So something went awry at the gym today. Maybe you deterred ever so slightly from your form on your deadlift and felt something tweak. Or maybe you woke up this morning and something is feeling just a little more than “sore” from yesterday’s squat session. Or maybe it was something more serious. Maybe you landed the wrong way on a box jump tearing a ligament or caught a clean wrong causing you to break your wrist. Whatever you’ve done, there’s no doubt about it that you’re injured. The pain your feeling is not your body telling you that you’re merely sore from yesterday’s workout, but that something is really wrong. Whether it’s a tweak in the back or a broken bone, we all deal with injury. As athletes and as humans, injury is almost as inevitable as waking up every morning.
Unfortunately, as athletes, and especially as crossfitters, we get a lot of grief for our injuries. When people see your crutches or your cast, they’ll probably shake their head and mutter something along the lines of “that crossfit” or “I told you so.” However, the truth is that unless you lie motionless on your couch for the remainder of your life, there is absolutely no way to avoid injury. Injury can come from walking down the stairs or stepping off the curb the wrong way. And while it is true that athletes have a higher probability of injury, the long term health benefits and the love of the sport often times outweighs that potential for injury in our decisions to play.
So what do you do when injury comes knocking, or rather bangs down your door and puts your athletic endeavors on pause?
First things first is to rest at even the slightest development of injury. This doesn’t mean you need to spend your day on the couch bingingOrange is the New Black the moment you feel even the dullest sign of pain in your back, but rather that the twinge in your back that doesn’t seem to fall onto the spectrum of soreness means you probably shouldn’t max out your deadlift today even if your program calls for it. Instead, mobilizing and maybe working in some LIGHT (and I genuinely mean light”) deadlifts if you can and then moving onto something else that doesn’t put high amounts of stress on your back. If you’ve already bypassed this initial sign of injury and have a full blown tear or break or even a sprain or a pull, then rest is an absolute necessity. Your body needs to take the time to recover and repair itself and it can’t do that if you’re continuing to break it down. Know that depending on the severity of the injury, you may need to rest for a while to allow the injury to recover. While you probably won’t have to spend the next few months completely out, it may mean no lifting or no running (depending on your injury) for a while. Stick to this. If your doctor told you and be a good patient. You are doing absolutely nothing for yourself by sneaking out for a morning run the day after your doctor told you no running.
This brings up another important point. See a doctor. Too often, I coach athletes who come in telling me that they think they have a torn muscle or some sort of tendonitis, and when I ask them if they’ve been to the doctor, they shrug their shoulders and inform me that they just know, because they talked to “Jim” in the 5:30 class who tore his hamstring 2 years ago and had the same kind of pain. While you don’t need to make a beeline to your doctor at every little twinge, if you think something really is wrong, it’s important to get to the doctor, chiropractor or the physical therapist as fast as possible. While some injuries are easy to self diagnose, ie. broken bones, others can not be so obvious. I had an athlete a few years ago who thought he had torn his meniscus, and when he finally went to the physical therapist after a few weeks of my incessant, daily nagging, it turned out that the excruciating knee pain he was experiencing while squatting stemmed from an underlying issue that had been brewing over the course of several months. My point, is that you cannot accurately diagnose and plan your recovery without an official assessment and diagnosis from an accredited doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist. While you and your coach can speculate as much as you would like, for the most part (with a few exceptions), coaches are not doctors and therefore not able to give you an official diagnosis. I often get asked what I think people’s injuries are and while my experience as an athlete and a coach allows me to offer a fairly good guess at what it might be, there is absolutely no way I can tell you for sure what you actually have and I cannot offer you a method for repairing and recovering your injury. Not only that, but asking the physical therapist or doctor who’s in the 5:30 class with you does not take the place of getting in the car and dragging your butt to your doctor’s office. While they can probably diagnose you in the back by the OLY plates, you really need to see them in a professional environment where they have the proper tools (ie. x-rays) and time to diagnose and lay out a treatment plan for you.
Once you have received your official diagnosis and have your treatment plan laid out, you need to follow it. This doesn’t just mean resting when your doctor tells you to, it means showing up for your physical therapy and doing the exercises at home. While they probably won’t be as fun as Fran or Murph, they are just as important and will only help you to come back stronger and faster than before. Believe it or not, your therapist probably knows what he or she is doing and each exercise serves an explicit purpose. Take all that energy you would normally spend on your training, and hyper-focus it into your recovery. You’ll only reap benefits in the long run by taking the time to properly recover and rehab your body.
Lastly, you need to deal with your injury psychologically. As Crosfitters, we tend to believe we are unstoppable and invincible and an injury can quickly shatter that illusion. It can be easy to become frustrated and upset that your injury has taken away your physical outlet and watching people continue to progress and PR without you can make it even more frustrating. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do. Work on your weaknesses. A broken wrist can bring about the perfect opportunity to improve those pistols that you’ve been putting off and a sprained ankle opens a window for improved handstand pushups and pullups. Commit yourself to improving the weaknesses in your game that aren’t affected by your injury and work with a coach in your gym to lay out a plan for the next few months that you’ll be out of commission. Another important thing to do, is to take this time to pursue other interests and hobbies outside of crossfit. Take that art or cooking class you’ve always wanted to take, or actually read the book you’ve been meaning to read for the past few years. Take advantage of this time to explore your other interests and desires. Sometimes we get so caught up in our world of lifting and crossfit that we forget there’s a whole other world out there just waiting for us to explore.
Finding your way back once your injury has healed can be tough. Once you get the all clear from your doctor to make your comeback, it can be easy to dive headfirst into training with the intention of “making up” for all your “lost time.” Don’t. Take it back slow. Rushing back into training with the expectation that you will pick up right where you left off will only lead to frustration and possibly another injury. Instead, understand that you have been injured and that it will take time to get back to where you were before. Take on the mindset of what I like to call the “experienced beginner.” You are starting your crossfit experience once again with a clean slate. And yet, if we look carefully at the edges of the slate are the markings of experience and wisdom that you have learned from your injury and experiences. It’s a chance to start again, but also the chance to take what you have learned and move forward.
Kaylyn Wiese has been CrossFitting of more than five years and has been competing against athletes from across the country since age 16. She currently coaches and trains in Boston at CrossFit Coolidge Corner and is a sophomore at Boston College studying business and data analytics. Find her on Instagram @kaylynwiese and Twitter @kaylyn_wiese.