Bulletproofing Your Back and How CrossFit Falls ShortAug 24, 2017
“The aim of CrossFit is to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness supported by measurable, observable and repeatable results. The program prepares trainees for any physical contingency—not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable, too. Our specialty is not specializing.”
The quote above was taken directly from CrossFit.com. It describes CrossFit’s mission, and it is undeniable that CrossFit accomplishes its mission of preparing trainees for multiple arenas of physical contingencies. The point of this article is not to argue nor neglect the many benefits associated with CrossFit training. However, even with CrossFit’s ability to program and prepare you for the many physical challenges that life may throw your way, when it comes to building a functionally strong and healthy back, there is one crucial area where CrossFit falls short: multiplanar movement.
Before we talk about how CrossFit doesn't deliver multiplanar movement, first let's look at how our spine moves throughout the day.
Whether we are going to the grocery store, playing softball, or hitting a round of golf, our backs do not move in one dimension. To perform movement efficiently and effectively, our spine must be able to move through a combination of movements in three different planes: frontal, sagittal, and transverse.
- Frontal Plane: splits our body into front and back halves and is where our spine bends side-to-side.
- Sagittal Plane: splits our body into left and right halves and is where our spine bends forwards and backwards.
- Transverse Plane: splits our body into top and and bottom halves and is where our spine rotates side-to-side.
In order to fully bulletproof our backs and prevent back pain from occurring, not only must we be able to move through these three planes of movement, but we must be able to strongly control our spine throughout each motion and this is where CrossFit falls short.
The world of CrossFit lives in the sagittal plane. Squats, deadlifts, snatches, burpees, kettlebell swings, muscle-ups, toes-to-bar, double-unders, Fran, Murph, Gracie, and Annie. What do all of these have in common? In all these movements and exercises your back is predominantly bending forwards and backwards, meaning in all these movements your back is moving in the sagittal plane only. There are very few movements in CrossFit that require you to challenge your back rotationally or laterally and as you’ll see below, that’s a problem.
Holding your child at your side, swinging a bat/club/racket, getting in and out of your car, serving a volleyball, opening a door, and kicking a ball. What do all of these activities have in common? These are all movements commonly found in sports and in daily routines and they all challenge your back rotationally and laterally. Not only are these multiplanar movements incredibly common, but because CrossFit doesn’t address frontal or transverse plane movements, if you aren’t doing any type of accessory training, you’re going to be weak in two-thirds of the required movement patterns, and you’re going to be at a greater chance of developing back pain.
So does this mean that CrossFit is terrible and you should stop doing all those squats, deadlifts, and other aforementioned CrossFit workouts? Absolutely not. Sagittal plane movement is crucial to our everyday lives (i.e., bending over to pick something off the floor, getting up from a chair, etc.), it just isn’t the complete picture. You’re leaving your back vulnerable to injury if you aren’t working on getting strong in the other two planes of movement.
The solution to this problem is simple though, you just have to take the time make sure you’re putting in the work. To get an idea of how to start training in the frontal and transverse planes, try adding in some of our favorite transverse and frontal plane strengthening exercises either before or after your next WOD. Perform 3-4 sets of each exercise to form fatigue.
Chop and Lift (multiplanar)
Pallof Press with shoulder flexion (transverse plane)
Single-Arm Farmers Carry (frontal plane)
At Athletes’ Potential not only do we help CrossFit athletes with low back pain all the time, but we are CrossFit athletes ourselves. We take immense pride in thoroughly understanding your sport, what its strengths are, and where there may be some deficits. If you’re a CrossFit athlete living in Atlanta, and you’re struggling with back pain, we’d love to help you. Give us a call at 470-355-2106 or fill out the contact request form and we’ll contact you.
Thanks for reading,
-Dr. Jake, PT, DPT, CSCS
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