Of course, there is no best time for an injury. Just hearing the word “injury” makes me cringe. I train hard and recover hard in order to avoid injury, but sometimes an injury happens before we know it. This was the case for my first injury during CrossFit training. Initially, I was bummed that I needed to take a time-out to recover and then I realized; this was a golden learning opportunity
I joined my box in November of 2017 and was stoked to compete in the 2018 CrossFit Open. I loved the atmosphere, the community, the competition and I gave each workout my all. A day or two after Workout 18.4 I realized my right forearm was sore and the inside of my right elbow was very tender. Initially, I didn’t think too much of it. I took training fairly light during the following week and completed Open Workout 18.5 without much pain during the workout. However, immediately following the workout? Ouch! Immediately post-workout, the soreness and pain of my inner right elbow increased. At work on Monday, my forearm and elbow were tender and painful, making the turning of a door knob into a painful task. I took the week off from training to recuperate and during this time mentally linked the pain I was having to my efforts to conquer pull-ups. Leading up to the Open, I had been working on pull-ups almost every day and Open Workout 18.5 had been loaded with them. Throughout training as I worked on pull-ups, I would have pain in my forearms and sometimes tingling in my wrist but I simply ignored it and the pain always subsided as soon as I was off the bar. It wasn’t until this injury that I thought, “Maybe I’m doing something wrong?” So, on my week off from training, I found and read as much information as possible regarding elbow pain. This reading material about elbow pain, lead to reading about forearm strength, which lead to reading about grip followed by more reading regarding pull-up form and technique. I devoured the information and began reflecting on my training technique and form. I stayed out of the box and off the pull-up bar which was difficult. Instead, I began doing mental exercises analyzing what I had been doing on the bar in my efforts to complete a strict pull-up.
First, I realized that my overall mind set for performing pull-ups was incorrect. Not having the correct mental image regarding the movement trickled down to faults in all aspects of what I was attempting to do physically on the bar. While performing banded eccentrics, I was not focused on activating the large primary muscle groups needed to execute the movement; my lats, traps and rear deltoids. Instead, I had been working so hard to simply hold up my body weight, I was doing whatever it took to maintain a bent arm hang position. As a result, I was placing a huge amount of strain on the muscles of my forearms. Next, I thought about my grip on the bar. Again, without giving it much thought, I had been wrapping my fingers over the top of the bar and leaving my thumb flapping in outer space. This also created a ton of strain on my forearms. Finally, when on the bar in the bottom of the pull-up position I was basically hanging like a lazy monkey; such that I was simply hanging as a heap of dead weight. I had no notion or regard for hanging in an active position such that my shoulders were engaged, my rib cage pulled downward and my core muscles activated.
When I returned to training a week later, I had already mentally corrected a number of the faults in my pull-up technique that had resulted in the initial injury. Once back in the box, I watched as many people as possible performing pull-ups both in my box on through on-line video. With all the information I had on board by reading, combined with the visual study of others doing pull-ups, I was able to properly diagnose and then correct the issues with my pull-up form that I had linked to my elbow pain. First, as mentioned, I changed my mental attitude toward the pull-up movement. Instead of simply focusing on my “hang-time” and straining my forearms, I refocused on engaging my lats, scapula, traps and rear delts. Next, I addressed my grip. I began wrapping my fingers over the top of the bar with my thumbs tightly wrapped around the bar underside reminiscent of a tightly clamped “C” shape; what I later learned is called a pull-up hook grip. Third, I stopped hanging on the bar like a dead weight. Instead, I focused on an active hang position in which my core is tight, my rib cage pulled downward and my shoulders activated. I am now, oh so close to completing my first strict body weight pull-up and the described changes in focus and technique have, without doubt helped me in my progression and alleviated a majority of my elbow pain.