CrossFit is a big deal these days and many new people are giving it a try. As a sport, it has grown in leaps and bounds with “boxes” popping up all over the country and indeed the world. A more recent trend in the past few years has seen more people in their 40s, 50s and 60s having a go and seeing huge improvements to their health. Weight loss, lowered cholesterol, better control of blood sugar and better strength and energy levels are all drawing middle aged athletes to what once appeared to be a sport reserved for young people.
CrossFit as an organization has started taking note of this and is now recruiting doctors to become CrossFit trainers so they can inform their patients of the benefits of CrossFit instead of simply handing out medication for every symptom. The last series of the CrossFit games included athletes in their 40s to 60s who had lost large amounts of weight, cured their diabetes or got off all their blood pressure medications by following a disciplined exercise program at their gym.
But what about CrossFit’s reputation as a sport where people can get injured or end up with the dreaded “rhabdo”? Many doctors and Physical Therapists are not enamored with CrossFit because they are the ones who see folks getting injured and having to do rehab or even surgery. Concerns about the dangers of CrossFit and lack of information keep many who should be doing it on the sidelines. Practitioners who are familiar with the sport will tell you that it’s not the sport itself that’s dangerous but more often it’s the way it is executed that leads to injury.
So, if you are thinking about dipping your toe in the water or having a sip of the CrossFit Kool-Aid and you have questions or concerns, here are a few strategies to help you get fit and stay well.
Five ways to avoid injury in CrossFit
- Listen to your coach. All CrossFit coaches have been through a training program and an exam to get their certification. They plan each workout carefully for your safety and benefit. At the beginning of each class they will have a short talk to explain each exercise and for the class to ask questions.
- Scale and Modify. Each work out has specified weights or skills that are considered RX, or as prescribed. Rx is something to aspire to but not necessary to do on every workout. Some people in the class can work out at this level, many people have to scale (reduce) the weight or modify the movement. This allows people of diverse skill and fitness levels to work out together in the same class. This also allows athletes to focus on the skill first and the weight second.
- Give your body time to catch up. CrossFit is transformative because it puts stress on your muscles, bones and joints. Eventually your body responds by becoming more flexible, losing fat, getting stronger and becoming more skillful. For this to happen, your body needs time. To avoid an injury, it is important to find your level and advance slowly. Improvement can happen over weeks, months or even years. So, it’s important to give your body time to respond and adapt to your new activity level.
- Show up. As with any new habit, if you only do it once or twice a week, you will not get the results you are looking for. At a minimum you should come 3 times a week and as soon as you can tolerate it, shoot for 4 or 5 times a week. A good strategy is to pick a time of day when you are usually available such as first thing in the morning or on your way home from work. Get your spouse involved or find a buddy to keep you accountable and make you go on the days you don’t feel like it.
- Be proactive about injuries. As with all sports and physical activities, some injuries are inevitable. The problem comes when people get injured and decide to take a week off. That week stretches to a month then 6 months and then you are back where you started. A better strategy is to have a Physical Therapist you can call as soon as you think you have an injury or even if you have an old injury that you think might flare up. Being proactive like this leads to fewer missed days and less chances of getting derailed on the way to your goals.