Internal Program Review: Corrective Exercise Program for an Elite Female CrossFit Athlete

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Throughout the entirety of my college tenure and time as a collegiate strength & conditioning coach, I was extremely averse to CrossFit. Though my stance hasn’t changed much regarding CrossFit as a means of enhancing athletic prowess, it has changed considerably towards using CrossFit as a means of enhancing fitness in the general population as well as CrossFit as a sport unto itself. My thoughts on CrossFit as a whole are best saved for another day, but my opinions on it have been trending more positively as of late.

During this time in my life, I would have never anticipated that moving forward I’d have a wonderful working relationship with a handful of CrossFit affiliates, as well as having a roster on-hand of over 300 CrossFit athletes that I actively assess, program, and am generally accountable for with regards to health and longevity in the sport.

With all this said, I wanted to do a break down of one of the Ruthless Performance Ex Phys Interventions, one of our flagship corrective exercise protocols. This internal program review will vary slightly from some in the past, as some information has been redacted/blurred. I don’t have any problems answering any questions, or providing explanations for these programs, but because of the highly individualized and semi-clinical nature of these programs, sharing the entirety of these programs can be counterproductive as many exercises that work for the client may not work for others.

I’ve only left the information visible on this program that I want to share (and am capable of covering) within the scope of this article. The Ruthless Performance Ex Phys Interventions are largely just corrective in nature and do not comprise the entirety of an athlete’s program. These are usually done in conjunction with our Remote Programming, Athlete Development Training, or in conjunction with other sports (like CrossFit, powerlifting, or weightlifting).

Ex Phys Interventions typically have a handful of components meant to mend well with existing programing. Programs are almost always comprised of warm-up, cool-down, activation work, and then from here may include some combination of at-home work, daily mobility circuits, weekly totals, etc..

So let’s dig in…

1. To Fix Something Rapidly, Do it Frequently

Jennifer Smith - EPI - 7The daily exercises typically involved in our Ex Phys Interventions seek to address some underlying physical deviation causing undue strain on the musculoskeletal system. By assigning these exercises to do frequently, but with low-intensity, these can be completed shortly before bed, upon waking, during lunch breaks, and so on…

In this case, we’re dealing with an athlete that has prominent Anterior Pelvic Tilt (APT), slight Upper Cross Syndrome, and flexion-intolerant back pain (read more on flexion vs. extension intolerant back pain here). The at-home exercises were largely meant to remedy these issues, while requiring relatively little input from the CNS, allowing the athlete to perform these with a greater level of frequency.

This exercise circuit is listed to be performed 3x / week. More is better in the case of these exercises, but 3x / week is a frequency that an athlete can adhere to with relative ease.

2. Breathing Drills are Making a Come-Back

Jennifer Smith - EPI - 7Breathing Drills are one of those topics that deserve their own article (if not their own book). There are many great resources to learn about the significance of proper breathing in greater specificity, but suffice it to say that in a cool-down, we are looking for activation of the diaphragm to help pull the athlete into a more parasympathetic-dominant state (the CNS should be the focal point of Exercise Science curricula rather than the muscular system, again another post, another day…).

The Deep Squat Belly Breathing w/ Lat Stretch drill is useful specifically with this athlete as we’re attempting to alter the CNS, while simultaneously helping the client feel better overhead, minimize input from various accessory breathing structures, and get some extra post-workout work on that deep squat position; mobility drills done post-workout seem to have longer-lasting effects on range of motion and function.

Additionally, I’ve left in the header of her assigned myofascial release work for a quick note… The effects of myofascial release seem to be slightly overblown BUT myofascial release is still important enough to make our corrective programs. By drastically cutting down the time on the rollers & lacrosse balls, but maintaining frequency, we can experience the benefits of myofascial work without it taking up more time than is needed. 15 seconds on the roller and LAX ball per muscle group as a standard and doubling this only for trouble areas.

3. Corrective Exercises Aren’t Always Crazy Stretches

I’ll be the first to admit that many of the exercises within our corrective protocols are complex and can be viewed as a novelty. This theme can encapsulate athletes’ perceptions generally towards correctives, but this isn’t always the case.

Jennifer Smith - EPI - 7

Both biceps femoris (legs) and biceps brachii (arms) tend to be an issue for CrossFit athletes… Since many CrossFit facilities tend to avoid use of machines, the hamstrings (biceps femoris) tend to be neglected, specifically the short head of the muscle, whose primary responsibility is lower leg flexion. In the case of the arms (biceps brachii), which are stimulated by exercises like traditional dumbbell or barbell curls, there again tends to be an imbalance between the long head and short head, leading to problems at the shoulder, elbow, and even wrist.

By adding in a weekly total for barbell curls, we can ensure the athlete is getting sufficient short-head activation without much complexity. Barbell curls, no weights, hit this total every week; that’s it.

4. Multi-Function Joints Need Multi-Function Stimulation

The joint-by-joint theory popularized by Physical Therapist Gray Cook can appear invalid Jennifer Smith - EPI - 7at the shoulder, as it is comprised of two primary joints. But as the data points to, the theory fits as one joint provides stability (acromioclavicular joint) and the other yields greater range of motion (glenohumeral).

With this in mind, we’ve focused the athletes Day 1, 3, and 5 activation drills around ensuring these various functional components of the shoulder and thoracic spine are being stimulated.

The Half-Kneeling 90/90 External Rotation stimulates the Supraspinatus in isolation. I reference the significance of the Supraspinatus regularly, but its significance is largely rooted in its function as one of the few muscles that externally rotates the humerus. Bench T-Spines are ideal for wedging the shoulder blades into the thoracic spine, thus forcing some sagittal plane mobility (thoracic extension). And of course, this variation of carries works the rotator cuffs of the shoulder independently of one another, while ensuring large amounts of irradiation (tension directed upwards in the kinetic chain) because of the bottoms-up grip. This further supports the desired outcome of very active, healthy rotator cuffs.


For more details on any of our corrective exercise programs, send us an email at Program facilitation available in-person and online.