Can Decreasing Your Load Help Your Back Pain?

Do you wake up with a stiff back? Does eating breakfast with your creaky shoulders feel like your first workout of the day? If you answer yes to either these questions, you may have a problem.

You see, most people start CrossFit because they want to improve their fitness, not test it. Yes, there’s the 10% of athletes who excel at the sport of fitness and go on to compete at regionals and various other competition. However, most gyms are not full of 10-percenters, they are made up of 90-percenters who want to stay in shape to live longer and better while looking awesome naked.

Surprisingly, the complaints from these athletes are not dissimilar to those of top athletes. The difference lies in the 10%’s approach to dealing with these issues, because competitiveness for even top athletes takes a back seat to performing activities of daily living like getting the kids off to school or performing their duties at work.

When your goal is to lead an easier life outside the gym then dealing with pain every day is unacceptable. So when I tell a patient to hit a target number of squats so we can establish midline stability and improve hip range of motion, I’m not met with much resistance. It’s the pain and the elimination of it, coupled with improved performance that brings CrossFitters into my office and keeps them coming back.

Patients who are willing to make changes to their programming, momentarily or permanently, get phenomenal results, achieved through the simple manipulation of load and capacity. Someone whose daily load exceeds their daily capacity will be in pain, and my job is to help them increase capacity while simultaneously decreasing load.

Now don’t go choking on your ego. Decreasing load doesn’t necessarily mean fewer sets, smaller weights or less time in the gym. Load comes in many forms and can be reduced, in some cases, by doing something as easy as changing the grip distance on a barbell. It is athletes who respect the relationship of load and capacity that get the results they deserve quickly. I’ve had athletes who couldn’t tie their shoes because of back pain come in and deadlift over 400lb in less than two weeks, so it is possible to achieve results quickly.

Always ask what your programming is doing for you. Is it considering your capacity when determining load? Is it reducing load when capacity is low and increasing load when capacity is high? If your programming is not accommodating these factors then you need to make your own adjustments.

So when your coach writes a workout on a white board, he or she is writing the workout for athletes who are not experiencing pain or discomfort. Your coach is prepared to make changes to the programming to accommodate for your decreased capacity whether it’s thanks to fatigue, discomfort or injury.

Always tell your coach about your needs. If they’re so specific you need a coach to spend additional time planning for you each day then perhaps buying an individualized program from them is a smart idea.

The moral of the story is that we are all built differently and have a different capacity to perform work and handle load. Often we’re not a good fit for a particular program the coach writes for us. So remember that exercise programming on any level is an experiment, a compilation of trial and error judged by data points and refined to be tried again.

It is your personal responsibility to make sure the programming you follow, whether in a group class or as an individual, makes sense for your unique capacity.

Find fitness advice and more in every issue of TRAIN magazine. 

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