Author Archives: Corey

Deciphering Deadlift and Close-Grip Bench Press

The Dead Lift Goal –The dead lift is a wonderful test of your ability to maintain a neutral spine while moving something off of the ground. The spine is most commonly damaged when moved from a neutral position (good, long torso posture) into one of extreme of direction, be that a forward rounding or a backward arching. If your deadlift is relatively weak, then your spine is relatively weak and is more likely to be injured in daily activities. Building proper dead lift strength improves your ability to avoid that forward flexion and limit risk of injury not only in the gym, but in life!

However, we can have a dead lift that is TOO strong and it hurts our back as well. Our dead lift should be approximately 25% greater than our back squat. If you have such a strong lift that you turn regular daily activities that should be squatting (like tying your shoes, or picking up a child) into more of a lifting/stooping action we can over-use, and thus abuse the back. Ever hear a coach tell you “your chest dropped when you stood out of the squat” or “your squat needs to be deeper”? You likely have a dead lift far stronger than your squat.

Why don’t we bench press? Why are you now testing it? – A topic for another article would be proper mechanics of the shoulder and safety of the rotator cuff. The summary is this: Where the arm moves, so too should the shoulder blade. Arm overhead for a press, get your shoulder blade up. Arm down at top of a pull up, so too should the shoulder blade go. However, a bench press is not a functional movement. It alters the movement of the shoulder blade to enhance pushing strength of our upper torso. In a proper bench press the shoulder blade does not move forward as we move the arm forward and overuse of this will create problems with the rotator cuff. We don’t often bench press in the gym because we work to more regularly train the movement of our shoulder blade as well.

There have been many field studies done to compare a close-grip bench press to other lifts; we use it as a comparison of upper body pushing strength relative to lower body and pulling strength. We regularly see individuals improve their bench press tests without ever bench pressing during their training.

The Close-Grip Bench Press Goal-In a comparison of upper body to lower body strength we would like your CGBP to be approximately 66% of your Back Squat. If your CGBP is higher than that, you have a stronger upper body than lower body, and vice versa. Best ways to improve upper body strength would be improved push up mechanics (STOP PEELING!!) and to progress in strength of ring push ups, bar dips and ring dips.

Upper and Lower Body Strength in Relation to Olympic Lifts – The olympic lifts are a complex, multi-joint, speed-oriented movement. They are VERY potent at improving a base of slow strength into speed strength (lift/squat/push/pull is slow, run and jump is fast). In essence, teach an ox to sprint!! With the complex movement, technique is paramount in both safety and progress; technique REQUIRES a balance of upper body strength to lower body strength. Legs too strong (CGBP below 66%) and you’ll have trouble catching the bar correctly and are likely to create injury to the neck and shoulders long term. Arms too strong (CGBP above 66%) and you’ll likely pull early with your arms and damage your elbows and wrists.

Many of us spend a good deal of time working to perfect our technique. Unfortunately, working to keep your arms straight when you perform a power clean will not get you a stronger squat, but a stronger squat (if that’s what you need) will give you a better power clean. Working to keep your shoulders elevated when you catch a snatch will not improve your upper body strength (if that’s what you need) but better pushing strength will improve the stability of your shoulder in the snatch. Want to improve your olympic lifts? Focus your training to ensure your back squat, deadlift, and CGBP are in a 100-125-66% ratio and you’re off to a great start!!


See Deciphering your Back Squat and Bent Arm Hang


Deciphering Your Back Squat & Bent Arm Hang Test

This month CFA group classes will be completing a number of tests often used in our assessment of all new clients. Following these tests we will include educational pieces to inform you what your test results mean and how you can use that knowledge to further improve your abilities while avoiding limitations and plateaus.


How to Use this New Knowledge in Group Classes

CrossFit Group Classses include a constant variation of lifts. Those that attend classes consistently (particularly same days week to week) will receive a spread of the various lifts. If over these next few weeks you discover you are low in one lift/skill relative to another it is advised that you put the most effort/focus into these new found areas of opportunity (be it squatting, overhead pressing, static hangs, etc). When lifts come up that you are stronger in relative to other lifts it is advised that you stay conservative with weights (avoid pushing your upper limits) and focus on crisp technique. In time, your numbers should begin to approach an appropriate balance at which point you can put equal efforts into all lifts.

This week was a Back Squat 1 Rep Max at 3 seconds down and 1 second up as well as a static bent arm hang (just like middle school!!)

The Back Squat Goal – The back squat is used to determine hip and leg strength relative to your body weight. The control of 3 seconds down as well as the acceleration of 1 second up means that we can support a certain effort correctly and then reverse it safely… just like jumping! The standard we use before we have our beginners do much jumping activity is 10-15% over their body weight for said Back Squat. Someone who weighs 120# we would like to develop a back squat of 135# or someone 180# a back squat of 200# before we introduce jumping (Box jumps, olympic lifts, etc). When we are not strong enough to control and accelerate a load of 10-15% over our body weight through the full range of motion, we likely do not have the strength in the muscles of our hips and knees to control our own body quickly in a jumping fashion.

The Back Squat and Injury Prevention –If someone does not have the recommended strength of a back squat before introducing jumping we tend to see them use their calves and ankles too much for jumping. Over time this can lead to ankle, calf, plantar fascia and achilles irritation/injury/pain. As well, if your body tends to compensate in the back squat test, say a forward lean, or a shift of the hips to one side, or a knee diving in, we can do these very same things while jumping and cause back or knee pain as a result.

Back Squat and Olympic Lifting –Snatch, Clean, Jerk, and all variations are in essence, jumping with weight. As such, we do not often prescribe olympic lifting to our incoming clients before they have achieved a strong back squat. If this is not done prior, we are unable to use heavy enough weight with the olympic lifts to allow for any significant hormonal benefits/strength gains. Unfortunately, olympic lifting with light weights (under 70% of your own bodyweight) does not make you stronger/better at squatting, but developing a strong squat does improve your olympic lifting capacity. Certainly you get better technique with light weights but we are limited in true strength development without the solid squatting basis first. Compensations noted above with the jumping pre-requisite (back, hip, knee, ankle) are also noted here.

Bent Arm Hang – Static strength endurance before dynamic. With the bent arm hang, we like clients to have approximately 60 seconds prior to dynamic (kipping) pull ups. Without a solid endurance base first we are likely to fatigue quickly. This fatigue of the muscles means they can get damaged more easily and once the muscles are damaged we can start damaging the joints. As such we like to see people have at least 60 seconds in the bent arm hang before they attempt to train towards pull ups on a regular basis.

How to improve the tests – The simple answer is do more or put in more effort. Your body adapts to what we do with it, that’s how you’ve gotten so much better already! As such, to improve your back squat we must back squat. If we do little squatting and a lot of olympic lifting, we won’t get much better at squatting. As well, if we do the same amount of each but put more effort into the olympic lifting (because it’s FUN!) we won’t get much better at squatting.

If we can do 3 pull ups but can only hang for 25 seconds, it will be difficult to get better at pull ups… HOWEVER if we can get some better endurance for hanging first we will more quickly add a few pull ups to our repertoire.

Note – We CAN do too much of a good thing. Don’t think that if your test isn’t where you’d like it that you can do the movement every day and get better without risking an overuse injury. Guidelines for improvements of these specific skills will be given in classes as they come up.

Feel free to post questions on here or discuss with Corey or any of the coaches as you see fit!


Your Lifestyle Part 2: Short-term vs. Long-term

Food and lifestyle affect our health. Not many people fail to understand this. However, to really make a moment-by-moment decision about what to eat, think, and do we must understand WHAT our health is and then how each decision creates said effect.

Simply put, chronic diseases are the result of long-term use of short-term physiology. Our body was designed to deal with immediate problems with the sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system. After the immediate issue is resolved (assuming we survive) our parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system takes over to repair and rebuild after the problem. With the right balance of this stress and recovery, we “supercompensate”; we become BETTER at dealing with that same immediate issue. Our health is this balance of stress and recovery to achieve the best supercompensation!

When our sympathetic nervous system is engaged there are a series of immediate and follow-up actions that occur to aid our dealing with this issue. These are akin to pressing the accelerator on our car. Rev the engine, put it in gear, and do what you’re supposed to do!!! However, if these functions stay elevated they create long-term problems, our common chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. Our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) improves short term, emergency functions, but leads to disorders with long-term use:

Short-term, Fight or Flight physiology... NECESSARY is this case!!

  • Increased energy delivery with higher blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate
    • Long-term problems: hypertension, high blood pressure
  • Increased blood clotting with elevated C-reative protein and LDL cholesterol
    • Long-term problems: Clotting in areas that are not wounded, like the arteries of heart and brain… risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Increased energy usage with higher blood levels of sugar and fat
    • Long-term problems: high blood sugar and diabetes
  • Increased energy delivery ONLY to the muscles that need it by increasing insulin resistence
    • Long-term problems: Diabetes
  • Decreased digestion
    • Long-term problems: IBS, colitis, poor digestion/absorbtion leading to vitamin/mineral deficiency
  • Decreased cell-mediated immunity
    • Long-term problems: inability to properly fight off infections and cancers, poor tissue healing and recovery, accidental breakdown of our healthy tissue by the immune system with auto (self) immune disorders

After the rush its time to slow down, recharge, and get some long-term physiology rolling!!

Our parasympathetic nervous system does the opposite of all of the above. A balance of both systems is required for health. The above changes are NECESSARY if we are working out, running from a thief, sprinting through the terminal to catch a plane, etc. They are NOT necessary at 3a while we are trying to sleep. However, with chronic excitation of the fight or flight system we have gradual changes like the above happening at times when they shouldn’t. This is akin to hitting the brakes and the accelerator at the same time. You create a terrible wear and tear to the entire vehicle (your physical body) when you ask it to always function at a high state AND recover. Then we get diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, cancers, autoimmune disorders, etc.

To make our moment-by-moment decisions we need to understand ALL causes of sympathetic excitation, or stress. Let it be known today that sympathetic stress (fight or flight) can be engaged from one of three sources:

  1. Physical
    • Too much physical activity
    • Too little physical activity
    • Poor balance of short duration and long duration activity
  2. Chemical
    • What we eat
    • Environmental toxins
  3. Mental
    • Anger over missing a plane is just as stressful as running to catch the plane
    • Fear of a tax audit is just as stressful as a tax audit

Details will come in later parts.

Your Lifestyle Part 1: Food Movies Review

Local trout over a mix of fresh greens with avocado and spices

Last Friday I went to watch the documentary “Forks Over Knives”. It is a documentary on the tale of two careers headed in the same direction. Drs. Colin Campbell and Caldwell Esselstyn, the former a nutritional biochemist and researcher, the latter an open heart surgeon, focus their careers on helping people improve their lives and health by advocating a whole-foods, vegetable-based diet. The film was well done, entertaining, and I highly recommend all of you seeing it when it comes out in May of this year.

I would also recommend you pick up “Food Inc.” from the video store, a similar movie about eating locally produced, organic, whole-foods. Focusing less on the health of you, “Food Inc” discusses the health of your food and allows you to drawcorrelationto how it impacts your own health.

“Forks Over Knives” repeatedly discusses how chronic diseases like cancer, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease can be avoided or even reversed with a change in your diet. They advocate cutting out meats and processed foods and eating an entirely vegetable-based diet. The linking of meats and processed foods made it difficult for me to engulf their whole message as the two are not entirely inter-dependent.

Nutrition labels show what science has learned about food so far, not the healthful properties of the food itself!

On whole foods:

Foods, plants and animals as they exist in nature, have millions of little chemicals, hormones, minerals, vitamins that help it all function correctly. The human mind, and the scientific method, have worked centuries on understanding all of what is in there. However, we still do not know everything there is in food. As such, by breaking it down, processing it, removing those chemicals and then re-inserting them into the food we only know how to re-insert the ones we know exist. Everything else is forgotten.

Health-food nutrition labels have gotten longer and longer to account for further research into the field. Does it not make sense that we still don’t know EVERYTHING there is? Therefore, we are unable to put EVERYTHING back into the food after we package it for long-term storage?

The idea of a whole-food diet is such that you don’t NEED to know everything that is in there, your body knows its there and takes out what it needs to work properly. We don’t always need to know the nutritional content of our food, just eat the whole thing and it’ll work.

On avoiding animal-based products:

The film-makers of “Forks Over Knives” repeatedly flash pictures of McDonalds, Wendy’s, or sausage on the grill when the words “animal products” are heard. Unfortunately, this instills the idea that ALL animal products are unhealthy.

As “Food Inc” shows clearly, the industrialized meat sector is NOT real food. It is not a pig grown out in a sunny field. It is not a chicken clucking around the yard until its time to lay an egg. These animals are fed horrible foods, stuffed in cages, pumped full of hormones and chemicals to keep them “alive” until its time to process them in a mass killing. This is NOT a whole-foods diet. This is NOT avoiding processed foods.

Locally grown, organic farms that raise their animals humanely and responsibly, in my opinion, is supporting the notion of avoiding processed foods.

I believe that eating a diet of local, organic, whole foods is one piece of obtaining a healthy lifestyle.

“Forks Over Knives” discusses the cessation and reversal of chronic disease. However, I found this to be a little pointed. There are MANY factors that go into a healthy lifestyle and ALL must be addressed. Future posts will discuss what chronic disease is and how our lifestyle, including what we eat, think, and do, will impact this.

Get your belly FAT… Part 3. How it saves your spine!

The last two weeks I have written about the function of the diaphragm and abdomen for proper breathing mechanics, strength, endurance, and now spinal support. Click to read Part 1, and Part 2.

There are a few ways the spine is damaged.

  1. The first is acute, blunt trauma like getting hit by a moving van. Fat belly or not you probably don’t stand much chance of saving yourself on this one.
  2. Falling directly down on your bum and creating a shockwave through your spine can injure parts of it.
  3. The most common way is through repeated movements into the end of a ROM. Too much forward rounding, too much backward jamming, a lot of rotation, etc.

This post is about method number three. Our spine requires both the ability to move into an end-range and the ability to prevent that motion.

Moving our spine lightly into an end-range under easy conditions is necessary for blood flow and tissue healing.

When our spine is neutral, or not in an end-range, it is in the safest position possible. A co-ordinated body will be able to keep your spine neutral while moving the arms and legs into positions to create a movement. This is done by the torso muscles creating optimal tension while allowing the arm and leg muscles to move over-top.

Creating maximal tension in the torso is necessary when moving heavy weights. Maximal tension is your best chance to limit movement of the spine. Muscles have a length-tension relationship. This means when muscles are too long or two short they don’t create much tension. A deep breath moves the diaphragm downward, and the abdominal muscles outward. This outward position is the optimal length-tension relationship for the abdominal wall.

A great example of this would be a tall tower supported by guidewires. If these guidewires are close the the base of the tower they are not effective at keep the tower steady. If the guidewires are further away from the base of the tower they are much more able to prevent toppling of the tower. If we suck in the belly towards the spine, those muscles become too short and lose their maximal tension thus losing their ability to keep the spine motionless.

The tower is your spine and the guidewires are your abdominal muscles. A deep breath into the belly moves the adbominal muscles outward to better support the spine.

Get your belly FAT!! Take a deep breath in, move a lot of weight, have better energy during workouts, and save your spine!

-Post thoughts to comments.

110201 Tuesday “Intervals”

Strength/Skill: Chest to bar weighted pull-ups: 5-5-5-3-3-1-1-1
Work to add weight/reduce bands. Post your best 5,3 and 1 to comments

To prepare for the WOD complete foot drills while resting during your sets of 5. Foam roll lower legs between 3s and run 200m between each set of 1. Work to gradually get faster over each 200m.

2x400m sprint
4x200m sprint
Rest exactly 2 minutes in between all intervals.
Post intervals and overall time minus 10 minutes to comments.

Save Your Spine…Get Your Belly FAT!! Part I

Photo courtesy of:

“Say wha!?!?! I thought we were trying to REDUCE our belly fat!!”You’re right. Reducing the amount of fat storage on your trunk is a GREAT way to improve your health. Fat storage around the midsection has a significant correlation with risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and auto-immune disorder. However, my statement is not in regard to actual fatty tissue.

“Get your belly fat” is a term I heard recently regarding spinal stabilization, i.e. a way to tighten your abdominal muscles to brace the spine and prevent it from buckling under load. Unless we fall on our butts hard, a majority of injuries to the spine occur when it moves into an end-range…by keeping our spine neutral we can prevent excessive damage!

“A fat belly” refers to engaging your diaphragm, a giant muscle in your midsection that promotes correct breathing and is a potent stabilizer of the torso. When standing, your diaphragm lies mostly parallel to the ground and divides the upper portion of your torso from the lower portion (separating rib cage from abdomen). As we properly breathe in, the diaphragm moves downward compressing our stomach, intestines, and other contents to make room for our lungs to expand and bring in more air. When we then hold our breath and place a heavy weight in our hands or on our shoulders we increase what is termed intra-abdominal pressure. This means the pressure in our abdomen increases and helps prevent our spine from moving.

If we breathe in properly our belly will expand (making it appear “fat”) because of intestines getting pushed by the diaphragm. If we then get “tight” when it is “fat” we can keep a deep breath which will stop our chest from dropping, give our shoulders a great platform to sit on and stop our low back from moving too much. “Wait, I thought I was supposed to suck my belly IN”… nope. When we say “get tight” we don’t mean “suck in” (i.e. moving the belly button towards the spine). We mean tight like you’re about to get punched in the gut. Now, we might also say “get fat” or “get a big belly”. This will help you visualize taking a deep breath in, engaging your belly to push outward, and then holding tight to prevent any motion.

-Post thoughts to comments.

110124 Monday

Congrats to all of those who participated in the Hot Chocolate 10k this past Saturday! CFA was well represented with Katie Nery (running for Shanna Duvall) who placed 3rd in the 25-29 age group. She took over 1:20 off last year’s time running 44:18 which would have been 2nd in the 35-39 age group. Rustan Adcock also ran well after taking nearly two minutes off last year’s time with a 41:22 placing 5th in the 35-39 age group.

Other finishers include Joy, Brenna, Leslie, Brooke, Becca, Shilpa, Teresa, Kim, Britt, Maggie and any other CFAers that I overlooked. Thanks for supporting one of Asheville’s schools!

Strength/Skill Front squat: 5-7 sets of 3 @ 3011

Partner WOD


Overhead squats

For time.

Alternate 1 person at a time on a bar. While resting from OHS the other partner is performing kettlebell swings. Score is time minus 1 second for every completed KBS. Use ~70% OHS 5RM.

Ex. Partner A completes 10 OHS while partner B performs KBS. Then, partner B completes 10 OHS and A does KBSs. A completes 9 OHS, B completes 9 OHS and so on.

This WOD was last completed 100622.