Injury Causes and Prevention: Coaching


I wanted to take three blog sessions and talk specifically about injury in the world of Crossfit and weightlifting.  I am of the opinion that there are 3 MAJOR causes for injury in the fitness world.  The three major causes I want to focus on in this blog series are: coaching, programming, and body awareness.

Today I want to specifically talk about coaching as a cause for injury.  I have always believed that the number one reason lifters or Crossfitters find themselves in front of an orthopedic doctor is a result of poor coaching.

It is the coach’s responsibility to teach movements properly to their athletes and to restrict their athletes when a movement is injurious.  Often I hear so many critics of Crossfit and Olympic weightlifting run their mouth that the movements performed are too dangerous to be trained so often.

“You can’t snatch everyday that’s just too much work overhead.”

“You can’t squat that low that’s too much loading on your knees and low back”

Every time I hear comments like that I immediately grimace.  Ignorance makes me grimace.  The movements don’t create injury.  A lack of knowledge of HOW to complete the movement does!  Repeated repetitions performed improperly creates injury.  If you are a coach and your athlete doesn’t understand the movement he or she is performing, then it is your responsibility to teach them!  If you are a coach and YOU don’t understand the movement you are teaching THEN STOP PRETENDING.  The old adage, “fake it till you make it” create more people in slings and on crutches than anything else.  Coaches do your job and be an expert at what you are teaching!  Otherwise you are destined to hurt your clients.

Athletes, if you find yourself under a coach who clearly doesn’t know what they are talking about or who coaches a movement in such a way that it allows for injury, do yourself a favor and find a new gym.  You wouldn’t learn to drive a motorcycle from a guy who doesn’t know anything about motorcycles would you?  Why be coached by a guy who doesn’t understand the movements?

The number one reason injury happens is because coaches don’t know how to drop their ego and learn from somebody else OR admit they might not know everything they claim to.  These type of coaches get by on using coined language to impress their clients without knowing really what they are teaching.  Regardless of your program or your physical fitness, if you are being told to do something wrong over and over again then eventually that movement is going to hurt you.  Good Olympic lifters aren’t hurt by putting weight over their head everyday if they are doing it properly.  This is why you don’t see the MDUSA team all in slings.  Furthermore, good Crossfitters are not injured because they do a lot of squatting or running.  They’re injured because they squat wrong or run wrong and don’t have a coach knowledgeable enough to teach them the proper way OR they have a coach whose primary interest is their checkbook and not their health.

Proper coaching is proactive against injury.  Bad coaching creates injury.


12 responses to “Injury Causes and Prevention: Coaching

  1. In light of this post, I highly suggest anyone who follows Spencer’s posts to pick up a copy of Stuart McGill’s Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, 4th edition. It will change the way you think about programming certain movements as well as understanding how to squat properly and safely. My biggest takeaway from the book: flexion of the lumbar spine is like bending a credit card. There is a finite amount of times that it can flex until long term dysfunction occurs.

    • Hi – I have some issues with Stu Magill’s information. Don’t get me wrong, I think his approach is sound enough but he misrepresents some research. His whole stiffening the spine thing is also not efficient.

      Having said that, flexion of the spine is not desirable under load, especially in a squat. I advocate that you only go down as far as your hips allow. Once you start to butt-wink, you are flexing your spine…

  2. Just had to write in and agree wholeheartedly with you Spencer.

    I see plenty of Crossfitters – from the cream of the crop to those who are just beginning from no activity at all. The common thread in all their problems is incorrect technique.

    The problem is that there is LOTS of incorrect information out there that has been handed down over the years by tradition…and it is powerful stuff. The only way I can get around that is to prove why changing their technique is better in the long run…it has been working well.

    The coaches I work with are top quality – Darren Coughlan trains Michele Letendre (Games level athlete) and Pip Malone (one to watch this weekend in the Australian Regionals) – and is he is particular on technique.

    It makes my heart warm that you have written this blog post. I have been following for a while. Good stuff brother!

    Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect 🙂

  3. Good topic. My one comment would be that most athletes, and in particular those at the beginner level who are most exposed to this injury risk, do not have a solid framework for evaluating whether a coach really knows his/her stuff. I did my first deadlift and squat at 35 and four months later had a bulge at L4/L5 with severe sciatic nerve pain. I had no idea that I was doing them wrong and/or that I was being taught improperly (or of the importance of mobility). The injury prompted me to educate myself on proper movement and how to prevent future injury. After almost two years of hell and gradual recovery, I started crossfit, and did so with very sharp focus on proper technique and patience/humility with regard to loading, but only because I had been injured and knew I had to approach it that way. Since then, all of my injuries (back and both shoulders) have either improved significantly or are completely gone. That’s why it bothers me when people claim crossfit or the lifts cause injury. Done correctly, they will dramatically improve function. To your point, they really only cause injury if done improperly, which happens either early in the learning period or under too much load (or both). I agree that good coaching and programming can help avoid these situations, but I just don’t think the average athlete has enough knowledge to evaluate either effectively. The real question is how do you teach a 30+ year old guy/girl coming to crossfit/lifting from the cardio + chest&tris/back&bis world to differentiate a good coach from a bad one?

    • PB, how did you heal from your injury? I too have disc herniations w sciatica which is better, but nowhere near ready for CF:(. Did you have surgery? I also have lumbar stenosis, did you? Thanks!

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