What we can learn from 21.2

How did your 21.2 go and what did you learn from it?

Some members of Iconic Fitness in Dubai Marina recently completed the CrossFit open workout 21.2.

And as Rehab Coach, I was asked, “Why is my hips and back in bits and what do I need to change in my workout approach in the future?”

21.3 is just a few days away and many of us who completed all those snatches and burpees over the weekend can finally start tying our own shoe laces again.

If you got away without any scars then you’ve pretty much done each and every rep close to perfect. This is due to your hard work in preparation, well done! For those of us who are in agonizing pain its worth taking an in depth look at why we are all so badly off.

Here’s the workout:

Before I start analyzing the workout here is some pointers on your normal mechanics in any workout in general:

  1. Your body always tends to follow where you are looking, so if you look down to pick up the dumbbell; your body wants to naturally bend over. This creates a rounded back and higher hips, so less drive through your posterior chain.
  2. Your lower back works at a mechanical disadvantage, some lower back muscles have to perform 3-5 kg of force to lift 1 kg of effort, performing incorrect movements through the lower back will further increase this disadvantage ratio. 
  3. The stiffness after this workout wasn’t so much about the heavy weight, we’ve had many 1st time openers tackling the prescribed weights, it’s was more about the amount of possible incorrect reps you accumulated.
  4. All the movements in this workout are completely natural and your body can perform them many times over and over when conditioned correctly.
  5. It’s very possible that you could have done well over 500 incorrect movements during these 20 minutes, and here’s how…

Let’s start looking at the workout movements:

  1. Burpee – as you are bending downwards to place your hands on the floor you are performing hip flexion to hip extension to kick your legs out. Both are back associated movements. Whilst completing the push up during the upward phase, you shoot from hip extension into hip flexion and then hip extension standing up. 1 rep has a 4 movements that directly target the lower back and hips. Also your pushing your lower back a considerable distance when going from 2 opposing movements directly towards each other. Let’s not forget that last push up in the burpee that will typically be hyper extended as you fatigue in the 2nd half of the workout. It’s this hyper extended position where most athletes load the spine more then necessary. You are doing 75 burpees, that’s 75 x 4 aggressive hip movements = 300 lower back and hip movements.
  2. Box Jump – lowering the hips to prepare for the jump is a hip flexion movement, here it’s not as deep as with the burpee as you are looking up and not down, but you are going into a very quick and powerful jumping action that needs hip extension at speed. 75 box jumps + the burpees are 375 reps that target the lower back and hips. Most athletes relax the abs when landing and jumping from the box. You need to keep that core tight to further protect the spine and back. I’ve seen many athletes also leaning forward when stepping off the box due to fatigue, that places additional effort on the back erector muscles. 
  3. 1 arm snatches – starting with the weight on the floor preparing for a snatch you are in hip flexion position. As you stand up you enter hip extension with the weight overhead. 

Here we have an external weight traveling the furthest possible distance from ground over head with a straight arm, so this increases the mechanical load considerably on the whole body, cleaning the weight up to the shoulders for instance would be traveling a smaller distance with less effort. Imagine how much effort tall athletes have to put in on lifting a weight off the floor with a straight arm overhead. The movement from ground to overhead is a very fast movement typically so once again we are moving the back from flexion to extension with power and speed, so that’s extra effort on the smaller back muscles. 

From ground to overhead and back to the ground its 2 hip and back associated movements per 1 snatch rep. You’re doing 150 snatches during this workout. Typically as you fatigue you will be bending less in the hips as you are looking down at the weight and your posture starts couching forward. This results in you reaching over to the dumbbell with an elaborate C-curve in the spine and not a straight back as you should. If you can just keep your chest up, look slightly forward rather than downwards you will already save yourself a lot of pain. With fatigue setting in most athletes also tend to lift the dumbbell further away from their bodies in an arch movement instead of keeping it close to the hips, this also increases the mechanical load on back and spine the further the dumbbell travels away from the body.

Snatches, box jumps and burpees add to well over 500 flexion and extension movements that directly target the lower back and hips and can easily be done incorrectly when you are fatigued, rushed and not engaging the core.

Here’s what you can include in your warm up to prepare a bit better next time:

  1. Posterior chain – PVC / bar good mornings, Romanian deadlifts, kettlebell sumo squats, super mans and ring rows.
  2. Shoulders, chest, and arms – inch worms with an elaborate pressing through the shoulders and the end of the worm to get the head through, bar overhead presses.
  3. Core and hips – planks, hollow rock holds, 1 arm kettle bell swings, 1 arm kettlebell snatches.
  4. Breathing – 5 minutes breathing exercises with an activated core and abs is essential. When you breath through your abs during this workout you will protect your spine by creating intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure eventually runs lower as you fatigue throughout the second part of the workout you will start breathing through your chest and this takes some protection away from your spine. Keeping the core engaged while jumping onto and from the box will also protect the spine and back muscles.

You don’t have to be a good athlete to enjoy the open, all you need to be is….just be prepared.

Here is a very handy back mobility sequence with 3 exercises you can do to get movement going again. Movement heals! Try it out! The smaller back muscles are being guarded and may be slightly traumatized. 

Are you suffering from persistent back pain and discomfort? Book your free lower back mechanical analysis with me. 

Hannes is a sports conditioning and rehabilitation expert. He manages the Body Transformation  and rehabilitation programs at Iconic Fitness in Dubai Marina. He has the best dad jokes in the world, is an avid chess player and holds that the best machine in the gym which is the vending machine. 

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