As an Osteopath I get asked countless times about how to do certain exercises. I see loads of people come in complaining of injuring themselves while exercising.
It’s when I ask them to show me how they’re doing the exercise I can clearly see their technique is incorrect and that’s probably why the injury has occurred. So many people think that because they have been doing the exercises for a long time and haven’t previously had an injury that their technique isn’t the issue. I’m sorry to say that’s just not the truth in so many cases.
The two main exercises I find seem to really cause injuries and issues for patients are deadlifts and squats. So today I thought I’d share my suggestions on improving your technique and hopefully minimise injuries.
Check out our Guide to Crossfit Here - Crossfit and Osteo
If you look like you’ve got a hump in your back when deadlifting, you are going to get lower back pain at some point. If you continue lifting like that, you will almost certainly experience some of the extremely painful episodes may not be just as simple as a strain or sprain.
Lifting with poor technique and like this or with is an easy ticket do doing some much greater damage.
The Don’ts when Deadlifting:
- Don’t round your low back when lifting in a deadlift
- Don’t’ overextend your back when at top of deadlift or lowering to the floor
- Don’t jerk during the movements when either straightening or bending movements
- Don’t go too heavy when starting off. Be sure to get your technique right before you increase your weights
- Don’t lift the weight off the ground with bent elbows. You should have your elbows locked and straight.
- Don’t have your hips too high or too low. You should aim to have your shoulder-blades over bar and bar over the mid-foot. This helps put your hips into the right position.
On the other hand, if you deadlift like the image on the right, you are much less likely to suffer from a low back injury.
The Do’s when Deadlifting:
The key to correctly doing a deadlift is to:
- Really pay attention to keeping your back straight throughout the exercise.
- Pull your belly in tight to activate your spinal stabilisers.
- Activate your gluteal region and keep the weight as close to your body as possible.
- Keep the weights close to your body helps to not increase the length of the lever.
- Keep your head up and shoulder blades back
Follow this technique advice and your lower back should be pain-free.
Tip #1: Know what kind of squats you’re doing and do it right!
That’s right there are different types of squats.
For back squat, you’re either doing high bar squats or low bar squats.
On the high bar back squat, the bar is placed on top of your upper back or traps, almost the bump that you can feel at the base of the neck. If you are using this variation, your body needs to be more upright during the movement.
If you try to sit back too much, the bar gets further away from your centre of gravity. As a result, your low back takes the strain as it has to extend to make up the shortfalls, vice-versa, if you are leaning too far forward, the leverage on the lower back loads the very lowest joints in your lower back, and similar to the deadlift, can result in some serious pain and damage.
On the low bar back squat, the bar is lower on your back and it placed in the middle of your scapula (shoulder blade) and it sits on your rear deltoids or the big muscle that covers your actual shoulder.
On this variation, you need to lean forward more. This variation will take the stress off your low back.
(High bar back squats in the picture on the left with the bar placed on top of your traps. Low bar back squats on the right, bar placed lower on the upper back.)
If you’re doing high bar and you’re leaning forward too much, it will harmfully strain your back when using heavy weights.
If you’re doing low bar squats and going too low, your lower back will round excessively and that can cause back pain as well. You just need to break parallel on the low bar squats to reach proper depth. You can go lower on the high bar squat.
Tip #2: Keep your low back tight
Whatever variations you are doing, make sure that the lower back is tight during the squat. Men often have a harder time doing this. Do a back extension and hold it at the very top to get a feel of how you’re supposed to be and keep that tight.
Tip #3 Brace your abdominal muscles
Using your abs will keep your back from overextending. Take a big breath and hold it for the entire rep and brace your abs like you are about to get a punch in the gut. This same style of breathing should also be used for other heavy lifts. You ca increase this a little more by actively trying to pull your belly button in at the same time as if you are really trying to fit into a tight pair of pants.
If you are recovering from an injury here are some easy steps to get you back to the gym and exercising again.
This doesn’t mean go sit on your couch for a week without doing anything.
We want to retain as normal function as possible whilst promoting pain-free movement patterns. The more we can normally move without pain, especially in the lower back with bending and twisting, the more the body is able to drain the area and stop things from ‘Locking up’.
2. See a good Osteopath, acupuncturist, or massage therapist.
It is important to have the region and area that is causing you pain properly assessed and diagnosed so that you have an informed idea of what the injury is as well as how long, and what you need to do to improve it and treat both the injury, but how to prevent it occurring again.
3. Foam Roller.
If you don’t have access to any care and you’re completely on your own then your first step is to get extremely familiar with your foam roller.
Roll back and forth over the painful areas, slowly and carefully for 5-10 minutes or until you start to feel a decrease in the discomfort.
This helps knead the muscle out and stretch the fibres slightly whilst improving blood flow and drainage from the area.
This is where it becomes quite difficult.
Ice and heat have very different mechanisms in how they can help the body. Ice typically is great as it decreases the inflammation in the area, and also has some analgesic effects, however in saying this, it also decreases blood flow and drainage.
Heat, on the other hand, improves blood flow and can help in loosening off the muscles of the region also, however, because inflammation is hot, a wheat back or heat therapy may increase symptoms. If the body can tolerate it, 5 minutes of ice followed by 5 minutes wait with nothing then 5-10 minutes of heat gives you the best of both worlds of helping with the pain but helping keep things loose.
Of course, if one particularly aggravates the pain, then don’t use that one again.
My Big fat disclaimer:
Please note that the information provided in this blog is general in nature. Everyone has different needs and requirements which are why it is so important to seek professional advice from a registered trainer or health practitioner.
I hope that you find this information and tips on improving your technique helpful and informative. For your information, I have also published an ebook on the Cross fitters guide to Osteopathy which will hopefully help answer some questions you might have about Osteopathy and its role in Crossfit. Until next time. Stay safe and train smart.