For a certain type of sports enthusiast, there’s little that compares to the challenge of an extreme workout and the endorphin rush that comes with boot camp, CrossFit, and evenSoulCycle classes, all of which have emerged as full-blown lifestyle movements in recent years. But along with their push-yourself-to-your-limits mentality and high-intensity training circuits come some risks, especially for fitness amateurs who are looking to get in shape fast.News reports on CrossFit injuries have gained nearly has much attention as its benefits in recent years, and word-of-mouth tales of tweaked knees, strained tendons, and back injuries during similarly superhuman fitness classes abound.
So, how to avoid pushing yourself too far—and into at-risk territory—while enjoying the benefits of a body-transformative class? First, accept that when attendance is high, personal attention from even the best instructor is going to be lower by default. According to Andrew Speer, a fitness trainer at New York’s SoHo Strength Lab, which specializes in professional athlete-worthy circuit training—Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and supermodelChristy Turlington Burns are fans—advises that the best way to avoid injury and to get the most out of your workout is to do your research. Ask the instructor of your new class what the workout will require of you before getting started. “It’s important to have an open discussion about any of your pre-existing conditions, from arthritis to a bad wrist. He or she will be able to tell you if the class is right for you.”
Beyond that, the best thing you can do to prepare might be surprising: “If you’re coming off of six months sitting at the desk, going to an NFL-worthy boot camp isn’t the best idea,” says Speer. The most common causes of injury—of which the lower back, shoulders, knees, and hips are at the greatest risk—is lack of soft-tissue and mobility preparation. And if you can’t go through certain ranges of motion, adds Speer, “you may compensate in other ways that strain the body.”
Instead of throwing yourself into a workout that your body isn’t yet equipped to handle, he suggests seeking the help of a personal trainer for a few preparatory sessions. “You can be honest and say that you’re interested in joining a specific class,” he says, noting that it can be well worth the time and effort to have a trainer show you a few exercises and techniques to work on in advance, while bringing your overall fitness levels up to good place. He recommends flexibility (stretching), soft tissue (using a foam roller), and mobility work (exercises that involve a greater range of motion, like spider lunges) in order to prepare your joints to work through a greater range of motion. “You can also find a lot of great mobility exercises on MobilityWod.com,” he adds.
Once you feel ready to try a class, form is key. Arrive early to adjust your stationary bike to suit your height so that your spine is always straight and your knees are always at least slightly bent, or to secure good placement in boot camp–style classes for optimum mirror visibility to watch your form. After that, simply listen to your body. “It can be hard to tell the difference between what’s difficult, and what is actually causing injury in the middle of a set,” admits Speer. But the telltale sign of damage is sudden sharp pain. If you’re uncertain, Speer stresses that it’s better to back off of a set. After all, there will always be another class with more opportunity to go a little further.