©Ian Nigh, 2012
In the world of sports training, images of a wounded warrior pushing through pain to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat are compelling and often celebrated. In our every day fitness pursuits, dreams of greatness and glory often lead us to do or imitate stupid things that are not only devoid of glory, but can have long term consequences.
As CrossFit grows in popularity, so do some misconceptions and stereotypes around what its practitioners believe and how it affects their training. Images of ripped hands from pull-ups, or of athletes pushing through painful injuries in order to finish competitions, as well as the playful (but in the end very serious) adoption of uncles “pukie” and “rhabdo” as CrossFit mascots have helped foster the idea that pushing intensity to the point of injury and illness is somehow desirable or glorified by crossfiters.
CrossFit requires us to push the limits of our capacity on a daily basis. Understanding where we want to take these capacities and being able to asses whether we are making progress is very important in order to stay healthy and achieve our goals. Getting injured will inevitably delay and possibly even make achieving our goals impossible. It behooves us to carefully consider how and when pushing through discomfort or pain is worth the trouble.
Examples of goals may be to achieve a body weight snatch, or to win or place at a competition. While the first is a specific training goal that can be programmed for in a scientific and planned way, the second is a more intangible career goal reliant on unknown and unquantifiable factors. In other words, in order to get to my desired snatch weight by a specific date I can plan exactly how much I need to add every week and do what it takes to achieve that. To get a top 10 placing in the CrossFit games on the other hand, all I know is I need to perform better than 99% of the competitors worldwide. The first goal can be part of a wider training strategy for the second (get stronger in order to win), whereas the second is an end in and of itself.
Is sustaining a short term injury worthwhile in achieving either of these goals? What about a long term injury, or permanently debilitating condition? How bad are torn callouses? Puking? Rhabdomylosis? Will pushing my limits lead to that victorious moment when I overcome adversity and gut it out to snatch (maybe literally) the moment of glory?
Always remember to ask yourself what is at stake at any given time. An Olympic athlete competing at the Games may find it is worth it to sacrifice long term health to achieve this brilliant career milestone for themselves, their team and their country. For a recreational crossfit trainee with a family and a full time job, injuring themselves just to get on the leaderboard at their gym (or simply to show they aren’t a quitter!), may not make as much sense.
In the end, it is of course best not to get injured at all, even when winning or pushing the edges of our capacities. The goal of a coach at any level should be first to keep their athletes healthy, and second to help them reach their athletic potential. Torn callouses, pulled muscles, bruised bones and bruised egos are inevitable to some extent when pushing for the intensity required to make serious improvement. Good protocols, hygiene and focus on technique can go a long way in minimizing these and other more serious injuries.
Be smart in your training, understand your context, always know why you are doing what you are doing and what you expect to get out of it. If you do happen to be unlucky and get injured, learn form your mistakes and don’t take yourself too seriously. Life will continue and you will most likely be better for it!