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Fitness Theory and Practice. CrossFit's rationale & foundations. Who is fit? What is fitness?

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Old 02-02-2006, 05:17 AM   #1
Stephen Cork
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I've been reading 'Low Back Disorders' by Stuart Mcgill, and would like some thoughts from fellow Crossfitters.

Firstly, I know that many people here have reported positive changes in their backs by following the WOD etc. However i've also wondered about the impact of some of the exercises we do long term.

To sum up recommendations from the book. I guess the overall bias is towards training the back for health and longevity and avoiding the two extremes of too little or too much work. Also choosing exercises and postures intelligently (to avoid unnecessary wear/ stress on the spine).

By analysing many movements and exercises and the loads that they impose, the recommendation is to avoid sit ups, especially if training for back health though he comments athletes may wish to use they 'judiciously'. Interestingly straight leg sit ups activate the psoas least with correspondingly less spinal compression, compared to the bent knee, and then 'janda' style sit up which generates the most.

Other exercises not recommended for the loading on the spine are exercises like leg raises and back extensions, whether on the floor or lying over a table or similar.

Exercises recommended are generally those requiring a static contraction - providing an adequate load on the tissues but not stressing the spine. There are more advanced levels for athletes atc, but before addressing strength and power, 3 other areas are first considered. 1- Identifying essential motions and grooving appropriate motion/motor patterns. 2- Ensuring joint and whole body stabilizing patterns. 3- Developmuscle endurance around these patterns.

Two exercises that get positively mentioned for athletic development are the squat and the power clean. There is a later book that has been written addressing athletes back care. If anyone has read this please add comment.

The following comment goes against the notion of training for performance.
'The notion that athletes are healthy is generally a myth, at least from a musculoskeletal point of view' (p206).

Finally it is recommended in the book to avoid exercise or more specifically movements that require spinal flexion (sit ups etc), in the morning to spare the spine.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts. I'm curious if just because we can tollerate certain exercises now, could they be setting us (or clients) up for future spine trouble.

I just wanna be active for life, and make sure i'm understanding the best ways to practise and teach this.

Many thanks,

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Old 02-02-2006, 06:18 AM   #2
Petr Ruzicka
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I have to say, that I have quite a lot of troubles with my back.
Sit-ups are quite rough on my spine so I try to avoid them, or at least do them slowly with very correct form. Of course form is everything but I found other ways to build my abdominals that do not trouble my spine at all (L-sits, figure 8 with weight, plank...).
I do not know a lot about squat now but what helped me a lot was deadlift.
I started pretty conservative, about 30 kg. I did have pain that I have troubles to walk, sit or stand. After differend recomendations from different people (move, do not move, excercise, do not bend, no weight at all, strech, do not strech...) I decided that I'm not that old and start practise a lot.
Deadlift, militarty press, bench, chins, usual stuff.
Now about 1,5 year later I'm there trying to catch up with Crossfit and my PR in DL is 110 kg.
Back pains are mostly history.

But I realize that my receipe is not for everyone may be. Except the fact that I had to find my own way.
I believe that potentialy every excercise could be harmful without correct form, even deadlift and situps.
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Old 02-02-2006, 07:05 AM   #3
Steve Shafley
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I've read his "Ultimate Back Performance" book.

He doesn't think there are many exercises that a "qualified" athlete can't do. By "qualified" he seems to mean that the athlete has demonstrated the ability to perform that exercise under load with a neutral spine position and maintaining the abdominal brace.

A few people have suggested that doing some sort of low intensity strength training with spinal flexion might help reduce the intensity of spinal injury when it goes bad. I think Mel Siff might have mentioned that on the Supertraining list some years back, but I could be mistaken.

McGill is totally against the "sucking in the abs to activate the transverse abdominus" as well preferring the "bracing" technique.

Other than that, he's got a job where he flexes pig spines all day long and analyses what happens to them, and consults with a lot of different types of people about spinal injuries.

If you take anything away from McGill it should be:

Maintain a neutral spine, especially in day to day activities. Bad posture is accumulative with poorly performed exercises. Matt Spiller, a California physical therapist recommends using a rolled up towel you car, in your office, at home watching TV when someone complains of chronic back pain to keep the lower back in a arched position.

Matt Spiller's back rehab article based on the McKenzie techniques should be revisited as well. You can download the Volume 1, Issue 11 of Dan John's "Get Up" here:

The article is called "Press Up for Back Pain" and it's almost always what a therapist will have you do for an injured spine. I've seen this played out at least 15-20 times on the Power and Bulk. Someone complains of back pain or injury but insists it's not spinal. Matt Spiller recommends press ups and also says that it's probably referred pain from the spine. Poster scoffs. Two weeks to a month later, the poster sheepishly admits that his physician told him it was spinal, and his therapist recommended the McKenzie techniques, including the press up.
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Old 02-02-2006, 02:21 PM   #4
Jibreel Freeland
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I have to say that I agree with him, full spinal flexion has caused back ache for me for years. I like partial flexion movements, more like a crunch, than a situp. Doing pullups with weighted feet is the best exercise I have found for my abs that doesn't bother me.
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Old 02-02-2006, 02:23 PM   #5
Stephen Cork
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Thanks for your replies.

What about those who are teaching at a Crossfit facility. How do you ensure your exercise prescriptions are ok for more elderly people or those with existing back problems?

Do you avoid sit ups etc for such populations?

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Old 02-02-2006, 08:47 PM   #6
Jeff Roddy
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I have been doing crossfit since late Nov '05 and was going great guns until I decide to add something to the CFWU. I was home and unable to do the GHD situps (which were working great), so I did situps with my foot fixed under my couch. This wasn't the problem. I decided to add a twist to the situp. Since then I have been unable to do any WOD that includes cleans and front squats. Didn't even think about the chipper with burpees.

I firmly believe that if I had stayed with regular situps or even the GHD situps I would have been fine.
My 2 cents.
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Old 02-05-2006, 01:05 PM   #7
Stephen Cork
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Just thought i'd bump this to the top again in the hope of getting some more responses.

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Old 02-05-2006, 04:05 PM   #8
Peter Queen
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I have lower backs issues that use to require regular chiropractic visits every 6wks to 2 months. My problem was in my 3rd and 4th lower lombard disks which use to impinge my right spinal nerve region. I use to crawl around like an infant. It was humbling at times having my little daughters tie my shoes for me just so I can go to the doctor. I haven't had that type of pain in a long while. Also, since I started doing yoga and dumbbell thrusters along with other CF training, my back isssues have lessened even more. Crunches have been a big help for me also. I can now do the Superman stretches and other type of back stretches without any problem. The key is to take a slower approach as I go into my yoga stretches to allow my back muscles time to untighten themselves when they flare up. I have no more morning stiffness and when my back does start acting up it will recover a lot quicker than I thought possible with my changes in my exercise program. Keep in mind, this is what works for me. A lot of you know by now that I am not a small guy so what I do works great for my body type.
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Old 02-05-2006, 07:39 PM   #9
David Werner
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I've been teaching functional movements to a diverse population for three years now at Crossfit North. I'm also a disabled veteran with fairly extensive damage to my lumbar spine and associated nerve damage.

Stuart McGills' book "Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance" is a gold mine of good information. Steve Shafleys' summary is good, the concept of "qualifying" athletes (everyone) for movements is a very effective approach, and "Neutral Spine" is a concept which everyone should understand and implement.

Teaching people, young or old, healthy or broken, to implement the neutral spine position is a natural complement to teaching proper hip function. Insisting on the maintenance of the neutral spine posture also makes it very clear whether an athlete should be doing a certain movement or not.

This approach has worked for stabilizing and managing my back issues, allowing me to perform at a reasonable level, it has also been effective for many of our clients, including some older and some badly injured people. I don't avoid sit-ups or any movement completely, but I do have some people modify or avoid certain movements based on their observed ability to maintain proper body position.

Dave Werner
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Old 02-07-2006, 04:19 AM   #10
Stephen Cork
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OK, i need to get the 'Ultimate Back Fitness..' to explore this further.

I'm still not sure what leads from the recommendation (in LBD's) to avoid sit up/ leg raise type movements because they are essentially training the abdominals at the expense of the spine, to having them be acceptable.

Other thoughts of mine are is it possible that people who aggressively train such movements tend to be athletes who will then retire from such training while still relatively young. Therefore we do not really see a large amount of what results from training such movements throughout life?

Kind of like saying a packet of cigarettes won't do much damage but keep smoking for long enough...(if that makes any sense whatsoever)?

I believe there have been studies that show competitive weightlifters have less back problems than the general population. Have similar studies been done on other athletes - gymnasts?

Many Thanks,

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