I have been doing Crossfit for 4 months now and I have had my fair share of niggles since commencing training. I have thought about the different reasons as to why I am sore or getting injured. Also, "out there", there is a perception that Crossfit leads to a high rate of injuries - so I thought about these too!
I have been talking about Crossfit to my patients, friends and family for about 4 months now. One of the most common comment/question I hear is "Doesn't Crossfit lead to more injuries?". And to a certain extent, I am going to cautiously agree.
However, just because there seems to be an increased risk of injury doesn't mean that Crossfit is dangerous or bad for you. Like all things, risks need to be managed. For example, walking on an athletics track will decrease your risk of dying from being hit by a car if you compare it to walking on the road...however, you also decrease other benefits like seeing different landscapes, having different challenges like hills or steps, having different surfaces to walk on and increase your risk of going crazy by walking anti-clockwise (as is the normal convention on an athletics track.
So why does Crossfit seem to increase your risk of injury?
Simply put, I think it is pure volume - the amount of work, the amount of repetitions, the amount of range your body moves through, etc.
What Crossfit actually does is point out where all the asymmetries, tight spots, loose spots, weak spots, uncoordinated spots and fitness deficits are.
A short injury history example
I have been struggling with a low back/SIJ problem for the last 2 months. I have been trying to manage it properly but during the open, I went for it - probably unwisely...so I lost a month there.
I initially strain my back/pelvis doing squat cleans I believe. I struggled under fatigue and load and twisted to the left. At the time, I knew I probably strained something but it didn't hurt straightaway and I finished the WOD (workout of the day) without any more technique errors.
However, the strain was there. Now, it is hard to diagnose your own problems and my staff and I are quite busy so it has been hard to find time to get it properly looked at. However, the thing that I have noticed has been that my left hip has tightness, only a fraction more that my right hip. On a full squat though, I can feel the torsion and control it. Add load and fatigue and I probably twist too much. In fact, I know I do.
Each time I flare my injury up has been during anything with a "squat" involved - Deadlifts, Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Wallball Shots, and all of the squats (Air, front, back, overhead). The last time was just the other day doing the WOD called "TABATA This!" - it was the Air Squats that did me in - I got through 3 rounds of 17 squats but on the last of the 3rd set, my injury twinged again and i had to stop the squats (I still completed the WOD!!).
Releasing and stretching the hip has been the best for the problem - it decreases the pain and improves my mobility. This will ultimately lead to a more symmetrical hip range compared to the right side and careful training will result in improved strength on both hips as well. I am also continuing to strengthen my back and abdominals through the WODs - I haven't added to my training load yet but I am ready to if I need to...
So how do you prevent injuries in Crossfit?
1. Listen to the coach/trainer - I think this is the biggest area I see problems in - too many people won't stop to change their technique. If you let a bad habit creep in, it begins to affect other areas and suddenly you have a shoulder that you can't use properly (a very common injury it seems!)
2. Listen to your body - your body will have asymmetries in it - this is common. It is your job to get onto these as often as possible. Make sure your mobility is up to scratch. Make sure you stretch, roll out, self massage, etc and take care of your body!
3. Perfect your technique before increasing your load - it is far better to do your WOD at a lower weight with perfect technique for each repetition than to increase the weight even just a little bit and complete 1 or 2 reps with poor technique. It is often during those 1 or 2 poor reps that injuries occur. I am pretty strict with this and even I got caught out with some bad reps and strained my back.
4. Sort out your problems - Don't "train through" your niggles. Sort them out. Go see someone and get a program of mobility and stability sorted. I am taking care of my back and hip this way. I was actually feeling pretty good and was without pain for about 1 week but it wasn't enough - You need about 6 weeks of good, non-painful WODs before you can even think about relaxing your guard. It just goes to show that I need to take my medicine too!
So Is Crossfit Dangerous or Not?
I actually love Crossfit because it DOES point out your deficiencies. It does highlight your weaknesses. I truly believe that everyone needs to have good functional strength and I think Crossfit certainly does this better than most.
So, "NO!", I don't think that Crossfit is dangerous. I think it is like every other activity out there - all activities have risks - it is how you manage them that counts. Even lying in bed is dangerous - you begin to lose muscle mass after just 24 hours!
I would love to hear about what you think - post your comments below!