Skip to main content

Reduce Your Risk of Shoulder Injury During CrossFit

Reduce Your Risk of Shoulder Injury During CrossFit

If you’ve been around CrossFit for some time, you or someone you know has tweaked a shoulder. While most of the time these injuries are mild, sometimes they can be more severe and disabling. And while CrossFit has repeatedly been shown in research to have relatively low risk of injury,  many people associate it with injury.


How can you reduce your risk of injury? In the current research, the biggest predictors of injury are the following: being male and history of previous injury (often acquired from playing a different sport). This makes sense. Across almost all sports a previous injury to a body region is the biggest predictor of a future injury. Unfortunately neither of these are modifiable risk factors. This doesn’t mean that all is lost. Below I’ve listed the modifiable risk factors that I believe contribute to shoulder injuries while participating in CrossFit. Once your can identify where a potential problem is coming from, then you can correct it.



Volume is typically the biggest issue we see for most people. Oftentimes CrossFitters have the mentality that more is always better, but that’s usually not the case. There is something called your Maximum Adaptive Volume, or MAV. MAV is the range of volume in which you will achieve your greatest number of gains during a training cycle. Many people blow right past this to hit Maximum Recoverable Volume, or MRV. MRV is the point in which you are training so much that you actually begin to slow your gains and increase your risk for injury. You have reached the maximum amount of volume your body can recover from, any more would cause injury. CrossFit was designed to be variable in nature, not random. To do this appropriately, you must have high volume days, middle volume days, and low volume days. Unfortunately, most gyms  program a little higher on the volume for different reasons. This not to fault any gym owners out there, they have an immensely challenging job trying to program workouts to consistently keep people improving, but also keep them engaged in training and showing up to the gym.  The problem really starts with athlete’s mindsets that MORE = BETTER when BETTER = BETTER. It’s surprising, but in a lot of cases you gain from doing less. You still need to hit your Minimum Effective Dose, or MED. This is the minimum amount of work required to maintain your fitness. Volume is a range and you don’t have to be perfect to make progress. You do have to pay attention to what your body is telling you, and hit varying levels of volume and intensity throughout the week.


Poor Mechanics

This topic is really in combination with the volume piece. There can be a wide variety of what is considered “normal” overhead mechanics, but in general you need close to full range of motion and strength through that motion to achieve the overhead positions in CrossFit without compensations. Examples of this are going to be incomplete positions during kipping movements, handstand positions, ring dips, and overhead pressing. Working with a skilled provider can help you to figure out if the limitation is in your mobility, or your ability to control the range of motion that you have.


Poor Mobility

Poor mobility is a common cause of poor mechanics. If your mobility is seriously lacking in your shoulder, shoulder blade, or thoracic spine, you are going to have a hard time with achieving the proper positions as noted above. This typically is going to shift stress on to a different part of your body which may not be prepared to endure that stress. Injury risk aside, improving your mobility will increase your efficiency with a lot of movements which = increased performance. Simple mobility screens are the best place to start when assessing for mobility. If you clearing lack range of motion in a big way, it’s vital to put a plan in place to restore it.


Video: Lat Mobility



Lack of strength

Specifically, not enough strict strength on board. Athletes usually want to rush ahead to do the things that look cool like muscle ups, handstand pushups, ring dips etc. They figure out that they can do more reps if they kip. The problem  is that without a good baseline level of strength and integrity of those tissues, adding speed and volume with kipping can easily overload and expose tissues to injury. Go slow, commit to learning the basics and you will be able to perform these movements for years, rather than trying to force yourself through something you’re not ready to handle.


To summarize, get stronger, improve your mobility, and keep an eye on your volume between what the gym programs and what you try to do on your own time. If you are having problems with your shoulder and want to get back to CrossFit, call us to schedule an appointment to see how we can help you! Our next blog will discuss the most common types of shoulder injuries we see in CrossFit athletes.



Book your free 15 minute phone consultation by following the link below.

Free Phone Consultation