CrossFit Injuries: Four Major Mistakes Athletes Make

Injuries happen. But follow these tips (and some basic common sense) to have a healthy and happy experience.

Abi Reiland, CF-L1 December 11, 2013

CrossFit Major Injuries The Box Magazine

Google “CrossFit injury,” and you’ll be introduced to a slew of major news publications harshly critiquing CrossFit and its training methods. There’s an endless list of complaints associated with experiences involving injuries, puking, rhabdo — it goes on and on. 

Related: Lunch, Revisited

From an outside perspective (or a poorly guided inside perspective), those things might represent a badge of honor; pushing past your physical limitations and providing bodily evidence of having done so. But the reports do not address that the bulk of complaints are not a result of CrossFit itself, but rather something lacking from that individual experience. The unfortunate part of CrossFit is that each box is not created equal, and each athlete is not provided comparable experience and guidance.

Every box is responsible for programming, equipment and hiring coaches without any real requirements enforced. I hate to dismiss the legitimacy of an affiliation or accreditation, but I must acknowledge that a box is only as good as what happens inside its walls. Despite the standard high-intensity workouts and the use of the word CrossFit, the examples being set in boxes vary on a scale that begins with nonexistent. If high standards aren’t set AND maintained by your coaches, your community and yourself, injuries will undoubtedly ensue.

Many injuries cited by CrossFit participants come from a small list of mistakes:

Avoiding Fundamentals Training

Most gyms require a Fundamentals series prior to participation in regular classes. If you come across a box that doesn’t, beware. To dive into a high-intensity training regimen that requires a number of movements that are likely to involve some skill development, you must have a solid foundation. 

Even after Fundamentals courses, your “basic training” shouldn’t end. You MUST ease into and practice foreign movements regularly and master the skill itself before adding weight or attempting anything a step beyond. Exhibit some patience in the beginning. Building upon a weak foundation can only result in endless repairs. Be smart and feel structurally sound before you move on.

Overlooking the Need to Observe

Credentials don’t always tell the whole story when it comes to CrossFit coaches. Before you commit to any box, be sure you stop in and watch a class and coach in action. You’ll want to look for coaches who are verbal, member-focused, provide individual instruction, and are encouraging. Without those characteristics, a coach provides little value to your experience and may overlook a potentially hazardous situation. You’re looking for leadership with regards to your health and fitness goals, so be sure you’re placing yourself in good hands; it will set the tone for your entire experience.

Dismissing the Developmental Process

Babies aren’t born with the ability to walk. Development, practice and new neuronal connections provide the means to master most physical skills. So when joining a box, you can’t expect to be an expert in everything. Whether you are an avid runner, a former collegiate lifter or have zero athletic background, you will come across unfamiliar territory at some point. 

And when you get there, remember that you must teach your body with repetitions, constant corrections and, sometimes, physical cues. If you know that your squat is consistently higher than 90 degrees, place a wall-ball under your bum as a physical cue for where that perfect point is. Your body will pick up on it, and eventually when you remove that ball, you’ll have the habit of proper range of motion. Seek feedback for any verbal cues that you can’t quite pick up on and focus on getting in tune with your core and extremities and how they react and engage.

Engaging Your Ego

It’s no secret that there’s a facet of CrossFit committed to competition. In the best scenarios, a person will use the clock, their peers and the whiteboard to establish a point of reference and bring the best out in their workout. 

An ego, on the other hand, blinds an athlete to self-awareness and shifts his energies to everybody else in the room. Rest days disappear, workouts are done too heavy, and the whiteboard consumes him. And regardless of what feedback a coach provides, that athlete can’t brush away the nagging feeling of having to outdo everybody else. So screw the ego and remember that CrossFit is about specializing in not specializing. It’s not designed to have the same “winner” every time, and your focus should be on doing YOUR best, not doing THE best.

You wouldn’t buy a house with a weak foundation. You wouldn’t take your child to a daycare you hadn’t stopped into and checked out. You wouldn’t try a back flip on a balance beam without prior training. And you wouldn’t sprint past a stop sign without looking just to beat your friend across the street. So proceed with a little caution and some common sense and the assurance that if you make the right choices in your CrossFit journey, you’re bound to have a healthy and happy experience.


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About the Author

Abi Reiland

Abi Reiland

Abi Reiland, CF-L1 is the co-owner of and trainer at CrossFit 8035, and director of The MAT Games and The CF Circus. She is also the author of prettyngritty.com.