Safety First?

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My financial adviser interrupted our meeting last week.

"Had my first session at CrossFit yesterday. They say CrossFit doesn't injure you so much as reveal where you're prone to injury."

I agreed, told him that was an interesting word choice. We discussed some of his concerns, but the fact of the matter is that anything can injure you. While risk is a given in our four dimensional world, two issues that deserve some thought are relative risk and risk/benefit ratio.

 Relative risk is more important than risk.

You are far more likely to be seriously injured driving to the gym or athletic field than you are while exercising. Parents worry about their teenager injuring growth plates while lifting weights, when those injuries are far more likely incurred during a soccer game or bike ride.

All that sitting we do while in class or at work is risky behavior when it comes to neck and back health. I laugh when experts with chronic forward head posture, thoracic kyphosis, and reduced lumbar lordosis vilify some specific exercise.

To say that the risk of an exercise outweighs the benefits for a certain person or population is one thing. But I don't want a blanket opinion on dead lifts from someone who can barely reach the ground without contorting their spine or almost falling over.

Likewise, every activity has a risk to benefit ratio. For example, the risk of injury from walking three miles on a treadmill is less than running 10 miles or sprinting down hill. Wimpy thera-band movements carry little risk but also little benefit outside of a rehabilitation setting. Those elliptical trainers have less risk than plyometric jump training. Resistance training on machines is usually less risky than trying to move free weights.

The down side to safety is that most of us with life in our bones are not content with safety. We want to improve, compete, and push ourselves. Longer runs, faster sprints, higher jumps, and heavier weights (all relative) offer real mental and physical benefits that their less risky counterparts can't touch.

Sorry all you "I just want to stay healthy" people, I'm just not buying it. 

While doing a seated hamstring curl is fine, dead lifts will cause the entire posterior chain (scapula, back, hip, and leg muscles) to perform enormous feats of controlled mobility. Your weak points are exposed and you can work on what matters. Nobody ever said you have to load a tank on the bar and yank it like a power lifter.

Risk:benefit ratio is definitely a sliding scale. A pitching prodigy shouldn't risk his throwing shoulder with heavy overhead barbell presses. But a similar football player who wants to add some lean muscle mass may benefit greatly from that same exercise. A middle aged man without health insurance may want to skip weekend flag football games, even if he trains for it. He might focus on running 5K faster and with less knee pain rather than bumping up to 10k.

Any good story involves risk. While we can't afford to ignore safety, we also can't afford to write boring stories. We should remember that everything under the sun has some degrees of risk, and consider the risk:benefit ratio. While activities that involve high risk and little skill are plain stupid, we should seek to be calculated and willing to live with the benefits and risks rather than minimize risk at all expense.

*Mathmatically: Awesomeness = 1/Safety

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