Avoiding Extreme Fitness Injury

by Dr. Nathan Hinkeldey on May 6, 2013


Avoid CrossFit Injury

Exercise doesn’t cause injury – improper exercise does. And with resistance and weight training at the center of most of these “extreme fitness” programs that are taking over gyms and fitness centers everywhere, the potential for improper exercise has gone up exponentially.

But we can’t blame the extreme fitness industry. The problem is actually rooted in the twin philosophies of “more is better” and “more at all cost.” Ironically, these same misguided principles, when applied to dietary choices, are probably what led us to a state of needing an extreme fitness solution in the first place. In other words, having had “more” cheesecake than is “better” for us, we turn to programs such as CrossFit to excavate the body that we buried under our own indulgences.

Of course, it’s unlikely that merely joining a gym or signing up for a fitness program is enough to short circuit our hedonistic tendencies. So most of us won’t approach our new exercise regimen with a reasonable level of moderation. Rather, we’ll attack each workout with the same bloodlust that we succumbed to when taking down the all-you-can eat buffet at last year’s holiday party.

As a doctor, I can tell you that both of those are bad choices and both will bring you pain. Fortunately, gastric pain typically only lasts a few hours and you’re likely to be back to full eating capacity by the next day. On the other hand, a muscle or joint injury caused by pushing too hard in the gym can sideline you for weeks and may require medical intervention to heal properly and fully. Such injuries are a leading cause of people abandoning their fitness goals altogether.

Not What, But How

Now we come to the heart of it, because one of the truly unfortunate byproducts of people getting hurt while exercising is that they may blame the program for their injury rather than take personal responsibility. It isn’t unusual to hear someone say they have a CrossFit injury or make a similar statement about a different structured fitness routine.

Let me state, for the record, that there are no CrossFit injuries…or Kosama injuries…or Extreme Body Shaping injuries…or P90X injuries. There are simply injuries. And while it’s true that what you were doing when you injured yourself is important to any treatment, rehabilitation, and avoidance plan, I have found that how you were doing it is even more critical.

In other words, it isn’t the heavier weight or higher reps that get you – it’s your lousy form during these exertions that expose you to injury. And, in the perfect paradox, if you will put more emphasis on mastering your form, you’ll get greater gains from lighter weights and fewer reps than you will by doing more, but doing it wrong. This doesn’t mean stop pushing, or never add weight. It simply means master the movement, and then, add more weight, repetitions, and intensity.

Practice Makes Permanent

So, how do you get it right? Well, as Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics points out in his blog post Train Like A Champion: Technique, Habits and Positivity, repetition isn’t the answer. Everett paraphrases Olympic and World Champion Weightlifting Coach Tommy Kono when he says:

Practice doesn’t make perfect; practice makes permanent. The idea that practicing something is guaranteed to make it correct is nonsense. You’re simply training yourself to do what you’re doing exactly the way you’re doing it. If attention isn’t given to performing every single repetition as well as possible at that moment, you’re actually making things worse for yourself by further practicing what you’re doing wrong.

I’ll boil that down even further to say that you’ll never get something right by doing it wrong enough times.

Tiger Woods didn’t perfect his swing by practicing it imperfectly. Stephen Curry didn’t develop the NBA’s…Most Beautiful Jump Shot… by shooting wildly at practice.

But here’s the rub: How can you practice something perfectly when you don’t even know what perfect is?

Well, that is precisely why structured fitness programs like CrossFit are so valuable – the exercises are well defined and always led by a coach who does know what perfection is. The coaches are there to motivate you, yes, but they are also there to help you get the most out of every rep by fine-tuning your form within each exercise.

Of course, it’s your responsibility to listen to your coach, focus on your form, and not get caught up in what’s going on around you. Don’t let what everyone else is doing make you compromise your workout by pushing for more weight or more reps than you can perform perfectly.

Functional Movement Screen

Another step you can take to help identify potential problems in your form and movement is to have a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) before you begin a fitness program. This simple, non-stress evaluation will help to identify imbalances and weaknesses in your current condition. I can then recommend some basic exercises to correct those shortcomings

I especially recommend this for student athletes who are about to embark on weight lifting or conditioning routines for school sports. The bad habits and poor form that lead to injuries in later years often take root in junior high and high school weight rooms, where overworked and under attentive monitors do little to correct developing problems.

Of course, FMS evaluations are beneficial at any age and can go a long way to toward helping you avoid injury while getting the most out of your athletic or fitness endeavor. So, if you or some one you know is having trouble making gains or has issues with repeated injuries, contact Team Chiropractic and Rehabilitation, your Johnston Chiropractor, for a FREE Functional Movement Screening. Use the form below or visit the Contact Us page for additional options.


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