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Posts Tagged ‘Injury’

Lessons from an Injured Jo

In Training on May 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Brace yourselves: Jo’s angry again. Mostly at herself, a little at CrossFit. A lot disappointed in both.

It’s been about three weeks since my injury, and the recovery has gone well. The referred pain has stopped, as well as the obnoxious aches that accompanied daily activities. Now it’s isolated to a single muscle that I must have abused terribly on that last deadlift. I’ve learned a few things from this experience that I think bear repeating:

1) Treat mobility as part of your training. We all have time for 20 minute AMRAPs or two-a-day WODs but somehow that time disappears when it comes to foam rolling, stretching, and flexibility work. Stop making excuses. If you’re serious enough about your training to commit to “going hard” 5-6 days a week, you should be serious enough to treat your recovery with equal respect. I’ve done a minimum of 30 minutes of mobility work every day since the injury and the difference has been phenomenal. I’m positive that it’s helped my back recover, but beyond that… I’m not nearly as sore as I used to be. The daily pains that accompany being a CrossFitter have diminished… If I push myself particularly hard and think that I’ll regret it the next day, I devote some extra mobility work that evening and am pleasantly surprised the next day when I wake with minimal soreness.

2) Taking a few weeks off won’t turn you into a pile of useless slush. You all know I probably have even more of a psychosis than the average CrossFitter, where rest sounds like a condemnation. I won’t lie– having to respect the fragility of my back has been frustrating. I haven’t deadlifted, squat cleaned or snatched close to my max for three weeks. I’ve slowed down all of my metcons to avoid aggravating the injury. But as I slowly ramp back up with my recovery, I’m finding that my “fitness” hasn’t really suffered– and, in fact, might actually benefit from the extra attention to movement virtuosity.

3) Virtuosity. This is a big one for me– something I harp on a lot. This is also the source of my anger. Let me explain.

I had a short session with a strength coach today, who generously offered to look over my deadlift form after the injury. So, as it turns out, I’ve been doing it all wrong. One of my few points of “pride” in my CrossFit career is a deadlift above 2x my bodyweight. But I’d like to retract all my boasting. My lift, it seems, involves mostly levering up the weight with my back. I use pathetically little legs in my deadlift. Though I’m pretty confident that I can (or could– past tense) lift over 230 with train-wreck form, with “proper” form, I couldn’t even get 145lbs off the ground. Because the first part of the lift actually should rely much more on the legs, and because my legs are so tragically understrong, I couldn’t even get the bar to my knees today. Granted, my back felt a lot better. I actually felt a lot more stable than I usually do during my deadlift. But… my “best lift” is now suddenly my worst lift. I wonder how long it will take to train back up. But this explains how my deadlift numbers could skyrocket without affecting my squat… I’ve just been pulling with all back. Apparently I’ve been unconsciously “skipping leg day.”

I’m furious with myself because I should have known to rebuild my foundation long ago. I’m frustrated with CrossFit because I feel like we’ve cultivated a culture in which this can happen. Again, I know I’m in the minority. I stumbled into a CrossFit gym as a sedentary idiot who had no idea what she was doing. Most people already knew how to breathe when they lift things… most people in tune with their bodies probably accumulate tension naturally when they approach a bar. My body’s an idiot. It never occurred to me that breathing was a crucial component of lifting. I never thought to build tension in places other than the muscles directly affected by the lift.

I’ve been a very vocal defender of CrossFit– speaking out against all the criticisms that we’re a bunch of reckless morons running ourselves into the ground. But there is a sort of worrisome culture of that in CrossFit. I’ve had the fortune of visiting a few powerlifting and weightlifting (Olympic) gyms, and from what I’ve seen of their methodologies, they would have never let a bumbling trainee like me add weight to the bar before perfecting my technique. There’s a reason the CrossFit movement standards are laughable to most powerlifters and weightlifters. If you watched the judge’s instructional video for the Open, the “snatch” didn’t even have to be a snatch– it should more properly be defined as “any way overhead.” An embarrassing video circulated over YouTube during the Open, promoted by the Games Facebook page, of a CrossFit athlete performing a “snatch” in which he fell onto his knees and then stood back up with the weight. “Good rep!”

I understand that the movement standards for competition are designed so that judges can very clearly and easily count reps. And I also understand that it’s actually not that harmful a choice in most CrossFit competitions because the professional athletes at the top of their game perform these movements with fantastic technique 99% of the time and only get sloppy sometimes at the end of workouts in competition. However, it does send a poor message to the general population. Is HQ really that surprised that there were so many disqualified videos this year if we create a world in which our “standards” endorse sloppy movements?

Training with Coach has opened my eyes to a lot of this. I’m trying to clean up everything that I’ve done messily for years– unfortunately, everything is messy, from my kips to my barbell work– let’s not even talk about the Olympic lifts. But it’s also eye-opening what a difference it makes. Coach has been trying to get me to do my butterfly kips with straight legs. “Straight legs?” you say, “but Chris Spealler teaches it with a bicycle kick! And it looks so pretty!” And it does, and that was how I learned it. It’s been frustrating trying to wrestle my uncoordinated self into submission and to maintain a tight body throughout the butterfly kip, but I’ve discovered how efficient the movement becomes that way. It’s a lot less fatiguing, and… a lot less jarring. One of the big problems I had with learning any kipping movement in the beginning was that they made my shoulders ache– the weight of your body crashing down on your shoulders again and again is just a lot to handle. But smoothing out the kip to eliminate excess movement also reduces that impact– at least, that’s my inexpert analysis.

So here’s the thing… I still maintain that CrossFit is fantastic, fun, and healthy done correctly. But because we’ve made a “sport” of fitnessing, we also get caught up in the competitive spirit of it. We want to see those numbers go up and the times go down, even if we’re just competing with ourselves. I think by making fitness a game, CrossFit really opens up the world of fitness to a lot of individuals who would otherwise never touch a barbell. But I think we also need to emphasize the importance of movement virtuosity even as we encourage the classic firebreathing CrossFit state-of-mind.

I’m… relieved, mostly, that I didn’t injure myself worse before realizing that my technique was all wrong. I’m appalled that I’ve been wrenching up 200+ pounds on a regular basis with a curved spine. I’m so angry at myself for being completely blind to all this, and for ignoring the importance of movement integrity. I’m also concerned about CrossFit as a sport in that it creates some environments in which these things are passable– not all CrossFit gyms, mind you… there are many fantastic, knowledgeable, and attentive coaches in CrossFit… but because we’re based in community and most of our learning happens in group environments, it also falls upon the individual to recognize when s/he needs help. In turn, responsible coaches and facilities should be sure to stress that– the importance of self-monitoring… and, in an ideal world, they could offer  opportunities for members’ self improvement– I like that some gyms out there have “office hours” where members can come in and consult a coach on personal weaknesses, or others offer specific seminars to address each of the many niches that CrossFit has consumed– weightlifting, gymnastics, powerlifting…

I don’t mind sucking. But I hate wasting time, and what crushes me most about this is that I’ve spent years digging my own grave– not just stagnating, but actually establishing negative habits that I now have to break. I’m trying to be patient through all this… at least I’ve figured it out now, at least I know where I need to progress from here– even if “here” is more of a “square negative three” than “square one.”

Addendum: If you really think about it, this is what CrossFit is supposed to be: functional fitness. At its core, we’re supposed to be teaching people how to move things and themselves safely and efficiently… Let’s not lose sight of that.

Rebuilding Jo

In General, Training on May 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Anyone who’s been even remotely following this years’ CrossFit Games season will have heard of Sam Briggs. In 2011, I had just started CrossFitting, and did not pay much attention to the actual Games. In 2012, when Briggs had pulled out of competition, I was obsessively “leaderboarding”– tracking the big names like Annie (T and S), Kris Clever, Becca Voigt, Julie Foucher, Camille, etc. I was entirely unaware of Sam Briggs. Somewhere in the middle of the year, I stumbled across her blog, where she tracked her daily workouts. She seemed like the usual, down-to-earth, passionate CrossFitter. She mostly just posted daily WODs with little reflection or context, so I lost interest and stopped following. This year, she burst onto the scene and freaking kicked ass. Briggs placed 2nd in workout one and then claimed first place for the remaining four workouts of the Open.

Of course, being me, I began doing my homework. Briggs went on temporary hiatus in 2012 because of an injury– a fractured patella, to be specific. She had undergone serious rehab for the majority of the year, but returned possibly more beastly than ever. Something I’ve hated about this years’ Games season is the poor sportsmanship– the way people have tried to cheat or “loophole” their way through workouts, or the way people have tried to accuse entirely honest athletes of doing the same. Of course, when Briggs jumped back on the scene a serious workhorse, the conversation turned to steroids.

Non-athlete and non-sports-follower that I am, I tend to consult the Cookie Monster on all things athletic… When I asked him about Briggs’ impressive performance this year, he frowned pensively and answered, “I don’t know. Didn’t you say she’d been through rehab? That’s harder than normal training.”

I believe it now.

Though my back has been feeling progressively better each day since the deadlift injury, I made an appointment with a PT/Chiropractor just to get it checked out, and to address some other issues I may have. Though the glamorous life of graduate-student-ing doesn’t pay well, I’m currently the proud recipient of the best health insurance I’ll possibly ever have, so I might as well abuse it while I can.

Though I’d made the appointment for my back, the Doc looked at me for three minutes before he figured out that my hips are grossly misaligned. I mean, I’m not surprised. Jefe figured out a year ago that my hips tweak to the right when I rise from my squat. My right side always pulls the deadlift off the ground first. No matter how I try to maintain my alignment when I squat, I always pivot on the way up. For cossack squats, I can lower my right side fine, but I lack the same flexibility in my left. In fact, though the doc examined my back (I think a facet joint or two is inflamed from bearing unexpected weight? — der, the fifth rep of a 200lb deadlift, perhaps?), his greater concern was the hip imbalance.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize– like with all things CrossFit, this is probably something I should have fixed first, to establish a solid foundation, before I started trying to build on it– before I started pulling 2x bodyweight deadlifts for reps, before I started pushing my squat heavier.

The back is feeling better and better. The last remaining aches and pains have all but disappeared, but for the past few weeks, I’ve been too scared to go heavy. It’s been frustrating as hell– especially when trying to gain mass– refraining from heavy lifts or even hard metcons. Anytime I felt something tweak in my back, I slowed down. I stopped loading weights the moment I felt any strain. But the way I’m trying to look at this– my self-imposed silver lining– is that at least now, my body is forcing me to go back and rebuild my foundation. I can only work for form right now– not max weight, not speed. Coach has been programming my deadlifts and cleans at pathetic fractions of what I used to lift, and so the only way I can maintain my sanity is by using these moments to hone in on the mechanics.

Strangely, too, the rehab must be doing something. I left the doctor’s office feeling fine– not as if I’d exerted or worked anything. We spent 15 minutes with the electric stim machine, some light exercises, a bit of back-popping and I was on my way. But the next day I was sore– not achy in the post-injury way, but sore like I’d beasted out on a long WOD… and all of yesterday I couldn’t figure out why– I hadn’t done more than usual at the gym. Then it struck me (slo(w)-Jo): must’ve been the PT…

I complain a lot about my body. I’ve blamed it a lot for being awful to me– a childhood of steroid inhalations for asthma, an adulthood of treatment-roulette for my IBS… etc. But I’ve also been pretty terrible to my body in return (or, perhaps, more a chicken-and-egg thing). I did nothing remotely athletic or physical until age twenty, and upon discovering the thrill of endorphins, I jumped in 1 million percent without any regard for rest, mobility, or restoration. And now you, dear readers, get to hear about all the backpedaling ways in which I try to make up for it.

All that said, I’m happy with some of the progress I’m still making. Since I’ve been careful with the lower body lifts, I’ve concentrated more on upper body movements. My push-press broke its plateau and I PR’d the lift by 5lbs directly before shaving 4 minutes off my previous “Annie” time. My “Nicole” score yesterday was 68 points higher than my previous PR (granted– that old score was a year ago, from when I just started to do kipping pull-ups, and eeked out a whopping score of 11). At any rate… I’m trying to look at the brighter side of these things– that, though it’s taken me far too long to get around to it, I’m back to trying to establish a solid foundation for all my movements. Though I don’t anticipate a Sam Briggs-esque comeback, hopefully I’ll bounce back stronger and more durable 🙂

High Stakes and MIStakes

In Training on April 16, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Right now, I’m teaching the short story in my creative writing class. Fiction is my favorite unit; it’s my genre, I’m comfortable with it, and I feel like I have actual kernels of experiential wisdom to share with my students. The mistakes I see beginning writers make are all ones I recognize from my own initial stumblings; they’re not even so much “mistakes” as just a necessary part of the learning process.

When I respond to student rough drafts, I find myself asking “What’s at stake?”

I often see stories on either end of the spectrum– ones that are all risk and ones that are afraid to take risk. In the first category, there are narratives of high-speed-car-chases after an airplane crash after the protagonist lost his starcrossed lover to brain cancer. In the second, nothing happens. The writer has created a nice, pleasant character who lives a nice, pleasant life and is sometimes even too attached to this character and her nice life to dare damage it. Worse yet– conflict is hard to write… you have to shape the tension, mold it into something productive, and figure out how to resolve it.

It took me years, and I’m still learning, but I began to balance the stakes in my short stories– to take measured risks without letting the narrative run away from me on the page. In life… it’s harder.

A cue every coach has given me over and over again is: “explode.” More power. More force. More commitment. As the Marine said– I kip like a pussy. I do everything a bit too timidly. I’ve spent my life in a body I’ve never trusted– that’s failed me often, that’s always been a little weak, a little broken, prone to injury and mishaps and genetic slips. My parents explained that they actually never wanted children because the genetic cocktail of chronic, hereditary conditions would just be too awful (true story– makes a kid feel wonderful, too).

For this reason, I’ve been hesitant to put anything at “stake” in my CrossFitting. I don’t compete. I don’t like to perceive of myself as competing. I want to not care. I want to just enjoy. But I’m not good at not caring. And, of course my ambitions of becoming a coach necessarily put something at stake in my abilities and achievements in the gym. But I’ve told myself to be patient with that… to accept this as a long journey. But… it’s also been nearly two years and I wanted to take a larger step– a bigger risk, a larger investment, in the blind hopes of reaping bigger gains.

I wrote that post a little while ago about finally starting to work one-on-one with a coach. For me, this “exploded” the stakes. The fact that someone else is invested in my progress– that someone else puts thought and work into my ability–suddenly makes it matter. In many ways, it’s been good for me. For the past two weeks… I’ve been absolutely diligent about every aspect of my training– moving when I’m supposed to move, resting absolutely when I’m supposed to rest. Stretching, foam rolling, hydrating regularly. I follow a diet plan that’s both time consuming and tedious, but I’ve stuck to it and had much more consistent energy and strength levels. But damn it, I cared. And when I care, I fuck up.

This morning, I was supposed to perform a max effort deadlift– to find my five rep max. I shot for 200lbs, which would have been a 5lb PR, which would’ve been roughly 2x bodyweight for 5 reps. I made it four reps in… Past-Jo would have let the bar rest and stepped back. Safe-Jo-who’s-trying-not-to-care would have admitted defeat and tried again another day. Stupid-J0-who-cares-before-she-thinks tried for a fifth rep. Near the top of the lift, I felt a pop in my lower back. I immediately dropped the weight, then dropped to the floor and lied there as my lower back spasmed.

I sent Scotchy, my morning lifting buddy, to find Jefe, who came in and asked me if I could stand. And honestly, at that point I hadn’t even turned or moved my legs because I was scared to try. Everything felt shaky and sore, and I couldn’t tell if it was from the extreme abuse to which I just subjected my central nervous system, or if I’d seriously injured myself– the very reason that heavy deadlifts have always scared me: their ability to seriously fuck you up.

When I do max-effort deadlifts, I regularly experience a momentary vertigo after I release the bar. The first time I lifted 235, my vision blacked out for a good two seconds. I’ve attributed this to just the severe exertion your body puts into picking up and putting down that much weight. So, while I lay there trembling, too disoriented to know what hurt, I had no way to gauge how badly I was injured. Eventually, when I pried myself off the ground, Scotchy, Jefe, and I surmised that I was okay-ish. Disorientedly, I tottered home and informed the Coach that I had fucked up, and apologized, and felt terrible for failing. I iced my back. The Scotchness, in his ever-wonderfulness, delivered me ice packs since I was trying to soothe my back with a package of frozen butternut squash.

For the rest of the day, my back hurt enough that I didn’t want to risk walking to campus. I made a doctor’s appointment. I iced and gently stretched and iced and laid down to take the strain off my back. I stretched some more and I panicked that I had seriously screwed up– that I had taken a promising development in my life and training and just thrown myself backwards by at least a good few months. My poor students sat through an hour of me grimacing and trying to explain narrative technique before I walked to the university health services.

A blessing: the doctor told me I didn’t show signs of nerve damage. He prescribed me anti-inflammatory painkillers and sent me home with instructions to stretch some more and ice some more. I basically spent the entire day alternating between ice, rest, and stretches, praying pretty desperately that twelve hours of mobility could compensate for a second of piss-poor judgement. I spoke with the Coach and she had her usual soothing effect. She reassured me that she was with me for this, no matter what… that we would rebuild my deadlift from the basics. She also  gave me a small admonishment that I need to ensure that someone is making sure I’m safe since she can’t be here to watch me. It never occurred to me that I should have a coach watching my form on heavy deads, but… well, duh.

After going to bed early, I woke up feeling miraculously better (*knock on wood*). The pain in my legs had disappeared and the aching of my back had reduced to recognizable soreness– a familiar, day-after-deadlifting feeling rather than the surreal, nervous-system panic attack I’d been experiencing all day in which I couldn’t deduce where the pain was coming from or how to dull it. The Coach wants me to take it day by day this week… each morning I’ll notify her with how I’m feeling and she’ll update me on whether or not I’m allowed to train and what movements to do/avoid. Today, I did a WOD of rope climbs and wall-balls, and took it at more of a walking pace. Afterwards, I iced and stretched and rolled some more.

I’m hoping for a speedy recovery. I’m hoping that this episode is just a bad scare and will be another lesson learned. I struggle with the fine line between recklessness and being a “pussy.” I never know when to risk or retreat. Sometimes I abstain from that last rep and wonder later if I could have gotten it… But this time I definitely should have stepped back. My biggest takeaway from this, however, is that I want to fix my deadlift form once and for all. Jefe has observed that my back arches whether I’m lifting 235 or 100. I have no idea why… I can’t even really feel the shift. I set up in the proper position and then my spine always pops up before the weight leaves the ground.

But the silver lining to this whole ordeal is that a wealth of fantastic resources have popped out of the woodwork. The Coach has a friend who trains out of Hershey and suggests that I visit his facility when I can so he can help me with my form. Another friend via the CrossFit networks, who’s an experienced powerlifter and powerlifting coach, trains in Virginia and has invited me to his facility as well. And, locally, an experienced trainer has also graciously offered his expertise. I’m surprised and touched and grateful for everyone’s time and generosity– obviously, I need the help, but these people certainly have better things and more important people to whom to devote their time.

Hopefully I will learn and grow from this and “pass it on,” and someday be able to apply my experience and wisdom to another scrawny chick trying to overcome her own damn smallness. Hopefully, I will become a better, more patient athlete. Hopefully  will learn to temper my eagerness and expectations (and fear of others’ expectations) with wisdom and maturity. I raised the stakes because I believed I could rise to the occasion. In order to do that, I need to remain calm… level-headed. I need to accept small setbacks and keep the larger goal in mind.

The next few days will reveal the severity of my screw-up. At least I’ve learned from the box jump ordeal enough to consult a doctor immediately, to rest, to actively promote recovery through nutrition and mobility. Thank you, everyone, for your concern. I apologize for the scare– I terrified myself a bit too much for a moment there. Here’s hoping your days have been much more peaceful.