By Jake Nelson, CSCS, Olympic Lifting Coach CrossFit East Bay


So far you’ve read about the How, When and Why to scale your exercise program, specifically your CrossFit workouts but often in these cases, when reading or absorbing information second hand via the internet, it can be difficult to execute a precise plan to either (1) avoid initial injury, (2) work around an existing movement issue or (3) come back from an injury, whether it was during a CF workout or not.   To illustrate the execution of a very recent case of our third option, I’d like to show you how Karen U, fixed her deadlift pattern, by deadlifting while rehabbing her back injury sustained during a deadlift workout.

Karen U, is a very athletic female CrossFit athlete at CF East Bay and watching her move you wouldn’t think that someone that moves as well as she, would be prone to a low back injury…but you’d be wrong.  Karen can row, run, jump, press, snatch and her squat pattern is particularly clean and effective, so why is the dead so bad? You may ask can she lunge (similar movement at the hip)? Yes, Karen can lunge.  Overhead squat? You betcha.  But, when Karen deadlifted in the past, she lacked the trunk tension necessary to keep an effective deadlift pattern (legs extended faster than trunk extends).  Without tension in whole of all four abdominal muscle groups, you expose your back to injury. Where you hurt your back depends on which group isn’t working.  Can humans perform rounded back deadlifts without injury? YES.  Ed Coan set a World’s Record in the deadlift (901 lbs) with a rounded back. The only human to officially record a 5 times bodyweight deadlift, Lamar Grant pulled 660lbs at a body weight of 132lbs, had a back that looked like a loaded fishing rod until he reached the top. Karen, unfortunately, isn’t one of those exceptional cases and neither are most people on planet Earth.

Post injury, Karen had a consult with a Physicians Assistant (PA) who told her that she had most likely slipped a disk in her back and worst case, but likely, was some sort of back surgery.  With not so great news Karen was brave enough to try two – one hour sessions of Personal Training in which we worked on (1) Taking Karen’s Central Nervous System (CNS) out of a SYMPATHETIC state (Startle reflex to danger or pain) and transition her body, mentally and physically, to Para-Sympathetic (where we’d all like to be until it’s time to react to danger or pain) (2) Teach Karen to create & hold tension in her faulty deadlift pattern, (3) Re-train her deadlift pattern incorporating new assistance exercises and tricks to help her turn the dial down on SYMPATHETIC reactions by the CNS.  After two hours of specific work for Karen’s movement issues, she did “Murph” Memorial Workout (one mile run, 100 Pull ups, 200 pushups, 300 squats then another one mile run) with no low back pain at all.  Karen checks in with Personal Training for specific problems as they arise or to learn new stuff but has continued her CrossFit workouts multiple times per week and never cancelled her membership.



  1. SCALE EXERCISE to your specific abilities, relative to your activity
  2. ADJUST your scale on a daily basis using CNS/Movment standards
  3. REHAB/RETRAIN specific movements or movement progressions to show readiness for more challenging patterns (can mean more reps/weight/time)
  4. RETURN to activity, class, practice, lifting…
  5. SCALE UP to meet new strength/metabolic/movement/mobility capabilities.