Archive | August 2012

Wed the spine and the hips.

In my first post on this site I detailed some assumptions. I want to explore the first one and look at some tools I have found useful.

Assumption One: The spine should be as unchanged as possible in a loaded movement. This is introduced in CrossFit as midline stability (see the L1 training guide Page 49 click here for the guide)

As CrossFit trainers we have a knack for blurting out jargon, ” Don’t lose your midline”, ‘Squeeze your lumbar”, “Get tighter”, “Not so much Psoas!” These are verbal cues directed at keeping the line that trisects the spine and bisects the hip straight (or neutral) and stable.  There are no wrong cues if they get your athlete into a better position. Verbal cues are the quickest and easiest to deliver especially in a high stress situation like a heavy lift or a WOD. They need to be short, sharp and actionable in an effort to avoid them becoming distracting rather than beneficial. Verbal cues rely on an understanding of what is required in response to the cue so be sure to set yourself and your athletes up for success.

My favourite verbal cues to maintain a stable and straight midline are “Chest Up” when the spine is flexed and I want the athlete to return to neutral and “Ribs Down” or “Squeeze the abs” when the spine is hyper extended and I want the athlete to return to neutral.

Visually the “Two hand Rule” that KStar and Coach came up with is awesome for setting these cues up.

First I like to get people to put the hands in place; thumb of one on the sternum and little finger of the other on the belt line. To find the correct distance I encourage athletes to close their eyes and squeeze their butt and their belly as if they are in a prison shower and about to be punched in some way or another (too much?).

Then we bring the hands together by relaxing the core muscles or by flexing the spine. From there I can cue “Chest up” to return to the start position.

To bring the hands apart the lower back muscles are squeezed and the athlete pokes their belly forward. From there I can cue “Ribs Down” to return to the desired position.

Tactile cues are often a bit touchy in the area of midline stability so I came up with this simple tool which I think is awesome.

Essentially use a straight stick and some tape to give someone an idea of when the position is good or not. In the video I just used one run of tape and a 30 cm ruler but in the past I have been more elaborate and used a ruler on the front and back and 3 three runs of tape, depends who pays for your tape. This tool may help you come up with verbal cues specific to the athlete eg., “I felt the ruler digging into my back until I pinched my belly down” “Ok so when I see you over extended I am going to say Pinch your belly down.”

I find the isolated hip hinges are great tools for identifying broken midline positions. Often people have wiring issues that make their back erectors fire up too much when mainly their glutes are wanted for action.A couple of isolated hip hinges are the glute bridge with shoulders on a bench or a box (hip thrust) or hip extensions with either straight or bent legs. If you don’t have a GHD or a Back extension apparatus you can use a partner and some plyo boxes as demonstrated in this video.

Hip Thrusts and Hip extensions are awesome exercises to slip into your warm ups or as finishers post WOD. Slightly closed hips all the time or tightness across the anterior aspect of the hip is a limiting factor for most people when hinging. The Couch stretch from KStar is very useful in addressing this tightness.

So there are my go to tools for teaching midline stability. For more info check out  Kelly on maintaining an organised position: here. or read about core stability from a CrossFitting Aussie Physio here.


What to do at the end of the session?

The stretching regime that you use at the end of the session may seem basic and common to you but vibrant and new to someone else.

This post is simple, share the wealth.

With new coaches starting everyday here is an opportunity to pay forward a stretch or cool down drill that you are particularly fond of.

I always try to finish with a bit of group stretching. While stretching and static stretching in particular it a hot topic academically  (check out any of KStar’s videos including this one) I like to get everyone to relax on the ground and reacquaint themselves with how long the muscles they just used can and should be. The best strategy for flexibility and mobility is one that caters to an individual’s specific requirements but I rarely see those followed through, so I get the group to stretch.

Here is a video of 3 positions I would hang out in after a high rep push up pull up workout.

Please add to the comments either:

A video of your favourite Cool Down stretches or

Questions relating to Cool Down stretches.


Strict Pull Ups

I heard that someone proposed a CrossFit bodyweight exercises course in the same vein as the CrossFit Kettlebells or CrossFit Gymnastics course, ridiculous right? Well while I agree that most bodyweight movements are pretty simple that doesn’t stop people from demonstrating a number of not so desirable variations of these movements.

The strict pull up is a movement that is often expressed poorly and that is the topic of this post.

When taking a session with strict pull ups I like to start with a pair of simple unloaded drills.

Drill A)

Step 1: Place your arms up in the air.

Step 2: completely bend at the elbow.

Step 3 stretch with the neck and push the chin skywards. – This is NOT what I would call a strict pull up.

If pull ups were all about getting your chin over the bar then giraffes would be better at them than gorillas!

Drill B)

Step 1: Place your arms up in the air.

Step 2: With your hands still pointing upward pull your elbows to your ribs and your shoulder blades together and down

Step 3: Observe that no neck movement is needed to have the chin clear the bar – a great pull up.

Now in CrossFit we have an arbitrary start and finish point for prescribed movements and in competition the method an athlete uses to get from start to finish is their own business.

But in training a strict pull up should be another opportunity for the athlete to demonstrate good positions and posture despite some fairly large forces trying to pull them out of position – Gravity and the big internal rotators(Lats and Pecs).

Gravity can be overcome with the Elbow flexors (Guns, Bicep group) as per air drill A detailed above and this is a legitimate way to have your chin clear the bar in competitions. In my experience athletes that are elbow flexing before they extend their shoulders end up with a heap of elbow tendinopathy. This ties in neatly with KStar’s loading and tensioning rule.

Performing the pull up like Drill B is my preferred approach but many people don’t like it because they will have to go back to the bands for a while as their strength improves.

One way to accelerate the strengthening process would be to add accessory lat push downs with the bands or cables (I like a reverse grip to inhibit internal rotation) and accessory bicep curls with a bar or dumbbells.

I have talked before about how we hate on these movements too quickly sometimes.

I would be doing more banded pull ups and lat push downs with my athletes that have strict pull ups that are elbow dominant.

For Athletes struggling to get pull ups at all I would do the above and some bicep work because the ability to close the elbow prevents the lat driven pull up mutating into some type of front lever (not easier!) Why not just do more banded pull ups? Grip strength may be an issue as can be discomfort when holding onto the bar.

Overcoming the internal rotation forces is trickier because it relies on athletes understanding a desired internal focus – external rotation, rather than the usual external focus – chin over the bar.

Read more about internal vs external focus here.

I will cue athletes on the strict pull up to try to bend the middle of the bar backward as they pull in an effort to make the internal focus more relevant but ultimately the bar won’t bend so some athletes will struggle to get their heads around it.

External foci are easier for the athlete to attack so I was instantly drawn to this exercise by Mike Boyle: The X-Pull Down

In a CF Gym we can recreate this set up with two bands attached to the pull up rig about 4-6 m apart like a traditional cable cross over.

When I was doing this in Townsville one of the owners, Rob Innes proposed that we could do the same sort of thing in a body row and the Rob Row was born. (Also Rob Rose is a NBL legend from Townsville who owns a restaurant close to the CFTSV City Box – useless fact.)

In a Rob Row the body row is set up from a seated position under the rings and the right hand grabs the left ring thumb pointing left and the left hand grabs the right ring thumb pointing right. The rings are rowed to the chest so that the arms uncross, the little fingers end up on the sides of the chest and the thumbs finish pointing out again.

The external focus is now about thumb and hand position changes and while the plane in which we are working is different acquired strength and awareness of external rotation may carry across to the Strict Pull Up more easily than in the bend the bar cue.

What about kipping pull ups? Watch these drills by Dusty and these observations by Kelly.

So that is it. Get good at strict pull ups before kipping pull ups and make sure that you are not trashing your elbows by being gun focused or trashing your shoulders by being all rolled in up there.

We do a lot of pull ups in CrossFit and it isn’t the program that breaks people it is poor execution of movements – for heaps of reps.