As a former baseball player who has been through shoulder surgery and continued pain for many years afterward, I was consistently told by doctors just to limit my shoulder activity. With that in mind, I started CrossFit with the viewpoint that I would have to limit the work I did. But the competitor in me continued to push the envelope as I gained strength.
As a result, I did experience pain – mainly caused by shoulder impingement during and after nearly every workout. I regularly had to modify my movements to work around persistent pain points. For many years I just managed the pain. But even though I could gradually do more and lift more, the pain persisted and I didn’t know how to solve it.
After researching, what I learned is that the shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints in the body. This mobility also makes it one of the most unstable joints in the human body and vulnerable to injury. As CrossFitters, you know most movements typically require use of the shoulder under some type of load. Here are just a few…Deadlifts, cleans, snatches, presses, jerks, pull-ups, pushups, kettlebell swings, muscle ups, dips, ring dips rowing, handstands, handstand pushups, handstand walks, wall balls, overhead squats, and there are more! Looking at these movements, you can start to see the complexity that is the shoulder joint. How could one joint contribute to some many different movements?
As I continued to struggle through the pain and saw slow improvements, I started to see a pattern among athletes around me: They fell into one of two camps - either constantly injured or never injured. So why was I in the constantly injured camp? Looking deeper at my own movements, I started to realize my pain was probably related to three things:
· Poor form over a long period of time
· Lack of discipline on developing the prerequisite shoulder mobility necessary for complex movements
I started to read and research, and most important pay attention to the details of how I was using my shoulder for each movement. Many of us have never looked into the correct form for a pushup, pull-up, shoulder press, etc. We just walked into a gym and tried the movement, and continued to do it that way for years, with little to no coaching. This was me in a nutshell. But once I started to train with the correct form and concentrate on building mobility and strength, I started to see phenomenal gains.
You might be thinking to yourself, “Isn’t it the coach’s job to correct my poor form?” Yes, coaches can be key in changing this process. But it also takes some personal accountability. My performance didn’t start to improve until I took responsibility for my progress and started paying attention to my form, mobility and strength.
To save yourself some pain, both now, and in the future, I challenge everyone to:
1. Seek advice from your coaches, particularly on movements that cause you pain or have been stuck at the same PR for a long time.
2. Do your own research on correct movement patterns. You’d be amazed at what YouTube has to offer.
3. Pay attention to your form. That probably means taking videos on your cell phone and watching them to see where you need to focus.
4. Work on your mobility!!!
And most of all, don’t forget to have fun. Doing things the right way is not always the easiest path, but it does create the best results long term…and that’s fun.
Will is a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, CrossFit Gymnastics Trainer, USAW Sport Performance Coach, CrossFit Games Regional Athlete (Team) and co-owner of CrossFit Reanimated in Virginia Beach.