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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.