Baby Push Ups?

(Editor’s Note: this is a guest blog by our friend Dr. Chris Feil of Team Chiropractic and Rehabilitation of Ames.)

Baby Push Up


I don’t care how many times a week you workout at CrossFit, when you were 10 months old, you probably had better push-up form/technique than you do now!  How can that be?  It’s actually quite simple – a healthy infant trains their stabilizing muscles all day long.  They do this by the simple act of crawling.  When you think about it, spending all day on your hands and knees does wonders for developing the muscles that run from your back and ribs to your shoulder blades (scapula); these muscles are what we in the rehab community call scapular stabilizers.  Specifically, the scapular stabilizing muscles are: lower trapezius, serratus anterior, and rhomboids.  Unfortunately these muscles are often underdeveloped and neglected.

As we get older, we tend to stop using the scapular stabilizing group of muscles in our modern lives.  We spend hours sitting or standing with sometimes not so great posture.  Even people that “go to the gym” may not have an adequate ability to control their scapula because many of the exercises they preform are pushing exercises (there is a difference between a bench press and a push-up, functionally).  It is not coincidence that many of my patients that have shoulder pain and or neck pain/mid back pain, have tight chest muscles (Pec and Pec minor) and tight muscles that run from the neck to the shoulder (upper trapezius and Levator scapula).  Typically these muscles tighten because the scapular stabilizing muscles are underdeveloped and under-utilized, leading to a rounding of the shoulders and an observable “winging” or elevation of the shoulder blades.

Back to the baby push-ups; to crawl effectively an infant must be able to keep their shoulder blades “glued” to their rib cage.  This allows them to shift their body weight from one arm to the other as they pivot and crawl forward.  Without this ability to stabilize their scapula, they would not be able to move from one arm to another while holding up their body. This concept of scapula hugging the rib cage is the big difference between a proper push-up and an exercise like a bench press.  Bench pressing is grasping a weight and moving your hands up and down, actually the opposite motion of a pushup, functionally. Preforming a proper pushup is really about using your shoulder blades to lift your torso up and down, much like the infant uses the shoulder blade to control the body while crawling.  The concept may seem simple, but most people focus on their arms and hands too much when preforming push-ups and actually put their shoulders in a compromised position leading to increased strain on the shoulder and eventually impairment.  Instead, focus on the tips below to help you revert back to your perfect baby style push-ups:

  • Start on the ground perfectly flat, lift the hands up off the ground and squeeze the shoulders blades down and back. (Keep the shoulder blades glued to the rib cages during the whole pushup movement)
  • Place the hands on the ground using a narrow hand position
  • Keep the hands below the plane of your shoulders
  • Direct the crease of your elbows forward (toward the direction of your head) as you push up
  • Shift the weight in your hands off the index finger and thumb to a more balanced palm pressure
  • Keep your pelvis and lower back in a neutral position
  • Keep your chin tucked in and your head retracted back.


-Dr. Chris Feil

Team Chiropractic and Rehabilitation of Ames

Pursuing Longevity and Personal Maintenance

by Coach Mo

(Editor’s Note: As a bit of a forward, you will hopefully be noticing that we are upping our game in our Nutrition and Wisdom blogs. We spend a lot of time cultivating knowledge for ourselves as coaches and athletes, but only have a limited time to share it with our members. Below, Morgan explains the importance of reading, digesting, and practicing the material we set forth for you. Education never stops! -Tim)

brandon roll out
Mystery athlete promoting his own longevity

As coaches, we have a hierarchy of issues to address while leading a class – yes, we do more than just run the clock! A huge advantage of CrossFit is that our members have the benefit of well-structured programming and coaches to watch and correct form, push you when you need it, and share the wealth of knowledge we have and continue to attain. We have a big job on our hands to continually learn and improve, but there is a mutually important job in the hands of our members as well. CrossFit is an interactive experience; while on the surface it appears that CrossFit is just about being the fastest and strongest athlete at any cost, there is a much deeper purpose and direction for our training. The very first element we work on is form – hence our fundamentals course. Then we begin to add weight and/or intensity depending on the individual and the progress of form. We are wildly concerned with preventing injury, or, in other words (better words): promoting longevity. Many people come through the doors thinking that they need to perform workouts with RX weight, need to PR on strength days all the time, and should be “much stronger than they are.” Well I’m telling you right now that it should be just as important to you as it is to us that you hammer down the form of any movement first and do everything in your power to prevent injury. You will be amazed at how much focusing on proper form will improve your lifts. Not only that, but you will strengthen your core and improve your breathing when you are in a solid lift position.

The interactive portion referred to above of CrossFit is reading the material that is out there to understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. We are working out but we are also improving our overall FITness, something that will improve your quality of life and longevity in more ways than any prescription from a doctor can fill. Part of that longevity, as I mentioned, comes from maintaining your body and making sure you are caring for it in every way possible.

As an example, Dr. Chris Feil recently wrote an article for us regarding the overhead position and its impact on our shoulders. It is very important with how much more we use our major joints (the shoulders and hips) that we are very conscious of our positioning, especially in the overhead position. Our shoulders can sustain a lot but eventually being in an unstable position with weight can cause them to loosen and get injured. Therefore it goes without saying that a stable overhead position is a major key to longevity in CrossFit and in life. Please take the time to read this and all articles, head their advice, and make a conscious effort to apply it in the gym and your every day life.

Karl’s Goal Was Attendance…What He Got Was 26# Weight Loss

by Coach Mo

Oftentimes results are a byproduct of another goal or focus. Many people come to us with the goal of losing weight. After six weeks, or maybe even less, they are figuring out a game plan for adding more weight to the bar and PR on their lifts and workout times. It’s a beautiful thing. You quit focusing on your body and the scale and start to have FUN with fitness, and the weight loss is a bonus! For Karl, he had the goal of attending class every day he was in town (i.e. not traveling for work). He crushed this goal and went on to lose 26# in just 6 weeks!

Karl is a graduate of our most recent Bootcamp at CrossFit West Ames. He had been going to another class-based program in Ames for four years and while he had great results at first…his routine became mundane and his motivation had dwindled. He needed challenged in a new way and wanted to experience changes in both his body and routine.  Below is his story…

I came to Bootcamp and Crossfit West Ames looking for a change. I had been doing the same thing for almost four years and I wasn’t feeling challenged like I wanted. I have friends that do Crossfit and have mentioned I should try it so I decided to take them up on their offer.  I went to a bring a friend event, signed up for a “try-out” and started bootcamp on the Saturday of the same week!

Read more

What Does Your Rib Cage Have to do With CrossFit and Car Maintenance?

(Editor’s Note: this is a guest blog from our friend Dr. Chris Feil of Team Chiropractic and Rehabilitation of Ames.)

If the internet has done one thing for the world, it has made average people into “experts” on almost any topic with just a few clicks.  My personal area of internet pseudo expertise is in the field of auto mechanics (just ask my wife how many times I’ve tried to save money fixing the car myself). It seems so easy on Youtube, and message boards always have creditable information, right?  The same can be said for fitness and sport injuries information on the web. I believe the majority of content on the web is generally reliable (you are most likely reading this online), the problem starts when fundamentals are glossed over or basic concepts are assumed. In the world of functional exercise a great deal of attention is placed on athlete’s injuries, but not enough time and emphasis is spent on correct posture to prevent injuries.

As CrossFit coaches and organizations push to continually challenge and vary workouts, one of the undervalued fundamentals of shoulder and spinal health, is the posture of the thoracic cage. I believe if coaches and athletes spent more time focusing on the posture and movement of the thoracic cage during exercise, several shoulder and spinal injuries could be prevented. Believe it or not, by simply observing the positioning (posture) of the thoracic cage prior to an individual preforming an exercise, you can estimate how successful they will be at performing the exercise.

car jackMy novice ability to fix a car is the perfect analogy as to why the position of the thoracic cage is so important during exercise. A few years back I needed new brake pads for my car, so I pulled up a trusty YouTube video, ordered my parts online, and took on the automotive challenge in the driveway of my new house. As I jacked up the car, I failed to notice that the driveway at our new house had a slight slope compared to our old driveway. Just as I removed the second front tire, the car began to slowly lean backwards. I jumped away as the car slipped off the car jack and crashed to the ground. In this analogy, the sloped driveway represents the thoracic cage, the jack represents the scapula (shoulder blade), and the car is the shoulder. In the rehab world, a great deal of emphasis is placed on “scapular stability” to help injured shoulders. I am here to tell you that scapular stability is functionally impossible to obtain if the thoracic cage is out of position. The bigger the slope in the driveway, the more unstable the car jack is!

The thoracic cage consists of the spinal bones of the mid back (thoracic spine), the attaching ribs, and all of the muscles that attach to the bones and cartilage. The accepted term for faulty positioning of the thoracic cage is a “rib flare”.

rib flare

Picture taking a deep breath into your lungs and holding it; the resulting rib position would be an example of a rib flare.The entire rib cage is elevated and the base of the front of the rib cage is protruded forward and out. Functionally this causes a lot of compromise in the body:

  • The elongated posture of the rib flare causes a functionally long/weak core muscle.
  • Hyperextended lumbar posture due to elevated thoracic cage and disengaged core muscles
  • Rounded shoulders because the scapulae will try to maintain a vertical position to ground level at all times, this causes the scapulae to elevate and lose full contact with the thoracic cage wall

skeletal thoracicWhy does a rib flare commonly occur in functional exercises like pull-ups, squats, pushups and overhead pressing? I think the number one reason people continue to exercise with a rib flare is that it provides “passive” stability when preforming explosive movements. “Active” stability is achieved by correct activation of stabilizing muscle groups in the region. For example: the abdominals and the muscles of the mid back. If the stabilizing muscle groups are inactive or weak, athletes will start to use the end range positions of their joints to provide a base of support for their body as they exercise. Meaning, the lower back joints lock into hyperextension and a rib flare causes the thoracic cage to become rigid and compressed, all to make up for a lack of active muscular stability. There are a few problems with this postural fault:

  • A great deal of stress is placed on the joints of the lower back
  • The middle back loses its ability to rotate due to the stiffening of the thoracic cage
  • The scapulae are moved out of a position of stability, increasing strain on the actual shoulders.

When I went back and re-watched the automotive YouTube videos after dropping my car, of course I saw there were blocks behind the tires when they jacked up their car. A slight detail that I originally overlooked. Now, anytime that I jack up the car I place blocks under the tires to prevent the car from rolling down the driveway again. Going back to the shoulder analogy, the “tire blocks” represent our rotator cuff muscles. The number one job of the cuff muscles is to keep the shoulder stable in its socket. Athletes always ask me why their cuff muscles are tight and sore. I tell them it’s because of their posture; they usually give me a funny look. After a few visits they start to understand positioning the thoracic cage correctly during activity, enables the scapulae to stabilize in the thoracic wall, greatly reducing the stress in the lumbar spine and rotator cuffs.

Correcting a rib flare may be as simple as tightening the core muscles to pull the rib cage back down prior to and during an exercise. But, in an athlete that has had a rib flare for several years, it may take longer to correct the problem.  First they have to regain the mobility of the thoracic spine and rib cage. The best way to combat a long-term postural problem is a ton of foam rolling (don’t forget to roll out the ribs) and dynamic mobility exercises. The mobility exercises must be followed up with a retraining program targeting core, glute, and scapular muscle activation and strength. Video analysis can be used to help the athlete visualize correct posture during exercise too.

In summary: Strengthen your core and do more mobility work on your thoracic cage. Do not constantly hyperextend your lower back and flare your ribs when exercising. Be sure to pay attention to details, and most importantly, never let me fix your car!


-Dr. Chris Feil
Team Chiropractic and Rehabilitation of Ames

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Couch to CrossFit: Sara’s Cold Turkey Adventure to the Fit Life – and 60# Weight Loss!

by Coach Mo

Sara is one of our newest athletes to CrossFit and has an amazing story that I asked her to share. Our hope in sharing this is that she will inspire others who may be needing a change and don’t know where to start, are struggling to stay consistent or get motivated, and also to have you join us in celebrating her journey and accomplishments.

Looking for a Change

“I had been thinking about [making a change in my health and fitness] for at least nine months before making the decision [to start Bootcamp]. I just didn’t know where toIMG_2918-300x300 start. It all seemed very overwhelming. I finally hit the wall this past May (2015) when I needed to buy more business-appropriate clothes for a new job and had a very hard time finding anything that fit. When the biggest size in a plus-sized woman’s store is tight, you have to do something.”

The Beginning

Sara started the Whole30 ( on June 29, 2015 through the encouragement and support of a friend. “I decided to change this first because it seemed the smartest way to start.  I knew my eating habits were extremely unhealthy and that I had to do something. You have to eat. You can’t give it up like smoking or drinking. I had to get it under control before doing anything else.”

It was a drastic change, but having everything spelled out as to what she could and could not eat made it approachable. She committed to it wholeheartedly – AND cold turkey. “Thankfully, I had given up soda in March and that helped a lot. I spent one day cleaning out my cupboards and refrigerator and the next day I went grocery shopping for my new lifestyle. It was and wasn’t hard. I had made the decision, so there was no going back – but on those nights when you’re tired or short on time, clean eating isn’t easy. It’s easier to order a pizza or grab fast “food” and just try again another time. It doesn’t help that I’m not much of a cook. My work week eating is very basic but it works for me.”

She has continued to follow it every day since then – granting herself a cheat meal once a week.

“For me, doing it any other way (than cold turkey) would not have worked. It’s a very slippery slope when you allow yourself “normal” food. I could have justified eating crap any day of the week or for any occasion. By going cold turkey, I stopped the excuses and just did it.”

How CrossFit Fit In

“My friend that suggested Whole30 is also a CrossFitter. He loves the program and thought I could do it. I – on the other hand – did not agree. It took a lot of prodding and encouragement for me to even seriously consider it. We both thought a bootcamp-type event would be the best way for me to get started; as out of shape as I was, regular CrossFit was not an option [as a starting point].”

Sara found the CFWA Bootcamp and despite doubting her abilities, she signed up. She started with us on July 19th in our Bootcamp 5.0. We have all of our Bootcampers write down their “Why” on the first day. Sara’s was: “To be in better shape. To feel better about myself. To have the people in my life be proud to be seen with me. To be a good example to one of my nieces who is built like me and show her we can be fit.”

She enrolled two more times before joining into CrossFit November 20, 2015.

Having a Support System

“I cannot stress enough how much having my friend as a support system has helped me. Now we compare workouts and encourage each other. I think for anyone to be successful with clean eating and a workout program, you need to have a support system. You need to surround yourself with people who understand your goals and what you want to achieve, especially when you are first starting out. Eventually your family and friends will see the change in you and will truly support your “weird” lifestyle.

I am so thankful for my friend and my new CrossFit friends Martha, Kelsey, and Julie. Without their help and support, I don’t know that I could do this.

If I can do this…anyone can.”


  • Lost 15 pounds on Whole30
  • July 19 – August 29, 2015: Lost 16.4 pounds
  • August 29 – October 3, 2015: Lost 14.2 pounds
  • October 3 – November 19: Lost 15.4 pounds
  • Total weight lost in 4.5 months: 61 pounds
  • Total inches lost in 3 months: 7.5 from waist & 7 from hips

Right around the Corner

There is often a tipping point where change occurs. You feel a void, you hit a wall, you feel unhealthy, unhappy, or complacent – and it’s important to listen when life tries telling you something. We try very hard to suppress these feelings of unrest and think things will “work out on their own” or “what’s meant to be will be.” But the reality is things don’t really change unless you put your own fork in the road. Not everyone will understand and you have to know that the time you spent doing other things will become time spent on treading this new path.

Sara had these results in literally 4.5 months through dedication, consistency, and DRIVE. She was stronger than her strongest excuse. With a similar mindset – your goals and results are truly right around the corner. Taking care of yourself is not a temporary thing – it must be done on a daily basis.  It does not have to be a chore, but it is a responsibility that is incredibly empowering and fulfilling. I can’t wait to see where Sara is after a year into her journey.

Five Things to do to Get Ready for your First Day of CrossFit

by Coach Tim

Are you the type of person that has been thinking about doing CrossFit for months or years, but just can’t seem to get over the “being the new guy” hurdle? One of the most frequent things we hear is, “I need to get in shape before I start CrossFit.” Well, that’s not actually the case. CrossFit is not just what you see on ESPN – that is an entirely different level of athleticism and competition that is not what you will find in most boxes you visit. CrossFit is intended to get you in better shape than you currently are. Most gyms also have an introductory program, ours is our Bootcamp, that teaches you how to move and proper form. That being said, here are some basic steps that will make you feel more comfortable and prepared the first time you walk in the door.


Practice Squats. Squats are pretty much a universal favorite at any CrossFit gym, so start yourself off right and start practicing squats. Set your feet at about the same width as your shoulders, pull your shoulder blades back and drop your butt slightly backwards and down while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Try to get your quads below parallel to the ground. If you find yourself falling or unable to get that low, find a chair or bench and practice sitting down and standing up without using your hands.

Your squats may not be perfect, but that’s what the gym’s trainers are there for. Even in the mildest of intro workouts, the top feedback we get is “my legs are so sore!”. So help yourself out and get a head start. Going from zero squats to fifty in your first session will be a much more dramatic shock on the system than if you started with ten today, fifteen tomorrow, twenty the next day and so on.


Practice Planks. There are a lot of muscles that go into a simple plank. Your shoulders, triceps, chest and shoulder blades must create stability. Your core must lock your torso to your hips. Your glutes lock your abdomen to your legs and your quads lock your knees. While we don’t do a lot of “hold a plank for time” movements, the strength and conditioning that can be acquired from holding a plank for just a few minutes a day will translate very well into a lot of movement you’ll be seeing.


Practice Burpees. You’re probably going to see them, so why not knock out a few to get used to them? Start by standing, reach down and place your palms on the ground near your feet, shoot or step your feet out into a plank position, lower the chest down to the ground as in a pushup, then back up to plank, jump or step the feet near the hands, return to standing with a vertical jump and throw in a clap overhead while you’re in the air. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect – we seldom require a “strict” pushup in it, just get the chest to the ground and return to standing with that jump and clap.

Burpees are another one of those things that are pretty universally used in any CrossFit gym as both a fitness assessment and a way to bring any workout from “this isn’t too bad” to “wow this sucks”. So, just like squats, you might as well get a head start on them. Start with eight today, add in a few tomorrow and so on. Protip! When performing your first burpee, start with your initial movement to the ground. Nothing screams “newbie” like starting burpee number one with a jump then reaching for the ground.

Hydrate. Drink water. Your body is about to undergo some serious stress, so we want to be sure that it can wash away byproducts of the metabolic shock it’s going to see and has the delivery system in place to replenish. Aim for a minimum of ½ oz per pound of bodyweight per day, and I’d recommend aiming for ¾ oz/lb bodyweight.

Relax. So you’re probably not going to get your first pullup between now and your first intro session and even if you do you won’t be able to do as many as any of our “regulars”. And that’s fine! Your gym and your instructors are here to show you how to get there and what to do while it’s still developing. As cliche as it sounds, we all started some time – most of any gym’s clients have joined within the past couple years – so people definitely understand and want to help, not criticize. It’s the beginning of the greatest journey of your life, so why sweat the small stuff?

Dispelling the Dangers of Youth Weightlifting

At Ames Strength Club we will be working with clients ages 10 and up to make them stronger, more explosive, flexible, and coordinated. The most common question we will get is – is 10 years old too young to lift and will my child be in danger? I am here to tell you that Olympic weightlifting is safe for your kids and will actually be very beneficial for them.

096-1024x768The most common concern is that lifting will stunt a child’s growth by messing up their growth plates. Weightlifting actually increases bone density, which strengthens your child’s bones. Younger athletes will never lift maximally, but sub-maximally to build proper body mechanics, strength, and coordination.

The other concern is that Olympic weightlifting is not a safe sport. Olympic weightlifting is actually one of the safest sports out there. Your child is over 30 times more likely to get injured playing soccer over Olympic weightlifting. Most injuries occur when the athletes don’t have a proper warm-up, lift above their capabilities, or lift with improper technique. As stated before, younger athletes will never lift maximally and they will never lift without proper technique.

At the beginning of their training younger athletes will start by building strength by sticking to presses, deadlifts, and squats. This is to build the foundation for the younger athletes. It serves them no purpose teaching them the clean and jerk right off the bat if they are not strong enough to pull the bar or get it over their heads. Younger athletes need to build up their strength before they work on the explosive movements.075-768x1024

Younger athletes will also learn how to lift and fail correctly. Not every lift will be a successful one, so the athlete needs to know how to get away from the bar. The child’s safety is always the number one priority. For this reason, technique will always be more important than how much they can lift.

Olympic weightlifting is also about confidence. It does the athlete no good to try to lift to failure and get frustrated. We want the athlete to have good feelings about lifting and this is accomplished by having as few misses as possible. As stated before, the younger athletes will lift sub-maximally which in turn will build up their confidence and make lifting more enjoyable.

Done correctly, Olympic weightlifting is extremely beneficial for your child’s health and athletic performance. Olympic weightlifting relies on power and speed that translates into every sport. For some extra reading I have put a few of the sources I drew from below. Olympic lifting is a great sport and is very safe for younger children.

By John Blessington

Ames Strength Club, Head Coach


Relax, Bro | Tension Headaches and How to Treat Them

headache(Editor’s Note: In the past few weeks we have noticed a handful of people getting tension headaches during their workouts. These are so unbearable you have to stop working out, sit or lie down, and head home to find some relief.)

Tension headaches are characterized by a dull pressure or squeezing pain starting in the back of the neck, at the base of the skull. The symptoms are quick-onset and typically force you to stop activity immediately. The pain spreads forward and is often described as a tight band around the head. There are many “stated” causes, but as the name implies they can be generated from excessively tightening or straining the muscles in your shoulders, neck, and head. This can include clenching your jaw tightly while working out.

Immediate relief suggestions:

  1. Ibuprofen/Aspirin/NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) to help relieve the swelling in the blood vessels around your head and neck.
  2. Sip on (ice) cold water.
  3. Lie down flat – ideally in a dark room – and close your eyes. Try to relax your muscles and breathe deeply and slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Other suggestions:

  1. As always, drink plenty of water. You should be drinking 8 oz. every hour and 16 oz. with larger meals.
  2. Take fish oil. This is a natural anti-inflammatory and helps reduce heart rate, blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and plaque formation in the arteries.
  3. Take magnesium.
  4. Focus on your posture during the workout along with the other 23 hours a day you are not working out.
  5. If you find you are experiencing tensions headaches frequently, get your eyes checked. Vision issues often lead to squinting and increased facial and neck tension. If you usually wear glasses but just go without them during gym time, this may be a major culprit.
  6. Try to focus on breathing and staying relaxed while working out. This may seem difficult or counterintuitive, however it will not only help prevent muscular tension but will help increase your performance. When you tense all of your muscles, strain excessively, or hold your breath while working out you are depleting your oxygen stores and exhausting more muscles than necessary. The movements I see people tense up the most with are double unders, thrusters, jerks, and even sit ups.

Focus on constant, easy breathing throughout the entire workout; if you are lifting heavy or have heavier barbell movements in a WOD, be sure to lock the diaphragm (aka Valsalva maneuver) and set up for your lift as always of course. In addition to focusing on your breath, try to keep your jaw relaxed. Clinching your teeth will tighten several of cheap tramadol 50mg. Try to focus mentally and physically on the muscle groups you are using to perform each movement during your workout.

  1. Monitor your diet for food sensitivities (chocolate, red wine, smoked foods).

Programming Notes | Pause Squats

I love programming our daily classes. A lot of work goes in to putting together the five one-hour classes the comprise the week ahead. A week’s program will typically take an hour or so of actual time sitting in front of my Excel sheet, but many more hours of reading, research, seminars, videos and self-experimentation informs the programming. You, as an athlete, get fantastic results and benefits by simply doing the work prescribed on the white board, but I am a firm believer that understanding WHY you’re doing it will help you get to that next level. While we do try to relay some of this knowledge to you during a class, a lot of that can be easily lost among the initial shock of “wait, you want me to do what now?”. In our Programming Notes series, we will highlight a movement we have used in a recent workout or will be seeing soon and explain how and why to do it. Enjoy! -Tim

In the pause squat, we take a controlled descent into the bottom of the squat – the “hole” if you will – where we pause for a set amount of time (7 seconds or less, typically) before finishing the lift. The pause squat can be done with pretty much any variation of a weighted squat, although the most common and effective ones will be of the front squat and back squat varieties. The pause squat is effective at training for raw strength but also developing more positional awareness, control, and flexibility – all of which are going to make you a better overall squatter. Below are the main areas of focus when we are considering the pause squat.April 21, 2016 167

1. Positional Strength. For almost anyone reading this, your weakest point of any squat will be in the hole. If you fail a squat, it’s because you get stuck in the hole and don’t have the strength to power out. By pausing at the bottom, we get the opportunity to spend some time doing some weighted isometric holds right in that weak spot, which in turn will strengthen the glutes, quads, core and posterior chain the position you are weakest. Additionally, the pause will remove the stretch reflex – storing energy in the elastic lengthening of the muscles that essentially turn them into springs – which means we have to teach our body how to recruit more strength in that bottom position.

2. Control. Once a baseline understanding of a squat is established, the biggest error I see in weighted squats is a crash into the bottom of the squat. This crash typically starts with a nice controlled descent until a point just a bit above parallel, but then most of the tension through the hips and legs is released in an effort to get as low as possible. This causes a collapse through trunk and core and frequently causes the knees to slide forward or collapse in and the hips may drive up first all of which will ultimately be the failure mechanism of the squat. A pause squat teaches us neurologically to slow down going into the hole, to slowly seek out the bottom in a strong, controlled manner which in turn will build proper motor control and muscle memory for future squats.

3. Flexibility. Being tight through the hips, knees, and ankles will manifest itself in a reduction of power in a squat. If we are using muscle power to overcome a tight or short muscle this is a muscle that cannot devote itself 100% to lifting the weight on your shoulders. It’s a common mantra in the weightlifting and power lifting worlds that the best way to develop flexibility for the squat is to do more squats. While this is true to a certain extent, if you think about a typical squat you are spending no more than a fraction of a second in the bottom of a squat, which is the position that requires greatest flexibility. By holding the bottom of the squat for an extended amount of time we are increasing the time the muscles are spent under load in their lengthened position by a factor of ten or even more per squat. More time under tension means faster and more effective results.

Pause squats, while highly effective, will feel a bit torturous during your stay at the bottom of the squat. The most important things to remember is to approach the bottom slowly enough that you are finding a stable, strong position (remember: “comfortable” is not always the same as “stable, strong, and effective”) that will allow you to drive out. Increase your weights slowly as these will take a toll differently from person to person. Depending on the paused time, expect your maxes to be anywhere from 80-95% of what you would be able to do without the pause (more time means less weight, obviously). Ultimately, to continue to lift more and more weight you need to be comfortable in the bottom of the squat, and the best way to develop that comfort is to spend more time there!

Programming Notes | Deadlift

crossfit_west_ames_26The deadlift is a surprisingly controversial movement in much of the CrossFit community. While the benefits of a movement where we train to pick heavy objects off the floor seem fairly straight forward, there also exists a school of thought that states there are significant enough drawbacks to the deadlift that it should be largely eliminated from the programming. These reasons are:

  1. The occurrence of or potential for injury is higher in the deadlift than pretty much any other lift. In a deadlift, you have a large amount of weight being supported in a cantilever fashion from the low back in a much less “stacked” position common with our squats and snatch/clean pulls. This puts stress on our core and erector muscles to keep the spine stabilized or disaster can occur.
  2. Many Olympic Weightlifters do not use deadlift in their programs as it teaches faulty mechanics for the first pull in the clean and the snatch. A properly performed deadlift is all about creating huge amounts of tension and force through the hamstrings and posterior chain which generally results in a position where the upper body is in a more horizontal position. On the initial pull of the olympic lifts, it is important to stay in an upright position that will allow for an explosive and efficient second pull without imparting too much forward momentum into the bar. This results in the “butt down, chest up” position you hear us harp on so much.
  3. As discussed in point one, the deadlift places a huge isometric load on the lower back. Done in sufficient volume and weight this will lead to stiffness and soreness in the low back for the next couple days, even if performed correctly. A stiff lower back will mess up the mechanics of pretty much any of our movements – be it a squat, overhead press, or even something as simple as running. Many people do not believe the benefits of the deadlift outweigh the potential to compromise a day or two of training.

While the deadlift does not feature as prominently in our programming as our squats, cleans, and snatches for lower body strength they certainly do make a semi-frequent appearance as we feel their benefits outweigh their potential drawbacks. You are always going to need to pick items of varying weight off the ground and building strength and muscle control patterns that allow you to do this safely and effectively will benefit you throughout the rest of your life. Our counter-arguments to the above would be as follows:

  1. The deadlift, as with pretty much any athletic movement, only becomes dangerous when proper form and technique is eschewed in favor of ego. We keep the loads light until the athlete has developed a level of proficiency in the lift, then keep a close eye on all athletes while we are increasing weight. We train ourselves as athletes to be aware of compromised positions and our group settings ensure there are sufficient eyes around to let each other know if the form is beginning to falter.
  2. While we may deadlift once every two or three weeks, we are cleaning and snatching at least once a week each. This will help develop our separate motor patterns that are required for the two different types of pull. While the high-level Weightlifters will develop sufficient pulling volume by adding in clean and snatch pulls, high pulls, and shrugs, they are also doing these at weights of three or four hundred pounds fairly regularly. For the athlete that is limited in their clean weight due to form, flexibility, squat strength, and so on we may never reach a pulling stimulus that approaches this effect without doing some good old fashioned deadlift.
    On top of this, we need to keep in mind that these weightlifters are training to be proficient at exactly two lifts – the clean & jerk and the snatch. While not everyone’s goals include participation in CrossFit competitions, enough of us participate in some form (be it a full-fledge competition, a local throwdown or charity event, the Open, or just bragging rights between friends) that we need to be prepared to pull some weight should it be asked of us.
  3. We have a few approaches to combating the soreness that typically accompanies deadlifts. First, we modulate the volume. While we typically do five work sets of increasing weights in our squats and presses, we will generally only do three work sets with deadlift or we may take a relatively short amount of time to work up to a heavy set then back off to 90% or so of it and hit our work sets there. Ultimately, the goal is to do enough volume that the legs and hips are getting stronger but we’re not smoking the back in the process. In the days following the deadlift, our coaches are trained to spend extra warmup and mobility time aimed at restoring motion in the lower back that will ensure we have range of motion necessary to complete the day’s work. Finally, we prevent this soreness by deadlifting with more frequency. Just like any movements from pushups and pullups to weighted squat, the more often you do it the less of a negative effect it will have on you. By performing the deadlift every two or three weeks we help mitigate the result soreness much more so than if we simply saw a random deadlift workout every four months.