In another guest post by Scott Brengel, C.S.C.S., Scott answers questions about injury rates in strongman training, Crossfit and strength training in general. I believe you will find Scott’s insights interesting and better, helpful to your own training, whatever that is.
I can say with 100% certainty that no one is keeping stats on the rate of injury in strongman. I’ve competed at this sport at the highest level since 2003. I can guesstimate that the average life span of a strongman is about 1 to 2 years, for various reasons. One being the rate of injury.
Sports injuries can usually fall into 3 categories:
1) Improper and/or deficient warm-up routine;
2) Over-use and repetitive/cumulative stress; and
3) trauma. The first and second make up the bulk of injuries in strength sports. These playing fields are highly predictable and believe it or not, do not usually provide an impetus for traumatic injury.
The rate of injury is very high in all strength sports. There are many reasons behind this. First, most of the athletes that are serious about competition are typically asking their musculoskeletal frames to perform tasks that their bodies weren’t built to or conditioned properly to handle. But their minds push them past these physical boundaries. I am guilty of the very same disregard to an extent. But, in order to excel in strength sports you have to constantly walk the line between pushing your body to new limits and avoiding injury. It takes a keen awareness of one’s own body to do this successfully.
Second, the athlete must be willing and intelligent/experienced enough to know when to train around an injury and how to train around an injury. This is an art and a science within itself.
Third, many times strength athletes are unaware of their injuries and over-trained joints and tendons as anti-inflammatories and other pharmaceuticals are used widely throughout the strength community. This is a risk that some are willing to take. The athletes that do choose this path are typically not as methodical and/or patient enough to go the first route, as it is the tougher one. This creates very unfavorable odds for injury at such an extreme sport. Proceed at your own risk.
From my experience with using strongman events on a lesser scale with athletes that are properly warmed up and are not performing the same events over and over again every training session and avoiding repetitive stress, then yes, strongman-type training can help increase bone density, strengthen joint integrity and increase work capacity. Knowing how to gauge this kind of intensity and volume of applying this type of training to a military op or an athlete takes some experience and practical application to make it effective and worthwhile.
And to quickly touch on why Crossfit is believed to have a high rate of injury is due to the second injury category I described above. Crossfit attempts to incorporate exercises that involve a high level of skill – namely the clean and jerk and snatch and insert them into a circuit environment. The Olympic lifting community no doubt is happy that Crossfit is promoting their style of lifting because there has never been this sort of marketing opportunity for the sport and its advocates. So this is a beggars can’t be choosers type situation.
But just know that these coaches would never condone a 20 rep set of Olympic clean and jerks or snatches. As this exercise application is just begging for a repetitive stress injury. Olympic lifting is highly technical, concentric in nature and only applied over high intensities (Intensity being defined as % of 1RM). When applied over 20 reps, technique is compromised after every rep. Some crossfitters carefully put the bar back on the ground after each rep. This will create wear and tear on the elbow and shoulder capsule especially. When you do not perform an Olympic lift properly, you are forced to “muscle” the weight using the wrong muscle groups. In most cases, the lift turns into an ugly version of a deadlift/shoulder raise/reverse curl. That is just begging for trouble. This is not an exercise that a lifter wants to rush through or perform carelessly. And then there is the lack of intensity, which defeats the purpose of an all out explosive lift designed to increase rate-of-force development or speed-strength using high intensity weights.
Although strongman training does not pride itself in reducing injury (quite the opposite actually), it does offer great benefits if applied properly to a military or athletic training regimen.
With with some tweaking and logic, Crossfit would do the same for a military regimen (but not so much for elite athletes). But like with most gimmicky training fads, the instructors are unqualified and unaware of the planning and implementation it takes to make the training approach a successful one. There is way too much room for error and interpretation when the general goal is simply “ultimate fitness”.
Scott Brengel, C.S.C.S.
Scott is hosting the 1st annual So. California’s Strongest Man Competition March 7, 2009. For all the details, go to his website or click on the “Events” tab at the top of the page.