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Staying Safe and Injury-Free as a CrossFit Athlete

CrossFit is a relatively new and rapidly-expanding fitness movement that aims to address strength, flexibility, mobility, and endurance together using creative workouts that can be modified to suit the individual’s abilities and fitness goals.  CrossFit classes typically include compound lifts, multi-joint and multi-muscle movements that are more functional than your standard machine workouts.

Many times, these compound movements are new additions to an individual’s “arsenal.” For CrossFit to be a safe form of fitness, strict execution and technique should be taught and continuously reinforced by experienced and educated fitness professionals.  Those individuals with any current (or history of) injury should consult with a knowledgeable medical professional such as a doctoral physical therapist. A physical therapist can provide custom modifications or special considerations to avoid further or future injury during a CrossFit class. In addition, those who have minimal to no experience with fitness and exercise should take extra precaution prior to starting CrossFit. It is likely not the best starting point into the fitness world if a baseline level of fitness and proprioception (understanding where your joints are in space and how they are moving) is not present. Also, if you have any systemic disease history, such as cardiovascular disease (high blood pressure, heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms, etc.) you should speak to that specialist (i.e. cardiologist) prior to participating in any CrossFit class.

Crossfit workouts are more intense, combining movements in ways that challenge the individual to perform at their max capacity. If you have consulted with the appropriate health care professionals and have decided to give CrossFit a try, here are some helpful strategies in choosing the right gym (aka Box). 

  1. Official CrossFit affiliate.  This ensures that at least one coach will be CrossFit Level 1 certified, have proof of insurance, attested in essay format on the honor and trust placed within them in becoming an affiliate, and pay annual fees.  These measures help ensure that the gym is legitimate and on-brand with the CrossFit community.
  2. Professional and qualified coaches. By checking the Box’s website, you can determine which coaches are level 1 certified-or beyond.  Continuing education will result in additional levels and expertise, up to level 3. The coach should function as a beacon of safety and motivation. While it is important for the coach to be supportive, a great coach will provide feedback on technique and execution during every class. A coach should never suggest that an individual do a movement he/she is not comfortable performing. Encouraging participants to listen to their bodies is imperative to safety. 
  3. Box’s and coaches with a safe and thorough onboarding process. As with any exercise or sport, every new participant must be taught the standards of the gym, including education and drilling over any new or existing exercises.  If an individual is not yet capable of performing a certain movement, the coach should modify the exercises towards the individual’s competencies. If a coach is unable to provide the appropriate modifications, seeking consult with a doctoral physical therapist is advised.  
  4. The presence of a good warm-up and cool-down. It will prepare you for the workout, allowing your heart and lungs to gradually increase their workload while warming up your muscles. This should involve dynamic stretching beforehand that will lubricate your joints, warm up your muscles, get your blood flowing, and enable you to be more successful with the movements you are about to perform.  The cool-down should involve stretching and a safe return to a normal resting heart rate.
  5. Encourage you to be the best version of yourself.  With ample education, form, technique, and support, CrossFit athletes are competing against previous versions of themselves, making changes that they will enjoy in the future.  Performing an exercise with more resistance, more repetitions, more sets, or a more challenging progression is likely to encourage an individual to continue making fitness a priority. The CrossFit athlete seeks to improve while safely pushing their boundaries and expanding their comfort zone.

Doing a little homework and some shopping around will help individuals find a clean, organized, well-programmed gym where safety is a priority as members improve their overall fitness. If you have any concerns about programming, coaches, or modifications, our physical therapists at DPT Sport would love to work with you to teach you more about the way your body moves and how to stay safe while training as a CrossFit athlete.