Why Showing Up Late Is Killing Your Fitness

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Why Showing Up Late Is Killing Your Fitness
Written by: Coach Evan

Oh great. Another article telling me I’m doing something wrong and how detrimental it is to my health.

Well, sorta, but not really. Let me preface this by saying we at Derby City CrossFit NEVER want to deter someone from coming to class. Showing up late is better than not coming at all and we don’t mind fast-forwarding you through the warmup. You won’t be able to hop right into the strength work without warming up, but we’ll make do. Whenever someone comes in late, they tend to go straight to the whiteboard to see what we’re doing, then they make eye contact with me and they look ashamed. Don’t worry. We welcome you to class. Just come straight to me and ask what to do. I’ve probably already thought of something for you to do to warm up the best you can with the time given. This isn’t about how showing up late is bad, it’s about how much better it could be if you didn’t.

If you ARE late, you’re missing a crucial part of class: the warmup. We have tailored the warmup specifically to the work being done that day. If we’re back squatting, we’re going to squat a lot to make sure your quads, hamstrings, and hips are warm and ready to fire. We’ll also get your glutes activating so your knees don’t cave in. If you’re absent for the warm up and jump in the strength work after only sitting on the bike for two minutes you won’t be able to perform like you would if you had hit the warmup.

Not only are you unable to get the right muscles warm for the strength work and the WOD, you lose the chance to improve your technique. You could progress in gymnastics or get a helpful cue for technique in one of the lifts we’re working on. One of the best opportunities to coach is during the warmup because you’re moving a much lighter load. This makes it a lot easier for us coaches to make corrections in technique. Being late might cause you to miss the golden nugget that fixes your rowing technique or that perfect cue that gets the bar into your hip during a snatch. What if during that warmup your coach finally helps you get kipping pullups? Think of what could be if you show up on time!

An essential piece of the beginning of class is the strategy and major technique points given to you by the coach. It might seem like we’re just up there talking to hear ourselves talk, but we’re trying to break things down for you. We’re giving you tools to attack the strength work and workout with purpose, which will make you a fitter person. These points could help you crush a workout or smash a PR.

We practice our introductions. We plan what we’re going to say beforehand so you get the most benefit. When you show up late for the 50th class in a row, the shortened version of my well-rehearsed spiel is unfortunately just not going to be as inspirational or educational. You’re missing out on a wealth of knowledge that comes from this part of class. These tips, tricks and cues add up, and over the course of a few months you could learn a lot about CrossFit if you soak in the intro and apply it to the work in class.

That’s what you miss if you’re late. Even if you’re on time, you miss out on taking advantage of warming up before the class warms up. We all have problem areas that need special attention. The best time for you to work on them is 5-10 minutes before class starts. Getting to class early allows you to get those shoulders loose so your front rack position is better. Imagine a class that is absent of me shouting, “hey, get those elbows up!” Wouldn’t that be nice? Maybe you need a little extra time to get your hips opened up so you can squat to full depth with no problem. If you came in early you could do that and then you’d never hear me yell, “Hey, squat lower!” which I’m sure would make you very happy.

Everyone knows the adage, “if you’re on time you’re late, if you’re early you’re on time.” We highly encourage you to adopt this for the gym but also every day life. Derby City CrossFit is dedicated to making us all fitter, but also better people. We care about your well-being, we care about you lifting heavier and faster and learning new skills. Best of all we can apply the skills we learn in the gym to any aspect of life. Come in early, move with purpose, become the best version of yourself.

Bad Combo: Fitness and High Heels

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Bad Combo: Fitness and High Heels
Written by: Coach Slater

Ladies, I KNOW you’ve heard this argument before, so don’t expect anything novel here. I’m just reminding you that wearing high heels is not only bad for your feet, but also your calves, knees, hips, and spine. High heels aren’t just “less functional” than flats, they are actively harming you.

But, don’t take it from me. Listen to an expert.

“High heels, in general, are an unnatural way to walk. We weren’t meant to walk on our tippy toes,” says Dr. Neal Blitz, a foot surgeon based in New York and Los Angeles who is board certified in both foot surgery and reconstructive rearfoot and ankle surgery. “That’s what high heels do, they put women on their tippy toes, and what that does is put excessive force on the ball of the foot. In the short term, because the foot is in this altered state and not functioning properly, you wind up getting a lot of muscle activation in the intrinsic muscles inside the foot which can lead to muscle spasms, cramping, and acute pain.”

High heels also lead to bunions, stress fractures, and abnormal calluses. They can cause the Achilles (the strongest and largest tendon in the body) and the calf muscles to tighten and shorten over time. That can limit your ankle mobility and lead to a higher risk of sprains and strains. So, if you hate running now, imagine running in the future when one of those ugly ailments rears its head. And even if you never choose running when that pops up in a WOD, those ailments make the foot less stable, so it affects your power lifts and weightlifting, too.

Looking beyond the foot, heels also pitch the body forward, putting pressure on the knees, while forcing you to compensate by extending your lumbar spine while pushing your butt and chest out. You’re forced to make active corrections to keep your head centered over your hips and stay balanced. By spending hours in this position, multiple times each week, you’re creating more stress on your spine over time. That stress can lead to pelvis and back issues later in life.


Look, I know you’re still going to wear heels. You’re not going to throw yours out. I get it. So, if I can’t convince you to wear flats only, maybe I can ask that you wear your heels less often? Dr. Adam Lipson, a New York-based neurosurgeon and specialist in spinal surgery, suggests, “…no more than two days a week of very high heels (3+ inches). Two days a week in medium heels (1-2 inches), and three days with flats or sneakers. Cycling your higher heels with your lower heels is appropriate, so you’re not constantly exposed to higher heel height.”

To reverse the foot issues brought on by high heels? Keep strength training with us in class, learning to “grip” the floor with your feet. Doing so creates a natural arch in your foot, which lifts the foot just enough to allow the ankle, knee, and hip to stay in a straight alignment. Also, look at some self-massage of your feet and calves with a lacrosse ball. Below, I’ve added an old video of ours showing you some examples. These simple measures can help correct the problems you’ve encountered.

-Spine Health Institute, “How High Heels Affect Your Body
-EliteFTS, “Build Your Arch: Why Flat Feet Kill Your Squat
-Time Magazine, “You Asked: Do High Heels Actually Damage My Feet?

Derby City CrossFit Pro Tips, Part 2

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Derby City CrossFit Pro Tips, Part 2
Written by: Coach James

In Pro Tips, Part 1, we talked a little about some tricks that will make your life a little easier here at Derby City. This week, we’ll continue with the Pro Tips to help make your experience even better.

Research New Movements / Ask Questions

Throughout our 8-week cycles, you may come across a new movement or accessory piece that you are not sure about, especially for those that are new to CrossFit. We announce the workouts the night before at 8pm. Take this time to look over the strength and the workout and prepare any questions you may have for the Coach. Remember there are no stupid questions. We want you to feel comfortable here and with the movements, so please ask as many questions as you like. Another way you can prepare for the class is to YouTube the movements that you are unsure about. This may help you understand what we are asking and how the movement looks. You may still have questions after you search it, but you will have a general understanding of how the movements looks.

Set Up Close to You

We all have done at least one workout where we needed multiple pieces of equipment (especially if you have taken an Unloaded class). When it comes to these types of workouts, it is best to set up in the smallest area possible. Doing so will cut down on your transition times and help with the flow of the workout. I suggest that you set up your equipment in a circle. This way it will help you remember the order of the workout without having to second guess yourself. I would also recommend you find your spot on the rig first and then set up around that spot. That’ll keep you from running across the gym to find your pull up bar and then back across to get to your box.

Practice Failing Properly

No one likes to fail, but it is good to know how to fail properly. If you are new to CrossFit and have never back squatted or done any type of Olympic lift, this can be a scary thing and prevent from going heavy. I highly recommend that you make yourself fail at a lighter weight to understand how to fail properly and get it out of the way and out of your head. If you are unsure on how to fail properly during a movement, ask your coach! Again, there are no stupid questions and we want you to feel comfortable no matter what. We want you to feel confident in yourself and go for those big P.R.s during test week or even heavy during the strength portion of the cycle.

Angle Your Box for Step Ups

We all want to go fast during the WOD and box step ups can be a pain and feel like they take forever! A little tip to help speed up this movement (and save your hip flexors at the same time) is to step up on the corner of the box. Rotate the box so that the corner of the box is facing you directly. This will allow you to step straight up and onto the box without having to swing your hips up and around as you do when doing a normal step up.

Stop Changing Your Weights Mid-Workout

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Stop Changing Your Weights Mid-Workout
Written by: Coach Evan

Many of us find ourselves staring at the whiteboard and the prescribed weights trying to decide what weight to use. Maybe it’s Fran and you finally want to do it as prescribed. Maybe you’ve been wanting to try a heavier weight in a workout, but have been apprehensive. Big weights scare all of us, you’re not alone.

You decide that today is the day. You’re going to try it. You’re feeling good, you’re ready to lift that heavier weight all through the workout. You warm up, you’re feeling confident, even though you might move a little slower, you’re still going to be able to do it.

First lift: smooth. Feels heavy but yea well duh. First round: Oh, man that was a little harder than expected. This is where the doubt and fear sets in. Second round: there’s no way I can finish this. Get to the third round of five: changing plates to a weight I know I can do.


Unless you are hurting yourself or others around you, don’t change your weights mid-WOD. Safety and proper technique are always the most important. The second most important thing is that you are constantly pushed out of your comfort zone. Most of the time you are changing the weight because you’re afraid you won’t finish, or you’re afraid you’re going to fail a rep. You’ve heard this time and time again, but it’s easy to forget and easy to not want to apply it to your situation: failure is a great way to grow. I would encourage you to try new strategies often until you find what works for you to keep growing as an athlete; to push yourself. Then you’ll see your progress soar. Whether the strategies work or whether you fail, you will learn a lot from trying them. If they fail, you can analyze and adjust. If they worked well you’ve found a new strategy to use in future workouts. Not failing is great way to grow, too.

You may also be afraid that you’re going to hurt yourself. One of the great things about Derby City CrossFit is that our coaches are always watching, whether you can see it or not, and we’re paying attention to how you lift, especially in the middle of a workout. If we notice that something is going badly, we will come over and help with technique and possibly suggest that you modify the weight. If we don’t, have a little more trust in us and more importantly in yourself that you are moving well. You might not be able to do sets of 7 or 8 and have to back off maybe even to sets of 3. But just because it feels hard doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the weight.

I see athletes use the same weights in workouts over and over again who crush the workouts with that weight but then wonder why they aren’t making progress. I also see athletes who are eager to try heavier weights start the workout with them and then immediately strip the weight down only five or ten pounds and then crush that lower weight. Why did they take the weight off? Because it’s hard to live outside the comfort zone.

Unfortunately that’s what CrossFit and growing as an athlete (and everyone in this gym is an athlete) and becoming fitter is all about. You have to be willing to push outside of your comfort zone to get better, which goes for most life situations too. Make a commitment to yourself that as long as the reps are still possible and still safe, you end with the same weight on the bar. Even if you get time capped, even if you barely get through any part of the workout. See it through to the end, and you’ll have better information for next time, or you might even surprise yourself by doing better than you thought. The latter is almost always the case.

Is the Comp Class Right for You?

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Is the Comp Class Right for You?
Written by: DCCF-er Phil Newton

As summer creeps in and everyone is on that mad dash to finalize that hot beach bod to show off on the ‘gram, I have had a few people ask me about the Comp Class and what it’s done for me. I’ve been doing the extra programming for a solid year now, and I can tell you, it pays off. With that being said; I can’t say that it’s right for you. There are a few questions you should ask yourself before you dive into the additional programming:

1. Are you going to the gym consistently? 4-5 days a week minimum?

If the answer to that question is no, then stop reading this article and get sweaty in a class! Doing more work on fewer days is not going to get you the results you want.

“Pfft, whatever Phil, I’m always up in there getting my fitness on.”

Well alright then chief, buuuuuuut…

2. Are you consistently hitting the workouts each day you train with high intensity?

You should be giving everything you have in the normal classes before adding additional programming. The class workouts are enough, if you have the desire to push yourself for the hour you are in the gym each day. Hit the sport weight, do the extra rounds, push yourself to do the difficult movements that you avoid. Give everything you have in class and you might just see that you don’t have the energy for extra work.

You may have seen a post I made on the DCCF Social Page during regionals about Max Bragg, the guy who made it to the East Regional and competed against Mat Fraser (You know who he is) and held his own. Well, he only did affiliate programming and look how far he got! Trust me, that dude is fitter than you.

You may be saying, “But Phil, obviously he’s a genetic freak with a job that supports his fitnessing!”

Well, you’re right, but before you think adding more work will get you where you want to be ask yourself this…

3. Is your nutrition dialed in?

If you’re eating a Whizzburger and a chocolate shake for dinner after you leave the gym every night, you’re not going to fuel yourself with the energy that you’ll need for high volume. I’m not saying you have to go strict paleo or get out the scale every time that you’re sitting down for lunch to weigh out if that extra bean sprout in your kale salad is gonna ruin your macros, but you should be mindful of the things you are putting into your body.

So, your nutrition is good, you’re hitting it with intensity, and you’re hitting it often. Surely that’s it, right? Au contraire…

4. Are. You. Recovering!?!?!

This is probably the most important step and it’s often the most overlooked. Are you taking the time to do mobility work outside of the class? Are you taking care of nagging injuries? Are you getting enough sleep? There’s a lot to consider about how much stress your putting your body through.

If you aren’t treating your time outside the gym as just as important to your training, you will see diminished results inside the gym.

If you’re nailing all the first four points, then I just have one last question for you.

5. Why?

This is a question that I ask when people say they need extra programming and almost always I get the same response.

“I want to get better/stronger/faster.” I support that decision 100%, that’s why we all show up in the first place. What you should think about is, why is this extra programming going to be the element that gets you there? Slater had a great article a while back about goals and habits that is really worth a read if you missed it.

So what goal will this extra programming help you achieve that would not be accomplished from the regular class? You want to work on additional skills under fatigue to help your chances in upcoming competitions? Yep, that’s a good reason. You want to get your bi’s and tri’s lookin’ sweet for the honeys out on the lake? A little less so. Be specific in your goals with the extra work, because it IS WORK.

The extra accessory pieces are tough, and if you aren’t ready to suffer, you’re not going to get anything out of them. But if you’re ready to sweat a lot, cry a little, and work hard; then I’ll see ya in there. I’ll be the guy almost throwing up coming off the assault bike.

Comp Class runs Mon, Tues, Wed at 5:30p & 6:30p; and Fri at 5:30p.

3 Steps to Better Ankle Mobility

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3 Steps to Better Ankle Mobility
Written by: Coach James

Last week, we looked at “6 Drills for Better Wrist Mobility” and some exercises to help improve flexibility and mobility. This week, we will continue with “Warming Up for the Warm Up” and take a look at the ankle. Poor ankle flexibility can prevent you from reaching the bottom of the squat while maintaining the three points of contact (ball of your big toe, pinky toe, and heel of your foot). We will touch base on soft tissue mobilization, calf stretching and mobilization with a band.

First, let’s take a look at soft tissue mobilization of the ankle and the calf and some different ways you can approach this. Your first option, and most popular but not the most effective, is the foam roller. This can help break up the soft tissue in the ankle and calf but with a wide surface area you’re not able to keep deep in the muscle to break it up. I would recommend using a lacrosse ball instead. It is much smaller which will lead to greater pressure in a single isolated area. When using the lacrosse ball, you should focus on splitting the calf muscle. I know this might sound horrible, but it will be beneficial. Your calf is comprised of two muscles, your gastrocnemius and your soleus. Your gastrocnemius is what makes the rounded shape of your calf while the soleus runs under the gastrocnemius and is longer and flatter and runs further down the leg. Another way you can approach this is with a barbell (as seen below). The reason the barbell will work better than the foam roller is because it has a smaller surface area, same as the lacrosse ball.

Now that you have broken up the soft tissue, the next step is stretching the calf. There are a couple different ways to do this. The first one is to stand arm length away from the wall in a stagger stance (one foot in front of the other). Keeping the back leg straight start to slowly bend your elbows and front knee until you feel the stretch in the calf. Hold this position for 30 seconds and switch. I would repeat this 3-4 times each leg. A second way, you can approach this stretch is to do the plate stretch. Start by putting the ball of your foot on the plate so that your heel and mid foot are off or on the ground. Next, bend the knee forward as you did with the wall stretch. You can try with the opposite foot forward for 2min, and then with the opposite foot back for 2min to stretch the calf from different angles.

The last step in attacking poor ankle mobility is mobilization with a band. First, attach a band to the rig. Next, place your foot inside the band, placing the band low on the foot (not the ankle) and walk out away from the anchor point until you feel tension. You should be in the stagger position with the banded foot out in front. You should hold this for 2 minutes and, if your ankle allows, rock forward and backwards trying to push your knee over your toe. If you’re comfortable with this stretch, you can add a plate or even a small box into the mix and elevate the front foot. Once your foot is elevated, you can press your knee over your toe by slowly rocking back and forth. If you want to spice it up a little more, you can pulsate 10-15 times slightly shifting your knee medially (towards the inside of your foot), forward, and laterally (towards the outside of your foot).

With these 3 steps and a little time, we should increase your ankle mobility, help your range of motion, and improve your squat stance.

6 Drills for Better Wrist Mobility

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6 Drills for Better Wrist Mobility
Written by: Coach James

To continue with the last article on “Warming Up for the Warm Up“, this article will touch base on wrist mobility and what you can do to improve it before/after class. Wrist mobility is majorly overlooked and rarely does anyone do anything about it. Poor flexibility in this joint can lead to an imbalance in your squat (front squat, overhead squat), handstand pushups/walk, and your presses (push press, push jerk, split jerk). If you’re anything like me, you want to move the most weight you can, but also be efficient and comfortable in these positions. Let’s look at some exercises you can do before the warm up that help loosen up the wrist.

1. Wrist Rotations. This is a very simple but effective exercise. Interlace your fingers and move your wrist in every direction. If one position feels better than another, hold it for a few seconds.

2. Prayers. Place your hands together so that your palms are touching, fingers pointing towards the ceiling. Now lower your hands down as far as you can until your palms start to come apart. The further your able to make contact, the better your stretch.

3. Static Holds. Pull your wrist back into extension and/or flexion and hold for at least 20-30 seconds.

4. Planche Pushup Position. Start in the push up position, once you’re set, shift your weight forward so that your shoulders end up in front of your wrist. Hold this position for 20-30 sec. If this is too intense, drop down to your knees.

5. Wrist Walks. Place your hands on the wall with your fingers pointing towards the ceiling. Keeping your arms locked out, walk your hands down the wall making until your hands start to come away from the wall. Once you’re unable to move down any further, rotate your hands so that your finger tips are now pointing down towards the floor and walk your hands back up to the original starting point.

6. Waiter’s Carry with Plate. Start with a lighter plate in the palm of your hand with full extension of the arm. Start with only one arm as it is easier to control and once you’re comfortable with one arm move to a plate in both arms. The goal of this exercise is to keep the plate parallel to floor while keep a good overhead position.

All of these movements can be done on your own with minimal equipment and space. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be doing these exercises on a daily basis. Doing them will greatly increase your wrist flexibility which, in return, with help you get into a better front rack position and increase the weight in your front squat and clean. These exercises will also allow you to receive the bar better in the bottom of your snatch and overhead squat, as well as put you in a better position for handstand pushups and handstand walks.

Hope this helps you all reach your goals and become better athletes. As always, do not hesitate to ask questions if you are unclear on one of the movements.

Warming Up for the Warm Up

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Warming Up for the Warm Up
Written by: Coach James

As a lot of you have noticed, we have a prescribed warm up each day before the strength portion that we, the coaches, put you all through. This includes 5-7 minutes of stretches and/or mobility and another 5-7 minutes of a general warm up. This is essential as it gets the heart pumping, the blood flowing and the muscles warm and pliable. Even though our warm ups are specific for that day and cover most of the large muscles that will be involved in the strength portion and WOD, for some people this will not be enough. So let’s take a minute and talk about some things you can do on your own to get warm and loose so that your able to meet your maximum potential.

Everyone knows their own body… even if you’re just starting out. You know what muscles are tight as soon as you sit your bag down. You know what muscles will hold you back or prevent you from reaching that maximum output. Most of us come into the gym five to ten minutes and normally stand around and talk about how awesome or horrible our day was or how bad we are doing in our bracket challenge, blah blah blah. Instead, there are multiple things that you could do to help you be a better athlete and get you prepared for the day.

The first thing you can do is to grab a bike or rower and just start moving! This will increase your heart rate and increase the blood flow to the muscles. In return, this will make the muscles more pliable and easier to stretch. This is most important for those of us with a desk job or that are master division athletes. As we get older, our muscles become less pliable and harder to warm and stretch, which means an increase in risk of injury. It is essential that we take our time warming up and to stretch on a regular basis to keep those muscles nice and loose.

Something else you can do to help you get a jump start on warm up is to look at the board and see what the warm up is and what stretches will be covered. You can then take this information to determine if there are some specific stretches that you personally need to be doing that will benefit you the most. For someone like myself that is coming off a lower body injury, I personally love to do the pigeon pose for 2 minutes each side. This really helps my low back and hips to loosen up so I am able to reach full depth in my squats without pain or excessive tightness. These are just two simple and easy ways to get yourself ready and warm for the warm up. As always, if you are unsure about what stretches you should be doing, do not hesitate to ask one the coaches. We are here to help you in anyway we can and help you reach your full potential.

Understanding the Shoulder and How to Strengthen It

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Understanding the Shoulder and How to Strengthen It
Written by: Coach James

Many of you may have noticed that on Monday we brought back the banded shoulder accessory movements. These movements include sword pulls, face pulls, and snow angels. What you may not realize is how important these movements can be. It does not take much to strengthen your shoulders as a whole and using the thin orange band will get the job done, if done properly. Strong shoulders are essential in CrossFit, as there are a lot of movements that require us to be stable in the overhead position (snatch, OHS, pullups, jerks). Strengthening these small muscles will greatly improve both your stability and overall weight which means big PR’s!! CrossFit has received a bad reputation for individuals getting hurt. This is not because CrossFit itself is bad, but that the individual could have been weak in a certain position or doing the movement wrong. Something we hear a lot is the word “impingement”, but do we really know what this term means and what it actually is?

  • From renowned strength coach, Mark Rippetoe: “Shoulder impingement occurs when the rotator cuff tendons get “pinched” between the head of the humerus and the AC joint, formed by the end of the collarbone and the bony knobs at the end of the shoulder blade. Impingement means an entrapment of soft tissue between two bones in the area of a joint. You can safely experience this entrapment feeling for yourself: sit or stand up straight and raise your arms from your sides to a position parallel to the floor, with the palms of your hands facing the floor and your elbows bent at 90 degrees. Now, raise them just a little more. The pressure you feel in your shoulders is the impingement of your cuff tendons against the AC.”
  • “Now, rotate your hands up so your palms face forward, elbows still at 90 degrees, and raise your hands up over your head. Then shrug your shoulders up at the top, like you’re trying to reach the ceiling with your hands and shoulders. Pressure’s gone, right? This is the lockout position of the press, and notice that at no time in this process did your shoulders feel impinged. This because the shrugging of the shoulders at the top pulls the AC knobs away from the head of the humerus, so that impingement is anatomically impossible in the correct press lockout position. The press simply cannot impinge your shoulders.”
  • Even if you have good position, is it still very important that we strengthen all those small muscles that are a part of your shoulder as a whole, including all the rotator cuff and shoulder girdle muscles. The muscles that make up the rotator cuff include: supraspinatus muscle, the infraspinatus muscle, teres minor muscle, and the subscapularis muscle. The five muscles that comprise the function of the shoulder girdle are the trapezius muscle (upper, middle, and lower), levator scapulae muscle, rhomboid muscles (major and minor), serratus anterior muscle, and pectoralis minor muscle. Now, I know I am getting a little technical with all these muscles, but it is important to realize how many small muscles you have working when you’re pressing something overhead. All these small muscles play a huge part in how you move. If one is weak that means another muscle has to pick up the slack. This is where you see instability and mobility overhead.

    As I stated in the beginning, we are incorporating these banded drills every Monday. It is important to understand that these muscles are not very big and it does not take very much to fatigue them. The small orange band will provide plenty of resistance if done properly. We are just hitting on 3 common movements but there are plenty more exercises you can do to help strengthen your shoulder, as well. I have a weak shoulder and tore my supraspinatus a while back. The two that I like most and use EVERY DAY is internal and external rotation of the shoulder with the small orange band (video below). Personally I can only complete 15-20 reps of these two movements before my shoulders are on fire. I know that these movements can seem “silly” or “stupid” but if you want to have a strong overhead game, or just strong shoulders with little to no pain while overhead, these movements will help you. I recommend that you do these every day.

    Slip ‘n Slides & Focused Practice

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    Slip ‘n Slides & Focused Practice
    Written by: Coach Evan

    Especially now that we’re in the midst of the Open, we all can’t help but wonder, “How are these top athletes so dang good?” One of the coolest things about CrossFit, and the Open, is that anyone can participate. But that also makes it even more mind boggling when you post your Open score and someone has you beat by 10 minutes. It becomes personal when you’re actually competing against the top athletes, something most basketball or football fans never get the chance to do.

    How did they get so good?

    A large part of the answer is myelin. Myelin is the secret to success and talent. It is in no way a shortcut, just merely an explanation. Inside of your body, myelin is something you can cultivate with the right kind of motivation, practice, and focus. Simply, it is a mixture of proteins and phospholipids that surround nerve fibers and increase the speed at which impulses are conducted. The best part about myelin is you can utilize it right now, today, to become better at anything.

    Imagine that a long winding nerve fiber connecting your brain to your muscles is a slip and slide filled with water. Every time you want your muscles to fire, your brain sends an impulse down the slide. These impulses travel fast, so fast you don’t have to think about them. But without myelin the impulses are moving relatively slow. Now imagine soap and oil have been added to the slide and that impulse is now careening toward its destination twice as fast. Every time your brain sends an impulse down that slide, more oil and soap is added to make it even faster. This is exactly what happens to your nervous system. It recognizes your brain using a neurological pathway over and over and wants you to be faster and more efficient when you use it. Enter myelin and the Schwann cells that myelinate the nerve fiber. Every time you perform a snatch, a pullup, hit a drum, strum a chord on a guitar, or even take a step, myelin is being wrapped around the nerve fibers that make it possible to perform these movements. The benefits of myelin are clear AND we have debunked the myth of muscle memory at the same time.

    Your muscles don’t have brains; therefore, they cannot remember anything. However, the muscle memory phenomenon can be explained by myelin. We think of muscle memory as the ability of our muscles to perform movements without us having to focus on them. We’ve practiced the movement enough that it is second nature to us. While the latter remains true, it’s not that the muscles have remembered, it’s that myelin has been wrapped around and around the nerve fibers that connect our brain to our muscles, telling us how to perform a certain movement. That’s why it becomes second nature, because the impulses, through myelin, can happen so fast that you truly don’t have to think about them. They almost act on their own accord.

    But how do we develop this second nature? How do we get enough myelin wrapped around the nerve fibers to make it “easier”? Through practice. Lots and lots of practice. Unfortunately, just logging the hours doesn’t cut it if you’re looking to become highly skilled at something. It’s a highly intense and focused practice. It’s not just mindlessly performing a movement the same way you always have. Its pinpointing errors with a magnifying glass and fixing them right away, taking a small bit of a bigger piece and perfecting it, then putting other small pieces together until you eventually have the whole puzzle fitted together seamlessly. It’s putting thought into your work. This can make 10 minutes of super intense practicing more effective than an hour of going through the motions. Work smarter, and harder. So, when you find yourself practicing an instrument, drawing, writing, or training in the gym, these are the most important times to be focused and analyzing your actions with that magnifying glass. Move slow and with purpose until the pieces fit together. Don’t just throw a barbell over your head. Think about the best way to get it there.

    The top people in any field understand this concept even if they don’t know what myelin is. They engross themselves fully in their craft when they are practicing or creating. Their focus is laser sharp, and when something goes wrong, they know why and how to fix it. All you have to do is put these ideas into action consistently, even just for ten minutes out of an hour-long workout, training, or practice session.

    Two more fascinating bits about myelin. The first: although myelination is most important in childhood development, you won’t stop myelinating nerve fibers until you die. The second: once you start the myelination of some fibers, not only does it stay on those fibers for the rest of your life, but it makes myelinating other fibers even easier. This is one reason why people may be gifted in athletics but also in music, or any other pairing.

    There is a book called “the Talent Code” written by Daniel Coyle that analyzes the talent of athletes, musicians, and coaches, among others, through the myelin’s perspective. The book has drastically changed the way I approach anything that requires practice. That includes being an athlete and coaching, but also things like writing this article, or dealing with issues in relationships. If this has caught your interest at all, maybe you feel like you’re in a slump or maybe you feel like you need an extra push or an edge, check out that book.