I was scrolling through Instagram a while ago and came across a photo that really resonated with me. The reason for this is because it’s something I preach about a lot.
It’s nice seeing that even world class athletes, like the guys at Westside Barbell, care about the injury rate of a training program. Westside Barbell is famous globally for squatting, benching, and deadlifting massive amounts of weight. If guys who perhaps sometimes throw caution to the wind to set world records care about injury rates, then shouldn’t every gym owner? It stands to reason, if people are injured then they aren’t training. Being injured is detrimental to their health and fitness goals, as well as the reputation and financial success of the gym.
For the average person, the first thing to consider when undertaking any training or exercise program should be safety. If it’s safe, it’s sustainable. And if it’s sustainable, you’ll see nice results. The same goes for a diet or nutrition plan – if not done sustainably this can be detrimental to health in the medium to long term. We often see on social media the benefits of training and the success stories, which is good if it motivates someone to get off the couch and take action to improve their health. But sometimes when you delve beneath the surface, you see something quite shocking.
What good is it if for every success story, like a client losing 20kg in 6 months, there’s ten people who have sustained shoulder injuries, rendering them unable to carry on with the training? You often won’t see the latter, and no one likes to talk about that of course. I speak to physiotherapists and people in the health profession quite often, and they unfortunately see the latter rather frequently with CrossFit.
Not every movement is appropriate for every person, and unfortunately some common CrossFit movements are not appropriate for most people. Some come from the sport of CrossFit and are not optimal or safe for people working 9-5 desk jobs, and some may be included for the sake of “variety;” but just because you can do something doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good idea to have your entire gym do it. I think the issue is people don’t like to ask the simple question of “why.” Why is this movement included? “Because other gyms do it this way” isn’t a very well-thought-through answer.
We started off with the question “How do I know this movement is going to be safe for my customers?” Before opening up My CrossFit, we consulted with multiple physiotherapists and experts in the field and we went through every common CrossFit movement to categorise it as always safe, never safe, or safe under certain conditions (e.g. good form). As a result of this exercise we removed certain movements that are common in most CrossFit gyms. Some common CrossFit movements simply aren’t ideal for normal people. Others may be safe when done in moderation and with appropriate underlying strength and flexibility/mobility. Others still may be safe if done at an appropriate load, but encouraging people to add weight before they are ready or to lift weight with sub-optimal form is an injury waiting to happen.
I like to think we’ve brought CrossFit back to its roots – as a training program designed to get the average person as fit as possible, as quickly as possible, safely. Before the focus on the CrossFit Games which caused the majority of gyms to try and turn every person who walks through the doors into a weekend warrior competitive CrossFitter, there was pure CrossFit.
For those who do not know, the co-founder of the gym, Ellie Hagopian, used to be quite the local CrossFit competitor. She won Fittest in Cape Town as an individual, was part of a team that won United We Stand in Durban, and even went to the CrossFit Games on a team in 2012. Not only has she adapted her own training to align with the gym’s philosophies, but when friends in other parts of the country or world ask her about joining CrossFit, she no longer recommends it unless she can personally vouch for not only the quality of the coaching, but of the program design of the gym as well. “Normal CrossFit” as it’s usually practiced is associated with a high injury rate for a reason. It’s not a flaw in CrossFit, it’s a flaw in the application of CrossFit.
I’m quite proud to say that we have an extremely low injury rate, next to non-existent. Yes, the odd person gets a slight tweak, or a sprain here and there, but that’s just a part of exercise in general. I’ve entered a field – CrossFit – that is associated with a high rate of injury, but so much of it can be prevented with the right approach. One year into our gym’s existence, and all the work we’ve implemented into ensuring safety is the #1 concern is paying off, and our injury rate speaks to that.
When looking for a new gym, instead of looking at the flashy success stories, or the prices, look at the injury rate. That really should be the determining factor on whether you should pick that facility or not. If you find that this post has made you feel defensive about your own training, especially if you have been injured before, maybe this is a good time for you also to ask why. Being injured is no fun for anyone. Shouldn’t training be designed to give you the results you want without injury?