5 Key Steps to Fix Your Low Back

If you lift heavy weights long enough, you are probably going to experience low back pain.  It’s something that almost all of my friends in the strength world have dealt with.  Some of us have dealt with more than others.  Some of us will allow this back pain to end our pursuit of strength, and I totally understand, trust me.  Some of us will ignore the back pain until something major happens likes a fracture, bulging disc, or worse, paralysis.  Yet some of us will take the time to learn about the low back and deal with the issue.

In 2004 I was diagnosed with two protruding discs of the lumbar spine.  Most of my career I have just ignored the recommendations of doctors because they don’t get us.  They assume that we (by “we” I mean strength athletes) are like everyone else and that we want a pain-free life.  We don’t care about pain-free.  We want to be the strongest people on the planet.  We just want to be told how to deal with the pain.

Protocols for Aches and Pains, Muscular Imbalances & Recovery

Work Harder. Train Longer. Prevent Injury.

Prevent injury, reduce pain and maintain joint health with Travis's specific corrections for your individual muscular imbalances.

However, the doctor that was looking at my MRI was a friend who understood the strength world.  He went to the Arnold Classic every year, and he loved strength sports.  That’s what made his diagnosis that much more concerning to me.  He warned that I was at risk for paralysis, but the issue that scared me the most was the fact that I could become impotent with just one wrong turn.  I was scared. I was so close to breaking the all-time World Record of 2408lb.  I was sure that I would break it that very year if I could only survive the training. However, I was faced with two options:

  1.  Walk away and live a long and healthy life, and tell all of my children and grandchildren about what I almost did.
  2.  Be proactive and figure this thing out.

Obviously, I chose number 2.  The first thing I did was asked around to some of the veteran powerlifters, and one name kept coming up over and over, Dr. Stu McGill.  I started reading everything that I could with his name on it.  I also found my local practitioner, Dr. Lawrence Gray.  Between the two of them, I was able to strengthen my back stronger than ever before.  With the help of these two men, I was able to break that world record twice.

This article isn’t about my world records.  This article is my advice to all of you on adressing the low back and strengthening the core. Most of you that read my work are people that love the barbell.  This article is my gift to all of you in hopes that you will spend your life in a constant pursuit of strength.  There are five specific areas that I want to bring to your attention so that you too can reach your full strength potential.


Back Hygiene, Capacity, and Movement Patterns

The low back is like a piece of taffy or plastic.  If you bend it over and over, it will finally break.  When it comes to ending back pain, a great place to start is making not of the way you move throughout the day.  The spine is really not designed to bend over and over. The musculature is designed to support the spine with stiffness.  Our bending should be done at the pelvis called a hip hinge.  Olympic weightlifters normally perform this movement perfectly during their pull in the clean and snatch.  

Every time that you flex the spine to pick things up or to put your shoes on, you are taking some of that capacity and pouring it out like a glass of water.  That’s why so many of us think that we hurt our backs when we pick up a pencil or a basket of clothes.  It’s not the pencil or the basket that hurt our back.  It was the thousand other dysfunctional movements that we made prior to that incident. You flexed the spine to tie your shoe.  You flexed the spine to pick up your child.  All of these dysfunctional flexes of the spine led you your injury.  

The first place that Dr. McGill starts is identifying pain triggers and observing movement patterns.  The goal is to avoid any movement that triggers pain while cleaning the rest of your movement patterns up.  

To improve your movement and back hygiene you need to:

  • – Learn how to properly hinge at the hip
  • – Maintain a neutral spine
  • – Learn to brace causing proper proximal stiffness (this will allow for functional and proper movement patterns)


Hip Mobility is Key!  

Have you heard of the Kinetic Chain?  If not, you should.  It’s a simple concept really:  feet stable, ankles mobile, knees stable, hips mobile, low back stable, etc.  If one of these elements gets messed up, the whole chain is compromised but we will focus on the hips in this article.  If the hips get too tight or immobile, your low back will start to move more than it is supposed to.  This movement will cause a shearing effect that can cause major issues with the low back.  If the hips are moving properly, the low back can maintain its stiffness and integrity.  

The hips perform three movements:  abduction, extension, and external rotation.  The goal is for the hips to perform these three functions properly and in a full range of motion.  Everyone has a slightly different hip anatomy, so there isn’t a universal range of motion.  The goal is to allow the hips to run through their own range of motion unrestricted.  Hip mobility is great when performed with proper spinal stiffness.  Hip mobility doesn’t have to be complicated.  Here are a few movements that I recommend:

  • – Fire Hydrants
  • – Leg Swings (after a proper warm-up)
  • – Half-Kneeling Psoas stretch
  • – Side Lunges


Proper “Core” Training

First, we need to identify the musculature of the core:

  • – Erector Spinae
  • – Internal and External Obliques
  • – Rectus abdominis
  • – Transverse abdominis
  • – Multifidi
  • – All the muscles of the pelvis as well

Sit-ups only work the rectus abdominis, psoas, and rectus femoris.  Only the rectus abdominis supports the spine, while the psoas and rectus femoris act as hip flexors.  The problem is that the psoas originates in the lumbar spine.  Performing sit-ups causes unnecessary stress on the spine while acting as very little stability for the spine.  Sit-ups cause major issues and provide very little core stability making it a very dysfunctional movement.  As a matter of fact, most movements requiring spinal flexion are useless, unnecessary, and dangerous.  As far as functionality, how many times per day do you really need to perform a movement like the sit-up?  The answer is: about once per day when you get out of bed.

Otherwise, the goal is spinal stiffness.  The best way to assure proper stiffness and bracing is with exercises like carries, planks, and sled drags.  Most strength athletes spend most of their time with bilateral movements focused in the sagittal plane.  Carries strengthen the core while working in the frontal plane.  When strengthening the frontal plane with unilateral work, the musculature of the spine is forced to create stiffness proximally, so the distal musculature of the limbs can work.  This stiffness is required to protect the spine in day to day life as well as athletically.  

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Unilateral Farmer’s Walks are both functional and protective for the low back.

Here are a few movements that we prescribe in our athletes’ weekly training programs:

Exercise Prescribed Starting Point
Unilateral Famers Walk 3 x 20yd each arm
Bilateral Farmers Walk 3 x 30yd
Kettlebell Carries Racked Position 3 x 30yd
Asymmetrical Kettlebell Carries 3 x 20yd each arm
Zercher Carries 3 x 30yd
Axle Bar Overhead Carries 3 x 30yd
Hi/Low Offset Kettlebell Carries 3 x 20yd each side
Sled Drags 3 x 20yd forwards and backwards
Prowler Pushes 3 x 20 yards

Protocols for Aches and Pains, Muscular Imbalances & Recovery

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Prevent injury, reduce pain and maintain joint health with Travis's specific corrections for your individual muscular imbalances.

We usually prescribe specific core work like this 2-3 times per week, but then there is The Big 3 that we recommend daily.  Let’s take a look at that next!


The McGill Big 3

The McGill Big 3 consists of:

  • – The McGill Curl Up
  • – Side Planks
  • – Bird Dogs

These three movements could easily be the three movements that allow you to train pain-free from now on because they have the unique ability to fire the fibers that create the muscle stiffness that supports the spine and eliminate the micro-movements of the spine that cause a majority of the pain.  This stiffness can be felt for several hours after performing the movements.  I recommend performing these movements first thing in the morning and prior to training.  

First thing in the morning is the time to push the capacity of these three movements.  When performing the movements before training, use the Big 3 to fire the fibers to just wake up the musculature that created the stiffness.  A great warm-up for training would be:

  • – Walk for five minutes
  • – Hip Mobility:  Leg swings, Fire Hydrants, and Half-Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
  • – The Big Three
  • – Bar Only Movement Specific Work


Find a Great Local Practitioner

This isn’t as simple as it sounds.  I interviewed over ten different chiropractors and physical therapists before deciding on Dr. Lawrence Gray.  Here are the things that I look for:

  • – What athletes have they worked with?
  • – What was the response of the athletes?
  • – What services do they provide?
  • – What is their assessment protocol?
  • – What is their overall philosophy?

First, if the practitioner doesn’t work with athletes, I am not going to waste my time.  A lot of physical therapists and chiropractors feed off of weak-minded people that don’t understand real pain and dysfunction.  I am looking for a practitioner that has worked with not only athletes but also the best athletes.  They will understand what we are after, and they will understand our expectations.  I don’t really care about pain.  I care about function.  If I can perform the movement that I compete in, then I am a happy camper.  Athletes simply want to pursue their sport.

I also want to know if the practitioner was actually able to produce the desired outcome of the athlete.  Practitioners will brag all the time about the athletes they have worked with.  I want to know if their services actually worked.  You have to talk to the athletes to find out the real truth.  

I am always interested in the services they provide and .look for services like:

  • – Active Release Technique
  • – Graston Technique
  • – Dry Needling
  • – K-Laser
  • – Acupuncture

Second, if all they do is manipulate the spine, I am not interested.  If they just want you to perform a few stretches and exercises, I am not interested.  I am looking for innovation. Most athletes are looking for results and they want practitioners that will do what it takes to get those results.

Third, the assessment protocol is key.  If they are simply throwing you into an X-Ray, they aren’t what I am looking for.  A good assessment is performed with a functional movement screen.  It should also include a symptomatic questionnaire.  A good doctor can look at the way someone moves and along with his or her symptoms and pain triggers determine the problem.  You can’t treat an athlete unless you can diagnose the problem.  

Most of the time you can determine if your practitioner is a good one by asking them their overall philosophy.  Are they into self-improvement?  Are they invested in their own continued education?  A great practitioner is always going to want to know more, to learn more, and to advance their practice.  There are the practitioners that just want to chase ambulances.  Those aren’t the ones that work with athletes.  My chiropractor has one of those practitioners right beside him and it’s funny, actually.  Dr. Gray is on one side, and this ambulance-chasing doctor is on the other side. The differences in the two are obvious.  

I really hope this article helps all of you out there.  If you are as serious about strength as I am, you are going to deal with low back issues.  My advice is to follow the protocols of this article before you receive an injury.  The way to deal with an injury is to never get injured.  However, if I am too late, this article will give you a blow by blow for dealing with the low back and core.  Good-luck in your quest for strength!

– Coach Travis Mash

Four Natural Sweeteners to Try Instead of Table Sugar by Jacky Bigger, M.S.

In my last article, I wrote all about the refinement process that the nutritious plant Sugar Cane goes through to become the nutrient-void substance, sugar, that is included in so many of our foods today. If you didn’t get a chance to read it, go back and take a look.

Today, I’m going to dive deeper into the chapter on sugar and artificial sweeteners, again, from the book The Science of Skinny by Dee McCaffery and give you a brief summary of what I’ve learned about potential sugar substitutes that are much better for you to consume than sugar. I hope it’s helpful!

These days there are so many sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners that all market themselves as “healthy” because they are lower calories, or even sometimes don’t contain calories at all. But are these sweeteners better for us just because they are lower in calories and fit better into your macros? Not necessarily. I’m about to give you some options that I prefer to use in place of regular sugar.

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First, let’s start with Stevia. Stevia come from an herb called “sweet leaf” and it is not a sugar. It’s an herb, that just so happens to be really sweet.

The Stevia Leaf Plant

One tablespoon of the liquid extract from the leaf has the same sweetness as an entire cup of sugar. The main glycoside in stevia is stevioside. Glycosides are the compounds that are responsible for the sweet taste without the included calories. The body does not digest or metabolize glycosides, which means that it is not converted to glucose. For this reason, it is said to the ideal sweetener for diabetics because it’s able to help normalize and regulate blood sugar.


Raw Honey

Honey has always been regarded as “nature’s gold” a medicinal food capable of healing the body. Many people think that honey is just another type of sugar, however, you’d be surprised by its nutrient content. Honey is comprised of about 80% natural sugars but it does also contain thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin C, calcium, potassium, iron and some other minerals and enzymes. Honey is also a rich source of antioxidants. However, most honey that is found in supermarkets is not healthy. It’s highly processed and just as refined as the sugar I discussed in my last article. Make sure you’re choosing honey that is raw.


Pure Maple Syrup

Pure Maple syrup comes from various maple trees by tapping the bark and allowing the sap to flow out. This sap is clear and almost tasteless with a very low sugar content when it is first tapped. It’s then boiled, and once the water is evaporated, it concentrates the sugar and becomes maple syrup as we know it. Pure maple syrup contains fewer calories and a higher content of minerals than honey, but it contains no vitamins.  It is also an antioxidant and contains zinc and magnesium which are both important for strengthening the immune system. Maple syrup is also delicious!


Coconut Nectar

Coconut nectar is the sweet sap that comes from the flowers of the coconut tree. It is a completely raw, unrefined sweetener that has a very low glycemic effect. The only processing it goes through is low heat evaporation to remove some water and thicken the nectar. It contains many vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other nutrients. It can also be dried to form crystals that are similar to sugar.


These are just a few options that I prefer to use as substitutes for sugar when I’m really just craving something sweet. Remember, even though they may be better for you than the sugars we find on our grocery shelves, they should still be consumed in moderation. 

In health,

– Jacky

Preventing Injuries with Movement Physicals by Matthew Shiver

Each year we are strongly encouraged to get a physical done by our Primary Care Physician. They access our general health and common health risks at a given age. It is our annual check-up to make sure that we are still in good shape medically. If we are not looking good, they will refer us out or have us come back in a few weeks to make sure that we are making progress. We all can agree that physicals can be extremely useful for monitoring our health on a macro scale.

One thing that is often not ever addressed until it is too late, is our movement quality. We typically don’t look at it unless we have pain or it limits us from being able to perform a task. If we hope to reduce the number of debilitating injuries we have and reduce the amount of money we have to pay for surgeries and rehabilitative services, we need to change the current strategy. Instead, we need to be proactive about it. We need to seek out our limitations before it becomes too late.

Protocols for Aches and Pains, Muscular Imbalances & Recovery

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Prevent injury, reduce pain and maintain joint health with Travis's specific corrections for your individual muscular imbalances.


Check movement quality each year

Professional and Collegiate athletes have caught onto this. If they can catch a movement problem before it becomes an issue, the team will have fewer injuries, perform better, and win more games. Where we don’t see these proactive screens is in recreational athletics and youth sports. I would argue these individuals need the movement screens the most. They most likely have not developed the proprioception and kinesthetic awareness that the professional and collegiate athletes have from competing at a high level their entire life. Athletes who are at a high level typically move well. If not, they don’t last very long in their respective career.

In the future, our coaches, athletic trainers, and physical therapists need to do a better job at screening athletes’ movement qualities during the preseason. We need to have a system in place like we have our annual physicals. At least once per year we need to be given a screen to assess our movement quality. We can monitor the movement quality to make sure that it improves and does not get worse. Like the physician refers out if the medical screen doesn’t look good, coaches should be able to refer their athletes out to a local specialist.


The Functional Movement Screen

At Duke University, I am part of a student organization that practices giving free movement screens. We go into the Recreation Center monthly to give the students, faculty, and staff movement screens. We also work with NC State’s DI athletic teams and have screened numerous professional baseball teams. We use the Functional Movement Screen as our main screen. 

It screens 7 movement patterns to allow you to find limitations. The scoring is pretty simple (0=pain, 1=unable, 2= can do movement modified, 3= optimal movement).  Those who come to screen will get an email a few days later explaining their score and giving them 2-3 corrective exercises. We encourage them to come back the next month to see if they improve their score.

The FMS test takes about 10 minutes if you have an athlete who has never done the test before, and if you have someone who has completed the screen before, it can be even shorter. The FMS screen does have a certification course, but the founders encourage everyone to use their system regardless if you have taken the course or not. They have a book available on Amazon which is a great resource. The system is not hard, it just requires some practice. I can teach someone how to use the FMS in one afternoon!

The FMS is just one of the many movement screens that have been developed in the recent past to take a more proactive approach to injury prevention. Regardless of how teams are screened, they need to be screened! The earlier athletes are screened the better. We cannot let athletes get through high school while playing competitive sports without screening them.


Screening Is Not Just for Athletes

The same goes for CrossFit gyms. We need to do a better job of screening our members as they join our gyms. This is something that should be included in all of the Foundation and On-Ramp classes. We should be able to do a quick 10-minute screen to tell them what they need to spend some time on before and after their workout so they can avoid injury and continue to come to the gym and benefit from all the great things that our gyms have to offer.

I cannot tell you how many people have told me they are scared of CrossFit because they are worried about getting injured. If we can set up something in every gym that screened all new members, it would help break down the fear of injury barrier and it would help our members improve their movement quality. We all open or work at a gym to help others live a healthy life and have fun getting fit. It is our responsibility to make them better movers!

Matt Shiver

Coaching the Largest Weightlifting Club in the US with Kevin Doherty – The Barbell Life 185

I’m really excited you guys are going to get the chance to listen to a coach I have so much respect for. I’ve already written about how great of a coach Kevin Doherty is and now you’ll be able to listen to him talk about creating and coaching the largest barbell club in the United States.

Without a doubt, Kevin is a master at what he does. He’s one of the best meet coaches I’ve ever met and only wants the best for his athletes on and off the platform. I’ve said it multiple times, but that’s a huge part of what makes a great coach.

Now you’ll get the opportunity to learn from him and possibly duplicate what he’s done in California with Hassle Free Barbell.


A Meet Coach Master

Some of the best lifters in the country have come out of Kevin’s club. There’s no denying that Kevin is a phenomenal teacher of the lifts. What Kevin excels at, I believe, is meet coaching.

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Kevin spends hours going over rankings, qualification charts for World teams and stipend charts so he knows exactly what his athletes need to hit on the platform to reach their goals. He’s also so good at managing his athletes at meets. You think coaching one or two athletes at the same time is difficult? Kevin will coach a dozen athletes in a single session. I’m so glad to have got Kevin on this podcast because I even learned some things from Kevin that I didn’t even think about when it comes to managing multiple athletes.

We’ll get into all of what makes Kevin such a pro at what he does on today’s show.



Listen in to today’s podcast as we talk about:

  • – How Kevin started Hassle Free Barbell from ground up and grew it into the largest barbell club in the country
  • – Coaching and managing a ton of young athletes
  • – The importance of building relationships within the sport
  • – Coaching at meets and managing lots of athletes at competitions
  • – Brilliant meet coaching strategies that blew Travis’s mind
  • – His issues with current USA Weightlifting policies
  • – and much more.

Take a Listen Here:

Thanks so much for listening. We’d like to thank our new sponsor – HealthIQ, an insurance company that helps health-conscious people like runners, cyclist, weightlifters, and vegetarians get lower rates on their life insurance. Go to healthiq.com/barbelllife to support the show and see if you qualify.

You Need to Know How to Scale Your Workouts by Crystal McCullough

“It has always bothered me when an athlete walks up and says, “I only used this weight” or “I couldn’t do the handstand push-ups” with a look of disgust. Every athlete is different and they are all on their own journey.
This fitness race is a marathon and not a sprint.  We must realize not to push athletes too far and, in turn, athletes must not get discouraged and realize that it is a culmination of training that gets them to where they want to be, not one training session.”

Coaches need to know how to program for all skill levels and athletes would benefit from knowing how best to scale workouts in any given setting.

Consider three different scenarios:

Scenario 1:

You are a high school strength and conditioning coach for a women’s basketball team in their off-season. The workout calls for strict pull-ups and running. You have 3 athletes who are unable to do strict pull-ups and 2 athletes that are coming off of ankle injuries and running is contraindicated. How do you appropriately scale them in order to give them the same stimulus as the other athletes?

Scenario 2:

You have a CrossFit class full of general population members of all different skill levels. The workout calls for handstand push-ups and heavy deadlifts. How do you appropriately scale them in order to keep them safe and still challenge them within their skill level?

Scenario 3:

You are an athlete that follows an online programming blog and you don’t have a coach right in front of you. The workout calls for movements that you are not yet proficient at? How do you scale appropriately?

Most of my focus in coaching has been with group classes (general population, youth, and competitors) mainly in a CrossFit-type setting and personal training. Although, this is where my specialty lies, regardless of if you are a CrossFit coach, high school strength and conditioning coach, or personal trainer, this applies to you.  We have to know how to scale appropriately for our athletes!

Photo credit: BAW Photography / Girls Gone Rx

Scaling is not a dirty word!

From my experience, the common theme, especially among the general population and youth classes, is the thought that scaling is a dirty word. This can’t be farther from the truth! If you are unfamiliar with a CrossFit class, at the end of the workout, each athlete’s time gets written on a whiteboard. The standard most everyone wants to reach is RX (as prescribed). Anything else is considered scaled.

It has always bothered me when an athlete walks up and says, “I only used this weight” or “I couldn’t do the handstand push-ups” with a look of disgust. Here is why! Every athlete is different and they are all on their own journey.  This fitness race is a marathon and not a sprint.  We must realize not to push athletes too far and, in turn, athletes must not get discouraged and realize that it is a culmination of training that gets them to where they want to be, not one training session. It is easiest to do this by having them keep a notebook of where they started versus where they are now. Sometimes, simply looking back will put it all into perspective.


Why do we scale?

Scaling is an art form coaches must learn. There are specific reasons why we scale an athlete and they need to understand the why. This will allow them to become self-sufficient, to know how to scale specific movements for future workouts, and if they are visiting another gym and working with a different coach, staying consistent. Athletes rely on us as coaches to give them safe and effective progressions that will give them the same stimulus as if they were doing the workout as prescribed.

There are different types of scaling and different reasons to scale:

  1. Lowering the weight to provide the correct stimulus
  2. Modifying gymnastics movements by using progressions due to skill level
  3. Alternative movements due to injury

We might have to lower the weight simply because the prescribed weight is too heavy regardless of the circumstance and lighter weight is necessary. Other times, it might be because the stimulus of the workout is for the weight to be light in order to get through the repetitions fast for an all-out effort workout. In this case, just because an athlete can do the weight, it doesn’t mean they should. I am going to use the fretted “Fran” for instance. Fran is 21 reps of thrusters at 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for women, 21 reps of pull-ups, 15 reps of thrusters, 15 reps of pull-ups, 9 reps of thrusters, 9 reps of pull-ups. The best times in the world are sub 2 minutes. This means that you should be moving at all times and taking minimal rest breaks. For the general population, the workout should be scaled in order for it to be done in less than 7 minutes. So, for argument’s sake, you are slow at pull-ups and have to break them up AND the thruster weight is heavy, you might complete the workout, however, you won’t be getting the stimulus that is meant from Fran.

How you should probably look like after “Fran”.

There are other times when the workout is meant to be heavier to slow the athlete down, so the weight would be prescribed to be heavy. The weight might still be scaled in relation to the prescribed weight, however, if we use the thruster again, the weight you use for this workout would be heavier than the weight you used for Fran. You also have to look at the individual athlete and know their strengths. Women tend to have better strength endurance and can rep weights closer to their max than men. So, that can sometimes make it difficult to simply place a percentage on the weight to get the appropriate stimulus.

Some athletes may not be able to perform the bodyweight movements as written and will have to use progressions instead. The progression should be a version of the same movement that will allow the athlete to get stronger and eventually be able to perform the movement they are aiming for.  You can also program these progressions on a skill day to reinforce proper movement patterns in all athletes. Common bodyweight movements are push-ups, handstand push-ups, handstand walks, pull-ups (chin and chest to bar), ring rows, toes to bar, dips (stationary and rings), muscle ups (ring and bar), L-sits, box jumps, and one-legged squats. 

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Progressions for Common Bodyweight Movements

The progressions I am going to list are not the end all be all, however, these are what I have found have worked best for the athletes I have trained.


You want your athletes to be able to perform a push-up where they can keep their body tight and get full range of motion. For me, full range of motion is chest to the ground and full lock out in the top position. Hand placement depends on what muscle group you want to work, but standard push-ups are where the shoulder, elbow, and wrist are all stacked. The elbows stay nice and tight and don’t flare out. As far as progressions go, I prefer not to use the knees approach. Too many athletes don’t keep a straight body when they do them this way. Rather, raise the height of the hands to take some of the load off of the exercise. The higher the hands, the less the load is. As the athlete progresses, lower the height of the hands to make it more difficult.

Handstand Push-ups

To start, if an athlete cannot perform proper push-ups, then they should not progress at all to this movement. Continue to have them doing regular push-ups. If they can do regular push-ups, but are unable to do handstand push-ups, these are progressions I recommend. First, they can do what is called pike push-ups. To get to this position, you start out in the normal push-up position and walk your hands back until you are in a vertical pressing position rather than a horizontal pressing position as with the regular push-up.

Another progression is pike push-ups off of a box. The feet get placed on the box and the hands are walked back to where the hips and shoulders are stacked and eyes are staring at the box. Both of these progressions strengthen the shoulders and will help to increase strength in this movement. Negatives are a great strength component for athletes who can get upside down on the wall and hold themselves in that position for at least 15 seconds with arms locked out. Have them kick up on to the wall and slowly lower themselves down to a mat. Do this for 3-5 sets of 3 two to three times a week.


Handstand Holds/Walks

This can be as simple for some athletes as just getting upside down for the first time against a wall. Kicking up drills with a spot might be the first step in getting athletes to feel comfortable upside down. A drill that can be done to increase shoulder strength is getting in the same position as the box pike push-ups and walking around the box in both directions. Also, starting out farther away from the wall, kicking up and walking the rest of the way to the wall is a great way to begin handstand walking. As athletes progress, simply move them farther out from the wall.


It is my firm belief if an athlete cannot do strict pull-ups, they have no business doing the kipping pull-up. Strength should come first before ever introducing a ballistic movement. Once strict pull-ups are accomplished, never stop training them, but kipping pull-ups can be added into the arsenal. So, this progression is more for the athletes who struggle with strict pull-ups. What I have found works best to accomplish the same stimulus as a pull-up is a seated jackknife pull-up.  Put a barbell on the rack where it sits low enough for the athlete to sit on the floor and extend the arms fully. The shoulders should be stacked over the hips during the movement. Straightening the legs makes this movement harder, while bending the knees and placing the heels on the floor makes it easier. This allows for the legs to be used as needed, yet keeps the tempo strict, and allows for full range of motion.

For chin over bar, simply pull until the chin breaks the plane of the bar. For chest to bar, pull until the chest touches the bar. Negatives are also another great strength component that can be done in small sets. Have them jump up to the top of the pull-up position and slowly lower themselves down and then drop. Do this for 3-5 sets of 3 two to three times a week.


Ring Rows

Ring rows can be made difficult if the athlete is pulling their entire weight by placing their feet on a box or bench and getting in a horizontal position. The arms are straight and then pull the rings all the way to the armpits for full range of motion. The key is not to use the hips for momentum, but to instead keep a nice straight rigid body throughout. To scale this movement, the feet come down to the floor and the athlete walks their feet back to a position where they can get full range of motion without using the hips for momentum. The larger the angle to the floor, the less the load is.


Toes to Bar

This movement requires a good amount of core strength as well as grip strength. Some athletes may not be able to hold their own body weight on a pull-up rig. If that is the case, bring them down to the floor to do v-ups or leg raises. If the athlete can hold their body weight from the pull-up rig, but is unable to get their toes fully to the bar, they can do knee raises to 90 degrees. The rhythm of the toes to bar can be difficult to master. I recommend teaching the rhythm of the toes to bar to athletes and tell them to get the toes as close to the bar as possible while keeping the rhythm. Keep going even if the toes don’t reach the bar on every rep. They will eventually be able to do them and they will have already mastered the rhythm part. It is sometimes hard to unlearn the muscle memory of swinging in between the reps.


First of all, make sure the athlete has the core strength to hold themselves steady in the support position on the rings. If not, you can put them on a stationary dip bar. Full range of motion in a dip is full lockout at the top and the shoulder moves below the elbow with the height of the hips changing drastically in the bottom of the dip, meaning, the body stays vertical and there isn’t a lot of forward lean in the movement. Progressions that I have found work best are lowering the rings or the dip bar where the person can place their feet on the ground. This allows them to get a full range of motion in either the rings or stationary bar while using the legs as needed. Raise the rings as they get more proficient in the movement and this will force them to use more upper body rather than their legs.


Unless an athlete can perform efficient strict chest to bar pull-ups and dips, they will most likely lack the strength to do the muscle up. For these athletes, continue to work the strength component with them on the pull-ups and dips. Have them do ring pull-ups to the armpits and hold for 2-3 seconds. Have them do dead hang holds from the rings in a false grip. Do strict dips. For athletes who can do the pull-ups and dips efficiently, they may be lacking in the simple transition phase. For these athletes, work with them on the above drills and add in transition drills from low rings.


L-sits can be performed on parallettes, hanging from a pull-up bar, or from the support position on the rings. An l-sit is where arms are fully locked out with shoulders, elbows and wrists stacked, legs raised and straight parallel to the ground and chest is up. Progressions for this movement would be a bringing the knees in closer to the chest to make the hold easier or hanging from the pull-up bar with legs straight and parallel to the floor or knees bent.


Box Jumps

Unless an athlete has an injury that is contraindicated with jumping, I recommend having them start out jumping on a very low box to get the desired stimulus rather than step-ups. Jumping has much more of an effect on the heart rate than step-ups do. Continue to progress the athlete in height as you can. This will sometimes depend on the number of reps to be performed.


One-legged Squats (Pistol Squats)

Before introducing this movement to an athlete, make sure they are proficient in a simple air squat first. Due to lack of mobility/flexibility, some athletes will have trouble performing a one-legged squat. Progressions I have found work are using a box. You can start with a taller box and lower the box as they are able to perform the progression correctly. I also like taking a band and placing it across the j-hooks of the pull-up rig. This progression requires more stability than the box progression.  The lighter the band, the harder the progression. The band should be placed so that when the athlete sits back, their butt is already in contact with the band.

What about injuries?

When an athlete is injured, coaches must know how to modify movements in order to keep the athlete safe. One example would be a thruster. If an athlete has a shoulder issue and the pressing movement is contraindicated, simply have the athlete perform the front squat portion of the movement. Another example would be if an athlete has an ankle injury and running is contraindicated, place the athlete on the rower or the air bike instead. If jumping is contraindicated, have them do step ups instead. Think through the movements you have programmed for the day, think about the athletes that you have, and have a plan for modifications going into the day’s workout beforehand.

The responsibility does not solely lie on the coaches, however. Athletes, you have a responsibility as well. You have to trust the coach, put your ego aside, and be coachable. When the coach tells you to reduce the weight or perform certain progressions for a movement, believe they have your best interest in mind and only want to see you get better. Ask why, but don’t argue. Once you have mastered a progression, don’t be afraid to make the progression harder in order to continue advancing. Make sure to let the coach know if you have an injury or something is bothering you and one of the movements might exacerbate the issue. Communication is key to your success and your safety.

These are just a few suggestions I have found has worked from my own experience.  Having only been in this industry for a little over 6 years, I realize I still have so much to learn. I know, I know a woman getting started at age 35? Yes! Thankfully, CrossFit opened the door for me to pursue my passion for coaching. I find that when you surround yourself with those who are successful in the industry and know more than you, you get better! I will never stop learning and I hope you don’t either. Continue to hone your craft and continue to learn from others. Don’t be satisfied with the knowledge you have. I’ve written a few resources and programs specifically for functional fitness in our program samplers. Check them out if you’re looking for new ways to program for your athletes. 

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When Training is More Than Just Training by Joel Slate

As I’m sitting here writing this, life is feeling pretty heavy. First of all, we were recently blessed with the birth of our fifth child, John Michael, who, like his mother, is incredibly healthy and well after the birth. We rejoice about this incredible event!

On the flip side, my parents, who are getting up there in years, flew down to visit and help with the new baby. They arrived from Oregon a week or so before the baby came. On the second night that they were here, my mother tripped and fell and managed to both dislocate and break her shoulder. A couple of days later, my father became ill and I took him to the ER at 3 am for difficulty breathing and severe back pain. He’s still in the hospital. He was admitted, then transferred to a rehab facility, and is back in the hospital. Right now, his vitals are stable, but he is having a lot of issues with infection and the impact on his internal organs. He just wants so badly to get well enough to come home and see the grandkids. I pray that he’ll be able to, but I don’t know if that will happen. A few weeks before all of this, our oldest son broke his arm at gymnastics practice.

Given all of these factors, it would be easy to pull back and crawl into a hole and just ask “why me?” After all, these are all things that are supposed to happen to someone else, aren’t they? NO..!!

In a way, I’m glad they happened to us. Don’t get me wrong, I really wish my dad wasn’t sick and nobody had broken any bones. That would have been much easier. The thing is, though, we weren’t put on this life for everything to be easy. I want to use this situation to glorify God and give encouragement to others who are facing challenges in their lives.


Why I train

How does training fit into this? Training is a huge part of what keeps me grounded and focused in life. Don’t misunderstand me, nothing is more important than my relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and my wife and family. Beyond those two things, most things are pretty minor, but the biggest one for me right now is my training, and for a bunch of reasons.

First, staying on track with my program keeps me focused. Right now, I’m working towards an upcoming meet in mid-January. By staying on track and grinding on, I’m looking at the long road, not getting lost in the issues of the day, and not letting them overwhelm me. I’m staying focused on my long-term goals, and to achieve those goals, I’ve got to keep training. For at least a couple of hours, I can clear my head.

Second, training hard keeps me physically healthy, ensures that I take time to eat properly, get sufficient sleep, and get quality recovery. This is so important to fight the physical and emotional toll that a stressful situation can take. It’s so easy, during tough times, to take the easy route and eat from drive-thrus, live on coffee and soda pop, and be so stressed that you can’t fall asleep. Instead, eating as much high-quality food as possible (though I’ll admit we’ve hit Popeye’s a few times) and staying properly hydrated fights the effects of stress. Getting up at 4:15 am and training hard ensures that you are so tired that it’s no trouble falling asleep by 9:30-10: 00 pm. Fish oil and ZMA help improve the quality of the sleep that I am able to get.

Third, training through all of this has really shown me the value of being flexible with your training. Coach Jacky Bigger writes awesome programs for me. She recognizes the issues that I currently need to work on and balances those with making progress towards my long-term goals. However, some days, life situations get in the way and prevent me from following the programming exactly as written. I might only be able to do a portion of the scheduled movements or have to split it up into multiple sessions, or I might only be able to do powers instead of the full movements. Perhaps, I just flat out miss doing squats for a week. What I’ve found is that none of that matters in the big picture. If I miss my clean deadlifts one day because I don’t have time, or I don’t go as heavy on my front squats because I just don’t have the energy today, neither will derail the progress that we’re making towards the end goals. What I don’t do is make a habit of missing things. I try to avoid it if possible, but if I do miss something, I just move on and I don’t spend any time worrying about it.

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Fourth, and most importantly, training is keeping me motivated to inspire others. I’m seeing progress in my strength, speed, and technique. Sometimes the progress is small, maybe 1 or 2 kg on a lift, or one more second holding a position, but it is still progress. I hope other people, whether its friends and associates in the community, or individuals who follow me on Facebook or Instagram see me working hard, staying focused, and making progress, despite current events, and tell themselves that they can do it too. Maybe even someone will ask how I do it, and I can share my faith with them.

The 23rd Psalm tells us that the Lord prepares us a table in front of our enemies, even while we’re walking through the darkest valleys. He’s done that for me too. Even when life seems rough and things are overwhelming, he hasn’t forgotten me or my family. He’s provided us opportunities to thrive in the midst, and one of the most important has been my training. I hope you can see that He’s doing this for you too.

Reach out to me on Facebook or Instagram if you want to visit about this or anything else.

Joel Slate

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