Being a physical therapist and CrossFit coach allows me to look at movement from a unique perspective. In the CrossFit box, that look is visually painful most of the time. For those coaches who have devoted their focus to expanding their knowledge about kinesiology, I’m sure the same is true.
As coaches, we have the opportunity on a daily basis to positively change the way someone moves. It is our responsibility to ensure quality movement prior to loading. I ask you this: raise your hand if you have allowed an athlete to load up a bar and move that weight with shit mechanics? Don’t be coy. All of you look silly, sitting at your computer or smartphone reading this article with your hand up in the air. What a disservice we have done to our athletes.
Meet Mr. RowHard
About a month ago, I was talking with a fellow coach about the reasons why most of our athletes have poor mechanics. A new member had started CrossFit and in his second week rowed 500m in 1:35. Impressive, right? The kid certainly is motivated to become better.
A few nights later, I watched the class do a modified Fight Gone Bad. Expecting greatness in all movements from Mr. RowHard, I was astonished at what I saw. Wall balls with a rounded back, butt wink, and weight in the toes. The medicine ball was completely owning this poor kid. With every box jump, his knees clapped together audibly over James Hetfield’s screams in Battery. This particular box does not do the sumo deadlift high pull (perhaps an idea for another article), so when he transitioned to power cleans, my eyes and brain were prepared for some stellar reverse globo-gym bicep curls (which is what I observed). Only when he got his ass on the erg did I start to see greatness. So why is it that he can row like a fiend, but moves poorly otherwise?
After Mr. RowHard picked himself off the ground, he noticed us two coaches discussing him and his performance. While we remarking about his poor squatting, he interrupted us and said, “Will you help me fix it?” Angels from heaven came down and began singing. This kid was wasted from one of the most demanding WODs in CrossFit, yet was dedicated enough to stay after class for two-on-one squat instruction. Hallelujah! Thirty minutes later, we were able to take a squat that looked like a dog taking a bathroom break in Saigon to a flat back, chest up, weight in the heels, knees pushing out thing of beauty.
I’m not going to bore you with squat instruction or progression. You’re all coaches or athletes in some capacity and should already know that information. What I will do is tell you what can happen to the knee if you don’t take that extra time with your people and help them to move with integrity.
The Sad Story of the Knees
The knee is the redheaded stepchild in a nasty divorce between the hip and the foot. It did nothing wrong, yet is the victim. If the muscles of the hip do not operate efficiently to control the femur, the knee suffers and will collapse medially. Medial collapse stresses the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), and medial meniscus. It places far more load through the medial aspect of the joint than what is favorable. It’s also the mechanism of injury to all of those structures, the Terrible Triad (super menacing!).
Furthermore, medial collapse and failure to engage the posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings) contributes to quad dominance with movement. When the hamstrings cannot counteract the quads, the tibia is given the opportunity to glide anterior on the femur, placing stress on the ACL and slamming into the articulation with the patella. Enter patellofemoral pain, AKA “I don’t know why your knee hurts but it does, so go do some PT and it will be fine.”
When all of these biomechanical nightmares are ignored, you’re looking head-on into early joint arthritis, pain, and eventually giving up the things you enjoy – like training to be better at life.
So, here are a few ideas of what to do:
- Foam roll that shit.
- Train your glute medius.
- Stretch your calves.
- Push out your knees.
Yes, it’s painful, and hard, and uncomfortable. So is life. What are your goals? Do you want to squat heavy shit or just sit on the toilet without pain? Do work. Get better. Quit beating up on your knee. It didn’t do anything wrong. Get your hip stronger, tell your foot to quit being lazy (see photos below) – and squat like you mean it.
Left: Active foot position; arch elevated by bringing great toe closer to the heel.
Right: Poor relaxed foot position. Arch is collapsing.