5 Important Lessons to Learn From an Injury

Despite the best intentions in the world, injuries happen. So what can you learn from these frustrating experiences?

An injury can be a huge setback to training, but what positives can be drawn from these frustrating experiences?

CrossFitters are a special breed. We willingly show up everyday to get our asses handed to us every single WOD. In my 3 years of doing CrossFit, I have yet to meet anyone who after a WOD hasn’t felt as though they’ve come very close to meeting whatever higher power they believe in.  We learn to push through discomfort and we put our bodies through a lot. It is therefore not a unique phenomenon that as we push our bodies and train our minds to be as strong (if not stronger) than our bodies, that we will eventually accumulate a few casualties. If not properly taken care of, little niggles can eventually become serious injuries that can keep us away from the box for a considerable amount of time.

Mat-Fraser
Mat Fraser broke his back when he was younger and went on to win 2 CrossFit Games competitions

I’ve been in that corner before where I’ve ignored every single niggle or uncomfortable tinge of pain during a wod, in the hope that it would miraculously disappear without any effort from my side. I refused to rest because resting meant that I would have to stop, and stopping is something that many a CrossFitter struggles to do. What will happen is that eventually you will be forced to stop and pay attention to your injury, and while I am on this journey of rehabilitation, here are 5 things that I’ve learnt from being injured.

1. TO MOVE IS A PRIVILEGE

We’ve all been there before, you look up at the clock and you’re not even half-way through that 90 minute AMRAP (…ok maybe not 90 minutes, coaches aren’t that crazy,) and you start to calculate how many more rounds/reps you can get in without your body giving up on you.

If you were, or are currently suffering with an injury that means you have to limit or scale your range of movement, you’ll understand how much of a privilege it is to have, as an option, the possibility to load more weight onto your bar and to not be limited to certain movements. For the first three weeks of my rehabilitation, I could not even bring myself to go to the box.

Neglecting the warning signs that my body was giving me, had led to me being unable to touch a bar for 2 months. During this time, I became acutely aware of how much I took my body for granted, simple movements like air squats left me reeling in pain.

Being able to move is a privilege and awareness of this fact can become a game changer; anytime you’re tempted to get down on yourself for not being able to move/perform the way you did pre-injury, you’ll have in your mind the picture of how post-injury, you’re now able to perform those very same movements pain free.

One year AGO post op ankle surgery August 30, 2016. ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ This season was all about reminding myself how far I've come and how I achieved the impossible according to the doctors. At this time last year I didn't even know if I would be able to compete at Games. Somehow and in someway there is always a lesson to be learned. 💫 You are stronger than you know and if you set your mind to it you can achieve anything. 👊🦁 ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ It brings back memories looking back at all those uncomfortable nights sleeping with my foot elevated in a boot. 😏 It reminds me how grateful I was for my @performasleep bed to get me through it. 🙏 ⠀⠀⠀ ⠀⠀⠀⠀ #OneYearAgo #PostOp #GrownStrong

A post shared by Lauren Fisher (@laurenfisher) on

2. GOOD TECHNIQUE IS EVERYTHING

Prior to getting injured, I must admit that I had begun to neglect working on my technique.  I had gotten very comfortable with lifting, and forgot some warm up drills. All I wanted to do was to add more weight on the bar, or jump through all the hoops and get that elusive ring muscle up. As we progress along our CrossFit journey, it can become very easy to neglect the basics and perhaps we even develop a blind spot as to what gaping holes exist in our technique. This holes are the ones that if filled would make us more efficient athletes, with better performances and a higher work capacity.

Focusing on technique allowed me to take a step back and critically analyze areas of opportunity (much better phrase than ‘weaknesses’) that could be improved and allow me to eliminate sloppy/lazy form. Good technique is what will carry you in moments when your body is fatigued. It is the foundation that will ensure that no matter how tough a wod is, you’re still able to give it your all without compensating on form and performance.

Good technique, I have discovered, is what will keep you injury free.

3. TO GO FURTHER…GO SLOW

If you got injured at a time when you felt that your fitness was at its peak, it can be frustrating to get back into training and slow down.  It’ll be a constant war between your ego and your voice of reason to scale your wods to prevent further injury.  In those moments it’s useful to find a mantra to remind yourself that the athlete you were pre-injury is still there but in order to take that athlete further, whether it be in terms of performance and/or personal health goals, you have to go slow.

Rule number 1 of CrossFit is to leave your ego at the door; this is even truer when coming back from an injury. If you have a great coach, they will be able to keep an eye on you if you’re doing too much, too soon, too fast. Depending on the severity of your injury, you might find yourself scaling for the first two months post-injury.  Learning when to scale is important and if you stay consistent, your body will not only come back stronger, but it’ll also carry you further.

4. CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS

It’s easy to feel despondent when a week back into training, you feel far away from the athlete you used to be. So often we are of the mindset that after the diagnosis of an injury, we need to take a break from moving, but the inactivity is what can make it harder to return to the box. My advice, even if it is painful to watch everyone else at the box moving with full range of motion while you can’t yet…GET YOURSELF TO THE BOX. Nothing will remind you of the beautiful community that CrossFit allows us to be partake of more than cheering everyone else on.  

I am guilty of having avoided the box for a month because I was jealous of everyone else being able to move pain-free, what I would have given to do Karen at that time. Once I put that jealousy aside (thanks to my coach,) I was able to return to the box. For the first two weeks I cried after each wod, they were a mixture of frustration at not being able to complete a wod because of little niggles that were still there, and sometimes it was because the ghost of the athlete I used to be, which would haunt me during wods.

This is where point number 5 becomes really important…

5. YOU’RE NOT THE OLD YOU, YOU’RE BETTER

The temptation to be as fast as you were, or to lift as heavy as you used to pre-injury will gnaw at you for at least the first two weeks (maybe more if you’re an emotional CrossFitter like myself).

Perhaps that feeling never really leaves you while you’re on the road to recovery. The ghost of the athlete you used to be seems to hover over you during every wod, during every movement and this is where, if you’re lucky, a great coach will remind you of a vital truth: you aren’t the old you, you’re better.

You’re learning how to move more efficiently, correcting technique along the way to not only prevent old injuries from flaring up, but also to prevent any future injuries. Post-injury, it’s important to have a coach that will keep you in check for those difficult moments when you no longer feel like the athlete that you used to be.  A great coach will remind you of the progress that you have made, and the daily progress that you are making, a great coach will make sure that you’re scaling accordingly, and probably the most important part, a great coach is able to call you out on your excuses.

Injuries have as much of a mental aspect as they do physically and while it is important to focus on the process that is occurring physically, you’re going to have to unlearn everything you thought you previously knew, you’re going to have to learn how to temper discipline with just enough kindness and patience for your body to get back stronger than ever.

4 Ways to Train through a Crossfit Injury (Safely)


Mat-Fraser © CrossFit Inc

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About The Author

I am a vegan CrossFitter, I know. A weird anomaly… but we do exist. I love anything and everything CrossFit related, running and busting vegan myths that you can’t build strength on a plant-based diet. Having a background in Biomedical Science, I love exploring how good nutrition can affect your body from a scientific point of view and how by utilizing science, one can improve their performance, all while being vegan!

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