The Upside of Injury

Stella floats as Cinderella, above, and in "In the Upper Room", below.

My sister-in-law is a phenomenal dancer.  As one of the top dancers at the American Ballet Theatre, she is one of the best in the world. Besides ballet, Stella is adept at just about every other genre of dance–jazz, modern, hip hop, swing, ballroom, she can do it all.  A couple years ago she badly injured herself, an injury that led to a year of pain–physical and emotional-and slow healing.  She is back on stage now and loving every minute of it, but that year of injury taught her a lot about herself and dance.

Stella recently wrote a short article in a dance magazine about the injury and the year off.  She writes,Before, I had faith in my body to simply do the movement; now I’m more analytical. My moments of abandon now give me greater joy. It may sound clichéd, but I appreciate dancing more now that I know it can be taken away from me at any moment.

I think a lot can be learned from Stella’s quotation above.  No one wants to have an injury, much less an injury as serious and career threatening as Stella’s, but a surprising amount of good can come from an injury.

Firstly, as Stella mentions in the her final sentence above, there is a much greater appreciation for the activity.  You really don’t understand how much something means to you until there is the possibility of its disappearance.  It’s like the old song, “Don’t ya love her as she’s walking out the door” (anyone?).

My moments of abandon now give me greater joy. Ah, I like this.  This is one of the key points to CrossFit and physical training.  Moments of abandon.  For most people, constructive moments of abandon are few and far between.  This is one of those non-physical benefits to physical training that is sometimes mentioned, but not always for fear of appearing too New Ageish or not macho. After all, we lift big weights and ‘do’ the girls.  Deep in a WOD, however, it’s not your mind that keeps you going.

But it is the first part of her quotation that I think has especial meaning to CrossFitters.  Stella’s injury has made her more analytical of her movement.  It has improved her already excellent technique. An injury forces you to find ways to compensate for that injury.  It also forces you to ensure that the injury does not happen again.  All this necessitates a deeper understanding of the technique specifically and of human movement in general.  And any such deeper understanding of a specific technique, much less human movement, cannot help but have dramatic carryover to everything in CrossFit, as well as everyday life and movement.

Last year I struggled with painful knee tendonitis in both knees, in fact I unfortunately still do a bit.  While I am not happy with the tendonitis, having it has given me a greater insight into the mechanics of the squat and other lifts.  As a result of my incredibly touchy knees, my squat has dramatically improved.  Since I cannot afford to let good form slack at all, as there is no wiggle room for sloppiness with my knees, my technique is much stronger.  And that has made me much stronger.  All my lifts are up–back squat, front squat, overhead squat, deadlift.  And that directly translates into a heavier clean and snatch.

The tendonitis has cast everything I do with my lower body, from the setup and pull of a clean to getting out of a car, in a new light.  Thinking constantly how to lessen the stress upon my knees has made my movement much more efficient.  It has also made me a better coach, with a sharper eye for flaws and inconsistencies in my athletes, a more knowledgeable understanding of the weaknesses behind them and the implementation of their fixes.

I can only imagine the awareness of technique and movement that Stella, a professional athlete since she was a teenager, now has.  The joy that she feels in her movement and dance, however, can be felt much more readily as it is endemic, should be endemic, to all of us.

Please post your thoughts to Comments.



1 Jerk 90% 1RM

On the minute for 10 minutes.


5 Rounds

20 Russian Kettlebell Swings

200m Run

Use a weight heavier than Helen weight, such as 72# for men and 53# for women.