Read on as Stack St Physio’s own Nicola Rutty, physiotherapist and Crossfit athlete, shares with you her take on key principles behind injury prevention in CrossFit!

So for my first blog post for Stack St Physio, I thought I’d address a sport that I am very involved in as a physiotherapist and also a competitor outside of work.

For those who don’t know or haven’t come across the sport of CrossFit, it has become one of the most popular and fastest growing sports that we have seen in the past 2 decades. It has only been around since it was founded in 2000 with a simple vision and philosophy to get people moving with physical exercise which was constantly varied, functional and performed at high intensity. For most of us in Metro Perth there would at least be one CrossFit gym within a 5km radius of where you live. I first tried Crossfit 3 years ago, thinking I was relatively fit from all the others sports I had played growing up, but how wrong I was. And ever since then I have been hooked…

One of the reputations that the CrossFit training principle has been criticised for in the fitness and health industries, is the notion that it can cause people to suffer from unnecessary injuries due to high intensity and complexity of the movements performed. However, this isn’t the case if carried out with correct supervision and loading, much like many other sports. If you do too much incorrectly you will injure yourself.

And as a physiotherapist, I would love to address this misunderstanding of CrossFit with you here. Firstly, we need to tie in how injury prevention is the best way forward when undertaking sports such as this. Most of this discussion comes back to the basics of exercise training principles with general exercise prescription and how we monitor our body’s responses to stressors we place on ourselves. We will discuss this through the preventative strategies we can undertake to minimise CrossFit injuries.

So with that said, let’s break down this topic more into 5 key areas we can address with physiotherapy to prevent crossfit injuries…

1.     Being aware of how injury rates stack up

Did you know that you are more likely to injure yourself undertaking a Zumba classes than training in a supervised CrossFit gym class? A recent study found that for every 100 hours of Zumba classes undertaken by participants, they had a higher incidence rate of injury compared to participating in a Crossfit class. Also a study by Weisenthal in 2014 found an injury rate of 19.4% in crossfitters over a 6-month survey period. This incidence rate is comparable and even in some cases lower than incidence rates in long distance runners.

When it comes to the common injuries we would expect to see in CrossFit athletes, it is no surprise the shoulder accounts for around 25%, followed then by the lower back (14.3%) and the knee (13.1%). This isn’t a surprise when we think about the types of movements we see performed in CrossFit. So these are the areas we need to specifically be mindful of for CrossFit participants.

2.     Understanding training principles

Just like any exercise or training program we undertake, in order to become fitter/stronger/faster etc, we need to find the right stimulus which is slightly greater than our current capacity. This is what a stressor does, for example an exercise stimulus – it causes us to adapt in terms of our cardiovascular and strength abilities. If we give ourselves too much of a stressor too quickly, our body doesn’t have enough time to adapt and this can lead us along the pathway of overload, then eventually pain and injury. So first things first be smart! The best way to do this is to join a CrossFit gym with a coach who can show you the correct technique and programming to build your capacity before training beyond your limits.

3.     Know your limits

It’s easy for us to forget that when we age our body’s capacity isn’t the same as what it was back in our 20s, also we take a longer period to recover. Life gets busy as well, so that means a lot of other stressors you place on your body such as lack of sleep, full time work, family commitments and your other hobbies/interests. Being aware of symptoms of fatigue and overtraining is important. It is okay to have a rest day or sometimes back off the volume or intensity of training. When we start training at levels of fatigue, this is when we risk getting into levels of overloading our musculoskeletal system.

4.     Know some of the basics for minimum requirements to perform CrossFit.

Pretty simple, all you need prior to starting CrossFit is two requirements – you need to be a human and be alive! Anything can be scaled or adapted to your current fitness level. I have even seen 89 year olds in rehab hospitals performing a scaled version of CrossFit workouts. We can all adapt to a reasonable stimulus we give our bodies. For those who have been undertaking CrossFit or other similar exercise programs there are some more generalised movements that you’ll need to master in order to truly accelerate your potential and stay injury free such as the squat, deadlift and overhead positions. There are more efficient ways to move with such exercises that allow correct biomechanics and reduce the chances of unnecessary injuries occurring. Hand in hand with this goes the value of coaching and feedback from experienced coaches and practitioners who understand these movement patterns.

5.     Have a screening done for your movements.

If you are unsure in any way or have concerns about previous injuries or little niggles that may be arising in your training, even if this is outside of CrossFit, it is always better to take a preventative approach rather than a reactionary approach. Avoiding injuries is much better than dealing with injuries, because this means taking time off training. This may be as simple as asking a coach to watch your movements, taking a video of yourself to watch play back or taking the next step and getting a health professional to perform a screen of your movements you may be struggling with.

In my next blog post, I will talk more about movement screening, why it is helpful and how you can start to evaluate some of these things yourself!

– Nicola

Stack St Physio offers dedicated one hour CrossFit Performance Screenings – you can book in online with Nicola for her insider’s knowledge of the sport, or give us a call on 0421 195 553 if you’d like to find out more!

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