Can a coach completely prevent injuries?

Yesterday sucked for me as a CrossFit coach, but not as bad as one of the athletes in one of the classes I was coaching.

Sylvia is, um, experienced? She has more experience at life than most of the folks at my box and we have a lot of folks who are in their 30’s and even a few more in their 40’s and Sylvia has more life experience than any of them. She is awesome. She is very athletic and has kept herself in great shape and has quite the engine. Her squat depth isn’t quite below parallel on a consistent basis and she has a tough time going overhead, but she does awfully freaking well considering all of her life experience.

In 14.3 (I think that was the deadlift/box jump WOD) Sylvia made it to the round of 185 and pulled 185 four times – that is a PR x4 for her. She told me yesterday morning that she had a bad sciatic nerve issue after giving birth and is always worried about her back. I know the feeling as I had a bad sciatic nerve issue, too, when I was much heavier. I shied away from deadlifts for years for fear of hurting my back. In my black book I have my first deadlift max as 185 and I have kept improving and now it stands at 365. My point is that Sylvia is a fighter and pushes herself.

On Monday’s our box likes to have “Max Effort Monday’s” in which typically body weight exercises or very light weight barbells are used for one minute intervals for max reps. The WOD typically lasts more than 30 minutes but half of that is built in rest as it is 1:1 work interval. Yesterday’s WOD had one minute of overhead squats, one minute rest, one minute strict situps, one minute rest, one minute hang power snatch, one minute rest, one minute double-unders, one minute rest – repeated four times. In the third round of hang snatches Sylvia dropped her 35 pound bar (no weight on the bar) and could barely move. Her back had locked up.

Most of us know the feeling, I certainly do. It sucks. Bad. Aside from actually breaking or tearing something I cannot imaging anything else hurts more.

I had just watched her do two snatches and she looked good. Her back was straight, weight on her heals and she had a good explosion against the floor and while she had a bit of a press at the top of the “snatch” her form looked good. Nothing rounding, no tippy toes, no over-extension of the back at the top. Looked good. Then she locks up.

In talking to her after I tried to help her slowly walk off the floor to somewhere she could lean to rest, she said she thought she loosened her core before that snatch that hurt her. No matter, I feel completely responsible.

Our gym has had a few injuries recently. Yesterday morning another athlete was telling me her lower back hurt prior to our warmup and that she might have a partially torn bicep. She thought of a WOD last week that she believes hurt her back. There is another guy who has been out of the gym for a few weeks due to a bad back and he hurt it in the middle of a WOD, too. Another was telling me this morning that she has a knot in her leg and it has been there since 14.5. All too often people come and people go.

Is it something we are doing as trainers? I hope not! But I am not sure how to measure that.

These are all 30-somethings that sit all day at work and sitting has been known to be horrible for your body. Doing CrossFit is the exact opposite of sitting. The guy who hurt his back during a WOD reportedly (I was told second hand yesterday morning) that he jumped right into 95# thrusters without warming up (and 95 is somewhat heavy for this athlete). A few more who tell me of injuries and then tell me of the WOD they think they hurt themselves I often wonder if the actual breaking point isn’t just that – the moment when their body finally gives in. They may be sitting with horrible posture all day, picking things up off of the floor rounding their backs and when they add a little stress (in the form of weight) to their day-to-day lives their body just can’t handle it.

All of the cases above scale routinely. We don’t throw them into heavy weights when we know they cannot handle it. What else can we do as trainers to limit injuries? There have been cases in which we have explicitly told someone NOT to do something (a movement or add weight) and they do so anyway and end up getting hurt. Should we kick them out of the gym if they want to keep adding weight or doing something we think they shouldn’t be doing? I guess the answer to that question is “yes”?

I have told some of the ladies over and over again that they need a strict pullup before getting on a green band and flailing with their feet in a “kip” just to get their first chin-over-the-bar “pullup” and they continue to grab that green band after class and “kip” and yank and wrench at their shoulders and, sure enough, one of them hurt their shoulder a month ago or so (thankfully not bad and not enough to keep her out of the gym, but it still bothers her a month later because she continues to wrench on it trying to kip).

Would an on-ramp class help? In the case of those who come and go, I would say yes, but the injuries I have seen are to those who have been CrossFitting for well over a month.

Is this just a side effect to training with intensity? I would like to think not. I would like to think that all of these people just want to be healthier or not feel as guilty when they have their third beer on Friday night. They aren’t competitors, not even weekend warrior competitors at local competitions, just people who want to lose weight or be in better shape. Why can’t they come to CrossFit and be assured they will not get hurt?

The biggest question – would they get hurt anyway? Would they get hurt at 24 Hour? But, would they be doing the same work? Would those ladies be aspiring to get a pullup if they had never met CrossFit in the first place? Or would they just be happy doing lat pull downs on a machine?

I can’t help but feel guilty….but then I also feel like I did my job and I am not sure I could do anything different. This is why I have a blog, sometimes I just need to get my thoughts onto “paper” and see what comes of it. I think the solution is to keep doing what I am doing and I think people getting hurt is inevitable and I just need to keep doing what I do to try my best to prevent that, without limiting peoples progression.

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