One Common Movement Imbalance in CrossFit - Quad Dominant

12 Oct


Every Sport has its preferences, be that body type, motor patterns, even mindset. For example if you walked into an NBA locker room you would see a group of men who are much taller than the average population. If you examined a pitchers shoulder you would notice that he has a lot more external rotation than you do. These adaptations are a real double edged sword when it comes to longevity and enjoyment in the sport. CrossFit is no different and it's common to see some common changes when we really try to maximize our potential in the sport. Despite these being necessary adaptations it is important to understand how we can address them to give you more consistent gains and results. 

Imbalance #1 - Quadriceps to Hamstring dominant 

Now this is a bit of an oversimplification, I prefer to think of this as an anterior chain dominant. Meaning CrossFitters are great at using quads, hip flexors and knee flexion patterns (think squatting) and not so good at using glutes, hamstrings and hinging patterns (think deadlift) When we look at our sport there is a premium placed on being an efficient squatter both at heavy weights and high volumes, if you can master this pattern it really gives you a leg up in competition.

However there are some downfalls to getting too far down this imbalance such as:

  • Increased anterior knee pain
  • Substantial low back fatigue
  • Reduced force output in maximal lifts

The body is meant to work in synchronous relationships around joints to best stay healthy as well as create force and power. If one side really starts outperforming the other we can have some issues. Now let's talk about assessment and fixes. 

What to track

Structural balance can be a good snippet to track. You should be able to deadlift 1.25 of your best back squat. Now it is an imperfect science but if your deadlift and back squat are the same, we know that is low hanging fruit. The second is the ability to complete a full range of motion Glute-Ham Raise. Yes that sit up machine is actually meant to develop your backside! We steal this standard from good research in hamstring strain prevention. Inability to manipulate your own body weight against gravity is a good indicator you need work.

Programming Ideas

The below example is written for a female athlete who has a deadlift equal to her back squat and is unable to complete a glute-ham raise (GHR). She has some history of anterior knee pain and is an intermediate trainee (think 4 years of training experience).

Training Example:

  • Monday -- Hinge dominant heavy work 
    • A1: Single leg hip thrust x 12 reps per leg 1 second hold at top 
    • A2: Single leg eccentric glute slide 3 per leg as slow as possible. 
    • A3: Bent knee sorenson hold x tough effort per round x 3 sets 
      • This is focused on motor control for the warm up -- We are teaching how to brace and access/feel the glutes. I would have a conversion with the athlete about how this should translate to the big lifts. 
    • B: Floating clean grip Deadlift @40X1 6-8 x 4 rest 2:30 
      • Coaches Notes: Focus on pushing those hips back to initiate the motion, and drive your feet THROUGH the ground to come back up. Your biggest goal is to use the hips to control the ascent. 
      • Progressions: We will stay at this tempo for 3 weeks then progress to heavier lifts at lower rep ranges 
    • C1: Close grip Bench press @40X1 6-8 rest :90 
    • C2: Rear foot elevated RDL @3010 10 per leg rest 2:00 
      • X 3 sets -- This program will gear towards a higher volume total approach due to her lower training age and lower NME. 
    • D: 4 sets at Low low intensity 
      • 500 M Row + 1:00 sorenson hold 
        • We will keep conditioning not intense during this offseason example due to wanting to prioritize strength and motor control gains 

  • Tuesday -- Easy conditioning day -- again this example is from the offseason so we are not going to include a lot of intensity 
    • A: 4 sets at high quality 
      • 1: Supinated chest to bar hold 
        • Rest :30 
      • 2: Dip support 
        • Rest :30 
      • 3: Hollow rock x max reps 
        • Rest fully 
    • B: 5 sets 
      • 600 M Ski @ slower than 2K PR + 1 mile AB @ 20:00 PR Pace
        • Rest 2:00 x 35:00 running clock 
        • This should be very sustainable for you (think about more of a sustainable jog). Each and every round on the machines should be the same pace. 
    • C: Soft tissue work - focus on the hamstrings, glutes and adductors 

  • Wednesday - Easy knee flexion -- Even though we are not looking to up her back squat we can still include these qualities in a well rounded program. We will emphasize speed elements on this day so it has a different stimulus from monday, and will set us up for another higher intensity posterior chain day on Friday. 
    • A: Clean pull + Squat clean  3+1 x 6 rest :90 capped @70% Squat clean max
      • Focus on hips down and drive those feet through the floor
        • We are cueing the athlete to still utilize posterior chain motor learning concepts that we want to improve 
    • B: Front rack reverse lunge 12 total reps rest 2:00 x 4
      • So this will be a lighter total lift then a traditional squat -- it will give us some good muscle endurance and knee health. But it will give us more reserve in the nervous system for the 2 primary posterior chain days 
    • C: EMOM Series EMOM 15 
      • A: 12 UB wall ball 
      • B: 8 UB Chest to bar 
      • C: 6 Kip HSPU 
        • We are using a more accumulation based approach to touch on skills during this block. These reps would all be personally selected based on the athletes assessment. We are using something we know she can do and recover easily form 

  • Thursday 
    • Rest - go hike, play, enjoy your day! 

  • Friday - Second posterior chain focused day. This will be the higher volume of the two trainings sessions
    • A1: Single leg hip thrust x 12 reps per leg 1 second hold at top 
    • A2: Single leg eccentric glute slide 3 per leg as slow as possible. 
    • A3: Bent knee sorenson hold x tough effort per round x 3 sets 
      • Its important to have progression and repetition in motor learning pieces, it is very common to see me give athletes the same “prehab” for multiple weeks in a row to enhance learning 
    • B: Romanian Deadlift @2010 12-12-12-12 rest 2:00 
      • Start @35% of DL Max and ascend per round -- this may be underwhelming but will get more difficult week to week 
      • Notice that this is a higher total volume then Monday. It will get heavier over several weeks but will be the lighter of the two sessions 
    • C1: Eccentric glute ham raise x 3 reps 
      • Place a box in front of the GH machine and go down as slowly as you can and use your arms to cheat the concentric. Please film so we can gauge progress week to week 
        • Rest :45 
    • C2: Seated Arnold press @ 3010 8-10 per arm 
      • Rest fully x 4 
    • D: 3 Sets at low intensity 
      • 1K Row - somewhere between 5K and 30 Minute pace 
      • +
      • 1:00 Max Russian KBS 35 LB 
        • Rest 4:00 --again we want to play into the daily theme of volume in hinging, as well as the theme of the block focusing on strength thus the lower intensity of the conditioning. 

This is just one example of something commonly seen in CrossFit athletes as far as movement imbalances. Hopefully this article was helpful if this applies to you personally. More importantly, I hope you can see the importance of assessment and individualized programming, because not everyone has the same limitations or path to improvement. This is just a small example of how our coaching staff can identify and execute your needs for improvement. 


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