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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.






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.






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.




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.





On the Mat…My First Exposure to Yoga

On the Mat…My First Exposure to Yoga

By Geoff Rand

It was a cold Saturday in late February.  A light wind whispered through the bare tree branches.  I walked into the Box like many times before, ready for the team WOD.  I thought I was ready for the yoga class that followed.  It was just going to be some sitting cross-legged on a mat with some light stretching, right?  No sweat.  I can handle that…  I was wrong. 

We lost a good man that day…

I had seen that CrossFit Frederick had a new yoga instructor, Gabby, running classes on Saturdays at 10:15 AM.  Over the years I had heard several people at the Box say “I wish they had yoga here.”  Many were really excited to hear that yoga was coming to CFF.  I figured a yoga class was like what they showed on TV, a bunch of people sitting quietly on their mats doing some gentle stretching.  At the time, my shoulder was really sore and I figured some easy stretches would be good for it.

We cleaned up after the team WOD; I downed a quick shake and unrolled my mat.  We had a good turn out for the first yoga class, about 15-18 of us.  Gabby got right into it.  I don’t remember the first stretches we did, but I’ll never forget the core work that came next.  Leg raises… A lot of them.  All the way up to 90 degrees and 45-degree and 15-degree holds.  A slew of expletives were expelled from our mouths as we gasped for air, abs on fire.  Gabby cracked a smile.  Not a wicked “Amanda” smile, but more of a “who are these people?” smile.  I guess CrossFit types blurting out 4-letter words aren’t her normal clientele.  She offered the encouragement that we were almost done…  Almost done with the core exercises, that is.

We moved right into the next series of movements.  I came to learn that this was “the flow”, meaning there is no stopping, just transitioning from one series of poses to the next.  We did many Chaturangas, a sort of push up movement, and upward and downward dogs, variations of pikes and planks.  The repetition gives you plenty of time to get comfortable with the poses, and that was good because they were all foreign to me.  I lost track of time, but I guessed we had been there awhile by the growing pool of sweat on my mat.  But we weren’t done just yet.

Lunges, twists; balancing on one leg.  I can’t remember how many times I had to use my arm to brace my fall.  I felt like I was miserably failing a roadside sobriety test.  The poses gradually increased in difficulty, but there was always a way to scale it to your ability, and you could take a break if you felt you needed to.

Next up, the crow pose where you press your hands to the ground while leaning forward and balancing, resting your knees on your triceps, with your feet off the ground.  I wasn’t expecting to be able to do it, but I tried.  The fact that my arms were slick with sweat did not make this any easier.  My knees wanted to slide down my arms.  I was shaking, waiting for the face plant, but it never came.  A brief victory.  For a moment, I considered joining the circus.

But somewhere during all of this, a friend hit his wall.  He was completely drained and spent the rest of the class sprawled out on his mat.  Man down.

Man Down

Man Down

We continued on with a few more poses, and then transitioned into more of a slower-paced series of stretches.  Child’s pose, corpse pose, things that were more in line with what I had expected yoga to be.  By the end, I was tired and relaxed, but feeling energized.  It is a difficult sensation to put into words.

I returned for several weeks after that, and I’m still attending Gabby’s classes, as my schedule permits.  Each week there are familiar poses mixed in with new challenges.  Every class is different.  What’s cool about her classes is that you can join in no matter what your skill level or experience is with yoga.  Just starting out?  Use some yoga blocks to help support yourself as your flexibility improves.  Intermediate or advanced yogis can try inversions and balances of increased difficulty.

Gabby often makes reference to “your practice”, and practice is how you get better.  After a few weeks, I’m starting to maintain better balance.  My headstands are steady and I’m controlled rising up and lowering out of them.  My handstands will require more work, however.

Even though yoga turned out to be something very different from what I expected, I enjoy it.  I think it compliments our daily WODs nicely.  Yoga helps improve balance and increases flexibility.  And, with the pace of the flow, it certainly is a workout.  Gabby offers words of encouragement during her classes and reminds you to be in tune with your breathing.  It is fun, challenging, relaxing, and energizing all at once.

So bring your mat to her next Saturday session and experience Gabby’s Power Vinyasa Flow and see if you can put the feeling you feel into words.  Please pre-register via the Mind Body program.

By the way, Gabby is now “one of those CrossFit types” and you might see her WOD-ing beside you during various sessions throughout the week.  She’s still smiling, but I haven’t heard her blurt out any 4-letter words yet.

UPDATE:  Gabby has since modified her yoga sessions slightly from what is depicted above.  Since she started doing the Saturday team WODs with us, she realized an intense yoga session might be a little too much for people who just did that WOD.  She has changed her program to have a bit more of a restorative concentration, "focusing on breathing, stretching and a little flow in the beginning to get your heart rate up."  It is suitable for those staying on after the team WOD and those who may have just gotten out of bed.  In the session I attended a couple weeks ago, she tailored it to target the areas that just got blasted during the team WOD.  I think it is a great change.  Gabby is always seeking feedback on her sessions, so contact her through Facebook should you have any questions or suggestions.