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 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 your 17.4). Or is that 2 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
Coming at you with the the final part of our two-part series for ensuring healthy shoulders while improving your pull-ups. In this part we’re talking about how to develop appropriate strength in the appropriate areas. For those of you who missed it, part one is super important and I highly recommend reading that before moving on with part two. For those of you who are caught up, let’s get after it.
Part II: Strength
In any training program, it’s important to make sure your movements are balanced and that your shoulders are working in multiple directions (ex: vertical pulling, horizontal pushing, horizontal pulling, etc). The pull-up is an excellent example of a vertical pull strengthening exercise. With most pulling exercises, your body is primarily moving through two movements: elbow flexion and shoulder extension. This means your primary shoulder extension (latissimus dorsi, teres minor, post delt) and primary elbow flexion (biceps brachii, and brachialis and brachioradialis) muscle groups need to work synergistically to perform this movement appropriately.
Unfortunately this synergistic relationship isn’t normally the case. More often than not I find that people way over utilize elbow flexion and underutilize shoulder extension. When this happens bad things happen and those bad things usually end up manifesting themselves as pain along the front of the shoulder. As you can tell in the picture above, the long of of your biceps tendon crosses the shoulder joint and when you rely too much on elbow flexion with pulling based exercises, you can end up agitating that tendon, which leads to shoulder pain.
I see the aforementioned situation happen all the time in athletes who do a lot of kipping pull-ups vs strict pull-ups, specifically in those who don’t have the requisite strength to perform consecutive strict pull-ups but are repping out 15+ kipping pull-ups at a time. Now I’m not saying kipping pull-ups are bad or that you shouldn’t do them, but kipping pull-ups should be an expression of strength, not a way to avoid a weakness.
To ensure you’re not overusing your biceps while doing the pull-up you want to have strong, engaged lats (latissimus dorsi). To make sure this is the case, check out our top 3 exercises below for improving shoulder lat strength and control.
Drill #1: Active Hangs
This drill is an all time favorite of mine for a couple of reasons. First, it allows you to feel how your lats should be contracting while you are going a pull up. Second, it allows you to strengthen your shoulders in a vulnerable/weak position. You’re only as strong as your weakest link and being strong in a weak position is a great way to prevent injuries.
Drill #2: Lat Pull Over
This one is a great example of “killing two birds with one stone” because not only are you able to improve lat strength with this drill, but because of the long eccentric phase (muscle contracting while lengthening) of this drill, it’s also a great way to improve shoulder mobility.
Drill #3: Single Arm Banded Lat Pull Downs
Breaking up a bilateral movement (using both arms) into a unilateral movement (using one arm) is a highly underutilized training modality that allows to balance out weaknesses. Plus, as an added bonus, you’re able to perform a vertical pulling drill at a slightly different angle which, as we talked about above, is how you train for healthy shoulders.
If you have shoulder pain while doing pull-ups, or want to prevent pain from coming, this two-part post is a great place to start. Ensuring appropriate mobility and then building appropriate strength is a common occurrence in the rehab world.
If you’re in the Atlanta area and are interested in working with a unique professional that can help you optimize your health in all of these areas, we need to talk. Being proactive and staying on top of your health will help you avoid serious health problems down the road.
Submit a contact request by clicking the button below and we’ll get you set up with one of our Doctors for a free 15-minute phone consult.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Jacob, DPT
Dr. Danny and Dr. Jackie's views on performance improvement, injury prevention and sometimes other random thoughts.