The Blog Has Moved

For a while now I had been wanting to make a change with this blog but didn't quite know how to do it. So, a fresh start seemed in order. This blog will remain up, because I wouldn't want to deny anyone the Paleo Breakfast Casserole recipe, but all new content will be posted at my new blog.

You're Not Supposed to Bend That Way

CrossFit is not yoga. I don't think anyone would argue otherwise. You can incorporate yoga into your training, and I would definitely recommend you do so. There is a time and a place for being bendy, but this really isn't the forum for that subject matter. When it comes to lifting heavy things, or performing movements at a high intensity, this would not be the time to be hyper-mobile.

Let's look at three common movements: a handstand/handstand push up, an overhead press (strict, push press, or jerk, doesn't matter), and an American kettlebell swing. All three movements should look the same in the locked out position, except for the handstand which would be inverted like Maverick and Goose's 4g negative dive with the MiG.

Look closely at the body positioning of each of those movements. This is how they should look. What is similar about all three people? Each of them are strong and solid like a column. Phallic in nature, yes, but it shows that the finishing position is the same in all three. In each movement you see a tight midline, the rib cage stays down, and the spine stays neutral.

I've talked about this concept before in From Russian Kettlebell Swings With Love. Backbends have their place in yoga, but not under a heavy load or a repetitive high intensity movement. Save your spine by keeping your rib cage pulled down. There should be little to no hyperextension of the spine during any of these movements, or during the pull up for that matter.

Arching back during a press does not feel good. Keep doing it that way over and over again, week after week, and you're going to run into problems. If you're not able to keep your rib cage down and your spine straight during these movements then you may have some combination of chest, shoulder or scapula mobility issues. Get out that lacrosse ball and get to work. You may also be lacking in general core strength and stability, so you might need to dust off that 7 Minute Abs video while you're at it.

Let's look at one more movement: the coveted kipping pull up. Every new CrossFitter can't wait to get their first kipping pull up. I think it may be the defining movement of CrossFit. The problem here is that most people can get a kipping pull up before a strict pull up because it does not require as much strength to execute. This is problematic because when you have a person who isn't quite strong enough doing monster kips, and making a C shape with their spine as seen to the right, you're repeatedly putting the spine in a bad position at a high intensity.

I'm not the first person to dissect this woman's form, but let me reiterate what others have already said. If you need to have a kip that big to perform a kipping pull up, then you're not strong enough to do a kipping pull up.

So what do you with this information? Take a video of yourself from a side view doing all four of these movements. Watch it carefully frame by frame. If you find that you've been doing these movements incorrectly, tell your ego to shut the f*ck up and go back to the basics. Decrease the weight and practice the movements slowly but correctly. You'll be better off down the road.

7 Things to Talk About With Other CrossFitters Besides CrossFit

It doesn't matter where you are: a happy hour, wedding, or funeral, CrossFitters will find each other and inevitably talk ad nauseam about CrossFit. It's kind of like when you go out with your coworkers and you end up talking about work. You don't really have much else to talk about so you revert back to what you all have in common.

To make you appear as a more well-rounded and functional member of society, here are some topics of discussion to get you started.

Sports (other than CrossFit)
You remember sports, right? Those activities you used to do before the Fitness consumed your life. Yay sports! Greg Glassman's mission statement for CrossFit - World-Class Fitness in 100 Words - ends with a commonly overlooked, but critical, piece of advice: Regularly learn and play new sports.

Get out there. Learn a new sport. Tell your friends.

Mythical Creatures
Unicorns, Trolls, Centaurs, etc. Discuss the magic and wonderment. Try not to go off on a tangent and debate how much Bigfoot could deadlift. I'll save you some time, it's a shit ton.

Books, Music, Movies, Art and Culture
Pick one of these, or all of them. Have you read anything good lately? Your local CrossFit gym's blog doesn't count. Your own blog doesn't count either.

Have you seen The Dark Knight Rises? Holy crap it was awesome! Did you see it in IMAX? No? F'ing go back to the theater and watch again. Then come talk to me.

F*ck, Chuck, or Marry (also played as F*ck, Kill, or Marry - if you have psychotic tendencies) 
Pick any three people, it doesn't matter who, and decide which one you would do naughty things to, which one you would get rid of, and which one you would marry. This game has endless possibilities. Real and fictional, everyone and anyone is fair game. You can even group it into categories such as 80s sitcom stars, cartoon characters, or fine I'll give you this one, CrossFit celebrities.

Current Events
It's a big world out there and there's a lot of crazy and interesting things happening. 3, 2, 1...Discuss!

The Inevitable Zombie Apocalypse
Come on, you know this is the real reason you do CrossFit. What's more functional than surviving a Zombie Apocalypse? Wait, this isn't the reason you do CrossFit? New training goal.

Some Crazy Ass Shit You Saw on the Internet, or Even Better, in Real Life
Hopefully you have a life outside of the gym, have been places, seen things, and have experiences of your own that you can share, and more importantly, that are interesting enough for others to hear about. If all else fails, just end your story with, "...and then I shit my pants." Guaranteed winner every time.

Paleo + (Insert Dealbreaker of Choice)

I get asked the same questions a lot. "Is (insert craving of choice) Paleo?" Or, is (blank) okay to eat? The short answer is usually no. But, the slightly longer answer is a little more diplomatic and leads to a greater rate of success in the long term.

Everyone has their food and beverage dealbreakers. We'll define a dealbreaker as any particular item(s) that if I said you could never have again you would tell me to go pound sand (or something else a little more colorful). 

The most common dealbreakers are beer and peanut butter, and with very good reason because there really isn't a good substitute for either item. I have yet to find a gluten-free beer that is not disgusting, or that remotely tastes like the style of beer it is trying to imitate. (Note to any brewers out there, sorghum is not the answer. Find a different grain, perhaps buckwheat, or remove the gluten from barley).

And let's not kid ourselves, almond butter is bullshit. Oh my gosh, this almond butter is so good. I can eat jars of it. Calm down. Stop trying to convince yourself that it is good, because it's not. Sunbutter sort of tastes like peanut butter, but by that point you might as well have the real thing.

For some people if you're going to make a dietary lifestyle like Paleo sustainable for the long haul, you're going to need a little wiggle room. It doesn't matter whether something is Paleo or not. What matters is if that item is good for you as an individual. If you repeatedly have a bad reaction to a particular food or drink every time you have it, you may want to avoid it. 

My approach to Paleo is to use it as a general framework to find out what works best for you. As far as physical health goes, beer and peanut butter are not going to get high marks. But as for your mental well being, if that's what you need to keep everything else in check, and you're still obtaining your goals, so be it. Just don't over do it. 

The 23:1 Rule

Author William S. Burroughs is said to be the first person to believe in the 23 enigma, which refers to the belief that most incidents and events are directly connected to the number 23. There was a Jim Carrey movie called "The Number 23" based on this theory. I didn't see it. I don't think a lot of people did.

When it comes to The Fitness, the number 23 has some significance. Even Jack Bauer only gets 24 hours in a day. If you spend one hour on exercise, that leaves 23 other hours to F up any progress you made in the gym with poor quality and/or not enough sleep, eating junk, eating too much, not eating enough, chronic stress, not foam rolling, not stretching, excessive alcohol or worse.

Be smart. You can't out-train a crappy diet and lifestyle.

Don't Train Failures

Photo credit: Benjamin Von Wong

You've probably been in this place before. You're working up to a heavy single or maybe even a one-rep max, and perhaps the lift is something technical like a clean or a snatch. In your pursuit of The Fitness you begin adding more and more weight to the bar until you get to the point where you miss the lift. So you try again. And you miss again. And you try again and you miss again. Perhaps this goes on for 15 minutes. Missed lift after missed lift. You're getting pissed but you keep trying and keep failing.

Finally a coach or someone with a little bit of experience, tells you what they're seeing, gives you some advice and a cue or two. If it's a glaring breakdown in technique, maybe that person even suggests you drop the weight back down to work on your form, and then make your way back up. Has this ever happened to you? If not, you've probably at least seen something similar in your own gym.

Does the person listen? Sometimes. But CrossFittters can be stubborn individuals and they want to PR every damn day. So they won't accept a missed lift. They'll keep failing over and over again because that shows heart, determination and guts, right? Wrong. That's stupidity and thickheadedness. That's a good way to get injured. That's a great way to reinforce bad form and mechanics.

Training failures (not to be confused with training to failure, that's entirely different), as in not learning from your mistakes and continuing to try over and over again after repeated missed lifts is not helping you get better. I think Einstein said it best, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." This is not to say that if you miss one lift that you shouldn't try again. But if you missed it 7 times in a row. Maybe you should drop the weight down, make the lift and end on a high note. Instead of beating yourself up for failing, praise yourself for doing it right. 

Are We Overcomplicating Things?

Holy crap, a blog post! I know, I'm as shocked as you. It's been a while. It's not that I haven't had anything to write about. I have a list of topics on my iphone that I haven't gotten to yet.  With the growth of the Lean Out Club that I started at CFDV, I haven't had the time to dedicate to writing. A poor excuse I know, but I couldn't come up with a better one. I'm still not crazy about the name Lean Out Club, but I'll keep it until I either come up with a better one, or, until the Zombie Apocalypse. Whichever comes first. Now, onto the blogging.

I've been messing around with the weights for around 20 years now. It's crazy to think it's been that long. I've been reading about health and nutrition for probably 25+ years. Supplement catalogues and wellness magazines made up a lot of my bathroom reading as a kid. Too much information, or great insight?

Anyway, I remember seeing a video in the early days of CrossFit with Coach Glassman and Nicole Carroll demonstrating the medicine ball clean. Whether a medicine ball is an effective tool for teaching a clean is not the point, what I remember sticking out from that video was the emphasis on the shrug.

I learned how to power clean in high school and I never remember hearing anything about a shrug. My initial impression was, "That's not right. You don't shrug with a clean." You may physically shrug as an afterthought but it's not a conscious effort. Were my teachers and coaches wrong? Was Glassman right? Was everything else I'd seen and read over the years missing a critical step? As time went on I assimilated into the CrossFit style of teaching cleans and had forgotten that it may be an unnecessary step and queue.

When I began coaching I found the power clean to be the most difficult move for most beginners to grasp. There's all these foreign phrases like "tight midline," "second pull," "fast elbows." I found most people over-thinking the whole process and ending up with a reverse curl. But, if you tell a person whose had very little exposure to barbell lifts to jump the barbell up to your shoulders, they can usually pull off something that looks close to a power clean on the first try. It may not be textbook but if the weight is light they can go through several reps of practice without destroying themselves.

Let me also take a second to clarify my queue of jump the barbell up to your shoulders. You don't have to physically leave the ground. The only time the feet would move is if you were going to split clean, split snatch or split jerk.

As the weight gets heavy I see a lot of people doing power cleans like the guy in the picture, which just looks painful. If you're just doing a traditional power clean, you can come up onto your toes but the feet shouldn't shift to the side at all.

The prerequisites for learning a power clean are competency in the deadlift, and the establishment of a good front rack position. Ultimately the limiting factor in a beginner is their level of coordination and mobility. If a person doesn't have the flexibility and mobility to get into a front rack position, do they really have any business spending time on the power clean? Or would their time be better spent focusing on mobilizing their lats, scapula, chest, wrists and forearms so that they can achieve a proper rack position, and less likely to injure themselves when they join the main class and mob mentality takes over.

I like to take a minimalist approach to group instruction of movements and then give each person individual queues to correct the most apparent technical flaw I see. Once they correct the biggest offender, I drill down from there. If Johnny has three glaring problems with his power clean, I can't give him three separate things to fix all at once. It will be paralysis by analysis. He'll over-think every single thing he does, and probably reverse curl the bar, rather than turn his brain off and just let the movement happen.

If I take the biggest problem first and have Johnny go really slow as he learns to correct his form, then take the second biggest problem and work my way down from there, Johnny will be a power cleaning machine in no time. Simple is better.
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