What Happens After Your Newbie Gainz Stall (and when under-eating no longer works)

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What Happens After Your Newbie Gainz Stall (and when under-eating no longer works)
Written by: Coach Slater

Newbie Gainz
When you first start at Derby City, it’s almost a guarantee to PR every time you step in the gym. In the first 8 months, you’re gaining muscle and losing body fat at a crazy pace. You’re exposing your body to new stimulus, learning new techniques every single day, and your body is physiologically adapting as a result. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that these gainz will continue in a linear fashion forever. You’re going to clean a gazillion pounds in six months, or you’re going to win the CrossFit Games in two years.

What’s happening in this newbie phase is called neurological adaptation, which means that you are causing a large number of neurons to fire rapidly in a more synchronized way, enabling you to rapidly lift heavier weights. So, your muscles aren’t necessarily growing yet, you’re just training your nervous system to create more efficient pathways. After your body begins to cement the neurological adaptations, then you’re able to push yourself harder and harder, triggering muscular adaptations, which is when muscles grow and get stronger. That’s why it’s important to focus on technique when just beginning, so you’re not neurologically adapted in poor positions. You want to give your body the ideal opportunity for future growth when those newbie gainz slow, to not create muscular imbalances by recruiting the wrong muscles in a particular movement.

So, when your typical neurological adaptations slow (aka, your newbie gainz stall), you begin to rely on muscular adaptations. This is the phase where discipline and dedication are needed, because you’re no longer setting new PR’s every time you walk in the gym. It “feels” like you’re flat-lining, but you’re not. You’ve just progressed to the next inevitable step in your training evolution. Now is when you need to find discipline to stay consistent with your workout frequency, nutrition, sleep, and stress reduction. Whereas you were once focused on achievement every time you first walked in the door… “first pullup, first bodyweight back squat, first snatch over whatever pounds”… you need to discipline yourself to focus on “progress” now. Achievement is so ingrained in our culture that we often ignore progress. But, you’re in this for the long haul, right? Now’s when you prove it with discipline and consistency. That’s what you do when you newbie gainz stall.

Ruining Your Newbie Gainz
Let’s go back to the beginner phase I mentioned earlier to talk about how you could be hurting your future progress by undereating. You can make gainz in that neurological adaptation / beginner phase while in a caloric deficit. You could come into Derby City, undereating because you think that’s what you have to do to maintain the body you want, while actually doing damage to yourself, and still make gainz. You could eat only 500 calories a day and still PR your back squat every week because your brain is just learning to do the movements efficiently. You haven’t really hit overload yet. But… when you finally do hit that point, you’re going to regress and you’re not going to like it. Now you’re under-recovered and going into a negative hormone state. Maybe you’re wondering why that awesomeness couldn’t last forever? Well, you have to adapt. What works today isn’t going to work next year.

This is the first time your body has done this kind of training, and your body doesn’t know any better than to adapt. Now the next bikini season rolls around and you think, “Well, 1,000 calories worked last year. Let’s do 800 calories this year.” But, you find that you can’t lose weight, or worse yet, you gain weight. Your body learned to create homeostasis at 1,000 calories, so there’s no longer a caloric deficit which will work. Your body is going to remember the stimulus that took you into adrenal fatigue and it’s not going to allow you to get there again. So, typically, you dig harder and add more volume via running or extra “cardio” outside of the gym, without fixing the real issue related to your recovery/nutrition. You’ve metabolically adapted to undereating and now you have to start from scratch to reteach your body how to eat and produce.

So, using this theoretical 1,000 calorie human, they can’t just start eating 2,200 calories tomorrow, like maybe they should have been doing the entire time. What if they’ve been eating 1,000 calories/daily for years now? Well, if they start eating 2,200 calories now, they’re going to gain weight incredibly quickly and lose trust in the process. Instead, they need to slowly adjust by gradually increasing calories, basically starting a metabolic repair program. Specifically, I suggest keeping your protein intake constant at around 0.8g/lb of bodyweight and adding 5-10% to your total carbs and total fats each week until you get to a “more reasonable” total number of macronutrients based on your lean muscle mass, body fat, and activity level. I like to suggest Carbs at 0.5g/lb of bodyweight for Off Days, 1.0g/lb for Easy Days where you’re moving slowly just trying to get loose for the day, and 1.5g/lb for Moderate Days at Derby City where you’re working hard, getting in a good sweat, etc… I typically hold beginners and intermediate athletes to “Moderate Days” and never progress to Heavy Days or something higher, because honestly, most people overestimate how hard they’re working.

Bringing It Home
To summarize, let me say that you needn’t be disappointed when those newbie gainz slow. It’s a natural part of your progress, and it marks the point in your fitness development where you need to learn discipline. Working out, eating right, and sleeping well should become a part of your daily regiment, just like brushing your teeth, showering, and going to work. I included “eating right” because you could be harming your future progress by messing up your nutrition during this beginner phase. In reality, I should have said “eating right” before anything else, because nutrition should be at the base of your fitness pyramid. It’s importance can’t be overstated. If your newbie gainz stall completely, the answer is always the same: you’re not eating enough, and you’re not recovering. Recovery is made possible by food and sleep. Set yourself on a path for future success.

Predicting metabolic adaptation, body weight change, and energy intake in humans”, Hall, Kevin.

Changes in Energy Expenditure with Weight Gain and Weight Loss in Humans”, Muller, MJ.

The Truth About Metabolic Damage”, Teta, Dr. Jade.

Why We Train the Way We Train

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Why We Train the Way We Train
Written by: Coach Slater

Why do we squat and deadlift? Why do we clean and snatch? Why do we tell you to lift heavy and move fast? Why don’t we do small, repetitive movements like at those Barre classes? Why not whatever-the-fuck-they’re-doing-at-HomeFit? Why do we train the way we train at Derby City?

First of all, it’s important we emphasize that heavy, multi-joint, compound movements, those which utilize many different muscle groups at the same time, are the best for creating metabolic change which leads to muscle adaptation and fat loss. The best. Hands down. Proven over and over again. They’re the best at increasing lean muscle mass and elevating post-workout energy expenditure. That’s why we perform these movements all the time at Derby City.

There are many movement patterns (i.e., squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling, rotating, jumping, throwing) that we can utilize in different directions (forward, sideways, side-to-side) in different manners (i.e., single-leg vs dual-leg) with different loading implements (i.e., barbell vs kettlebell).

For example, you’ve probably seen some variation of these movements at Derby City:

Hinge – deadlift, clean, snatch
Squat – back squat, front squat, overhead squat
Single-Leg Squat – lunge, step up, front-foot elevated lunge
Vertical Push – strict press, push press
Vertical Pull – pullup, chin-up, chest-to-bar pullup
Horizontal Push – pushup, hand release pushup, banded pushup
Horizontal Pull – ring row, bent over row
Core Work – planks, hanging knee raises, toes-to-bar
Accessory – wall slides, turkish get-ups, farmers carries

These are just a handful of movements that we think can be safely loaded and trained properly. In general, these are all functional movements, common to your daily life. We program these movements in various manners to give our bodies the most stimulus, in accordance with something called the Strength-Speed Continuum. It looks like this:

Absolute Strength — Strength-Speed — Speed-Strength — Absolute Speed

The more you focus on movements on the far left, the stronger you get, at the expense of speed on the far right. The more you move right, the opposite happens. Absolute Strength is like your 1-rep max in the back squat: high amount of load but relatively low speed. Absolute Speed is like a sprint and box jumps. Strength-Speed is moving heavy weight as fast as possible, like a heavy-ass power clean. Speed-Strength is like rotational slamball throws or lightweight snatches moved quickly. Each component supports each other, so to be your fittest, you need to work on each one but to different degrees, and to what degree depends on your current level of fitness. Someone just starting at Derby City might find that a simple air squat, pushup, or kettlebell deadlift is a great test of Absolute Strength.

If you want to nerd out for a little bit, here’s an in-depth explanation of the Strength-Speed Continuum from renown strength coach, Eric Cressey. He’s smart.

Now, let’s go back to that lean muscle thing that I mentioned earlier. Lean muscle burns more calories. A big problem with “cardio” for fat loss is that more you do, the better you get at it, and the more fuel efficient you become. But, if your goal is fat loss, then you actually want to be “inefficient” and burn as much fuel as possible. If, instead of endless cardio, you focus on getting stronger, you’ll perform other training (WODs) at a higher/faster rate which makes them more effective at eliminating body fat.

Barre isn’t going to give you long, lean muscles. Your genes are going to determine their length. Someone with long femurs will have long muscles. Someone with short femurs will have short muscles. If you want to be leaner, learn to use your body efficiently by squatting, hinging, pushing, pulling, rotating, jumping, throwing and picking up heavy weight. If you like Barre, Pilates, or Home-Fit because it’s fun and you have some friends doing it and it’s fun to try something new with them… then hey! Cool! Do that. No one’s saying that it can’t be fun. But, don’t think those things or a local 5k will help you get in shape forever. They’re nice, but they’re not a solution. Instead, lift heavy and move fast like we already do here at Derby City.

Robertson, Mike, “Q&A: Power Development“.

Yeung, Anthony, “Strength Training (Part 11 of 30): Strength, Speed, and Power

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.

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

Competitor Class
Suicide Shuttle Sprint (300yds total per suicide) x 4
Straight into 40 Push Ups
Rest 3:00
Pause OHS – 3, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1

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

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

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

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

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

Competitor Class
3 Rounds
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.

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.

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.”

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.

Bulletproof Shoulders

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Bulletproof Shoulders
Written by: Coach Evan

Crossover Symmetry is a shoulder program that involves strength, coordination, and the development of appropriate and functional neuromuscular patterns to prevent or help rehab injuries. Most shoulder rehab programs involve strength exercises that only work through certain ranges of motion and only focus on a few of the muscles in the shoulder. Crossover Symmetry is designed to train movement patterns, not just isolated muscle groups.

The main focus is to develop coordination among the muscle groups to help us move better and more efficiently in athletic movements like in Olympic lifting or gymnastics. It also helps establish an athletic posture that is key to better performance in CrossFit: standing upright with a braced core and engaged hips. Not only is this going to help us perform better but studies have shown that poor core stability and balance are related to shoulder dysfunction and an increase in upper body injuries. So not only will this help shoulder pain and mobility, but it was also develop better positions. Overall this creates a better athlete (i.e. any CrossFitter).

You will see big changes if you have rotator cuff injuries, torn labrums, experience shoulder impingement, have shoulder instability (trouble with stabilizing loads overhead), generally feel weak in your shoulders, and/or sit at a desk all day. Many of these injuries leave us with our shoulders and head pulled forward, which puts our body out of alignment and weakens the muscles that keep us aligned and in a neutral position. Crossover Symmetry helps correct that misalignment by strengthening and retraining the muscles to stay in a neutral position.

This is a tool available to any member of Derby City CrossFit. Anyone will benefit from this program because of its simplicity, variability, and effectiveness. If you are interested, get in touch with Coach Evan for programming.

Coach, I Can’t Hit 80% Today (or, Gauging Your Rate of Perceived Exertion)!

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Coach, I Can’t Hit 80% Today (or, Gauging Your Rate of Perceived Exertion)!
Written by: Coach Slater

Not every day is the same. Not every day progresses the way we’d like. Maybe you didn’t sleep well because your kid was up sick all night, or you forgot to eat all day because your boss has you on a new project, or you drank too much over the weekend.

As a result, sometimes the percentages on the board just *aren’t* going to happen today. You try to make it happen, but you end up walking a few steps to catch that last power clean or kinda good-morning-ed that last back squat. But hey… you got the lift, right? Not really. We want every rep to look the same, just as it does for high-level CrossFitters, Olympic Weightlifters, gymnasts, track & field athletes, you name it. We want to see consistent mechanics in order to see progress. But, our bodies don’t always comply, and that’s fine. That’s part of training.

When 80% feels like 286%, go down to 70% and finish the sets/reps while moving well and ingraining that proper movement, rather than moving poorly and potentially starting a bad habit. Today’s workout isn’t the end-all-be-all. What’s more important is the hundreds of workouts you’ll perform over the course of a year.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (or RPE)
So, why does 80% feel like 286% sometimes? Let me now tell you a little about RPE. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) says that “the RPE scale is a psycho-physiological scale, meaning it calls on the mind and body to rate one’s perception of effort… The RPE scale measures feelings of effort, strain discomfort, and/or fatigue experienced during both aerobic and resistance training.”

Said plainly, RPE is a subjective measure of how hard you feel like you’re working during a set or workout. While you may assume that 225lbs should always feel lighter than 275, 315, 355, 405, that’s not always the case. As mentioned before, if you slept poorly or didn’t eat, then that 80% is going to feel much heavier.

But, here’s where you can better use our listed percentages as a guideline to help you lift more efficiently, based on how you feel that day.

RPE Scale
Instead of seeing 80% on the board, think of it like an 8 on a scale of 10, in terms of effort.

Effort Level:
7: Weight moves quickly when maximal force is applied to the weight; “speed weight”, 4-6 reps left in the tank
8: Weight is too heavy to maintain fast bar speed but isn’t a struggle; 2–4 reps left in the tank
9: Last rep is tough but still one rep left in the tank
10: Maximal, no reps left in the tank

Hopefully this scale can help you be honest with yourself and see that what’s important isn’t just the weight on the bar, but how the weight on that bar feels at this exact moment. The flip-side of this new knowledge is that sometimes your 80% will only feel like 60%. And on those days, crush it. Add more weight. Having the ability to increase (or decrease) you intensity based on how you feel is great for making better progress. Our programming will fluctuate percentages, but you have the freedom to adapt on the fly, based on how you’re feeling.

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

Why Jessica Biel and Neuromuscular Efficiency Mean Females Should Lift Really Heavy Weights

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Why Jessica Biel and Neuromuscular Efficiency Mean Females Should Lift Really Heavy Weights
Written by: Coach Slater

A couple weeks ago, we published the following on Facebook:


“Your 5RM is typically in the ballpark of 85% of your 1RM, but often times higher for beginner/intermediate lifters and female athletes.

In general, the more neurologically efficient you are, the fewer reps you can do with a given percentage of your 1RM. Men are typically more efficient at this than women, so they may only be able to get 2 or 3 reps at 85% while some women may be able to get 15 reps.

That’s why we write “find a heavy ###” for our Life programming, because percentages don’t always tell the full story behind your training history and true ability to generate maximum power. You may surprise yourself if you don’t limit yourself to a certain percentage.”

So, today, I thought I’d try to quickly explain the neuromuscular difference between males and females so you can better know yourself… and maybe secretly drive home the fact that females NEED to strength train by striving to pick up seriously heavy weight.

Women can perform more reps with a higher percentage of their 1RM for five than men can. Most women can do five reps of a certain lift within 5 to 15 pounds of their one rep max. A woman with a 225lb deadlift, can normally do 210lb for five reps. That’s around 95%. However, men usually have a 5RM somewhere within 85-87% of their 1RM. It’s not men’s fault that this is the case. It’s just a difference in their nervous system’s ability to apply force.

Athletic performance is greatly dependent on power – the ability to display strength quickly. This is basically the definition of neuromuscular efficiency. So, a 1RM is not only a test of your muscular ability, but also your neurological ability. This is your capacity to exhibit maximal force and how efficient you are at it. This efficiency decreases with age, unfortunately, but it also varies due to your genes and sex. This explains the difference between average and elite athletes, between younger and older athletes, and between male and female athletes.

Quick biology lesson: A motor unit consists of one motor neuron and all of the muscle fibers it stimulates. All muscles consist of a number of motor units. And, the fibers belonging to a motor unit are dispersed amongst fibers of other units. So, the activation of motor units results in muscle fibers activating. Motor unit recruitment is therefore a measure of how many motor neurons are activated in a particular muscle. Lesson over.

If men can recruit 98% of their motor units for a 1RM, women may only able to recruit maybe 90%, maybe 85%, or maybe less. So, a 1RM for a male and a female are two different neuromuscular events. Light sets of five for a female may not be heavy enough to drive the stress / recovery / adaptation cycle the same way it does for males. So, when we tell you to go heavy and not limit yourself to a certain percentage, there’s real science behind that statement. Maybe you really shouldn’t limit yourself to a percentage – depending on your training experience. Strive for a big number, even if that number feels strangely close to (or even above) your old 1RM.

Those heavy weights equate to the body that many women strive for… that seen on Jessica Biel or Jamie Eason… hell, even Kate Upton pushes a 500lb sled for her training. And to get their muscle definition, you have to lift heavy. Strength training is the ultimate way to improve body composition, far outweighing the benefits of typical “cardio” or long, slow, distance running, because muscles have a higher energy expenditure. Plus, the act of strength training has a greater effect on your body’s thermogenesis, how much heat it produces, thus how many calories it burns to stay cool. So, you have to challenge yourself every time you step in the gym. Some days, don’t worry too much about the percentage… just go heavy and flirt with that nervousness that comes with “big numbers”. It’s maybe more important for you to lift heavy weights than it is for men. Plus, you might be able to hit that 95% for five reps today.

Why Females Lift Less Efficiently”, Lascek, J.

Neuromuscular efficiency of the rectus abdominis differs with gender and sport practice”, David P, Mora I, Pérot C.

Monitoring strength training: Neuromuscular and hormonal profile”, Carmelo B, Roberto C, Robert B, Serge V, Atko V.