3 Tips to Staying Injury-Free in CrossFit

Today’s CrossFit tips post is from Estelle Townshend, creator of Strong in a Thong and Luminate Retreat. If you’re getting into CrossFit, these tips about how to stay injury-free are a must-read!

So you’ve heard about CrossFit. You’ve seen awesome, sexy photos of women working out with six packs and about one percent of body fat. Strong is the new sexy. YOU GET IT. You are curious and tempted to give it a go, but hesitant because you read an article recently that was titled in bold: “CROSSFIT WILL INJURE YOU.” This article may be a little blown out of proportion, but not completely fictional either. As a former collegiate rower and a certified CrossFit coach, I have seen all kinds of athletes injure themselves, myself included, and it is almost always for the same reason.

Lack of patience and lack of mobility work. Always.

As someone who lives with a “bad” shoulder and “tweaked” hip, I cannot stress enough how important it is to be patient. If you are going to give CrossFit a whirl (it is a fantastic way to get in shape, meet amazing people and build a strong community), please keep just these three things in mind!

Credit: Antonio Pandolfo

Don’t neglect your flexibility in CrossFit! Credit: Antonio Pandolfo

3 CrossFit Tips to Stay Injury-Free

1. Do not kip until you can do a strict pull-up. I learned this the hard way. When you are watching all of these magnificent athletes run around like magical unicorns, you want to look just as cool. Pulling out your little resistance band during a workout can just seem downright awkward — even more so when the band springs back and hits you in the face.

If you haven’t tried the sport yet, you might not understand what this means. A kipping pull-up is a gymnastic movement where you use the momentum of your body to swing yourself high enough to get your chin over a pull-up bar. A strict pull-up is when you pull yourself up to the bar from a dead-hang position and only use your upper-body strength to get there. (Michelle from My Journey RX has written a great article addressing the strict vs. kipping pull-up debate if you want to learn more.)

The issue of kipping before you can do a strict pull-up isn’t that kipping will always lead to injury. Poor form, lack of mobility and fatigue will increase the probability of a shoulder injury. Gaining the strength before you try kipping will save you the chance of getting put on the bench for the rest of the season.




2. Do not go up in weight until you have perfected your form. Patience young grasshopper, your time will come. Sometimes athletes can get lost in the race to RX (perform the weight “prescribed” for that workout) that they don’t want to be seen scaling down. Leave your ego at the door because it is only going to cause trouble! If you haven’t perfected your form and you’re going up in weights, you can do some serious damage. When you feel confident in a lift and know all of the progressions with ease, go ahead and pick it up a notch. Just remember that no one is judging you if it takes you five weeks to add 5 pounds to your bar. It might even take you a year! That is okay. Adding extra weight when you haven’t gotten the basics down can lead to poor form and unnecessary strain on your muscles and joints. Be your own advocate and make the right decisions for you.

3. Take your mobility very, very seriously. If you didn’t listen to anything else I said, I forgive you. But your body will not forgive you if you do not listen to this last number. A good CrossFit gym will have separate mobility classes or a long warm-up before each session. Especially if you’re an older athlete, come in early and take as long as you need to warm up your joints. Imagine that you have a really rusted sliding gate to your back patio. You aren’t going to grab a jar of crunchy peanut butter from your fridge and throw it on and hope that it slides magically. You’re going to go to the hardware store and pick up some Fluid Film because that is what the gate needs. Your joints are the same in that they need the proper lube to avoid friction that can cause severe wear and tear. Even if you’re not going to a CrossFit class and you’re going to a normal gym, do your mobility work. A great resource I personally use is the website Mobility Wod. Resistance bands are a life saver and will keep you strong and mobile for many years to come. You can get these gems for as cheap as eight bucks, so go grab one!

Just remember that we have nothing without our health. Having the patience to work on your mobility will keep you fit and moving way into your 80s! Now that you have these three things in mind — go kill it!

Fab tips, Estelle! Are you a CrossFitter? Ever had to learn any of these the hard way? —Jenn

FTC disclosure: We often receive products from companies to review. All thoughts and opinions are always entirely our own. Unless otherwise stated, we have received no compensation for our review and the content is purely editorial. Affiliate links may be included. If you purchase something through one of those links we may receive a small commission. Thanks for your support!

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9 Comments
  1. Michelle says:

    Hey Jenn!!

    Thanks for the shout out, great article!! Love you blog as well:)

    Take Care,

    Michelle

  2. Kate says:

    So is it safe to say that you need to be an athlete already to enter crossfit? :/ I’m beginning to feel I did a mistake in getting a Groupon deal for crossfit classes. I am over weight and would be the beginner of beginners.

  3. Alyssa says:

    In response to Kate, crossfit is for everyone! Big, small, short, and tall. All crossfitters have to start at the beginning and the support you will receive from people who have been in your shoes is amazing. You won’t regret your groupon purchase! 🙂

  4. Estelle says:

    Kate: I never saw this response but I hope that you went ahead and gave that Groupon a shot! Would love to hear how you are liking/liked your CrossFit experience 🙂 And as Alyssa said, everyone has to start somewhere! The best part about CrossFit is that you can scale EVERYTHING.
    Best of luck!

  5. Kelly H. says:

    Having just injured my AC joint (I think) after two weeks of cross fit, I understand the mobility thing. However, the mobility wods aren’t free anymore. Any ideas where I can find a good shoulder mobility video? Or maybe..an everything mobility video? Thanks 🙂

  6. Kimberly Safi says:

    I too would be interested in info on mobility WODs, I just started this month and had a previously reconstructed ACL, which was over worked just during the CF101 course, since I have only been able to make it1x (I am seeing an ortho today to check it out). I am in the boat with Kate, I was an athlete but have gained a ton of weight and not been working out for years (4to be exact). All the squatting and running, its a lot on a newbie to CF, and Kate I too wish I had started training before starting!
    I have never heard of mobility WODs, please enlighten us

  7. Crystal says:

    You do not have to be an Athlete going into Crossfit. I am a 270lbs female who restarted CF this week and by no means an athlete (was 350 last year when I first tried it). The key is the mobility and listening to your body. 🙂

  8. Chuck says:

    Want to avoid Crossfit injuries? Don’t do Crossfit. Although not in all cases, there tends to be a total disregard for the science of what is required to reap the benefit of a proper weight training program whether it’s for improving strength (athletic performance, general health, aesthetics, joint stability), body composition (decreased fat mass, increased fat free mass, including bone mass), or metabolic function (reduced blood fats, improved blood sugar regulation, decreased resting blood pressure). The fact of the matter is that a properly executed resistance training program can yield all of these benefits.

    So to characterize my 40 years spent in the weight room (based on my empirical observations and coupled with knowledge of physiologic fact), weight-lifting programs generally produce little or no benefit from a health perspective. The one exception is the ability to perform a highly specific lifting skill in an olympic, power, or Crossfit type competition, that is move the most amount of weight as possible to win. That said, these and other similar weight-lifting practices can expose the joints to an increase risk of injury, i.e. the rapid and explosive lifts done under load, i.e. ballistic in nature whether done with (however not limited to) barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight machines, or medicine balls.

    Although not in all cases, there is a total disregard for the science of what is required to reap the benefit of a weight training program whether it’s for improving strength (athletic performance, aesthetics, joint stability), body composition (decreased fat mass, increased fat free mass, including bone mass), or metabolic function (reduced blood fats, improved blood sugar regulation, decreased resting blood pressure). The fact of the matter is that a properly executed resistance training program can yield all of these benefits.

    So to characterize the time spent in the weight room by (based on my empirical observations and coupled with knowledge of physiologic fact), weight-lifting programs generally produce little or no benefit. The one exception is the ability to perform a highly specific lifting skill in an olympic, power, or Crossfit type competition, that is move the most amount of weight as possible to win. That said, these and other similar weight-lifting practices can expose the joints to an increase risk of injury, i.e. the rapid and explosive lifts done under load, i.e. ballistic in nature whether done with (however not limited to) barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, weight machines, or medicine balls.

    Performance power is the product of muscular force developed with a “proper strength training program” and speed, that is “speed specific work done in the field.” You simply cannot ball these two vectors together performing ballistic lifts as proposed by some “training experts” without endangering the health of the athlete (or anyone for that matter) beyond the risks of normal participation in a sport or activity at any level of competition.

    Why anyone at any age or level of conditioning wanting to improve “strength” needs to be swinging a kettlebell around is beyond good physiologic sense not to mention the dangerous forces that transidate into the wrist, elbow, and complex shoulder joint. Unfortunately these are practices many trainers and fitness enthusiasts use that don’t properly discern the differences between weight-lifting and weight training.

    You don’t know the tensile strength of muscle or connective tissue until it’s too late! With Crossfit it’s not a matter of if you’ll get injured but a matter of when regardless of form, flexibility, mobility or ability to kip.

  9. Robin Hodge says:

    I became injured in my very first Crossfit class in attempting a rope climb. Yes, I was pushed to attempt a rope climb in my first class, strained my distal biceps in both arms and went to the orthopedist three times since then. I have been in physical therapy for a month still combating this problem. I stopped Crossfit and will never go back. Horrible coaching, argueing with physical therapists recommendations and encouraging me to “grind it out”. I can just now fully straighten my right arm and it is with pain. Now tell me how great Crossfit is.