As restrictions ease in certain regions, gyms too will be reopening. I’m sure most of us can’t wait to get back into our groove!
After months of being away from the gym, our tissues and nervous system are likely not used to our usual training demands even if we have done home workouts. Our bodies need time to adjust if we want to avoid injury.
One of the more common mechanisms for injury is acutely increasing the intensity or volume of training. Essentially, going too hard, too fast. Although it is impossible to completely prevent injury, injury risk can be reduced! Better yet, our bodies are pretty amazing and with the right dosage of exercise we can safely get back to rebuilding our fitness.
I wrote this blog to help steer you in the right direction when you get back so you can return to the activities you love without the headache of getting injured along the way.
MANAGE THE INTENSITY
Intensity can be modified in three ways: 1) load, 2) speed, and/or 3) volume.
1. REDUCE THE LOAD
Imagine back to when you first started CrossFit. If you were like me, you may have had some experience with weightlifting. Was I doing a max clean and jerk on day one? Heck no. I worked my way up to heavier weights as I learned the movements and mastered the mechanics first. Slow and gradual increases in load allow the body to adapt to higher intensity and higher volume exercises.
“As important as intensity is, it is even more important to understand the application of it. The level of intensity at which a person works needs to be appropriate relative to their physical and psychological tolerances. That is, the intensity at which someone should work is always and only relative to that individual. As long as someone is working near the limits of their capacity, they will find the same increased benefits from the program whether they are an elite athlete or simply trying to maintain functional capacity for independent living. The important metric to track is not the absolute output of the athlete but rather their output today relative to what they were capable of last week, last month, or last year. If the relative intensity is rising over time and across many different workouts, it follows that the athlete is becoming fitter.” - CrossFit.com
A simple way to monitor intensity is through the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) and session REP (sRPE). Simply, this is a self-reported measure of how your workout felt and can be used as a surrogate marker of exercise intensity. My recommendation is to start somewhere conservative so your intensity hovers no more than a 6-7/10. Alternatively, this means you should have roughly 3-4 repetitions left in the tank.
MASTER THE BASICS
“Technique is an intimate part of safety, efficacy, and efficiency.” – Crossfit.com
I can’t stress enough how important it is to focus on lifting modest loads and coaching yourself through proper technique. As a former gymnast, I would train technique for months before I was even allowed to attempt bigger skills. It’s no different in this case. It takes time to build tissue resiliency and I would even argue it would be prudent to take a few months to train at reduced loads to re-train your brain how to move the loads you were previously used to training.
Now is the time to focus on (re)learning how to properly move. This is your chance to rewire your brain to the muscles that haven’t touched a barbell, dumbbell or rig in months. As exciting as it may be to get back to throwing out kipping pull ups, handstand push ups and snatches out of the gates, take a second, step back and focus on how first got there. Not by skipping steps. But by moving through progressions and demonstrating ownership of the skill with minimal to no (ideal) compensation and consistently.
As a rule of thumb, always follow the charter of mechanics, consistency, intensity.
2. DECREASE THE SPEED
Imagine when you first learned how to drive a car or ride a bike. After learning how to start the car or begin pedalling we don’t hit the pedal and find out top speed. We first learn how to maneuver and finesse our technique so we don’t make an error. The same thing applies when it comes to our workouts. As athletes our job is to demonstrate sound mechanics before we add speed. So, in case you get asked to slow down by your coach, put away the ego and thank them for they are looking out for you because they want you to “own” that movement before you put it into high gear.
3. DECREASE VOLUME
There’s a number of ways we can lower the volume: 1) time, 2) reps/rounds and/or. 3) distance.
Decreasing the volume will also allow your muscles, ligament, and tendons to become acclimatized to the volume. Furthermore, you reduce the risk of feeling excessive soreness and injury.
Let’s say the workout is Cindy:
Sample options for re-prescribing:
A) 10-minute AMRAP of:
5 rings rows
10 push-ups from knees
15 air squats to a target (ball or bench)
B) 15-minute AMRAP of:
5 jumping pull ups
10 push ups from 20’’ box
15 air squats
As you can see these are just 2 examples of how we can modify the workout by both reducing the volume to preserve the stimulus.
4. RE-PRESCRIBE MOVEMENTS
When the prescribed movement can’t be performed it is appropriate to reduce the load before we substitute with another movement. If mechanics or a current injury don’t allow that movement, re-prescribe to something you can perform. For example, if your form breaks down with the snatch when pulling from the ground work from the hang position instead. Or if your shoulder strength isn’t yet able to tolerate handstand push ups from a wall, place your feet on a box and do inverted HSPUs instead. On the rig, practice static hang positions, scapular pull ups and strict movements first to get your shoulders acclimatized to the dynamic tension and forces on the glenohumeral joint prior to getting back into kipping movements.
WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KEEP IN MIND AS I RETURN?
This list is not exhaustive and so many other important variables come into play. Level of soreness the next day, pain, sleep quality, nutrition, and level of fatigue are all important factors that need to be considered.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Bearing all these tips, the overarching recommendation is simple, leave your ego at the door, focus on movement proficiency before you add speed and load, and above all, have FUN!
Written by David Evans, PT, CF-L1, NCCP Level 2 Gymnastics
David is a Physiotherapist and owner of Fitness Forward Physiotherapy. He graduated from McMaster University and has worked on the East Coast of Canada prior to returning to his hometown of Toronto where he now lives and practices. In 2017, he found CrossFit and went on to earn his CF-L1 certification. His practice is evidence based with a fitness forward approach. He is passionate about helping people optimize their health and wellness and regularly practices what he preaches working out at his local box.