The pitfalls of CrossFit training

CrossFit has typically been considered a versatile hobby and sport. That's what it is to some extent, but when viewed more closely and especially from the perspective of mechanics, it is very monotonous. Strength training, especially at gyms and boxes, repeats the same movement patterns to a great extent, which can cause problems in the long run. Another point worth paying attention to in CrossFit training is the amount of strain, increase and dosage. At the physiotherapist's office most of the injuries, ailments and limitations of the sport can be treated by focusing on these aspects.

Squats, jerks, hspu, chin-ups and many other movements are directed up and down. Undoubtedly, these frontal plane movements cause the most strain within the sport. Lateral movement, horizontal strokes or body-twisting movements and their combinations are typically used less. In every sport, you make the most progress by practising it, but what is needed to keep the body in such a condition that it is possible to practise it intensely enough?

Take the back for example. The infamous intervertebral discs have poor circulation and need movement to get nourishment and to “hydrate” themselves, so that their normal operation in absorbing the strain is possible. Movement means all directions of movement, because depending on the segment or part of the spine, more movement takes place in a certain direction, while in another it occurs in another direction. In general, rotations and side bends cause the most movement in the joints.

In the back, the facet joints and SI joints are associated with many kinds of back pains. For example, the facet joints of the lumbar spine contain quite a lot of pain-sensing nociceptors. When the direction of movement is one-sided or the movement paths are small, wear and tear, irritation or inflammation of the joint structures can cause pain. With movement, the pressure in the joint can change. The feeling of needing to make the back snap or pain from SI can be caused by too little movement of the joint.

In terms of the function of the muscles, as well as the tendons, ligaments and fascia, i.e. the muscle membrane, it is advisable to use several movement directions and muscle lengths, as well as methods of force production. This maintains the elasticity of soft tissues, reduces movement-limiting "stiffness" and also affects the factors mentioned above.

Both the back and the whole body benefit from unilateral training, i.e. training that trains one limb at a time. Human movement is based on the reciprocal movement of the lower limbs, to which the pelvis, middle and upper body adapt perfectly. This should not be completely forgotten in training, even though back and front squats may seem like a more pleasant option than single leg squats or getting on the box. Bilateral training and movements, i.e. training two limbs at once, also require, for example, independent, sufficiently optimal functioning of the hips and ankles. Weakened hip movement, strength in a certain direction of movement or muscle coordination can lead to a greater load on the spine and problems in the back or shoulder girdle.

Especially the hips and shoulders need a lot of help from the muscles that produce rotation directions in order to generate power in all other directions of movement in an ideal, controlled and safe manner. The rotator muscles "set" the shoulder blades or thigh bones in the best possible position for producing other directions of movement. Among CrossFit enthusiasts, weakness of rotator muscles, imbalance, or lack of command are common findings associated with shoulder, knee, hip, or back pain.

When the body can't function efficiently by using desirable ranges of motion in different joints, it compensates for weaknesses or limitations somewhere else. In addition to the above, many people are certainly familiar with stiff ankles or sternum. It is good to understand that, for example, the movement of the ankle into dorsiflexion ("bending") may be completely sufficient, but the movement or position of the foot, lower leg, and thigh may have limited movement or uncontrollable movement that affects the function of the ankle. We always look at the whole, at the latest when six months of ankle mobilization has not helped.

Unwanted compensation patterns easily cause challenges in power output or power transfer, for example. The nervous system and the rest of the body gradually adapts to the prevailing situation, in which case increasing strength training is not necessarily the solution if the cause is in mechanics, coordination or motor skills.

Crossfit is a hobby that is easy to get carried away with. Especially during the initial rush of enthusiasm, you should consider your own readiness for increased physical exertion, new positions and movements, as well as stress, even if the new hobby is a positive change. Lifting too much too quickly exposes you to strain injuries, but also to mental overload if there is less time for other things or your endurance is not at the same level. As the fitness level increases, the effect on everyday life often becomes positive. The top athletes of the sport have countless hours of training behind them, and no beginner should compare what they do with them.

Experienced athletes also face strain-related challenges. The total load may be too much, in which case the body's recovery capacity is insufficient. The load may be too much locally, in which case the tissue's tolerance is insufficient. With reasonable management and phasing of the total load as well as a justified amount of "support training", a lot can be achieved. Whether it's guided lessons for beginners or training for an experienced athlete, the basic physiological principles apply equally. Training that is done too rarely or too lightly does not increase strength no matter how much you want it, mobility training that is not done does not increase mobility even if it says so in the program, or a deload week doesn’t equal recovery if there is too much going on in the rest of your life. Development and changes take time, which cannot be accelerated, but the conditions can be modified to be as ideal as possible.

Peetu Lehmus
Sports Physiotherapist