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In Search of the Origin of the Kettlebell

The kettlebell’s design and methods of use target multiple muscle groups at the same time, requiring great core stabilization, balance, and dynamic force resulting in a serious total body workout. But where did the kettlebell come from?



Do You Know How to Tie Your Shoes?  Part 2

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In Part 1 of How to Tie Your Shoes, we discussed lock lacing, a way to prevent heel slippage.  But did you know that there are several other lacing techniques designed to address a multitude of foot issues?  Check out this chart and see if any of them apply to you.


This link also shows how-to videos for all those lacing techniques.

This link shows a few alternatives with good photos of the lacing methods.


Proper lacing is important, but it means nothing if your shoes don’t fit.  Here are some tips to make sure you get the proper size.

·      Try on shoes in afternoon or evening.  Feet tend to swell during daily activity.  You want to try on new shoes when your feet are at their largest size.

·      Always try on shoes while wearing the socks you will normally wear with them.  This may mean bringing a pair of socks with you to the store.

·      Have a salesperson measure both of your feet, and measure them while standing.  The measurement more accurately reflects your actual size when taken while standing.  And, since foot size and width can vary between a person’s feet, it’s a good idea to verify you are getting the right size.  If there is a difference, chose a shoe based on the larger foot’s dimensions.



When trying on shoes, you should be looking at 3 key areas.

·      Toes - Your longest toe should be approximately one finger width away from the end of the shoe. You should also have enough extra room to wiggle your toes up and down freely, but not so much that the shoes feel loose.

·      Heels - The back of the shoes should snugly hold your heel in place without any pinching or discomfort. It should be snug enough that your heel stays put when walking. Any slippage could cause rubbing and lead to blisters.

·      Width - From the heel to your toes, the shoes should be wide enough to comfortably hug your foot without squeezing. Your foot shouldn’t slip from side to side nor forward and backward in the shoes when walking.

Know that while a shoe states it is a certain size, the robot or person who stitched it could have been off.  If it doesn’t seem right, try another pair.

Hopefully with these tips and alternate lacing methods you can find a shoe that fits and feels right for you.  Have you tried one of these lacing methods?  Tell us about it in the comments.

--by Geoff Rand







Do You Know How to Tie Your Shoes? Part 1

By Geoff Rand


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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.


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.


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.





Anatomy of a Barbell


by Geoff Rand

Barbells.  We use them almost everyday in the Box, but have you ever stopped to think about the piece of metal in your hands, what its parts are, and the reasons behind how it functions?  Well I did.

Weightlifting is one of the original sports of the modern Olympics, and barbells have been a part of those games from the beginning.  However, the barbell we use today has evolved quite a bit from its ancestors of long ago.

Before we dive too deeply into what makes up a barbell, you should know that there are essentially two types of barbells, power lifting barbells and Olympic lifting barbells (the type we primarily use).  Throughout this article I’ll touch on the differences of the two bars.

Whip.  This is the ability of the bar to flex and store elastic energy.  Olympic bars have a great deal of whip; powerlifting bars are more rigid.   The reason for this is the Olympic lifts of the snatch and clean and jerk involve dynamic movement.  Trained athletes use the flexion of the bar to their advantage to assist in making these lifts.

Power lifters don’t want flex in their bars.  Their movements of the squat, bench press, and deadlift don’t require dynamic energy to be stored, and in fact, too much flex on their bars could make the lift more difficult.  The rigid powerlifting bars are sometimes a bit thicker, allowing more weight to be put on them.



Knurling.  For me, knurling is the cheese grater that scrapes the skin off my shins on deadlifts.  Its real purpose is to give you a better grip.   There’s actually smooth sections of the bar without knurling designed to not tear you up, so maybe my stance is a bit off.   One key difference in Olympic bars and powerlifting bars is the lack of center knurling on Olympic bars.  We don’t need center knurling for our lifts.  Can you imagine the damage it would cause to our necks and chests during cleans?  Yikes!

Powerlifting bars often DO have center knurling.  Some say it is a throwback to the old days when the one hand snatch was an event.  Center knurling can be favored by athletes doing back squats as the knurling is supposed to keep the bar from sliding down your back under heavy load.  Whatever the reason, if you are in the market for a bar for CrossFit-type exercises, stay away from ones with center knurling.


You’ll see in most bars, including our Olympic bars, notches in the knurling (see photo above), or a sort of two thin stripes in the middle of the knurled sections.  These are to allow you to reliably and quickly find your proper hand position for the lift.


Sleeves.  The sleeves are the ends of the barbells we slide the weights on.  A key feature of Olympic bars is a rotating sleeve.  The sleeves rotate on a washer or ball bearing system.  The reason for the sleeves rotating is to allow the lifter to get under the bar quickly on the snatch and clean and jerk, without having to change their hand position.  In the early days, bars did not have this feature, and lifters had to essentially reverse curl their bars into position, resulting in wrist and arm injuries.

Powerlifting bars still spin, however the need for them to spin as freely as Olympic bars is not as great, so they use cheaper bushings, rather than ball bearings.

Whether you are using an Olympic bar or a Powerlifting bar, it is important to remember to never drop a bar that is not loaded with bumper weights.  Dropping an unloaded bar or one with metal plates on it can easily bend the bar or damage the sleeves and their rotating system.  Bars are expensive.  Please don’t contribute to their need for early replacement.

If you’d like to know more about bars, specifically finishes and varying dimensions, Rogue has a great video about them. 

While they may seem like just simple pieces of steel, there is a lot of technology and purpose built into bars.  Hopefully you understand your barbell a little bit better now.




Getting All Wrapped Up in Compression Gear

by Geoff Rand

Compression clothing claims to cause increased performance and speed recovery.  These garments have appeared on many athletes in the CrossFit Games, but does compression clothing actually offer any benefit to their performance or recovery?

Compression technology is not a new concept.  With its roots as medical devices, compression stockings and socks have been used to promote better circulation and reduce fatigue in patients with lower leg ailments and poor circulation.  Always in search of a competitive edge, athletes adapted compression gear to their sports and eventually companies began producing shooting sleeves, compression shorts, calve and thigh sleeves, compression socks and even full-body suits.

Several studies have been conducted on athletes in many sports to include endurance running, cycling, bodybuilding, basketball, and others.  In these studies, varying physiological measurements were taken and test groups were given compression clothing, placebo clothing, or normal clothing to wear during exercise.  Some studies also compared the recovery characteristics of compression clothing to traditional recovery methods like stretching and ice baths.

The results of the groups measuring performance seemed to indicate zero to minimal increased performance by the test subjects wearing compression gear.  When you wrangle on a sleeve or a pair of tights, you may feel like the sensation of everything being pulled tightly together is going to help you run faster or jump higher, but the study results don’t support this.

The data from the recovery studies pointed to the conclusion that compression clothing does have a positive impact on recovery.  This seems to be supported by a significant number of people who report a measureable reduction in pain or fatigue following certain workouts in which compression is worn compared to the same types of exercises performed without compression.

Even with these studies, compression technology is not fully understood and more studies need to be conducted to determine if there is a benefit to wearing compression clothing during a workout versus only wearing it after a workout.

So, if you are expecting to jump higher or lift heavier just by pulling on some tight piece of lycra spandex, think again.  But if you suffer from chronic calf cramps every time you run, they might be worth a try.  Just know why you are wearing them.




Pump Up Your Lifts With a Belt

by Geoff Rand

Hopefully I’m not dating myself too much here, but the Saturday Night Live skit of Hans and Franz ranks as one of my all time favorites.  These two meat heads hosted an informative exercise show where they would call people “girlie man” in their Schwarzenegger voices all while flexing and posing in their grey sweats and lifting belts, proclaiming “…and we are here to pump you up!”

While this may be the image many think of when looking at people wearing lifting belts, it’s not always the case.  Just like any other piece of equipment, the belt is a tool, that when used properly in the right situations, can help prevent injury and increase the weight you can move in your lifts.

Let’s get some myths out the way here.  The belt is NOT a brace that supports your torso so your core muscles don’t have to.  And, it does NOT contribute to weakening of core muscles.  In fact, the opposite is true.

Lifting belts should be adjusted so they are tight around the core, but not so tight you cannot breathe.  When you inhale deeply, your abdominal muscles and lower back muscles attempt to push outward, but the belt limits them.  The effect of the core attempting to push against the belt is that the forces pushing off the belt stabilize the spine.  It is a combination of proper breathing and proper positioning of the belt that makes lifting belts effective, not the belt alone.

If you remember from several blog articles ago, we talked about the Valsalva maneuver as it pertains to breathing and lifts in this post.  In short, the technique involves exhaling against a closed airway, which generates pressure in the core and stabilizes the spine.  When you breathe this way, the belt actually amplifies the inward stabilizing pressure, making your lifts safer and more effective.

You need to position the belt properly so that it doesn’t get stuck in your hip crease when squatting or push up against your rib cage.  For tightness, make it tight, but make it so you can still slide a hand between it and your body.  Adjust as needed.

One tip with the belt is to wear the metal buckle slightly offset so you don’t scrape the bar against it during cleans or snatches.

I’ve noticed the belt also functions as sort of reminder to keep the core stabilized.  You can’t inhale deeply without feeling your core push against it, and it just reminds me to focus on spinal stability, which I often neglect when thinking about all the other parts of a complex lift.

Belts can be worn for any lift that involves the need for spinal stability, which is pretty much all of them.  However, you should be developing the ability to stabilize your core by itself, without the need for a belt, for all but your heaviest lifts.  A rule of thumb is to keep the belt off until you get to about 85% of your one rep max.  You should be increasing the weight you can lift without the belt over time, so this 85% number will need to be adjusted periodically.

So if you are noticing back pain in your lifts or have been stuck at a plateau weight for awhile, a lifting belt might be for you.  Try one out and see if it helps to pump up your lifts.  Grey sweats and fingerless gloves not required.