Technique

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.

    Competitor Class

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    Competitor Class
    Written by: Coach Slater

    In a recent post, I told you about Additional Work that was available for you to perform during Open Gym. The response has been so good, that we’ve decided to *try* to restart our old Competitor Class. As you hopefully know, the Barbell Class takes place Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 4:30pm and is a great way to get stronger. If you’re looking for a “next step” beyond regular classes, we recommend starting there first. Getting stronger will always give you the most bang-for-your-buck when it comes to your fitness goals. So, those looking to participate in this redesigned Competitor Class should already be strong, confident in the major movements we see in class each week, and competing in local/regional competitions at least twice a year.

    This new class will complement our class programming by adding an additional conditioning piece and/or strength element. We’ll allow people to scale the reps occasionally. That’s to be expected. But, if you have to scale the weight or movements frequently in this class, then it might not be for you, yet. If you’re on the fence, ask, and I’ll do my best to guide you toward the right decision for you based on your goals and where you’re at with your current fitness level.

    This class will be overseen by Coach Evan on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5:30pm. It’s set at 5:30pm so people who attend 4:30pm class can hit this additional work afterwards. Or, people can hit it at 5:30pm, then stick around for the class at 6:30pm. What you CANNOT do is attend this 5:30pm class and skip both the 4:30pm and the 6:30pm. This is not an either/or situation. This class is designed as an addition to our current class programming.

    Below, I’ll show you what a typical week looks like, by looking back at what last week would have involved. If you have any questions/concerns, shoot me a message or ask me in the gym. I’m happy to help.

    Monday
    CrossFit Class
    Sport:
    E2M16M
    1 Squat Clean & Jerk @ 80-90%
    +
    AMRAP 14
    5 Push Jerks – S: 155/105
    10 Cals on Rower/Bike or Run 100m
    S: 20 Wallballs

    -then-
    Competitor Class
    Suicide Shuttle Sprint (300yds total per suicide) x 4
    0yd-10yd-0yd
    0yd-20yd-0yd
    0yd-30yd-0yd
    0yd-40yd-0yd
    0yd-50yd-0yd
    Straight into 40 Push Ups
    Rest 3:00
    +
    Pause OHS – 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1

    Tuesday
    CrossFit Class
    E3M12M
    4 Push Press @ 80-85%
    +
    15, 12, 9, 6, 3
    Burpee to 6″ Target
    AKBS – S: 70/53
    C2B Pullups

    -then-
    Competitor Class
    OTM for 10min
    20 Weighted Situps
    10 Deadlifts
    *Alternate Movements
    +
    5 Rounds
    Bike 30/15 Cals
    7 Muscle Ups
    Rest 3min

    Wednesday
    CrossFit Class
    OTM for 18min
    Power Snatch – 6 x 2 – AHAP
    Snatch High Pull – 6 x 2 @ ~100% of 1RM
    Snatch Deadlift – 6 x 2 @ ~125% of 1RM
    +
    6 Rounds
    15/12 Cal Row or 18/14 Cal Bike
    9 Front Squats – S: 135/95
    S: 30 Double Unders

    -then-
    Competitor Class
    E2M16M
    3 x 2sec Pause Back Squat @ 60%
    +
    10 Minute Steady State Forward Facing Sled Pull

    Friday
    CrossFit Class
    10min to find heavy single Back Squat close to 90%
    -then-
    E2M10M
    3 Back Squat @ 80%
    +
    9, 6, 3
    Power Clean – S: 185/115
    S: Ring or Bar MU

    -then-
    Competitor Class
    3 Rounds
    AMRAP 3
    3, 3, 6, 6, 9, 9, etc…
    Back Squat – S: 115/85
    C2B Pullups
    Rest 2min
    +
    5 Rounds
    1min Max Stone Over Shoulder
    Rest 3min

    4 Secrets for Stress-Free Fitness

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    4 Secrets for Stress-Free Fitness
    Written by: Coach Slater

    TLDR: Cook for yourself. Show up consistently. Move well. Move often. Move intensely. Move heavy weights. You don’t have to worry about anything else.

    Meal Planning
    Your body is a machine and it functions best when fed the right fuels. By planning and cooking meals ahead of time, you’re setting yourself up for success because you’re more likely to avoid poor food choices when you have healthy options waiting for you. Realistically, meal prep only takes 1-2 hours to make a week’s worth of food. You telling me you really can’t find 2 hours ANYWHERE in your week to make some meals? How much Netflix are you watching? Can you do without 2 hours of that?

    Meal planning not only saves time and money, but it also reduces stress – which is a hidden killer of your fitness gains. Notice that stiffness in your neck or nagging pain in your lower back that won’t go away? Your resting heart rate and breathing rate have been slowly increasing over time and your once deep breathing is now replaced by shallow breathing. Now your muscle tissues are constantly “on” or “showing tone”, instead of being relaxed, resulting in nagging pains. And this constant stress makes your cortisol levels rise which makes you retain body fat, and now your day-to-day life is as stressful as someone breaking into your home. At least, that’s what your body thinks. Fight back by meal planning to reduce a little stress in your life.

    Movement Quality Over Quantity
    First move well, then move often. You don’t need a certification in identifying functional movement patterns, or even understand what that means, to move well. Maybe you haven’t played a sport since you were a kid and you spend most of your adult life staring at a computer. That’s ok. Are there athletes in the gym you think move well? Emulate them. Watch the small details of what they do and try to move in a similar fashion. As a kid, you emulated all-star athletes, and maybe it didn’t lead to you dunking over Lebron, or catching that fade pass from Aaron Rodgers in the corner of the endzone, but it did make you move athletically.

    And to further improve your movement, consider taking a weekly yoga class to work on moving better. Striving to move well during simple movements allows our bodies to progressively learn more complex movements. And moving well frequently across time allows our tissues and movement patterns to adapt. If you focus on moving well, the stress of what you’re doing can slip away. After you move well, then we progress to the next step…

    Heavy Weights
    The stronger you are, the faster your metabolism will be, and a faster metabolism leads to body-fat loss. Lifting heavy weights increases post-workout energy expenditure much more than steady-state “cardio”. Also, by lifting heavy weights, you provide your body a better stimulus to increase the size of your muscle cells which is the key for providing “shape” or “muscle tone” or “gainz”. So, lift heavy weights, which increases your lean muscle, which reduces your body fat, which allows you to showcase those sleek, sculpted muscles. As long as you strive to lift something that’s “heavy to you today”, then you don’t have to stress about percentages or sets/reps schemes.

    Exertion Based Workouts
    Our classes are programmed to allow for weekly/monthly/quarterly fluctuations in volume and intensity, but if you just want to be a little fitter and have fun, then don’t stress about whether your programming has all these special adjustments. Instead, just focus on moving well with heavy weights at whatever intensity you have to offer that day. On days where you feel like a 6 on a scale of 10, lift with a controlled effort. On days where you feel like a 9, push yourself.

    But, strive to move with intensity. You will get remarkably leaner doing high-intensity interval work than low-intensity, slow, steady-state cardio. So, what about a typical WOD where you’re working and resting a little in between movements/reps? That counts. What about our strength work where you’re lifting something heavy then performing some additional accessory lifts before resting and repeating? Yep, that counts, too. What about going for a slow 15-min jog? Nope, doesn’t count. You’ll lose upwards of SIX TIMES more bodyfat from a 20min interval session than a 40min jog.

    References
    Stress: The Real Epidemic, Robertson, Mike

    7 Benefits of Heavy Resistance Training, American Council on Exercise

    Movement Principles, Cook, Gray

    Interval Training – HIIT or Miss?, Boyle, Mike

    Fit with HIIT, Pena, Jimmy

    What’s Going on With My Sh*tty Knees?

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    What’s Going on With My Sh*tty Knees?
    Written by: Coach Slater

    OhMyLungeRecently, I saw this lunge happening in the background of a CrossFit pic in my Instagram feed. I immediately cringed. If this pic is you, I mean no offense. Let’s assume that it was just a fluke that you were snapped in this compromised position; but, for everyone else… if you’re lunging like this on a regular basis, then no knee sleeve is going to save you. And, if you’re one of the many CrossFitters who HAS to wear knee sleeves for every training session to avoid nagging pain, this article is for you.

    Here’s the plan for fixing your shitty knees:
    1. Improve your hip mobility
    2. Improve your ankle mobility
    3. Strengthen your ass

    Hip Mobility
    The knee is meant to bend up and down, not rotate. So, when there isn’t enough flexibility at the hip, your knee takes it upon itself to rotate for you, even if it doesn’t want to. The problem here is that assessing hip mobility involves some weird assessments including something called the Thomas Test and another thing called a Hip Internal Rotation Test. Basically, we’re looking for tightness in the musculature supporting the front-side (psoas/quads) and the backside (piriformis) of your hip. If you sit for a living, it’s likely that your tissues are less than ideal, and would benefit from some drills.

    You can improve your hip mobility by knocking out any or all of these drills pre-workout:

    Ankle Mobility
    Next, do your feet point outwards when you walk, run, squat? If your feet are rotating outward more than 10-15 degrees, it’s very unlikely that your knee is loading weight improperly. Or, do you suffer from so-called “flat feet”? This is another common ankle issue causing knee pain due to its affect in internally rotating your knees. People with flat feet suffer from a long list of related injuries including plantar fasciitis, shin splints, patellar tendonitis, and lower back pain. What’s likely is that you have poor ankle mobility and your body is compensating with everted feet (rotated outward) or flat feet to still allow you to move/workout.

    Here’s another test. With your shoeless foot 4″ away from a wall, can you drive your knee beyond your toes to touch the wall, without rotating at the hip or lifting your heel off the ground? If you failed this or suffer from the other ankle issues above, you can begin fixing yourself by performing the drills in this video:

    Strengthen Your Ass
    This is an easy one because it’s so simple to toss a mini-band around your ankles/knees and perform some glute activation before class begins. And, doing these long-term can lead to big improvements in your hip stability. But, one thing to note… you probably don’t have a problem with your knees caving while standing, only while at the bottom of a lunge or squat. So, perform the following drills while in a slight crouch, quarter squat, full squat, or even seated. Personally, I love lateral steps, backwards march, seated abduction, and kickbacks performed with a mini-band. You’re also probably familiar with clamshells, which are fine, too.

    With mini-band lateral steps, you want to make sure you’re not wobbling with your torso. Stand tall, stay tight, keep your knees turned out, and use those glutes to drive your heels outward. With the mini-band backwards march, focus on using your glutes to drive your heel away. Don’t lean and recruit the muscles of your outer leg or lower back. With seated abductions, keep your toes pointed at 11 & 1, so don’t allow your toes to flair out. With kickbacks, pull your toes up toward your shin and focus on pulling your heel back using your glute, not your hamstring. Perform three or four sets of these movements pre-workout and you should feel your glutes really burning.

    More Thoughts
    So, all of these strategies are meant to improve what’s known as a “valgus knee”, but there may be times when a “valgus twitch” isn’t a bad thing. There are plenty of high-end Olympic lifters and powerlifters whose knees migrate inward during the sticky point of their squat, before being driven outward. You gonna tell them their squats are shit, bro?

    Didn’t think so.

    For people as strong as this, it’s acceptable to have a little knee twitch when testing their max, because I’m sure their knees are tracking perfectly when working in a more comfortable range of 70-90%. And, there’s some research showing that a slight valgus knee actually makes it *easier* to extend the hips, but these lifters have used fantastic form over hundreds and thousands of workouts, so they’ve earned the right to have some knee twitch while testing out. Most of us, on the other hand, need to do our level best to never let this happen. Know your limits. You must learn the rules before you can break them.

    References
    Contreras, Bret, “Why Do People’s Knees Cave Inward When They Squat?

    Heatrick, Don, “Valgus Knees: Corrective Strength and Conditioning Exercises

    Heyne, Alexander, “What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You About Runners Knee And Chronic Knee Pain

    Pribut, Stephen, “Runner’s Knee, The Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome

    Robertson, Mike, “18 Tips for Bulletproof Knees

    Pain: Where You Think It Is, It Ain’t

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    Pain: Where You Think It Is, It Ain’t
    Written by: Coach Slater

    This article began after reminding myself of the phrase “Where you think it is, it ain’t,” said by Dr. Ida Rolf, a highly respected movement specialist, with regard to pain. The concept suggests that problems at one joint usually show up as pain in the joint above or below. For instance, lower back pain is likely due to loss of function below at the hips. If the hips can’t move, the lumbar spine will; but the spine is meant to be stable, not mobile. When joints that are supposed to be mobile become immobile, another stable joint is forced to compensate, which typically leads to pain or injury. Lose hip mobility, get low back pain. Lose ankle mobility, get knee pain. Lose thoracic mobility, get neck/shoulder pain (or low back pain).

    “Our response to injury is like hearing the smoke detector go off and running to pull out the battery. The pain, like the sound, is a warning of some other problem. Icing a sore knee without examining the ankle or hip is like pulling the battery out of the smoke detector. The relief is short-lived.”
    Ultraprevention

    As coaches, we work diligently to spot these issues before they become an issue for you. We may recognize “stiff” movement and wonder if a past injury or poor repetitive movements caused the body to get stiff in order to find stability where it has none. If you’ve foam-rolled forever, but not made any discernible change and still feel tight, then it’s likely that you haven’t fixed the stability issue occurring elsewhere in your body.

    Turns out, a tight muscle and a fatigued muscle look pretty similar. If I see “tight” hamstrings on someone, I assume you don’t use your glutes well. In turn, your hamstrings are working harder, becoming fatigued. If I see a lack of thoracic spine mobility, I look next for core stability issues. Maybe you can do a plank for a long time, but you can’t rotate fully on a rotational slamball throw. That stiffness might be a protective gate from your inability to be stable elsewhere.

    Recently, I noticed someone (who shall remain nameless) perform burpees with her left palm flat on ground, her wrist extended naturally, but her right hand was pressing thru the side of her thumb and forefinger, keeping that wrist neutral. I asked why on earth she would do such a thing and she complained of wrist pain on her right side. Performing burpees this way was the only way she could do so without pain. I immediately wondered if she had a right shoulder/scap issue. Turns out, she works at a computer most of her day, using a mouse. Her right arm basically never moves for hours at a time, as she performs monotonous mouse work, so her tissues kind of get stuck. I had her do a few tests on her right shoulder and found it was moving sub-optimally. I gave her some homework to work on her tissues with a lacrosse ball, perform some daily pec/shoulder/thoracic stretches, and get out of her chair more often so she can move around. If she sticks with it, I bet it fixes that wrist in no time.

    If you have small pains, and one of your DCCF coaches has recommended a few drills for you to perform before/after workouts, then you owe it to yourself to consider performing them… even if those drills just involve something boring like, ugh, breathing. Pain is an alarm signal for vulnerability elsewhere. Performing any movement with poor technique and simply trying to go harder, longer, or faster is a great way to get injured. Remember, more is not better, better is better, and we’re here to help.

    How to Not Rip on Pullups

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    How to Not Rip on Pullups
    Written by: Coach Slater

    Hand rips are cool and all, but if avoiding them is cooler, then consider me Miles Davis.

    You can avoid them, too, by first taking care of your calluses after your showers. Shave them down using a rough foot scrubber. (Skip the pumice stone. They’re not abrasive enough to do any good.) Then, when you’re next in the gym, stop using so much damn chalk! It makes your hands sticky, creating too much friction, which then creates rips and tears. Next, change the way you grip the pullup bar. Get it out of your palms. Doing so compresses the skin, and over time, builds severe calluses which are ripe for rips. Instead, get the bar into the base of your fingers. Is this harder at first? Yea, but we’re thinking long-term here.

    If you’re having trouble adjusting to this style of grip, or dealing with current tears on your hands, then here are my thoughts on grip options:

    JerkFit Wodies
    The material of these is so slick, your grip strength is zapped quickly with these gloves, no matter how much you chalk them up or how much they’re broken in. But, a benefit of the grips is that they have a built-in wrist wrap for added support in overhead movements.

    Bear Komplex
    These are often described as “too smooth”, likely because they’re made from a suede leather which isn’t as textured as other brands. Like the Rogue grips, they have an unforgiving strap which can dig into the wrist, too.

    Natural Grip
    This is a great local company, but if you’re in a pinch and don’t have these handy, you can make your own using $4 store-bought tape.

    HumanX Grips
    These damn things look absolutely ridiculous. You might as well be wearing oven mitts. If you’re interested in doing pullups and baking casseroles at the same time, then these are for you.

    Rogue Leather Gymnastic Grips
    These are grippier than the Woddies, but they bunch up, which can result in rips in your palm. Also, because they bunch, it can be harder to hold the bar because of how much thicker these make the bar feel. However, if you take the time to break them in and get them sized right, these are generally regarded as the best option. Not exactly a glowing review, but there ya go.

    Poor Ankle Mobility or Is Something Else Going On?

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    Poor Ankle Mobility or Is Something Else Going On?
    Written by: Coach Slater

    I see a lot of people self-diagnosing themselves as having tight calves or poor ankle mobility. These are the same people I see walking/running on their toes or sporting a forward lean of their torso/head, basically making their calves suffer all the time. Ankle mobility is important for proper positioning in many different lifts, and the issue might be as easy as fixing a few other areas then spending some time self-massaging the tissues of your lower leg to get them back to normal.

    But yes, if you lack ankle mobility, you either go up on your toes, rely on a crutch like weightlifting shoes, or turn your feet out at the bottom of your squat. That last point is interesting. You might have more ankle mobility (dorsiflexion) with your knee facing the inside of the foot than outside. This isn’t ideal. Your body is compensating for a poor positional issue, like possibly a lack of hip internal rotation.

    Anyway, what frequently causes stiff ankles? Well, most of us sit at a desk all day, or we stand all day on flat, hard surfaces. In both situations, the ankle is not challenged in all three plains of motion like it would if we moved around more often. When an ankle stops moving, the calf muscles suffer. Say you lose 25% of your ankle range of motion, now the calf muscles begin to adapt to their new demands (or lack thereof), by tightening up to this new, limited range of motion. Imagine a glue spilled inside your calf muscles and hardening so nothing can stretch anymore. So now, when you try to squat with these newly restricted calves and ankles, you can’t do so effectively.

    But, before we talk about tackling those stiff tissues, let’s look at those other “areas” that might be causing you to go up on your toes in the first place. Here are some thoughts on what might be causing it and how to fix it:

    Core Control
    If you can’t reach proper depth in a back squat, without compromising your spine or going onto your toes, but can perform a goblet squat to proper depth with good form, then maybe your ankles aren’t really to blame. Maybe it’s your lack of core control. You can gain better core control by creating better tension in your abdomen by taking a bigger belly breath before descending in your squat, striving to feel 360 degrees of air filling your torso. Now, convert that new tension into a better squat by squeezing your armpits and pulling your belly button to your spine. You’ve now braced pretty damn effectively, and this new stability could translate into a deeper squat.

    Glute Weakness
    Another interesting theory on why people seem to have ankle issues is that their calves are compensating for weak glutes. Your butt is supposed to extend and rotate your hips, pushing our bodies forward. Fortunately or unfortunately, our calf muscles can mimic the forward propulsion that the glutes perform. So, if the glutes aren’t doing their job, the calves take over. A lot of people experience this when running uphill. Instead of using their glutes to extend their hips, they’re left with cramped calves. If you focused on using your ass to move you, instead of your calves, you could see an improvement in ankle mobility.

    Reciprocal Inhibition
    That’s some big words there, Slater. Slow it down. Weak tibialis anterior muscles (the muscles on the front of your shin) are often responsible for tight calves. Stand up and try to stretch your calves on a nearby step. Take note of how far your heel drops. Now, while standing straight, take 30sec and raise your toes toward your shins as many times as possible. Now try the calf stretch again. Notice a big change? The muscles of the front side of your shins were acting against the muscles of the backside. A simple attention shift like this could make your calf muscles function the way they’re supposed to.

    Poor Posture
    Related to all the above is poor posture. Quite possibly, your tight calves are due to a slightly forward head angle with a slight forward lean of your torso. To keep from falling over, your toes are digging into the ground to keep you balanced. In this position, your calves are always active, fighting like mad, and getting tighter by the day. Luckily, the fix is easy. Just fix your posture. Pull your head back, create a double-chin, get your torso back over your hips, breathe with your belly instead of your neck, squeeze your butt to make sure your hips are underneath you, stay balanced across your *entire* foot, and voila… you’ll find your calves magically start to relax.

    Lastly, here’s a quick video showing some self-myofascial release and ankle mobility options for you. Fix your other issues, like mentioned above, then spend some time fixing your tissues.

    These links further explain each of the drills in the video:
    1. Bone saw calf smash
    2. Lacrosse ball calf active release with band activation
    3. Wall ankle mobility drill
    4. Lacrosse ball plantar fascia smash with arch activation

    Quick Thoughts on New Accessory Movements

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    Quick Thoughts on New Accessory Movements
    Written by Coach Slater

    This week, we changed up our accessory movements for the rest of the strength cycle and now we want to give you a little more info about how best to perform these movements. So, here’s our “Quick Thoughts” on the four new movements you’ve seen this week.

    KB Weighted High Box Step Ups
    For this movement, we want you to focus on the concentric drive out of the hole to full standing. Afterwards, you can casually step off the box and restart. We’re not concerned about a technically perfect eccentric lowering for this movement.

    Shift your weight so that your center of gravity is balanced over your full foot, and as you create that tension in your hip, begin to lift your down leg off the ground so that you’re balanced solely on the foot on the box. If you have pain at the front of the hip during the movement, first make sure to tuck your hips underneath you to get your pelvis into a neutral position, and then consider lowering the height of the box so the angle of your hip flexion is decreased.

    Now, for the rep scheme… if you’re shooting for 16 total reps and not 20, it should be because you chose an appropriately heavy weight which only allowed you to complete 8 reps per side and the 9th rep would have caused your form to deteriorate enough, or leave you too fatigued, so you had to stop at 8. We could program less reps with more weight, or more reps with less weight, but as an accessory developer, we feel that 8-10 reps should provide the desired stimulus.

    Hammer Curls
    It should be obvious that we don’t want you to heave the DB up, but also, don’t let your elbows move. They should remain tight to your side thru the entire movement, with your palms facing in. This neutral grip has a greater carryover to pullups, which is the entire reason we’re performing this accessory movement. So, it’s important that you’re attempting to go heavy while maintaining tight form. In other words, don’t grab the light 10lb dumbbells and expect to see any improvements to your pullups. You’ll need to grab some heavier weights. Don’t worry, you’re not going to get big and bulky.

    Pendlay Row
    Make the effort about pulling with your lats and mid-back, not using your hips to bring your chest to the bar. In other words, stop heaving. Keep your hips back and a little high as you use your legs to break the bar off the floor (a couple inches max), then while keeping your elbows in as if you’re performing a pushup, pull the bar somewhere between your belly button and bottom of your sternum. The pendlay row helps develop your lats, which are important for proper shoulder function, which means that pendlay rows also help you push more weight overhead.

    Barbell Glute Bridge
    As you slide the bar over your legs and drive it low on your hips (being careful to avoid your hip bones), tuck your butt under and flatten your spine out on the floor. Doing so shuts down the muscles of your lower back, forcing you to move the weight with your glutes as intended, giving you true hip extension and not just extending thru your lumbar spine (very bad). Our aim is to take your back out of the equation and help you learn how to get your glutes to do what they’re supposed to do. As you drive through your heels, keep pushing the bar low on your hips, and squeeze your butt. We don’t want your hamstrings doing the work here. Lastly, you may find you need to place one of our green foam pads or a rolled up t-shirt between you and the bar.

    Lower-Body Posture & Mobility Warmups

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    Lower-Body Posture & Mobility Warmups
    Written by Coach Slater

    Ever feel like your coaches are watching how you stand around as you wait for class to begin, or after a WOD as you cool down, or as you’re walking into the gym? Always judging, watching… look at the baby, look at the baby.

    Well, we’re looking because, sometimes, we see postural alignment faults that we know play an important role in your fitness and injury potential. These alignment faults cause deficits in your range of motion, which reduces your strength. And since strength is so important to our overall fitness, these small details are important. Because of that, I want to quickly talk about ways to self-assess your lower-body and then give you some drills to knock out when you walk in the gym. Look, you don’t have to do all of them, but doing even a few is certainly better than perusing Instagram for the latest meme. And these are easy, so you can socialize while you’re doing them!

    Ideal
    In a normal situation with a neutral pelvis alignment, your knees should face forward, legs appearing relatively straight, and feet pointing straight ahead to slightly outward about 15 degrees.
    NeutralPelvis

    Anterior Pelvic Tilt
    In a case where your pelvis in tipped forward, internally rotated and adducted (turned in), your knee alignment will give off a “knock-kneed” appearance. In this situation, some muscles will be lengthened and therefore weakened, namely your abs, glutes, and biceps femoris portion of your hamstrings. Check below for fixes.
    AnteriorPelvicTilt

    Posterior Pelvic Tilt
    In a case where your pelvis is tipped backwards, externally rotated and abducted (turned out), your knee alignment will give off a “bow-legged” appearance. When this happens, the adductors on the insides of your legs are lengthened and weakened. Check below for fixes.
    PosteriorPelvicTilt

    Anterior Pelvic Tilt Fixes
    Seated 90/90 Mobilization
    Use your right hand to slowly press down on your right knee, while using your left hand to pull up on the foot. Hold for a two count, and then relax.
    Seated9090

    Split-Stance Kneeling Adductor Mob
    Set-up on all fours on the floor, and then put one leg directly out to the side with the knee straight. The chin should be tucked and the lower back arched. Rock back, maintaining neutral spine and stopping short of the point where your lower back rounds. As you rock back, shift the weight on your outside foot towards your heel so your toes come up slightly.
    SplitStanceKneelingAdductor1SplitStanceKneelingAdductor2

    Split-Stance Hip Swivels
    Set-up on all fours on the floor, and then put one leg directly out to the side with the knee straight. The chin should be tucked and the lower back arched. Drive hip internal and external rotation by rolling back and forth between your heel and toes on the outside foot. Hold at the end range of each direction for a count of two.
    SplitStanceHipSwivel1SplitStanceHipSwivel2

    Reverse Lunge with Posterior-Lateral Reach
    With a gently braced core to stabilize your lumbar spine, take an exaggerated step backward, keeping the majority of your weight on your front heel. Drop down into the lunge position, while simultaneously reaching up and back with the opposite arm over the lead leg. Push through the heel to reverse the momentum and return to the starting position. Make sure to rotate from your thoracic spine (upper back) and not your lumbar spine (lower back).
    ReverseLungePosteriorLateralReach1ReverseLungePosteriorLateralReach2

    Hip Airplanes
    Split your legs from front to back and place all your weight on the front leg. Lean your upper body forward and extend the back leg so you develop a straight line between your upper body and back leg. Move your arms to 90 degrees for balance. Lift the back foot to balance on the front leg. Rotate the pelvis towards the front leg, and then away from the front leg. Rotate from the hips and not the lumbar spine.
    HipAirplane1HipAirplane2

    Bowler Squats
    Stand on your left foot with a slight bend in your knee and your right foot held slightly off the ground. Your chest should be out and your back flat. From the starting position, sit back into your left hip while reaching across your body with your right hand. Sit back until you get a nice stretch in the glutes, or until you feel as though you’re going to lose your balance, then return to the starting position. Shorten the range of motion initially if need be. It will increase as your hip mobility and strength improves over time.
    BowlerSquat1BowlerSquat2

    Banded Clamshells
    Brace your core, and slowly rotate your left leg away from the floor. Keep both feet together throughout the movement, and rotate your hip as far as you can without moving the lower back. Return to the starting position. Keep the core tight and rotate from the hips versus the lower back. Hip
    range of motion may be limited at first, especially when adding resistance. It may help to think about swiveling through your heel, to help activate your glutes.
    BandedClamshell1BandedClamshell2

    Posterior Pelvic Tilt Fixes
    KB Single-Leg RDL
    Stand up tall; think about a rope pulling your head and body upwards to lengthen you. With a slight knee bend and good posture, push the hips back and lower the torso to tap the KB to the floor while the opposite leg swings back. Maintain good posture throughout. You should have your chest out and a
    slight arch in the lower back. Don’t allow the chest to cave, or the lower back to round. Don’t rush through reps, and stand up completely in between each rep.
    KBSingleLegRDL1KBSingleLegRDL2

    Lying Knee-to-Knee Pull-Ins
    Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Exaggerate the width between your feet. From the starting position, think about trying to touch your knees together while keeping your feet on the floor. Hold for a two count, and then return to the starting position. Don’t worry if your feet aren’t totally flat on the ground; as long as you’re getting a stretch in the hip region, it’s not a big deal.
    LyingKneeToKneePullIn1LyingKneeToKneePullIn2

    Prone/Facedown Windshield Wipers
    Lie on your stomach with your arms out to the sides. Your knees should be together and feet up in the air. Keeping the knees together, let the feet fall out to the sides. Hold for a two count, and then return to the starting position. Focus on keeping the knees together throughout the course of this exercise.
    ProneWindshieldWiper1ProneWindshieldWiper2

    Hip Airplanes
    Split your legs from front to back and place all your weight on the front leg. Lean your upper body forward and extend the back leg so you develop a straight line between your upper body and back leg. Move your arms to 90 degrees for balance. Lift the back foot to balance on the front leg. Rotate the pelvis towards the front leg, and then away from the front leg. Rotate from the hips and not the lumbar spine.
    HipAirplane1HipAirplane2

    Bowler Squats
    Stand on your left foot with a slight bend in your knee and your right foot held slightly off the ground. Your chest should be out and your back flat. From the starting position, sit back into your left hip while reaching across your body with your right hand. Sit back until you get a nice stretch in the glutes, or until you feel as though you’re going to lose your balance, then return to the starting position. Shorten the range of motion initially if need be. It will increase as your hip mobility and strength improves over time.
    BowlerSquat1BowlerSquat2