You get the notification that tomorrow’s WOD is posted and before you even look, you already find your mind racing with thoughts like, “PLEASE, anything but thrusters!” or “Not pull-ups again!” Your shoulders are still begging for some relief after snatching popped up a few days ago and you’re hoping for anything that will give them a break. CrossFit, in its constantly varied nature, never fails to highlight the movements you’re hoping to avoid. If you’re ready to clean up your CrossFit shoulder pain, check out these five key areas you might be overlooking!
Rotator Cuff Strength
Anyone who has dealt with shoulder pain has inevitably been advised to strengthen their rotator cuff. The muscles comprising the rotator cuff act to stabilize the shoulder joint, so it’s no secret that making these muscles more robust can help keep your shoulders healthy, but this is only the beginning. If it were truly this simple, we’d all have strong, pain free shoulders. Is it important? Absolutely. Is it the entire solution? Probably not. Strength in these muscles is a pre-requisite but considering the following additional factors can help keep your overhead performance high.
Mobility: NOT just the shoulder
CrossFit demands sufficient mobility throughout our entire body, not just our shoulders. If we lack mobility in one area, our body will naturally seek to make up for it elsewhere. For example, many of us continue to struggle with shoulder pain during overhead squats or snatches despite spending hours working on our overhead mobility and positioning. In some cases, your shoulder mobility and strength could be top notch, but end up taking a beating from stiff ankles or tight hips preventing you from reaching optimal positioning (often neglected areas of analysis for athletes dealing with shoulder pain). For this reason, it’s important to consider both the athlete and movement as a whole. Very few movements in CrossFit are isolated to a single joint or muscle, so it’s important we approach mobility in a comprehensive manner as well. This video demonstrates how limited ankle mobility in an overhead squat can lead to greater stress on the shoulders.
In CrossFit, we regularly see heavy doses of overhead movements and pressing work. From pull ups, jerks, handstands, and wall balls, these patterns show up nearly daily in our WODs. On the other hand, we rarely see variations of horizontal pulling programmed. Regularly incorporating rowing variations (barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell, inverted, etc.) into your warm-ups, accessory work, or post-workout routine can work to strengthen muscles that easily get bypassed with traditional programming. By working to address this asymmetry in training and developing strength in opposing muscle groups, it can assist in offloading the stresses applied to the shoulder complex during typical training and help keep the nagging pains that sneak in when overhead/pressing volume gets high to a minimum.
Strict Gymnastics Strength
When it comes to gymnastic skills in CrossFit, it’s tempting to dive quickly into butterfly pull-ups or kipping handstand push-ups or muscle ups. When executed properly, these are a great option allowing you to move more quickly and efficiently through the WOD, but what we often lack in our transition to more dynamic movements is a strong foundation of strict strength. For example, if we lack the requisite strength to perform at least one strict pull up, adding in momentum with kipping (especially if kipping mechanics aren’t on point) can redirect greater forces through shoulders that already lack sufficient strength to control the motion without momentum. We wouldn’t run before we can walk or crawl, so on a similar note we should take the time to master strict strength before adding in a dynamic component. If you’re someone who has noticed sore, painful shoulders following high-volume gymnastics work outs, it may be time to take a step back and work to build your strict capacity and dive deeper into your mechanics.
Comprehensive Analysis of Movements
The sport of CrossFit as defined by coach Greg Glassman “not a specialized fitness program but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains. They are Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.” Given the varying nature and stark difference between traditional fitness routines, having a trained eye break down and analyze the movements required within a CrossFit box is paramount both to managing potential injury and keeping performance high. If you’re noticing your shoulders always feel flared up after kipping or are consistently left extra sore after clean and jerks despite coaching feedback and your own efforts, schedule an assessment with our team to dive deeper into potential limitations that may be holding you back!