You’ve undoubtedly heard of CrossFit, but for those of you who haven’t, it’s a fitness program that combines various forms of training such as olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, powerlifting and plyometrics into each workout. Sessions take place in gyms that resemble empty warehouses and are usually done in circuit format, incorporating a variety of exercises performed at high intensity.
Its popularity has grown year after year since being founded in 2000 and from a business perspective they’re doing everything right. Recognizable apparel, chiseled poster men and women competing at the annual CrossFit games on ESPN, growing sponsorship, level 1 and 2 trainer certificates and a yearly fee to be an affiliated gym. Add in the “it’s trendy and cool” element and you’ve got a recipe for success.
However, from a strength and conditioning perspective it’s not for everyone, even though it’s marketed as such. Many of the workouts consist of advanced movements that are completed for time. This leads to poor form and an increased risk of injury, especially for newbies. I’m not a big advocate for this style of training but do believe that if CrossFit is what gets you out and exercising then it can be a positive! Here are some suggestions on how to optimize your experience and escape each workout uninjured. Read on!!
Photo Credit: Runar Eilertsen
1.) Find an experienced coach: If this style of workout and the movements involved are new to you then I highly suggest finding a certified CrossFit trainer with as many years of experience as possible. ASK AROUND! If he or she happens to be a perfectionist…even better! Your body is in their hands, for a period of time, so you don’t want someone fresh out of a weekend certification course initiating you. Learning the right way in the first place will help you avoid muscle imbalances and damage later on!
2.) Master the basics: Your basic movements like the squat, deadlift, press and pull should be learned and mastered in a controlled, untimed setting before being incorporated into timed WOD’s (workouts of the day). If you fail to do this then injury is bound to occur and the transition to more complex lifts like the clean, jerk and snatch will be a rocky one. Schedule 1 on 1 time with the CrossFit trainer!
3.) Mind the box jump: I see people butchering this exercise all the time, even under the watchful eye of a personal trainer. It’s a great tool for developing explosiveness and deceleration but too many folks worry about how fast they can complete the reps, resulting in poor mechanics. Unless you want to blow out your achilles I encourage you to be mindful through the entire movement. The ascent: think hips back and explode through. Don’t let your knees cave in AT ANY POINT and land on the platform softly! The descent: most people just bounce off backwards, land on their toes and bounce back up. In high rep situations this puts a lot of strain on your achilles and calves so I don’t advise it. Try placing the platform away from the wall so you can jump onto it and then off the other side. Land softly! Absorb the force as you decelerate to about a quarter squat. Again, don’t let your knees cave in. Turn and repeat. Really want to be safe? Step down.
4.) Kipping pull-ups: This version uses swinging momentum and a hip snap to elevate your chin over the bar. From a movement efficiency standpoint it is superior to the regular pull-up. Think of how you would elevate yourself over a tree branch in nature…you would most definitely use your entire body! But how many times in a row would you have to kip up over that branch? Probably once. My point is that in CrossFit you might be executing high reps of the kipping variety, one after the other, and most people lack the joint integrity and tissue suppleness to handle it. BYE BYE SHOULDERS! If you’re most people then I suggest becoming an absolute machine doing regular pull-ups. Once you get into the 15 rep range and you’re on point with shoulder mobility then oooookkkkkkk, if you must, try some kipping pull-ups and see how you feel.
5.) GHD sit-ups: Glute ham developer sit-ups, like kipping pull-ups, is another exercise that you’ll see athletes doing an insane number of reps of at a fast pace. If you’re a seasoned CrossFitter and have had success with these then keep killin it! If you’re new, approach these with EXTREME CAUTION! I remember being in the gym last year and observing a couple training. The guy was experienced and his gal not as much. They came to the GHD and she took position, did 2 reps and crawled off citing something in her low back popped!! If these are programmed into your WOD, start slow. Build up the strength and flexibility in your hips flexors and abdominals. Don’t go past parallel on the descent if you’re worried about your low back. Or just don’t do them and ask your trainer for a variation!!
6.) Push “YOUR” limits: The CrossFit community is a competitive environment where times are posted and LBS noted! We aren’t in grade school people! Don’t be the student who alllwayyys has to finish first and is right at the board making sure! No one wants to workout with him/her! Instead, figure out YOUR limits and progressively push them. Track your progress in a little 3M spiral notepad! Sure, a little competition is healthy but training should be more about becoming a better version of yourself and less about comparing with others. Don’t obsess over the stopwatch either! You’ll end up doing the exercises just for the sake of doing them-in order to achieve a fast time. Compete with that voice in your head that says enough!
Hopefully these suggestions will help you to be more mindful in your CrossFit sessions!
NOW GET TO IT!!