You hear us saying it. Everytime the bar goes over our heads someone is yelling out “Active Shoulders”. But why? What exactly does it mean?
Well first of all let’s talk about reasons. Increased stability in the joint creates one less fail point along the kenetic chain of any shoulder inclusive movement. This increased stability will also significantly if not completely remove chance of injury. In most instances, the shoulder doesn’t suffer a single traumatic injury during Crossfit as commonly as chronic overuse injuries. As we already know, things get hurt when they are out of alignment under load. Keeping them in alignment keeps you safe. Finally, with proper active shoulder technique you will be able to comfortably stabilize larger loads on the joint.
So what is it?
It all starts with understanding the anatomy of the shoulder. The shoulder joint is comprised of two main bones. The Scapula (aka Shoulder Blade) and the Humerus. The shoulder is a ball in socket joint. Unlike the hip however, the socket is much shallower and mobile. Meaning you can move the scapula up, down, back and forward. This dramatically increases the range of motion available in the shoulder but decreases the stability of the joint. Since this joint is inherently less stable, it comes equipped with muscles ligaments and tendons that keep the joint tight and happy. When the should becomes out of alignment under load, these tendons and ligaments fight to keep the shoulder in the socket and secure. Doing this repeatedly can leave the general region feeling hot and achy. This phrase “active shoulders” simply means actively pressing the ball into the socket creating a supportive tension in order to provide stabilization. This gives muscular support to the shoulder, rather than allowing your skeleton to hang with tremendous pressure.
So what does it look like when we have “active shoulders?” To put it simply, you are moving the joint against the weight. When pressing weight overhead, the shoulders are activated when shrugging shoulders up closer to the ears, further pressing up towards the weight so that the ball of the shoulder is pressed securely into the socket. When posting up on a dip, the shoulder is pressing down towards your body weight while expanding and spreading the chest to tighten and press the ball to the socket. If hanging from a bar, shoulders are actively being pressed down away from the ears and towards the hanging body weight.
When Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, was pondering what exercises to include in his program and which ones to omit, he certainly considered natural human range of motion. It is built into the very nature of movements like:
Lets use the squat to illustrate this. In healthy humans, hips are able to drop below parallel and then extend to 180 degrees at extension. You should be capable of moving throughout the entire range of a joint with relative ease and strength. Therefore, the exercise program designed to make humans healthy should include the same movement pattern. This is a huge problem with man made machines designed for working out. Folks that have spent years training on an elliptical, although excellent at that exercise, will likely have major deficiencies at any range beyond that which they have been training. Training less than full range of motion is also responsible for bodybuilders and ex-bodybuilders being unable to touch their right shoulder with their right hand. Go ahead, try it out. Therefore, if you are coming to CrossFit from any other arena of fitness, you should first focus on achieving correct positioning. Then concern yourself with adding weight and speed. This is why we are so adamant about our Fundamentals Program.
Full Range of Motion is also important for honest self assessment. It is a consistent standard by which workouts should be done. Imagine the following scenario. You complete Cindy on day 1 and hit 15 rounds at full range of motion. Then go on a one month vacation where you eat, drink and don’t workout. Then, upon arrival home, attempt the workout again and cut corners to beat your previous score of 15. You have actually gotten worse despite the score staying the same or improving. Now, lets say you got 16 the second time around. From this day forward you will want to try to hit 16 but since you never hit full ROM it will be really hard to do without cheating again. This puts you in a bad place where you will tend to feel pressured to cheat. Have the self-confidence to be honest with yourself. You will find it much easier to look yourself in the mirror each morning knowing you have been honest.
In addition to the negative health implications with partial range of motion, you might find yourself being disliked by your peers. CrossFit is, of course, competitive by nature. Your peers tend to find it very frustrating to work hard at full ROM only to be beaten by someone who they consider to have done less work. In an effort to keep the atmosphere in the gym positive and encouraging, we want to discourage resentment from creeping in via cheating. This is in no way a callout to anyone but we hope that reading this will help you to understand the importance of Full ROM.
I’d bet the person in the second video cant reach their hands all the way over their heads.
written by Dave Lipson
Midline stability is a common theme taught in crossfit. Simply put it refers to a fixed and braced position of a nuetral spine wedded to the pelvis. If you stand up straight and put one finger on the sternum and another on the top of the pelvic bone, this distance would represent your midline. If the distance between those two points changes at any time while moving, you have compromised your midline stability. Midline stability and bracing the spine are things we do during almost all activities that move a large load, a long distance quickly. (See kenetic chain part 1 for why.)
The yoke is a fairly simple implement that involves a long straight base that is loaded in front and behind the lifter with a large thick crossbar that is picked up out of the quarter squat. Picture a loaded barbell welded to the wrack with an even load infront and behind the bar. A makeshift (chain yoke) model can be made with 4′ chains hooked on to the ends of the bar, with the weight hanging at the botton of the chains. The weight is picked up out of the quarter squat and carried for a distance.
Why is the yoke king when it comes to training the midline? The word yoke refers to the area of the body around the rear delts and lower traps. This is where the weight baring occurs during a yoke carry. You will not find another implement that can load and apply force through the axial skeleton more than the yoke. A 400lb male back squatter can typically carry a 600-700lb yoke. The skeleton operates at it’s strongest through neutral joint positions. The yoke requires very little flexion or extension of at any joints. You are merely performing a very hard isometric hold at the core while allowing your feet to move in quick little steps underneath you. It is an unbelievable tool when it comes to bracing the spine.
The opportunity to load that skeleton with that much weight is a huge stimulus for core strength, which is the limiting factor for most lifts ie. People that can leg press 800 lbs and back squat 225lb. The weak link in the chain is the core. The lower body can produce far more force than the axial skeleton can translate. The body will only produce as much force as can safely be translated. It is part of our brains involuntary survival mechanism. Training this weak link has transferability to all activities of power.
For these reasons the yoke is a good tool to warm up with prior to any heavy days or days with a concentration on the midline. By waking up and getting a huge motor unit recruitment around the core, you can develop the kinesthetic awareness to engage the supporting musculature in bracing the spine during more dynamic movements of lesser load.
Basic CrossFit Terms
- AMRAP: As Many Repetitions (or Rounds) As Possible – typically in a specified timeframe
- As Rx’d: As Prescribed – the suggested parameters for a given exercise/workout (weight for example)
- PR: Personal Record
- Rep: A repetition or one instance of a given exercise
- Set: A group of repetitions
- WOD: 1. Workout of the Day. 2. Could also be used as a verb. To perform the Workout of the Day.
Intermediate CrossFit Terms
- Air Squat: (see video)
- Active Shoulders
- Box: A CrossFit gym
- Box Jump: An exercise where you jump onto and down from an elevated platform (see video)
- BP: Bench Press (see video)
- BS: Back Squat (see video)
- Burpee: (see video)
- BW: Body weight
- CFT: CrossFit Total – The combined weight of your max squat, press, and deadlift
- Chipper: A workout with many reps and many movements (you chip away at it)
- C&J: Clean and Jerk (see video)
- CLN: Clean (see video) – Additional versions include Hang Clean, Power Clean, and Squat Clean
- CU: Chin Up – Bar is held with palms facing you (supinated grip)
- C2:Concept II rowing machine
- CTB or C2B: Chest to Bar (as in pull ups)
- DB: Dumbbell
- DL: Dead lift (see video)
- DOMS:Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
- DU’s: Double Unders – two turns of the jump rope per jump (see video)
- EMOM: Every Minute on the Minute
- FS: Front Squat (see video)
- GHD: Glute-Hamstring Developer (see video)
- GHR: Glute-Hamstring Raise
- Good Mornings: (see video)
- GTO: Ground to Overhead
- Hollow Rocks: (see video)
- HSPU – Hand Stand Push-Up (see video)
- KB: Kettle Bell
- K2E: Knees to Elbows (similar to T2B)
- Kipping: (see video)
- MetCon: Metabolic Conditioning
- MOBWOD:Mobility and stretching work
- MP: Military Press
- MU: Muscle Up – A combination of a pull-up and a ring dip (see video)
- OH: Overhead
- OHS: Overhead squat (see video)
- Pistols: (see video)
- PJ: Push Jerk
- PP: Push Press
- PU: Pull Up or Push Up
- Renegade Rows: (see video)
- Rhabdo: Rhabdomyolysis – A dangerous condition where muscle fibers breakdown at a high rate.
- RM: Repetition maximum – the most you can lift for a given number of repetitions
- ROM: Range of Motion
- SDHP: Sumo Dead lift High Pull (see video)
- SJ: Split Jerk
- SN: Snatch (see video) - Additional versions include Hang Snatch, Power Snatch, and Squat Snatch
- SP: Shoulder Press
- SQ: Squat
- Stabilize the midline: Controlling the muscles around the spine to make it stable and strong during an exercise
- Tabata: A protocol of 20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest. Commonly last for 4 minutes.
- TGU: Turkish Get Ups (see video)
- Thrusters: (see video)
- TnG: Touch and Go – No pausing between reps
- T2B: Toes to Bar (see video)
- Unbroken: Unbroken (perform all in a row or start over at the beginning)
- Wall Balls: (see video)
Advanced CrossFit Terms
Fran, Cindy, Murph: or any of the other named workouts. Click here for a Full list.
This list is a work in progress so if you think we left anything off please feel free to include it in the comments.
written by Dave Lipson of Again Faster
One of the most common injuries that tend to shut people down are those of the lower back. Funny enough, these injuries are just as common in people who don’t really train at all. There are a lot of herniated and ruptured L-4, L-5, or S-1 discs that correspond with the vertebra of the lumbar and sacral spine. A telltale sign of this type of injury is pain down the nerves into the hip and leg. This is indicative of an injury that’s not muscular, but rather a ligament and disc issue causing instability in the spine, slipping disc pressure onto nerves that innervates the vertebra and run elsewhere.
I myself have fallen victim to this type of injury. Here’s my story of how I got hurt, recuperated, and continue to treat my back:
Don’t hurt yourself lifting those heavy weights!
That’s what I’ve always heard from family and friends in response to some of my CrossFit videos, particularly those who didn’t know or understand strength training. When I showed them video of a 655 deadlift they cringed. When I told them I was going to back squat 455lbs everyday they said I was asking for trouble.
Ironically, it wasn’t until last summer, when I took a break from my heavy lifting, that I ever had an issue with my back. My year long dedication to back squatting had ended two months prior. I was just chilling out with my training, concentrating on where my life was going and my girlfriend who was competing at the CrossFit Games.
I took a six-hour flight to LAX that July and immediately rushed to Dogtown CrossFit to get a quick pump on. I wanted to wake up and look good before a job interview for a collegiate strength coaching position my friend Josh Everett had set up.
I got to Dogtown, met Dusty Hyland, the owner, hit a jaguar warm-up, and just started throwing weight on the bar. Max unbroken bodyweight cleans and ring pushups for five sets. First set was good, seventeen and fifty. As I went to pull the third clean off the ground in the second set, I felt something slip in my back and pull into my hip. I dropped the bar, thinking I just needed to loosen up more. I went to clean the bar again and didn’t make it past my thigh before I got another shooting pain into my hip.
It was a pain in my back unlike any I had felt before. Not a sore, tight, overworked or achy feeling, but an acute feeling of pain and instability, like I was walking on ice and trying not to make any sudden movement.
I went to my interview and did my best to mask to pain, moving around tentatively as the head strength coach and AD of the university walked me around the weight room and athletic department.
As soon as it was done, I Googled chiropractor…a stupid move! Twenty minutes later, I was in the office of Dr. Mike. He laid me down and jerked around my already damaged spine, getting a buffet of cracks and pops out of my SI-joint, thoracic spine and neck. But my problem wasn’t alignment. I had a ligament issue and a bruised and inflamed disc. Going to a chiropractor may have exacerbated the injury.
The next few days were miserable. Bending over or putting on my socks made me want to cry. Getting into a car seemed impossible, and sitting was probably the most painful. It just seemed to take my breath away to try and bend in any direction.
When the Games were over, I went home and laid off my back. It seemed like a good time do some bench press and gymnastics-biased programming anyway, as I really needed to get better at my handstands. Four weeks and a 375lb bench press later, I decided my back felt okay and I was ready to pull something off the ground again. I went with some light power snatching, which quickly turned into a one rep max power/muscle snatch session. It ended quickly when, pulling 200lbs off the ground, I felt the same pain in my back.
It was devastating. I wanted to punch a wall, but moving that suddenly would hurt too much.
That night, I put my snatching video up on Facebook to get critiqued by some Oly coaches, even though I knew technique was not really my biggest issue at that point. I noted on the video that I tweaked my back on the next rep and had to stop there. It was that little comment that probably saved my spine and training, because what came next was a blessing from the lifting gods.
I got a message from a Dr. Lee Poston that basically said this: “Dave I’m a back specialist at a clinic out here in Maui, also an avid CrossFitter and box owner at Maui CrossFit Extreme. I would like to help you, can you tell me what you did to your back? We can do a Skype appointment and I can diagnose you.”
At this point I was feeling alone and desperate and I would take any help people could dish out. Although I wasn’t expecting much, I accepted his offer.
Lee is a middle aged, lanky guy from Tennesee. Think Mathew Modine but a little more jacked and with short hair.
We talked about the injury and how he broke it down for me was like this:
- The injury to my back was not because of that particular bad pull or lift but rather just the straw that broke the camel’s back (so to speak).
- Years of crappy positions have unevenly lengthened and shorted ligaments around my spine, causing movement and herniation of the disc toward one side
- The movements that exacerbate pain are indicative as to which direction the disc has herniated. In other words, if bending forward causes pain it is likely a posterior herniation.
- I could correct this imbalance through regular corrective exercises.
We did an assessment and, like most people who herniate discs in the lumbar spine, I felt pain when bending forward. The first thing Lee had me do was a back bend. I put my palms on the small of my lumber and leaned back as far as I could. I felt pressure on the spine, but no running pain or instability, He said this was normal.
Next, Lee took me through what is called the Mackenzie Back Protocol, a series of extension based exercises. This included press-ups on the floor (like a shitty pushup, where the hips stay pinned to the ground as the arms extend). We would do about fifteen of these at a one second up, one second down pace, designed to pump fluid and get movement in the spine. Then we would hold the last rep for thirty seconds. The whole routine took about a minute in total. Lee instructed me, “Do this eight times a day, and try not to sit for two weeks. You’ll be fixed, I promise!”
As skeptical as I was, I stayed religious about my back exercises. People thought I was crazy, dropping to the ground to do press-ups in public, at the gym, and at my girlfriend’s house. Press-ups everywhere!
I was very tentative as I came back to the barbell. I started by pulling off of 45lb plates on the ground, then 25lb plates, and eventually no plates, all to keep my back in a super tight and extended position. I was still doing my exercises before and after training, in the morning when I woke up and at bedtime.
What I found was that Lee was right. My back got better and so did my confidence.
Later that winter, I back squatted 600lbs for the first time. I also got PRs in my snatch and clean and jerk.
The effect of the injury and my rehab didn’t stop there. I had always had a lot of empathy for people going through back injuries–clients, athletes, even my own mother, who had similar issues and dysfunctions that seemed never really to go away. So I started showing them the MacKenzie back protocol, and sure enough they started feeling relief from pain! All thanks to this Doctor out in Hawaii–a guy who just wanted to pay it forward and help people in our community. It’s just another example of what makes it so special.