Preventing Elbow and Shoulder Pain in CrossFit

shoulder-elbow pain

In all my years as a coach, I have heard numerous complaints from athletes regarding tendonitis in the elbows and shoulders. Why does this keep happening and what can we do to help prevent this? If you started Crossfit in a relatively de-conditioned state and noticed pain in your elbows/shoulders 2-12 weeks after your first class, we can help.

When you start training like we do in Crossfit, your body is going to make rapid adaptations to the stresses experienced at the gym. The root of the tendonitis problem is, in general, muscles are going to adapt faster than connective tissues (for this post, tendons). Muscles have a huge supply of blood, and thus receive a plethora of nutrients and oxygen. This allows muscles to work hard and adapt quickly. On the flip side, tendons lack this vast supply of vasculature and will not be able to adapt as fast as muscle; however, when given proper rest and by following a well periodized program, tendonitis can be largely avoided.

Here’s how to avoid elbow and shoulder pain in CrossFit:

Most athletes I know that experience elbow pain, when asked if they have ever taken a rest day/week, the answer is always no. The fundamental problem is trying to progress in a forever-linear way. This is not possible in fitness. You need to ‘load’ for a period of 2-6 weeks and then de-load for 1-2 weeks. The de-load is where all the magic happens. Your connective tissues are given a chance to ‘catch up’ to your ever strengthening muscles. In addition, your whole body gets a chance to fully recover, normalize any physiological imbalances, and feel mentally ‘fresh’. I was a college athlete and we trained hard all year. However, every 3-4 weeks we would always de-load. This meant lighter weights, shorter and/or fewer workouts, and an overall easier week. It felt good to have ‘permission‘ to take it easy and this is what I want to give all of you. Plan it into your routine. Feel good about some down time. Talk to the coaches and we can help you figure this out in much more detail.

Work hard, rest hard.