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When Rest Alone Doesn’t Do The Trick: Technique Issues In CrossFit Athletes

I frequently hear, “I took time off and the pain went away, but once I started up again the pain returned” from athletes when talking to them about their injuries.  When I ask what they have done while resting, it typically involves ice, Epsom salt bath, maybe some stretching…maybe.

Rest does clear up some things, but many times our bodies are dealing with issues that will not clear up just with rest.  Sometimes the body requires some extra assistance to address the issues.  This assistance can be things you can do yourself many times, but it also may require a skilled clinician, such as a PT, chiropractor, or a massage therapist, to address the issues.

This is the fourth installment in a four-part series that will be helpful for you to assess your injuries and issues. Today we address:

Technique and movement pattern dysfunctions in CrossFit athletes.

With all the dynamic and complex movements in CrossFit, technically a lot could go wrong.  Luckily, most times that does not happen.  With that said, there are a couple things I want to discuss that contribute to a number of issues or injuries I see on a regular basis.

These two issues involve how you are pulling a bar from the ground and your squat mechanics.

Pulling from the ground.

If you have ever experienced tightness or pain in your back after doing heavy deadlifts or cycling a light barbell with any lifts in which you pull from the ground or hang position, you have company…a lot of company!  Most CrossFit athletes experience this at some point.  I can place myself in this group as well.  Before I learned I will be explaining to you, it happened to me frequently.  It doesn’t happen often for me anymore now that I have learned how to move properly to avoid it, but it still does occasionally when I get lazy.

We learn from a young age that we are to lift with our legs, not our backs.  What I find with athletes (and most humans, actually), is that people really don’t know how to do this.  We get our backs in a neutral position, we set our backs properly, but then when we stand up, we don’t fire the muscles in our legs and glutes as much as we should.  Instead, the back extensors kick in to perform a lot of the movement.  Do this enough times or with a heavy load and your back is going to feel it later that day or the next day.

A cue I love to use to retrain the movement is “bring your hips forward” rather than saying “stand up.” The slight switch in thought and focus frequently gets people to stop firing their spinal muscles and focus more on the hip musculature.

Now that you understand how to lift the bar properly, let’s address the big issue of cycling movements.  When athletes are using a light barbell or dumbells and cycling reps for cleans or snatches, rather than bending the legs and setting the back I see a forward bend at the hips and waist.  (I like to joke and call this a Jefferson Snatch or Jefferson Deadlift.)  The only way to stand up from this is by using the back extensors.  Do this repeatedly over the span of a WOD and you are asking for pain.

The fix for this is simple.  What you need to do is bend your knees to drop your hips a bit more, allowing you to keep your back set and your chest up.  You will still move through the reps quickly in a less painful manner.


Knee pain with squatting.  If you don’t have it, you know someone who does.  How do I know this?  Because I talk to CrossFit athletes daily with knee pain.

Due to the postures and habits we pick up over the years, people become very quad dominant when they move.   What does this mean?  It means when you stand up from a squat (and lunges as well), you are firing your quads more than your glutes.  The movement alone places increased pressure and strain on the knee.  Over time, though, the quads get tight and places increased pressure on the knee which results in pain.

The correction?  It is a very slight, but effective, change.  It stems from how you initiate your movement as well as where you place your weight throughout the movement.  It is very subtle and most people (coaches included) don’t pick up on the difference.

When you squat, you want to initiate by shifting your hips back first.  If you have knee pain, you likely initiate with a slight knee bend and then start to drop your hips.  By switching to a hip initiation, you will put your body in a better position from the beginning.  This will allow you to get your hips back, keep your knees in a better position, and keep the weight on your heels.

When you stand up, you want to think about keeping your knees out and keeping your weight on your heels the entire time.  Those two things will allow you to use your glutes more than your quads when you stand up from the squat.  You will also notice when you do this you are able to generate more power.


Start addressing those patterns if you experience back or knee pain with the different movements in CrossFit and you will likely start noticing improvements in your pain. Even better, you will notice improvements with your performance as well!

Have more questions?  Send me an email at

Happy Lifting!!!


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