Get Warm

10367802_803159483035583_739807134063113454_n

There are lots of different ways that you can prepare for a workout. Some are better than others, and what works best can certainly be specific to the individual, but there are a few points that are pretty universal when it comes to properly warming up.

First, get your body temperature up. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but make sure it consists of low impact movements that aren’t immediately challenging the range of motion in your joints. Especially if you’re at an early morning class and you’re fresh out of bed, or if you have been trapped in the confines of a chair all day, it’s extra important to get blood pumping through your body before you ask too much of it. Don’t overthink it – when you’re sweaty, you’re good.

If you feel specifically tight in one area, work on some light mobility and stretching. If you have a legitimate issue that you know you need to work on, you should be spending some time working on that at home. Pre-workout, just make sure you are able to get into the positions that the workout calls for without issue. Getting warm before mobility work will only help.

The next time you show up to class early, try and spend a couple of extra minutes on your warm-up and see how much better you feel by the time the workout begins.

Put Those Muscles to Work

10268470_798367150181483_6760800522719533509_n

Increasing “core” strength is a common prescription for people with back pain. This seems logical because if the muscles of our midline are not challenged they can become weak, resulting in a lack of stability for the spine. Even though this lack of strength can lead to problems both in the gym and in your day-to-day, getting a stronger core isn’t necessarily the answer if you don’t know how to put that strength to work.

Something to keep in mind about using your midline is that it’s not an all-or-nothing practice. There are instances where, yes, you need to be on full tension to continue to develop your strength and keep your spine safe (a heavy deadlift for instance). However, there are also plenty of times where only a fraction of that tension is needed.

The easiest way to think about properly bracing is to take a top down approach. When you are standing it’s much easier to brace your spine when it is in its most neutral shape. It is here that you should lock everything in tight and then go about whatever it is you’re doing. If it’s a kettlebell swing, get tight before you pick that thing up and don’t release the tension until you set it down. The same applies for a squat; lock your back into a strong place before you get the bar on your shoulders. The examples are endless, but the basic idea applies to all.

Especially if you’ve had issues with back pain in the past, it is not enough to only pay attention when the stakes are high. Use the same idea, just to a much lesser extent, as you go about your normal business throughout the day. Pay attention to how you sit down (this directly affects how you will be positioned while you’re there!), and see what your pattern is the next time you bend over to pick something up. Keep your day-to-day movement tension at just a small fraction of what your max would be, and you’ll be doing great things for the longevity, strength, and functions of your back.

Kipping

10169455_797097203641811_8034973159164614156_n

In all it’s forms, the kipping pull-up is one of the most common (and possibly defining) movements in CrossFit. Athlete’s will proudly boast the number that they’re capable of, while nay-sayers are quick to dismiss anything labeled a pull-up without using only a strict upper body pull. With all the back and forth on the subject, I thought it would be helpful to elaborate on why sometimes we use the kip, and other times we don’t.

First, a kipping pull-up is in no way intended to replace a strict pull-up as a strength exercise. Where the kipping motion is a valuable tool for developing a movement that incorporates the whole body, the strict (or weighted) pull-up is a more specific means of increasing strength in the muscles required to move through this range of motion.

As with many movements in our training, kipping is a lesson in efficiency. When we kip, we are teaching our bodies to move in a way that allows us to cover the desired range of motion while exerting a relatively minimal amount of energy. Doing so allows us to leave more gas in the tank for the other tasks that are to follow.

There has also been a lot said about the safety of kipping. Although there are certainly plenty of cases where kipping wouldn’t be productive (if you have trouble getting your arms locked out above your head, continually forcing yourself through that range is probably not doing you any service), in a healthy athlete who knows how to control their body, a kip is a valuable tool. In short, if you work to keep your shoulders moving as they should and have the upper body strength to get through a couple of strict pull-ups, I would say that you’re a great candidate for incorporating kipping into your workouts.

The important take-away from this is that the kipping pull-up is a tool. As with any movement we use, if you are too quick to add intensity and aren’t worrying about making your reps quality, you aren’t doing yourself any favors. Build your strength, work to perfect your form, don’t shy away from addressing any issues you’re having, and continue to check your form as you work. If you can keep these points in mind, you are going to be working productively.

If you would like to learn more about kipping, there are still spots open in the clinic that I’m hosting this Friday. Sign up here if you are interested.

Save your hands

torn-handsSome feel that tearing your hands to bits on the pull-up bar is a CrossFit right of passage. While it is true that if there was a movie made in ceremony of your first kipping pull-up (or toes-to-bar, or bar muscle-up, or etc.) workout, it might be appropriately titled “The Slaughtering of the Hands”, there is no need to view the above picture as the way your precious mitts should look after every pull-up workout. Here are a couple points that I’ve found helpful for keeping my hands in one piece over the years.

Chalk: Less is more. Chalk is used to keep your sweaty hands dry so you don’t slip off the bar. However, that same benefit can make your hands brittle and more susceptible to coming apart if you use too much. Try and use just enough to keep your hands from getting slippery, and don’t use chalking-up as your excuse to take a break.

Change your grip. It is a stronger grip to grab the bar in the middle of your palm, but because there is a lot of room for movement in the skin there, it is easier for your hands to rip. Try grabbing the bar closer to the joint at the base of your fingers. There’s much less movement in the skin there, so the chances of tearing are much less. This isn’t as strong a grip though, so hold on to that bar tight!

Minimize your kip. As you’re learning to kip, a larger hip drive at the bottom can help you get through the movement, but once you’ve got it down, your goal is to keep your kip as small as possible. The position that you end up in when you’re in front of the bar at the bottom of your kip can put a lot of stress on the palm of your hand. Keeping the exaggeration of that position to a minimum will greatly decrease the pull on your palm.

Keep your hands smooth. The more traction your hands create on the bar, the easier it is for them to tear. If you’ve developed calluses on your hands, try shaving them down every once in a while. Using a pumice stone in the shower can also help keep them at bay.