Ask the Doc: How Sustainable is CrossFit?

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Ask the Doc: How Sustainable is CrossFit?

The intrinsic and extrinsic motivation that is fostered in the gym drives us to push harder and try and achieve more every day, whether it is during a WOD or in everyday life.
How sustainable is CrossFit? Will this so-called fad be around for years to come? Can people continue to work out this way and not slowly fall apart due to injury? These are questions that we’ve come across a lot, especially from other healthcare professionals and outsiders who have never done CrossFit before. Although we all want to scream “yes!” and rally everyone to join, it’s a tough question to answer to make that “yes” convincing without the right back-up info. Our Docs in the Ask the Doc column have a lot of different opinions and experiences, so we wanted to all come together and help support the sport that we all love by answering the question: “Is CrossFit sustainable?”

Missy Albrecht DPT, CSCS, FMS

Missy AlbrechtI was drawn into my first CrossFit gym in 2010 and was coaching by the end of the year. I received my doctorate in physical therapy in 2011 and began helping CrossFitters prevent and treat injuries. I’m currently starting to see athletes at the gym who have been at the gym either the same length as me or longer. Most are coming to me with nagging injuries that they admit to not taking care of right away — they are either hoping the injuries will go away, or they rest for a week and never take the time to figure out the initial cause so the injury comes back to haunt them every few months. What’s a little bit of pain now and then anyways? A few of the athletes also have not taken a break since they started in 2010, 2009, 2008, etc. Beyond not correcting mobility issues, faulty movement patterns, and old/new injuries, I think a major issue that is surfacing (or maybe it’s been happening for a while) is that athletes are not taking the necessary breaks their bodies need. Do professional athletes take breaks from their sport? Yes. Do competitive CrossFitters take breaks from their sports? Yes, most of the athletes you see competing in the Games do.

How do Games athletes train?

What gets lost is the fact that an intense sport has become mainstream, which means that non-competitive athletes are able to participate and attempt to train at a similar level as the professionals. (Which is cool, don’t get me wrong!) But because the non-competitive athletes don’t necessarily have a competition they are training for and then resting after, they don’t really get that rest/recovery time (periodization). They just keep going and keep training until their body finally says, “Enough!” through a dreaded injury.
[I]nstead of telling the athletes to take 1-2 weeks off and find something else to do, they can stay within the community and rest their bodies through a variety of different exercises and maybe incorporate a few alternatives into their normal routine to stay healthy…
I believe the answer to this (after solving ALL mobility, movement pattern and/or injury issues) is incorporating other avenues of exercise for these athletes to rest from CrossFit but still stay active. I’m a big fan of active recovery. The challenge sometimes is pulling the athlete away from the gym, community and workout that they love so much. Using my own gym (CrossFit Southbay) as an example, we are trying to cater to these needs by incorporating yoga, Pilates, running, swimming, and spin into our gyms so that athletes have options. We also have a few de-load weeks, but I’m not sure if that’s enough for everyone. So now instead of telling the athletes to take 1-2 weeks off and find something else to do, they can stay within the community and rest their bodies through a variety of different exercises and maybe incorporate a few alternatives into their normal routine to stay healthy (yoga has been my favorite balance 1-2x/week). I’ve seen a few other gyms with these options and believe it may be an excellent way to help keep CrossFit sustainable. If you don’t have the luxury of having these options, research your area and find some local places where you or your athletes can incorporate variety and/or take breaks. If we want to keep this sport going (because we all love it) we need to treat it as the extreme sport that it is and be willing to give our bodies a break!

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