Posts Tagged ‘form’

Collage of several of Gray's muscle pictures, ...

I’m an injury-prone idiot sometimes, but I didn’t suspect that I would be a “weekend warrior”–you know, one of those middle-aged, overweight, out-of-shape guys who decide they can still play [fill-in-the blank; e.g., basketball] like they did in college or high school and end up cloaked in ice packs.

Nope. Athletic activities are dangerous. I tried to get her high awesomeness, Dr. Stephanie the PT, to agree with my theory that I used to try to peddle to myself–that only people who are athletic get really hurt. She laughed. Not the first time (although I prefer laughter to contempt–doesn’t everyone?).

Turns out either extreme ends up messing up their bodies. A confirmed couch potato like me can end up as bad off as the MVP. But where we really get in trouble can be sneaky bad habits.

So I’m typing this with two ice packs on my back and a gutful of NSAIDs because my back is spasming like crazy. I don’t do the sports thing, but I’ve been fairly regular with my workouts. Dr. S has changed jobs, so I’m a little behind on my tune-ups, but still, I didn’t fall or do any other of the klutzy things I’m noted for (I do have several bruises from the sideboard jumping out at me, the little bitch).

What did I do? I had a marathon play-with-the-food-processor day. After several hours had passed, I was pausing and leaning over the counter, spasming from the lower part of my left shoulder to my waist.

My husband diagnosed it; I know he’s right because I felt better when I did what he suggested. I’d been hunching over the counter, not supporting my back with my abdominal muscles. As soon as I sucked in the belly, things came back into alignment. It helped (along with doing my stretches and PT), but now my right shoulder is not happy with me. No carrying of the purse, no lifting of the arm. Even typing isn’t exactly favored by the tweaking muscle group.

So, kids, remember: you can get hurt with bad biomechanics any time, any place, anywhere. If you are engaged in repetitive motion, take a second and think about what muscles you’re using–is it the kind of motion that you may end up hurting yourself from. If so, figure out how to do it right.

In the case of the kitchen counter marathon, you’ve got to keep your weight centered over your legs or you’re going to start pulling your pelvic girdle and back out of alignment. As soon as one thing goes out-of-whack, the rest will follow.

The body is meant for symmetry and balance, and it will work toward resuming that state if you mess with it. Hunching over anything, even a counter or sink or stovetop, is not an activity you should be doing. Suck in the gut, and lean forward using the joints you were given for that: your hips.

I’m off to strengthen those bloody hip flexors and core abdominals and see if I can convince my shoulder to shut up. I bet you can do better than I and identify the bad body movement before your muscles, joints, and ligaments start giving you a talking to.


P.S. If any readers are  military brats (or know them), please take a few minutes to fill out this anonymous survey (or send it to your friends): Thanks! jgm


Pukey the Clown was among the reasons I was really not thrilled about trying CrossFit. I think clowns are generally creepy (except those at Cirque du Soliel), and a vomiting one is just too John Wayne Gacy for me. Why, I wondered, would anyone think working out until you vomited was a Good Thing?

The tradition at some CrossFit gyms is to handout a Pukey the Clown t-shirt the first time a participant throws up. According to Plano Crossfit coach Troy Dodson,

Our goal isn’t to make you throw up, of course, but it happens sometimes. The clown T-shirt is just to lighten things up and let the person know they’ve pushed themselves hard.

Pushed yourself hard? Or too hard? Or maybe you’ve done something incorrectly? Or do you just think you’re a badass if you workout so hard you vomit?

I’d pretty much put Pukey out of my mind until I thought I was going to throw up during a workout. I told Coach Gary, and he laughed and said “So you’re about to do a Pukey, huh?” I was irritated about that until he explained a bit more. From his point of view, vomiting during a workout probably means you’re doing something wrong. One of the guys in his group vomited during a workout, and they gave him a hard time about being Pukey the Clown. He hasn’t repeated whatever the underlying error since.

In my case, I hadn’t hydrated sufficiently (and slowly) before I started working out, and trying to gulp down water during the workout made me nauseated. If I had thrown up, it would have been due to a my own dumb mistake, and calling me Pukey the Clown *might* have helped remind me not to do it again.

On the other hand, I don’t find shame or ridicule much of a motivator, although there are award-winning coaches who’ve used it regularly and get results. Me, I’d just avoid the whole situation and not go to CrossFit anymore if I was actually shamed. If you caught me on a good day, and I perceived it as good-natured teasing, it wouldn’t be a good day (I’m an only child and wasn’t conditioned to teasing early on, so I’m probably overly sensitive, particularly in areas where I don’t have any confidence). I’m hard enough on myself and have enough internal criticism. As I’ve said before, I respond best to praise. Tell me I’m doing a good job, and I’ll try to top myself. Tell me suck, and I hang my head in shame and lose all motivation.

So I guess whether Pukey is a good thing or bad depends on two things: what the person using Pukey means by it, and how the person being christened Pukey, whether by shirt or commentary, feels about it. A thread on the CrossFit discussion board shows the split pretty well. The original poster casually mentions that he almost always vomits after workouts and was asking about how to eat afterward to replace whatever he’d lost. He clearly didn’t think it was a big deal; in a later post in the thread, he basically says that it’s proof he’s working out at high level. Others on the thread disagreed; I’m afraid I’d have to put myself in their camp, although the original poster would be correct in pointing out I’m not into it to compete. I’m just looking at getting healthy, and I just can’t reconcile throwing up after most workouts with health.

Anyway, some of the posters basically recounted the side effects of bulimia: bad teeth and throat irritation from the acid eating through both. But I particularly liked what Matt Haxmeier, clearly no weenie, had to say about the probable causes of recurrent vomiting:

You can make very good gains without puking on workouts…If you find that you can go fast enough to puke frequently:
a.) are probably sacrificing form.
b.) If not a.) then you should perhaps consider scaling up the weight or ROM so you can’t go as fast.
It’s much harder to puke on a workout using 75% of your max then 25% of your max.

Chris Walls chimes in with:

Or c) change your timing on when you eat prior to the workout, and/or drink WAY less water DURING the workout. You’re not going to die of thirst over the course of a CrossFit Class/WOD.

(Thanks, Chris. Wish I’d known that before…and I sure thought I was gonna die of thirst, but the close-to-barfing kind of cured me of that.)

So, fellow fatties and/or newbies, Pukey the Clown is, like most of CrossFit, what you make of it. I think of him, like most clowns, of someone to assiduously avoid. If you like him, well, I think you’re a little whacked, but you probably think the same of me. Again, the beauty of CrossFit is that it can accommodate both of us.

Just go puke where I can’t hear you, ‘kay?

My daughter-in-law said something encouraging when I was groaning and creaking in and out of a recliner because of my workout soreness. She said, “The bad soreness will go away after a few weeks; after that you’ll only be lightly sore.” Nice to know.

You can expect muscle soreness when you work out. You can expect your ligaments to be stretched and a little unhappy. Those pains actually seem to get better during a workout and bother you more after prolonged periods of disuse, although scientists aren’t sure why. Contrary to what we all thought, it appears lactic acid only causes the burning sensation you sometimes get while exercising, but not the “delayed-onset muscles soreness.” At any rate, the burn means you’re about at the muscle’s limit, and the soreness is part of the process of rebuilding muscle. So you can blow that kind of pain off and count it as part of retraining your body.

But there’s also the pain you need to pay attention to and consider whether you need to scale back until you’ve gotten stronger, and work on form and intensity. And some pain means you need to take a day or so off to heal, to see your doctor or even go to the emergency room.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “more macho than thou” games or to be embarrassed to admit you’re hurt because you don’t want to be perceived as a weenie. Don’t. CrossFit is great because it can accommodate injury or lower abilities, so take advantage of that flexibility. And if you allow yourself to be really injured, you’ll be off your exercise routine longer than if you take care of yourself.

It’s not just the deconditioned or the overweight who can injure themselves. Gary, my husband/coach who is in great shape and rarely injures himself, somehow hurt his back a little just the other day. He’s icing it and staying away from things that cause it to hurt “the bad way,” but he’s continuing to work out using the exercises that don’t stress it and scaling back on the ones that do until he can do them.

My knee injury flare is another case of when stopping is a good thing. Right now, the tops of both knees ache a little, but it’s not a sharp pain and I feel better after walking around on them, so I’m still good to go. But a few days ago, my left knee screamed at me during the workout. I’ve injured myself enough times to have a pretty good idea of when I need to pay attention and when I don’t, but whenever you have a sudden, sharp pain, that’s generally a bad sign. I iced the knee that day and the next, took an unscheduled rest day, and my knee was up for the next workout.

Sharp or intense pain that is qualitatively different from what you feel some hours after you’ve finished working out is something to investigate. Joints are particularly susceptible to errors in the form, or the how, of any exercise. That includes the joints you don’t generally think of, like the places where your vertebrae meet  (the bits that look like wings)(the facet joint) or the joint that is between your tailbone and your hipbone (the sacroiliac joint, commonly referred to as the SI joint).

I’ve injured both a facet joint and an SI joint. The first was when I was younger and lighter, and it still took me over six weeks to recover from, even with physical therapy and muscle relaxants.  Twice. I remember the second time better than the first, because I knew exactly when I did it. I was lifting a pile of casebooks in the law library from the bottom shelf and didn’t have my back in the right position and I felt a weird twinge in my back. The next day I could hardly straighten my back. That’s the kind of thing you see the doctor for.

The SI joint took a while to figure out because I had weird symptoms. The primary place where it hurt was in my lower left abdominal area, so the docs went through all the possible GI and GYN items first. It’s more common to hurt in your lower back or thighs, but referred pain like mine isn’t unusual. After exhausting the other possibilities (and when I’d gotten to the point that 2 vicodine at a time didn’t do anything but take the edge off the pain), I went to a physical therapist who shoved a finger in the right spot and almost made me yell, it hurt so bad. One good maneuver, and the therapist had the damn thing back where it belonged and the pain lessened almost immediately.

What I found interesting about the experience was that Stephanie, the physical therapist, had also had an SI joint problem at one point; she was a competitive pole vaulter, so not a deconditioned person like me. It’s more a matter of moving the wrong way at the wrong time, which can, but doesn’t have to be, a result of exercise. She did it stepping off a curb.

If you get a sudden pain and then a muscle bunches up away from the original pain, you’ve probably torn a ligament, and you need to call your doctor or get to the ER. That one’s pretty hard to miss.

Bottom line: If it hurts right away and really bad, check it out with a doctor. If it pings, pops or twinges, check it out with a doctor. If it’s the worst pain you’ve ever had or if you suddenly can’t move a limb or joint, go to the ER. If it swells and bruises, ice it and see the doctor. If it’s just sore or achey, particularly if it gets better with movement, keep on going. If your muscle starts burning, push the envelope, but if you just can’t stand it any longer, you can give it a little break to get some oxygen, and then get back on with your workout.

If you do something dumb like me, and bop the back of your head on the hyperlite during a situp because you didn’t make sure it was clear, well, you probably do it a lot (I do) and know the difference between something you’ll shake off and something you can’t.

Of course, I’m not a doctor or any other kind of health care professional, so if you have any doubt, check it out with the folks who are trained to figure it out. I can only share what I’ve experienced, not diagnose you.

As far as the soreness goes, hang in there. You’ll keep discovering new muscles (even in your hands and feet) you didn’t know were there, but that means you are getting stronger.

I vaguely recalled squats from the feared PE class of youth, so it was news to me that squatting is not only a key ability for functioning healthy, but also pretty tricky to do correctly. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman says it takes three-five years for “an athlete” to learn how to squat correctly, so I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself to do it completely correctly.

Squatting always reminds me of something my physical therapist, Stephanie Thurmond, once told me: “There is no day off for good body mechanics.” My husband is always giving me a hard time about having “old person” bends; I don’t always remember to lift with my legs or squat to do things like loading the dishwasher. I do the potentially dangerous thing: I bend at the waist.

Now, I should know better. In a former life, I was a litigator, and I deposed a lot of doctors about back injuries. Almost all of them, conservative or liberal, would tell you that bending at the waist to lift something puts too high a load on the back, particularly the lumbar spine, and can lead to joint and tendon strains and tears as well as the more serious herniated disk.

But knowing something and doing something about it are too different things. And if you’re obese and/or deconditioned, then your knees or hips may hurt when you try to squat (especially if you’re doing it incorrectly) and the involved muscles may not be strong enough to take the weight.

So my squats started on the 19.75″ high plyo box; when I made the move to the 18″ box (actually a box for stepping up and down on that I set on its side), I started having knee problems, so I went back to the plyo box to work on my form, strength and flexibility until my knees are ready for a deeper squat. Eventually I will get to the below parallel “mature squat,” but right now, form is king, and strengthening my joints and muscles to take the majority of the 242 pounds I weigh and lift it from a deep squat without injury precedes any other consideration.

Like a lot of beginners, I have trouble with the following parts of the equation:

  1. Keeping off the balls of my feet. The correct form is driven through the heels and out to the side.
  2. Keeping my knees from drifting inward. The correct form is to keep your knees tracking over your feet.
  3. Keeping my back in a neutral position. Throughout the squat, you should keep the bend in your lumbar spine.
  4. Looking down. You should keep your head up and look straight forward.

There’s more to work on after those four points, but those are the ones that I’m working on now. And this is the kind of thing that makes it imperative to have a good coach watching you; I had no idea I was looking down (and closing my eyes) until Gary pointed it out. I have no idea why I close my eyes … maybe I think it’ll make it go away.

And, from time to time, I try to argue that it’s my big ol’ butt that’s in the way of getting the squat right. Coach Gary won’t let me off the hook with that; he told me to raise my arms higher on the way up to get the counterbalance. So now I do it like I’m doing “the wave” at a ball game. It may look silly, but it gets me to stand up straight at the end, and since I’m in the garage anyway, I don’t really care.

Another thing that helped me was getting a pair of Vibrams. Yeah, they look weird and they take a little getting used to, what with all the separation between your toes (who knew toe socks would return as toe shoes?), but it’s really easy to tell if you’re on your heels or toes. I tend to hold my toes up during squats to force myself back on my heels.

If you want to know more, Again Faster has this great video called “Fixing the squat” about squatting the right way and how to fix it when you’re doing it the wrong way:

I’m figuring that if it takes “an athlete” up to five years to get there, it may take me ten. But I’ll get there when I get there.

“Love” is probably an overstatement, but how else would I match the movie title?

The overhead press, even the weenie version I do, is a pain in the neck. Literally. Your neck will get friggin’ sore with it. For other newbies like me, an overhead press looks, at first, pretty simple. You’re just going to lift a bar over your head, and I started with a PVC pipe. Not so simple. Not in the least.

My husband had been walking me through it before he left town, and now that he’s back, he’s gotten to review my form. I was all kinds of pleased with myself just for doing it while he was gone. Turns out I only remembered three of the multitudinous things one must do all at once during the press. I used to think I could multitask. Not so much with the press, because I have a hard time even remembering what count I’m on.

The three things I remembered: Superman, Pez, and “elbows out.” When doing the press, you stand like Superman, chest out and shoulders back with your feet about shoulder-width apart.  You then “rack” the bar, grasping it overhand and then holding it up to your neck. Yeah, all the way. Supposedly pretty much over the notch in the collarbones. Not me. I have too much adipose tissue (take that, fat, I’m making you sound all clinical) in my wobbly upper arms. After a while, Gary gave up and said, “Just worry about keeping your elbows out; when we add weight, it’ll take care of the problem.” He also assured me that everyone says that at first. Even skinny people. I’m having a hard time buying it, but, okay, let’s go from there.

You then have to get your face out of the way, because you will otherwise smack yourself in the chin or move the bar out in front of you, which will be a bad idea someday when there are weights on it. The bar needs to go in a straight line up over your head. So you act like a Pez and suck your head back. After the bar has passed the top of your head, you should put it back where it belongs while you hold the bar over your head. I keep forgetting and try to stay permanently pezzed out.

Turns out Gary got the Superman/Pez instructions from Heather Bergeron, who, among many other achievements, coaches a lot of kids. So, yes, simple instructions are good, even for adults, particularly for those of us whose exercise intelligence is on the elementary school level. Here’s the video, some of which I may be reiterating:

[Haven’t gotten to the Oompa-loompas yet; I think she’s talking about the Gene Wilder version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which I never cared for. Give me Johnny Depp any day. And the stick trick? Yeah, you put a stick against my butt and shoulders and it will never, ever, go straight up.]

Now that the sucker is over your head (and this is the part I completely forgot), you have to straighten your arms all the way out and then shrug your shoulders upside your ears. This is the part that will make your neck hurt. Or at least that’s what I think; I haven’t asked and could very well be completely wrong. (I got through seven years of higher level education without ever taking an anatomy class, so I make no promises. I’ve learned what I know through work, reading, and my own dadgum illnesses.)

Gravity will be your friend, next, surely. No such luck. After you’ve pezzed your head back out of the way, you are supposed to slowly bring it back down to your neck — and keep those elbows out.

By this time, I have no idea how many I’ve done. Six, maybe? Oh, no, it was just all those blinking steps that made me think I’d been through more than one exercise by now.

But, I have to admit, I’m getting so I don’t forget all the steps; just a few every time. Occasionally only one. And once in a while, I get all of it right.

That’s actually a pretty good feeling.