The Importance of Technique

Jul 24th, 2010

Category: Fitness

The Importance of Technique

Reminder: Tomorrow, Sunday, July 24th, will be the CFO Swim and Barbecue Party. If you are a CFO member, come. It will be fun. Bring friends and family. It is taking place, thanks to Brad’s generosity, at the Hiller Highlands Country Club.

Chris Riley Deadlift 500 lbs

Chris Riley of the Wichita Falls Athletic Club deadlifting 500 pounds with a double overhand grip for a set of five. Note that his back is essentially in a neutral position, even at this weight.

Moving correctly in the gym can result in improved performance and can help prevent injury. While it is true that strength will often overcome lack of technique, that is not a recipe for success. Likewise, a myopic focus only on technique will not continue to yield gains either. We’ve already discussed strength in two previous articles, so now it is time to consider form.

When performing CrossFit workouts, a stopwatch is often involved. This is both useful and potentially harmful. While the element of a constantly running clock will motivate trainees to go faster and dig deeper, it also encourages compromises and short cuts that build bad habits. Several compatriots working along side one another further heightens the competitive environment and whether or not a trainee is lifting correctly can become an afterthought.

If you were watching The CrossFit Games last weekend, you may have noticed some pretty fierce athletes approaching various exercises ineffectively or in ways that hurt your back just by watching. Of primary importance in almost every movement we do is maintaining the lumbar spine in its normal, arched position. Rounding the lumbar spine compresses the intervertebral discs unequally and also stresses the facet joints in the spine. Do this enough and your back may see fit to make you remember it for some time.

There are times when you may need to break this rule, but in almost every workout we perform, keeping the spine from moving under a load is essential. The premise of maintaining a neutral spine gets violated frequently during high repetition workouts where a weight is pulled from the floor. On those occasions when multiple deadlifts are prescribed at a weight that may be challenging, the first thing to go is any semblance of setting the back prior to the pull. The same goes for cleans and snatches performed for repetitions. Bouncing the weights off the ground further exacerbates this compromised position and contributes to weakness and dangerous form faults when maximal efforts in these lifts are attempted.

Here’s something to try next time a high rep deadlift or clean workout comes up.

  • Don’t bounce the weights off the ground. Instead, pull from a dead stop. Yes, this will be more difficult and, yes, this will slow you down. Yes, this will result in better carryover to your heavier attempts and, yes, you will be lifting more safely.
  • Set the lumbar spine in extension prior to each pull and maintain it throughout each repetition.

Think of this as an opportunity to build capacity on top of proficiency. Technique comes first and then intensity is gradually added. Only when you move correctly should you worry about moving quickly.

Before we wrap things up, let’s consider the kipping pullup. In the pull from the floor, flexing, or rounding, the spine is the main concern. In the kipping pullup, overextension is the potential problem. How often have you seen someone almost folding themselves into a “U” in order to get some extra momentum on a pullup? That’s not advisable, either. Here’s to a week of spines set in normal anatomical position.

DISCUSSION 3 Comments

  1. Glen July 24, 2010 at 6:24 am

    Your posts are worth their weight in gold. Keep killing it! 

  2. Connie Moreno July 24, 2010 at 2:18 pm

    Great topic!  This is something I see pretty often, not only with the pulls from the floor but also with high rep thruster, squats and overhead movements.  As a trainer, it’s hard to correct form in the heat of a wod or much less ask someone to take some weight off their bar.  As a trainee, I’m totally guilty of this.  Last week, during the clean/toes to bar wod, I noticed that my form was completely falling apart in the later rounds.  Instead of getting under the bar, I was receiving the bar in a really wide stance with my hips forward (kinda like this guy) and my back was hating me for it later. Hey, but at least I did the wod as rx’d and I even beat Robyn;)

  3. Robyn July 24, 2010 at 10:20 pm

    "Only when you move correctly should you worry about moving quickly."

    Well said, Tom!  Awesome post.  Yes, put in your time getting these movements down correctly and THEN you can ramp up the intensity, lose a little perfection in your form on those last couple reps and be able to tolerate it. 

    Some really smart people scaling the DL’s in the team workout yesterday – still challenging, but not god-awful.  Nice work!

    Connie, you are a beast and I want a re-match!