The great thing about CrossFit is that it pushes us to use our bodies in challenging new ways. The bad thing about CrossFit is that sometimes our bodies aren’t ready for those challenges and we push anyways. Most likely, as children we were flexible, we had good posture, and we could play for an hour while holding a squat. Then life happened, we slouched on the sofa, we hunched over at our desks all day, and we forgot how to move.
CrossFit sometimes gets a reputation for being dangerous, but the bigger danger is being sedentary and “unlearning” how to use our bodies properly. Sometimes we don’t discover our own mobility issues until we go to use our body in a new activity. As with any sport or activity, if we don’t take the time to listen to our bodies (and our trainers), build good habits, and use caution, injury can happen. During every workout, we have to make the choice to use good form or to be “too fast to care.” Here are some guidelines for keeping CrossFit safe so that you can keep showing up and making progress toward your goals.
1) Master the basics. Muscle ups look cool. That doesn’t mean you’re ready for them. You should be able to do a good amount (Glassman says 10 reps) of strict pull ups and dips before even attempting a full muscle up. Kipping your handstand push ups and pull ups can get you through a workout, but they aren’t going to build as much strength as doing them strict, and they are going to put you at higher risk of injury. Become a master of the basic skills first and you’ll have much more body control when you try increasing the difficulty. Everyone has room for improving technique, so listen to all the advice you can get with an open mind. If you’re told your form needs work, use that as a signal to slow down and pay more attention to your setup, positioning throughout the movement, and your range of motion. There’s a good degree of patience required to follow this rule, but there’s even more patience required to wait for an injury to recover before getting back to training. Make sure you have solid skills at the foundational level of a movement before rushing to something your body isn’t fully ready to take on and you’ll increase your awesomeness while decreasing your chance of injury.
2) Pride yourself on your form. Seriously. This one is a big deal. Sometimes you can get away with sloppy form when a weight isn’t super heavy for you. Sometimes your competitive side comes out. Sometimes you just want to finish the workout and taking the time to reset your position at the bottom of the lift takes longer. If this is you, I suggest you go watch a competition. The very best athletes, like the ones that make it to the CrossFit games, have superior form that allows them to execute their movements with less effort. They make it look easy because their form is so clean. Look at a local competition, and it’s easy to see the difference between those who take pride in what they’re doing and those who will do whatever it takes to keep going–you look at them and go “Oh my gosh, that guy is going to hurt himself.” It’s cringe-worthy. You might get away with some bad form if you have a lazy judge or your trainer turns to look at someone else, but in the end, someone is going to call you on it. Or you’ll hurt yourself. But either way, no one is looking at you and wanting to emulate what they see. It’s better to add a few seconds to your time and move with integrity than to “get away” with less than ideal form. This is one of the many reasons we’re so proud of Sergio’s efforts at the NorCal Teens. Anyone who came out to support him could see that he loves and respects CrossFit because he cares about the way he executes his movements. This is why he can often outlift guys who outweight him. We love having people like this representing Grassroots CrossFit!
3) Listen to your body. It’s talking to you everyday. Most of the time when you hurt yourself, you kind of knew something was coming. There are almost always warning signs. If something is bugging you a little bit, chances are it will only get worse if you don’t do anything about it. Don’t wait for something to become debilitating before dealing with it. In addition to mobility work, going back to the basic R.I.C.E. protocol can be a good bet for a little strain (rest, ice, compression, elevation). When your back feels a little off, don’t come in to deadlift. Shoulder nagging you–not the day to attempt to PR on your push press. Be smart so that you can come back the next day for more, and modify movements as needed. Not one workout as prescribed is going to be the best fit for every individual on a given day–making substitutions is encouraged if it is what your body needs. Get plenty of sleep, eat to fuel the machine that you are, and don’t forget the value of rest.
4) Take your mobility work seriously. We often do foam rolling, band stretches, and lacrosse ball rolling as a class–make good use of this time. This ten to fifteen minutes you spend at the beginning of class is a short amount of time, but many times I’ve seen people roll out for a minute and then just stop and wait around for everyone to be done so they can get to the fun stuff. Most of us could use up to a full half hour (or more) of mobility work daily. Feel free to stay after class and do a little extra! We also just purchased (and we highly recommend you do too) Kelly Starrett’s book, Becoming a Supple Leopard, and it’s got a wealth of mobility exercises for your entire body.
5) Consider the way you carry yourself throughout your entire day, not just while you’re at the gym. How’s your posture while you’re driving in your car? Are your shoulders and head pinned back to your seat properly? Do you find yourself hunching over while standing around or slumping forward while sitting in your chair at work? Do you frequently bend over and use your back to lift things? The easiest fix for most many problems is a correction in posture. Consider that you spend one hour a day at the gym (except for those of you who just like hanging around here), and the rest of the day you are teaching your body other habits. Try applying the way you carry yourself during exercise to the way you move during the day. (Shoulders down and back, chest up, head neutral, tight core, weight in the heels…) How is your posture in this moment? Being mindful of your posture throughout the day takes work, but it sure beats dealing with injury.