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How CrossFitters Can Avoid or Treat the Pain of Plantar Fasciitis

Planter Fasciitis

Anyone who participates in a high-impact workout program like CrossFit understands its risks and rewards. The rewards are both physical and mental – a leaner, stronger body, better cardio health, stronger bones that result from resistance and weight training and greater self-esteem that occurs when difficult challenges are met. On the downside, the risks include injuries to areas of the body that are vulnerable to repetitive stress from all that jumping, running and lifting found in the WODs.

One of the most common repetitive stress injuries for CrossFitters is plantar fasciitis. In nutshell, this an inflammation and degeneration of a thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes. It is extremely common among those who spends a lot of time on their feet – about 3 million people each year in the U.S. develop plantar fasciitis - but the percentage of athletes with this condition is much higher than non-athletes.

An Ankle and Foot Surgeon Unpacks Plantar Fasciitis

Dr. Christopher Sakowski is an orthopedic surgeon in the Dallas-Fort Worth area who specializes on treating conditions of the ankle and foot. He is also on the referral line of Texas Health Spine & Orthopedic Center. Dr. Sakowski outlines the most common causes of plantar fasciitis.

"It is thought to arise from a biomechanical issue," he said. "Repetitive microtrauma in the region of the plantar fascia (heel of the foot) causes a degeneration of the fibers at the attachment to the calcaneus – the connecting tissues between the heel and toes.

“The term 'fasciitis' is somewhat a misnomer, as it implies inflammation. This condition really this is more of a degenerative condition. Certain mechanical factors such as a flatfoot deformity (or pronation of the foot), which is associated with tight calf muscles, is thought to be a risk factor. Other contributors to the condition include a recent increase in activity, training (or prolonged standing) on a hard surface such as cement or poorly cushioned shoes."

CrossFit class by Victor Freitas

Orthopedic specialists and CrossFit trainers also know that there are often compensatory injuries, since CrossFit fanatics have a tendency to push through their injuries.  For example, knee pain that occurs due to a change in gait from a foot injury or pain in the other foot after a chronic injury on the opposite side.

Preventing Plantars: Stretching, Shoes and Orthotics

What can a serious runner or CrossFitter do to avoid getting this injury?

"A good calf stretching program is always recommended prior to any training regimen to help avoid injury," Dr. Sakowski said. "This will also help prevent developing plantar fasciitis. Also, check your shoes regularly to ensure they are well-padded and supportive. Depending on frequency of use, running shoes may need to be replaced as often as every 6 months."

Dedicated CrossFitters understand the importance and the challenge of choosing the correct shoes for a program that has such a wide range of activities – running, weight training, jumping – in a typical WOD.

"I often see my CrossFit patients wearing shoes that are either inappropriate for the activity or shoes that are broken down," noted Dr. Larry Huppin, a Seattle podiatrist.

"Despite the fact that there are many shoes marketed as 'CrossFit Shoes,' there is no one perfect shoe for CrossFit as the activities are just too varied.  In fact, theoretically, you should have three types of shoes for CrossFit:

  • One pair of shoes for lifting
  • One pair for jumping
  • One pair for cardiovascular fitness (running)

CrossFit Shoes by Reebok

"However, it is not practical to expect participants to change shoes each time they move from, say, a box jump to a clean and jerk. Thus, it is important to find a shoe that offers the best protection possible for all of these activities.

"Of all of the activities done during CrossFit, weight-lifting is the most technically difficult and the activity that requires the best form in order to prevent injury. So, it is my recommendation that CrossFit athletes focus on getting a very good pair of weight-lifting shoes that also will offer some protection for jumping and cardiovascular activities."

Dr. Huppin, who is himself a CrossFit athlete, recommends several training shoes, and you can get a look and overview of these by clicking here.

Another factor that can help prevent plantar fasciitis in an orthotic shoe insert. Dr. Huppin explains.

"The purpose of any orthotic is to reduce stress on tissue that is prone to injury or is already injured," he said. "For example:

  • If a patient is having trouble with plantar fasciitis the goal of an orthotic is to reduce tension on the plantar fascia by limiting arch collapse.
  • If a patient is prone to metatarsal stress fractures, the orthotic is prescribed to reduce force through those specific metatarsal bones.
  • If a patient is prone to 'runner's knee' or 'jumper's knee' due to excessive foot pronation, the orthotic should function to limit that pronation and help keep the knee in proper alignment."

Treatment for This Condition

"Surgery is very rarely performed for this condition," Dr. Sakowski said. "Initial treatment always focuses on a good home stretching program – both for the calf muscle as well as a plantar fascia-specific stretch. That, in combination with some well-padded gel heel cups, typically alleviates symptoms, although they can persist for many months.

"If these conservative treatments fail and patients are particularly symptomatic in the morning, sometimes using a night splint to keep the foot stretched overnight is helpful. In rare cases, more serious measures are required.

"Although steroid injections can be performed for plantar fasciitis, I try to avoid this if at all possible as they are associated with a significant risk of plantar fascia rupture and typically only last a short time. Platelet-rich plasma (PRP) is becoming a more popular treatment for plantar fasciitis, although there is a lack of good clinic evidence supporting its efficacy. Finally, extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is another non-surgical option that has been found to be very effective for recalcitrant plantar fasciitis, if all other treatment options have failed to provide relief."

Have you had to deal with plantar fasciitis in your CrossFit workouts? If so, what worked to get you back in the gym, pain-free? Click here with your story and we will share with our other readers.

You are What You Eat. Don’t be a Creampuff!

Eat Healthy

Many people, including some who are dedicated to physical fitness, have a complicated relationship with food. To some, food is fuel – nothing more and nothing less. However, to others, food takes on a much more psychological importance.

With the food as fuel crowd, if it happens to taste great… all the better. However, its primary role is to allow them to run faster, get stronger and have a more productive and active life.

However, for those who need food to fulfill some emotional gaps and have a “love/hate” relationship with it, a diet which enhances CrossFit performance and speeds recovery might put these calories in their proper perspective.

It Takes Mental Toughness

Most people who decide to commit the considerable energy to become a CrossFit athlete have realized that this program is much more demanding and rewarding than a stroll into a traditional gym, no matter how many mirrors and fancy workout machines they might have. As has been noted in this space before, CrossFit is a lifestyle and by definition that includes attributes such as: work-ethic, passion to get stronger and nutrition to sustain that effort.

Where many people make a mistake about nutrition – including those who honestly want to get stronger and lose that excess fat – is that they think this process is all about a specific diet. It’s not. It’s about mental toughness. In other words, it’s about making a commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

While this healthy nutrition is important to supply one’s body with the type of fuel which encourages quicker recovery from the demands of a typical WOD, it doesn’t have to be an obsession. As the car insurance TV commercial correctly notes: “Hey insurance companies. Newsflash. Nobody’s perfect!”

What Types and How Much Food?

According to CrossFit Impulse, an excellent online resource, one of the toughest parts of transitioning to an eating program which incorporates foods that our bodies were intended to eat is the fact that grains, breads and processed carbohydrates are not in this group. Lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds serve as the basis for this food for fuel program.

Healthy Food

Even if one is eating these types of foods, proportions are also important for obtaining physical gains from CrossFit. According to Impulse, “Next, we recommend eating those quality foods in proportions that will fuel your athletic activity and provide hormonal balance. The best way we have found to achieve this is the Zone Diet. The Zone Diet prescribes 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat for every meal. It also prescribes that you eat several small meals throughout the day.” Other fitness experts recommend a Paleo diet, which has many of the same attributes of the Zone Diet.

Does this mean the CrossFit athlete is NEVER eating another dessert or pasta dish again, until death do they part? Of course not. Having a “cheat” meal or periodic dessert is perfectly acceptable, so long as it doesn’t happen every week.

Tips on Eating From a CrossFit Athlete

Female CrossFit - RallyFitness

Another model for an eating program that both enhances a workout and helps the body recover from the intensity of a CrossFit session comes from CrossFit athlete and regular contributor to the online fitness newsletter, The Athletic Build, Danielle Sidell. When asked about her diet and how it helps her train, she explained.

“I would describe it as simple, I don’t do anything special. I don’t avoid a whole lot of foods, I don’t stress over weighing out my food. I really just focus on taking in quality food sources, plenty of calories and stabilizing blood sugar. I want to maximize my workouts by getting the best recovery possible. I already have a very good idea of how much Macro’s are in most foods from changing up my diet so much in the past. So when I say 6 or 8 oz. of meat of sweet potatoes, I am not actually measuring it, but I would say it’s pretty accurate.

“My diet is very important in my performance. We make adjustments daily depending on what my workout is going to be, how I did, and how I feel afterwards. Not only are the nutrients very important but so is hormone balances, which are directly affected by the nutrients you but into your body.

“I wouldn’t say that my diet is a typical CrossFit diet because of some of my food choices, but I think the logic behind the diet I follow and a paleo or zone is similar. I don’t really think that one diet is better than the other. Everyone should find what works for them individually.”

What would someone find in Danielle’s refrigerator? According to The Athletic Build:

    • Eggs
    • Steak
    • Ground beef
    • Fish
    • Chicken
    • Rice
    • Oats
    • Pears
    • Bananas
    • Natural Peanut Butter

To review a typical week in Sidell’s diet, just click here.

Breaking the Emotional Connection to Food

Following a healthy diet is not easy, but neither is succeeding in the grueling CrossFit program! The women and men who get up at some unbelievable hour and push themselves through the most intense exercise session they have ever experienced don’t have a problem with challenges. Eating the right food is a part of this challenge.

CrossFit Impulse puts the entire diet challenge in perspective.

“What you shouldn’t do is go crazy trying to modify all your favorite high-carb meals into something healthy, because it just doesn’t work. The underlying issue is breaking the emotional connection to food. Food is fuel. Just eat it and get on with life.

“Food is not a way to achieve happiness. Happiness is what happens in life when you’re not eating. If you get emotional fulfillment and gratification from food then it is evidence of a hole in your life that you’re trying to fill.

“As a healthy way to set and achieve goals and spend time with like-minded people, CrossFit is part of what will fill that hole. But you have to start by realizing the situation and accepting that if you want to change then you’ve got to change. Your old dietary habits will just give you your old results.”

What do you eat before and after your CrossFit training? Tell us and we will share with our other readers.

Why Music Helps You Get Physical in Your CrossFit Workout

Listen to Music for CrossFit workout

Visit any CrossFit class anywhere in the world and there is a good possibility that the sound of music will be pounding through the room. In fact, many if not all organized exercise sessions use music as a stimulant. Why?

Music changes both the body and the mind during a workout. According to a 2013 article in Scientific American, “Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it.”

In a 2012 review of the research, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world's leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that one could think of music as "a type of legal performance-enhancing drug." There are many reasons music has this effect on the human body.

The Rhythm Response is the Key

The SA article notes that since 1911 several hundred studies have been conducted on the effect of music on the body when it is involved in physical activities. Here are some conclusions of this music and exercise research.

“Two of the most important qualities of workout music are tempo—or speed—and what psychologists call rhythm response, which is more or less how much a song makes you want to boogie. Most people have an instinct to synchronize their movements and expressions with music—to nod their heads, tap their toes or break out in dance—even if they repress that instinct in many situations.

“What type of music excites this instinct varies from culture to culture and from person to person. However, to make some broad generalizations, fast songs with strong beats are particularly stimulating, so they fill most people's workout playlists. In a survey of 184 college students, for example, the most popular types of exercise music were hip-hop (27.7 percent), rock (24 percent) and pop (20.3 percent).”

It’s All in Your Head!

Recent research noted in the SA article, points to how music encourages athletes to keep pushing ahead with their exercise regime. “Distraction is one explanation. The human body is constantly monitoring itself. After a certain period of exercise—the exact duration varies from person to person—physical fatigue begins to set in. The body recognizes signs of extreme exertion—rising levels of lactate in the muscles, a thrumming heart, increased sweat production—and decides it needs a break.

“Music competes with this physiological feedback for the brain's conscious attention. Similarly, music often changes people's perception of their own effort throughout a workout: it seems easier to run those 10 miles or complete a few extra biceps curls when Beyoncé or Eminem is right there with you.”

Dr. Karageorghis correctly surmised that "Given that exercise is often tiresome, boring and arduous, anything that relieves those negative feelings would be welcome," However, the intensity of a typical CrossFit session may work against this “distraction” tactic.

The research notes that “the benefits of distraction are most pronounced during low-to-moderate-intensity exercise. When up against high-intensity exercise, music loses its power to override the physical feelings of tiredness, but it can still change the way people respond to that fatigue. The right music elevates mood and persuades people to ride out waves of exhaustion, rather than giving up.”

Neuroscientists have noted that different regions of the human brain specialize in processing different senses—sound, sight, touch—and the brain uses the information it receives from one sense to help it understand another. The SA article on music and exercise added, “"We have also known for decades that there are direct connections from auditory neurons to motor neurons," explains Jessica Grahn, who is a cognitive neuroscientist at Western University's Brain and Mind Institute in Ontario. "When you hear a loud noise, you jump before you have even processed what it is. That's a reflex circuit, and it turns out that it can also be active for non-startling sounds, such as music."

Here’s Your Playlist, Now Rock It!

The intensity of CrossFit is constant. As such, a steady, driving musical beat is critical. Veteran CrossFit trainers also feel that the tune should be at least 130 beats per minute (BPM) in order to get that motivation and distraction from pain working together.

In a 2015 article for Shape Magazine, writer Chris Lawhorn proposed the Ten CrossFit Songs to Help You Crush Your Next WOD. While some of them might be a little more “R” rated than others, they all have one thing in common: They start and keep that adrenaline pumping.

Here’s the list, with the BPM for each song.

Drake's workout music

Rihanna - Bitch Better Have My Money - 103 BPM
Nine Inch Nails - Came Back Haunted - 131 BPM
Kanye West, Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom & Paul McCartney - All Day - 123 BPM
Afrojack & 30 Seconds to Mars - Do or Die (Remix) - 128 BPM
Metric - Breathing Underwater - 143 BPM
Breathe Carolina & Karmin - Bang It Out - 130 BPM
Taddy Porter - Shake Me - 131 BPM
Imagine Dragons & Kendrick Lamar - Radioactive - 139 BPM
Nero - Doomsday - 121 BPM
Drake - Energy - 86 BPM

If you think you need a little boost, some “legal, performance-enhancing drugs” as noted above, download these tunes and see if you can get your trainer to put them in music circulation at your CrossFit box.

Do you have a song that motivates you during your CrossFit workout? Send them our way and we’ll share them with the rest of the class.

When You're Ready to Explode, Grab the Kettlebells!


One of the most useful pieces of equipment found in a CrossFit gym is the kettlebell – colorfully described by some as a “cannonball with a handle.” This cast-iron or cast steel weight is used to perform ballistic exercises (those which focus on explosiveness) that have the unique advantage of combining cardiovascular, strength and flexibility training.

While the popularity of these weighted balls has only recently taken off, kettlebells have been around since the 1700's. According to several online sources, including Wikipedia, the first kettlebells were used in Russia to weigh crops.

After realizing that their constant lifting and swinging of these weights made the farmers much stronger, they began using them for exercise purposes, leading to the development of a weight-lifting sport known as girevoy sport. The Soviet army used them as part of their physical training and conditioning programs in the 20th century and kettlebells have been used for competition and sports throughout Russia and Europe since the 1940s.

Big Advantage of Kettlebells: Flexibility

While this history of kettlebells is colorful, the real benefit of these weights comes from their amazing flexibility in an exercise program – particularly in a CrossFit environment. Typically, they come in weights of 12 kg., 16 kg. And 24 kg. These weights are chosen based on the participant's strength and flexibility.  

According to several online sources, “by their nature, typical kettlebell exercises build strength and endurance, particularly in the lower back, legs, and shoulders, and increase grip strength. The basic movements, such as the swing, snatch, and the clean and jerk, engage the entire body at once, and in a way that mimics real world activities such as shoveling or farm work, an homage to those early kettlebell devotees, the Russian farmers!

How Kettlebells are used in CrossFit Training

As with any piece of exercise equipment, the benefits of using kettlebells in training is directly related to the quality of instruction on their use. There are literally hundreds of exercises which employ these weights and all of them can either help or hurt the athlete using, or misusing them. Needless to say, it is important to obtain professional advice from a qualified trainer before starting to swing these cannonballs around!

Many think of using kettlebells in the same way they would use barbells or dumbbells. While this is intuitive, it’s also wrong.  According to CrossFit trainers, kettlebell exercises usually involve large numbers of repetitions. Kettlebell exercises work several muscles simultaneously and may be repeated continuously for several minutes or with short breaks.

This combination makes the exercise partially aerobic and but more similar to the high-intensity interval training of CrossFit, rather than to traditional weight lifting. Because of their high repetitions, kettlebell progression should start out slowly to build muscle endurance, support the joints and prevent injury. When used properly, these weights can improve mobility and range of motion which increasing strength.

The Top Six Kettlebell Exercises

There are probably as many exercises which can be done with kettlebells as there are CrossFit trainers and athletes. The simplicity of their design allows these weights to be deployed in an almost unlimited number of ways. However, no one has unlimited time, so it becomes important to get an opinion on the best exercises – for maximum return on energy (that would be “ROE” for you folks who enjoy acronyms!) expended on a workout.

Scott Iardella, is a strength and conditioning specialist, sports nutritionist, former sports medicine physical therapist, and former competitive bodybuilder with over 30 years of experience. He notes that his passion is helping people of all levels get stronger, improve performance, and discover their physical potential. He's also the creator of "The Rdella Training Podcast."

In a recent post on, Scott picked “The 6 Best Kettlebell Exercises You Need to Do.” Here are the top kettlebell exercises this fitness expert recommends.


“The Russian-style kettlebell swing, in which you project the weight to shoulder-height only, is an insanely effective exercise when executed with proper form. Hip power, hip hinging, and breathing techniques make it incredibly powerful. It's a two-for-one exercise, meaning you're able to combine strength training and cardiovascular conditioning into one efficient movement.

The swing is considered the most powerful kettlebell movement because it represents full-body power, extreme fat loss, and a high level of cardiovascular conditioning. It's also the foundation of all kettlebell ballistic exercises.”

Next up, Scott picked what appears to be a leg exercise, but is in fact a total-body challenge.


“Squatting is a fundamental movement pattern with many variations. The kettlebell goblet squat isn't just a leg exercise; it's another total-body juggernaut that offers more mobility—the ability to move easily so you can safely train with heavier loads—and improved conditioning.”

The next choice is designed to “bullet-proof your body.”


The Turkish get-up is a slow, deliberate movement that's been around for centuries. You start by lying on the floor, then stand up, then lie back down again in a specific sequence of movement transitions. The get-up will help you with functional tasks as well as higher-level exercises. It teaches you to move fluidly, and when you add the external load (a kettlebell), it requires strength, mobility, and skilled movement.”

The fourth exercise chosen by Scott shows the advantages of a kettlebell over a dumbbell.


“Once you can do the first three exercises—and have demonstrated appropriate shoulder mobility and stability—the kettlebell press is another exceptional movement to learn. While it looks like an overhead press, it's not just a shoulder exercise, as you use your entire body for maximum pressing power and strength.”


Similar to the kettlebell swing, the clean is another explosive exercise for total-body strength and conditioning. The difference here is that the kettlebell finishes in the rack position as opposed to being projected horizontally away from your body.”


“Just to be clear, it's nothing like the barbell snatch, except that it begins with the weight in a low position and projects the weight overhead. The kettlebell snatch is physically demanding and technical, but offers outstanding total-body strength and conditioning benefits. It can help transcend athletic performance to new levels, build explosive strength, and forge strong, powerful shoulders.”

What are your favorite kettlebell exercises? Leave us a message and we'll share with our other readers.

More Than a Workout. The CrossFit Lifestyle is Transformative.

 CrossFit Celebration!

All it takes is a five-minute conversation with a dedicated CrossFit athlete and it becomes obvious that this is much more than a fad workout. It’s a lifestyle.

It has the “misery loves company” aspect of a military boot camp which has helped to bond soldiers for generations. Plus, it has the constant variety of physical activities, led by a well-trained coach, that are almost impossible for a self-directed individual to conceive of, much less execute. And finally, it has a very strong since of camaraderie among other CrossFit participants that one would never experience in a traditional health club.

According to Ross Lawrence, in an article he wrote for Active NORCAL, “CrossFit has another, important aspect which sets it apart. “It is universally scalable. Essentially, this means that a ‘CrossFitter’ can cater workouts to his or her own physical capabilities by choosing the size of the weights used and doing less taxing versions of certain exercise.”

He also reiterated the advantage of CrossFit’s variety of exercises. “As a means to stave of exercise boredom, CrossFit instructors vary group workouts every single day. Rarely, if ever, will you find yourself doing the same routine you’ve done before. Constantly mixing up programming ensures that athletes are utilizing and strengthening different muscles every time out. Using all the muscles in your body, and working them out in varying ways makes it impossible to plateau. Within one group lesson, you might use row machines, pull-up bars, elastic bands, ropes, barbells, kettlebells, PVC pipes and medicine balls.”

CrossFit Leader

“Attendees at group classes benefit from the great amount of skill and education that coaches possess when it comes to the design of the workouts. Interestingly, for the purpose of keeping each and every muscle in their bodies fit, coaches won’t even design their own routines for fear that they’ll exclude movements they subconsciously don’t like to do.”

The CrossFit lifestyle continues even when the workout is over.

Just Follow the Money

In 2015, an Atlanta-based, consumer banking marketing research company called Cardlytics began studying the purchasing patterns of millions of people who visited fitness centers that year. They analyzed the spending of people who worked out at traditional health clubs, CrossFit gyms, boutique cycling studios and yoga/Pilates/barre studios.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the company “looked at the transactions of everyone who spent at least $30 on fitness in 2015 after not spending on that type of fitness the year before.” The results showed how spending on fitness compares with the purchases outside the gym. This includes what they spend on eating out, which stores they shop, what they value and what they buy.”

It will surprise no one in the CrossFit community, that their group is dramatically different from the others!

For example, people who work out in traditional health clubs spend a whopping 14.6 percent of their food budget on the empty calories of fast food. As the Planet Fitness CEO, Chris Rondeau noted in the WSJ article, “If I look at a CrossFit client, they’re probably a much more avid, enthusiastic, maybe overcommitted exerciser. So, they may tend to eat a little better than someone that isn’t quite a serious or as fanatical about it.”

That word “fanatical” seems to show up quite a bit when CrossFit athletes are being discussed!

Gym Shopper

There are other fascinating aspects of the people who adhere to the CrossFit lifestyle. For example:

  • CrossFit members spend more on home improvement than other fitness users.
  • At casual or takeout restaurants, CrossFit members spend less on pricier items like specialty coffee and alcohol and more on such things a pizza, sandwiches, Mexican food and ice cream.
  • They like to splurge on clothes – for CrossFit. They spend 7.4 percent of the retail budget on athletic apparel, compared to 5.5 percent for cyclists and yogis and 4.6 percent for traditional gym goers.

Sports apparel companies like Reebok have taken notice of spending power of the CrossFit members. The company started making CrossFit-specific gear in 2011 and now offers about 250 apparel items and 16 footwear items for men and women. This is about twice what the company had planned to offer when it first started launched its CrossFit line.

A Lifestyle That Drives Healthy Choices

Whether they are in the middle of the often grueling WOD, shopping or having dinner at a nice restaurant, the CrossFit athletes maintain this unique lifestyle and it drives their healthy choices.

“What we notice though is that people at our gym realize that if they eat or drink to excess, the next day’s workout is going to be really difficult. So instead of having several drinks they only have one. The shift in overall health happens organically,” noted Bryan Schenone, owner of CrossFit Redding, California.

Healthy Group Dinner

“There’s an element of camaraderie with CrossFit because everyone knows how crappy it feels to be suffering through the workouts. No one wants to be last. But first or last, everyone is cheering for you the whole time,” observed Schenone. “CrossFit Redding is a really tight-knit group. We have barbeques and go to the movies together. We go out a lot, and it has become our social network.”

When an exercise program becomes a social network, there’s a strong commitment to fitness. Do you have a story about how the CrossFit lifestyle helped you feel better and helped you overcome the bad habit we all have? Contact us and share your story. We’ll share it with everyone else.

What is That Pain Telling You to Do?


Anyone who has made the commitment to exercise, lift weights, bike or practice yoga regularly has experienced some kind of pain. Whether it’s a minor, painful twinge on the morning after a light workout or the mind-numbing-think-you’re-going-to-die kind of pain that often occurs after a high-intensity CrossFit training session, there are good reasons to be aware and grow from this pain and soreness.

Most people embark on a fitness program to lose excess weight and build muscle mass. These are valid objectives and they can lead to muscle soreness and localized pain. Here’s why.

According to the physicians at the Mayo Clinic, the most common causes of muscle pain are tension, stress, overuse and minor injuries. This type of pain is usually localized, affecting just one or more muscles or parts of your body. Systemic muscle pain, which you feel throughout your body, is different. It's more often the result of an infection, an illness or a side effect of a medication.

Some common causes of muscle pain include:

  • Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
  • Medications, especially statins
  • Muscle cramps 
  • Muscle strain or rupture
  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Rhabdomyolysis, a potentially life-threatening condition in which muscle fibers break down and enter your bloodstream — sometimes as a side effect of using statin drugs

The BuiltLean website notes that after a workout, the body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle growth. This growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. This adaption, however, does not happen while you actually lift the weights. Instead, it occurs while you rest.

How do these muscles grow? So-called “satellite” cells act like stem cells for your muscles. When activated, they help to add more nuclei to the muscle cells and therefore contribute directly to the growth of myofibrils which are muscle cells. How are the activated? Stress. It’s a simple formula: Stress is cause and muscle growth is the affect.

In order to produce muscle growth, it is necessary to apply a load of stress greater than what one’s body or muscles had previously adapted too. This will inevitably lead to the bane of every fitness junkie – soreness.

BuiltLean notes that “If you’ve ever felt sore after a workout, you have experienced the localized muscle damage from working out. This local muscle damage causes a release of inflammatory molecules and immune system cells that activate satellite cells to jump into action.”


Is Pain a Big Red Stop Sign?

The kind of pain which is typically experienced by CrossFit participants is the delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and there is a difference of opinion about the “lessons to be learned” from this type of pain. According to Dr. Tony Webster, who works within the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence at Camosun College in Victoria, Canada, and CrossFit athlete, “It is often taught by fitness experts, and even by many sport coaches, that muscle soreness is a sign of having “overdone” it, to be avoided where possible. It is also taught that lactic acid is the cause of soreness and that post-exercise static stretching will reduce or eliminate DOMS.”

“For many specialized athletes,” he notes, “muscle soreness tends to be an issue only after prolonged layoffs from their sport or after training sessions that have been unusually tough or substantially different from normal. In CrossFit, of course, there is no “normal,” just constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity: the perfect recipe, as it turns out, for ongoing muscle damage and soreness.”

Webster continues. “The main consequence of muscle damage that we all feel is DOMS. This is soreness that first appears about eight hours after the exercise bout and typically peaks about 24-48 hours later. It’s particularly noticeable when you get out of bed in the morning. We experience muscle tenderness, pain when we touch the muscle, and stiffness that causes pain when we move or stretch it. With some gentle movement the pain usually subsides, but after prolonged periods of little movement (sitting in front of a computer, for example) it rears its ugly head again. Usually the DOMS will have mostly disappeared after about four to five days, but can persist for longer in some cases, as most CrossFitters can tell you.”

(stock image of CrossFit training class with participants smiling or laughing)

Dr. Webster notes that the major reason why DOMS is a recurring theme in CrossFit is the emphasis on constantly varied movement patterns. “A specialized athlete will typically use similar muscle groups day in and day out. Thus, the specific muscles concerned will adapt and become quite resistant to muscle damage and DOMS. The CrossFit athlete is using a far greater diversity of muscle groups with constantly differing movement patterns. The result is that we will regularly be hitting muscles with unaccustomed exercises. Voila! DOMS is inevitable in this scenario.”

No Pain. No Gain

Training is all about increasing strength in muscles and decreasing the time of recovery from the work. This is referred to by experts on physiology at the “repeated bout effect.” It means that a similar bout of exercise will not have the same consequences as before. While it is complicated medical process, Webster notes that it is “a combination of increased structural strength of muscle fibers, metabolic adaptation and neuromuscular changes. A key point is that if we go back to being a couch potato all that good work and adaptation will disappear within a few weeks.”

Is the often intense pain and soreness that CrossFit trainers experience after a workout a sign that they are overdoing it? Perhaps, but maybe not.

Maybe this pain is a sign that the muscles are being broken down and being repaired, becoming even stronger that they were before. Professional guidance from qualified CrossFit trainers and a knowledge of one’s own body are two factors that will help in this determination.

In the meantime, there is much truth in the old adage: No pain. No gain.

What CrossFit exercises cause you the most pain and what do you do about it? Contact us and we’ll share your story with our readers.


Which Exercise Training Are You More Likely to Stick With All Year Long? Yoga or CrossFit?

It has become a cliché.  Every January 1st, millions of well-meaning men and women resolve to go to the gym and work out more. Then, along about February 1st, all bets are off and gyms are empty except for all but a die-hard few!

Recently, some exercise experts had predicted that the popular practice of yoga would change all that. The mostly low-impact, stretching focus of this exercise regimen is much easier on aging bodies than say weight-training. However, it might surprise you to learn that participants of CrossFit, not yoga, will stick with their resolution to work out.

Where the Rubber Meets the Concrete

According to new data from data intelligence firm Cardlytics and reported on CNBC, “46 percent of new gym customers drop off by the end of January, and nearly 80 percent of them give up entirely by the fourth quarter. However, it turns out that the type of gym can make a difference in how long it takes for new gym-goers to give up.”

The reports shows that among specialty workout choices, new yoga clients have the highest drop-off rate, with a full 70 percent leaving after the first month. CrossFit members, on the other hand, are about twice as likely to stick it out until February or the end of the year.

What Accounts for this Stick-to-it-ness?

According to the report, it’s all about the community.

"It's the culture and the sense of community," said Ian Albert, manager of CrossFit Concrete Jungle in New York City. "CrossFit gyms hold you accountable and will check in on you if you don't show up. It's not a huge membership, so we notice if somebody is not coming in."

"CrossFit members have more motivation to show up because of the community, the cheering and high-fiving, and camaraderie," he added. "It's more fun to workout with other people that know you."

Click here to watch the brief CNBC report

The Primary Objective of Big-Box Gyms: Selling Memberships

The commercial gyms which tend to be the most profitable are the so-called “Globo-Gyms” (a reference to the hysterical move “Dodgeball). However, the profitability of big-box gyms such as Gold’s and Planet Fitness has little to do with regular attendance. Selling memberships is the driving force in these businesses. Typically, the business plans for these Globo-Gyms is to offer special introductory memberships in January – cashing in on those New Year’s resolutions – and aggressively trying to sell memberships in the early part of the year.

Ironically, the best scenario for these big-box gyms is to have very few of their paying members show up on a daily basis. This is due to the fact that most of these large facilities don’t really have the room to accommodate all of the members who have shelled out the cash for their annual dues.

The “spinning category” of gyms such as SoulCycle and FlyWheel, have gained a small amount of growth partially because their customers typically pay for their workouts as they go.

A typical CrossFit facility invests in trained, motivated staff and the correct amount and types of equipment, while the facilities are often “Spartan.” This unique environment leads to more camaraderie among participants and trainers and thus more support for participants to meet their fitness goals over the long run.

Support from CrossFit friends and trainers is a powerful motivation for an individual to reach and exceed their fitness goals. When this is combined with the thought that every CrossFit participant has said, or at least thought: “Hey, we survived another workout…together” is a very compelling proposition!  

What are your fitness resolutions? Let us know (link to Contact Us) and we will share them with everyone else.