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Can rules and progress play nice in CrossFit?

By April 13, 2012CrossFit, Goals, Jessica


A few weeks ago, I incurred my first semi-injury since starting CrossFit. Nothing serious — a tweaked hamstring — but it hurt and I know it could have easily been much worse. Talking about injury is uncharted territory for me. On one hand, I know it’s just a part of fitness that many people deal with at some point. You play hard and sometimes you get hurt. On the other hand, it still feels like I failed because I made a mistake and suffered a consequence. It’s a humbling reminder that I still new have a lot to learn.

I hurt myself while attempting a max dead lift (80 pounds at the time) during a strength session. I love days we do max lift exercises in CrossFit. For someone who has spent the better part of her life ashamed of her numbers — whether it was that 15 pounds of extra weight, or slow running times — I love even my worst numbers in CrossFit because they are always improving, which means that for better or worse, I’m getting stronger. Even though the dead lift is one of the more mechanically simple lifts we do, lifting exceptional amounts of weight requires close attention to form throughout the entire rep. I didn’t tweak my hamstring while I was lifting the weight, but rather when I was putting it down. I let it down too fast, but tried to hold onto the bar the entire way down when I really should have just let go and let it drop.


My leg is getting better, but the experience has definitely knocked a little wind out of my sail. It has also forced me to look at my lifting and fitness goals with new eyes. One of the biggest reasons I love CrossFit is that for someone as busy as me, I never have to worry about my workouts, they are designed for me. I simply just show up. However, I think I think I took that perk further than I should have. Proper understanding of my movements, as well as a proactive role in my own rest and recovery (which is just as important as the workout) is my responsibility and I had dropped the ball. I realize now that I made not one, but several mistakes along the way.

Kaitlin and I

So I decided to give myself some rules — guiding principles — to make sure I’m not going too hard or too fast and that my recovery time is as productive as my workouts. Some people my not need to formalize such things, but I do, as I am very much the type to constantly push to do more and better at something, even if it is to a fault. Here are a few of the guidelines I’ve given myself:

  1. Never increase weight before a WOD Because WODs tend to focus on final times or AMRAP and involve multiple types of activity, I now only introduce new, heavier weights in a low-repetition situations to maintain focus on form. As an added precaution, I don’t introduce the new weight into a WOD until I’ve done it in 2-3 strength sessions without failing.
  2. Never lift cold: I never lift my current max weight, or even my previous max weight without a warm-up, slowly easy my way to more difficult weights by adding them incrementally until I reach my max or the prescription for the session. For example, my new thruster max (is that Jason Khalipa!? — inside joke) is 65 pounds. To get there, I first practiced with a PVC pipe, then an empty 35-pound bar, before adding 10-pound weights, and finally the 5-pound weights. At each increment, I practiced my thrusters by doing 3-5 reps.
  3. Don’t go in blind:As good as any trainer can explain an exercise in the several minutes before a WOD, it’s never enough to be fully prepared. Be proactive and preemptive and not only learn proper form, but the pitfalls for injury as well. You might be surprised to learn that small tweaks in form can not only help you avoid injury, but improve performance! And it’s easy, there are literally hundreds of resources out there, from YouTube demonstrations, to support forums. Never be afraid to ask for help!
  4. One rest day for every two workouts: This is really a matter of personal preference, but for my body’s needs, as well as my experience level, I never exercise more than two days without a rest day. There is a point to where exercise becomes overtraining and performance stops improving. Typically our week breaks out like this:


    • Monday: CrossFit
    • Tuesday: CrossFit
    • Wednesday: Rest/Long easy dog walk session
    • Thursday: CrossFit
    • Friday: Rest/Crossfit (if a run is planned for Sunday, I rest)
    • Saturday: Rest
    • Sunday: Rest/Long run (if no CrossFit on Friday)


    Achieving this frequency did not happen overnight. When we first joined CrossFit United in September, we could only handle 2x a week. Around December we moved up to three days a week, and then in February, we moved to 4x a week. Depending on the workouts, sometimes we end up scaling back if we have a particularly tough workout. Luckily, our gym has a somewhat consistent ebb and flow to the workout schedule, so tougher workouts, like Hero WODs typically fall on Saturdays, etc.

  5. When in doubt – know how to drop it safely: For me at least, achieving new weight always comes with several missed passes. When this happens, it is just as important to know how to drop the weight as it is to get it up.
  6. Don’t discount proper mobility and stretching: One of the biggest mistakes I made was to underestimate the importance of proper mobility and stretching exercises. I would show up, do the prescribed warm-up, complete the WOD and walk out the door and resume my day. Not properly taking care of my muscles can easily inhibit the work I put toward them by decreasing my range of motion and increasing my chance for injury. How stupid of me! I now take the time to properly mobilize and stretch not only after workouts, but throughout the day, even on rest days. I especially like the Mobility WOD Series.

I returned to the dead lift last week after taking a few weeks off. I was apprehensive about trying to add weight to my max, but decided to give it a try and PR’d! with no pain! I’ve since beat that PR and can now dead lift a whopping (for me) 150 pounds! Carol, one of my fellow CrossFitters was sweet enough to take some video of my 135-lb lift. It’s a proud moment to not only say I can lift the weight, but that my experiences — both good and bad — are making me feel like the well-rounded athlete I’ve always wanted to be.