Mobility Drill: Banded Hip Flexor Stretch

Why Your Fitness Program Needs Integrated Mobility Work

Are you on a training program that states it will get you the sexy or shredded body you have always wanted?  Does it have nutrition integrated in with it’s programming?  If it doesn’t…drop it like a bad habit!  This is similar to how I feel to fitness training programs that offer to make you fit, stronger, or lean but don’t have integrated mobility work paired with it.  If you want someone to achieve these attributes you are doing them a disservice if you aren’t looking out for them long-term.

They may help you get the results you want short term, but if you want to have a healthy strong body long term and do the things you love pain free, mobility work and stretching is a must!  Let me give you a life example of my own:

I participated in Track and Field from my young adolescent years all the way through college.  I loved it and it seemed to work for me.  I got great results aesthetically from the training we did and decent strength gains when we were hitting the weight room.  But…the biggest issue that I have come to realize now that I am pushing 40 is that we never emphasized stretching or mobility work.  When practice was over and all the hard work was done…you were on your on with no guidance in these areas.

Now don’t get me wrong, I loved all my coaches and they all had an impact on my life growing up.  But I wish they cared a little bit more about what was going to happen to me long term if I didn’t do proper recovery and maintenance work on my body.  I should take responsibility as well because I knew stretching helped to some degree, but didn’t care too much about it if my coaches didn’t.  Go figure, we were all so smart in those days…

Let’s fast forward to the present day.  I have been competing in Spartan and Obstacle Course racing now for almost 4 year.  Prior to that I was doing Crossfit.  My body is an absolute mess and it isn’t all due to the training I have been putting in these past few years for the sport of OCR, it takes time and hard work to beat the hell out of it.  There are many athletes in my age group and older that have healthier bodies and have had similar athletic backgrounds to me.  The main difference I find is that they had coaches in the past that incorporated proper warm ups, cool downs, and stretching for these athletes…and if they didn’t they have excellent genetics on their side…mine must be from the basic gene pool.

On the same token I find as we get older, we get wiser with our training and recovery protocols.  I find that I spend more time working on my recovery and mobility work more than actually working out.  Crazy right?!  Why?  Because of all the tight connective, muscular, and fascia tissue problems I have due to a nonexistent recovery protocol in my past and overtraining in college to stay competitive with the top athletes.  Now pair that with training hardcore in Crossfit and OCR and all while over 30 and bam, you got a train wreck a coming (I’m there now with a bad foot injury still).

In our 20s we bounced back quickly and in are early 30s you can somewhat get away with it unless your basic like me…I had to start working on reversing the damage from the past all while keeping up with the wear and tear I am doing to my body in the present.

How does this relate to the training program that you are on?  It does!  Let’s say the program you are on is getting you excellent strength gains and you look great too.  The problem isn’t short term.  The problems you will deal with training on a program without integrated mobility work will come up maybe a decade or two later, maybe sooner if you are like me and trained hard most of your life with very little to no mobility work. Fortunately for us there is so many programs and gyms out there now that give you the tools and knowledge you need to keep your bodies healthy and hopefully pain free and still have the positive results that we all want.

How do you find these places?  Google gyms, fitness, Crossfit, etc. in your area and look at their websites.  See if they blog or post anything up about what they represent or apply with their clientele.  Do they have Facebook and Instagram pages?  I find that social media is the best way to get a quick glimpse of what each gym is all about and I can make a pretty good guess whether I want to train or send someone there.  When all else fails…try them all out and do a comparison.  In my opinion a gym or fitness program that is nailing it has:  strength and conditioning, mobility, and nutrition fundamentals built into their program.

Now go out there a win!

 

 

Bent Arm Strength

Training Bent Arm Strength to Crush Spartan Obstacles

Let’s talk Spartan Race obstacles.  So many people are failing obstacles like: Multi-Rig, Olympus, Twister, Monkey-Bars, Rope Climb, and the list goes on.  You’ve been training your grip strength like a mofo so that you can crush them in the next race.  Let me tell you…you are only getting one major piece to this puzzle.  Grip strength will only take you so far on obstacle completion, though it’s definitely required.

You need to start incorporating Bent Arm work.  And I don’t just mean bicep curls or the shake weight!

Bent Arm Strength

I mean actually doing movements that force you to hold in a Bent Arm position (though bicep curls will help believe it or not!).  Everyone who is smashing these obstacles has great bent-arm strength.  Keeping your arms straight makes it very difficult to complete these obstacles as you lose your grip very quickly (especially if the obstacles are wet!).

Spartan Race is full of Pulling obstacles.  There is very little push type movements besides the Burpee. (TMX, Tough Mudder, seems to be adding some more thought into their variety with pushing and pulling which is awesome to see!  Really want to try one of their races when I’m healthy).

This requires building strength in the Lats, Biceps, Scapulas, Rhomboids, Flexors, you get the point!  It also requires a bit of mobility work so you can avoid tearing your rotator cuffs when swinging or “pulling” yourself through the obstacles.  I have seen so many strong athletes get hurt on these obstacles due to poor mobility in the shoulder girdle.  So, if you want to stay in the game and keep conquering these obstacles you need healthy shoulders.

Ok.  Now what.  Oh, you want me to tell you what movements to work on.  There are a ton!  But let’s just go with these 3 basics that will help you with dominating these obstacles and you can work on them in most gym settings:

1. Hinge Rows– learned this baby at the Gymnasticbodies seminar a few years back.  I love this movement!  Once you have mastered the Ring Hinge Rows, you can start working on the Bar Hinge Row (stay tuned I will talk about that one in the future).  Hinge Rows are a great movement for building great bent-arm strength.  They also give the added benefits of improving your shoulder and scapular mobility at the same time.

Now this movement can be very tough for many individuals.  I have beginners start by sitting on the ground with their hips under the rings.  I set the ring height to when the athlete finishes the movement at the top that their arms/elbows are at 90 degrees.  Now, this movement can feel like nothing if you are sitting on the ground and pulling yourself into the hinged position…but if you go to a count of 5 on the way up and a count of 5 on the way down for 5-10 reps, even advanced athletes will get fatigued and really feel how to move towards progressing to the hinge row with their legs and hips off the ground.

2. Gunner Carries (flexed-arm carry)– this is an absolute bicep and grip strength killer.  If you really want to get nasty with this one, do a Gunner hold while doing a Wall Sit.  Work the legs and work that bent-arm strength all at once.  I would start really light here!  5-25 lbs if using dumbbells or if using a plate, you can double those numbers depending on how much gunshow power you have!

Bent Arm Strength

If you’re walking…choose a weight that you can hold in the Gunner position (elbows pulled in tight with the angle of the arms just over 90 degrees) for at least 30 seconds.  Same goes for the Wall Sit.  Something you can hold in that position for at least 30 seconds.  Once you get comfortable and stronger you should be shooting for a minute with the same weight!  Don’t go up in weight until you can hold the position for a minute.  Then start over again with heavier weight and build that tolerance up to a minute again.

This video shows a lot of different variations, but the one you are looking for is the second one he demonstrates…looks like Rambo going to town with his machine guns!  Ignore the others.

Bent Arm Strength

3. Pull Ups– Were you hoping for something fancier?  Lo siento…Nothing beats the traditional pull-up for bent-arm strength for dominating obstacles.  There are so many variations of the pull-up…but the one you should be focusing on is hands just outside the shoulders.  This is ideal for engaging the lats, scaps, and biceps and for generating a lot of torque.  If you don’t have a pull-up yet, you got a lot of work to do to get through those obstacles.  Most gyms have a pull-up machine that can assist you if you don’t have pull-ups yet.  Don’t have one of those?  You can do banded assisted pull ups (there is a variety of band strengths you can use to help you through the movement).  If are doing banded pull ups…do not bounce at the bottom position!  You will not build the proper strength out of the bottom phase of the pull by doing this (this phase is super essential for getting your ass over walls, getting into bent arm positions for Olympus, Twister, Multi-Rig, etc.).

This is my favorite walk-through on the pull-up and how to do it correctly (You’ll notice that myself and Mr. Grayson Strange crush the competition when it comes to instructional videos here).

Ok.  Those are 3 movements that will maximize your bent-arm strength game and help you get through many of those demanding upper body obstacles.  Let’s talk volume now.

Volume is super key because you don’t want to over or under train these movements.  You need a good balance.  I like higher volume of these movements as Spartan tends to throw multiple grip/bent-arm strength obstacles one after the other.  This means you are going to need to build up that bent-arm muscular endurance.  But…this also depends on the level of athlete we are talking here.  A lot of coaches and trainers will argue about what the proper volume and weights should be for each person, but I am going to break it down that will work well for most individuals.

I would do these movements twice a week!  1 session focused on high volume and lower intensity (endurance) and the other on less volume but higher intensity (strength).  Give yourself 2-3+ days between sessions to let those muscles recovery properly.

Session 1 (Endurance):

  1. 3×10-15 Hinge Rows (1 minute of rest between sets)
  2. 3×1 minute Gunner Carry (pick a weight you can carry for the full minute without resting, 2 minutes of rest between rounds)
  3. 3xMax Pull Ups (If using band or pull assisted machine no more than 10-15 reps, 1 minute of rest between sets)
  4. Mobilize those lats, rhomboids, shoulders, biceps, scapulas by stretching or using some massage therapy!

Session 2 (Strength):

  1. 3×5 Weighted Pull Ups, 5 Chest to Bar Pull Ups, or 10 Pull Ups (if you can do 10 pull ups switch to Chest to Bar.  if you can do 5 chest to bar switch to weighted pull ups, 2 minutes of rest between rounds)
  2. 3×30 seconds Gunner Hold in Wall Sit Position (go heavier than your endurance session ideally being able to hold the weight correctly for 30 seconds, rest for 1 minute)
  3. 3×8-10 Hinge Rows (Work on accelerating quickly to the bent-arm position with a controlled lower back to the bottom, 1 minute of rest between sets)
  4. Mobilize those lats, rhomboids, shoulders, biceps, scapulas by stretching or using some massage therapy!

Now go try them out and let me know how they go for you.  Looking forward to hearing about how you crush those obstacles in future races!

Death Stretch

Mobility Tip of the Week: Death Stretch

Got tight hips and quads?  Sit a lot?  The Death Stretch is hands down one of my favorites to recommend.  This mobility exercise gets its name from the pain (often associated with death) it has caused others in the past.  Kelly Starrett of MobilityWod calls it the Couch Stretch.

(this is not the couch stretch fyi…)

I was first exposed to this mobility drill in 2009 when I first joined Robb Wolf‘s gym, Crossfit NorCal (if you are into history of Crossfit, this might be an article of interest).

I was green when it came to the term “mobility” then as most folks in 2009 were.  Crossfit and mobility weren’t a household name yet, but they definitely were a growing trend.  I was taking NorCal coach Nicki Violetti’s Olympic Weightlifting classes then, and we had to do this drill a few times during the class session.  I dreaded it!  I was as tight as Scrooge with his money (still a work in progress) and my hips and quads felt like they were going to rip off each time…but she stressed consistency.

Well…I drank the Kool-Aid (no sugar added as the gym was Paleo and the owners had a code to follow…) and kept working on it.

I finally started seeing some progress.  Gosh darn it.  They were right.  I could pull a leg up in a few months in and the stretch actually started to feel good instead of down right painful.  Eventually I was able to sit up tall and get my glutes engaged which allowed me to get my hips forward (this allows you to maximize the stretch in the hips and quads).

Here is a great video of my On Ramp coach Cindy Oji (The O.G.) demonstrating The Death Stretch from NorCal Strength and Conditioning’s extensive library on YouTube:

I first started off with this stretch doing 2 minutes per leg.  Not sure if that is the best strategy if you are tighter than a 2 dollar bill like me.  I would suggest for newbies to hit 1 minute per leg and alternate for a second minute per leg (still hitting 2 minutes a leg, just breaking it up into 2 rounds).

Death Stretch
A great way to start the Death Stretch for Beginners!

That way you aren’t overloading your nervous system too quickly and you can start building up the stimulus and exposure over time to excel with this mobility drill.  In my opinion 2 minutes should be the maximum hold for this stretch, but some will argue to hold for 4 minutes.  If you have the time, then go for it.  I find using this drill and adding a variety of other mobility drills will maximize your time and effectiveness.

Now…go give it a shot and let me know how it goes for you by posting a video or photo on Instagram or Facebook tagging @norcal__spartan and using #norcalspartan so I can see how you are doing.  Got any questions, DM me on Instagram or comment on this post.  Get out there and win people!

Week 3: NorCal Spartan Training

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Last week I finally felt like I was getting back into the groove after missing 4 days of solid training…  I finally got over the cold, but still had some lingering congestion for a few more days, but was able to get some solid workouts in.  I waited till a little later in the week to start my running aerobic base workouts and went with some light biking and classes at NorCalSC Chico (week 1 of programming in classes).  In classes, we are deloading due to coming off max week (my bulking season).  Here is what last week looked like training wise:

Monday 2/6:

Tuesday 2/7:

  • 30 min on Stationary Bike- still felt like I wasn’t ready to get back on the trails and was still a little drained from Monday’s workout

Wednesday 2/8:

  • 45+ Min Run at Bidwell 1 Mile
    • Ran 5.4 miles in 46:22 (8:28 avg. mile pace)
      • *goal was just to go out and run for 45 mins just working aerobic base and working off the cold, terrain was a pavement path in the park*
  • Intermediate Class:

Thursday 2/9:

  • 35+ Min Run at Baroni Park Area
    • Ran 4.1 Miles in 37:00 (8:53 avg. mile pace)
      • *goal was just to go out and run for 45 mins, just working aerobic base, it was pouring rain, so only made it out for 37 mins and ran on pavement*

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Friday 2/10:

  • 60+ Min Run at Bidwell 1 Mile to Hooker Oak
    • Ran 7.1 Miles in 1:00:10 (8:24 avg. mile pace)
      • *goal was just to go out and run for 60 mins, just working aerobic base, terrain had mix of small hills and minor muddy areas*
  • Intermediate Class:

Saturday 2/11:

  • Took off to recover

Sunday 2/12:

  • Recovery Run- 4.5 miles at slow recovery tempo, didn’t time the run or track pace…wanted to focus on just moving and getting the legs some extra miles

Looking to learn more about Obstacle Course Racing and hate reading to gain information (if you made it this far, chances are you like to read…)? Check out The Obstacle Order Podcast!  They have 102 episodes of great content on OCR and Spartan Racing.

Live in the Northern California Area and need a place to train OCR and Spartan?  NorCal Strength and Conditioning has two locations, Chico and Marysville.  Email me at matt@norcalsc.com for more details and information!

For more things Spartan, OCR, etc. make sure to “Like” Us on Facebook and “Subscribe” to the blog so you don’t miss anything (on the right side bar menu)!

Stay tuned next week for Week 4 of Programming here at NorCalSpartan.com!  Till then, make sure to Get Your Fitness On!

Week 1: NorCalSpartanTraining

As I write this I am already wrapping up Week 2 of my training thus far preparing for the 2017 Spartan Race and OCR season (got a damn nasty cold that is making me take a few days off from training).  Right now this past few weeks I have been wrapping up what my friends Elijah and Phil of the Obstacle Order Podcast would call “Bulking Season.”

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Right now when it comes to my running regime I have been focusing on building my aerobic base (fat burning zone).  Aerobic base just means slowly building up a tolerance to running mileage at a manageable pace (most would consider this being able to hold a conversation while running, which folks that train with me often can’t get me to shut up!! You can’t help it when you got a lot to say…).  By doing this over the next month or so it will allow me then to focus on more interval, longer tempo, and anaerobic (glucose burning zone) style running workouts (Fartleks, Track Workouts, Race Pace mileage, etc.).

Outside of running I am wrapping up my heavy lifting from the current 8 Week cycle we have been doing in our Intermediate Classes at NorCal Strength and Conditioning.  We have been following a Wendler style progression for Back Squats (maxed at week 7, last week).  Deadlifts and Bench Press we followed a more Linear style approach (maxed at week 8, this week).  We also have been working on our Clean and Jerk (I love cleans, they are a great way to work speed and maximal power output).

Here is what my training looked like last week:

Monday 1/23:

  • Intermediate Class
    • Strength:
      • 4×1 Deadlift @95% of 1RM = 405# for first 3 rounds and then failed attempt at 425#
      • 3×5 Cat/Cows (these always make me feel sexy, especially if I am wearing lululemon…)
    • Secondary:
      • 4×1 Bench Press @95% of 1RM = 225# for first 3 rounds and last round was 245#
      • 3×5 Speed Skater Squats (can’t do pistols do to poor ankle flexion, but working on my mobility here), 5 L/ 5 R
      • 3×6 Jefferson Curls @45# (these are one of my favorite movements for stretching and strengthening the hamstrings and low back)
    • Conditioning (3 Rounds, descending ladder style):
      • 12/10/8 Ring Dips
      • 1 Liner
      • 6/5/4 Barbell Clean (155#)
      • 1 Liner
        • 12 Ring Dips, 1 Liner, 6 Cleans, 1 Liner, 10 Ring Dips, 1 Liner, 5 Cleans, 1 Liner, etc.  *I didn’t focus on time for this workout, just moved at a quick tempo that I could maintain without stopping to rest*

Tuesday 1/24:

  • 40+ Min Run at Bidwell 1 Mile Park
    • Ran 5.3 miles in 41:00 (7:37 avg/mile pace) *goal was just to go out and run for 40 mins, just working on aerobic base, terrain was flat so the pace was maintainable*
  • Spartan/OCR Specific Workout
    • Strength:
      • 3x150m Bucket Carry @70# *goal was not to put the bucket down on each carry*
      • 3×5 Wtd Pull Ups @50# Vest (+ warm up set of 5 unweighted pull ups)
    • Conditioning (3 Rounds with 2 min Rest between rounds):
      • 20 Burpees + Max Static Hang
        • Rd 1 = :41 for Burpees and 1:05 for Static Hang
        • Rd 2 = :39 for Burpees and 1:01 for Static Hang
        • Rd 3 = :40 for Burpees and :31 for Static Hang (grip was shot…)

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Wednesday 1/25:

  • 45+ Min Run at 5 Mile Park
    • Ran 5.5 miles in 49:13 (8:48 avg/mile pace) *goals was just to go out and run for 45 mins, just working aerobic base, terrain had mix of small hills and some muddy areas*
  • Intermediate Class
    • Strength:
      • 5/3/1+(max reps) Back Squat- 5@205#, 3@225#, 4@245# (max set, it was tough!)
      • 3×10 Single Leg Glute Bridges (10 L/ 10 R)
    • Secondary:
      • 4/2/2/1+(max reps) Overhead Barbell Press- 2@115#, 2@135#, 2@135#, 1@145# (failed 2nd rep attempt)
      • 3×3 Swimmers
      • 3×30 Hollow Rocks
    • Conditioning (3 Rounds):
      • 200m Row Sprint
      • 20 KB Swings @70#
      • 15 Air Squats
      • 5 Muscle Ups (sub in pull ups or a vertical pulling exercise for your progression if you choose to do this workout)
        • *I didn’t focus on time for this workout, just moved at a quick tempo that I could maintain without stopping to rest*

Thursday 1/26:

  • Recovery Day, worked Mobility Drills/Exercises

Friday 1/27:

  • Intermediate Class
    • Oly:
    • Strength/Secondary:
      • 3×10 Barbell Hip Thrust @275# (favorite glute movement by far, works great!)
      • 3×10 Wtd Sit Ups @55# (used a dumbbell)
      • 3×30 sec RDLs (30 sec L/ 30 sec R, great for balance and lengthening out the hamstrings)
    • Conditioning (3 Rounds, must complete 3 burpees after each movement)
      • 15 Box Jumps (30″ box)
      • 10 V-Ups
      • 8 Barbell Muscle Cleans (115#)
      • 6 Barbell Push Press (115#)
        • *I didn’t focus on time for this workout, just moved at a quick tempo that I could maintain without stopping to rest*

Saturday 1/28:

  • 60+ Min Run at 5 Mile Park
    • Ran 7.2 miles in 60:39 (8:23 avg/mile pace) *goals was just to go out and run for 60 mins, just working aerobic base, terrain had mix of small hills and some muddy areas*

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Sunday 1/29:

  • 70+ Min Run at 5 Mile Park
    • Ran 8.5 miles in 76:33 (8:57 avg/mile pace) *goals was just to go out and run for 70 mins, just working aerobic base, terrain had mix of small hills and some muddy areas*

Looking to learn more about Obstacle Course Racing and hate reading to gain information (if you made it this far, chances are you like to read…)? Check out The Obstacle Order Podcast!  They have 102 episodes of great content on OCR and Spartan Racing.

Live in the Northern California Area and need a place to train OCR and Spartan?  NorCal Strength and Conditioning has two locations, Chico and Marysville.  Email me at matt@norcalsc.com for more details and information!

For more things Spartan, OCR, etc. make sure to “Like” Us on Facebook and “Subscribe” to the blog so you don’t miss anything (on the right side bar menu)!

Stay tuned next week for Week 2 of Programming here at NorCalSpartan.com!  Till then, make sure to Get Your Fitness On!