Preventing Shoulder Injury in CrossFit

It’s Your Responsibility to Avoid Injury

People love to bash CrossFit. In my experience, the most common critique relates to the high rate of injury. I won’t even argue that people don’t injure themselves more often in CrossFit than they do in a globogym. Unfortunately, I’ve learned first-hand that it’s true that participants push themselves past their limits in CrossFit. The other side of the coin is that CrossFit can take a decent athlete and make her great or take a total lazy-ass who hates exercise and make it fun for him, challenging and motivating him to achieve a healthy level of fitness.

Bearing that in mind, there’s only so much your coaches and boxes can do to prevent you from injuring yourself. You have to know the difference between a pushing that will help you achieve elite fitness and a pushing that will lead to injury. In some exercises, that’s easy. In others I’ve found it to be more difficult. Especially while in the middle of a WOD and my heart rate is jacked and my endorphines are masking all signs of pain that might develop from poor movement, it’s not until the workout is over that I might feel any pain.

About 4 weeks in to my CrossFit career I injured my shoulder and this is how I could have prevented it.

Your Hips Can Write a Check That Your Shoulders Can’t Cash.

It all starts with the Kip. A Kip is a gymnastics movement. Integration of gymnastics movements is one of my favorite components of CrossFit’s programming. It balances the OMG Not Again feeling of the barbell and Olympic Lifts with a playground-esque feeling that makes the WODs tons of fun.

Back to the kip. The kip is the term for a horizontal movement of the hips applied to vertical movements performed while hanging from a bar or rings. Take a look at this video of the Kipping Pull-Up or this one of the Kipping Toe-to-Bar to get a better idea of what the kip does.

One of my first CrossFit instructors told me to be careful with the kip. His exact words were “Your hips will write a check your shoulders can’t cash.”

Sadly I wish I had asked him to elaborate.

A Nagging Pinch Somewhere In My Shoulder

While I’m not 100% sure when my shoulder problem started, I think it was probably a rotator cuff impingement from sleeping. If you sleep on your shoulder wrong for too long, the bones in your shoulder can pinch one of the heads of your rotator cuff causing a sharp pain while performing overhead or shoulder rotating movements.

Starting with this small nagging pain that I didn’t listen to, I continued going to CrossFit WODs and eventually was prescribed a lovely 20 minute AMRAP of:

I have a lot of back strength and a lot of hip strength so I can knock out quite a few kipping pull-ups before getting tired. But 20 minutes of c2b (chest-to-bar pull-ups) and I quickly reached my limits. What happens when you fatigue during kipping pull-ups is you rely on your hips to get you up to the bar, thrusting them powerfully. The key to a good kipping pull-up is to push away from the bar at the top using your chest, not unlike a pushup, which transfers the vertical drop to a horizontal movement and helps you drive up again on the next rep. When you’re fatigued, this “push off of the bar” is the first thing to go. You get up to the top of the bar and then you just fall down to a hang position. This is the point where you should get off the friggin’ bar, take a breather and start again. Your body isn’t going to tell you that you’re ruining your shoulders while you’re doing this but you are.

Always Keep Your Shoulders Engaged

When performing any kipping exercise you want your arm-pits opened at the bottom of the rep and closing inwards when you drive up to the top of the pull-up. More importantly, when you lower from the top to the bottom you should be using your shoulders to control the movement so you’re not applying detrimental force to the structure of your shoulder. Open the sockets of your arm-pits in a controlled manner at the bottom of the pull-up as your body moves forward. This doesn’t mean you can’t do it fast–just make sure it’s controlled. If you find yourself losing that control, you’ll notice that your lowering phase will become a dropping phase. Avoid that and you’ll keep your shoulders in fighting shape.

Learn from my mistake. If your shoulders fatigue while performing toe-to-bars or pull-ups, get off the bar and take a breather. Don’t go nuts with the kipping.

Rehabbing the Shoulders

While I will be having my shoulder looked at tomorrow by a sports medicine doctor, in the meantime I’ve taken to these measures to rehab it and avoid further injury.

  1. Rest. I’ve stayed away from all overhead movements including pullups, presses, handstands, etc. It sucks but it’s giving me a chance to work on my olympic and power lifts.
  2. Mobility. Hopefully this is a no-brainer. I’m rolling it out with lacrosse balls and stretching what I can with bands.
  3. No Ice, no NSAIDs. If you haven’t heard that Icing is terrible, read this post by KStar or watch this video on YouTube. The same goes for Advil, Tylenol and all other NSAIDs. “Seriously, do you honestly believe that your body’s natural inflammatory response is a mistake?”
  4. Vitamins and Supplements. I’ve upped Vitamin C by a factor of 3 and started taking Collagen. Collagen is the natural protein that makes up most of the fibrous tissues in your body including tendon, ligament and skin, and is also abundant in cornea, cartilage, bone, blood vessels, the gut, and intervertebral disc. Generally, anything you can do to increase your body’s ability to heal will help you rehab a shoulder injury.
  5. Exercises I’ve identified some exercises to help rehab the shoulder but prior to having a good diagnosis I’m going to continue with rest.
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3 thoughts on “Preventing Shoulder Injury in CrossFit

  1. Pingback: Injury by CrossFit | From the Flight Deck

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