by Michael Plank
If you’re the kind of person who does CrossFit, chances are really good that you’re also the kind of person who has some degree of comfort with discomfort. CrossFit reinforces that. We talk all the time about pushing through barriers, about going beyond what we thought we were capable of, about finding the limits and adding stress there so that we can accelerate growth and improvement. All of that is good. But there’s a dichotomy here too, because sometimes, (believe it or not!) pushing through pain and discomfort is exactly the wrong thing to do. Especially if there’s pain involved.
So here are a few general questions I keep in mind when I’m deciding whether or not I need to scale back my training.
1. Does My Body Hurt?
That means, do I experience pain doing regular, every-day things like cooking dinner or getting in and out of the car.
2. Where Does My Body Hurt?
The answer to this question almost always tells me whether I’m sore from working out or whether I’m potentially injured. By “injured” I mean there’s damage to my tissue and there’s potential for there to be greater damage.
If I have pain in a joint – ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow, wrist, spine, or neck – I’m going to count that as injured when I’m making decisions. If I have pain elsewhere – quads, calves, pecs, abs, lats, etc – maybe I’m just sore. UNLESS I felt or heard a pop or snap or catch in something like my quad or hamstring or biceps. Then it’s back to injured.
3. If I Go to a Class, Can I Trust Myself to Disclose My Injuries and Listen to My Coach?
It’s easy to get caught up in the energy of a group workout. It’s part of what makes them so effective. But if I feel like I’m going to either a) hide my injury because of my ego or because I’m worried I’ll inconvenience someone, or b) disclose it, but then get carried away and tell the coach it’s fine (when it’s not), that’s going to be a red flag for me.
4. What Benefit Is There From Risking Further Injury?
Maybe I’m going to the CrossFit Games. Maybe there’s a $300,000 check that could have my name on it if I ignore the pain and get that last deadlift in under the buzzer. But if I’m not looking at something like a quarter of a million dollars, chances are really good that there is no potential upside that outweighs further injury.
5. Will I Lose Progress if I Take Today Off?
There’s only one true answer here: no. Just like one single day of training won’t be the thing that catapults you from Orange II to Brown III, a skipped day of training won’t drop you from Orange II to White.
6. What’s The Long-Term Goal?
(This is the most important one for me). For me, my long-term goal is to live the rest of my life with no physical limitations on what I want to do (yours might be different). If my knee aches and clicks every time I bend it, does pushing through a run/squat/box jump workout as written support my long-term goal or not? Answer: It doesn’t.
Pushing through discomfort has served all of us well. It’s how we improve and how we grow. But this is just your Wednesday reminder to still be smart about it. Talk to your coaches. Keep them in the loop. Be honest with yourself. And remember that the goal is not to do THE BEST on Thursday morning, it’s to do the best you can do for yourself for the long haul.