CrossFit - A Physical Therapist's Perspective
Almost weekly, a patient, friend, or relative will ask us at UW Health Sports Rehabilitation, "So CrossFit….is it safe?" The answer is always a loaded one, and typically ends up being, "it depends."
What is CrossFit
CrossFit is a specific type of group exercise developed by Greg Glassman. CrossFit is trademarked and licensed. Its self-described identity is "constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity" and "moving large loads."
Many times these classes are competitive in nature. For some people the uniqueness of these movements and the competitive high intensity can lead to injury. This is especially true for people just starting an exercise program.
CrossFit, and other group exercise classes, can be a fun and motivational way to strength train, improve cardiovascular fitness, and provide social support. To gain these benefits, and minimize the risk for injury, it is important to understand the proper steps in safely participating in CrossFit or any group exercise class.
How to Safely Participate
There are three essential steps to participating in CrossFit and group exercise classes safely:
1. First technique, then weight
For strength training exercises that involve "load" or "resistance" it is vital that proper technique can be achieved with body weight or low load before progressing. A squat or an overhead press is a perfectly safe lift when done correctly. Even small errors in technique can lead to pain or injury when done repetitively or under "load". Sports medicine therapists are specially trained to assess and correct technique of common lifts. Simple cues and technique changes can often allow proper joint movement and then lead to the ability to lift increased weight.
2. Mobility, mobility, mobility
Mobility is a crucial aspect to maintaining health in daily life, but particularly when beginning and progressing a strength training routine. Overhead squats (a common Crossfit exercise) require mobility at the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and spine. A limitation in just one of these areas will lead to compensation in another. These compensations place a greater load on the body, often resulting in injury and pain. Rehabilitation specialists at UWHC Sports Medicine Rehabilitation are trained to evaluate and treat these limitations, serving to decrease likelihood of further injury as well as often increasing the weight a person is able to lift.
3. Proper progressions
Progression is a key component to any routine to prevent injury. A common mistake is progressing before current strength allows, leading to poor technique and increased load on the body. Improper progression may also lead to a plateau of strength and overuse injuries. Group exercise classes are an excellent way to get fitness to large crowds, however individual progressions are absolutely necessary as each participant has different mobility limitations and strength.
If you have pain while exercising, or have been injured while exercising, the physical therapists and athletic trainers at UW Health Sports Rehabilitation can help get you back to your active lifestyle pain free. To schedule an appointment, call (608) 263-4765.