Preventing Back Pain in CrossFit: Key Considerations for Training Safely

by Onward Physical Therapy | January 25, 2024 |
 Low Back
Preventing Back Pain in CrossFit: Key Considerations for Training Safely

The back is the most commonly injured area of the body in CrossFit athletes. No one wants to modify workouts or miss their favorite lift because of a low back pain flare-up, so let’s discuss strategies for preventing back pain in CrossFit.

Common Causes of Back Pain in CrossFit

Several factors contribute to back pain in CrossFit athletes. The most common factor is programming errors. As coaches program (and athlete’s look ahead at that week’s workout) we need to make sure CrossFit stays “constantly varied.”. Far too often, we get stuck in routines of hitting the same movement patterns or muscle groups without adequate rest between sessions.

For example, we recently evaluated an athlete with great movement quality and mobility that injured her back in CrossFit. That week has two workouts with deadlifts (one heavy and one with high volume) and a third workout with a one-rep max squat clean. That is a lot of pulling from the ground and simply overloaded those tissues resulting in pain following the third WOD.

The second most common issue we see is athletes that need more low back strength. We tend to see this in two athletes:

  1. Athlete who back squat more than 80% of their deadlift
  2. Athletes with really long torso, meaning their back extensor muscles need to be very strong to control that long trunk

The third contributor tends to be hip and upper back mobility limitations. When athletes don’t have great mobility above and below the lower back, their lumbar spine will have to do extra work during workouts.

How Can We Reduce the Likelihood of Back Pain from CrossFit?

Reducing the likelihood of back pain during CrossFit really comes down to examining the above factors to determine what area is most important for you to address.

For programming, think about the frequency of different movement patterns that have been hit. There’s nothing wrong with sitting out of a day’s workout because you don’t feel recovered from the same exercise being done just a day or two ago. 

For low back strength, most CrossFit athletes are already working the main movements needed like deadlifts and squats. But if you need some extra low back work, movements like Reverse Hyper’s off a GHD do a great job of building strength without significantly impacting recovery.

View on YouTube

Finally, address any mobility deficits you have that might place more stress on the low back.

View Additional Thoracic Mobility Exercises

Tired of Repeated Episodes of Low Back Pain in CrossFit?

If you are sick of that twice-a-year “tweak” that keeps you out of the gym for two weeks, then it is time to get serious about your back health. At Onward Physical Therapy, our team consists of only athletes like you—people that care about pushing their fitness to the next level.

Let our team help guide you to the strength, mobility, and technique adjustments you need to make so that your back pain becomes a thing of the past!