Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ballet to Barbells: Foot Contact with the Floor

Ever watch a ballet? Maybe on TV or the stage? Watched shows like "So You Think You Can Dance"? 

Those dancers can create this amazing illusion of weightlessness. They way the glide across the floor and suddenly they're spinning on a single leg or leaping over the heads of other dancers. Maybe they're spinning AND leaping. 

They're able to create this effect because they have mastered their relationship with the floor. If you watch each step they take, no matter how fast or slow, the articulation through the foot shows connection, a push through the floor, that allows them to rise above it so easily. 

Take a look at this video for an example, and really watch their foot contact with the ground:

Most people who don't think much about what their feet are doing as they are standing or walking around. If you ask someone to squat without any instruction, you often see them sit their hips down any which way and many will end up in what I call the "gargoyle squat."

So initially, we tell people to put their weight back in their heels. We ask them to spread the floor and spin plates with their feet. Many will take these cues to an extreme and lift their toes off the ground or roll their feet so the big toes pops up. These exaggerations are tolerated at the beginning so that athletes can become aware of differences in balance when emphasis is put on different parts of the feet. 

But as a person advances, you want to see them start to bring those exagerations back in and actualy use full foot against the floor to create movement. The balance within the footprint may change, but pressure is still distributed. Watch the lifter in the following HOOKGRIP video and see how her center of gravity changes through the lift, but as long as she is moving the bar up, the foot is pushing into the ground:

You can also often tell a person's body awareness by how they box jump. Even if you can't SEE them rolling their weight from their toes to support in the full foot. Many people still trying to figure this dynamic out land totally flat footed and you hear the smack with every landing. 

Thinking more about your foot contact with the ground, and working with gravity, can help you increase the quality of your movements. They can smooth out your steps in heavy carries, make your squats more stable, and increase the force you produce with jumps and the Olympic lifts. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Product Review: By Moxy Tights

You can't deny that these tights have some swagger at first sight:

I mean, LOOK at these! Not only that, but they are vouched for by Pat Mendes. Pat is an Olympic weightlifter who has been training in Brazil for Rio 2016. I'm a little biased, I tend to trust weightlifters over other athletes in clothing recommendations for the unique body proportions our training hands us.

Their page states the following:

I'd like to address some of the variables.

Stronger Fabric

I can't speak to the strength of the material, but I can speak to the thickness. And they're pretty see through. I first bought a men's medium (same size as a woman's large) and could see the side strap of my underwear easily. Never mind when I started to squat or bend over. So I exchanged them for a woman's extra large. Now I can still see the underwear strap, but I have to bend over a little to show it off. I guess that's better. Still don't plan on squatting in them.

3cm Wide Waist Band

Okay, I love this. The thicker band means it doesn't cut in. I hate when I sit down and the front of my tights cut into my stomach, so that solves this problem nicely.

Higher Cut in the Back than the Front

I wish that differential was greater. I found myself tugging up the back of the tights while I was sitting at a coffee shot between clients today, and pulling down my top because I was feeling a little drafty on my low back. What I like about Champion and Lululemon tights are that they are little higher in the waist and I don't to worry about looking like a plumber.

Awesome, but I won't be squatting in them. 

I got more compliments on these tights than I have on any pair from anywhere else. And it's not like they weren't comfortable! They totally were, but when I took time to stretch, I just made sure my derrière was facing away from any other people. So I won't be sending them back, but I think they'll be my "Monday Tights" since that's an off day for training.

I mean, look how sweet these tights look:


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ballet to Barbells: Movement Starts from the Trunk

I started my athletic life as a dancer. My mom put me in ballet and tap classes at the tender age of five. 18 years later I stopped dancing to focus my energies on judo, adding in capoeira and CrossFit, followed by weightlifting, and then strongman.

I truly beleive that my dance beginnings gave me the foundation to pick up new sports quickly and to be competitive in them quickly as well.

One part of movement theory that was taught to me right from the barre: movement begins from the trunk.

Every arm gesture should start in the chest and flow out to the fingertips. And every leg extension was to start from the pelvis and extend out to the toes.

Here is a video of the entrechat, a quick beat of the feet where you start in a closed stance, jump up and quickly beat your feet into cross each other and then land with the other foot behind. Actually, just watch the video:

Go on and try that yourself. I'll wait.
I'm betting it felt more like flailing? Were your knees straight? Were the feet switching as tight as the guy in the video? For most people with no ballet background, they tuck their legs and flail their feet around, and hope for the best.

That's because most people are thinking about their feel at the origin of the movement.

I want to challenge you to try it again. But now, you're going to jump in the air the same way you do for a double under: tall torso, long legs, gaze forward. Then, instead of thinking about flapping the feet, you're going to think about beating your upper, inner thigh together.

Try again, I'll wait.
I'm betting it wasn't great, but it was a much better attempt.

While that move might take quite a bit of practice and coaching to get as effortlessly as the man in the video, to point is that once you focus on originating the movement from closer to the trunk you can actually control it better than when you think about the end of our extremities.

Let's liken this to the overhead squat, or when you catch a snatch.

For many beginners, the balance is wobbly and they often dump the bar forward during the descent or when  standing. I honestly think it's because people are thinking about their arms, how awkward their wrists feel, and where their hands are in relation to their shoulders.

Many times as soon as I tell someone to "think about the support coming from your lats, under your armpits" or "you should feel the support in your back, around your shoulder blades" the bar locks into place. Then, as long as they have the shoulder mobility, they can suddenly support more weight.

So next time you're having trouble locking down a movement or support, try changing the way you think about it. Bring the movement or "energy" back to your trunk and see if you don't find better control.

1) Dem quads
2) His shoulders aren't shrugged up, and look as his lat flex. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Neutral Spines in Training vs Strongman and Powerlifting

I've been in and seen quite a few conversations about the importance of a neutral spine since starting my strongman training.

Almost everywhere you look, listen, and read, everything is telling us to never ever forget how important it is to keep your spine neutral in everything that you do. Everything. Always. And if you decide to bend that back, or accidentally bend at the stomach, your discs erupt into flame and your skull crashed down through your torso right onto your pelvis.

Standard squat diagram from Starting Strength

As I got into powerlifting, I started seeing variations on this known fact that would make internet gurus totally lose their shit. Namely, the curved thoracic during deadlifts and arched backs in bench pressing.

Left: flat lumbar and curved thoracic. Right: neutral spine. 

Then I got into strongman and you start seeing even more egregious examples of lifting and moving with non-neutral spines. In fact, a curved spine is built into the technique.

Pretty much every step of loading a stone involves a non-traditional spinal position.

Then after a instructional in service at San Francisco CrossFit with the other coaches, I got to talking to Nate Helming about using these moves to teach body position for other athletes. His question was, could we start with these types of moves on novice athletes to get them more aware of their body positions quicker than with traditional moves.

Global arches as seen in stone loading and pose running.

All of this has had me thinking a lot about it.

The final conclusion I came to is pretty simple. When you see a novice lifter round his or her back, it's usually a sign of the athlete lacking strength or proprioception for the movement. When an advanced athlete rounds his or her back, it's usually after years of training in a classical way, having learned body control in a number of movements.

Also, advanced athletes know how to brace under load and have pushed themselves to physical limits. They know those limits, how to approach them and when to back off. Advanced athletes have probably experienced their share of tweaks, soreness, and perhaps even serious injuries, so they know the warnings signs and when to stop pushing.

Slightly twisted under load, but progressively trained to do so, and definitely braced.

I personally wouldn't feel comfortable teaching these movements in any serious capacity to new athletes. Perhaps it's because I'm not a seasoned strongman coach, but I would not be able to tell if a new athlete is rounding their back because it's part of the technique or because they can't feel the difference between a hip hinge and "melting" down to reach an object on the ground.

So when someone online tries to get on a pedestal about rounded thoracic spines and hunched positions, generally I know they don't know what they are talking about. But with an athlete who hasn't yet hit a bodyweight squat, I'm not going to be teaching it either.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Product Review: Hylete Backpack

I have a bit of an obsession with bags. Backpacks to be precise. I don't like duffle bags and messenger bags. I hate feeling like I'm unevenly loaded, or holding one shoulder up higher than the other. Duffle and messenger bags also tend to bounce and scoot around while I'm wearing them, which gets annoying.

I bought the Hylete backpack about two months ago. I love it enough that it has replaced my ever so beloved Dakine Mission back pack as my day to day bag. I could sing songs about the wonder that is the Dakine Mission backpack, too. But it was small enough that I needed a separate bag for my training gear.

Dakine Mission backpack. Best general backpack. Ever. 

On to the Hylete backpack. This one is big enough for me to put my daily crap plus all my training crap into.

So on first glance they look similar enough, but let me explain.

1) It's big enough

For once the makers didn't limit the width of the backpack to the width of a hipster's back. People who lift heavy can lift heavy so you might as well make a backpack that you can really fill up with a lot of stuff.

2) Has expandable areas

The bottom unzips to a large compartmentalized pocket that can hold a couple of pairs of shoes. The middle zipper gives the front pocket about two extra inches to expand. I don't use these portions often, but when I travel, it's nice to have the extra space to compartmentalize things more effectively.

3) Single, large space inside

I'd say the biggest issues with most backpacks, the limiting factor for me, is that the main holding area is often subdivided for the purpose of better organization. I guess that's great if you use it for traveling to an office, but it puts a serious damper when you need to pack awkwardly shaped training gear like shoes, belts and the like.

4) Side pockets meant for shaker bottles

Need I say more? Those are even more of the awkward items that take up too much space in a conventional backpack and they usually don't fit in the side pouches added for normal water bottles.

All the stuff I carry regularly in my Hylete backpack.

So it's become my everyday bag. However, there are a few things I'd like to see changed if an update is ever designed:

A) The design of the shoulder straps are really, really rough. I'm usually in a tank top, so by the end of the day I'm grimacing as I slide the strap off my shoulder. 

B) The chest strap should be placed a bit higher. It squishes my boobs and is both uncomfortable and not so cute. 

C) It would be awesome if one of the mini side zip pouches could be reached while wearing the backpack. This is one feature of the Dakine Mission back that I grew to really love. I could reach back and pull the car keys out while walking to the car and without swinging the back pack off. 

D) I love love love that the main holding area is large and open, but I wish the webbing at the base of the side zippers wasn't there. I've been tempted to cut it out, in fact. I want to be able to fully open the space to more efficiently pack my stuff into it rather than slide, shift, and hold things in place. Particularly when it comes to fitting my multiple belts in there. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Second Strongman Event and National Qualifier!

This past weekend I took the four hour drive out to the Double Diamond Athletic Club in Reno to compete in the Northern Nevada Strongest Man. This was my chance to qualify for Nationals, as the next opportunity would have been immediately after Burning Man, and I'm sure we can all guess how that would go down.

Weigh ins were the day before, and we (training partner Jesse and myself) went to the wrong place first, but Gary Montoya, the promoter, was kind enough to stick around and let us show up five minutes late. My weight class cut off was 180.4, and I stood at 180.0 with my lightweight lulu pants and sports bra on. Phew! Time to eat!

The next day started off with the Axle Press for reps. As a middle weight woman, I was to press 140 lbs as many times as I can in 60 sec. Since I got my registration in first, I got to go last and knew how many presses I needed to take first in the event.

Coach Jon Andersen and I had already worked out a plan, where if I needed more than 9, I would do 7, put the bar down and rest a few seconds, then do what ever else I needed to take first. I'm so glad we had that game plan, because every woman that went before me, if they dropped the axle due to exhaustion, they bombed every press attempt after that.

Then came the deadlift, on tires at 275lbs. Since I took first in the axle event, I got to go last in the deadlift. The woman before me did 26 reps, and woman before her did 13. So there was quite a spread. I wasn't sure if I would be able to get 27, but I had to try. I ended up getting a very painful 23 reps.

After that was quick change over to the farmer's handles for 80 feet at 150 lbs per hand. I took this one for granted because it was so light. But as I was going I was second guessing how fast I could go without bouncing too much. And once I clipped my heel on the back plate as I started to open up my stride. Sprinting with heavy weight is something I'm going to have to practice apparently.

Then a bottle neck at the truck pull. For every other event there were two stations going, but there was only space for one truck at a time here. The women pulled a diesel duelie Dodge Ram with some big ass men in the back. My screw up here was that I've never worked with a lead rope before. When I got started and pulled on it, it took the slack out in tension and my brain interpreted that as the truck moving and I took a step. Only it was just rope slack and I got stuck and had to take time to reposition my feet and start again. Towards the end as I had some speed up, my hands couldn't move fast enough to grab the rope. I actually missed the rope and couple of times and let it go at the very end. Ugh.

After a loooong break as they went through all the men (I even got a nap in here), it was time for stone over bar. 60 seconds for max reps of a 180 lbs stone. I was to go third of four women in my weight class. I was one point ahead of third place and 2.5 points behind first. The only way I could take first here is if I took first in the stones and the person in first did really poorly and took third. Either way, I needed to get as many reps as possible. That ended up being 13, but I should have just gone for a 14th rep even if I timed our halfway through the rep. First place ended up tying me with 13 reps.

So there were definitely some places that I could have done better on the fly. And there are places where I will have to practice some specific technical work. Either way, I had a great time and per my now tradition, took a bottle of whiskey with me, some disposable shot glasses, and made some new friends after all the competition was over.

The winners of the middle weight class. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Here We Go Again: T-Nation and CrossFit Clickbait

I just saw this posted on Thursday through my Facebook feed:

The author's first mistake is to basically say that his definition as a philosophy major was this: "In college, I majored in Philosophy, and our roundtable definition of a sport was similar [to the Oxford dictionary]."

The issue I have here is the presumption that we should respect his relatively arbitrary characteristics of sport because he majored in philosophy. I took philosophy 101, as many college fish are wont to do, and it was the worst. 

He continues to say that most would agree that sport carries all of the following:

• Competition
• Athletic or physical prowess
• Entertainment value to participants and onlookers

Joy Sheppard - Figure Competitor
Okay, so far so good. I can agree with these parameters.

But then his application of the parameters dismisses bodybuidling as a sport on the basis that the competitors don't compare physical exertion or athletic prowess. Now, I'm not a bodybuilder, but I'd say that you're looking at the direct result of some serious physical exertion. They aren't doing their bicep curls on stage at that moment, but have you ever stood completely flexed, smiling, and doing such posing under lights and scrutiny yourself? Doubt it. It's HARD. I've not done it myself, but I do know a few people that have, and they work their assess off on that stage to present their hard work.

He goes on to explain that since CrossFit fits these parameters it most definitely is a sport. I agree. Okay, so if you train in a sport, then you're an athlete, right? Maybe you have to compete.

No, this guys goes on to explain why that just isn't the case.

Jon Anderson - Pro Strongman and Pro IFFB Bodybuilder

His bottom line reasoning:

"Bottom line, if you have a day-job but go to CrossFit, powerlifting or Olympic lifting meets on weekends and don't make a significant portion of your income from it, you have no business calling yourself an athlete."

What that means:

  • If you compete, even at a national or international level, but don't make money at it, you are not an athlete. 
  • If you are an amateur in any sport, and therefore by definition don't make money at it (Olympians, people), you are not an athlete. 
  • If you have a full time job that pays for your participation in competition, you are not an athlete. 
So this philosophy major, who is not an athlete, has decided unilaterally that unless you're a fucking PRO ATHLETE in a sport that has that level of sponsorship and income, you are not an athlete. 

Sorry, Kendrick Farris, three time Olympian, looks like you're not an athlete, you're just a weekend warrior because you coach and host seminars and don't make most of your income directly through training and competing. 
Courtney Walker - CrossFit Regionals Games Competitor
Sorry, Courtney Walker, you're not an athlete either. With no sponsorships, and only a modicum of income through NPGL game play, you're just an ex-athlete gymnast from UCLA. 

By this guy's logic, you're either a pro athlete or you not an athlete at all. No room for amateurs and n00bs here.

My qualifications for really being able to call yourself an athlete?

  • Compete in a sport with the intention of progressing. 
  • Train in a sport with the intention of competing.
  • And.... that's about it. 
For more on my thoughts about CrossFit and who is or isn't an athlete, you can read a previous blog of mine here