transverse

Balance

Balance

Life is short. Live fast and die young, as the saying goes.

Or, if you want the most out of your numbered years, what about living a healthy, extended life with family and friends and dying fulfilled and grateful?

Live balanced and die happy. Now that's more like it.

What is a balanced life?
In the weekly grind of mundane haste, it's easy to get caught up in the flow of school or work and lose oneself in a rut of unhealthy behaviors. By unhealthy I don't solely mean the truly damaging habits of poor diet and lack of exercise; I'm not just focusing on eating, drinking, or sedentary slip-ups. I am referring to health in the whole sense, which includes social, mental, and emotional well-being.

Never spending quality time with family and friends can be socially damaging. Never having alone time can cause a negative mental dependence to develop. And never taking time to slow down and appreciate the positive pieces surrounding us can create a void in our emotions.

Introverts and extroverts alike, a balance is crucial. Our personalities may change but the primary parts of life remain the same.

Physical, mental, and social well-being are ever-present, and like an equilateral triangle, all are essential pieces to a happy and fulfilled existence. It is this balance that keeps us safe and thriving atop the gigantic skyscraper of life.

A balancing act
A balancing act

Why the glorification of busy?
So why do we neglect these inherent parts of being human? Are we afraid of something? Of not having money... or worth... or prestige? If life is a skyscraper, are we afraid of taking an epic fall to a meaningless concrete demise many stories below?

Working too much has been detailed and researched, particularly as of late, to prove that the stresses of life can cause mental and even physical duress. [Sources here, here, and here.]

Time spent traveling to and from work can sap energy, change body composition, and harm spinal posture; it is particularly stressful when being late for work is factored in. In addition, combine this with time crunches or the pressure to make quotas and stressors quickly build up to take their toll on the body.

A shortened lifespan? Not something worth singing about at all.

How does balance affect fitness?
If we're looking for overall health and well-being, then we want a balance of work and the rest of life.

We also want a balance of work in the gym with the rest of our day. Meaning, we need nutrition, we need exercise, we need recovery, but we also need our friends and family. Our focus can't just be physical work. It's important to realize the full spectrum of life includes mental health and social well-being.

Word hard (work smart), rest (recover well), and repeat (build healthy habits).

And remember to include others in the journey.

The great part of CrossFit and any group fitness community is that oftentimes these other dimensions of life are acquired along with the physical benefits. Emotions are regulated. Stress relief is noted. Friendships can develop. A second family adopts us to nurture us through personal ups and downs.

So how do we maintain this balance of physical, mental, and social well-being?

Tips for Creating Balance in Life
1. Prioritize. Big rocks > pebbles > sand.

  • Don't sweat the small stuff. If you only worry about the little things then all the important items in life will fall by the wayside.
  • Apply your daily energy correctly. Drop activities that sap your time. Let go of unnecessary drama like a piece of scrapped metal from a rooftop construction worker.

2. Organize. Past → Present → Future.

  • See the future. Use past knowledge to set schedules and make deadlines. Write things down to cement plans and lessen the stress of forgetfulness.
  • Create downtime in your day. Leisure time matters! For instance, make space for fitness, and the rest of your life will benefit. For many, a daily workout is the ultimate stress-reducing activity.
  • Declutter. Get rid of any mess. Purging can be freeing. A happier you transcends all efforts in work, hobbies, and family time.

3. Energize. Dream / Drive / Reflect.

  • Dream big. Sure, stay grounded in reality, but keep ambition and desire alive. Use the huge crane known as goal setting to drag your aspirations skyward.
  • Maintain a healthy drive. Tell others about your goals. Settle things into place with help from co-workers, friends, and family. They are your rock, your foundation.
  • Reflect. Step back and see what you've built. Do you like it? If not, get the blueprints back out and get to work. If so, congratulations. Use that success to energize the next life project.

Balance your hobbies with your profession, balance your workouts with your social life, and balance your stress with decompressing activities to get the most out of life.

Keep your footing. Remember what is important to you and learn to walk that fine line between busy and dedicated.

Not only is this possible, but it is also essential to overall wellness in the balancing act of life.

- Scott, 7.6.2015

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Toes to Bar

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Toes to Bar

An elusive movement for CrossFit newbies, and a frustrating one for fitness veterans.

For many, they just plain stink.

It should be so simple, right? Step 1: jump up and grab the bar. Step 2: raise your feet up to said bar.

Similar to Olympic lifting, however, gymnastics movements are hard to come by... at least for the general public who didn't grow up on a regimented gym program. In the pursuit of adult fitness, our strength, range of motion, and body awareness can still be developed, but we're possibly working against years of not doing certain activities.

Naturally, the major battle is with higher skilled movements. The ones that make you want to hit up a real bar and drown your sorrows in a drink.

To kip, or not to kip? Like kipping pull-ups, toes to bar, knees to elbows, or any movement performed with momentum will receive its fair share of criticism. Before moving on, let's default to a kipping toes to bar movement as our go-to T2B. The strict form of the movement exists and can/should be performed as a muscle strengthener of the abdominal and hip muscles (namely rectus abdomens, iliopsoas, and the hip flexor portion of the quadriceps), with additional help from pulling muscles in the back and arms (latissimus dorsi, the biceps, and to some extent the rhomboids and teres major.)

Abdominal Muscles
Abdominal Muscles

Proponents of kipping cite the athleticism it requires (and develops), namely the coordination for hip recruitment in order to use body momentum correctly. The kip fosters a body awareness akin to other muti-joint movements we see in Olympic weightlifting or sport specific actions like throwing or jumping. In this realm, besides needing core strength, one requires agility as well.

Negative aspects of kipping are also reported. These include infringing on shoulder socket health with rotator cuff issues like bursitis or shoulder impingement. This is usually discussed in relation to kipping pull-ups.

Both strict and kipping styles of pull-ups have their merit, in a fitness sense, so both can and should be used in a general strength and conditioning program. The same is true for toes to bar.

While on the topic of injuries, always keep this math equation in mind: chalked hands + a pull-up bar = ripping. Check out more about calluses and hand health in a previous article on the topic here.

OWIE!
OWIE!

All in all, point be clear: the strict toes to bar movement is different than kipping.

What you put in, you get out. I have previously expressed that in a coached athlete the movement of the gymnastic kip can be taught on the pull-up bar simultaneously as the strict movement to help embed the concept through routine. While upper body strength is acquired, so is the idea of generating momentum.  Kipping practice can be done before or after a workout, although afterwards would generally mean a person works while fatigued.  Not unsafe, per se, but it needs to be noted that higher rep kipping, whether it is pull-ups or knees to elbows/toes to bar, receives the magnifying glass from the online fitness community, where negative feedback is aplenty. Overtrain while already muscle fatigued and the consensus agrees that's a recipe for potential disaster.

Thus, kipping without a basis of strength is not productive.

Great news, though, no matter what experience level: gymnastics development is like everything else in the gym. You put some attention towards the exercise and gains are made.

The bad news?  That strength development takes time.

So, grab a drink and a stool and belly up with your bartender. (That's me.) Here's a mixture of movements to get the right concoction for toes to bar development, from simple core strengthening exercises to high rep efficiency tips.

Picture courtesy of CrossFit 84
Picture courtesy of CrossFit 84

Movements For Toes to Bar Development:
Hollow Rock Holds: A great start for the absolute newbie. This is a static global flexion that tightens from the legs through to the shoulders.  Hollowing out is a set position in much of gymnastics and related exercise– in CrossFit, this is namely push-ups, handstands, ring dips, pull-ups, and muscle-ups.

  • Do keep the core tight, the lower back flat on the ground, the shoulders active by the ears, and the quads and glutes on and activated.
  • Don't think these are for wussies. Hollow Rock Holds can be brutal, even for the experienced.
Hollow Rocks
Hollow Rocks

V-ups: Used correctly, this can foster some of the greatest strength development for those without free-hanging knee tucks, but it limits learning of the kipping movement. Scaling: more pros than cons, for sure.

  • Do know when to scale. Knees can bend until a straight leg movement develops.
  • Don't forget your hollow position. This is meant to be a skill transfer; don't lose sight of the correct positioning needed.
V-ups
V-ups

Kipping Swing Practice: A kip can be small or big in terms of the swing, and therefore can be used to eke out just a few additional reps on a set of toes to bar until failure. The swing itself can develop more than just a solid toes to bar technique. Plus, you don't have to attempt to fold the body or raise the knees in any way to benefit from your swing practice.

  • Do work shoulder mobility to allow the chest to come forward and through the window of the arms to gain swing momentum. Generate power from a tight hollow position into a globally extended position, and back again.
  • Don't worry if you get the rhythm down for a while and then "lose" it for a day or more.  Kipping comes and goes sometimes. Stay at it.
pull up kip hollow
pull up kip hollow

Knees to Elbows: A challenging move in itself, some even describe these as more difficult than making bar contact with the feet. Since it generates more crunching of the body to raise the knees to the elbows, these develop hip and abdominal strength and flexibility as well as one's pull strength with the lats in the upper back to down under the armpits. Kipping Knee Tucks are also a great scaled option as K2E develop.

  • Do continue to work shoulder mobility and your gymnastics kip. To increase efficiency, make sure you are regenerating momentum through the window of your arms.Heels pull back immediately for your next kip.
  • Don't count knees to elbows if in the middle of the workout you're only touching triceps. Keep yourself honest, if this is your skill level. How is your overall strength with V-ups and pull-ups?

CrossFit Efficiency Tips

Kipping Toes to Bar: Our default "Rx" movement and one generally used in CrossFit competitions because of the ease in judging.

  • Do grip your hands slightly wider than shoulder width, kip to take your body from a hollow position to an arc, transition from backswing to upswing, drive your knees toward your elbows, and finally flick your feet toward the bar as they rise.
  • Don't lose your momentum. Use your swing to pull back into an arc; squeeze your glutes to load your body up for the next rep. This will be essential to stringing higher reps together in unbroken sets.

Strict Toes to Bar: These show great body control, and can be worked in post-workout as accessory strength work, assuming you didn't just fatigue a similar movement.

  • Do hang in a hollow body position to start, then pull thighs towards your chest, keeping legs straight. Keep squeezing up until the toes touch the bar, then slowly descend.
  • Don't be embarrassed to hit small sets of 1 or 2, again as supplemental work in warm-ups or after a conditioning workout.
Strict T2B
Strict T2B

There you have it. A beginner's look at toes to bar and related lead-up exercises.

Refill your drink and get to watching more videos if needed; there are plenty out yonder on that there internet machine. Decide on your goals and where you fit in the skill spectrum. Then wipe your mouth, strap up your boots, and get after it.

Don't forget to tip your bartender. I'll be here cheering you on, pardner.

- Scott, 6.29.2015

Unknown
Unknown

Midline Stabilization

Jenga!
Jenga!

Midline Stabilization

"So what do you do for abs?"

A question common for CrossFit gyms, as if the only measure of fitness is a 6-pack.

Much of the public believes that the road to a strong midsection involves a multitude of crunches, curl-ups, sit-ups, and any and all other abdominal exercises.  The goal is almost always aesthetic.  “Core work,” it gets named.

In reality, stomach muscles can be seen with minimal body fat, no matter how strong a person is.  If six little abdominal bumps are the goal, much of what people are looking for can be achieved through nutrition. And sometimes, even unhealthy individuals have visual abs. Skinny isn't necessarily fit, remember. Everyone has a 6-pack, it's just a matter of what exists on top of it, between the muscles and the skin on the subcutaneous level.

If core strength is the goal, perhaps the best analogy would be the game of Jenga.  The strongest position is with all supporting pieces in place. The more the blocks are moved out of sorts, the less stable the tower becomes.

This is like our body, if we consider our spine like a midline of building blocks then the supporting pieces stabilize our overall structure.

If we look at the anatomy and physiology of the abdomen, our musculature is set up to stop unwanted movement of the spine.  Sure, the abs do in fact flex to bring the ribs and hips closer to each other, and our back muscles extend to open that distance, but resisting movement is one of the primary functions of the muscles in our midsection. Thus, resisting movement is one of the greatest core strengthening exercises an athlete can do. This is an additional reason why gymnastics positioning or squatting heavy or going overhead with weight are all such great moves.

UltimateWarrior025
UltimateWarrior025

If we resist movement, the midline strengthens.  Like a solidified tower in Jenga, complete with the middle blocks intact.

A common example is the following scenario: Imagine you are going to help a friend push their broken down car. For whatever reason they ran out of gas and you’re with them, close to the gas station—but instead of walking for gas you need to help push while they steer. Just go with it, alright?  As you prepare to push, you don’t stand straight up and place your hands on the car as if you were in a vertical push-up position. You want multiple muscle groups involved, right? Well, actually, this thought probably wouldn’t go through your mind... instead you'd say to yourself, “Why couldn't they watch the damn gauges?"  Nonetheless, you sigh and then realize you'll need to use your entire body.  You put one foot in front of the other, drop your body down low, and use legs as well as upper body to get the car rolling.

What most people rarely realize in this situation-- never think to do, but would come naturally-- is we'd all take a deep breath, hold it, and brace for the push by tightening our core and midsection.

Functional fitness at its finest.

The body is staying safe by resisting spinal movement, but it's also putting itself into the strongest position possible.  Like a Jenga game, before anyone starts picking the pieces apart. And like Jenga, we want all our pieces in place. This requires strategy, a steady hand, and maybe even a touch of luck.

The Jenga Lottery
The Jenga Lottery

Our abs are in plain vision any time we look in the mirror. Maybe we worry about our flaws, like the holes in a Jenga tower.  But while we constantly see our front, the posterior human anatomy is just as important when aiming for strength and athleticism. Plus, a solid back side of the body keeps us young for years past our prime; think of our weak elderly population who have lost the posterior strength to stand upright. Our great-grandparents can often be seen staring at the ground is an atrophied state of posterior musculature.

Bounded by the abdominal wall, the pelvis, the lower back, the diaphragm and their ability to stabilize the body during movement are key to any athletic endeavor or general fitness program. The main muscles involved are the rectus abdominis, the transversus abdominis, the internal and external obliques, the quadrates lumborum, the psoas, the diaphragm, the erector spinae, the multifidus, and the gluteus muscle group. [1] [2] [3] [4]

Core-muscles
Core-muscles

When the abs, back extensors, glutes, and surrounding muscles are “on,” the body is as rigid as it can be. Couple that physical work with healthful nutritional choices, and muscle cells increase while body fat decreases.  A steady stack of Jenga blocks, the midline is strong and protected. No matter what the abs look like from the outside.

Washboards
Washboards

Movements for a Strong Midline:

Handstand Work: in order to not fold on top of yourself while upside down, the abs and back need to be strong. This gymnastic move also flows best when a hollow position is understood and put into practice.

Hollow Handstand Positions
Hollow Handstand Positions

Hollow Rocks: this is a static global flexion that tightens from the legs through to the shoulders.  Hollowing out is a set position in much of gymnastics and related exercise-- in CrossFit, this is namely push-ups, handstands, ring dips, pull-ups, and muscle-ups.

Hollow Rocks
Hollow Rocks

Overhead Work: shoulder press, push press, and jerk exposes midline stabilization issues.  Holding heavy weight overhead requires a strong and set midline.

Overhead Finish Position
Overhead Finish Position

Kettlebell Swings: hit a few of these and you can tell that the midline needs to be tight to keep from losing the bell between your legs.  Remember, it's not just the front of the body that stabilizes the spine; these will hit lower back stabilizers and immediately expose any lumbar weakness.

KB Swings
KB Swings

L-sits: this isometric hold can leave your upper abs sore for days.  Soreness is not congruous with fitness benefits, but just like handstands, L-sits can only be performed if the midline is strong.

L-sits
L-sits

Sled Push/Pulls: remember our car example from before? Besides the sheer work capacity and leg drive development, setting the midsection in order to move heavy weight is a great midline exercise.

Sled Push
Sled Push

Squats: maybe it's not traditionally thought of as a midline developer, but squat with a load in the back, front, or overhead position and stability is extremely necessary. Do a "dog shit squat" and injury is leaning your way, like a faltering Jenga tower. Squat heavy and squat often, but squat correctly.

bad squatter
bad squatter

Deadlifts: once again, it's not all about the front of the body. The midline is stabilized with the posterior muscles as well.

Deadlift technique
Deadlift technique

Of course this all transfers to simple body posture as well... both sitting and standing body positions.  Once you see it, it cannot be unseen. And once you experience a solid midline, you can feel the change in trunk positioning any time it is compromised.  This is where spinal disc issues can arise, in the unprotected spine.  Muscles of the abdomen all exist to support core stabilization and protect the spine from unnecessary shifting and shearing in the structures of the vertebrae.

Bad-and-good-posture
Bad-and-good-posture

So there it is.  Teetering like Jenga blocks, but delegated as a major player in overall fitness, midline stability deserves attention so the entire body structure remains sound.  Tighten the core muscles and stabilize the spine, because the work typically required in CrossFit, or any quality fitness program, has no mercy for a weak midline.

Your move, or lack thereof.

- Scott, 8.19.2014

Jenga
Jenga