Whether you lift weights, run or do CrossFit, we should take steps to prevent workout injuries.
A recent ESPN Outside the Lines story raised concerns about the safety of CrossFit. The article and video discussed some criticisms about the ease of opening a CrossFit “box” (nickname for one of the thousands of CrossFit gyms) and possible lack of qualified trainers at some of those facilities.
I will say up front that I don’t have any strong bias for or against CrossFit. I’ve never done CrossFit, mainly because I’ve lifted weights on my own since high school and like working out on my own. So I have no personal experience with it.
Honestly, I applaud any fitness program that motivates people to get in shape. If a group environment and coaches pushing you is what you need to work out every day, I’m generally all for it (whether it be CrossFit, boot camps or almost any fitness program).
One point worth mentioning about injuries specifically with CrossFit is that little data is currently available. I expect that more studies will be published in the next few years to help us understand the incidence and nature of CrossFit injuries and hopefully make it as safe as possible.
I have treated a number of patients who were injured while doing CrossFit workouts. I have also treated athletic people who got hurt in boot camps, mud runs, and running and lifting weights on their own. Generally the injuries these patients have suffered have some common themes. Anyone who likes to exercise should keep these ideas in mind. Hopefully you can safely exercise without suffering a serious injury.
Tips to prevent workout injuries
In no particular order, here are four tips to prevent workout injuries:
Learn correct techniques for every movement.
Many people suffer bone and joint injuries by flailing their arms around or lifting weights off the ground awkwardly. Using perfect technique for each exercise can help you prevent injuries by limiting stress to areas where it shouldn’t be. Plus it will increase results by focusing the stress on the muscles you are trying to build.
Work with a qualified trainer.
When learning any new program, it is a good idea to work with a fitness trainer. Unfortunately almost anyone can call himself a trainer. Inquire about your trainer’s experience. Ask if he or she has obtained certification, such as Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) from the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Stop an exercise when you can no longer control the movement.
I’m all for pushing yourself. That’s how you grow and how you improve. You have to be able to control your form, though. You need to be able to safely control the weight. If you lose your form, or if the bar or dumbbell slips, you could get hurt.
Avoid doing too much, too soon.
You shouldn’t expect (or try) to run a marathon one month after you start running. That sounds straightforward, but you would be surprised how many people try to run a race that is coming up too soon. Without enough time to slowly increase training, they suffer overuse injuries like stress fractures that can cause them to miss months of training.
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Likewise, don’t try to lift very heavy weights right away. Pick a lower weight that you know you can control (a trainer can help you pick a starting weight) and perform as many reps as you can. In your workouts in the coming weeks and months, you can increase your weight with each exercise.