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Accessory Workouts for CrossFitters
If you’re a CrossFitter who wants to maximize your performance and minimize your chance for injury, adding some targeted accessory workouts before or after your WOD can help you hit your goals!
There’s a few areas where CrossFitters commonly “break down.” These weak links, at their worst, can lead to injuries. At their best, they prevent you from performing to your full potential.
From working with CrossFitters for over 5 years (and having CrossFit myself for over 5 years), I’m very familiar with what can go wrong, what it looks like, (and feels like – since I’ve done it too!), and how to prevent it. This article will share the top 5 areas that CrossFitters have weaknesses in and include some accessory workouts so you can target your weaknesses!
The 5 Areas of Weakness
The weaknesses below aren’t listed in any order of importance, but there are a couple themes.
The first two – lat weakness and core weakness – largely revolve around gymnastics skills, particularly rig work. Shoulder and glute weakness produces similar issues; one simply presents in the arm and the other presents in the leg.
The last weakness, mobility work, is the trickiest to discuss as most CrossFitters already do some type of mobility. However, often the mobility work that CrossFitters do is not the mobility work that they need.
So, without further adieu, here’s the top 5 areas of weakness we see!
- Lat weakness
- Core weakness
- Shoulder stability
- Glute development
- Mobility work
Targeting Gymnastics: Lat & Core Weakness
These two weaknesses are lumped together because they often present together. They are also the most common limiting factor when it comes to gymnastics endurance in WODs that have a higher number of muscle ups, pull-ups, or toes to bar.
True core strength is being able to lay on your back, keep your back flat against the floor, slightly lift your shoulders, extend each leg and then each arm at a time. The key here is that the whole time your lower back must be flat on the floor. If your back comes up off the floor OR you lose control of your deep abdominal muscles, your core strength is lacking.
Core Strength – It’s Harder Than You Think
If you try this movement and you think it’s easy, you’re not doing it correctly. That may sound harsh, but it’s true. When we work with CrossFitters, close to 100% think they are doing it correctly, but when we break it down for them, they realize that they aren’t. Doing a hollow hold correctly is incredibly difficult and requires a lot of strength. This is a great example of me breaking down the movement and where I fail. The point of failure is subtle, but important when it comes to working on developing core strength.
Why Core Strength Is Important
A lack of core strength leads to the following –
- Using hip flexors for gymnastics (rig) work (leads to decreased efficiency, quicker fatigue)
- Decreased ability to utilize lats while doing gymnastics movements (you’re starting with the lats in a shortened position so you don’t develop as much lat strength)
- Arching the back while overhead pressing (typically causes back pain with overhead movements)
- Shortened hip flexors and resultant hip tightness (there’s less abdominal force to counteract the downward pull of the pelvis by the hip flexors)
Core Accessory Workout
Tabata hollow hold variations – 8:00 with 20” on, 10” off. Choose the variation demonstrated in the video that you can complete while maintaining good technique.
One of the largest causes of elbow pain with pull-ups (whether it’s on the inside or the outside), is weak lats. We dive into the why much more in-depth in both of the other articles we linked. The short version is that weak lats lead to one – or both – of the following:
- Overuse of other muscles (typically near the elbow)
- Poor (too narrow) hand position that causes extra stress on the elbow
Lat Accessory Workout
3 rounds of –
Shoulder & Glute Weakness
While it may seem weird to group shoulder issues and glute (which really presents as knee issues) in the same section, from an anatomical standpoint, it makes complete sense. There are a lot of parallels between how the shoulder functions and how the hip functions as well as how the muscles are distributed around both of the joints. The simple version of why things go wrong here is this:
CrossFit is typically done only in one plane of motion – the forward and backward plane (sagittal plane for you anatomy nerds). During WODS, we rarely move in rotational or side-to-side directions. Because of this, the muscles that move in the side-to-side or rotational planes don’t get the same strength stimulus that our forward/backward muscles (think quadriceps, gluteus maximus, deltoid, pectorals) get. This leaves a wide open door to injury for the smaller muscles (rotator cuff, middle trapezius, gluteus minimus, deep hip rotators).
And, this is exactly where we see the injuries come up in the clinic. Almost 75% of the shoulder injuries I see are due to weakness in the stabilizing muscles around the shoulder. And, over half of the CrossFitters I see with knee pain is because of weakness in their hip stabilizing muscles. When you look at it this way, the solution becomes pretty simple – build up the strength of the stabilizing muscles and you’ll avoid a lot of discomfort.
Glute Accessory Workout
The following workout is a regular staple of mine. I do it 2x/week after a CrossFit class for two reasons.
- I’m a runner and runners need a LOT of strength in their hip stabilizing muscles to run without injury.
- IT-Band Syndrome – if I don’t do it, this injury comes right back on my right knee. It’s annoying as all get out, but this works really well at keeping it at bay.
3 rounds of –
- 15 (each side) modified side plank hip abduction
- 10 (each side) single leg deadlift OR pistol squats
Shoulder Accessory Workout
9:00 AMRAP of –
Mobility Work for CrossFitters
To be completely honest, I almost didn’t include this. Why? Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the topic justice. Mobility is incredibly complex because it depends on the individual in front of you. Some people have tight spines, others tight shoulders, and some tight hips. What feels tight for people isn’t always tight (that’s a whole different discussion), but people typically stretch what feels tight (and get frustrated when it doesn’t work).
Mobility deserves being mentioned though because about a quarter of the CrossFit injuries we see are due to lacking mobility. The most common areas for people to be limited in mobility are –
We’ve got a couple other articles discussing tight shoulders and the mobility needed for overhead squatting. Because the answer to “How do I fix tight X?” truly depends on the body part and the movement, we suggest you check out those articles instead of putting a “one accessory workout fixes all” in here.
CrossFit Accessory Workouts – the Why
When it comes to CrossFit, improving performance and injury prevention have a lot of overlap. What helps with one often helps with the other. The key is to make sure you’re working on the correct area of your body. If you’re not sure what the correct area is, we’d love to help! Simply fill out this form to set up your free consultation!