This is a rebuttal to Josh Bunch’s article, It’s CrossFit and It’s Going to Hurt:
I still remember the day my CrossFit coach yelled at me to quit. Twice. We’d spent the first part of the workout testing our deadlift 1RM. I was angry and frustrated. I’d lost a lot of weight over the previous six months and the loss of those thirty pounds had a significant impact on my deadlift. No matter how hard I tried, that barbell was not coming off the floor.
Impulsively, trying not to cry, I started to lift it. Mitch’s voice came screaming across the gym, “Shannon! Chest up!” He walked over and we talked about form, how my lower back was starting to ache, and knowing when to stop before bad form led to an injury. It was time to quit.
The next part of the workout involved kettlebell swings. Every time the kettlebell swung up over my head, I felt a sharp pain in my lower back. I winced. After a handful of swings, Mitch was back.
“Drop the kettle bell, you’re done,” he said.
He gave me mobility exercises to do while the rest of the class finished the workout, and more to do later at home. We modified my workouts for a week or two, and I was back to my old self in no time.
Mitch, literally, had my back. I was grateful. I knew it could have been much worse.
I thought of this workout the other week when I read Josh Bunch’s essay, It’s CrossFit and It’s Going to Hurt. As CrossFitters, we wear pain like a badge of honor. It’s a sign our muscles are getting stronger, our bodies more flexible, and we‘ve pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone.
But there’s a difference between the aches and pains of a good workout and an injury. An athlete saying, “I’ve never felt pain like this,” should have been a red flag for Bunch. It should have stopped a coach in his tracks. He should have talked to her: What exactly did she feel? Where did it hurt? What was she doing when it started? Was the movement appropriate for her to do in the first place?
Did he really let her just walk out the door?
I came to CrossFit completely out of shape. I had two young kids and hadn’t worked out in over a year. Before my kids were born I was a very slow runner with a handful of 5Ks and a half marathon under my belt. I wanted to do more, I needed to do more, but I had no idea where to start. I would never have even picked up a barbell on my own, because I was terrified of doing it wrong and getting hurt. I needed a coach, and I wanted a community. CrossFit provided both.
I can’t risk getting hurt. I’m a stay-at-home mom to two children. I need to be able to care for them, carry loads laundry, push a vacuum, walk through the grocery store, and drive a car. I want to be an active mother who can run and play with her kids – it’s why I CrossFit. A major injury affecting my ability to do any of those things means more than a break in my training. It’s a serious financial problem for my husband and our family. It would drastically change the lives of my children.
That risk makes me cautious in my workouts, certainly, but it’s also why I choose to belong to a CrossFit gym. I trust my trainers to guide me through difficult movements, to watch my form, give me cues, and help me understand when I’m not doing something right. I trust them to plan workouts that will leave me fatigued, but not at risk for an overuse injury. I usually stop myself if something doesn’t feel right, but I also count on my trainers to save me from my own ego when my pride is stronger than my common sense.
Trainers aren’t helping their clients if they don’t fully appreciate this. Most CrossFit clients are not athletes first. They’re parents, spouses, office workers, laborers, law enforcement officers, and soldiers. If they get hurt, there can be far-reaching, life-changing consequences.
Essays like Bunch’s don’t speak well for CrossFit, either. In my social circles outside the box I constantly fight misconceptions about our sport. Many, many people are fearful of an injury that would threaten their ability to work and a lead full life. My friends in healthcare always have a story of a patient with a serious CrossFit injury. Other people talk about an injured “friend of a friend.” For every “Amy,” there are co-workers, family members, and friends who will hear her story and make up their minds against CrossFit. I can talk about the training my coaches have, how you can scale a workout, and my own injury-free experience, but it usually makes no difference.
I may be more sensitive to this than most people. My mother is disabled, and has been for decades. I’ve seen, firsthand, what it’s like to lose your physical abilities. She’s supportive of CrossFit, and loves that I’m strong, but worries I’ll suffer an injury that will render me disabled. Every time a story like this goes viral, I have to reassure her my coaches don’t want to put me in the hospital.
I love that CrossFit considers every client an athlete. I love that our community shows the same support and enthusiasm for beginners, top competitors, and everyone in between. But trainers need to understand there is a difference between the two. Most of us are looking for functional fitness – a program that will enrich our lives, keep us healthy, and challenge us mentally. We embrace the normal aches and pains that come with it, but we trust our coaches not to flippantly put our health at risk. If I felt any of my coaches saw injuries as a regular and acceptable part of my training, I’d walk out the door and never look back.