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Risk and Safety in Crossfit Competition

Updated on October 12, 2017
Sacha Elms profile image

Sacha's passions include Jesus, fitness, food, learning, and helping people achieve their potential.

Risk and safety in Crossfit

What I’m going to talk about here is a subject that isn’t discussed enough.

In sport, there are often many situations where risk of injury is higher than the promise of safety, and is therefore it’s not worth the potential consequences.

There are also some situations where the risk is greater than safety, but the risk is still taken. Risk and reward are two different things.

In training, safety over risk is paramount. We practise different movements that are relatively safe when done correctly (as a rule I hope everyone abides by), we keep exercise levels to those that won’t completely turn us into a puddle, and we aim to move within movement patterns that are mechanically sound.

As I am a Crossfit coach, my aim is to get the most out of our athletes, whilst moving safely - in ways and/or at weights that have a good risk / reward profile. This is the fundamental basis for training. Pressing out on certain lifts? Fix the issue, or drop the weight and get it right, or just stop. Chicken wing on a muscle up? Get a band, or do a progression or a movement breakdown that makes sure you get it right.

Straightforward in theory, sometimes harder to convince people of in practice.

When it comes to competition, the distinction is a little trickier. Especially in Crossfit competition, deviation of ideal movement pattern is very commonplace. As in anything, maintaining ideal form whilst trying to go as fast as you can is very difficult (note that there is room for changes in movement to allow for more reps or speed without compromising performance, and still being within relatively safe perametres of movement).

Crossfit often gets a bad rep for how we don’t do movements properly /

safely (often from people who watch competition). One thing that isn’t taken into consideration is whether the athletes have considered the risk of said movement before performing it.

I’ll use myself as an example.

I’ve been doing Crossfit for four years, and teaching for nearly two. I’ve completed my Crossfit Level 1, 2 and am currently studying for my CF level 3. I’ve also done my Cert III and IV in Fitness, and attended programming courses as well as dabbled in basic gymnastics and teaching it to kids.

I’m just a baby in the Fitness world, but I do know a bit about movement.

Now, due to a host of different reasons that I won’t go into great detail of, but will touch on a little bit, I have been unable to do a bar muscle up (or a kipping ring

one) until now.

I was able to do a few strict ring ones here and there.

I’m a bit of an odd athlete.

On the weekend I had a team competition called the Allstars Affiliate Series. 6 person team, 2 days of workouts. Fun times galore.

At the end of the two days we’d agreed in the last workout I’d be the one to finish the bar muscle ups (at a grand total of 2 reps).

I am pleased to say I got these reps. And it was an amazing moment. The elation of finally showing myself I have started to bridge some gaps in my mind and body was fantastic, and the way the crowd cheered was incredible.

I am under no illusion these muscle-ups were performed with no where near ideal mechanics.

Have a watch below.

My second ever Bar Muscleup, done at Allstars 2017 at the very end of the weekend. The crowd was amazing!

Now, you can see it is essentially a chest to bar, mixed with a boobs over bar movement, mixed with a press from my left shoulder to push me over with a nice finish from my right.

This is never, EVER something I would do in training or encourage in our clients. I know the risks involved in doing that many shoulder movements. It was like a really slow shoulder salsa mixed with a 1RM.

However, as it was competition, I chose to take the risk. knowing full well my likelihood of achieving the muscle ups and the increased risk of hurting myself.

But knowing these risks, I decided to try. Also being hypermobile and able to do a deep strict muscle up on the rings, my shoulders are used to being in some uncomfortable positions. The strength to be deep in a shoulder position is there, but I did take a calculated risk with the twisting and other funky stuff that went on.

There is a difference between being ignorant about the risks of deviating from mostly safe movement, and knowing about the increased potential for harm of doing this but choosing to make an informed decision.

For the record, I most certainly aggravated my right shoulder from my first failed attempt, and I am very fortunate that after three days it has mostly settled down.

Was it the smartest thing I did? Probably not. But it meant we held a spot for the finals, and it is going to take me miles mentally with my training and confidence. I can now attack training with renewed enthusiasm.

An issue within the Crossfit realm is that people who haven’t been doing Crossfit for a long time, or regular clients who have a slight idea but don’t really think about the dangers of poor movement patterns, see these movements and think it’s ok to do regularly and practise all the time.

Training is in part to learn and strengthen safe, efficient movement. In most cases, safe movement is the most efficient. Crazy right?

So it is important when you knowingly take risks like this (I hope that is left mostly to the competition floor - and that’s on occasion), to do them within reasonable boundaries, and explain the difference to people who may have misunderstood.

I hope you are all well.

As a side note - I am a firm believer that there needs to be much more regulation of weightlifting movement standards in Crossfit. Lifting a weight around and above you is very different to pulling yourself over a bar. That is a much bigger post for a different time though.

Our Allstars 2017 Team

© 2017 Sacha Elms


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