Recommended Reading: Ready to Run

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Kelly Starrett, creator of mobilityWOD.com, author of Becoming a Supple Leopard, and founder of one of the longest running CrossFit gyms in the world, San Francisco CrossFit, recently released his second publication titled Ready to Run.

Ready to Run is an all-encompassing look at the form, skill, and and ability required to be able to run well.

It seems almost silly that a book would need to be written about how to run, but if you look at some (any, really) of the injury statistics involved in the sport, you will surely see that this primal movement might not be the “gimme” that most of us take it for.

Starrett goes not only into why it is important to run well, but also how to get there. The book is full of valuable information, and is written in a way that makes its contents available to all.

Whether your only experience with running is through CrossFit, or if you are training for an ultra marathon, the tools provided in Ready to Run are sure to be of assistance. I’d highly recommend this one if you’re looking for a good read to get you ready for running season!

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!

Make Mobilizing Part of Your Daily Routine

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If you’re like me when it comes to the gym, you’d rather show up, lace up your shoes, and get down to business. Who wants to spend time warming up when there are weights to throw around?

Unfortunately, this is only a fantasy. We all need to put in the work mobilizing to stave off injuries and ensure that we preform at our best.

This is why it’s important to make working on your mobility part of your daily routine.

Whether this means subscribing to Kelly Starrett’s Daily Rx, signing up for yoga three times a week, or using bands and lacrosse balls while you watch the Wild game, you should pick what works for you and stick to it.

Here are some mobility exercises you can do on your own at home or in the gym:

Shoulder mobility.

Hamstring mobility.

Hip mobility. 

Posterior chain mobility.

Finger Mobility for Handstands

A lot of folks have goals related to handstands, which is awesome. Next to the squat, the handstand is probably the most important force-multiplier in the gym.

Handstands against a wall are a great place to start, but eventually you’ll want to progress. But how the heck are you supposed to balance without a wall to help you?

Hand-balancing is not trivial and there is no “secret-sauce”, but one thing that helps a lot of people with balance is to use finger pressure to assist balance.

The vine above shows a very typical hand position. You can see that the knuckles are flexed, which allows you to generate more finger-tip pressure. It’s okay to have fully extended fingers, as long as you can produce enough finger pressure to prevent yourself from toppling. The main thing is to use your hands actively. They’re not just meat flippers at the end of your wrists!

A couple of tips are in order.

Most great hand-standers have their weight distributed on the front palm, where the fingers meet the hand.

If you shift your weight towards the heel of your palm, your hand can feel “stuck” to the ground, leaving you with few options to re-balance if you feel yourself falling.

This is directly analogous to how boxers stay light on the balls of their feet, and dread being caught flat-footed with their weight on their heels.

So if you shift your weight towards your fingers, your hands remain mobile, and you can use finger pressure to bring yourself back to balance.

The only problem with shifting your weight towards your fingers is the fear of toppling onto your back…but the longer you use the wall for balance, the longer it will take you to learn how to use your fingers for balance.

This is why a good human spotter is key for handstand progress! Here’s a challenge for you. The next time you want to handstand, rather than default to the wall, find a coach or fellow athlete at the gym and ask them to spot you. Face your fear!

Move Like a Baby – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a series. Part 1 can be found here.

Mobility is a huge buzzword nowadays, but like all buzzwords, it defies precise definition. My definition of mobility is simple. Can you move at least as well as an infant? If the answer is yes, you’re mobile. By the way, if you answer yes, then you are truly an exceptional human being because I know very few adults who move as well as babies do. Babies have to move better than adults because babies are so weak. When strength is not an option, you must be efficient. For athletes, efficient movement is the difference between bonking and victory. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Anyhoo, last week we looked at the prone-to-supine rolling pattern. This pattern is foundational because if a baby can’t get off its back, it can’t crawl.

This week let’s look at a primitive crawling pattern. This pattern usually precedes a true hands-and-knees crawl. It is really more of a slither.

So what’s going on here? Kira is locomoting, but how? Is Kira pushing off her knee? Or is she pulling forward on her elbow?

Actually it’s neither. Remember Kira is basically a ball of pudge. She has no strength to speak of, certainly not enough to move herself through knee drive or elbow traction.

Actually Kira is moving via gravitational torque, also known as “falling”. Here’s how it works. Kira posts on her knee and elbow, and then she creates tension by firing her core. This turns her body into a pendulum, where her center of mass is suspended between her hip and opposing shoulder. Then her center of mass falls forward and she repeats the process.

Here is another vine wherein I reproduce the pendulum movement. When I fire my core my back goes up, and that tension allows me to pendulum in a cross-pattern between my hip and shoulder.

Here’s a fun experiment for you to try at home. Go face down and then, taking big breaths with a completely relaxed and flabby core, try to pull yourself forward with elbow traction and then push yourself forward with knee drive. You will find that it is virtually impossible to move without turning on your core and firing this cross pattern.

For athletes, the ability to produce cross-tension between a hip and opposing shoulder is the basis of all throwing, swinging, and climbing patterns. If you play golf or throw a spear, you need to be able to do this well.

There are two important takeaways here. The first is rather obvious. Namely, you can’t move unless you can fire your core. Gasp! Yes, core stability is important.

The second takeaway is less obvious, but important. An unfortunate reality of mobility is that your body can only go where your mind allows. Remember that the next time you’re “mobilizing” with a foam roller. Your body can only go where your mind allows.

Babies are exemplary movers because they don’t play mind games with themselves. They are completely unencumbered by fear. They’re not afraid to fall on their face and look stupid. Imagine what you could accomplish in the gym if you could stop worrying about looking stupid.

In truth, at the very highest levels of athleticism, emotional management is key. The world’s elite athletes are superior emotional managers. They are able to access the same state of fearlessness that they had as infants. The reason they are so fun to watch is precisely because they’re not afraid of looking stupid.

 

Move Like A Baby – Part 1

What exactly is mobility? Is it flexibility? Range of motion? Stability? Fascial conditioning? Neuro-muscular coordination? Mobility defies precise definition, which is great for people selling mobility products but not great for people who just want to move better.

Here’s a definition of mobility for the great unwashed masses: it’s something you don’t have, that you know you need, that you should spend a lot of time trying to get, without knowing exactly when you’ve gotten it. And oh yes, it’s going to cost you a pretty penny.

I have no skin in the game; my only motivation is my clients’ well being so I think it’s okay for me to say bologna to all that. I have my own simple rubric for mobility, which is this: can you move at least as well as an infant? If the answer is yes, you are mobile. If the answer is no, you need work.

Infants are exemplary movers. Their movements are incredibly efficient, as a matter of necessity. They can’t force patterns because they don’t have any strength. They don’t have bad habits, because they haven’t spent decades hunched over a keyboard. And they are unobstructed by ego. A baby could not care less if he looks stupid. All he knows is, if he can’t get off his back, he won’t be able to move.

Over the next few weeks we’re going to break down some key movement patterns from the perspective of infant development. Let’s try to shed some light on what mobility really means.

This week we’re going to kick things off with the supine-to-prone rolling pattern. Learning how to roll over from your back is hugely important. In a supine position, your limbs are deleveraged. With the exception of a few edge cases, you can’t put any force into the ground when you’re on your back. You’re basically a blob.

Here’s a short clip of my eight month old daughter turning over from her back.

The key observation here is that her feet are off the ground when she makes the turn. In other words, she is not driving herself over using her feet. That would require strength she doesn’t have. Instead, she makes the turn by letting gravity help her.

If you’re curious, go ahead and try this. Lie on your back, lift your feet off the ground, and then let the weight of your knees turn you over onto your stomach. Remember, you can’t push off your feet, and you can’t fling your knees over. You have to roll over in a state of complete relaxation, without getting stuck on your side.

Most adults err by sticking an arm straight out to one side. When that happens you stress your shoulder joint and your arm gets pinned underneath you, like this:

Babies don’t have the upper body strength to unpin themselves so they have to be smarter than that. If you watch the first video closely you’ll see that when my daughter initiates her turn, she positions her elbow by her side, so that she doesn’t have to work against her shoulder joint to roll over. Here’s a clip of me trying to roll with a tucked elbow.

So what happened here? My elbow is in a better position but I still can’t roll over. The problem is that my thoracic spine (the part of the spine between your shoulder blades) is neutral. My head is oriented straight ahead. Look again at the first video. When Kira wants to turn over she twists her head to face the ground. When I add in that small detail, I’m able to make a smoother transition.

Here is an advanced version of the rolling pattern. My daughter can’t do this but here is how my four year old son rolls from supine. In this version, you initiate the turn with an arm extended over your head.

We’ve looked at a lot of tape, and I’ve left you with some wacky ideas, but I want to highlight the big takeaway from all this.

The key to rolling over efficiently is a healthy thoracic spine. If you can’t turn your head with an extended thoracic spine, it is very difficult to make a smooth turn. You’re basically a blob, stuck on your back, watching the world go by.

Unfortunately, modern lifestyles wreak havoc on your thoracic spine. Every time you sit down at your keyboard, or start twiddling with your smart phone, you hunch over and your spine fuses into an unnatural position.

To put it another way, being a grown up makes you move worse than a baby.

Improved Mobility – The Comfortable Way

photo The lacrosse ball is now almost as much a staple in CrossFit gyms as a barbell is. We use them to massage and break up tight tissue to improve range of motion where we might be lacking. While they are extremely effective at getting into some of our tighter muscles, sometimes their dense build can be a bit too much.

Enter: the Yoga Tune Up Ball. Think of a ball with the inner-density of a lacrosse ball, but with a layer of foam wrapped around the outside. This slightly softer composition makes the idea of working on your mobility a much less painful one (especially if what you need to work on is sore!). The Tune Up ball is also available in 3 different sizes, so getting at some of the harder-to-reach tissue is no big deal.

Lack of mobility is one of the biggest limiters to success that I see when working with athletes. If you know you would benefit from further work, I’d highly recommend giving some of the Yoga Tune Up products a try. Coach Kayser told me about these a while back and they have been a go-to for me ever since.

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?

Hamstrings Like Steel Cables

If you’re like me, and you have hamstrings like steel cables, then you want mobility exercises that work and are easy to do.

First, make yoga part of your routine. Find a class or an instructor that you like, and commit to attending regularly.

Here are three of my go-to dynamic exercises for working my tight, stubborn hamstrings that I do on my own time between yoga classes:

Dynamic hamstring:
This is a fantastic dynamic exercise that works two areas we see time and again: hamstrings and the hip hinge.

Lie on your back with your legs bent. Using both hands, pull your left knee towards your chest until your leg is at ninety degrees. Straighten your left leg. Do a set of twenty then switch sides. Repeat twice on both side.

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Passive leg lowering:
This exercise also targets both your hamstrings and your hip hinge.

Lie flat on your back next to a pole or in a doorway. Place your right leg on the pole. Now, slowly raise and lower your left leg, keeping your left knee locked out. Again, do a set of twenty then switch sides, and repeat twice on both side.

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Waiter’s bow:
Do this exercise and you’ll deadlift like a boss.

Start with your feet hip-width apart, or slightly wider, and your knees bent. Then send your butt back, hinging at the hips until you feel your hamstrings light up. Go as far as you can without compromising your spinal position. Hold for two or three breaths, return to the starting position, and reset. Repeat for three minutes trying to go deeper in the stretch each rep.

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What part of the front squat do you struggle with?

10404177_863593560325508_1897217743595871228_nLike many elements in our CrossFit journey, the front squat takes practice. Practice with the mobility to get the bar into the proper position, the strength to keep tension throughout the lift and in patience to not try to do too much too fast.

The following pictures in this sequence illustrate where you should be technique-wise throughout the lift:

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Position 1- “Front Rack”- The back of your arms should be parallel to the ground throughout the lift; think about keeping your elbows shooting up through the ceiling. Something that will help you keep your elbows up, and prevent you from feeling a burning sensation in your wrists, is to release your ring and pinky fingers from the bar so you only have your thumb and two fingers on the bar. Your fingers only serve the purpose of keeping the bar in place, all of the weight should be supported by your shoulders.

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Position 2- Initiate the squat. Break at the hips and sending butt back. Notice how Peter’s angle between the bottom of his arms and his body in this picture from the first. The more you can keep your torso vertical, the less pressure it puts on your shoulders and wrists. Think about keeping those elbows shooting to the ceiling while tracking your knees over your toes as you squat.

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Position 3- Bottom of the squat. As always, you want your hip crease to be deeper than your knees, as Peter is doing here. Work to keep the back of your arms parallel with the ground throughout the lift. If you notice your chest sinking forward as you squat, it is because you lack the proper hip and/or hamstring mobility to support keeping your torso vertical. When you hit the bottom of your squat and start driving up be sure to keep your knees out. Think about forcing your knees out as if you were doing banded squats.

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Position 4- The return. Work on returning on the same path you came down on by using your glutes and hamstrings. If you were to trace the bars movement pattern throughout, it would be moving on a straight line down and up.

If you lack the mobility in any of these four positions, get with a coach and ask how you can improve your mobility to better front squat.