CrossFit After Surgery

by Onward Physical Therapy | September 1, 2022 |
CrossFit After Surgery

Since your surgery, you’ve thought non-stop about getting back into the gym. You miss RX’ing workouts, hitting PRs, and the post-WOD fist bumps. For the past few months, you’ve seen more yellow therabands and pink dumbbells than you ever thought possible. The gap between these wimpy rehab exercises and snatches, muscle-ups, and deadlifts seems huge. You’re left with the thought, “How am I going to return to CrossFit after surgery?”

As specialists in helping fitness athletes get back to the activities they love, we’ve been fortunate to help hundreds bridge the gap between standard physical therapy and full CrossFit after surgery. Here are 5 keys to successfully getting back in the box!


The first key is pretty simple, don’t stop working on your fitness. While this may seem hard when you are in a sling, wearing a knee brace, or stuck using crutches. But, get creative with what you do in the gym and do everything you can to maintain fitness in the areas around what was surgically repaired. Far too often athletes let everything fall apart and stay stuck to the couch for months post-surgery.

This may mean you are on a rower with your surgical leg on a skateboard. Maybe you’re doing push press’ with one arm and the other staying in the sling. But you’re moving. You are maintaining fitness. You’re spending time with your friends

crossfit-after-surgery modifications


Many times athletes reach week “X” in their rehab, and without any regard for what they have done exercise-wise in the past weeks, the surgeon or physical therapist releases them for sport. While tissue healing timelines are important, so is progressively exposing tissues to loading.

Don’t jump back at heavy weights. Start at 25% of what you would normally do. Add in a little more week by week to slowly challenge your body more and more. This strategy decreases your chances of a significant flare-up during the time when you are finally feeling like yourself again.

gymnastics shoulder pain physical therapy


This can’t be emphasized enough but we need to develop strict strength to be able to handle the rapid, high load movements seen in CrossFit. Strict pull-ups need to be built back up before kipping pull-ups. Strengthen your push press before throwing a snatch overhead. Just like a baby crawls before the walk, we build strict before dynamic strength.


We have a great opportunity post-surgery to assess what lead up to this injury. Maybe it was a freak accident, or maybe repeatedly overstraining tissues lead to them tearing.

Either way we have time now to really dial in your technique. Going back to the basics of PVC overhead squats, working hollow body positioning on the floor, and practicing your kip swing can give you exercises to do now that will also result in you being a better athlete down the road.The kipping pull-up is a great example of this. Far too often, CrossFit athletes have poor kipping form. If we’re going to load this movement up again, we need to back down to the basics of kipping pull-ups and rebuild with perfect form.


Because I help so many athletes in their end stages of rehab, I get to see a lot of what they have missed in their rehab plan. One common issue is neglecting to address their full-body mobility.

For example, we see many post-shoulder surgery athletes that come to our clinic after originally hurting their shoulder with snatches and overhead squats. When we look at their squat in their first appointment with me at 3–4 months post-surgery, it becomes clear what led to the initial injury. Something as far away as poor ankle mobility can significantly increase stress on the shoulder and result in injury. See the below video for an example of this.

Make sure you are working with a provider post-surgery that can help you not only rehab your repaired tissues but also understand the CrossFit philosophy enough to make you a better athlete long-term.

At Onward Physical Therapy, we live & breath CrossFit! Our clinicians across the country are all experienced and highly trained to not only help you rehab but to perform at your best. We’d love to be part of your fitness team. Schedule an assessment today to get started!