The pain you are feeling is most often shin splints. If you’re not familiar, shin splints refer to pain and inflammation in the shin and are usually associated with the impact from running. I tend to get them on the outside of the shin by the fibula, but it’s more common to get them on the inside, along the tibia.
This pain should not be ignored – it is a sign that there is too much stress on the wrong area of the shin! Pushing through shin splits can lead to a stress fracture of the bone. My purpose for writing this article is to give you a few ideas as to what is actually causing this issue, and how you can prevent it.
Usually the only way to recover from shin splints is 100% rest for the affected area. For a CrossFitter, this means no box jumps, no running, no skipping. Non impact exercises should be fine though – I usually substitute rowing and step ups. If you really want to heal you have to give those shins a break until there is no pain. But if you don’t address the issues that are causing the shin splints in the first place, every time you return to doing double unders you will start to have pain.
So what causes it in the first place?
1. Poor Jumping Mechanics
Good form is the key to happy shins. Take a look at the CrossFit double under demo video below – check out how soft her landing is here. She’s not jumping super high. She’s not piking, she’s not slamming her legs down with each jump.
When people learn double unders it’s common that they develop bad mechanics right away – and the movement is so tricky it’s difficult to fix. Athletes with shin pain usually have a high jump with a bit of a knee pike, and they slam their shins down with each double. I would try going to a shorter rope and learning to spin faster – ideal jumping form should not look much different than that of a single under!
I would recommend analyzing your jumping form first. Either take a video or jump in front of a mirror. Are you slamming those feet down? Are you jumping too high? Are you relaxed with soft footfalls?
2. Doing Too Much, Too Quickly
Just like running, you have to build up to doing long distances. If your programming just calls for a lot of doubles and you aren’t ready for that volume, you might find yourself with some shin issues. Like an open WOD with 800 doubles? 18.3 anyone? A simple fix can be to throw in a bit of extra skipping each week if it’s not being programmed at your box. Not only can you keep up your proficiency in the movement, but you’ll also keep the muscles of the shin in shape for that kind of work.
Further, double unders shouldn’t be performed until single unders are mastered. This will give the muscles of the lower leg a chance to develop. If you skipped the process of learning single unders, and you are getting a lot of shin pain, it might be a good idea to practice lots of singles with perfect form, build up your volume over time, and only switch to doubles when you’ve perfected your form and built up your shin muscles.
3. Not Warming Up Specifically For Double Unders
If you’re prone to issues with your shins, try 10-15 minutes of rolling, stretching and singles before you start with your doubles. If your calves are tight they won’t absorb the impact from jumping as they should!
My typical warm up includes: a good amount of rolling, standing calf raises (simple but effective), stretching all of the muscles of the calf, lots of ankle rotations, light jumping without the rope, then single unders until I’m good and warm.
4. Shin Function Issues
All of the above muscles, and a few I haven’t mentioned, all work together in order for you to jump and land. If any one of them isn’t operating properly, the others will try (unsuccessfully) to pick up the load. Really tight calf muscles is very common – so if you don’t know where to start, start by rolling and stretching these. Now that I’ve recognized my calves are a problem, I typically roll and stretch them before and after skipping, and again at night when I’m just watching TV or YouTube.
There are other problems that can happen with the lower leg that I’m not addressing in this article. You can have ankles or knees that aren’t tracking properly and cause problems with lower leg function. It could be related to other areas of the leg, such as tight hips. Do your ankles collapse when you walk? There are lots of possibilities – for the sake of space, I am just covering the most common issues here.
5. Not Enough Cushioning (Shoes or Surface)
Take a look at your shoes – if they are worn out, too minimal, or made of too hard of a rubber, they won’t be helping to absorb much force. Second, what are you jumping on? Most of our gyms have rubber floors – but if you’re doing extra skipping somewhere, concrete might not be the best idea. I learned this the hard way, both by practicing on concrete and (only once!) by doing doubles in lifters. Now I always do my extra practice on the corner of my local track, which has a soft rubber surface.
Hopefully this gives you some ideas as to what might be causing your shin pain! If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. firstname.lastname@example.org