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Do You Know How to Tie Your Shoes? Part 1

By Geoff Rand

 

shoe fail.jpg

Somewhere between learning to wipe your own butt and driving a car, you likely were taught how to tie your shoes.  It’s an essential task that most of us do mindlessly everyday.  I’d venture to guess the majority of us tie them the same way, cinching up the laces, tying a single overhand knot, and finishing it up with a single knotted bow. 

While the standard way of tying a shoe might work fine for a casual walk to the store, it may not be the best choice for running or many of the activities we do in the Box, like lifts or box jumps or jumping rope.  If your shoes are laced too loose, they’re going to come untied which could cost you time in retying them during the WOD, or worse, you could lose the shoe and possibly even injure yourself.

Ok, so I’ll just tie them tighter, you say.  Not so fast.  Having your laces cinched down too tight can cause pressure points on your instep which can cause pain, fight against the foot’s natural tendency to swell on long runs, and can limit foot and ankle mobility.  I learned from long road marches in the Army that boots that were too tight caused horrible foot pain.

The key to perfect lacing is to have the shoe secure enough that it doesn’t allow the heel to rub around, which can cause blisters, while keeping the laces snug, but not overly tight to the point they are cutting off circulation.  I present Lock Lacing.

Ever wonder what all those extra eyelets are for on your shoes?  We’re going to use some of them now.  For Lock Lacing, lace your shoes up as you normally would, but skip that top “common” eyelet and instead lace through the one further towards your heel. This photo illustrates it better.

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Next, make two loops by not pulling the laces all the way tight.  Take the free ends and thread them through the loop on the opposite side.  Like this.

Lock-Lacing-2.jpg

Finish by tying them off like you normally would. You may need to vary the placement of the loops and what eyelets you use based on what is available on your shoe.  This video is a good demonstration of the whole method.

 

The goal is to keep the heel in place and to take pressure off the instep since you don't need to crank down on all the laces.  It is a secure and comfortable way to tie.

Lock lacing is a good general method for most of what we do.  It may feel a bit weird at first, but you’ll soon get used to it.  Lock lacing is not the only way to tie your shoes, and in Part 2, we’ll look at a few ways to help alleviate common foot problems by varying how you lace up your shoes.

Try out Lock Lacing and let us know what you thought of it in the comments.

 

Sources:

http://www.divisionstcrossfit.com/2013/08/27/how-to-tie-your-shoes-lock-lacing-and-the-ian-knot/

http://www.crossfitkoncepts.com/my_weblog/2015/05/runners-do-you-know-how-to-tie-your-shoes.html

http://running.competitor.com/2015/05/photos/3-ways-to-lace-up-your-running-shoes_128380

http://www.aofas.org/footcaremd/how-to/footwear/Pages/Lacing-Techniques-for-Proper-Shoe-Fit.aspx

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Show Your IT Band Some Love

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by Geoff Rand

If you’ve ever felt a stiffness or pain in your hip, outer thigh, or outside of the knee, you’ve likely had a tight IT band.  This often-neglected length of tissue is responsible for stabilizing the knee, and without proper maintenance, the band can stiffen and limit proper range of motion in all manner of movements including squats, deadlifts, box jumps, and even your ability to run.  Let’s take a look at what the IT band is and how you can keep it functioning properly.

The iliotibial (IT) band is a fibrous tissue or fascia that helps to stabilize the knee.  It runs from the outside of the pelvis to the lower knee, and inserts at the top of the shinbone.  While it is referred to as a “band”, don’t think of it as elastic.  It actually isn’t very malleable; it is more like a leather belt.

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The IT band is filled with nerves.  This explains why it is so sensitive to treatments like foam or lacrosse ball rolling.  Several muscles tie into the IT band, and it may actually be issues with these muscles that are causing the pain sensation to manifest in the IT band.  As with most of our bodies’ mechanical systems, the root of the issue is not always where the pain is felt.  Often when the IT band becomes stiff, it rubs on the outside of the knee, causing pain.

While there are movements that will help stretch the IT band that may cause relief of the pain and help to maintain its proper function, you should first look at possible causes of the pain.  Otherwise, you are just treating the symptoms, not addressing the root cause.  You should also resist the urge to ignore the pain in the IT band and continue training without addressing its problems.  This route will likely result in you compensating in some way to reduce the pain, which can cause issues in other areas.

IT band problems can be caused by hip, hamstring, or glute weakness or over pronation while running.  Often the stress put on the IT band is the result of poor form.  A coach or physical therapist can look at your movement mechanics and help diagnose the cause of the pain.

Once you have determined the cause of the IT band stiffness and addressed those issues, you should begin a program of regular maintenance on it.  Always warm up the hips and knees first, and then you can incorporate these stretches into your mobility routine along with more traditional foam rolling.

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Ankles Crossed Forward Fold

1.     Start with feet together while standing

2.     Cross your right ankle over your left ankle

3.     Fold forward at the waist while creating a soft bend in your right knee

4.     Touch the ground or your shins with your fingertips

5.     Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the other side

 

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Figure Four

1.     Stand with feet hip width apart

2.     Bring your right foot over and above your left knee

3.     Flex your right foot and press your right knee towards the ground

4.     Stick your butt out and then down as you bend your standing leg

5.     Fold forward at the hips and reach your fingers towards the ground

6.     Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side

 

Standing Quad Stretch.jpg

Standing Quad Stretch

1.     Stand with your feet hip distance apart

2.     Bend your right knee and grab the top of your foot with your right hand

3.     As you draw your heel in, extend your tailbone down and keep your knees together

4.     Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side

 

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Twisted Triangle

1.     Step your right foot forward about three feet

2.     Turn your back toes in so that you can square your hips

3.     Fold forward at the hips and place your left hand on the ground about a foot and a half away from your right foot

4.     Extend your chest forward and lean into your left hand

5.     Reach your right arm up as you twist and press down through your right big toe

6.     Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side

 

Seated-glute-stretch.jpg

Seated Glute Stretch

1.     Start seated on the mat with feet flat on floor

2.     With your hands behind you, place your right foot over and above your left knee

3.     Flex your right foot as you extend your right knee away from your chest

4.     Keep your chest up and scoot your butt towards your left heel with the leverage of your hands

5.     Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side

 

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Hero’s Pose

1.     Sit on your heel with your knees together

2.     Begin to lean back placing your hands behind you as you reach the knees toward the mat

3.     Sit down between the feet

4.     From here if there is no pain in the knees you can lean back either onto the hands or the forearms

5.     Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side

These are just a few of the stretches you can do to treat IT band pain and conduct regular maintenance on it.  Proper IT band function is essential to so many other movements and you would be wise to do regular mobility with it.  Dave and Amanda are always available to help determine the source of your problem areas and to suggest ways to fix them.

Sources:

https://www.outsideonline.com/2142646/definitive-guide-banishing-it-band-pain-good

https://www.active.com/fitness/articles/8-yoga-poses-and-stretches-for-a-tight-it-band/slide-9

http://www.opedix.com/community-detail/combating-it-band-issues-in-crossfit

https://ashleyblackguru.com/it-band/

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Stretching: The Truth

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by Geoff Rand

 

Thinking back to my lacrosse days, it’s a wonder I didn’t tear something with our totally inadequate pregame routine.  A quick jog around the field, some jumping jacks, and then about 5 minutes of various stretches, held for about 10 seconds each, some with bouncing.  Then, we went right into the game.  And we did nothing post game.  Completely wrong, dangerous, and ineffective.

For stretching to be effective, you need to do it right.

Static stretches are done while the body is at rest.  The goal with static stretches is to gradually elongate the muscle to the point of discomfort and then hold that position.  Always warm up before attempting static stretches or better yet, save them for after the WOD.  Attempting static stretches without warm muscles will result in injury.  The seated hamstring stretch is a static stretch.

Dynamic stretching involves activating certain muscles or muscle groups, most often the ones you will be using in the workout.  By moving or holding a position during the stretch, you are increasing range of motion and warming up the muscles at the same time.  It is a highly effective form of stretching.  A good example of a dynamic stretch is the Samson Stretch.

When we are exercising, we are contracting our muscles.  Stretching is a way to counter that contraction and return elasticity to the muscles by loosening them up so they are elongated and prepared for further activity.  Failing to stretch can result in weakened muscles that are tight and have poor range of motion.

Modern research has shown that to get the most out of your stretching, you need to ease into the stretch, and hold for 1 to 2 minutes.  If this is too difficult to hold, hold for as long as you can, briefly come out of the stretch and then ease back into it, attempting to push further.  Short duration stretch holds have shown to have little benefit.

So to improve range of motion in a stretch, we just need to push harder, right?  Not really.  Let’s use our hamstrings as an example here.  I sit in a car for up to 10 hours a day.  You might be stuck at a desk.  Both positions are killing our hamstrings.  Over time, the hamstrings shorten and become tight due to the daily memory if you will, that they develop due to what they are being asked to do, or not do, during most of the day. 

Say you attempt an assisted seated hamstring stretch with the goal of increasing range of motion.  This is where you sit with legs together and fold and reach forward with someone pushing on your back.  You’re going to go through several stages of sensation, maybe like, “ok I can feel this”, “all right this is starting to get tight”, “ok you can stop now”, “holy cow that’s too far”, and “my leg just snapped off.”  Somewhere in the vicinity of “ok you can stop now” your nervous system kicks in and puts the brakes on any further progress you can make.  It does this because the nervous system decides what is safe or not for you to do and wants to avoid injury.  It puts limits on the amount of elongation it will allow because it doesn’t want you to hurt yourself.

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to pick up an unconscious person you’ll know they are like a wet noodle.  You could practically tie them into a pretzel.  This is because their nervous system is offline.  As soon as they come to, their flexibility limitations return.

Short of asking someone to bonk you in the head before stretching, there’s not much you can do to override your nervous system.  But you can do two things to help maximize your stretches and increase range of motion.

First, really concentrate on achieving a deep stretch, held for a full two minutes, every time you stretch, for each stretch.  We all want to talk about the WOD we just crushed, but stretching should require a considerable amount of effort and focus to be truly effective.

Second, look at what you can do outside the Box to improve your range of motion.  In my case or the office worker’s case, we could get out and walk around or take the stairs.  Sometimes rethinking your type of footwear outside the Box can help with lengthening your muscles if whatever you’re wearing is placing you in a position that is encouraging shortening of the muscles.

The trick to help increase range of motion is to figure out what is holding you back in your daily life outside the Box, correct it, and put in a focused, solid effort in your stretches after each WOD.  Going to mobility or yoga classes certainly won’t hurt either.

 

Sources:

Input from Coach Amanda May

http://www.livestrong.com/article/328926-how-long-to-hold-stretches/

http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/stretching-doesnt-work-the-way-you-think-it-does

http://www.crossfitrockwall.com/crossfit_rockwall/a-better-way-to-stretch.html

http://www.stretching-exercises-guide.com/how-to-stretch.html

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Are Your Hamstrings Wrecked?

by Geoff Rand

September of 2003 is a month I’ll never forget.  While at work, I ended up being T-boned by a vehicle that failed to stop at an intersection without power to its traffic lights.  I wasn’t seriously injured, or so I thought, but after being cleared to return to work, I noticed that something wasn’t quite right with my knee.  Standing, walking, and especially running on it became difficult.  I could suffer through a mile run, but I was out of commission the rest of the day.  Sometimes even driving was hard.  I often had to resort to pushing down on my accelerator knee with my hand in order to drive with all the pain I was experiencing.  Doctors told me nothing showed up on MRIs and that I should just take it easy, limit lifting anything heavy, and avoid squatting too deeply.  I suffered for 9 years with that knee pain until a friend finally convinced me that even with an injury I could still workout, and maybe even resolve the pain through CrossFit.

I walked into CrossFit Frederick in 2012, skeptical, but willing to give it a try.  Amanda and Dave asked me a bunch of questions about the pain I was experiencing and developed a mobility plan that consisted largely of rolling out my hamstrings.  This puzzled me at first, as I had no pain in the back of my leg, but I started to see improvement after only a few days into their program.  Gradually, the knee started to feel better, squats became not only possible, but felt good, I stopped wearing the brace I had on, and just a few months later, I ran my first sub 7 minute mile ever.  Soon, I began to forget all about my “bad knee” and I now consider myself fully healed from that injury so long ago.

But why did loosening up my hamstrings assist with my recovery?

Our bodies are wonders of engineering and as you’ve seen through other Blog posts and instruction by our coaching staff, everything is connected to something else in the body.  If we have weakness or limitation in one area, somewhere else compensates for it, but usually not in the best way for our health and fitness.

Likely, years of sitting in a police cruiser had tightened and shortened the range of motion of my hamstrings, and this, coupled with me avoiding working on that mobility issue after experiencing the trauma to it, along with avoiding any exercise that would potentially strengthen the muscles and tissues around the knee, caused the continued pain.  Other muscles were forced to pick up the slack, and due to them not being the ideal mechanism to effect the movements they were being asked to perform, further pain and damage was caused.

You may not have experienced an injury due to tight hamstrings, but neglecting their mobility can lead to poor performance and eventual injury in other areas.

The hamstrings are made up of several muscles at the back of the leg that each have a varying length and angle as well as tie in points to different bones.  These muscles attach to the hip, thigh, and glutes, and run down to the back and top of the shinbone.  They are responsible for allowing us to pick up heavy objects from the ground, and function anytime we flex the knee or extend the hip.  Strong and flexible hamstrings are essential to maintaining a strong and stable lower back and help form a solid base for many of our lifts.

 

One key reason to have flexibility in our hamstrings is the tendency to lose our lumbar curve in our squats due to hamstring tightness.  When the hamstrings are tight, they pull your hip and back out of alignment and you lose the ability to maintain that flexible yet sturdy lumbar curve, causing the butt wink.  Your chest also starts to drop, pulling everything else out of line.  At best, this is going to limit the weight you can lift, and at worst, it is going to cause injury to your back and knees as they struggle to compensate.

Fortunately, the hamstrings are easy to mobilize.  Here are a few movements to work into your mobilization/stretching routine.

1.  Hamstring roll.  Sit on a lacrosse ball on top of a box.  Relax your foot and roll side to side from the crease of your butt to the back of your knee.  If you find a particularly sensitive spot, spend some extra time there.

 

You don't need to add weight to your Good Mornings while warming up, but eventually you can shoot for the excellent range of motion Coach Hannah has.

You don't need to add weight to your Good Mornings while warming up, but eventually you can shoot for the excellent range of motion Coach Hannah has.

2.  Good mornings.  With a PVC pipe, and maybe eventually an empty barbell, lean forward at the waist with the pipe behind the neck and across the shoulders, keeping your legs and back straight.  Stop when your back starts to round and return to standing upright.  If you’re tight at first, limit the range of motion but move quickly up and down to warm up the hamstrings.  Eventually they will start to loosen and you’ll be able to achieve more range.

3.  Glute Ham Raises.  You can do these on a GHD machine.  These probably fall more into exercise than mobility, but they definitely target the hamstrings.  This video shows how to do them. 

4.  Supine Hamstring Stretch.  Lie on your back with one leg on the ground.  Place a band across the middle of your other foot and pull back as you keep that upward leg straight.

 

The takeaway from my experience is this.  Never assume pain is caused only by something local to the area in which you are experiencing it.  Mobility and strength go hand in hand.  Regular maintenance is essential to maintaining proper body function.  And, even if, or more appropriately, especially if, you are experiencing pain, get your butt in the Box and talk to Amanda and Dave about it.  You might be surprised at what they can come up with to fix you.  

Stay on top of your hamstring mobilization and don’t ever leave the Box without stretching.  They are such an important muscle group and keeping them happy will benefit you literally from head to toe.

 

Sources:

http://www.crossfitshatter.com/blog/2015/07/29/hamstring-flexibility/

http://www.projectswole.com/weight-training/the-top-5-best-hamstring-exercises/

 

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$h!t My Coach Says: Elbows Up

by Geoff Rand

I had the following conversation with a shift mate several months ago after she told me she lifts on her own at her local gym and I told her I do CrossFit.  I’ll use her initials here.

SB:  How much do you squat?

Geoff:  Which type of squat?

SB:  What do you mean?  Like a normal squat.

Geoff:  Front squat, back squat, or overhead squat?

SB:  Oh, I don’t do anything but back squats.  The other ones look too hard.

Geoff:  That’s why we do them…

Maybe SB lacks the confidence to lift something overhead and squat with it, or maybe she’s uncomfortable being uncomfortable in the positions you need to maintain to properly hold a squat.  Perhaps she lacks the mobility needed to hold the front squat.  I’m not sure.  I didn’t get too far with her.  I think she just wrote me off as one of those “crazy CrossFit people.”  In any event, she could probably benefit from having some good coaching.  And, I’d bet money that on her first front squat, her coach would tell her, “Elbows up!”

We’ve all heard this cue before, but what exactly does the coach mean when they say elbows up?  That cue addresses a number of things.  Let’s dissect it.

Probably the most obvious correction that the elbows up cue makes is to remind the athlete to keep their chest up and prevent it from falling forward as he or she descends into the squat and stands up out of it.  Your goal should be to get the elbows and upper arms to approach parallel to the floor.  Take a look at these photos:

At the bottom of my squat, my elbows are way down and my back is rounded, and if I began to stand, my chest would be set up to fall forward every time, which will cause unneeded pressure to be placed on my lower back and knees.

At the bottom of Amanda's squat her elbows are parallel to the ground, and she is able to maintain a flexible, yet stable spine and chest kept high throughout the lift.

Even though I’m exaggerating a poor body position in my photo, I do still struggle at times to maintain a proper elbows up stance.  But some athletes don’t find this stance so difficult to hold.  So why is it harder for some and easier for others?

First, while the elbows up cue reminds us to lift the chest by raising the elbows, really, the ability to keep the chest up comes from having flexibility in the thoracic spine, and being able to maintain core stability throughout the lift. 

If lack of T-spine flexibility is affecting you, a foam roller can be your best friend.  Spend a few minutes pre-WOD and roll out that back and get a good full-body stretch in once you’re warmed up.  If you do this regularly, you’ll see improvement in your spinal flexibility.  Definitely do it before WODs involving front squats.  Or, come to yoga class.  A lot of our routines focus on lengthening the spine.

Don’t forget about core stability.  Many of us have a tendency to let it all go as we let gravity take us down to the bottom of the squat.  Core stability is set at the top of the squat, in the rack position, not something you pick up and start doing along the way.  Some coaches will tell you to lock your rib cage into your hips.  Others will say to hold your inhale and press your diaphragm downward into your pelvis.  Don’t forget your lats.  They are part of your core as well.  Keep them engaged as you lower into and out of the squat.

Another component of being able to keep the elbows up is wrist mobility.  If you’re in need of some wrist work, you can turn your palm up and grip your forearm with the opposite hand, pressing the thumb hard into various areas of the soft tissue, all while flexing and extending the wrist.

You can also mobilize the wrist by flexing and extending your wrist in various positions on a box or against a wall.

If getting your elbows up in the rack position is difficult for you, even with just the weight of a PVC pipe, you might need to work on your overall shoulder mobility.   Dave shows how to use a PVC pipe to get the shoulders to loosen up and to work on getting your elbow higher.

Start by holding the PVC vertically in one hand with your elbow out to your side and at a 90 degree angle.  Maintain grip on the PVC and begin to raise the PVC with your opposite hand, raising the elbow while sending the top hand back and down.

Start by holding the PVC vertically in one hand with your elbow out to your side and at a 90 degree angle.  Maintain grip on the PVC and begin to raise the PVC with your opposite hand, raising the elbow while sending the top hand back and down.

Doing wall front squats can help with thoracic spine flexibility, core stability, and elbow positioning all at once.  The wall will correct you if you start to fall forward. 

Don’t forget your lower body's role in the front squat.  Ankle mobility is necessary to maintain proper position, and if you lack it, your foundation is compromised and it can easily cause you to hunch forward.

To work on ankle flexibility, roll out your calves with a lacrosse ball.  Sometimes tight calves limit the mobility of the ankle.  Dave also shows how to roll out the front of the shin to achieve better ankle flexibility.

Roll on each side of the shin bone with a lacrosse ball.  To make this extra special, twist your legs so the heel of one foot is resting on the knee of the opposite leg.  Place the ball to the side of the shin bone and rotate up on top of it.  Move it left and right, keeping that ankle pinned.  Oh yeah...

Roll on each side of the shin bone with a lacrosse ball.  To make this extra special, twist your legs so the heel of one foot is resting on the knee of the opposite leg.  Place the ball to the side of the shin bone and rotate up on top of it.  Move it left and right, keeping that ankle pinned.  Oh yeah...

These exercises are not a one-time fix.  They are something you’ll need to work on pre or post-WOD over a period of time, and are examples of what you’ll find yourself doing if you happen to attend one of our mobility classes.

So once again, we’ve seen why our coaches use cues.  Can you imagine them trying to explain all this before a WOD?

There’s a lot that’s being addressed when a coach tells you “elbows up.”  Hopefully with a little better understanding of the mechanics of the movement, you can become more efficient and lift heavier loads more safely, ultimately making these “other squats”, as SB would call them, not “too hard.”

 

Sources:

https://www.crossfitinvictus.com/blog/improve-your-ankle-mobility/

http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_2015_10_Squat_Long2.pdf

http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_2016_09_Rack_Long5.pdf

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21-15-9, The Story of Fran

By Geoff Rand

We see this rep scheme show up often, most notably with the benchmark WOD, Fran.  Ever wonder why CrossFit uses this odd number of reps or why it decreases as it does or how Fran was created?  I did some digging and found out why.

In the early 1970s, CrossFit founder and gymnast, Greg Glassman, was looking for ways to be better at his gymnastic routines in the off-season.  He knew that strength training would help him improve and wanted to replicate the intense workout he got from a two-minute routine on the parallel bars or rings.  Coach Glassman knew that points would be deducted if you appeared out of breath or otherwise looked uncomfortable after you dismounted the rings or bars, and he wanted a strength routine that would cause him to breath heavily and to be uncomfortable, which would be a great way to prepare for an intense gymnastics routine.  Glassman took his cement-filled plastic weight plates and bar and as he says, “stumbled upon” the thruster.  He coupled that movement with the pull-up, and after experimenting with some rep schemes, he came up with what we today know as Fran (21-15-9 reps of thrusters and pull-ups 95#/63#). 

CrossFit founder, Coach Greg Glassman

CrossFit founder, Coach Greg Glassman

Coach Glassman tried out this workout in his garage gym blasting through it as fast as he could.  He promptly threw up all over the floor, which his German Shepherds gladly cleaned up for him.  His neighbor happened to come over and asked what was all over Glassman’s shirt.  Glassman told him not to worry about it and to try the workout.  Glassman’s neighbor also threw up immediately upon finishing.  Coach Glassman and his neighbor then went over to the neighbor’s brother’s house.  The brother asked why they both smelled like vomit and declined to try the workout.

If you dissect the scheme, it starts to make sense.  It’s a total of 45 reps, not a huge number and one that is quite reasonable to accomplish.  The scheme is based on the “decay rate” or the fact that as you fatigue, you are able to do less work, as the load remains the same.

You start out with the highest number of repetitions.  Assuming you are fresh and rested at the start, you should be able to get through the 21 reps unbroken.  As you get to the second round, you are starting to fatigue, and 15 reps should feel of similar difficulty in that round as the 21 reps felt in the first.  The final round of 9 is set at that number for the same reason.  Even though each round has fewer reps than the previous round, they are at a sufficient number to still be challenging.

Looking a little deeper, we find that each round is divisible by 3, so the rounds could be broken up as 7-7-7, 5-5-5, and 3-3-3 if you weren’t able to complete them unbroken and were looking for a strategy.  However, Fran is designed to be an all out kick in the balls, and you’d be better served to choose a weight you can do unbroken and move up towards the Rx load as your ability improves.

If you were curious, here are the accepted time ranges for completion of Fran if you wanted to know where you stand.

10:00+ Beginner

10:00-4:30 Intermediate

4:30 – 3:00 Advanced

3:00 or less Elite

The 21-15-9 rep scheme shows up in all manner of combinations of exercises and there’s no way I could include suggestions for each that you’d encounter.  But, if you want to be better at Fran, here are some tips.

1.  Mobilize the thoracic spine and open the hips before the WOD.  Kelly Starrett shows how you can make sure you are fully loosened up before Fran in this video.  He mentions that especially for people coming from a hunched over position at a desk job, this 4-5 minutes of mobilization will not only help your Fran time, but is key to keep you from getting hurt by either collapsing too far forward because your spine is tight, or damaging a knee because your hips aren't opened up.

2.  Know that the second round, 15 reps, is mentally the most challenging.  Keep the intensity up and don’t stop for a break because it will be that much harder to get started again.  Feed off the music or coaches encouragement.

3.  Don’t put the bar down in the middle of a round.  Doing so will cause you to waste energy by having to clean the bar again before getting into your thrusters.  If you have to stop during the thrusters, pause with the bar in the rack position.  If you need to catch your breath, do it during the pull-ups where there is no bar to pick back up and thus little wasted energy if you stop momentarily.

On average, Fran takes between 3-10 minutes to complete.  Someone who doesn’t do CrossFit might not understand how you can be totally spent after such a short workout.  The reason is the rep scheme allows you (or forces you, depending on how you look at it) to expel a high level of energy over a short duration of time, using a moderate amount of weight.  That all adds up to an intense all around burn.

When asked why he named it “Fran”, Glassman had this to say.  “Anything that left you flat on your back looking up at the sky asking what the f*%k just happened to me, deserved a female’s name.  They’re like storms.  If a hurricane that wreaks havoc on a whole town could be Fran, so could a workout.”

Sources:

http://journal.crossfit.com/2009/12/the-story-of-fran.tpl

http://board.crossfit.com/showthread.php?t=11354

http://www.functhat.com/2012/08/crossfit-fran-explained-tips-tricks-times/

http://boxlifemagazine.com/whats-the-fascination-with-fran-and-a-few-tips-to-improve-your-time/

http://library.crossfit.com/premium/video/CFJ_Glassman_TheStoryofFran.mov?e=1290199242&h=cb99439379aca7d0c52bf9fa20b71a75

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Stomping Out Plantar Fasciitis

by Geoff Rand

I’ve been fortunate enough to have never personally experienced Plantar Fasciitis, but I know people in and out of the Box who have, and I can tell you that it destroys you and affects every aspect of your life when you get it.  Plantar Fasciitis sucks so bad that if we could weaponize it, we’d probably be dropping it on ISIS right now.  In this article we’ll explore what Plantar Fasciitis is, what causes it, and some things you can do to get rid of it if you have it, or keep from getting it if you don’t.

fasciitis 1.jpg

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

The Plantar Fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the toes.  I’ve talked about fascia in previous articles, and this fascia tissue is no different.  It is susceptible to becoming inflamed and you need to give it regular maintenance to work out the adhesions and keep it pliable.  The Plantar Fascia absorbs a lot of abuse as the entire weight of your body is stressing it with every move you make.  If you have intense and chronic heel pain, especially if your foot feels excessively sore when you first try to walk after getting out of bed or when standing up after sitting for a while, you could have Plantar Fasciitis.  PF is not something you get from a single intense or long run, rather it is a condition you develop over time.

Now as with everything in the body, everything is connected to something else.  On the other end of the heel is the Achilles tendon, calf muscles, IT band, hamstrings, glutes, and quads.  While those systems may seem distant from the foot, if you have weakness, tightness, or lack of mobility in any of those areas, they can affect the foot and can contribute to development of Plantar Fasciitis.

What causes Plantar Fasciitis? 

Bad form while walking or running is a big culprit.  Heel striking is especially damaging to the Plantar Fascia.  Also, if you tend to pronate when you walk or run, which is when your foot rolls inward causing the arch to flatten out, that can lead to PF issues. 

Another contributor to Plantar Fasciitis problems is footwear.  Now, I’ve read conflicting information as to whether a minimalist shoe with little cushioning is better or getting a more “squishy” shoe and/or one with some arch support is better.  The thought with the minimalist shoe is the lack of cushion will cause you to strengthen the foot since the shoe isn’t doing the work for you.  The thinking with the support insert or shock-absorbing shoe is the construction of the shoe or insert is taking some of the pressure off the tender areas of the foot.  I’m no doctor and I’m not qualified to make a ruling on which approach holds more merit.  I’ll just say if you have Plantar Fasciitis, consider changing your shoes (and this applies to what you wear outside the Box as well).

Do I have Plantar Fasciitis?

Before you start a treatment program, you need to determine if you really do have Plantar Fasciitis.  This likely means visiting a foot specialist, as not all foot pain is caused by Plantar Fasciitis.  One test you can do is to try walking up on the tips of your toes.  If this feels better, you may actually have a stress fracture of the heel or a bone spur since the Plantar Fascia is elongated when the toes are loaded and rebounding, and this position puts a lot of stress on the Fascia, and it should hurt if you have PF.

How do I treat Plantar Fasciitis?

If you are diagnosed with Plantar Fasciitis, figure out what is causing your issue and stop doing it.  That could mean taking some time off from running and using the rower instead.  This doesn’t mean short runs are ok.  It means NO RUNNING!  You need to give your feet time to heal.  If you are runner or frequently experience foot pain after running, consider having someone video your running stance.  If you are a heel striker, learn the Pose Method and adjust your stance so you lean into your run and land on the forefoot rather than the heel.  If you are loud runner, stop stomping your feet down and land softly instead.

Taking time off from running is only part of the recovery equation.  You need to do some mobility on the foot and surrounding areas.  Roll and stretch out the foot.  Start with the least tender areas and gradually increase pressure and move to the more painful ones.  This chart shows some stretches to try.

PF stretches.jpg

Take a look at these videos for more explanation and some other mobility ideas.

In addition to rolling out, weighted calve raises will help strengthen your calves and may help take some pressure off your Plantar Fascia if this is an area of weakness in your legs.  Remember that this mobility and strength work is not a one-time prescription.  It needs to become your daily routine if you seriously want to recover from Plantar Fasciitis.

If doing mobility on your own isn’t producing the results you’re looking for, seek out a therapist who specializes in ART, or Active Release Technique.  This is a more aggressive form of therapy that involves manual manipulation of the affected area and gradually increasing assisted stretching that has shown to be effective in treating many deficiencies of the body to include treatment of PF.

Other Treatments

Dr. Josh Axe recommends taking 500mg of Magnesium before bed and vitamin B5 and fish oil to help relax the fascia and decrease the swelling through improved blood flow.  Again, I’m not a doctor or nutritionist.  You can research this for yourself or talk to a healthcare professional to see if taking these supplements is right for you.

It is said that treatment for Plantar Fasciitis starts in bed.  If you sleep with excessively tight sheets at the foot of the bed, this can cause PF issues. Tight sheets can hold your foot in a position of Plantar Flexion, which is the position you would be in if you stood on the tips of your toes.  In time, this causes a shortening of the fascia, which further stresses the area when you go to extend it, such as when getting out of bed.  Given that we spend up to a third of our lives in bed, time in this position really adds up.

Your doctor may prescribe a night splint that will hold your foot in a neutral position while you sleep.  This allows the foot to heal naturally.  Know that this is not a quick method, and depending on the severity of your condition, you may need to use this splint for 6-12 months.

Night splints look super comfy, don't they?  

Night splints look super comfy, don't they?  

The final option is surgery.  You don’t want this.  It involves cutting the fascia to allow it to lengthen.  It can cause permanent nerve damage and the foot will likely never be as stable as it was before surgery since the procedure is weakening the very structure that ties in major parts of the foot.  The surgery may also fail to correct the pain.  If not cut in the right area, you may heal, but still experience the same pain.  And as if you needed another reason to avoid going under the knife, the recovery time is 6-10 weeks until you can walk without assistance and up to three months more before you can resume normal activity.  Fortunately, 95% of those who have Plantar Fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatments.

In the movie Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi tells Daniel “Best defense, no be there.”  Well, the best way to keep from experiencing Plantar Fasciitis pain is not to develop it in the first place.  Don’t ignore the small aches and pains because they will turn into big ones.  Your body is trying to tell you something.  Whether you have PF or not, don’t neglect the other areas of the body that tie into the foot.  Roll out and stretch and strengthen the foot and the areas that connect to the foot.  Whatever you decide to do, stop heel striking.  And keep an eye out for my Plantar Fasciitis rocket launcher, coming to Kickstarter soon.

Sources: 

http://wordswithlisbeth.com/2008/04/10/what’s-that-pain-in-my-heel-the-crossfitter-and-plantar-fasciitis/

http://running.competitor.com/2014/06/photos/new-techniques-treating-plantar-fasciitis_96398

http://www.coachr.org/planfasc.htm

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF7HkfcPrU4

 

 

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Balancing Imbalances

by Geoff Rand

 

My motivation for writing this article came from something that came up in mobility class a few weeks ago.  Dave had us doing bent over bar holds to stretch out our lats, and one of the class members showed a visible under-development in the left side of his back compared to his right.  It even affected his stance.  He was aware of it and said that even holding a tablet in his left hand quickly tires him.  I’d suspect he opens every door with his right hand and favors that strong side in everything else he does.  This imbalance is setting him up to be in pain and makes him more prone to injury and less efficient in his lifts and movements.

As CrossFitters, we need to recognize our imbalances and work to overcome them.  Our bodies are remarkable at adaptation, and will compensate for deficiencies whether we want them to or not.  Unfortunately, they often do so at the expense of good posture, flexibility, and range of motion and, as we try to do more strenuous movements, the adaptation can lead to injury.

Warning:  Failure to address posture imbalances can lead to you becoming Justin Bieber.  Nice forward head posture, Biebs.

Warning:  Failure to address posture imbalances can lead to you becoming Justin Bieber.  Nice forward head posture, Biebs.

Correcting an imbalance starts with becoming aware of the imbalance.  The imbalance might be obvious such as a sensation of pain.  Sometimes, the pain will manifest itself in areas distant from the actual point of weakness.  For instance, knee pain can actually be caused by overly tight hamstrings.  The imbalance may be more subtle, as in poor posture, gait, or as in our mobility classmate, under/over-developed muscles.  You might be able to diagnose your issue on your own for example, by observing unequal wear on your shoes, but you’ll probably find a coach or medical professional useful to help you figure out the problem.  Have them observe your movement and make corrections.

You also need to address the cause of the imbalance.  Maybe your long hours at the desk or sitting in the car are throwing off your posture.  Evaluate your environmental conditions and make healthy changes where you can.  If you can mitigate some of the causes, fixing the problem will be easier.

To correct the imbalance, you need a plan and you need to devote time to doing the work.  The plan may involve modifying your everyday actions.  Consider brushing your teeth or beating eggs with the other hand (thanks for the tip, Marcy!), carry the baby on the other hip, use both straps on your backpack, or open doors or put your kettlebells and other weights away with the weaker hand. 

It will also likely involve targeted training, and this is where coaches come in.  Depending on what your issue is, you may be prescribed movements that isolate the affected side and prevent the strong side from compensating for it.  Movements like dumbbell presses and rows, cable and band pulls, and one-arm farmer carries are just some examples of isolated movements.  It is important to train both sides however, so you don’t reverse the imbalance and cause it to take effect on the good side.  Come in early or stay late after a WOD to work on your problem areas.

You will see faster results if you incorporate regular mobility and/or yoga sessions along with this treatment.  I’m also a believer in dry needling for pain relief.

Through a combination of modification of your daily habits and targeted work, you can overcome your imbalances and become more resistant to injury, healthier, and more efficient at CrossFit and life in general.

Sources:

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/4-techniques-reduce-muscle-imbalance.htm

http://ashotofadrenaline.net/muscle-imbalances/

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Recover Hard

by Geoff Rand

 

We’ve all had a tough workout or even a tough week of workouts.  Sometimes you might feel like just taking a week off.  I know I have.  Rest is important, but inactivity is not a prescription for recovery.

Until Dave and Amanda told me about Stan Efferding and his Rhino’s Rhants videos, I had no idea who he was.  Stan is a professional body builder and power lifter who holds several world records.  He has also trained other professional athletes.  Stan has a unique perspective on recovering from injury, having been slated for a hip replacement surgery.  However, instead of getting sliced open, Stan sought out alternative treatments (specifically Active Release Therapy--ART--which I’ll cover in a future article) and was not only able to avoid hip replacement, he went from being barely able to walk to squatting over 900 pounds just a few months later.  While Stan's work with ART and other active strategies helped him recover from injury, they are just as effective in recovering from general fatigue and soreness.

Stan Efferding

Stan Efferding

I think we can all agree that working out with free weights is more effective than working out with machines.  That is why you won’t find machines in CrossFit Boxes.  We are the machines.  The use of free weights engages stabilizing muscles that make those movements far more effective than what you can get from a machine.

Along the same lines, it would make sense that working out harder, more specifically doing a more difficult version of an exercise (GHD sit-up vs. Abmat sit-up, for example) is more effective than doing the easy exercises.  Stan says do the “hard sh!t.”  The same holds true for recovery, the harder sh!t is more effective than the easier sh!t.

For recovery, there are passive treatments like anti-inflamatories, glucosamine, and other pills.  Passive therapies, which Stan describes as “things that are done to you not by you”, are things like cryotherapy, contrast showers, Epson salts, and ice baths. 

When you take anti-inflamatories or apply ice, you are actually inhibiting the body’s natural process of healing by restricting blood flow.  While this may temporarily lessen the sensation of pain, you are actually delaying the recovery of the injury or stressed muscle.

Stan also groups massages, acupuncture, foam rolling, and cupping into the Passive category.  He describes these as “easy” and while maybe more effective than all the baths and pills listed above, they are more superficial and temporary, at least how he sees them.

Our bodies will heal better and faster if we incorporate movement into our recovery methods.  This is stuff you do, versus stuff that is done to you.  Ever have a coach yell at you to “walk it off”?  There might actually be some merit to that.

Our muscles need blood and the nutrients it carries to heal and grow.  Being sedentary limits this blood flow.  You’d be better off getting up and moving around as much as you can depending on your injury or area of soreness.  There’s always a way to scale a CrossFit workout, and you can always do a mobility or yoga class, so there’s no excuse for not coming in.

Hand in hand with our circulatory system is our lymphatic system.  This system rids the body of toxins and waste, however it lacks the pump that our circulatory system has.  The way lymph is moved through the body is through muscle contraction.  So, that sore muscle you have is best healed by, you guessed it, moving that same sore muscle.  If you choose to do nothing, or sleep, or even worse, take a bunch of days off, you’ll only feel worse.

Stan described his recovery after a heavy leg day as several sets of sprints on a recumbent bike.  While this may seem to be overworking and causing further fatigue to an already tired muscle group, the opposite is true.  Pumping large amounts of blood into the legs stimulates healing and speeds recovery.  He says that your active recovery should make you sweat and get your heart rate up.  The goal is to maximize blood flow but avoid placing further load on that muscle group.  High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), air squats, rows, and hill sprints would also work.

So the next time a WOD crushes you, avoid the temptation to stay in bed or on the couch.  Get up and get your butt in the Box and do some active recovery.  Your muscles will thank you.  

Yippee-ki-yay.

Source: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-LCagbUS0nQ

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Rise of the Machines

How Technology is Killing Your Posture

by Geoff Rand

I’d be willing to bet you are reading this article on a handheld device right now.  Did I just bust you hunching over straining to read your screen?  Ever feel a pain in your neck or back after a long bout of texting or surfing the web?  Yes?  Then you’ve got “text neck”.   With all the advances our species has made, technological innovations like cell phones are threatening to erase eons of progress and take us back to the hunched-over stance of our distant ancestors.

Studies have shown as the angle of forward head tilt increases, so does the equivalent weight on your neck.  An average human head weights 10-12 pounds, but with a 60-degree angle of tilt, that head can feel like 60 pounds, destroying your cervical and thoracic spine.  This leads to muscle weakness, skeletal misalignment and joint instability, and can cause pain in other areas as your body attempts to adjust itself to your sub-optimal posture.  It also makes you more prone to injury.  About the only positive to this malady is your frequent visits are helping your chiropractor afford that new Porsche he wanted.

Remember when Nintendo first came out?  I’d play Mario Bros. for hours and hours.  Afterward, my hands would have a painful curve to them as if I’d been rock climbing all day.  We called it Nintendo claw.  Now we have text claw.

How do you minimize text neck and text claw?  Hold your device up at eye level and take frequent breaks as you scroll or text.  Change your focus to what’s around you.  You might even avoid walking into a fountain, open manhole or bus.  Sprawl your fingers and palm out by pressing onto a desk, wall, or floor periodically to counteract the effect of the claw as we type. Return to a good posture before you go back to those important cat videos.  

But even turning off the handheld devices and video games isn’t enough.  Your office chair is trying to kill you.  Team it up with a poorly positioned computer, and your spine doesn’t stand a chance.  Even as I’m writing this article, I’m struggling to maintain a good, stabilized spine position with a laptop sitting way below eye level.

The reality for many of us is we cannot avoid sitting at a desk or in front of a computer for most of our workday.  Mobility expert Dr. Kelly Starrett suggests a few techniques to minimize the damage to your spine while sitting. 

First, have a desk that promotes good posture.  Your monitor should be at eye level and your keyboard at a height that doesn’t encourage slouching forward.  If you can work at a standing height desk, that would be your best option.

When you do sit, keep your back off the back of the chair and sit upright while stabilizing the spine and engaging your abdominal muscles at about 20% effort.  Sounds hard, right?  It is.  Don't get hung up on the 20% figure, but know that a degree of abdominal support needs to be maintained to keep your core stabilized.  Most of us lose focus on this task after just a few minutes even without the distraction of the computer.  You will quickly start hunching forward and rounding your spine.  The key is keeping your abs engaged in some capacity all the time, standing or sitting.  Most of us don’t do this and we are in a constant state of poor posture.

  A:  Proper spinal alignment   B:  Rounded forward    C:  Overextended

  A:  Proper spinal alignment   B:  Rounded forward    C:  Overextended

Kelly suggests standing up and reorganizing your stable sitting position every 10-15 minutes.  Yes, I know this is hardly realistic.  Maybe take up smoking so you have a reason to go outside frequently.  (I’m totally joking here people).

If you are able to stand up and reset at whatever time interval you can manage, it is important to establish that good, supported, upright spinal posture each time you sit down.  If you plop down like a bag of Jello and then try to fix a sloppy position, you will likely hunch forward or overextend backwards.

All hope is not lost, however.  There are some stretches you can do to counter that thoracic hunch and text neck.  But, they don’t work unless you actually do them.

The Counter Stretch

1.     Stand facing a table or counter that is about waist to chest high.  Place your hands on it and walk your feet back so that your feet are under your hips.

2.     Your feet should be straight or even slightly pigeon toed.  Push your butt/hips back, forming an arch in your lower back while moving your chest down towards the floor.  Lock out your elbows and tighten your quads.

3.      Breathe and hold the position for 1 minute making sure to keep equal weight distribution in your feet.

The Static Extension Position

1.     Start on all fours with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.

2.     Walk your hands out in front 6 inches, then shift your body forward so that your shoulders stack right over your wrists.  Your hips should now be about 6 inches in front of your knees.

3.     Spread your fingers, keep your elbows locked out, and allow your shoulder blades to collapse together.  Let your head hang, releasing your neck.  Relax your stomach and allow your lower back to arch.

4.     Hold for 2 minutes.  Don’t let your elbows bend.

Upper Spinal Floor Twist

1.     Lie on the floor with knees bent at 90 degrees and arms stacked straight out in front of you.

2.     Your arm closest to your knees rests on your knees, holding them together while the other arm reaches above and away from your knees.  Turn your head to look at your upper hand.

3.     Keep your knees stacked, breathe, and hold for 1-2 minutes.  Don’t let your knees come apart.  Repeat on the other side.

These are just a few of the exercises you can do to help reverse the effects technology has had on us.  See the links below for more information, pick up a copy of Kelly Starrett’s mobility bible, Becoming a Supple Leopard, or come to CFF’s yoga or mobility classes, where you can work on correcting these imbalances up to three times a week.

Sources:

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/sit-better-live-better-excerpt-from-becoming-a-supple-leopard.html

https://www.t-nation.com/training/dump-the-slump

http://dailyburn.com/life/tech/text-neck-posture-exercises/

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/omg-youre-texting-your-way-to-back-pain/

 

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