Kevin Kearns is a conditioning coach specializing in aging and founder of burn with kearns (beachbodtransformation.com)
You’ve got to hand it to CrossFit – it’s great at getting people off their sofa and into the gym. It’s important to note that no exercise is bad, it’s merely the coaching or client expectations that are at fault when things go south. At 54, I have seen this popular system take hold of people in positive ways, but it is not always healthy long-term when in the wrong hands. I say this because I personally know an orthopedic surgeon north of Boston that does at least two CrossFit-accrued surgeries each week and I watched great MMA fighter BJ Penn burn out his nervous system when he tried it. This is not to suggest you avoid CrossFit because any exercise is always beneficial. Fortunately, if you’re mindful of the risks and how to work around them then CrossFit can do everything it says on the box.
Olympic lifts – like snatches, cleans and squats – are brilliant at developing power and athleticism, so they should be in everyone’s program but beware of being taught them in a group setting. Athletes spend years working on their form before they push any serious weight. This means Joe average who needs to lose 20lbs and has kids at home does not need to do cleans to failure after sub-par teaching. Olympic lifts require time and practice to be effective and completing rep after rep while fatigued may result in an increased risk of injury, especially during the more powerful technical parts of the lifts.
Solution: Injuries pop up in every sport, but a paper in the >Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine looked at CrossFit’s injury rates over four years and found 30% of practitioners suffered a CrossFit-specific injury every 12 months. To avoid being part of this statistic get one-on-one expert instruction before you start and make sure you use light weights, especially when your form degrades through the latter stages of a set. If you’re using a weight that forces you to cheat, even for one rep, then you put yourself at risk, so simply lower the weight until you come back stronger. Don’t get caught up in the foolish competitiveness.
One Way Traffic
Most of the CrossFit exercise motions are in the sagittal plane of motion and there is often limited rotational strength and endurance. Many injuries happen through a laterally and rotationally moving body so it’s best to work in those planes of motion to ensure your body is prepared and the core is activated. That’s not to say hulking around weights in traditional weight lifting is risk-free, because when a paper in >Sports Medicine compared it to CrossFit, the latter did have 1.3 times more injuries, but that’s not a huge differential. Simply put, you will get injuries if you don’t train smart when using iron.
Solution: Assess the workout plans and WODs you’ve been doing and if for weeks on end you’ve done little more than squats, push presses, and shoulder presses, through your anterior chain, then you need to counterbalance these on your own by working your posterior chain or rotational movements. Use moves such as bent over rows and all other pulling motions. These will give you the counter balancing strength that should keep you in the game.
The tribal aspect of CrossFit is a monumental motivator because people working together to complete their workout is a bonding experience that rolls over into a social element. However, you can get the same buzz and feelings going to a martial arts class or fight center if you’re not feeling the CrossFit vibe or get ravaged by the iron.
Solution: If CrossFit is not agreeing with your body then you can find the social elements around exercise in other fitness facilities. If you have a niggling injury then try another fitness methodology, perhaps one that focuses more on generating flexibility such as martial arts, Pilates or yoga where there continues to be a group atmosphere. And if you continue to do CrossFit with yoga, just make sure you strike the right balance between work and recovery because research in the >Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine found those in their first year of CrossFit and those who did it less than three days a week were at a greater risk of injury.
While there are many excellent coaches with sports science degrees working within the CrossFit world, you should realize that >anyone can qualify as a level one coach by attending a weekend course and answering a 50-question multiple-choice exam then open a Box once the correct fees are paid. The coach is not required to continue with any other qualifications or certifications. Other factions of the fitness industry insist that trainers or strength and conditioning coaches are required to attend and maintain their qualifications through seminars, workshops and CPD courses.
Solution: Before you sign up to a Box, do your homework. Their coaching staff will usually appear on their website which will list their qualifications. Do some sleuthing around those qualifications, finding out the course’s cost and how long they take to complete. This will give you an indication of how much knowledge capital is at your disposal when you sign up.
Is it Sport Specific?
At this stage of your life, you’ve probably put aside dreams of being a pro athlete, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still perform to the best of your ability. So ask yourself if CrossFit will help you do this. If you’re doing nothing, then the answer is yes but it is not sport specific because it is not a uniquely designed, periodized routine with progressive overloads that’ll turn you into an elite athlete for your sport.
Solution: Accept what you will and won’t get out of CrossFit. It’s not a magical sports performance elixir, but if you walk away smilling after feeling the burn and it keeps you coming back then you’ve found your niche. Stick with it and enjoy the rewards it will give to your health and physique.