How To Think About Range of Motion


There are two ways to think about range of motion.

First, there’s the range of motion necessary for your rep to be scored.

Then there’s the range of motion necessary for you to be awesome.

cletusCrossFitters are extremely strict about the the first definition, ostensibly because a pillar of CrossFit is intensity, defined as work multiplied by distance, divided by time. According to that formula, if you short range, you are cheating on work output. But wait! If a tall guy and a short guy are each doing 95# thrusters, doesn’t the tall guy end up doing more work?

In point of fact, the CrossFit range of motion standard is completely arbitrary. You can think of it as a convenient way to identify cheaters in a room full of Type A competitive exercisers.

Sad to say, merely fulfilling that range of motion will NOT make you awesome.

Gasp! Heresy!

Put the pitchfork down! Let me explain, by specific example.

The Squat

Most CrossFitters say that if your hip crease breaks the plane of your knee your squat is good. Let’s be clear. If your hip crease breaks the plane of your knee your rep will be scored. It is not good. Here’s why.

First muscle tension increases with length, and strength increases with tension. If you stop your squat right below your knee, you probably haven’t fully tensioned your muscles, which means you won’t benefit from the stretch reflex, which means the muscle elasticity which is your genetic endowment from millennia of human evolution will go to waste. Not good.

Second, stopping your descent and reversing direction without the benefit of the stretch reflex requires a very strong eccentric contraction. Over a lot of reps, all those eccentric contractions cause micro tears in your muscles. You will become screamingly sore, and being sore is for suckaz.

The Pullup

Most CrossFitters will score your pullup if your chin clears the bar. This horrible range of motion standard causes people to reach for the bar with their chins.

tumblr_l5tqfewUW31qc63sno1_400If you’re wondering why this is such a big deal, stand up, put your hand on your lower back and then raise your chin. That movement you feel in your lower back is hyper-extension.

Hyper-extension is not a big deal every once in a while. Your spine is designed to move dynamically…sometimes. But in a workout with 100 pull ups, if you reach with your chin on every rep, something bad is going to happen. This is why Coach Peter is always up in your grille about keeping your chin down when you do pull ups.

Don’t compromise your spine to fulfill range of motion. When you clear the bar you should be hollowed out with your head neutral…essentially an elbow plank but flipped 90 degrees.

Overhead Movements

All CrossFitters everywhere have heard the cue “cover your ears”. Most people can track this cue, but many people try to fulfill the range of motion requirement by pushing their head forward through their arms. This puts incredible stress on the upper part of your spine.

I confess that I have used this horrible cue myself.

<hangs head in shame>

But what I really want is to see your skeleton stacked vertically with the bar positioned over your feet. That position gives you maximum mechanical advantage with minimal risk. If the bar is over your feet and your skeleton is stacked, I could care less where your ears are in relation to your arms.

Mindful Movers

CrossFit coaches push. It’s in our nature. But TwinTown coaches don’t want you to be range-of-motion zombies; thoughtlessly painting by numbers in the gym; doing the bare minimum to avoid a no-rep.

Be mindful in the gym. Mindful movers become good movers and above all else, we want you to become good movers. The awesomeness will follow.