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by Evan Yoak

It recently has come to my attention that many folks are breathing incorrectly in their lifting. I was going to write about something else this week, but I consider this topic very important because I like to avoid spinal injuries, and also because I like lifting more weight (plus it relates to the other topic anyway). So read on if you like those things too.

I could write a lot on this topic, but I won’t because it’s important, so I want people to actually read about it, and because it’s simple. Trainers who think balance boards are better than barbells will tell you to suck your abs in; people who actually lift heavy weights will invariably tell you to push your abs out. Yes, you look more shredded with your abs sucked in – who cares. If you expand your abdomen, however, you get better intra-abdominal pressure, meaning that you have a more “locked out” space surrounding your spine. In other words, you get better tension in your body and a more stable spine: more tension means more weight lifted, and a more stable spine means less back injuries. So the breathing process looks like this for, say, a Front Squat:

  1. Breathe in deeply. Your chest should NOT rise because you shouldn’t be breathing into your upper lungs – breathe deeply into the diaphragm in your midsection.
  2. Expand your abs, whilst tightening the abs, the glutes, and the upper back
  3. Hold your breath during the lift. If doesn’t take long to complete, you can do 2 (or sometimes 3) reps with one breath; if it’s a long rep, you can hiss, grunt, growl, scream, etc., while you rise out of the hole, as this, (a) prevents you from passing out, and (b) gives you extra tension for a brief second to break through a sticking point in the squat. At no point release all your air, as you’ll instantly get loose.
  4. Repeat at the top of every rep if they’re heavy reps, or every other rep if they’re lighter reps, as per (3)

And that’s it. By the way, when you use a belt, it’s meant to facilitate this process. It’s NOT meant to physically hold your back in place; rather, you should tighten the belt somewhat less than totally so you can breathe out against it, which, again, lets you generate more tension. It’s a physical reminder to breathe out and get tight, and if you do it right, you will indeed feel more solid (and not because some crappy plastic is strapped to your torso).

A final point. Sometimes doctors who know nothing about training or lifting weights will tell you that you’ll have a brain aneurysm if you hold your breath (which I suppose is where that whole ridiculous exaggerated-overexhalation-on-every-rep in Globo Gym comes from). So I was going to be all diligent and research this on Pubmed, but I actually think one quote suffices to sum up the problem: ” Aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage associated with weight training: three case reports.” I laughed so hard when I read that the dog got excited and thought we were going to play. Three cases?? I mean, I might get struck by lightning too, but I’m still going to keep going outside. And this is the point: I’ve seen many many people lose their backs training, and some of those got injured; I’ve never see anyone have a stroke or a cerebral hemorrhage. And I’ll reiterate, if it’s a longish rep, you do forcefully exhale via your hiss or grunt or caveman growl, which keeps you from keeling over in a pool of your own cerebral fluid just in case and lets you stand up that new PR.

On the other hand, I suspect a lot of people don’t expand their abdomens because they don’t know how – it’s not actually easy/trivial to do if you’re not aware of your breathing. So we’ll add that into the homework this week:

Tarea #4:

  1. Breath Drill (courtesy of Ani Whizz) – lying face up, put a bowl or a small change plate (2.5 or 5#) on your abdomen. Breathe in deeply whilst tightening your entire body and expanding your diaphragm, which will make the bowl/plate rise. If the implement doesn’t rise and/or your chest rises, you’re doing it wrong – keep practicing. 1 set of 10 reps, 3x week (preferably before lifting)
  2. Breathe Out When Lifting – i.e., in your Front Squats, Deadlifts, Olympic weightlifting movements, presses, etc. actually put into practice what you worked on in (1) and breathe with an outwardly expanded abdomen. Think about it before each set so it becomes habit.
  3. Quadriceps Roll with Barbell – 2 min./quad, 3x/week
  4. 3 x 1:15 Superman Hold, alternated with 3 x 20 Glute Bridges (hold the superman for a minute and fifteen, perform 20 controlled glute bridges during the rest, and repeat twice more)
  5. No sitting on couches or chairs while watching TV, with minimum *10* minutes of squatting. You can lay, you can mobilize, you can sit Indian style or in lotus (with a neutral spine!), you can and should try all sorts of different positions, but you must squat for at least 10 minutes total. Should be a relaxed squat, the back can round here in the squat since it’s not under load and will decompress in that position. 7x/week (i.e., any time you watch TV or movies or whatever).

Lots of squatting and lunges this weekend, so get those quads loose for efficient moving with the rolling and the squatting. Keep getting your back and posterior chain strong as well. And breathe for performance. Merry WODding!


by Evan Yoak

Happy Wednesday everyone! Time for this week’s homework. I’ll try to blab a bit less this time around. (In retrospect this was only sort of successful).

Nonetheless, I want to extend last week’s conversation a bit so people have a better understanding of why they’re mobilizing and when it works (or doesn’t). In Tarea #2, I lambasted lazy stretching, “stretching to stretch” without creating a notable change in flexibility. I should point out that this isn’t totally accurate: there are really two classes of stretching, one for improved mobility, the other for relaxation. If you’re stretching to cool down, relax a bit, feel better, etc., go for it – as long as you’re aware of what you’re doing and the inherent limitations of what you’re doing. For example, sometimes I’ll perform some yoga poses/transitions, or do the splits, because it helps to reset everything a bit and relaxes me. What I don’t do is perform those stretches and expect my overhead squat to drop a few inches in depth.

And if you think about it, this idea makes sense. People often complain when they’re rolling their calves or doing a nasty couch stretch, “I thought stretching was supposed to be relaxing!” Well, it is, if the goal is to relax. But if the goal is to increase range of motion, it’s not going to feel good. It’s like the difference between a spa massage and a sports massage: you listen to chimes and Zen music at the spa and chill out, whereas you try not to cry while the masseuse get your tissues back in their proper places when you get a sports massage1. What I don’t like about stretching of the relaxing type is that people expect some sort of mobility improvement, which is deceptive. I don’t like deception. Stop tricking yourself. If you want to get better at CrossFit or sport in general, mobilize with intent.

With that distinction out of that way, let’s quickly talk about how to determine if you accomplished your intent or not. Kelly Starrett introduced the idea of “test and re-test,” which is simply trying out (testing) the movement you wish to improve, mobilizing, and then trying the movement again (re-testing) after mobilizing to see if you effected a meaningful improvement. People like to talk about Science these days, as if using Science means your argument is incontrovertible; these of course are the same people who can’t distinguish between causation and correlation and why that distinction nullifies a lot of “scientific” studies, but I digress. However, if you really want to be scientific, you can simply use scientific method sorts of processes in your life, such as your mobility, to get better results. For example, you set your hypothesis as, “The couch stretch will improve the range of motion and subjective ease of my squat.” You isolate the variable couch stretch by performing some air squats without having done the couch stretch, and then you do the stretch. Finally you repeat the squats and note the difference; either filming yourself or having someone check you doing the before and after squats is helpful if you yourself can’t feel the difference (though I think subjective ease or comfort of the movement is an important indicator of difference as well). That sequence is far better and more useful science than some silly correlative study funded by biased parties or whatever. If you haven’t noticed, one of the themes of these recent homework blogs has been that of taking responsibility for your body/life; instead of reading some sensational online article about “the 7 most important exercises to do!” or about “new study says to never eat salt!” or whatever, I hope people will take away from reading these blogs that they have to think critically and take personal responsibility for what they do in the gym, what postures they adopt throughout the day, what they put into their bodies. And of course, you don’t have to do all the work yourself: you have a fine team of coaches at PTY to guide you through the silly bullshit and maximize your results. So before someone says about your couch stretch experiment, “That’s not scientific! Your population is only one!” I would say, “Who cares?” The whole point is to figure out if couch stretch works for you or not. Therefore, if your squat improves after couch stretching, do it before and after squatting; if it doesn’t improve your squat, either you did the stretch wrong (likely), or it doesn’t improve your squat. In the case of something like couch stretch, that’s fairly easy to do wrong if you’re not careful (as we discussed last week) and nearly guaranteed to help your squat, I would definitely ask one of those coaches to check you out to make sure you’re getting the maximum benefit from the stretch and not cheating.

On that note, this week we’re going to employ some testing and re-testing to see if the mobility work is truly helping or not.

Tarea #3

  1. Roll anterior shoulder/biceps with partner, 2 min./side; test and re-test with 3-5 good pushups. 3x/week
  2. Partner froggy stretch, 2 min.; test and re-test with 5 air squats. 3x/week
  3. 3 rds. of 1 min. Superman hold, resting at most 1 min. between sets (Extra Credit: perform a 30 second Hollow Hold during your rest period). 3x/week
  4. No sitting on couches or chairs while watching TV, with minimum *8* minutes of squatting. You can lay, you can mobilize, you can sit Indian style or in lotus (with a neutral spine!), you can and should try all sorts of different positions, but you must squat for at least 5 minutes total. Should be a relaxed squat, the back can round here in the squat since it’s not under load and will decompress in that position. 7x/week (i.e., any time you watch TV or movies or whatever).

For the rolling, use a barbell to roll out your partner’s front should and more important biceps; partner should rotate the hand to various angles after forty-five seconds or a minute; communicate so it isn’t a massacre (see footnote).. Partner froggy stretch is with one person laying faceup with the legs up in the air and knees bent (like a squat); knees and feet should be aligned! (i.e., don’t let feet drift in towards center). Other partner should put pressure on the thigh just above the knee, pushing hard down and slightly up.

Superman is here because I’m seeing a lot of weak backs. As in, people couldn’t hold a superman for a minute (which I consider a low number), and I saw a lot of back rounding on the Back Squats at the Co-ed Comp. Yeah, not Deadlifts, Back Squats. That ain’t good. So while CrossFit is clearly an anterior-dominant sport, you must still have some kind of posterior chain strength if you want to succeed, get stronger, protect your joints, etc. (thus all the Reverse Lunges and Glute Bridges). Finally, same no-sitting policy as last week, only this week try to accumulate 8 minutes in a squat.

There you have it. Let us know how it goes, and if you manage to improve your squats and pushups. Happy WODding!

1 – A word of caution: far too many masseuses are far too aggressive. I think they look at massage as some sort of battle, in which they lose if they let the tight tissues survive. Look, you can’t just massage harder and longer to make that work; as discussed last week, it takes time, and the body responds with the opposite effect if it it hurts too much. So if you’re masseuse is giving you bruises, get a new masseuse. Just remember, it should hurt about a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.

by Evan Yoak

Good Monday to all you CrossFitters out there. I wanted to take the start of this week to introduce a new aspect of training at PTY – everyone’s favorite, homework. Now, before you get all hot and bothered and complain, “Homework?! I already work out 5 days a week! Isn’t that enough?” to which the response is, “Eh, sort of” – hear me out. You see, for general health purposes insofar as keeping your heart safe and your waistline trim, one hour a day for five days is certainly enough; the point isn’t to do lots of extra physical labor just because. If, however, you want to move well, then no, you can’t just go to the gym for an hour, work til you puke your guts out, and then forget you have a body to take care of the other 23 hours in the day. We as modern humans simply spend far too much time in horrible postures that cause us to get tight and have dysfunctional movements. For example, if you spend 8 hours sitting at your desk (probably at a computer hunched over), another hour sitting in your car driving to and from work (gotta love that tranque),  another hour sitting watching TV (also probably hunched over), and another 2 hours sitting and consuming your meals, you’ve worked up to sitting over half your life. Allow me to let you in on a secret: the human body is not designed to sit, and certainly not for half of its time on this planet. Standing, lying, crouching, kneeling, squatting, sitting in lotus or Indian style, etc., are all natural postures for the human body. Any time you deviate from a natural. good posture, your body tightens up to compensate.

There are a lot of remedies for this problem (e.g., standing desk, squatting when you talk on the phone, being continually cognizant of your posture), some more practicable than others, but at the end of the day, as human athletes, you’re going to have to put in some maintenance work if you want to optimize your movements and not end up looking like the hunchback of Notre Dame when you’re 40. Thus, homework. Obviously we mobilize during our classes, but again, not to beat the point to a pulp, but if you have a desk job, stretching for a few minutes is not going to compensate for all the hours and hours of horrible postures with which you’ve abused your body. So what I propose is to give all you PTYers weekly homework, both mobilizations and exercises, in order to be better prepared to come in to the gym and kill it. We’re talking maybe 10 or 15 minutes a day, most of which you’ll be able to do at home. We’ll follow some sort of theme (e.g., hip flexors, internal rotators, glute activation) for several weeks, and then mix it up. So, without further ado:

Tarea #1

A) 100 Reverse Lunges (body weight) for quality, 2x/week

B) Roll each calf for two minutes, 3x/week

Let me ‘splain. I was inspired to proffer up the first bit of homework after witnessing many people Farmer’s Carry big heavy weights this morning, and then promptly grab a lower weight with which to lunge. CrossFitters are notorious for being weak unilaterally – anyone remember 2013 Regionals, with the 90 ft. of Walking Lunges at 160 lbs.? And people were like, wow, Froning did it unbroken! And then everyone realized that that was sort of pathetic that it was a big deal to do it UB, since lots of guys should have been strong enough to do it UB. Anyway, your glutes should be strong! I could write a 3000 word article about why the glutes are so vital, but no one wants to read that. So instead, just do the damn lunges so I don’t write that article and make everyone read it as homework. Keep in mind as well that, in spite of what some strength coaches will tell you, your glutes will not get sufficiently strong just from squatting and deadlifting (clearly, look at the Regional athletes in 2013). As for the lunges themselves, we want good, controlled lunges, fairly slow, making sure to squeeze the glute as you come up off the floor and again at the top; drive through the heel and keep your torso upright at all times. This is for quality, not for time. Obviously make sure to keep the knee back so that the shin remains nearly vertical with the ground (the angle will be slightly more acute than 90 degrees). If you don’t feel your glutes the next day after having done this, you probably did something wrong.

The second part is just what it sounds like. Either with a roller, lacrosse ball, or barbell, spend two minutes on each calf working out the kinks; partner style with the bar is the most fun. Everyone suffered horribly this morning rolling their calves, which tells me everyone has really tight calves; I mean, do you really want to do 5000 double unders and run 50 kilometers in a year and never stretch or massage your calves? Yikes. This is going to impede your ability to squat low, to burpee efficiently, to avoid shin splits running, to box jump well, to avoid knee pain, and on and on. The calves are the first muscle in the kinetic chain for any lower body movement, after all. One other bit to keep in mind is that there are really two major muscles in the calves, the gastrocnemius (the big meaty part) and the soleus (the part below the big meaty part). I would roll it all, but pay particular to the soleus, and where the soleus connects to the gastrocnemius. That will give you the most bang for your buck for squatting movements.

calf gastroc

So that’s it for this week. Add this in apart from the normal training and mobility work you do and let us know in the comments how you feel in a week.

El Voodoo Floss Band, ideado por Kelly Starrett de Mobility WOD, es una venda
elástica diseñanda para técnicas de movilidad con compresión. Básicamente
envuelves la articulación/tejido con esta venda creando una compresión del
área afectada. Al realizar una movilización con la venda puesta (ejemplo:
hacer squats con la venda en la rodilla, círculos con el codo, etc.) creas una
fuerza compresiva y sumado con el movimiento, ayudas a suavizar y restaurar
la flexibilidad de los tejidos que están adheridos. Por otra parte, cuando
sueltas la compresión, la sangre satura estas áreas afectadas (generalmente
áreas inflamadas y/o con restricción en movilidad carecen de una adecuada
circulación). Adicionalmente, la compresión ayuda a drenar una articulación
inflamada empujando el líquido acumulado a ser absorbido por el sistema
linfático. Hay ciertas precauciones que debes tener con esta técnica, si quieres
saber un poquito más o probarlo, consúltame!! J
Puedes conseguirlo en:

16 Jan 2014

Too Flexible? – By Ani Whizz

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Ya todos sabemos que la falta de flexibilidad limita el rango de
movimiento de tus articulaciones y por ende afecta dramáticamente tu
performance. Sin embargo, nunca se escucha del tema contrario: como el
exceso de flexibilidad puede afectar tu performance también. He visto bastantes
casos, todos de los cuáles han sido mujeres. Imagínense una liga. Tu puedes
estirar la liga varias veces (y hasta se calienta como los músculos) pero si te
la pasas estirándola la liga va a quedar… bueno, estirada. Ya no tendrá ese
efecto de rebote, el bounce back… queda sin fuerza de resorte. Eso pasas con
los músculos – pierden potencia contráctil! A veces vez a una atleta en el box
hacienda un squat y tiene las nalgas prácticamente en el piso… y ooooohhhh,
que buen squat! Pero al poner un poquito de peso esas nalgas literalmente
quedan en el piso. Los weightlifting master rusos dicen que para prevenir
lesiones y no interferir con tu performance, debes ser lo flexible suficiente para
tener un rango de movilidad un poco mayor del cual exige el movimiento pero
no tanto más que dejes tus articulaciones desprotegidas y quedes como una
muñeca de trapo. Si piensas que este puede ser tu caso, deja de estirar lo que
siempre estiras y vamos a darle prioridad a otras áreas, siempre hay algo que se
puede mejorar.