Does CrossFit Have a Hole In It’s Typical Movements?

I have been doing CrossFit for just over 2 years now…and I am loving it. But I have some questions that I am genuinely interested in getting answers for…they relate to movement in 3 dimensions.

Typically, a CrossFit Workout of the day (WOD) require us to many different things – in fact, it could be argued that any movement is fair game to be included in CrossFit. I am OK with that. However, we certainly do a LOT of sagittal plane motion, not much rotation (transverse plane motion) or side bending (coronal plane motion).

Let’s back up a second here and define what those movements are:

  1. Sagittal plane motion is basically if  bent forwards and backwards…or running forwards in a straight line, toes to bar, sit ups, clean, etc etc. This is by far the most common plane of motion that CrossFit works in.
  2. Transverse plane motion is basically like discus throwing. You rotate around an axis that is like a spear through your spine. A roundhouse kick or punch, Swinging a sledgehammer sideways, Russian twists, etc are examples of transverse plane motion.
  3. Coronal plane motion is basically leaning side to side as if you were trapped between 2 planes of glass. Cartwheels, Side bending, and side planks are examples of movements and exercises that are in the coronal plane.

My question to everyone is this…what exercises can you do in CrossFit that are easily judged and can be practiced by everyone that include rotation and side-bending/lateral motion?

If we are to stay healthy, we need movement in all 3 planes. Lateral bar-over-burpees are a good exercise. Russian twists with a plate or ball have the complication of people with low back pain risking a flare up. You can do torture twists on the GHD or use a “Torsonator” but otherwise what else is there to do? The Double Banger event at the 2012 CrossFit Games was pure inspiration because I do wonder how many people program for rotational motion…and you can see on the videos that a lot of athletes just aren’t comfortable with twisting.

For coronal plane motion, there aren’t many things I can think of that fit sideways movements. You are string 2 ropes like in obstacle course racing and have them move across sideways. There are always the lateral jumps over broomsticks at 20″ or 24″ (let us pause a moment for all the broomsticks that have passed from this earth as a result of people landing on them…). Lateral bar-over burpees is another that can probably considered as combining coronal plane motion with sagittal plane motion. But what else is there left? Would a Kettlebell “windmill” pass the test? I guess “The Worm” could be classed as using some coronal plane motion – again, genius programming that showed up some athletes’ weaknesses…

All of these motions can be completed with a resistance band or Theraband. You can use a cable-cross machine at the globo gym to assist. You can pass medballs around to a partner but will we see anything like this in the CrossFit Games?

So, in my ignorance, please let me know what your favourite rotational and side-bending exercises are and whether these can be programmed into a CrossFit WOD or will they forever remain in the realms of “Accessory Work”?

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About Antony Lo
Antony Lo is an APA Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist based in Sydney. His website is www.MyPhysios.com.au. He specializes in the management, treatment and prevention of pain and dysfunction, particularly of the pelvis and ribcage. His sub-specialties include Crossfit and Exercise Performance Optimization, Ante-Natal and Post-Natal Care and difficult cases that have failed treatment elsewhere.

14 Responses to Does CrossFit Have a Hole In It’s Typical Movements?

  1. DavidKing says:

    Hi, take a look at Josh Hankins sandbag and Kettlebell videos on YouTube.

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    • Antony Lo says:

      Thanks David. Will do. Are there any movements that you can forsee in a wod?

      Like

      • DavidKing says:

        Sorry his name is Henkin. I don’t do cross fit or any WOD, as I believe in structured progression. So I dont fully understand you question. Look at Troy M Anderson as well. For lateral, you could do a lateral lunge. Load is held in a number of positions. In the hang position (easiest), bear hug position, Zercher, shoulder (ipsilateral or contralateral), overhead or chop position (each hold more difficult). Performed without a step (stable), with a step (dynamic). Performed on the ground or as a lateral step onto a step. More difficult again would be to clean a sand bag/ Kettlebell as you step out, or step back in. Clean, shoulder, Snatch, chop, is the progression. More difficult again would be to replace the lateral lunge with a cossack squat (greater range of motion).

        For rotation there are many options. Rotation requires rotating one foot ( putting a cigarette out) while you hinge back on the other side’s hip. Hinge back and return to the toes forward position. Repeat to the same side with a sandbag (parallel handles or holding the Centre of the bag). Equivalent to the kb swing. Or alternate sides, aka shoveling. Instead of projecting the weight out, clean, shoulder, Snatch, or chop. Or change the bilateral foot position to a staggered stance, the step back position, lunge position, Val Slide, rear foot elevated, suspended or single leg position. Each is increasingly more difficult.

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        • Antony Lo says:

          Thanks David – all good options there… thanks 🙂

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          • Adrian says:

            I have some questions
            1. How much is general work skewed to sagittal movement, 75%, 80%, 90% ??? and what is the differential as estimate between CrossFit and the needs of a general person in day to day? (Probably a how long is a piece of string question but worth pondering)
            2. Do you get a benefit in the transverse and coronal planes by doing a sagittal movement dominated program. If so is that enough for day to day life?
            3. If you were to test coronal or transverse dominated movements would how would you effectively test it (quantifiably).
            4. Simple things like lateral zig zag shuttles are coming up more in CF programming as well as using obscure shaped objects which to address the shortcomings or traditional CF in these two planes. Is that enough?

            Interested in views

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          • Antony Lo says:

            Thanks Adrian for your questions…good ones too!

            1. How much is general work skewed to sagittal movement, 75%, 80%, 90% ??? and what is the differential as estimate between CrossFit and the needs of a general person in day to day? (Probably a how long is a piece of string question but worth pondering)

            Programming is difficult to guess for everyone because everyone programs a bit differently. Lets take the CrossFit Open Movements as a guide
            Burpees – regular and bar-facing – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Box Jumps – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Chest-to-bar Pullups – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Clean and Jerk (and variations) – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Deadlifts – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Double-Unders – mainly coronal plane motion – jumping up and down in the coronal plane – not really sure where the axis of rotation for the whole movement is…but for the joints (ankles, knees, hips), it is sagittal plane motion
            Muscle Ups – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Push Ups – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Overhead Squats – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Shoulder to Overhead – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Snatch (and variations) – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Thrusters – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Toes-To-Bar – mainly sagittal plane motion
            Wall Balls – mainly sagittal plane motion

            I would suggest that even though you get components of rotation and side-bending, most motions involve sagittal plane motion…having said that, our bodies are designed that way – toes, ankles, knees, spine, elbows, etc are all designed primarily with sagittal plane motion in mind.

            Rotation occurs at these joints but particularly in the foot, some knee, LOTS in hip and thorax and C1/2, shoulders and wrists. Side bending probably has the least motion available to it via shoulders, spine and hips.

            To only be good in sagittal plane motion is to avoid all the twisting and leaning we need in every day life. We do 3D compound movements in life…not just compound sagittal plane movements…

            2. Do you get a benefit in the transverse and coronal planes by doing a sagittal movement dominated program. If so is that enough for day to day life?

            Most programs are sagittal plane motion dominated. So, no, you don’t get a benefit because of the SAID principle – specific adaptation to imposed demands. You will only have some rotation in there. If you want to enhance your sagittal plane motion, you add accessory training for the transverse and coronal planes so you can better control your sagittal plane motion when it gets challenged…if you are “perturbed” with a twisting or sideways force, your ability to continue tracking a nice sagittal plane motion is dependent on your ability to absorb and control the rotational and side bending forces the perturbation imposes on you…you have to train for that.

            3. If you were to test coronal or transverse dominated movements would how would you effectively test it (quantifiably).

            Motion is usually measure as movement around an axis and measured in degrees/radians etc as measured from the starting point. But that is only for range of motion (flexibility and mobility). What about stability? What about strength? Those components also matter. The challenge is to simply set the task and retest it at a later date to see if progress has occurred.

            4. Simple things like lateral zig zag shuttles are coming up more in CF programming as well as using obscure shaped objects which to address the shortcomings or traditional CF in these two planes. Is that enough?

            Are they coming up in CF regular programming or in the Games where less than 1% of the participating competitors, let alone affiliate/casual members are able to do it? The monkey bar swings are a great example of rotational motion. Having people move sideways on that would have been awesome as well.

            In short, no, it is not enough to have it at the Games. Flexion/Extension, Rotational and side bending control of motion is the key to preventing a lot of injuries I see. Most rehab only looks at flexion/extension…

            Thanks again for your questions…deliberate programming to address lateral movement control will help people control the rotational and lateral weaknesses I see in their sagittal plane movements like squats.

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  2. Mark Collins says:

    Now you mention it, there is a lack of lateral and rotational work.

    Single leg lateral hopping left then right. I did these at the gymnastic bodies course and they are brutal as you are not allowed to have two feet touch the ground. Half and full windshield wipers on a pull up bar are great for rotational work. Side plank to full plank on elbows or hands.

    For the advanced side lever pulls would work.

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    • Antony Lo says:

      Thanks Mark. I agree. Notice how hard it is to find lots of rotational stuff?

      I am thinking from a thorax point of view where retraining rotation is easy without weight but adding resistance and difficulty and complexity becomes a challenge when trying to apply to CrossFit…not that I don’t know what to do but there just aren’t that many exercises that we do in CrossFit that have rotation!

      I am going to have to look up the side lever pulls…

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I have a rep basketball team that trains with me each week and have adapted crossfit to their skill sets…we do lateral box jump overs, lateral bar burpees also transverse the pullup rig like a monkey laterally…lateral touches eg 15 touches every 30secs…also do a barbell paddle (like paddling a kayak with an oly bar), 90° single leg box jump…so face sideways but land front on, and 90° wallball throw (face side on throw ball but land and catch ball facewards tp wall) I have made up few of these movements but put them into a crossfit programming style eg amraps, Emom etc

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  5. tylerstrange says:

    Hi Antony – just discovered your blog. Really good stuff. Thanks for putting it out there. I know I’m late to the party, but the Turkish get up with a KB shows up occasionally on main site stuff and other more popular CF programs (outlaw, invictus, etc.). I think that comes the closest as far as “CrossFit” movements go that satisfy coronal and transverse plane engagement. Totally agree that CF is lacking in these though.

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    • Antony Lo says:

      Hi Tyler. Thanks for that. TGU are great exercises but hardly functional. I love them though for the control you need.

      I tried the virtual shoveling which was good but you can easily do it wrong.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    I suppose zig zag runs and 10m shuttle sprints could qualify, no?

    Like

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