12 minute AMRAP:
12 push-ups
12 pistols
12 DB snatches (45/25)

Was it the plane rides or the lack of acknowledging what was really going on?

Was it the plane rides or the lack of acknowledging what was really going on?

Working the Workaround

I spend many of my Fridays and Sundays flying to cities in the US and back to Boulder via airplane.  Over the past few years, the airlines have made economy ticket travel a wretched, cramped, cattle herding industry in which they now sell you 8″ of extra leg room for $50 and consider it as a upgrade.  That subject though is for another post…

About three years ago, every once in a while, after doing a barbell complex type workout (deadlifts and overhead squats or The Bear Complex) I would finish with an extreme tightness in my lower back.  I thought it annoying but chalked it up to the possibility that my spinal erectors were extremely tired from working “so hard”.  Two years ago, I was in the middle of 21-15-9 deadlifts and overhead squats and my back tightened up so bad that I couldn’t comfortably bend over to pick up the barbell – so I stopped the workout, thought “this sucks”, and hopped on the reverse hyper to loosen in back up.  In each instance, I had no residual pain or issue within 2 hours of the occurrence, none.

Having known this was an issue for me, and being mildly annoyed each time it happened, I put some thought to why this was happening and (I thought) figured it out!  It was all the airplane travel.  It was sitting in the cramped seat for 2-3 hours in a hunched, hip flexor tightening, pelvis tilting set-up paired with doing heavy deadlifts or barbell work the day before or after travel.  Tada!  I quickly came up with a solution – I wouldn’t deadlift the day before or after airplane travel.  Problem solved.

Fast forward to the end of this past November.  We pulled a bunch of heavy deads in group class on a Friday and my desire to workout overrode my airplane flight protocol for the afternoon.  The next day at a seminar, the trainers settled on a heavy deadlift and muscle-up workout – how could I miss that combo!  Again, didn’t follow my protocol and started the workout.  On the 11th rep, something went wrong.  It was as if every piece of muscle fiber in my back just gave up and my lumbar curve completely gave way.  There was no popping or immediate pain, just the feeling that I was picking that thing up, and then all of the sudden my back turned to Jell-O (as a side note, don’t ever eat Jell-O).  I stopped the workout and five minutes later felt the full effects.  What resulted over the following two days was, to me at the time, unimaginable.

I couldn’t tilt my back to drink from a water fountain, I couldn’t bend over to pick something up, I couldn’t reach my arm away from my body without excruciating pain.  I couldn’t sit down without sitting over the chair and then free falling to the seat with a huge thud.  My friend had to lower me in and out of the car because I physically could not move.  The next day was worse.  I woke up in my bed and felt for a moment that I might not be able to sit-up.  I had to roll my body to the side of the bed and then roll onto the floor rather than trying to lift my torso.  I will never forget flying home that Sunday night and not being able to put my own carry-on in the overhead bin.

The trip home and the resulting two weeks were filled with research and a full on rehab program – and a self assessment of how I got to that point.  I got to that point because I had CREATED A WORKAROUND FOR THE PROBLEM RATHER THAN FINDING A CURE.  How could I have let myself do that?  I don’t let my athletes do that!  Can’t overhead squat?  No, you can’t sub to front squats, you can do it with a sand filled PVC pipe and work on mobility and the squat together.  The solution is not to eliminate the functional movement from your training plan (and life), it’s to address the problem.  Nicole, can’t do barbell complexes without your back tightening up around plane rides?  The solution is not to avoid doing heavy deads around plane trips – the solution is to ADDRESS THE ROOT OF THE PROBLEM.

Flash forward one month and I was back to normal after an extensive rehab program, tons of sled pulls, and stretching I always said I “should do.”  Flash forward three months and my back is stronger than it’s ever been enabling two PRs in the deadlift and back squat.  And no back tightening on barbell complexes.

As athletes we are drawn toward the business of being athletic, being fit, and doing work – we’re less drawn to addressing our limitations and acknowledging what impacts those limitations may have down the road.

While this experience was not enjoyable, I am grateful it happened.  I am more aware of my own deficiencies and the accessory work I need to do in order to play as hard as I want to.  I learned first hand that CrossFit, the method, really is there for you through thick and thin as it was a CrossFit centered rehab program filled with functional movements that got me healthy and addressed the problem.  And it served as one more example of how CrossFit can serve us now and far into our elderly years; however, we have to take instances like an inability to do an overhead squat not as “an annoying movement the coaches always program” but as a deficiency that should be addressed with the same vigor as Fran.

Do you have a movement deficiency that you’ve created a workaround?  Post to comments.