CrossFit, just like any other sport, is not without its share of risk. Whenever you move heavy weight or perform complicated exercises, there is a possibility for injury. Then again, you could get injured going for a jog, or walking down your stairs in the morning. But I digress. This article isn’t about CrossFit and risk. I’m not going to talk about the fact that injury rates in CrossFit our comparable or less to sports such as gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting and other fitness programs—far less than the mainstream media perceives it to be. No, instead I’m going to acknowledge that every athlete, regardless of the sport they practice, can sustain an injury. When this happens, he or she will take the necessary steps to rest and recover before coming back to the box. But how do you know when you’re ready to hit a full WOD again? To lift heavy weight again? To perform with the same effort you had before you got hurt? This article will examine the process of returning to CrossFit post injury.
Take it slow
Regardless of the type of injury you sustained, your body and brain need time to begin communicating again. The channels of communication between your brain and body that are necessary to carry out a physical task weaken with disuse—such as when you are sidelined with an injury. Unless nerve damage has occurred, the communication signals can definitely be strengthened, but this process takes time so it’s important to remain patient. There’s not much sense in coming back to the box and trying to perform at your pre-injury levels. You probably won’t have the fitness to be able to do so, and trying to exercise at such a high intensity in your first trip back to CrossFit can open you up to sustaining another injury. Swallow your ego and SCALE movements and WODS where appropriate. Remember, at this point your time, weight and rep count is not important. What does matter is building up your fitness levels steadily to a point where you will feel comfortable taking off the training wheels to test out a full WOD at full intensity. That’s the end goal people.
Listen to your body
In the middle of a CrossFit workout, our body is usually screaming at us to stop and take a rest. In the case of your first few WODS back from injury, listening to your body becomes even more important—especially in the areas where you got hurt. If you hurt your elbow and it flares up during a push-up, stop. If you hurt your knee and you experience a flash of pain when you squat, stop. When you experience discomfort in a WOD you usually press on—mind over matter right? Not so when you are coming back from injury. Your body will let you know when you’re ready to execute certain movements with certain weights. In the meantime, you have to scale—both in your intensity and in the prescribed movements. Fortunately, there’s someone who can help you with that…
Listen to your coach
Your coach’s primary job is to make sure that you, as an athlete, are safe. They are there to provide you with help when it comes to scaling or altering a WOD in order to match your abilities—especially when returning from injury. Hopefully you will have built a solid relationship with your coach so he or she knows what you are usually capable of doing. That foundation will allow them to gauge how far you should scale down or what movements to alter.
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Talk to other CrossFitters who have had similar injuries
Most CrossFitters have some sort of athletic background, which likely means that they will have suffered some sort of injury during their sporting career. If you happen to be ‘lucky’ enough to workout alongside someone who has sustained a similar injury in the past, ask them what steps they took when working their way back to full fitness. Although everyone’s experience with injury and recovery is different, you may pick up some words of wisdom that could help you prepare for each WOD or cool down appropriately. There’s no harm in asking!
Consult your doctor/physical therapist*
I’ve put an asterisk next to this ‘tip’ because you should take it with a grain of salt. There are a number of stories out there of CrossFitters who ignored their doctor’s diagnosis and made a successful comeback in the sport. Lindy Barber fractured her L-5 vertebrae during the 2011 Open and was told ‘never to squat again’. In 2013, she competed at the CrossFit Games. Lindy’s triumph over adversity (and her doctor’s orders) isn’t rare within our sport. HOWEVER, one must acknowledge that doctors and physical therapists do have knowledge and experience when it comes to the human body, so their advice must be taken into consideration. How much of that advice you actually use is up to you.
Recovery is crucial
Recovery is a crucial part of a healthy CrossFitter’s routine, but it takes on even more importance when you are looking to fight your way back to full fitness. Mobility, cooling-down properly, active recovery, sleep and nutrition are key areas that can be the difference between a speedy and healthy journey back to your badass-CrossFitting self, or a prolonged stint of scaled workouts, slow progress and even the chance of regressing in your recovery. You should never neglect recovery when you’re in peak condition, so why ignore it when you’re coming back from an injury?
Photo courtesy of Runar Eilersten/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0