Since its founding in 2000 and the inaugural CrossFit Games of 2007, the “Sport of Fitness” has taken the world by storm like no other fitness program has ever done before. From desk jockey to at-home mom to professional athlete, CrossFit has enabled its members to become dramatically more capable in physical feats and athletic prowess through what it preaches as “constantly varied and functional movement.” Executed, of course, at “high intensity” which every CrossFitter has found to be profoundly true and profoundly effective as they lie gasping for breath after notorious workouts like “Fran,” “Grace” or “Helen.”
Though many of you have experienced this fitness phenomenon and are perhaps the strongest, fastest and generally most fit you have ever been, what you may not notice are the imbalances that you are likely creating through your conventional CrossFit training and how these deficiencies are affecting you from reaching even greater human potential. Here are the most common deficiencies and imbalances seen in the common CrossFit athlete, how they are negatively affecting your performance potential and most importantly, a few tips on how to fix them.
The combination of Olympic lifts, wall balls, high bar back squats, front squats, and thrusters (to name a few) that are characteristic of CrossFit, by their very nature tend to be quad-dominant. This results in a disproportionally large quadriceps over the hamstrings of the posterior chain and is especially visible among competitive CrossFitters. Paired with a sedentary lifestyle and culture of sitting at desks, in the car or during other daily activities, this imbalance of posterior chain weakness becomes even greater. Stronger hamstrings will allow you to jump higher and more explosively, run faster and longer and lift heavier weights, but perhaps even more importantly, will help protect your knee from injury. Romanian deadlifts (RDL’s), glute-ham raises, and single leg RDL’s are some of the most powerful accessory movements to developing more balanced backsides.
Upper Trap Dominance
Many, if not most, CrossFitters have over reactive and overdeveloped upper trapezius muscles which can be responsible for rotator cuff problems and improper shoulder stabilization. The scapula requires a considerable amount of stability in order for the joint to move safely and effectively, unfortunately an overdeveloped upper trap and underdeveloped lower trap leaves us especially unstable and prone to injury. In general terms, stability is achieved by retracting and depressing the scapula (think back and down) for which strength of the lower trap is especially important. A few essential exercises to increasing mid-back strength includes the dumbbell Z-press, face pulls and supinated grip pull-ups (AKA chin-ups). Be especially mindful to relax the upper traps in each of these exercises as they will tend to be over reactive and want to take over the movement.
Weak Grip, Weak Lats
How many times have you had to stop mid-workout simply because your forearms were shot? AMRAP of toes to bar, kettlebell swings and power snatches? If you aren’t working on your grip strength, you’re doomed before you even begin. The problem, however, isn’t just that you won’t be able to perform optimally in this hypothetical workout, but that this often overlooked deficiency can result in much greater issues. When the forearms begin to fail, the biceps will tend to take over and when this happens, the lats essentially get “turned off” and this is a problem because these broad muscles of the back are responsible in both shoulder and lumbar spine movement. When training your grip, make sure that you vary hand position - pronated, supinated and palms-facing. CrossFit tends to make extensive use of the pronated grip, so trying grip exercises in a variety of positions can help undo more of these imbalances. Supinated grip bent-over barbell rows, chin-ups and seated cable rows (bands are an easy substitute), performed correctly, are some of the best exercises to develop your lats while training a variety of forearm grips.
Are you noticing a common theme here? From your hamstrings to your lower traps and lats, you probably suffer from a weak back and backside. You may be the fittest you’ve ever been, but you can be even fitter still by managing these common deficiencies and imbalances. Don’t let your next deadlift or power clean be the straw that broke the camel’s back!
Sarah Loogman is a trainer and athlete of Northstate CrossFit in Redding, Ca. With a strong athletic background in collegiate sports, Sarah transitioned to CrossFit in 2013 and has since been familiar to the podium in fitness events such as Femme Fit and Northstate’s Fittest, among others. Sarah competed in the California ‘Super’ Regional in San Diego in 2015 with the Northstate team and is hopeful to qualify among California’s top women in 2016. You can find Sarah on Instagram at @sarahloogman.