Sunday, May 09, 2010

Injury, and a few Crossfit mods as a result. Planes.

I injured my back last monday, and made it a lot worse on Thursday. Now, injured is a relative state--I define an injury as anything that keeps me from going 100 percent, or having full function compared to historical levels. My back first "twinged" while doing the 21-15-9 Snatch/chest to bar pullup combo last week. I did it as prescribed, meaning 95 lbs, 'cause I can snatch more than that relatively easily, why not try? I should have scaled way down to do 21 reps of course... So this injury is my own damn fault, as most are. I felt strong on the snatches and pullups, and went hard, especially in the last set, trying to get it unbroken, and set a competitive time (ha!). I let my back round out a bit (OK, a lot), jerked the bar a bit (OK, a lot), and basically did piss-poor quality snatches (true). I was racing the clock, myself, etc., and not focusing on what is for me a technical and complicated lift, the snatch.

My back was darn sore and tender the next day, and not in the good muscle sore way, but it didn't prevent me from working out, and doing a quick paddle session across the Columbia Gorge in my boat (fun in the wind and waves!), as well as a workout at Crossfit Hood River on Wed (thanks for that!). But on Thursday my daughter was using me as a tree, and I was bent over with my back basically parallel with the ground when she jumped forward onto my shoulders. I felt something "pop" or chunk in my lower back where it was already a bit sore, and I've been messed up (barely walking at first but getting better fast) since. My back was strained a little already, my daughter just loaded it up in a weak position. Feels like L2, but hard telling, and harder knowing what is wrong without a lot of testing that likely won't add much to the recovery prescription, which is to go easy for a bit and then re-develop function and strength with time as pain permits. There's not much that can truly be done for back injuries, even surgery (for chronic pain vs. broken bones) has a relatively low success rates. Anyhow, I'm already doing way better, but it's made me think a a lot about about doing complicated strength motions for time (for me--likely just fine for many people, I'm just not real good at moderation).

My only other injury this year was a tweaked shoulder from doing kipping pullups really fast. The kipping swing is brutal on shoulders when you're trying to punch reps out against the clock. Hmm, does my mild kipping shoulder injury have any parallels to my back injury? Racing for time, complicated motion? Hmmm....

What I've learned from this:

1. I'm not going to do any sort of highly technical lift or movement with what is for me relatively heavy weight for time. Lift heavy, go for time, but not at the same time.

2. I will drop the weight to less than half my max on any workout involving a race against the clock. Or less--if the goal is more work then less weight may mean more work...

3. I'm not doing full kipping pullups anymore, it's too temping to use shit technique in order to squeeze fast reps out at the expense of my shoulders. Maybe I'm getting old, but for me the most efficient kipping pullups are done on a "relaxed" and therefore unsupported shoulder, mine don't like that motion at all. I've had almost zero should problems over the years, it was a surprise to have 'em with kipping pullups. I'll still kip, just not full-out butterfly kip, and I'l keep the support muscles of my shoulder engaged, not relax dead-hang style on the swing. If I can no longer support my shoulder I'm getting off the bar until I can. Plus "strict" pullups are more manly, no more swinging around the bar like a d-bag, ha ha!

4. I see a lot of videos of people doing CF workouts with rounded backs, poor squats, chin below the bar, etc. etc. (like I've done!), even on the main site front page. This sort of shit technique obviously helps to get a faster time, but I don't think it's a good idea in the long run, at least for me. I would much rather be a healthy athlete long-term than a faster CFer. You can't perform if you're injured.

5, My first goal for CF workouts is now excellent form. If a rep isn't done in good form then it doesn't count (for me). If my workouts lose ten or even 50 percent of "work" done then I'm fine with that, I fucking hate being injured, and both of my recent injuries have involved racing the clock and using bad form in complicated movements as a result. If you're Rob Orlando then maybe you can round your back with a deadlift of twice your own bodyweight and apparently not suffer injury; me, I'm a skinny-ass climber, that sort of poor form is going to leave me messed up, as it has twice now.

6. I'm not bagging on what anyone else does; give 'er. I love being stronger and more functional, I just want that path to continue and not lose time 'cause I messed myself up. If you can bust out 200 pound snatches for time without injury then you're rad, I just figured out that I'm not at this type of training and have modified my approach as a result.

So, form first!

In other news, life in the Gorge is awesome, I've been out flying a Piper Pacer every day (even with a tweaked back) with Kim's dad, Joe, today we flew around Mt. Hood, fantastic! I can even taxi the thing sorta straight at a walking pace now, that is one twitchy plane. I'm fine in the air, but I'm definitely not going to be taking off or landing it anytime soon. Amazing plane, feels like you're wearing it. The difference between it and a Cessna 172 is the difference between a Ford F-150 and a Lotus. In the spirit of getting slapped down that I'm experiencing this week, I'm no Lotus driver! But I am still having a damn good time, yeah!


olddude said...

Learning experiences are more pleasant in retrospect. In the moment they often suck.I sometimes think you arent human, or at least a different gene pool than me.The upside of your back may be that you continue to write a lot as you have been recently.I find your posts entertaining,informative, and contemplative.The world needs your enthusiasm and wisdom.Thanks.

Anonymous said...

The good thing is that strength mistakes at 40 will help with your training at 60. Technique is most important. Maybe this inconvience will help you advance in other areas of your training. It's best to understand the reason for the injury. Like the old joke says, "Doc it hurts when I do this." Doc says,
Well then, don't do that."

MJT said...

"I felt something "pop" or chunk in my lower back where it was already a bit sore" might have just slipped the facet joint a little bit, then +++ protective muscle spasm. A physio can do a simple manipulation to help things out...

Happens to me about 1-2x per year.

Kim Graves said...


Maybe I’ve said this before, but this is exactly my argument against Crossfit. I did XF for several years and bounced between being in the best shape of my life (and climbing my hardest) and being out of commission injured. I can give you a couple of examples: my XF coach was kind enough to give me private sessions while injured. This was a new XF affiliate and so they were just gearing up. One time a new rowing machine had just come in and he was excited for me to try it out. We went through a half hour of skills training and then he wanted me to do a 600m (or 1200 or whatever). I asked what a “good time” was – he told me – and then I went for it and just missed that time. At the end of next three minutes I had TWO tennis elbows to show for my efforts and another 6-month rehab to add on to the rehab I was already doing. This was deeply stupid on my part but also deeply stupid on my coaches’. There is no way I should have been going for “good time” having just received instruction. Another time we were doing Tabata and I was pacing myself. My coach was furious with me that I wasn’t going all out and refused to work with me for the rest of the day.

Crossfit has an ethic: that there is “honor” in suffering and even being injured. There is even a Crossfit Journal article where Greg Glassman (the original coach) argues that timing and counting everything and competition with yourself/other is integral to improvement. I think this comes out of the military/tactical ops and political orientation of Glassman. What I mean by this is that XF is in a funny way team based. You are part of the XF team and have to keep up with the team. This gives way to doing XF just as an end itself – being a “Crossfit athlete” – rather than as a base for other sports. If you give into this pressure and loose your personal judgment (like a military operative is expected to do) you are bound to get injured because there is nothing saying “stop.”

As a result of all this I’ve given up going to XF classes. I think there is value in doing the WOD by yourself if you can control your “Crossfit ethic impulse” to “be all that you can be.” Instead, “be all that you can be now” and then STOP.

Will Gadd said...

Thanks for the suggestions and comments--yes to all! I'm aiming for more results and less pain, will look into the facet joint release. Getting better.

Kim--Thanks for the thoughts, the contemplating is appreciated and worthwhile to me. Maybe any type of hard training can and often will result in injury. If you're going for big results then you're running risks; if we just walked 30 minutes a day and did a little light stretching we'd all be fine. I don't think CF (or XF? WTF is the right acronym?) leads to more injures necessarily, and I can't blame "group think" as I primarily work out with only one or two other people or on my own. It does sound like your CF coach was a real dick who was confusing motivation with some sort of personal ego trip, good riddance to him. There are good and bad coaches in every sport, I've fired a few over the years (and I've done a poor job of it occasionally too, hopefully I've learned!).

I've injured myself training hard in my garage all alone at night... I just haven't done it lately, grrr... I'm getting a little more suspect of the CF group workout as Kim is now out with a back issue too, but hard to blame that specifically. And yes on Crossfit becoming an end unto itself; there is still a little dissonance in my mind between Crossfit and the rest of my sports. I think many CFers become just that to the exclusion of all else, even if they say they are using CF to train for something else. CF in general will not make anyone a better sports-specific athlete (unless the sport looks a lot like CF), but if you can stay relatively injury free then it will make fitter athletes...

Anyhow, good thoughts, and agreed, I'm not getting any older, ha!!