Injuries will happen. As much as effective warm-ups, cool-downs, efficient movement, adequate recovery, low inflammatory diets etc. can reduce the risk of injury, the fact remains that CrossFit is a sport where we are:
1. Pushing our bodies beyond the limits and capabilities for which they are naturally built.
2. Challenging our bodies in a huge variety of ways; gymnastics, weightlifting and mono-structural work (run, row, swim, etc.) and across the whole spectrum of energy systems.
The demands we place on our bodies make injury all but inevitable so there are two things that a smart athlete needs to remember. One is that they need to minimize the risk of injury — prevention is better than cure! Athletes also need to manage injury ensuring the injury stays acute with minimal disturbance to training and competing. You don’t want it to lead to chronic pain.
One place where we are especially at risk of injury is during competition. Adrenalin is high, you’re trying to get on the podium and an opportunity to put months of training into practice is available. Hopefully by this point you should have your movements dialled in enough so that even with the added intensity, you’re still performing exercises safely. As well as what you do within actual events, there are some other factors that play a major role in preventing injury during competition. Below are some tips to avoid injury during a CrossFit competition.
We’ve heard it many times before but still some of us scrimp on our warm up. Doing so will harm both your performance and chances of avoiding injury. For myself and my athletes I like to structure warm-ups as follows:
– Cyclical, low intensity work: Row, bike, airdyne, etc. to raise body temperature and increase blood flow to the muscles.
– Stimulate the muscles: For some people this can be switching on glutes and hamstrings to help alleviate stress on the quadriceps, for others it can be rotator cuff and scap work to stabilize the shoulders. If you don’t have specific work to do, use this time to get some contractions going through the muscles you’ll be using in the upcoming workout. This can be as simple as doing some strict pull-ups to prep for chest to bar or lunges in prep for squats or deadlifts. This is also where to plug in any corrective exercises you need to do.
– Mobilize: You’re warm and the correct muscles are fired up, now is the time to attack any mobility restrictions that are going to stop you from hitting safe positions and good reps in the workout. Pliable, warm tissue will be much more responsive to mobility work.
– Prep for Specific Movements: Get warm so you’re ready go through the specific movements in the workout. This doesn’t mean jumping on the rig and cranking out a max effort set of bar muscle ups. Start with small and less aggressive reps. Because of the work you’ve already done in this warm up, it won’t take long to build up to sharp, fast movements.
– Potentiation: This is your opportunity to jack the heart rate up and prepare the body to use the energy systems that will be required in the workout. For our longer events, you’ll want to get in about 5+ mins of moderate effort aerobic work with a few sprints. For shorter sprint events, you’ll want to include some more aggressive sprints with full recovery. We’ve all experienced that uncomfortable heart rate spike moment at the beginning of a workout that has us questioning if we’ve gone out too hard. Going through some effective potentiation work can reduce this drastically.
In order to test the fitness of the participants, competitions often present loads, intensities and volumes that go beyond the norm of training for most athletes. Heavy and high rep deadlifts, squats and Olympic lifts are common. These movements place areas of the body, such the lumbar spine and knees under large stress, even with good movement. Save yourself from a sore lower back by wearing a belt during heavy or high rep pulling movements. You can also use knee sleeves for heavy or high rep squatting. Treat supportive gear not as a training aid that must be worn every time you encounter the movement, but rather a preventative measure to be utilized when loads, intensities or volumes are jacked up in competition. That being said, no amount of supportive gear can replace a lack of core strength and efficient movement.
An ideal movement meets the required movement standards, is efficient in that it gets the most work done with the least effort and is safe in that it minimizes risk of injury. During competition adrenalin is high, time is limited and athletes can find themselves sacrificing safe and often efficient positions in order to complete reps faster. Remember if you are sacrificing safe, efficient positions in order to move faster and thus risking injury, how well are you setting yourself up to put up a good performance in the following events? Also ask yourself if it is the last event of the day, is it also the last event you’ll ever compete in? What about the last bit of physical activity you’ll ever do? Look at the bigger picture. While it may seem worth it to bomb through a set of deadlifts with a rounded back to secure your podium position, weigh that up with the effect it’s going to have on your health long term.
Just as important as warming up. A proper cool down after each event:
– Helps remove waste products in muscles caused by intense exercise.
– Gets joints moving through a full range of motion with good blood supply to tissues.
– Reduces body temperature closer to resting.
– Includes soft tissue work to release and untangle sticky tissues.
– Acts as a ‘psychological’ cool down too, providing time to gradually bring mood from a heightened state of arousal back down to a relaxed state.
All of these factors promote healthier tissues and a healthier mind, minimizing damage from the previous event and better prepared to tackle the next one.
Nutrition and Supplementation
This section could form multiple articles by itself so we will keep it short and sweet! Post-training we want to be consuming protein and carbohydrates. Why? Exercise causes damage to muscles. This stimulates a response in the body; “the task you just gave us was too hard to cope with, we need to adapt so that next time we face this task we’re better prepared to deal with it”. The body then begins to rebuild damaged tissues to a greater size/cross-sectional area.
What fuels this process? Protein and carbohydrates! Think of protein as the building blocks and carbohydrate as the builders. You need both to get the job done. Why is this so important after competitive events? The more intense the exercise, the more potential damage is caused to tissues, which means the more imperative it is that they receive building blocks and builders that are necessary to recover. If the body doesn’t receive these nutrients, the recovery process is drastically reduced leaving weakened, damaged tissues. Multiply this effect by multiple intense events in a day and you’re left with a bunch of weakened tissues placed under stress that would challenge a healthy tissue – a recipe for injury!
When do we need to get these nutrients in? Immediately after cooling down when both the demand for replenishment and the recovery response are high. Food is the best way to get your protein and carbs, but if you are in between WODs and need to get it quick, a protein shake and banana works as well. This is also a time to hold off on fats as they can slow the absorption of the other macronutrients.
Just a 2% decrease in bodyweight due to dehydration can translate into up to a 20% decrease in work capacity. Dehydration can also impair cognitive function which is necessary for the safe and efficient movement mentioned earlier, increase perception of exertion and decrease the health of the fascia surrounding our muscles that govern much of our mobility, integrity and resilience. In short, stay hydrated. It just makes everything work better.
Avoiding injury during a CrossFit competition can be challenging, especially when pushing the limits of the body both physically and mentally. Following these tips will help you perform and recover optimally while avoiding injury and most importantly — enjoying your competition!