Shoulder Mobility Journey – Part One

In the past, I have documented how my lack of shoulder mobility has held me back and lead to injuries. I have also stated that until I fix this problem, I won’t kip, I won’t go overhead and I won’t be able to reach my goals of walking on my hands, stringing together strict muscle-ups and doing a freestanding handstand pushup.

It’s time to man up and do something about it.

This time, instead of just writing about it, I’m going to show you what my shoulder dysfunction looks like with two basic, but telling, tests.

Kelly Starrett arms overhead test:

For this test, you should stand with your feet hips distance, raise your hands overhead with your thumbs back, elbows locked out, and ears visible while keeping a neutral spine.

Passing this test means you have the shoulder and upper-back mobility to safely and successfully perform movements where your arms are overhead like a pullup, push press, strict press, jerk, or power snatch.

One fails this test when their elbows flare out, shoulders roll forward, and/or their lower back arches. Failing indicates that areas like your lower back will overcompensate for the lack of mobility in your shoulders when trying overhead movements.

Shoulder MOB P1

FMS Shoulder Mobility Screen:

The first step is to measure the distance from your distal wrist crease to the end of your longest finger. You can use a ruler or any other measuring device.

Next, stand with your feet together and make a fist with your thumbs inside of your fingers, like you wouldn’t do if you were going to punch something. Extend both hands out to your sides with your elbows locked out, then reach one fist behind the neck and the other one behind the back at the same time, trying to get the fists as close as possible to each other without forcing it. To test the other side, repeat these steps and switch your top and bottom fists. You may try up to three times per side.

A “passing” score occurs when your hand measurement is greater than the measurement of the gap between the end of the two fists, i.e., your fists are touching or almost touching. If the hand measurement is about the same as the gap between your two fists, or a lot less, then you have suboptimal shoulder mobility.

In most cases, either of the last two results means you will struggle with the same overhead movements mentioned above. Worse, either of these scores, but especially a score where your hand measurement is a lot less than the gap measurement, means you’re likely more susceptible to injury while performing overhead movements. (my hand measures 7″)

Shoulder 2

As you can see from the pictures above, I have a long journey ahead of me. This is frustrating. But I’m sick of dealing with these dysfunctional shoulders, so it’s time to put my big boy boots on and get to steppin’.

I will check in every three months for the next year with pictures of my progress and my quarterly routine to un-stick my shoulders.

Stay tuned . . .

What is “As Prescribed,” and why do we use it?

rx

Doing a workout as prescribed, or Rx, is completing the WOD as written, with no scaling or modifications, with full range of motion on each movement.

Rx is not flying through a workout with bad form just to post a good time and see your name on the leaderboard.

For example, if you fail to get your chin over the bar on a pull-up, you have not completed the movement as prescribed. If you don’t pick your shoulders off the ground and get your hands to your toes on a v-up, the prescribed standard has not been met.

I know it’s tempting to fudge this sometimes, and give yourself credit for a rep when the movement standard was not met, but this is not the way to go. I know it isn’t fun to do another push-up because your legs collapsed to the ground, but for me, giving myself credit for a bad rep like this would feel worse.

It is more beneficial for you to take the steps necessary to meet the standard correctly. Whether this means working on mobility or building strength, you will gain from going about it the right way. Plus, marking the workout Rx is extra sweet when it involves a movement you have struggled with, and you have worked hard to achieve.

Trust me, I get it. We all want to click that as prescribed button in Beyond The Whiteboard. When I first began CrossFit, my desire to be atop the leaderboard and Rx all the movements, won. My competitiveness and ego got the best of me, which led to a few frustrating years of injury and hindered my athletic development.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson: Being on the sideline with injury because of the need to feed my ego is lame.

Who cares about Rx. The point is to move correctly and safely. Don’t cheat yourself, or those around you, by claiming Rx when you didn’t do the workout as prescribed. It cheapens everyone’s experience and stunts your development as an athlete.

What movement have you had to work hardest on to complete as prescribed? Which one is next on your list?

Protect Your Spine

11828564_1039727416045454_1548512201806256283_nWithin the first five minutes of every yoga class that I have ever been in, the teacher will either mention or set an intention around focusing on your breath throughout the day’s practice.

It has been a struggle for me to be able to focus on my breathing for an entire yoga class, but I have managed to make it through, getting in and out of postures while focusing on my breathing.

In yoga, there are a multitude of reasons why focusing on your breath is important. I feel the biggest is that it prevents you from constantly drifting off in thought about what you’re going to have for dinner, or some issue that is going on with a family member, or what is going on at work.

Those thoughts are paralyzing to your practice, and if they overwhelm you, before you know it the class is over and you feel no different than when you walked in there in the first place. This defeats the purpose, since yoga is supposed to be relaxing and rejuvenating.

Similarly, in our daily CrossFit workouts, you might have trouble focusing on staying tight through your midline.

How many times in class have you heard a coach say, “stay tight,” or, “squeeze your belly,” or “engage your core”?

Just like coming back to your breath during yoga, you should constantly check in during CrossFit and ask yourself if you’re staying tight, if you’re squeezing your belly, and if your core is engaged.

We don’t give these cues to slow you down during a workout. We want you to stay tight because, in the most general sense, staying tight through your midline protects your spine.

If you are staying tight in your squat, you are probably not butt winking and your chest will be more vertical than if you weren’t. Where do you think all of the pressure goes when your spine looks like a “slinky” when you back squat?

If you squeeze your belly while dead lifting, odds are your back is not rounding and your not dumping all that weight into your lumbar spine.

When you engage your core while snatching or cleaning, you land more solidly because you are under tension, which allows you to push explosively and get out of the bottom of the hole.

Wall balls, thrusters, rowing, push press, jerks, push-ups, ring rows, pull-ups, pistols . . . midline stability is key to almost every move you encounter in our daily workouts.

In your next workout, I challenge you to continue going back to anything that reminds you to engage your core. Your spine will thank you for years to come.

Hip Flexor Health

1507563_934326269918903_4151410308638686184_nWinter in Minnesota tends to bring out the demonic behavior in our hip-flexor or iliopsoas muscles.

Where is that located and what am I talking about?

The iliopsoas muscles originate from the lower back and pelvis and insert into the thigh bone (femur). The iliospsoas is the main mover in the hip flexor region.

Winter sports that can enflame or aggravate this muscle region are hockey and cross-country skiing due to the repetitive strides an athlete takes.

Also, in the winter the couch tends to hold us hostage more than in the summer months, causing us to tighten up more or to not take the appropriate time to loosen up before exercising.

Personally speaking from having such tight hip-flexors in my hockey playing days that could pop out or strain from something as silly as sneezing, this is not something to mess around with.

Injury to your hip-flexors aren’t of the excruciating variety, but more of the constant, annoying type that take forever to heal. And just when you think you are in the clear not having had any flare ups, BOOM, there you go and re-aggravate it and you are back to square one.

If you are a desk jockey in your life away from the gym, then listen up to what this article from physioadvisor.com had to say. When you are seated, your knees are bent and your hip muscles are flexed and often tighten up or become shortened. “Because we spend so much of our time in a seated position with the hip flexed, the hip flexor has the potential to shorten. Then, when you are in a hurry because you are running to catch a bus or a plane, or you trip and fall, the muscle could become stretched. Here’s this stiff, brittle muscle that all of a sudden gets extended, and you could set yourself up for strain or some hip flexor pain.”

Ways to stay away from the buzz-saw of this injury are to stretch regularly, especially if when you get out from your desk and you feel like a nursing home patient walking over to the water-cooler. Here are a few awesome videos from our friend Kelly Starrett:

Extension of a Psoas Flavor

Don’t Go In the Pain Cave

A few quick and easy ways to warmup before workouts:

- While walking pull one knee to your chest and hold for a one count, keep alternating legs from one end of the gym to the other.

- While walking from one end of the gym to the other, march your right leg up in front of you to ninety degrees and then swing it out to your right ninety degrees. Repeat on your left side and so on.

- While kneeling, stretch your right foot out almost as far as you can, and then drive your left hip to the floor, while trying to work your right shin to come to vertical. Rinse and repeat.

This is the only body that you are going to have, so you might as well take care of it!

Are your ankles affecting your squat?

1891244_880767821941415_6467677369343282556_n-2Tight ankles change the mechanics of your squat position. Tight calves, achilles or plantar fasciitis can also negatively affect your squat, but we are going to focus on ankles today.

Lack of dorsiflexion can make you weaker and more injury prone. Having tight ankles forces you to use your quads more and your glutes less.

A quick and easy way to increase ankle mobility, and give your heels a stable surface to push off of when squatting, is to put your heels onto a five pound plate. Or you can get off your wallet and go get some oly lifting shoes.

There are literally a thousand ways to mobilize your ankles, but most of our immobilities are centered between our ears. “Huh… what is he talking about?”

I’m saying that most of us choose to take the lazy route and not do anything to improve no matter how much we need it. Let’s assume that we have moved past obstacle one, our lazy nature, here are a few great videos that you can follow along with and see what is holding you up.

I would start with Dorsiflexion Test to see where you are at. This is just a snip-it, but start with your toe five to six inches from the wall. While keeping your heel completely on the ground, see if you can touch your knee to the wall.

If you cannot touch your knee to the wall, try the exercises in Ankle Dorsiflexion to start to mobilize. This video has you put a PVC or dowel on the inside of your big toe and then bring the outside of your knee around the PVC. But you can get a lot of the same benefit by placing the PVC on the outside of your pinky toe and bringing the inside of your knee around the PVC. Do each of these ten times, on each leg and retest.

Kelly Starett has a few great videos that tie everything together in your lower leg, and show you how to improve mobility for squatting. Check out Heel Cords of a Cheetah and Heel Cord Love’n.

There are also a few great exercises in Dorsiflexion for Improved Squat Performance and How to Improve Ankle Dorsiflexion & Plantar Flexion for Sprinting to work through.

If you do not know where your immobilities lie exactly, but know that there is something going on, get with one of your coaches and we can help you properly diagnose where your problem areas are and point you in the right direction for improvement.

We can all be as mobile as we want, but how badly do we want it?

One Foot in Front of the Other

owwwicha

I’ve heard people say that injuries are inherent in training. While I understand the point that they are trying to make (at least in the case of professional athletes), I disagree with that generalization. If you are paying attention to proper technique, taking care of yourself outside the gym, and maintaining a balanced recovery schedule, there is no reason you should plan on getting hurt.

That being said, sometimes it happens, unfortunately. And sometimes to those that are in the best shape. If you are working out to live a long happy life as a strong person (you are!) then the trick is to not let an injury completely sideline you while it gets better.

I follow a long-time crossfit.com contributor named Pat Sherwood on Instagram. A few months back he was in a motorcycle accident that left him with a separated AC joint – an injury that for most would mean a lot of time away from anything workout related. I was very impressed not only by his motivation to keep active while his shoulder healed, but also by his humility in accepting that scaling options were going to be common for him to prevent any further issues with his shoulder-on-the-mend. He posted this video on his page showing some of the ways that he was staying productive through his healing.

Just so we’re clear, I am NOT saying that you should be further challenging yourself in an area that is recovering from an injury. If a doctor has told you to stay off it, do that. I AM saying that just because you have some current limitations, you do not have a pass to become a couch potato and undo all the work that you’ve put in.

Remember that our staff is here to help! If you ever have questions or are unsure of something that has been problematic for you, please don’t hesitate to ask us about it. It is our job to keep you safe and we are here to accommodate the needs of all the different athletes that we work with!