Why Do Cross Fit Injuries Occur? Written by Cassie Kennett

Written by Cassie Kennett, Sports & Spinal’s Cross Fit Enthusiast and Physiotherapist. 

Why do CrossFit injuries occur??

Firstly, what is CrossFit?

For those of you that have not yet joined the CrossFit ‘cult’, CrossFit is a form of exercise that incorporates rapid and successive high-intensity ballistic movements from the likes of gymnastics, Olympic lifting and powerlifting, with just a few other functional movements incorporated. Due to the higher intensity and very technical movements, Crossfitters can be prone to injury. More specifically, injuries are believed to occur due to a few very common reasons.

Reason a) Advanced movements attempted by not so advanced athletes (i.e. technique, and more importantly, technique under load)

Reason b) Inconsistency of training

Reason c) Poor core strength and stability

Reason d) Spike in volume and load of training /weights

Now, this can affect anyone. I see it most commonly in newbies and in competitors.

Typically, people new to the sport represent the largest population of injury. However, they are generally of a larger body mass and do not have a background in gymnastics or Olympic lifting – which is a major component of the sport. These movements are very technical and can take weeks-months-years to master and perform in WOD, so don’t rush it. Take it slow and use only the bar/stick to the progressions until you and your coach are comfortable in moving up in weights and/or movements. Now, I’m not trying to scare off any potential new crossfitters reading this, so read on to find out how best to avoid injury when starting.

Inconsistent training is another risk factor for injury. The individuals that can only make 1-2 sessions a week/fortnight have less of a chance at mastering the movements and being able to RX the workouts. This, as well as the potential deconditioning that comes with inconsistent training, can make them more prone to injury. CrossFit workouts typically involve high reps, heavyweights all completed as fast as possible – not the best combination for sporadic training.

Core strength and stability is imperative for not only all lifts in CrossFit but in all positions under load. Think about it. Which of these two positions looks better? If you picked A, you’ve just saved yourself from a potential back injury. Knowledge of and use of core strength in all movements will not only improve technique, but it will also help prevent injury. This ‘rib flare’ is a common mistake that overextends/overarches the back which is a loss of core engagement and control, which ultimately protects the back.

Conversely, competitors, whose technique is usually on point, are more likely to become injured when there is a sudden increase in load and volume of training. – i.e. training for a comp, undertaking a new program or starting CompTrain (check it out, you won’t be disappointed). Weights increase, accessory work takes a step back, and hours at the gym increase.

There is a training continuum, if you will, that depicts a training: rest ratio that is optimal for the sport of CrossFit. Typically, gyms will program 6 days per weeks to cater for everyone’s schedule. This does not mean that to be ultimately fit, you have to train for 1-2hrs 6 days a week. No. This is put in purely to give people options. A training regime that allows one day off during the week – i.e. train Mon-Wed, rest Thurs and train Fri-Sat is an optimal training schedule as it allows recovery during the week which not only promotes rest for the body (trust me, you need it) but rests for the mind. However, other recommendations made by CFL1 courses state that a 5on, 2 off training roster is also beneficial. People that train above this recommendation risk injury.  While they may progress quickly at the beginning, eventually the volume catches up to them in the form of an injury.

Now don’t get me wrong, injuries in this sport is not a particularly common thing, and won’t happen to everyone. There are definitely ways to avoid injury, however, as in any sport, it still happens. The best way to avoid injuries is to:

  1. Start off slowly with VERY lightweight (if you’re a beginner)
  2. Focus on getting the technique right first (leave your ego at the door – there’s no need to lift heavy weight if you cannot do the movement)
  3. Have rest days and work on mobility. Yes, mobility.

The most common injuries seen are in the low back, shoulders, knees and wrists. Unless people have come from a gymnastics/weightlifting background, they can come across these when beginning CrossFit. These will be covered in the next couple of blog entries.

So what do we do about these injuries??

See your Physiotherapist!

At Coolum, Cass is a CrossFitter herself and is able to design a rehab program based around CrossFit movements and goals. She is also able to provide advice regarding technique and progressive loading to rehabilitate current and prevent future injury.