Can I Get Hurt?

By Kristin Steinmetz

There was a big competition in California this weekend.  All the big names were there.  Throughout Saturday and Sunday, I checked my Instagram and saw pics and post from the OC Throwdown.  Monday morning, I woke up to the news that one of the elite athletes was severely injured during a snatch attempt.  It’s my understanding that Kevin Ogar didn’t get out from under the bar correctly and suffered a spinal injury.  I was shocked and taken aback.  These kinds of things are few and far between, but when they happen it can really throw you for a loop.
A couple things popped into my head.  First of all, how I can sometimes lose sight of the fact that sports can be very dangerous, even when they are performed by the top elites with the oversight of the best coaches.  And second, what will the backlash be?

Critics of CrossFit are quick to point out the “dangers”. Their favorite target, of course, is rhabdo, more formally known as rhabdomyolysis.  Technically, this is when the body is being pushed to such a high intensity that a breakdown of the muscle tissue happens.  What can result is coca-cola colored urine from a protein called myoglobin being released into the bloodstream and filtered out of the body by the kidneys. It is damaging to your kidneys and obviously your muscles.  It can be painful and absolutely dangerous.  What is not reported is how rare this is and how this is not an anomaly unique to CrossFit.  It has been part of sports for years, including triathlons and marathons – any high intensity sports where extremes in body temperature and high levels of exertion, along with a risk of dehydration, are present.  Is it still a risk?  Absolutely. Is it enough of a reason not to get off your couch? No.

Another “danger” of CrossFit, as I’m sure will be brought up by Kevin’s tragic accident, is that we are doing some complex and dangerous movements, sometimes with heavy weights.  In the interest of complete honesty, many CrossFit athletes I know have suffered some kind of minor injury.  These range from clipping your leg on a box jump or ripping your hands on the pull-up bar, to injuries that put them out for months.  Three months after I started CrossFit, I hurt my back on kettle bell swings.  I was tired and my form was definitely suffering as I was pushing myself to my limits during a team throwdown.  I was out for a couple months.  Thank God I healed, but I had to endure physical therapy, x-rays, doctor appointments, and a significant amount of pain.  But that time out from the box really solidified my CrossFit addiction in my resolve to get better and get back in there.  And you can be sure I never let my back round on a kettle bell swing ever again.

Any time you are using your body as your machine and trying to break down your muscles, beat yourself up and push your limits, you risk injury.  We can never prevent it 100%, as evidenced by Kevin’s case, which people are labeling a freak accident.  But there are things we can do to limit injuries:

  1. Your Trainer or Coach is your first line of defense.  They should never be allowing you to do things that you are not ready for.  Whether it’s a weight that’s too heavy or letting you go past a time cap, your trainer should know what every athlete can handle.  We love to push our limits, but safety is key.  And I am not above asking some big “strong” guy to scale his weight during a WOD in the interest of safety.
  2. In the same vein, proper standards and movements should be enforced and drilled. Even now, while we introduce the Press in our “Roots” foundations class, the proper way to pick up a bar is being taught even though we’re only working with an 8lb PVC.  And you can be sure we’ll review the proper way to dump a bar before we load it up.  So way before you do 50 kipping pull-ups and 150 kettle bell swings in a WOD, you should be sure you are meeting the standards and using proper technique, from start to finish.
  3. Listen to your body!! If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. So whether it’s a result of poor form, lack of mobility, or an injury, you should stop and figure it out.  And if something doesn’t feel right, do not feel bad about speaking up.  You should never be embarrassed to ask for a substitute exercise or a quick tutorial to make sure you’re doing it right.
  4. Stretching and hydration are your friends.  These are two things many of us don’t do enough of, myself included.  Getting into the box early and working on your mobility.  Stretching and warming up the body parts you are going to be working is integral.  And being sure you are hydrated – whether it’s the height of summer or the dead of winter – will ensure that your body can withstand the punishment you’re putting it through and help your muscles heal afterwards.
  5. Respect the rules of the box.  They are in place for a reason.  Look out for that jump rope or that guy doing a snatch as you walk by.  Pick up that bumper plate and wipe down that floor. Be careful because there is potential for minor and major injuries when you are careless and distracted. 

Like I said, it can seem like there is danger everywhere you look once you leave the safety and comfort of your couch.  But I guarantee that you would be risking your health and life much more by living a sedentary lifestyle.  So take a chance and start moving, but be careful out there.