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 . . .

Patience and Consistency

12356774_1100109356673926_228953655148068323_oThis past month I read an article in Success Magazine on James Lawrence, the guy who completed fifty Ironman races in fifty days, in fifty states.

An Ironman race consists of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile marathon. To finish one would be an extreme accomplishment, but fifty in fifty days all across America seems impossible.

On the fifth race in, he injured his shoulder which forced him to swim with one arm over the next several swims (which reminds me of Cat rowing with one arm for our 10K benchmark workout a few weeks ago).

On the eighteenth race exhaustion caught up to him and he fell asleep on his bike, but only suffered minor road rash in the crash. Other injuries he suffered throughout included a few toenails falling off, a hiatal hernia, and pushing his body so hard that his heart had to focus on pumping blood to his major organs causing him to lose feeling in his extremities.

How many of these would have caused you to quit? Would these cause you to give up on your goal?

What really hit home with me was what he said he thought about during the races. Sometimes he would have long conversations with himself, but most of the time, it was about focusing on what he would do in the next minute. Lawrence says he tried not to think about how many miles or days he had left; he just wanted to be perfect at whatever he was doing- running, biking or swimming- for the next minute.

Talk about a time where you would think absolute perfection would be the farthest thing from your mind, during this daunting task, but this is what allowed him to stay focused.

In relative terms, how hard would it be for us to focus on making every rep perfect in the movements we do, instead of just doing whatever is needed to finish as fast as possible?

When asked how he did this Lawrence said, “patience and consistency.” He went on to say, “you have to do a lot of things right over an extended period of time. You have to focus on the basics, and you have to be perfect at them. That’s ultimately why I succeeded: I was perfect with the basics, and I had patience. I became an expert at a lot of things, and that’s how I became successful- that’s one of the keys to success if anybody wants to tackle something of this enormity.”

This going back to the basics, really made sense with my goal that I’m working on for 2016. I want to preface what I’m about to say with the recognition that the only way my experiences should even be in the same blog post as something as amazing as what James Lawrence did, was that all I have focused on for the first month and a half of my goal is patience and consistency and just keeping it basic.

My goal is to accumulate 10,000 pull-ups and 10,000 pushups throughout the year. As of this writing I’m a little over 1,000 of each- so about on the pace I will need to keep going through the rest of the year.

I know I set this as my goal because all of my weaknesses in the gym stem from weak upper body strength, but I did not expect to see such amazing progress in such a short amount of time.

Through the first month I can now do bar muscle-ups consistently. Also, I have been doing ring muscle-ups for years, but they have always been an extreme struggle for me, and now I can string multiple reps together regularly. Until the past few weeks, I was only able to do them with a false grip, but now I’m able to do them without a false grip every time. This makes it easier to string together big sets of muscle-ups.

My working regimen for pull-ups are mostly sets of five strict pull-ups at a time and I’ll just do this for about 30-40 reps daily for the most part. There have been days where I have done zero and also days where I have done many more, but for the most part it has been pretty consistent. Pushups are easy for any of us to practice, because you can do them anywhere at anytime.

I’m excited to see the progress that takes place throughout the remainder of the year.

What can you do on a consistent basis to get better at something that has eluded you up to this point?

It’s Okay To Dial Down The Intensity, Bro

blog Are you one of those people who comes to the gym to crush yourself and redline every single time? If so, you should know it’s okay to turn down the intensity dial a notch from time to time.

In fact, it’s a good idea. Backing off the intensity mitigates fatigue and helps prevent burnout and injury.

Last week I was beaten down. I was getting over a cold and I was tired and lethargic. I wanted to work out, but I just couldn’t get the engines firing for our 8:00AM workouts. On Thursday, I expressed how I felt to Peter who suggested I do the WOD at an easy pace instead of backing out of it entirely. An easy pace; what the hell is that!

I took his advice and turned down the intensity a bit. Not surprisingly, Peter was right. I got in a good workout and, afterwards, I felt fresher than I had in days. I also went to yoga later that day, which I highly recommend any time, but especially when you feel your body needs a break from high intensity workouts.This combination was exactly what I needed to stay in the gym without burning out or injuring myself.

Now, for you sandbaggers out there looking for an easy out, I’m not saying don’t push yourself and go through the motions; this is not an invitation to be mediocre. I’m saying pay attention to when your body needs a break and dial it down for a minute. Think of it as active rest and come back fresh the next time you hit the gym.

What’s your approach when you feel burnt out or fatigued?

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.

Gratitude And The Main Metric

ipadOne of the rules of product design is to focus on a Main Metric. Using this approach, a design team will isolate a single measure of quality or fitness and continually assess the product against that metric throughout the product’s life cycle. The benefit of a Main Metric is that it tends to focus your efforts which results in a more coherent product. A good example of this would be the iPad. The iPad is only good for one thing, but at that one thing the iPad is truly remarkable.

Here’s the important bit. The designers of the iPad were not focused on aesthetics as the main metric. Nevertheless the iPad is quite beautiful. How did that happen? The iPad is beautiful because its designers carved away everything that didn’t support the main functional metric. Imagine what the iPad would look like with a CD expansion bay, or even a USB port. The iPad is such a uniquely satisfying user experience because it doesn’t try to do everything.

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In the context of fitness isolating a main metric is quite tricky. What is that single measure which can justify the sweat and tears you shed in the gym? What is that unique point of satisfaction that keeps you coming to the gym, even when you’re sore and tired?

In my years as a trainer I estimate that 90% of my clients start with a goal of body composition. In other words, for that 90% the initial main metric is primarily aesthetic. However not a single client has ever thanked me for losing weight or leaning out or fitting into smaller pants. When clients thank me, it always goes to something deeper: a stronger connection to their body; being a better parent or partner; longer life; a bigger lift; a higher jump; a marathon PR, etc. In their gratitude, these people have identified their main metric.

CrossFit Callus Care

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The opposable thumb is the main anatomical feature that makes humans functionally different from apes. Our ability to grab things is essential for tool use. Every time I hit my thumb with a hammer I howl thanks to the human genome.

As all CrossFitters know, the downside of repeatedly grabbing things is that you develop big gnarly calluses after a while. You know that you have CrossFit hands if your spouse recoils in horror when you attempt a tender caress.

Tender caresses aside, the practical reason to take care of your paws is that if you leave calluses unattended they’ll pinch and tear leaving you with a big, scary wound that looks like Freddy Krueger’s face on your hand.

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Lately I’ve been using this shaver from Trim that I bought for like $2 from WalMart.  It rules!  In the picture you can see smooth patches underneath my middle, ring and pinkie fingers.  Those used to be calluses and now they’re smooth like butter.

Now that my hands have been restored to velvety softness I can’t wait to go to CrossFit and smash something with them!

Chase Anderson’s One Two Punch

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How do you attend twenty-two classes in thirty days?

There are two different approaches.

1) Yeah, many people can probably push themselves to make it to class three out of four days for a month. But what they may find is that they are not recovering as they wish, they feel over-trained, or they develop nagging injuries.

2) You can work smart and work hard, like Chase Anderson. Chase sprinkles in 1-2 yoga classes per week into his attendance, so that he can keep WODing. If you look at Chase’s strength, mobility and recovery dials, they are all pointed north.

Chase started off in our Boot Camp program, and in December decided to give Foundations and Yoga a try. He has not taken his foot off the gas or looked back yet.

He is the perfect example of allowing the programs to work for him. He moves safely and intentionally in class without compromising his form.

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Chase did not take any short cuts. He put in his time in Boot Camp, passed his Foundations screen on his first try, but stayed in Foundations for 2 weeks to learn the movements and our crazy acronyms/lingo while hitting up Yoga. Now he is beasting out in WOD classes.

If you want to steadily improve, take the Chase Anderson approach. Don’t sacrifice form to be one second faster or put up extra pounds. Help your body recover and mobilize properly by going to Yoga (oh and in case you don’t know, Yoga also helps you recharge mentally). Add this to an already awesome work ethic and you will become a coachable athlete with maximal potential.

Keep up the great work Chase. We love having you as part of our TwinTown family!

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!

Choices

stressA couple years ago I saw Chris Kresser talk at PaleoFX. In a panel about adrenal fatigue he mentioned that he deliberately chose to reduce his patient load as a way to manage stress.

As a child of immigrant strivers, this was mind blowing. Let’s just say that in my family culture, self-compassion is not valued.

But one of the great privileges of living in America is that we have choices. Grind, or unwind. More health, or more wealth. In the abstract, the choice is easy, but in practice, not so.

Here’s the thing, and pay attention paleo dieters. Your gut is responsible for getting nutrients into your body. Fatigue and stress severely compromise gut function. So eating nutritious food is only part of the battle. If your gut can’t absorb nutrients you will never be truly healthy.

Unfortunately you can’t buy gut health at the organic grocery. Which brings us back to choices. What’s it going to be today? Are you going to skip your lunch so you can wolf a muffin at your desk?  Skip your workout so you can work late? Get up before the crack of dawn to joust with psychos on the freeway? Where does it end?

Career is important, but I am here to tell you that career success is a booby prize if you feel like crap all the time.

More health or more wealth? That is the question.

Why I Eat Rice

rice
I can’t help but laugh as I write this. It’s ok if you’re laughing too. Let’s face it. Asian people eat a lot of rice.

But for me it was not always thus. When I first discovered the Paleolithic nutrition plan, I was neurotically strict.

No grains means no grains, right? I was so strict that I would discard the rice bowl at the Korean BBQ. I was that guy.

But something always bugged me about the eliminationist aspect of Paleo. Ethnic differences are a matter of evolutionary forces. I don’t look like other people. Maybe I shouldn’t eat like other people?

It’s not so far-fetched. Geneticists know that most Asians lack the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. (Which explains the red, puffy faces you see at the karaoke bar) If most Asians don’t tolerate alcohol is it so unreasonable to think that most Asians do tolerate rice?

My theory was put to the test the first time I visited my mom after going Paleo. In my mother’s house you do not refuse food. So I ate the rice she put in front of me, convinced that I would be convulsed and retching into the toilet within minutes.

Lo and behold, I was fine. I did not get a headache and drive my car into a tree. My butt didn’t explode. Cool.

In the ensuing months I learned something very important. Rice doesn’t make me sick but it does make me fat. I eat rice sparingly now, primarily in the context of a recovery meal, when I am very motivated to get my insulin levels up.

The main point I want to make here is that I only made this discovery because I started from a clean slate. I knew what it felt like to be on a clean diet so I had a point of reference when I started to introduce a questionable food.

If you want to learn how to thrive; if you are sick of one-size-fits-all diets, join us in our Eat Well challenge. The challenge is six weeks long. The first four weeks will be a reset where we rid our diets of foods that are known to be problematic (think processed foods). During the final two weeks we will systematically reintroduce the foods we eliminated to see how our bodies react to them.

It’s going to be awesome. Register here.