Good morning Kai,

Thank you for your follow-up email on the progress on my back injury healing process.

Since our meeting I have focused on moving in a spine friendly, hygienic way. I have done the big 3 every day, taking an occasional day off once every 2-3 weeks. I typically choose such a day based on tiredness of my proximal stabilizers or soreness and find the following day I feel rested and more technically proficient.

Right now I am completing the descending Russian pyramid of 8, 6, 4, holding each contraction for 10 seconds. I bumped it from 6 to 8 after a couple of months to increase the difficulty per your instructions to increase resistance over time. I have also started building in stir the pot, which my back and body is tolerating well. I have a walking regimen I follow every day.

Interestingly, not surprisingly, your prediction in my evaluation results of a 30-40% reduction at this time frame was spot on. I feel it is actually a bit more than that. I notice small improvements in many areas like the car, bed, sitting, etc. that show slow healing.

Last, I have taken it upon myself, to more fully educate my kinesthetic and exercise physiology knowledge base on back injuries and training through Dr. McGill and his research. I have listened to numerous podcasts, read articles, and am currently reading Ultimate Back Fitness. To this end, I need to train again eventually, and am building a home gym in my oversize garage, which I am excited about. Slow, spine friendly, “wading” back in to regular resistance exercise will be the plan with an absence of damaging movements and type A mentality.

As a former cross-fitter, I have focused on learning about why this exercise regimen is so potentially damaging to the human linkage and specifically lower back. Although I can see clearly that Stu and you shy away from saying “don’t do crossfit”, here is my understanding and opinions, that you are free to share with your clients if it helps them:

Crossfit is dangerous for many participants, risking both short and long term back injury for a number of reasons.

First, it takes Olympic lifting movements that are supposed be each completed with perfect form (load the spine but don’t move it, or move the spine but don’t load it) in lower repetitions (lower equals more focus on perfect technique with each movement) and builds them into workouts with high numbers of repetitions in a competitive, personal, group, and time focused competition. This results in breakdown of technique and the spinal linkage bearing the brunt of the force caused by loading and moving the linkage concurrently.

Second, Olympic lifts place tremendous stress on the discle structure, vertebrae, and end plates. Based on human physiology, the body needs adequate time (days) to heal before repeating such stress input in another workout. In crossfit, this stress input is not solitary, meaning it is almost always paired with other movements as part of the workout. Example: 12 hang power cleans, paired with toes to bar, and double unders – 6 rounds for time. At some boxes, participants specifically weight train for the first part of class prior to the workout, thus increasing this stress on the body (spine) before completing the group workout. Again, likely further breakdown of technique due to muscular and mental fatigue for movements that demand precision and solid technique. Part of the amazing group motivation and fun of crossfit is doing multiple days per week when in actuality, even though a participant may be performing a different lift each day (Clean and Jerk Monday, Squats Tuesday, Snatches Wednesday), the human body is not getting the rest days in between the stress inputs, which allow for healing of the discle structures, micro fractures of the end plates, and necessary adaptation and “callousing” before another stress stimulus. This repeated stress day after day, week after week, will eventually push the spinal linkage past the tipping point for many participants, resulting in injury. The argument that “crossfitters never train at a weight level where they could damage themselves” is in fact untrue. If they trained at very heavy weight levels, damage to the linkage and back will certainly come sooner. But based on the combination of exercises, higher reps, etc. lower weights will still cause injury, just take longer to do so.

Third, Crossfit combines totally separate, opposite end of the spectrum disciplines of power moving weight training and gymnastics into the workouts that participants regularly follow. This in fact contradicts what a properly coached and trained athlete would do. Humans are genetically pre dispositioned to typically be better at power moving or flexibility based disciplines. Think of the extreme end of the spectrum examples of a powerlifter versus a gymnast. In a crossfit workout, participants in fact try and do both, as fast as possible. So for example, a participant may be snatching (trying to keep the spine motionless with proximal stiffness) and then run to the wall and perform kipping handstand pushups, with each bending the lumbar spine and legs down to be able to kip under load. Another example is heavy front squats paired with kettlebell swings and toes to bar. This results in contradictory and co-damaging requests of the body i.e. have proximal stiffness and lack of motion in the linkage, immediately followed by lots of spinal bending under load with flexion and extension. Is it possible to do – yes. Will it hurt the linkage and cause damage if the tipping point is crossed – yes.

Fourth, crossfit has many movements that when combined together result in direct delamination to the discle structure and collagen. Think olympic lifts combined with burpees as an example.

Last, most powerlifters, olympic lifters, bodybuilders and most certainly gymnasts, have full time coaches that closely observe them, video them and guide their training to insure technique is optimal. That the athlete’s regimen and stress input is appropriate for the cycle, timing and periodization of training. There are many great crossfit coaches I have been coached by. Overall, throughout crossfit, the observation and knowledge base necessary to coach this type of technical training is not present in such a large group setting. Nor would it be possible, as many coaches are enthusiasts and not full time professional coaches with the appropriate educational background. Not to generalize all crossfit gyms, but how many perform an assessment of each athlete before training commences (hip scour test for example to determine depth of socket and range of motion)? In my case, I heard from day one that I had to go as deep as possible on all movements and limitation to do so, was caused by lack of mobility. In actuality I have deep sockets and ended up butt winking and causing damage and flexion intolerance by going past parallel in many lifts, in combination with all stated above.

Best regards

Darren 46-year-old male Cross Fit athlete with 1-year history of low back pain initiated after a squatting exercise. Review is 6 months post McGill Method.