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Part 1—Tuning the CrossFit Athlete by Daniel Christie - CrossFit Journal

In Medical/Injuries

January 16, 2010

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Can’t get into a squat? Lacking power in your snatch? Daniel Christie suggests that aggressive bodywork may help you unlock your full potential.

Trainers often see horrible, awkward movements that limit performance and can’t be corrected with a simple cue. Why? It can often come down to poor strength and stability levels or poor memorized motor patterns, but it can also result from short, tight, facilitated musculature.

The sight of a forward head position, rounded shoulders, internally rotated arms and anterior-tilted pelvises is commonplace in gyms, offices and CrossFit boxes. If these patterns are left unchecked, recovery rates can be impeded, injury rates increased and performance diminished.

The combination of postural traits listed above is commonly known as “upper crossed syndrome” and “lower crossed syndrome, descriptions popularized by Dr. Vladimir Janda. Via research, Janda identified a predictable pattern of muscles prone to tightness or shortness and weakness or inhibition. The muscles that predictably tighten reduce the ability of CrossFitters to adopt ideal postures during the deep squat, clean and jerk and other such exercises. Common inhibition patterns can also be detrimental to midline stabilization during heavy axial loading, as well as stability around the shoulder and knee.

In Part 1 of this article, I’ll talk about how a therapist can help address upper and lower crossed syndrome, and in Part 2 I’ll illustrate several highly effective self-stretches and soft-tissue techniques to help with the muscular-imbalance issues highlighted here.

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17 Comments on “Part 1—Tuning the CrossFit Athlete”


wrote …

This is awesome stuff. Can't wait for part two. Every day in the gym my clients and I fight against these long unchecked imbalances striving for proper form and better performance. Any ammo we can use is greatly appreciated. Thanks to Daniel and the CFJ.


wrote …

Is there an evidence-base for any of the claims in this article? It seems filled with (what Rippetoe calls) Silly Bullshit.

Here's a few tidbits:
1) "The illiopsoas is one the key hip flexors and spinal stabilizers,". Well, Rip and others would argue that it's more of a spinal stabilizer once the torso is already flexed, but doesn't do much from an extended position due to the tiny moment arm.

2) The article quotes Coach as saying it can take 3 years to resolve a 'muted hip'. Always? Mostly? Or did one person take 3 years and others can be fixed in 3 months? It's a misleading broad statement, not a definitive fact.

3)"athletes whose scapula are in the abducted position concomitant with upper crossed pattern will go on to suffer pain between the scapula and tenderness on the anterior and medial deltoid and have associated impingement of the rotator-cuff tendons. All this will be exacerbated with overhead activities" Numerous sources (including numerous crossfit coaches) associated shoulder impingement with failure to maintain active shoulders with weight overhead. Shoulders shrugged up, pinching your ears. Rip outlines this in another CFJ article how shrugging raises the clavicle and increases the space for the tendon. Maybe if you do the movement properly, you won't have to bother with MAT.

This article feels no different to stuff being peddled by homeopaths in a bad magazine.


wrote …

Well, I met a therapist that focuses on working with athletes (Rob Wilson) at th box I am a member of (CFVB). He asked me a few questions, did a little eval, followed by a little torture. I got on the rower later in the afternoon and my 500m was faster by 8 seconds from the day before.

I reccommend getting bodywork done, but not just a feel good rudown. I mean some serious near-torture therapy.


wrote …

3)"athletes whose scapula are in the abducted position concomitant with upper crossed pattern will go on to suffer pain between the scapula and tenderness on the anterior and medial deltoid and have associated impingement of the rotator-cuff tendons. All this will be exacerbated with overhead activities" Numerous sources (including numerous crossfit coaches) associated shoulder impingement with failure to maintain active shoulders with weight overhead.

This describes me to a T. I have been having chronic pain and impingement for almost a year and have been to the ortho, done the rehab exercises etc, with very little improvement. Just 2 weeks ago a massage therapist let me know that my problem was caused by extremely tight pecs which were pulling my shoulder into internal rotation. By doing the stretching exercises he recommended,a miracle has taken place. I have done several shoulder intensive WODs after a good warm up and stretching and have had no problems at all. Thanks for this article. Good information.


replied to comment from Matt Solomon


You are in medical school, yes?

Do yourself a favor and take time at some point in your education to delve into Dr. Janda's material. It is truly impressive and the result of his life's work.

One article cannot cover the depth of his work. A one semester course I took based mostly on his material was merely a survey. If you decide to pursue physical medicine, you will no doubt come across his research, and would be wise not to write it off.

Below is not a study, but a tribute, by "a multinational, multiprofessional group" in a journal you may be familiar with.

Spine. 2006 Apr 20;31(9):1060-4.

Should you have any interest, I can put you in contact with someone who studied directly under Dr. Janda in Czechoslovakia, who has practiced for a couple of decades, and who could no doubt add as much depth as you would ever want to hear on the subject.


wrote …


I wasn't really writing it off, just wanting more proof. And anecdotal stories about improved rowing times are nice, but not overly significant. I'm going to go read about it right now...


wrote …

Daniel, awesome article - I can completely relate to it -

Especially the trouble that the Psoas gives to my Glutes, Hammies and other leg muscles...

That darn tight Psoas - I've seen it reek back pain havoc in my clients - even after being to 'Specialists' and being told stretch your Hammies - pain still persisted - low and behold stretching the Psoas has made a real positive change to reducing their pain and discomfort

Looking forward to part 2!!! :-)


wrote …

This kind of stuff is why I am in chiropractic school. Awesome stuff that more people need to know about.


wrote …

Get Rolfed. Perform better. Live better. Also known as Rolfing/Structural Integration. Pairs with a good chiro nicely! WFS


wrote …

Great article. While some folks choose to question all of the information provided I am glad that the general 'gist' is that seeing an athletic therapist can be very helpful to many Crossfitters. My newest thing is to 'heal thyself' and part of that is seeing a local Osteopath that treats me but then puts the owness on me to perform several exercises and stretches on my own to help fix my structural issues. The s$%t works.


wrote …

Is there any research, are you kidding me?
A simple search on pub med or Google scholar would have given reams of references:

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replied to comment from Rick Gutierrez

Blog 11 was sent by Danny Christie!


wrote …

Looking forward to part two with the stretches, though a google search of Myoskeletal Alignment Technique has lead to some interesting material, thanks.


wrote …

I would like to know why the Neurological aspects of improper muscle tone and body alignment wasn't addressed in the article. I have found that weak Psoas or Illiopsoas muscles is usually due subluxation (nerve impingement) of L3 L4 spinal segments. Basic neurology 101 Tight Pec muscles and weak rotator cuff muscles usually T1-T2 nerve roots which I have found to be compensation for C2-C3 subluxations (nerve impingement), that is why the Occipitals would be tight and the SCM's would be weak. This would also lead to coordination and balance problems to due the muscle imbalances. Like I said, most people and professionals are focused on the muscles & not the neurological. I think a more balanced approach would prove to be more productive. Try looking up Active Release technique and Chiropractic Neurology. google ART Technique.


Jim Pascucci wrote …

Daniel, very nice article. Thanks. I'm new to CrossFit--4 months--but not new to body therapy--Advanced Rolfer, BCSI for 16 years--I really appreciate your work here. Dr. Dalton is a colleague, he's also an Advanced Rolfer, and friend. I think he's done a great job of introducing these techniques to the body therapy community through his workshops and writing.
Often times people are frustrated with seeing a Rolfer since we don't generally work with symptoms like Upper or Lower Cross, in isolation, but take a more whole body approach to organizing the body in gravity. If you see that your specific intervention isn't holding you may want to take a step back and look at the whole body, especially the feet.
I got seriously interested in CrossFit when I noticed that my son--who's been doing CrossFit for a couple of years--was really strong but not bulky and his posture was great! And it wasn't from my Rolfing him! What I realized was that CrossFit--functional movement--could, on its own, really help people's posture and was synergistic to good body work. Of course I also see pictures of people recruiting scalenes to do a pullup, which is not healthy. Contrary to what some people think, good body therapy doesn't have to be "torture" if the practitioner is skillful.
Keep up the great writing. I'm looking forward to your next segment. For those looking for research try


replied to comment from Jim Pascucci

Jim I like your thoughts - as my friend and old school martial arts instructor said, there are many paths up the mountain. I find that CrossFit creates good movement in a way similar to the Feldenkrais Method that my wife practices. I assume that other methodologies will also work given a competent practitioner. If you are a chiro, that's the hammer you have and every nail looks like a chiro nail. If a rolfer, ditto. If a CFer, you have the unique situation of chasing performance, and getting some significant doses of feedback in terms of performance change and/or associated pain/pain relief. I think there's significant synergy to be gained in the crossbreeding of different modalities for tweaking human performance. Part of my "CF Affiliate" dream is being able to pursue a level of competence in more than one discipline - CF and something else - as many of you already have. Potent brew for creating impact on human life and life mastery.

Looking forward to part II.


wrote …

Great article but I also appreciate Matt questioning it. It is always a benefit for someone to question what is being proposed. Otherwise we would end up like a lot of other sports just going along with what is new and not necessarily what is best.

I appreciate the responses just a much...solid research Rick! I also look forward to the second part!

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