Safety first, kids.

I’d like to follow up on last week’s post about why you should not do CrossFit. Yes, there are some people out there who have done CrossFit poorly and gotten hurt. We do it differently at CFM. We want to build you up – not beat you up. Each and every day we focus on stability on a core-to-extremity basis, meaning the first priority is stabilizing your midline (you MUST take great care of your spine), then look to add stability in the hips and shoulders, then outward to the knees/elbows, then down the wrists/ankles. After we achieve stability we then look for “mobility” in the same sequence, looking for braced extension and flexion in universal motor recruitment patterns. This means that your body moves only as much/as fast/as heavy as your body will allow using proper mechanics for each movement. With this approach we’ve seen increased function in athletes who had previously debilitated bodies – to the point that they now thrive.

Regarding movement progressions, our hierarchy of movement is as follows:
1) Stability
2) Range of Motion
3) Volume (amount of reps)
4a) Speed
4b) Load

Let’s use the hierarchy of movement to look at squat (or most foundational movement) for a beginner athlete; we’ll call him Rich Froning.

First we want to see Rich start with a good base, meaning his heels are going to be under his shoulders and his toes pointed slightly out. Why? Because THAT is going to give him the most stability. Then we want to see rich push his hips backward and slightly bend his knees as he initiates his squat. As Rich’s body is moving downward, the first priority is (again) a stable midline. So what if Rich can only go down a little way? Then he should stop, because, you guessed it: he needs to keep a stable midline. He also needs to keep his feet flat, his knees out, his back flat, and hips back. This is all part of #1.

Then, as long as he’s stable, we want Rich to travel as far as he can in his squat. Here’s the deal: we have two standards for range of motion in our squat. The first is a subjective standard: Travel as far as you can while maintaining a stable midline. This is different for everyone. Holly and Gus can squat low and stay stable. Anthony and Jeff can’t quite get as low without their back bending. So, keep your chest up, Rich; you gotta squat with a flat back. The second standard is a hard/objective standard: the crease of the hip should pass below the top of the knee. This is not a matter of opinion – it is a simple matter of fact. I can look at any squat and easily determine if the squat is good, bad, or close. MOST of our athletes are held to this objective standard, because those athletes automatically can apply this objective standard to the hierarchy. SOME of our athletes get a bit of relief; we want them to stop squatting lower if we think it’s unsafe. This subtle difference is something that makes CrossFit Merced’s brand of coaching special.

So, now let’s put Rich into a regular class – and here’s the WOD:

3 Rounds- 500m row / 10 Front Squats (135/95) / 15 pull Ups

We’ll do an assessment on Rich and modify his workout according to the hierarchy above.
1) Stability: Rich has demonstrated that he can do front squats without bending his midline. Check.
2) Range of Motion: Rich has also demonstrated that he can do front squats through enough range of motion that his hip crease is below the top of his knee. Check.
3) Volume: Rich has done a bunch of front squats in last week’s strength portion, so we’re sure Rich can do 30 reps. Check.
4a) Speed: Well now we’re getting into trouble. When Rich goes too fast he is losing stability and range of motion. SLOW DOWN, Rich.
4b) Load: Rich’s front squats look great with 75lbs, but they are bad at 135. SCALE THE WEIGHT, Rich; keep it at 75lbs until your midline gets stronger.

Now that we’ve got Rich all set up we’re going to keep an eye on him, but we’ve also got to watch the rest of the class. We want to make sure that Rich does great reps, but he can see us out of the corner of his eye and he knows when we’re not looking. Understand this: Rich now knows what he’s supposed to do. THE ONUS IS ON RICH to do it right. I’m sorry if it’s hard; I’m sorry if you REALLY want to beat your friends; I’m sorry if you REALLY want to do this wod Rx. We’re always going to try to point you in the right direction, but, once Rich learns how to do good front squats, ITS ON RICH to do it right.

There have been some bumps and bruises, but for the most part, CFM athletes have been very safe. The ones that have a tendency to be safe are the ones that are coachable and have the discipline to back off when they need to. Of the injuries that can happen, we’ve seen it for the following reasons:
1) Not moving as instructed. One time I saw an athlete hurt his knee. 30 seconds before he got hurt the coach told him “Don’t slam your knee into the ground – it’s going to get you hurt. Well, crap.
2) Old injuries exposed. A guy who tore his rotator cuff playing baseball never took care of himself. Then he came in and tried to clean and jerk 200lbs. It didn’t work out well for him.
3) Overuse/deconditioned: An athlete who had an existing Achilles tendon injury hurt himself when he showed up to run a 5k. Note: He didn’t show up to any of the running workouts that we implemented in the 6 weeks before the 5k. The previous workouts were designed to be an accommodating conditioning leading up to the 5k.
4) Accidents happen. This one is the one we see the least, but it’s a huge bummer when it does happen. We always want to steer CFM athletes toward functional movement that isn’t going to lead to injury, but shoot, you’re building yourself a massively functional body. To build this body you have to push yourself. It’s not much different than if you were trying to make yourself the best basketball player possible: you’d play basketball every day. Eventually you’re going to land on somebody’s ankle if you rebound enough basketballs. Does this make basketball bad? No. It makes it a sport.

Like we said last week, the best way to stay completely safe today is going to be to stay on the couch. We all know that there’s a small amount of risk that goes along with a high level of physical exertion. Never forget, though, that if you come in anyway, you’re going to get fitter – and getting fitter eliminates risks. We’re confident that the bumps and bruises we’ve gotten from CrossFit are FAR less damaging than being overweight/being slow/being weak/being tired/being sick. We hope you’re on board with us – we’ll do our best to be responsible in our programming and teaching – you do your best in being awesome. I’m sure we’re all going to be just fine.

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