With the CrossFit Open upon us and beach bod season approaching, people will be fitnessing. A LOT. With this, comes the opportunity for injuries to sneak up and leaving performance on the table.
People typically blame certain factors for an injury or lack of performance:
While these factors are definitely important to consider, there’s one that gets overlooked and is quite often the culprit:
I had a patient come in a month ago who was dealing with foot and ankle pain. It has been on and off for months, and she decided to get it checked out due to a recent exacerbation. She’s a ½ marathon runner who also does Orange Theory a few times a week. She was starting to increase her mileage for her ½ marathon coming up. I think you know where this is going…
Before trying to change up her running mechanics, change her shoes or blaming it on “overpronation,” we had a conversation about her training volume. I asked her how her running mileage and volume been. In this discussion, she said she went from 3 miles to 6 miles within a weeks time. BINGO. She was confused as she had previously ran this much mileage in the past, BUT... it’s been a couple months.
I also asked her about the first time she ever dealt with this same issue – she said she couldn’t really think of why it initially started – “maybe running form or my shoes?”. I asked her when she started Orange Theory – lightbulb went off. BINGO again.
Let me be clear – there’s nothing wrong with her doing both running and Orange Theory. There is when your body is not prepared for the demand of these tasks. This was and is a volume issue, and if you’re reading this, think back to a previous non-contact injury and see if you can attribute any other factors playing into that specific injury – moreso volume in this case.
Now, mobility, biomechanics, strength, etc., all play roles into whether we are operating as optimally as possible from a performance standpoint. For this patient, we did work on strength in certain areas and tweaked some things from a running standpoint, but the big component of her rehab was starting at a volume she could tolerate without pain or just a little, and progress forward from there.
Training volume falls under the umbrella of Load Management (coming in Part 2) and is a big reason why injuries occur.
Some common methods of measuring training volume include counting the number of sets to failure, the volume load (sets x reps x weight), distance, number of sprints, etc.
Here are some terms to understand:
Maintenance Volume (MV) – How much volume you need to maintain your gains
Minimum Effective Dose (MED) – Smallest amount of stimulus needed to drive positive adaptation. If we are below this threshold, then there will be no adaptation.
Maximum Adaptive Volume (MAV) – Here we are training at our optimal range of volume that we can adapt to and recover appropriately to drive optimal performance
Maximum Recoverable Volume (MRV) – This is the absolute maximum volume that your body can handle and recovery from. Sometimes it’s necessary to pass this threshold from time to time, called overreaching, in order to elicit greater adaptations. Important point here is to make sure it is not often and that deloads are accompanying this high accumulation of volume to allow for supercompensation (the point of overreaching to get the training effect you want – improved strength, power, speed, etc.). When this is not appropriately monitored or constantly overreached without recovery, you open the door for injuries to occur and performance to suffer.
(credit to Mike Israetel of Renaissance Periodization for this concept)
The way this is laid out is that you start with your MED, progress to MAV, then MRV to overreach. However, notice that you don’t dance with MRV often, nor do you want to.
Overtime, your MRV will increase, meaning you’ll get stronger and develop more work capacity, as long as you intelligently handle your training volume.
A good rule of thumb is The 10% Rule - While there can be some variability here, staying within a 10% increase from the previous week tends to work well for a lot of people. It pushes that threshold in a progressive manner and allows appropriate recovery from the increased demand on the body.
Next week, in Part 2, we’ll take a deeper dive into load management and training volume, explore exactly what this concept means, and how to practically apply it to yourself or athletes you work with.
Dr. Ravi Patel, PT, DPT, CSCS
It’s baaaaack. The largest fitness competition on Earth, the CrossFit Open, is finally here. Maybe you’ve trained all year for this, maybe you’re still new to CrossFit and are curious about all the excitement. Maybe you’re a seasoned vet, maybe this is your first Open you’ve ever participated in. Regardless of your CrossFit background, your fitness will be tested, your mental toughness will be challenged, and you will certainly have a blast working through these workouts with your crew at your local CrossFit affiliate.
That being said though, this is typically a time where we start seeing an uptick in the people we see coming in for CrossFit related injuries. Having an athletic background, where I had to personally sit out multiple seasons due to injuries, I speak from experience when I tell you there is nothing worse than working all year towards a goal/competition/test and not being able to perform at an optimal level, if at all, because of an injury. And, look, I get it. There is inherently an increased risk of injury when you're pushing yourself in a competitive environment. However, there are some very important things you can do to minimize this risk and allow you to perform your best. Let’s take a look at the three easy things you can do:
#1 Don’t Be Reckless
This is huge and something I see year after year. If you’re a CrossFit coach, or even just an observant CrossFit athlete, I’m sure you’ve seen what I’m about to explain...You’ve worked all year to create movement patterns that are both safe and effective. You know the importance of good, quality movement. However, throw in the element of an international competition and it seems like all these lessons about technique go out the window.
For example, last year’s first Open workout (18.1) consisted of three movements: toe-to-bar, dumbbell clean and jerks and rowing. Can you guess what type of injury we saw coming into our clinic after this workout? If you said back pain, you’re correct. But why? Well, with this workout people were trying to perform as many rounds as possible for 20 minutes. To get better scores people weren’t maintaining core control for a solid hollow position with their toes-to-bar, they stopped getting full hip and knee extension for optimal power production during the drive portion of the clean and jerks, and/or they started to over-extend during the rowing component. All of these create situations that are destined to increase stress on your low back. Keep in mind that this was just the first workout! Now you’re either completely unable to participate in the other workouts or will not be performing at an optimal level because you’re trying to grind through an injury.
#2: Protect Your Sleep
There are four main pillars of health care that we look at with every patient who walks in the door at Athletes’ Potential: Movement, Stress, Sleep, and Nutrition. Sleep is easily on of the biggest problems that we see out of these pillars. And check this out: Sleep affects everything you do and everything you do is positively affected by quality sleep. Good, quality sleep literally improves everything: every marker on a blood panel, weight management, sport performance and recovery, productivity, and numerous types of disease management. The list goes on and on, yet the percentage of sleep deprived Americans, particularly in Urban areas, continues to rise at an alarming rate. In fact, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 30% of Americans are sleep deprived getting fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not giving your body a chance to recover. If you’re not recovering appropriately, then you're leaving yourself at risk for injury and decreased performance. So, bottom line: create an optimal sleeping environment, protect your night time routine, and get some good, quality sleep.
For more info on how to optimize your sleep, check out this article we wrote.
#3: Maintain Perspective
This comes full circle with tip #1. For those of you trying to make it on to Regionals, those extra few reps I mentioned could be the difference in making the cut vs staying home. However, for the vast majority of athletes competing in the CrossFit Open this is not reality. You all have careers, kids you need to take care of, and numerous other responsibilities that you need to keep rocking with once you leave the gym. Is bouncing off the top of your head to get an extra rep or two really going to mean that much if by doing so now you can’t look over your shoulder while driving? (yes, this is a real scenario that we’ve worked on at our clinic...I’m looking at you 17.4). Or is that two position jump on the leaderboard really all the important if now you can’t bend over to pick up your kids?
CrossFit is meant to be a competitive, fun, and challenging way to make all aspects of life outside the gym a little easier. This time of year is huge for all CrossFit athletes and it is truly impressive to see the physical accomplishments and PR’s that happen every single year in the Open. However, the Open isn’t an excuse to throw all safety out the window, but it isn’t something you should be afraid of either. Following these three easy tips will ensure that you have a great time, reduce your risk of injury, and maybe even hit a PR or two.
Thanks for reading,
Dr Jake, DPT, CSCS, CF-L1
Dr. Danny and staff's views on performance improvement, injury prevention, and sometimes other random thoughts.