A craze and a controversy

CrossFit has been out there for 20 years and has been an established exercise routine for well over a decade, so it certainly isn’t new, but people still sometimes ask us if it’s safe. The controversy about CrossFit’s safety has been raging ever since it went mainstream, and critics have focused on allegedly high rates of injury and underqualified instructors. We don’t have to settle those questions to agree that any method can be dangerous if you aren’t careful about it, and that many people have gotten great fitness benefits out of CrossFit without injury. Researchers at Penn State found that CrossFit users are more likely to get injured and seek medical attention, but added that

Despite these findings, the increased likelihood of injury may have less to do with the exercises involved with CrossFit and more related to the intensity with which the exercises are performed, and thus increased awareness is needed to prevent further injuries.

Today we want to talk about how to minimize risks for those of you who want to go ahead with it.

What distinguishes CrossFit from other methods is the high-intensity tempo and the heavy weight resistance it often calls for.  The idea is that if people’s competitive natures get in on the action, if their pride is on the line, they might push themselves that extra little bit further. But it also might be that extra little bit that gets them hurt.

Three steps to safe CrossFit

Proper technique before resistance. Most exercise injuries come from bad technique, so make sure you have the right form for lifting, dragging, pulling, and any other exercise before you start adding weight/resistance. That way if you do it wrong, an instructor can correct you before you hurt yourself. This is still true of other exercise programs as well, even a small technique problems can hurt you with enough weight and strain. Watch your instructors, emulate their form during exercises, and follow their directions.

Maintain full mobility. In an exercise routine, and lack of mobility in one area during the course of a movement will mean extra movement in another area to compensate, and that will often mean over extension or too much weight for the overcompensating joint to bear.  It’s not necessarily something you think about. Your conscious mind is probably just thinking “finish the set,” especially if you’re racing a clock, and not “am I putting too much load on my elbows because my shoulders are too stiff?” So if you think you lack full mobility, talk to a physical therapist or sports medicine instructor about how to loosen up properly, and do it before you start punishing your body with hardcore exercises.

Progress carefully. Keeping up with or outdoing others might make you want to move up to the next weight or the next intensity as soon as you possibly can, but that also is a recipe for disaster. You can feel ready for something before you really are, and it will put you in danger of all kinds of strain and overuse injuries, some of which involve articulate cartilage damage, which never fully heals. Don’t pay for your pride now with diminished mobility later. Progress to the next level only when it’s safe, and for that you might need a sports medicine professional’s guidance to be sure. That’s still better than tearing up cartilage or inflaming tendons.

If you’re local to the Prince William, Loudon, or Fauquier County area, Haymarket Physical Therapy can work with you to identify your safe workout limits and mitigate problems as they arrive. If you want to hear more about how we can help you stay safe while reaching ambitious fitness goals, you can set up a free consultation at one of our clinics.

Bealeton, Va.: 540-905-7111

Haymarket, Va.: 703-753-0261

Bristow, Va.: 571-719-3563

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