Gripping the Bar 101

By: Marcos Hernandez

This is something we go over in our Elements class but its always good for a refresher. There is a definite difference in gripping the bar when we front squat versus when going overhead.
When front squatting, letting only our fingertips remain in contact with the bar is okay because we want the bar resting on our shoulders as much as possible. Typically when there is too much gripping of the bar in a front squat, the elbows remain too low or simply drop during the squat which can lead to unnecessary wrist pain.
During the finish of a clean, we want the bar to rest on our shoulders. Therefore, during the turnover, we want to make sure to release our hook grip and let the bar get to our shoulders. The bar can be in our fingertips because it is very similar to our front squat in the catch position.
When we go overhead (strict press, push press, push jerk) we want a full grip on the bar. The bar is in our palms and our fist is closed so our shoulders can apply force to drive the bar up. During our dynamic overhead movements (push press, push jerk) we might consider sacrificing some of our full grip on the bar in order to have some more contact with our shoulders. This isn’t like front squatting because there is still a majority of our hands closed around the bar but our fist might not be closed. The reason we do this is to get every ounce of power from our dip/drive. If the bar is resting in our hands versus our shoulders this power cannot be fully used to get the bar overhead.
This is similar to a thruster grip. Not quite a front squat, not quite a full fist. The thruster grip needs to transition from the full front squat position, with elbows up, to an overhead position. Lacking mobility can lead to wrist pain when doing thrusters because the bar isn’t fully onto the shoulders during the front squat. When performing the thruster, strive to keep as much hand on the bar as possible while still keeping the elbows and chest high during the squat.
Ideally, all of us would be mobile enough to front squat with a closed fist and our elbows all the way up. The reality is that this position is very hard to get into even for seasoned weightlifters. Hopefully this makes it clear when to use different grips on the bar and why it helps to do so!

“Treat the light ones like the heavy ones”

One important concept when it comes to technique is consistency in your movement patterns. Ideally we should strive to make all of our reps look as similar as possible. A quote I like is “treat the light ones like the heavy ones, and the heavy ones like the light ones.” Far too often I see people approach the bar and perform their lifts with very different levels of focus, intensity, and even technical execution when the weights get heavier. For an example, see today’s picture on the blog: 2 split jerks @ 60 & 117kg, and they look very similar outside of the noticeable look of exertion on my face. That consistency springs out of deliberate practice in pursuit of that goal.
Now let’s be clear, a max effort deadlift is obviosuly going to necessitate more effort, focus, and exertion than your first warm up. However, what you should seek to standardize is your pre-lift movement setup and sequence. Every time you deadlift for example, make sure you are doing the same steps in the same order before during and after each rep. Place your feet in the same stance, set your back, grip the bar, remove the slack, get your air, and finally pull the bar. Your sequence should be unique to you, and it should also be consistent. The more you practice this set up, executing the lift becomes that much easier, and your technique begins to hone. You also will have many less things to focus on outside of a nuanced aspect of the exercise you are performing.
Consistent technique is one of the best ways to ensure injury free continual progress in any lift you are performing, so make sure to focus on your movement habits next time you train!

Book of the Month: Ready to Run by Kelly Starrett

By: Marcos Hernandez

I recently finished Kelly Starrett’s (K-Star) newest book about running, entitled Ready to Run: Unlocking Your Potential to Run Naturally. Anyone who runs regularly, wants to run regularly, or is generally interested in running should DEFINITELY read this book.
A couple things I took from the book you should know in case you decide not to read it:
1) Mobility: Spending ten minutes a day on your soft tissue issues will add up. Over time, these issues will go away and new ones will come up. Each mobility weakness you encounter is a chance to get an improvement in performance.
2) Warming up: Never start running cold. Always warm up. You should be sweaty BEFORE you start running. A good suggestion was to include jumping rope, skipping, lunges, and burpees. He especially recommended jumping rope because it wake up the soft tissues in your feet.
3) Air Squats: The ability to perform a proper air squat is required before a running program is implemented. This means your knees are out over your toes, weight in the heels, and hip crease is well below parallel. Not being able to meet this standard was a red flag. The athlete who cannot perform this standard is not ready to run
4) Shoes: K-Star talk about the current shoes industry and how large cushions encourage a heel strike. This is not the way humans evolved to run. Humans are designed to run with a forefoot strike. After years of keeping our feet wrapped up in over-cushioned shoes most of the soft tissue in our feet will need to be taken care of with mobilizations (lax ball in the foot) laid out in the end of the book
5) Hydration: It is important to drink a lot of water throughout the day to make sure your body is always ready to run. A large majority of this water should be spiked with electrolytes to aid in absorption. What can happen is that the water you drink isn’t being absorbed properly so you end up going to the bathroom more than necessary. Electrolytes are available at local running stores and online
6) The Couch Stretch: With your knee on the ground and your foot elevated behind you, work up to having your torso vertical. If you’ve tried this then you know how difficult it is. It is a good stretch to attack the hip flexors that are shortened with chronic sitting. A good suggestion is to keep your butt tight to ensure your hip is tracking in the right direction
7) Compression: Compression aids in blood flow. It is an easy way to help maintain your soft tissues. Compression socks are super easy to include in your daily running routine. K-Star suggests using compression during airline travel to combat the extended time sitting.
8) Toes: Having our feet in shoes all day has removed the ability for many Americans to manipulate their toes. A good stretch was called the “Toe-reanimator” where you thread your fingers between your toes and move your feet in circles. It helps when making the transition to a forefoot strike to have toes the aren’t stiff and tacky.
9) Training through pain: Pain is an indicator that something in your movement is wrong. Running through a problem might be ok in the short term but it is risking your long term health. When pain occurs it is ok to stop running and walk back. Walking is still exercising and won’t exacerbate any issues you have. Live to fight another day
10) Programming your mobility: At the end of the book, K-Star lays out a sample mobility week. It includes time barefoot and mobility moves to attack common issues. Most people give mobility no more than a passing thought before working out. Kelly’s sample plan is thorough and will put any athlete onto the climb to becoming a supple leopard.
This book was extremely well organized. It lays down the 12 movement standards (here’s a link to the standards online) and outlines a plan of attack to make sure every athlete can meet them. I highly recommended this book to anyone who is a runner or interested in incorporating running into their training routines.

Raising the Standard

Bruce Lee
January 1st is a day of limitless possibilities. We are ingrained as a society to believe in the power of resolutions and our ability to reinvent ourselves, achieve anything we put our mind to, and chase big dreams in the new year. Before we get down to the nitty gritty work of conquering the world, let us first take time to reflect on 2014. Self reflection is an essential skill in our goal setting arsenal. In military parlance, this is our after action review. You set goals last year- honestly and objective rate your performance; were they realistic goals? were they meaningful? Did you accomplish what you had hoped to accomplish? For a more in depth look into this topic, see a post I did last year on this exact topic: Roadmap to Victory, pt. 1.
Looking now at 2015, what should we seek to challenge ourselves with? Simply put, let’s collectively seek to make 2015 a banner year. No matter the arena of your goal, seek to conquer in all of your endeavors. Looking forward, make a list of personal, professional, fitness, spiritual, etc., aspirations in 2015. You can also add specificity by breaking things down into short, medium, and long term goals. Additionally, add actionable steps, resources, and strategies you will employ to put yourself on the path to success.
We must make goals that make us a little bit nervous; within the realm of possibility based on past performance, yet still residing in uncharted territory. Considering that time is scarce, focus on establishing goals that are meaningful to you in both their potential achievement as well the process of working towards their completion. Lastly, map out dates throughout the year to assess your progress in the pursuit of said goals so you can make course corrections where appropriate.
Now, go forth and conquer!

The Silent Killers

the silent killers
I came across the above picture in a restaurant awhile back depicting some of the major vices affecting the health and well being of the American public at the time. While I think the case can still easily be made against tobacco, booze, sugar, and salt as leading factors of many negative health outcomes, I’ve come up with my own more contemporary list inspired by this timeless cartoon.
1) Sitting
2) Sleep Deprivation
3) Stress
4) Grains & Sugar
Many smart individuals (me included) have been saying that sitting is the new smoking for quite some time now. While I do believe smoking is considerably worse for your health, sitting is inarguably disastrous for your long term mobility, posture, as well as cardiovascular disease. The more you sit, the less you exercise. The more you sit, the more you reinforce poor posture, tighten and shorten your hip flexors, and cultivate that ultra attractive hunchback look popularized by Quasimodo in the 19th century.
Sleep deprivation is one of my favorite things to discuss on the blog and with clients. Americans are chronically sleep deprived as a population, and the health implications are pervasively destructive. When you don’t sleep enough, your cognition and learning are negatively affected, your immunity is weakened, recovery from intense exercise is blunted, cellular repair and growth hormone release are diminished, and the list goes on. Sleep is essential to optimal function. Sleep 7+ hours minimum, non negotiable.
Stress, the real silent killer. Stress is hard to see and hard to measure. We know when we are under large amounts of stress, but we take it for granted. Evolutionarily speaking, humans are designed for bouts of extreme stress (very short duration), and extended bouts of low stress. Instead, most folks live in a realm of chronically high stress. This results in altered testosterone / estrogen production, excess body fat levels, sleep disturbance, excessive fatigue, and more. Know your stress triggers, and find productive ways to remove stressors from your life.
I’ve lumped grains and sugar together because they so commonly coexist in the same foods. I don’t care if you have a diagnosed wheat/gluten allergy or not, I have yet to meet a single individual who did not feel better, look better, perform better once they reduced/eliminated their grains consumption from their diets. Sugar and cereal grains will most definitely make you fat, sick, and die prematurely. Instead, lets focus on eating real food like high quality meat, seafood, fruits, veggies, starchy roots and tubers, nuts, and seeds instead.
These big 4 are not meant to be exclusive. There are obviously many other major contributors to the public health epidemics we currently face as a society. Are alcohol and smoking still a major problem in this country? Of course. I see this list as moving past some of the glaringly obvious issues / vices, and onto some of the factors than can easily be downplayed, but are becoming increasingly important as science and mainstream public awareness evolves and grows moving forward.


Marcos Hernandez

Butterflies in the stomach are common when preparing to attack a WOD or go for a big lift. It is a common response to a potential PR or 3-2-1 GO!. The athletes who can handle their nerves when shit hits the fan are the ones who will be most successful.
When approaching the bar, it is important to have the mindset that you will make the lift. Just trying it out or “attempting” the lift places the possibility of failure. Envision success and give yourself a big new PR!
Imagine the WOD today is one that you know you should do well on. All the movements are right in your wheelhouse and the weight is manageable. The nerves start firing. This is where we need to change our mindset. We aren’t nervous about this WOD. This is what it feels like to be excited! Excited athletes are ready to come out and meet all challenges. Excited athletes are the ones who exceed expectations because they know deep down they can push themselves harder.
Envisioning success is an abstract concept. It will take practice to effectively switch your mindset from “attempting” to “completing.” Luckily it is something we can practice day in and day out.
You aren’t nervous. You’re excited!

Ongoing Education

Marcos Hernandez

Coming into the gym is enough to get you started on your fitness journey. Confidence, strength, and body composition will all improve when starting a new fitness routine. Eventually, your progress will slow. Solid programming and good coaching can help keep the gain train rolling but what can you do outside of the gym to help your own performance?
Research. It can be as boring or as interesting as you would like. The spectrum is broad and there are plenty of ways to get information.
If you read books regularly, I suggest you alternate between a book you read for enjoyment and a book you read to better your performance. Two that I have currently read about running are Ready to Run, by Kelly Starrett, and Barefoot in Boston, by Arthur Horne. Both are full of tips to improve the quality of your running. Another book is Intervention by Dan John. It will give you a great foundation to build upon when trying to understand movement patterns we perform in the gym.
If reading isn’t your thing, Youtube is a great resource. If you are interested in weightlifting, head over to the Cal Strength, Catalyst Athletics, or MuscleDriver USA Youtube page. Spend hours digesting how these athletes move. Or, if you are interested in the competitive side of CrossFit, check out footage from the Grid League (NPGL) or the CrossFit Games. Highlights from this will show you how top athletes compete; some of the feats performed are hard to believe!
Do your research. Trust me, it will help.

Not with that attitude!

Marcos Hernandez

Placing limits on yourself is a surefire way to miss a lift. As a coach, it is frustrating whenever I hear people say they “can’t” do something. Not with that attitude! Without the right attitude success is so much harder. Even if you just say “I’ll try” you’re implying that there is a chance of failure.
Please just stick to “I will”. My job is to believe in the potential of each athlete but its hard to stay positive when the athlete has a negative attitude.
Remove doubt. You are only holding yourself back.

USA Weightlifting L1 Coaching Course Reflections

By: Lukas Hernandez

A few months back I attended the USA Weightlifting Level 1 coaching certification. The lead instructor for our certification was John Filippini. John is a very knowledgeable instructor and also the Potomac Valley LWC President, which means he is an integral figure in the DMV Weightlifting scene.
While at the USAW course I was introduced to progressions on how to teach a beginner the barbell snatch and clean and jerk. It was interesting how we were split into groups, allowing us to teach one another. In one weekend I was able to work hands on with over 30 athletes. In the groups I was taught how to fix the front/back squat, pulling, and overhead pushing mechanics. Before teaching any athlete these movements, I was taught there first needs to be an assessment of overhead and squat mobility, which are essential keys to success in the sport of Weightlifting.
The USAW has particular progressions to help a beginner learn the snatch and clean and jerk. The USAW snatch progression breakdown is great for beginners because it starts with getting comfortable with the bar overhead first and understanding the shrug/third pull (pulling under the bar until it is received overhead). This progression also helps the beginner how to keep the bar close. As the athlete gets more comfortable with hip and hang power positions, they are then ready to go full from the floor. For the clean & jerk they taught us to break it up into two movements: clean, then jerk. For the clean progressions it is similar to the snatch because it gets you comfortable in the final position and the pull. The jerk progression is a bit different; the athlete is taught a push press, followed by a push jerk, then the footwork for a split jerk. It is important to do these footwork drills prior to doing it with a barbell.
Technique progressions aside, after attending this course I now feel much more confident in my ability to teach athletes the proper progressions to learn the snatch and clean & jerk. With this new certification under my belt I will be working with the new athletes that come to attend barbell club on Tuesdays and Thursdays. If you see me around the gym and have any questions about technique, or what I ate for lunch, feel free to ask!

Improving Technique

By: Marcos Hernandez

Improving technique is something that will be done over the rest of your lifting career. As soon as heavy weights get loaded on and you approach your 1RM, technique begins to break down. Attacking the area of breakdown can lead to long term, consistent gains. The logic being that if you always attack your weak points, you can only get better.
One thing that can begin the chase of improved technique is attacking one thing every time we warm up. Write down or remember what it was the limited your performance the last time you did this particular lift. During your warm-up sets of that lift, really focus on addressing the issue that was your limiting factor. Hopefully, once the weight begins to get heavy the issue you were addressing during warm-ups will have gone away. The new issue (or recurring one) will be what you focus on the next time you warm-up. If you systematically lift this way, your weak points can continually become your strong points. Watch your success begin to snowball!