Workouts Gone Wrong: Ways to Injury-Proof Your Sweat Sessions
Active Thread: Rhabdo, muscle strains, ligament tears, stress fractures
CrossFit is jam-packed with exercises -- squats, pull-ups, box jumps -- done at a high intensity, at a fast pace, and with little rest. There's a lot of room for error, and much of it stems from inexperience.
"You're doing complex, difficult, dynamic, and explosive multijoint exercises in CrossFit that are demanding on the body and require the proper technique," says Scott Levin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in Mount Kisco, New York. He frequently sees muscle strains, particularly in weak or untrained hamstrings and calves; torn ligaments and stress fractures are also on the rise because of CrossFit-type workouts, a study in Current Sports Medicine Reports found.
While Shari Becht's case of rhabdo stemmed from a workout she did on her own, the condition "has been anecdotally associated with extreme exercise programs like CrossFit," says Francis G. O'Connor, MD, a professor of military and emergency medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, and an expert on rhabdo. The CrossFit community is on alert. In 2011, the CrossFit Journal noted "in recent months, there have been a few incidents of rhabdomyolysis ... some of which could have clearly been avoided with more precaution and concern for our newest ... members."
One possible culprit is the pressure on participants to increase intensity and weight too soon. Ultimately, you're responsible for going at your own pace, but you're only as good as the coaches at your gym, says Noal DuBois, the founder of CrossFit Defined in Chicago. "Some gyms celebrate the amount of weight you lift over proper technique and form or brag about how hard their workouts are," he says.
Workout Rescue: Find a good CrossFit gym by asking if they have an "on ramp" program, which introduces you to new movements, teaches form and position, and analyzes any flexibility issues you may have. "Your coach should be invested in you and your well-being and know about past injuries," DuBois says. (Check Yelp.com reviews to get a sense of the prevailing attitude at the gym.) Each exercise should be modified to match your ability. For example, start practicing Olympic lifts (a move in which you lift a barbell from the ground to your shoulders and then overhead) using a PVC pipe before you progress to an unweighted barbell and, finally, to a weighted one. "If your form breaks -- your knees fold in toward each other or your back rolls in -- it's too heavy," DuBois says.
Although rhabdo is rare, it can happen after just one workout, so know these signs: cola-colored urine, severe muscle soreness, swelling beyond what's normal, and a limited range of motion (for example, you can't lift your arms over your head). If you experience any of these symptoms, see a doctor stat. To prevent rhabdo, don't push yourself beyond your abilities. Skip your workout if you're sick (especially if you have aches, chills, or a fever) and resume it slowly after an extended break, as a recent illness may make rhabdo more likely, Dr. O'Connor says. Strength-train the same muscles no more than three days a week to allow them time to recover. And don't pop any performance-enhancing dietary supplements (especially those with caffeine); they may increase your risk of rhabdo.
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