughly .0004% probability of getting hurt in one of our classes.
Now, let’s be reasonable. There is a difference between being hurt and being dinged up. Soreness is not an injury. Getting your feelings hurt because your spouse crushed you in a WOD isn’t an injury. Your back being tight from deadlifts because you showed up late and skipped the warm-up is not an injury. These are some things that a Coach can’t control. In the case of Molly and Eric, they did everything right on their end and just experienced some plain old bad luck. Does this mean Molly shouldn’t build her squat clean back up and continue to PR, absolutely not. Will she be a little gun-shy when it comes to squat cleans for a while, sure, and that’s perfectly normal. I will give her some time to get her confidence back and ensure that she has the mobility to start increasing the load and when that happens, I will start to push her like I have in the past because I know the potential she has.
Anyone that wants to sit around and say that injuries are a reason to never touch a barbell, or never get back in the box, or to never train again, that is logic that I will never understand nor will I ever waste my time trying to understand. If you are looking for a program that is 100% safe, I got one for you. Sit home on the couch with a bag of oreo’s and a box of Cap’n Crunch and watch The View and maybe a little Judge Judy. Do this for about 5 years and try not to leave the confines of your home as things get pretty dangerous when you venture outside the doors of your house. At the end of 5 years, I can all but guarantee you will not have gotten injured and that plan was 100% safe. However, you now will have type II diabetes, you will be overweight with hypertension, be on multiple medications and will most likely be trapped in your home after the age of 50 because you won’t have the strength to get around on your own outside the house. Oh and the retirement that you worked so hard for the previous 40 years…..that will be spent on medical bills….not on vacations or any other luxury. That is the only guaranteed safe plan. If that sounds appealing, good luck to you. Otherwise, understand that there is risk in everything we do but as long as you weigh the risk vs. reward and work to mitigate the risks to the best of your ability with whatever program you choose to follow. Also understand that some of that mitigation will fall on your shoulders and you need to take ownership of that.