Below are five essential tips from a PT’s perspective to remember when performing your basic CrossFit movements:
1.) CORE: From an air squat, to a heavy back squat, a power clean, to a shoulder overhead press; one’s core should always be engaged. Many CrossFit athletes feel like they activate their core, but in reality many are activating their core incorrectly or not at all. Engaging your core does not mean “sucking in.” It is about abdominal bracing. This involves activating transverse abdominus muscle, keeping the spine in neutral, and making sure the pelvic floor is strong. To active transverse abdominus one needs to draw their spine into neutral and pop their abdominal muscles outward. By palpating the top of your iliac crest or pelvis, you can feel if this muscle is harder and “turned on.” This core activation should be used with every heavy lift. This is the container that provides stability and strength to your entire body and prevents low back pain, disc problems, and lower extremity injuries.
2.) THE SQUAT: The air squat is one of the most common movements in CrossFit. It’s important to make sure one has a proper form and doesn’t push their limits just so they can reach a new 1 rep max. When completing a squat with or without weight make sure the back is flat and low back and shoulders are not rounded at all (this is key). Keep feet are a little wider than shoulder width, feet facing forward, back and shoulders flat, hip hinge backwards (like you’re about to sit in a chair), and then bend knees (knees never over the toes). As soon as the sacrum or tailbone area starts to dip down and tuck under you, you’ve gone too far. As the sacrum tucks under you, it’s gapping your lower lumbar spinal segments and allowing those discs to be pushed outward, causing potential injury. Have a partner or coach make sure you’re performing the squat properly.
3.) THE DEADLIFT: Similar to a squat, it’s essential to engage your CORE first. Secondly, while you’re keeping feet at shoulder width, facing forward, slightly bend knees and keep the back flat the entire time. As you lower down to grab the bar, do not round the low back or upper shoulders. Both of these could cause disc injuries to your spine or disengagement of your core due to poor posture. Once you are about to grab the bar, look down and make sure that shins are perpendicular to the floor (knees not over toes), back is straight, hinging at the hips first, squeezing glute muscles and standing up to neutral. The low back and shoulders should remain straight as a board through the movement, especially when lifting a weight that’s causing you to round your back to get the weight up. If you’re feeling soreness in your low back during the movement or a day or two after, you are not doing them properly. Hamstrings should be sore but no low back pain should be felt with a deadlift!
4.) THE KETTLEBELL: Here, it’s important to make sure that your back remains neutral and flat and that you limit the amount of shoulder involvement during the movement. This should be a movement that the hips perform, not the shoulders or arms. To start, make sure feet are in squatting stance and the back is flat. Hips sink backwards like a mini squat, momentum is created by swinging the bell using your hips, and when the bell continues to move upward snap your hips open, squeezing the glutes and standing tall. Be careful not to round the shoulders when bringing the kettlebell above your head. Keep the neck stable when the bell is overhead and don’t shift it forward. If your back is not flat when starting, just like with the squat and deadlift, you are at risk for disc injuries. If your neck and shoulders round when weight is overhead, you’re more prone to a shoulder injury or cervical issues and pain.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize the difference between soreness and pain. Delayed onset of muscle soreness is real and natural. Recover, stretch, mobilize, and take a rest day. Form is everything, not just because it looks good, but because it is what keeps you injury free and able to stay active for years ahead.