What’s in a Warm Up?

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Want to improve in the gym? Begin with your warm up. It might not be the most exciting part of your workout, but maaaaaaan does a good warm-up go a long ways!

While there isn’t one perfect routine to perform before every workout, there are some principles you can follow to make the most of the 15 or so minutes before you begin.

The most important part of your pre-workout routine may seem obvious, but it’s also easy to overthink: get sweaty. If your body temperature is up to the point that you’ve got a good sweat going, you’ll be moving about as well as you can hope for given the time constraints of a class. “Warm it up, Kane.”

Don’t be so quick to shed your layers. Especially in the winter, keep those sweats on throughout the warm-up. Those extra layers will only help you get going more quickly. Remember that the goal of the warm-up is to get sweaty. Don’t start trying to cool off at the first sign of a little warmth!

Save the in-depth mobility sessions for later in the day! A little light stretching after you’re warm can be helpful if you need to get a specific part of your body moving (something for the shoulders if you’re going overhead, some hip work before you squat, etc.) but the bulk of your mobility work should be done some time after you are done with your workout. I like foam rolling before workouts because it’s not very intense and does a good job of getting larger, more general areas moving.

Use movements that don’t unduly challenge your range of motion too far, or involve much impact. If you’ve been sitting at work all day, or are fresh out of bed, going for a run or getting after some double under practice might be a little much. 5-10 minutes of rowing or biking would be a better, less strenuous use of your time. Get those muscles and joints to gradually work through a full range and they’ll love you for it.

We always have warm-ups programmed in our classes, but hopefully these pointers can help guide your further productivity the next time you show up with a few extra minutes to spare.

The Best $3.00 You Will Ever Spend

Lax_ballNowadays, what can you get for $3? An RX Bar? A bag of Giants sunflower seeds? Three Powerball tickets? Not much outside of these, unless you are one who frequents the “golden arches”. Then I guess you could get a double quarter-pounder, a McChicken and a value French fries.

Well, there is one more thing that comes to mind that would be worth your $3.00: a lacrosse ball. Of the aforementioned items and almost anything else out there for the price, can you get more than one use out of any of them? Probably not.

The white lacrosse ball that I purchased early on in my CrossFit journey has seen more places on me than anyone except my wife. It may not be the pearly white ball that I once had, but it has lost no value in my mind.

Over the past couple of years, the lacrosse ball has become more widely known as a mobility tool than as what it is ordinarily intended for. Here are a few practical uses for one outside of the gym:

Mobilization for the desk-jockey:

  • In some cases you don’t even need to stand up to mobilize. Start with the ball just above the back of your knee, on your hamstring. Keep it there for five minutes, then slowly move it closer to your buttocks until you have it right on your glute. The people who know you do CrossFit already think that you’re weird, so prove them right and help yourself out while you’re trapped at work.

For the standing desk-jockey:

  • This one will take slightly more effort on your part, but at most about 2%. You will slide one shoe off and stand on the lacrosse ball. The amount of pressure you can put on it will increase as your foot starts to loosen up. Typically, I start on the ball of my foot, with my toes curled around the ball. Try to let it sink into your foot instead of just rolling it around. You will notice how when you relax, your muscles start to let their guard down and allow you to really make some progress. I have spent an hour on each foot on more than one occasion, but I’ve also done quick sessions when I don’t have a lot of extra time on my hands.

Airplane travel:

  • A wise man, you may know him as Matt Onken, once told me to bring my lacrosse ball on a plane and mobilize while you cannot do much else. So, recently I had a three and a half hour flight to California and I brought my lacrosse ball. It was the longest mobility session of my life, but I also felt like a new man walking off that plane, which I have never been able to say before. I did the hamstring/glute one from above but also my entire back. This one is really difficult: you need to find any spot on your back and just lean against it. I started on my upper back and worked it around different areas for about five minutes each. I watched two movies and fell asleep all while getting in some quality mobility work.

There are literally hundreds of uses for this little devil. Spend some time with your lacrosse ball in areas that you need it the most and I guarantee you’ll start to feel better. Any of our coaches would be more than happy to recommend some of our favorite tips and tricks for putting the lacrosse ball to work. Just ask if you’re in need of some recommendations.

Sometimes You Just Need To Go

11807651_1039727836045412_2842831553556510238_oIf you are new here at TwinTown, or if you have been here for years, you know that we place a high value on moving well and moving correctly.

These are paramount to everything we do whether we are squatting, working on pull-ups or perfecting our Olympic lifts.

If you are moving well and executing movements within a safe range of motion, where is the next area to improve?

INTENSITY, BRO!!!

For a lot of us in the gym, we have accomplished good movement patterns and now it’s just time to go!

What does this mean?

I’m glad you asked. If you just came off the pull-up bar or finished up your ring rows and now it’s time to do a set of ten heavy deadlifts, there are many things going through your mind and many different voices trying to pull you in different directions.

Catch your breath. You need a sip of water?  You have been working out for three and a half minutes now, after all. Okay, I’m going to start right after I chalk up and make one little lap to the garage door and back.

I have had everyone of these go through my head and you know what? I still do. But you need to remind yourself what your intention is for the workout.

Maybe your intention is just to survive the workout. Okay, I get it. We do some difficult things in here and you still may be new to them. What if your intention is to increase your stamina or endurance? Sure you can do these by just showing up and doing the programming, but to really excel you need to move past the mental hurdles that stand in your way.

Rest feels good to everyone, but you know what feels better? Improvement!

Personally speaking, I have been experimenting with this approach of eliminating or reducing rest periods in workouts for the past few months. It has gone super well and I feel that it has brought me to a different level than I was at before. Yes, this different level I’m talking about does mean quicker times along with the physical benefits, but what I value most is the power to crush those mental hurdles. I feel like I have taken control of my workouts.

*** Again, very important, this is not an approach that everyone should take just because you are reading this, but one that you should experiment with if you are moving without impingement and with great form.***

I want you to try something crazy now, the next time you feel winded and you want to take a rest, don’t!

What?!      But I…        I need to…       Ugh…

I know. The next time you feel (keyword) like you need to take a rest, don’t. Just go right into the next movement without stopping. I mean what is the worst that can happen? You will eventually take that rest you were going to anyways. But guess what, you have delayed that rest. What if you do it again the very next set? And again? And this keeps happening until you are done with the workout.

Then you come in the next day and do the same thing. And on and on. What have you done? You have increased your cardio capacity, you have increased the intensity and your stamina and endurance are now better than before.

People who excel don’t always have something that others don’t. Well come to think of it, yes they do. They want it more. What is “it” for you?

Remember that form is king, and that increasing your range of motion is vital to your longevity as an athlete, but if you can check these two boxes then the next box that needs to be checked is intensity.

And sometimes you just need to go!!

Pre & Post Workout Routine . . . Do You Have One?

1484574_904605966224267_2291880484785032163_nHow many of you watch golf on TV? No, not just after a long weekend when you need a nap, but actually watch it.

Unless you are a golf enthusiast, most if not all of you, probably wouldn’t dream of even watching a minute of golf on TV.

Being one of those guys that enjoys watching golf, I pick up on what really makes these guys great. It’s the automatic routine they go through regardless of the situation. No matter if they are on the practice tee or putting to win the championship, their routine becomes down-right religious.

Often times, when the camera zooms in, they might have there eyes closed visualizing their shot, doing their quirky pre-shot rituals.

After a round, amateur golfers are in a foot race to the clubhouse or to their car to get away and leave the scene of the disaster that just took place.

Not the pros. If a part of their game is off they head to the driving range or putting green to work out any kinks. They are always trying to improve and find a way to make the next time out go better.

What are you pre and post workout routines? Is it showing up two minutes early to have just enough time to fill up your water bottle before class starts? Is it a sprint to put your jump rope away hoping to never see double unders again?

Or are you at the gym early getting yourself ready for whats to come in that day’s lifting or WOD, and staying after class to try to fix or learn how to do double unders?

Believe it or not, usually the people on top of the leader board don’t just wind up there by chance. The people who move the best don’t just show up and go through the motions.

If you have had injuries in the past or have something nagging you right now, do you think it’s best to just jump right into the circle and go through introductions, or might it be wise to show up ten minutes early to warm up your shoulders when we are going overhead?

If it takes you longer than others for your hips to open up, what seems more logical, spending a few minutes in the couch stretch before class or hoping that the warm up will suffice?

These seem like no-brainers right? Although we try to get you guys warmed up for what is in store for the rest of the hour, we can’t tailor it to everyone’s personal needs. If you need extra attention, it has to come from you.

How long have you been frustrated that you haven’t been able to do a pull-up or that you have been coming to class for months, and have even attended double under clinics, but still cannot get them?

I grew up watching the “Grumpy Old Men” movies and one of my favorite quotes was, “You can wish in one hand, and crap in the other and see which one fills up first.”

Is your approach to sit and wish that one day it will just happen?

There is no secret sauce or special tip that is going to get you there. Yes, there are cues and efficiencies that are going to help, but not a cure-all.

We have all seen members who string up bands after every class to work on their pull-ups, and those who spend an additional five minutes going through a few sets of ring dips so that they are able to push out of the hole on their muscles ups. You should follow their lead and work on something that gives you trouble or you want to succeed at.

What are your pre and post workout routines? What should they be? What do you need them to be?

If you don’t know the answer to this and you want help, just hit up one of the coaches. We love to help!

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.

Hand Maintenance

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Do you have calluses that tear?

Calluses are formed when the skin thickens in response to repeated friction and pressure. Tears often occur when there is an excess buildup of skin that becomes uneven, so keeping them smooth will help prevent tearing. I use a callus remover and pumice stone like in the picture above to shave my calluses and keep them smooth. I usually shave them once a week and use the stone every few days in the shower. This prevents my hands from tearing during pull-ups, kettlebell swings, toes-to-bar and barbell elements that put repeated pressure on the areas where calluses have formed.

But even with diligent care and maintenance tears do sometimes occur. So what should you do when you tear your hands?

First, please wipe down the pull-up bar with bleach. Wash the wound with soap and water. Then carefully remove the excess flap of skin so not to make the tear larger. In jest, I suggest that clients use crushed red peppers and lemon juice to toughen their soft hands, but applying a good amount of Neosporin or vitamin E to the area is definitely the way to go. Finally, cover the cut with tape or a bandage to prevent the Neosporin or vitamin E from rubbing away. I do this before bed to give my torn calluses time to heal while I’m inactive. During the day I apply the liquid form of NuSkin to my tears.

I also recommend moisturizing your hands with lotion or lanolin ointment before tears occur.

How To Wake Up

lightFor the millennia before electricity, humans woke up to the gradual light of sunrise. Our brains thrive in this environment. Our circadian rhythm, cortisol cycles, and sleep health are all evolved for dawn stimulation.

Somewhere along the line things got twisted. Instead of waking up with the sun in a relaxed and energized state we now lurch awake, in the dark, to blaring alarm clocks. This means that your first waking experience is a fight-or-flight response with your stress hormones going through the roof. It’s not a great start to the day. And unfortunately, long-term activation of your body’s stress response can cause heart disease, obesity, depression and general misery.

Speaking as someone who hasn’t slept past 4:00AM since 2009,  I feel like I have unique insight into how lame an unnatural wake pattern is. (very lame) After years of torment I finally decided to make a change so I got a wake-up light. I bought a Phillips model, because it was the cheapest, and it’s turned out to be pretty much the shizzle.

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It works by gradually lightening until it reaches a level of brightness similar to sunrise. Then it makes a chirping bird noise, just in case the light wasn’t enough to wake you. I’ve been using this thing for a couple of months and only once have I needed the bird chirps to wake up. Usually by the end of the lighting cycle I’m awake and coherent.

The wake-up light is not a quick fix for a crummy lifestyle. But I’ve found that starting the day off with healthy hormone levels makes me more effective and less stressed throughout the day. I also think I fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply through the night.

True, waking up to a light bulb isn’t quite as good as waking up with our big yellow friend in the sky, but I’ll take it any day over a blaring klaxon and flashing LEDs.

Preventing Wrist Pain in the Push Press and Jerk

Being able to press weight overhead is a great feat of strength. As you become more comfortable with the push press and jerk, you will learn that progress in these lifts shows not only that your upper body is strong enough to move the load, but that your midline is capable of bracing your spine as you perform them.

A common issue that I run into when coaching is that despite plenty of runway in someones strength capacity, they hit a wall when the movement is making them uncomfortable – in this case, specifically in their wrists.

The two main problems here are at the beginning of the lift, and in the finishing position.

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First, your starting position needs to be one that allows for your body (not just your arms) to hold the weight before you press (see picture 1). The bar should be resting across your shoulders, your elbows should be slightly in front of the bar, and you should try to grip the bar through the middle of your palms.

The deviations in proper technique are shown in the latter two pictures. In picture 2, the bar is where it should be, but the grip is not. This will cause you to press with your fingers and leave your hands folded backwards, putting extra pressure on your wrist. This is bad on many levels. Don’t do this!

Picture 3 shows that the grip is closer to correct, but the bar is being supported entirely by the arms. Leaving the bar on your shoulders leaves it on a much more stable platform to press from. Make sure it’s there when you’re setting up!

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The problem at the end of the lift is a little easier to describe. When you finish pressing (or catch, depending on the lift), it is ideal for your wrists to be as straight as possible (picture 4). Finishing with your hands folded backwards (picture 5) puts a lot of stress on the wrist, and is of no help in the lift. Think about punching the ceiling at the top of your lift.

The next time you are working on a pressing lift in class, pay attention to where you might be able to clean the details up a bit! Notice your set-up and finishing positions when you’re warming up with an empty bar, and only add weight if you know you’re able to keep your form right!

Become A Double-Under Wizard

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I’m not going to mince words here, if you truly care about getting double unders consistently and you stress when you see them in a WOD, it’s your own fault. You haven’t worked hard enough to master double unders.

Just like I can’t do pistols because I never practice them and haven’t put in the necessary work to attain my goal, you can’t do double-unders because you don’t practice them outside the context of a class. It is ludicrous to think that practicing for ten minutes before a WOD, or going to one double-under clinic without practicing afterwards, will enable you to string them together consistently during a workout.

The good news is this is fixable.

It comes down to practice, practice, and more practice. I promise you that if you put in the time you will eventually become a wizard on the rope. Coach Joe wasn’t born with a rope in his hands. Ask him how he got so good.

Also, get your own rope. If you’re serious about mastering double unders, and you don’t own your own rope, and think that the beat up ropes we have at the gym are good enough, you are mistaken. This is the golf equivalent to using a set of rental clubs every time you hit your local course expecting to break par. Unless your name is Tiger Woods it’s probably not going to happen.

Here are some tips you can take with you to your practice sessions…after you buy your own rope.

Common faults and fixes

Fault: Hands drift apart causes rope to shorten and trip you up.

Fix: Keep your elbows close to your body; hands in front of your torso. You should be able to see your hands in your periphery.

Fault: Using your whole arm to move the rope. This is taxing and inefficient.

Fix: Move the rope with a quick flick of the wrists, or just your fingers.

Fault: Jumping like a donkey or piking throws rhythm out of whack and not efficient – power singles/maintain hollow position.

Fix: Practice a good up and down, rhythmic bounce. Practice single under power jumps to develop the proper technique and timing. Also, jump when rope is about to hit the ground and pass under your feet.

Fault: Loose core.

Fix: Maintain a hollow body position while jumping (imagine someone is going to punch you in the gut and hollow out to take the punch).

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!