The best exercises you're not doing

11-06-2019 Jeremy Regensburg

CrossFit is presented as a 'complete' sport, but whether this is true in practice depends on the programming of your box. What are things that are important for injury prevention, performance and physical resilience in daily life that are less prevalent in typical CrossFit workouts? 

Let's make a short brainstorm list of the ways humans move in nature, sport and daily life. I'll simplify things here enormously, just Google any of the terms for more in-depth information that is readily available online.

  • We can look at the different planes (sagittal, frontal, etc.) of movement. To keep it simple, move forward/backwards, move up/down, move sideways and turn.
  • We have different types of muscle action. Concentric (coming up out of a squat), eccentric (going down into a squat), isometric (sitting still in a wall sit). There's a fourth one, isokinetic, but you don't normally see this happen so we'll leave that out of this blog.
  • There are several movement patterns. Not everyone categorizes movement into the same patterns because there is some overlap, but for the purpose of this blog I'll categorize them as vertical push (shoulder press), horizontal push (push up), vertical pull (pull up), horizontal pull (row), squat (take a wild guess), hinge (deadlift), gait (walking). Gait can be seen as unilateral, continuous mini-hinges and some would categorize all the pressing together, but let's stick with the above for now.
  • There are different modalities. Think of maximal strength output (1RM deadlift), maximal power output (heavy power cleans), muscular endurance (typical for CrossFit workouts) or systemic conditioning (longer duration, moderate intensity workouts). Again, there is lots of overlap, so in a lot of cases, it's a matter of emphasis.

This list is not comprehensive, I left out some things like sport-specific skills, using specific muscle groups. Even then, the above is quite a list which you could use to see if your programming is actually a "complete programming". And we haven't even talked about whether all these patterns and movement types should have equal attention to develop a well-rounded athlete (or human!). What patterns are more important for certain people and certain goals? Training time is limited, how do you triage it all? Do you need to train gait if you walk a lot in daily life?

A lot of questions come up obviously. What's a rope climb? It has vertical pull elements, hinge elements and squat elements. Does that mean I don't have to do pull-ups anymore? Do I need to practice judo rolls? We normally don't do that much but under what type of movement does it belong?

You could write complete books on the above (they exist) and there are tons of info online about every hard word you came across here, but for now I'd like to keep it practical for the original purpose: The CrossFitter who wants to have a balanced body, stave off injuries and be resilient in daily life.

If you program workouts and really want a 'complete programming' where all aspects of the human body are trained, you should be able to find an exercise or warm-up game that fits any of the combinations of the above movements.

If I say (anti-)lateral and hinge, you could think of a 1 legged deadlift variation. If I say horizontal push and moving forward, you could come up with a spiderman walk. What about throwing and anti-rotation and anti-lateroflexion of the spine? Half kneeling swiss ball throws. Sure, you could slap on a fancy term for every single exercise, but that's not the point. The whole idea here is understanding that you can vary for variation's sake, or because you want to genuinely offer people a more complete physical development. 

I came up with a few examples that I feel would be very beneficial for CrossFitters.

ROMANIAN DEADLIFT:

We all know the deadlift. Hinge a weight off the floor and then bounce it against the floor or just drop it. We use, when done correctly, mostly hamstrings and glutes to get the weight up. However, if you deadlift in the manner described here, you often miss the eccentric (downward) phase. Since the eccentric phase also gets you stronger, you're missing out on a lot of potential strength and muscle gains if you don't do a downward hinge occasionally. It's kind of a waste if you realize that the hamstrings and glutes have a lot of strength potential. The Romanian deadlift, where you make a controlled hinge downward and upward without touching the floor, can solve these issues. Yes, an exercise like a good morning is an alternative and no, they're not as good as RDL's for this purpose for various reasons. (For the nerds: The most important reason is that the moment arm on the lower back is increased immensely, combined with a tendency to arch the back which is unnecessary and possibly counterproductive for a deadlift. This means the lower back takes on so much work that it becomes the limiting factor before the glutes and hamstrings are properly stimulated.) Occasionally putting in heavy RDL's with 5-15 reps in your programming should solve a lot!

LATERAL MOVEMENTS:

CrossFit knows a lot of movements where you move forward or upward in the same plane. People are made to move in all sorts of directions. Despite not everyone agreeing on this, a growing group of experts suggests that lack of movement variety (and lack of movement in general) make you more prone to injury because the body is not prepared for 'weird movements'. Think of the person who gets back pains from coughing or picking up a pencil despite having a solid deadlift. Game sports often take a large part of this into account, but if you have a more specific sport like CrossFit (or worse, powerlifting), it could be good to take this aspect into CrossFit workouts. Movement variety, and thus moving in different directions, could improve physical resilience and help teach the body to prepare for unexpected movements. So what could we do in terms of lateral movements? Lateral box step ups, skater hops, lateral shuttle sprints... Another way to do this is by using games in your warming up like tag or dodgeball. Those "kids games" are not just for fun and to add to the community feeling, they are actually useful for being a more well-rounded athlete as well! 

BODYBUILDING:

People with hypermobility sometimes get advice to build muscle mass to keep the joints more stable. People with anterior cruciate ligament injuries may sometimes hear the doctor say "well, it's alright as long as your hamstrings and quads are strong enough to take care of knee stability". Combined with the fact that a bigger muscle has more strength potential, why not add in some more musclebuilding training in CrossFit workouts for joint health and strength? (And to show off during competitions and beach visits...) 

There are many muscles around the shoulder that add to shoulder health from the mid-back to the chest and everything in between. The rear and side of the shoulders are relatively undertrained in typical CrossFit workouts, compared to the front. The front is trained continuously and directly with many pressing movements. For the rear of the shoulders, we have to rely on exercises like pull-ups that, especially when they're kipping/butterfly, do relatively little for those muscles. Exercises for the side and rear delt could be upright rows, Y rows, side raises, bent over lateral raises or even something like a snatch grip barbell rows. They can easily be put in finishers to give people burning muscles and the feeling of "Woahhhh I really worked hard today!". On a side note, and it should go without saying, but watch out with some shoulder exercises. Barbell upright rows, for example, can cause shoulder issues with some people.

What about the chest muscles? They have a lot of strength potential, but if we're so strong that we can easily do 30 push-ups strictly and we kip all our ring dips, our chest will have less and less of a heavy training stimulus. Simple solution: Use exercises that can be scaled upwards like weighted ring push-ups, bench presses or any fly variations.

You could make this list as elaborate as you wish and whether it helps you really depends on who your athletes are and of course what the current programming looks like.

What do you feel are exercises that virtually every CrossFitter should be doing but isn't doing?

Jeremy Regensburg

About Jeremy Regensburg

Jeremy is a competitive olympic weightlifter, occasionally participating in powerlifting meets as well. He has coached kids with selfdefense, the elderly with retaining their vitality, competitive athletes to meets and injured people back to health. Jeremy is an olympic weightlifting coach at UnScared CrossFit and the owner of www.jemfit.net

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