Chad Wesley Smith and Dr. Quinn from Juggernaut Training Systems recently put out a podcast called “Form Rolling: What is it Good For?” In this podcast they discussed how athletes often misuse foam rolling and “mashing” to correct joint mobility restrictions. Since my business partner Benjamin Timm and I opened the doors of CrossFit Double Barrel in August of 2015, we have been providing breathing drills and activation drills to our members through the Fundamentals Program and CrossFit Classes. We acknowledge that mobility drills go beyond foam rolling and passive stretching techniques, and have seen first hand how breathing drills can improve mobility. In this article I hope to share our model of how we have incorporated breathing and bracing drills into our class structure, and the success that has come from bridging the gap between mobilizing muscles and training muscles how to move through full range of motion.
I was an athlete of Dr. Quinn and Ryan Brown from Darkside Strength in 2013 after injuring my knee as a CrossFit athlete. Before Darkside Strength, like many other athletes, foam rolling was my go-to warm up method. As a Darkside Strength athlete I was introduced to breathing and bracing drills to increase mobility for the first time. I learned to give up the foam roller and focus on drills that incorporate muscle activation, proper joint alignment, and movement through full range of motion into my warm ups. I went on to become a Juggernaut Certified Coach through the JTS Internship Program where I had the privilege to learn from Dr. Quinn and Chad about the additional benefits of movement training. During the 12 week internship I started understanding more about WHY and HOW coaches should implement breathing and bracing drills into their athletes program along with how to implement it into a CrossFit Gyms Programming. These drills serve multiple purposes including injury prevention, injury rehabilitation, training full joint motion, and muscle activation amongst other things. When it came time to open up my own CrossFit Gym, breathing and bracing to create proper movement patterns had become an integral part of our gym’s philosophy and I knew it needed a place in our CrossFit class structure.
A Different Approach
At Crossfit Double Barrel we have a systematic approach as to how to train athletes to move properly when they walk into our gym. We focus on more than how the athlete moves at high intensities during everyday WOD or Strength Training. We look to teach patterns that also carry over into our members’ everyday activities. We want to see our members have longevity not just as athletes, but for the rest of their lives. When we opened our doors we had 50% of our initial athletes coming from different gyms and the other 50% were brand new to CrossFit. Most of our athletes had problems getting into proper positions that we consider necessary to lay the groundwork for development of strength, speed and power. The Fundamentals Program offered at our gym is designed to improve the squat, the overhead position, pressing and the hip hinge. This program is a multi-week progression that breaks down the more advanced movements of squatting, overhead pressing and deadlifting and rebuilds the movements in a Ground Up approach. In the 8 months that our gym has been open we have over 95% of our athletes squatting below parallel, achieving a proper overhead squat, pressing with proper rib cage position, and properly performing a hip hinge for the deadlift.
Ground Up Approach?
We push, crawl, walk, and run with every athlete that joins CrossFit Double Barrel. We go through a progression of breathing drills that take our athletes from less challenging positions through more challenging positions. It is part of our approach to teach our member’s how to use their breathing and bracing to place their spine in safe positions for loading and explosive movements, as well as to teach how to provide a solid base for their limbs to move on. This base will allow for full joint motion and will aid in minimizing muscle imbalances. Our athletes are taught to move properly through a series of positions which we call “The Big 4.” These positions teach our athletes how to brace and stabilize in a controllable sequence.
The Big 4
The 4 Main Breathing Postures we focus on are the following:
- 90/90 Breathing
- Side Lying Clam Shell
- Half Kneeling / Tall Kneeling
- 90/90 Breathing
We use this position as an every day prep for teaching how to create a natural spine and improve core stability in getting the body warmed up. Why is the 90/90 the go-to for us here at the gym? We see a lot of over extension of the lower back in squatting and pressing postures which limits the amount of weight that we can load through our spine. We use the floor to teach the athlete how to feel a neutral spine position. In this position we go through a series of breathing drills that trains diaphragmatic breathing and uses rib cage position as feedback for the athlete.
- Side Lying Clam Shell
We use this position for activation of the glutes and adductors on a stable pelvis. By properly activating the hip musculature in the sidelying position the athlete can learn proper muscle coordination and sequencing to improve hip motion. Often times an athlete will mistakingly assume that their hips are “tight” when in reality their joint has the necessary motion, but when untrained their muscles will often create an imbalance around the joint that stops the athlete from achieving full squat depth and using their joint through the full range. The side-lying position also offers a solid base to improve upper body rotation and thoracic spine mobility. When I see an athlete who has problems with their over head position, or if we are looking to warm up for overhead work and pressing, I will have the athlete go through a series of sidelying drills that locks the lower body in place, but encourages thoracic and shoulder blade movement to improve upper body mobility.
We love this position because it offers much variety for limb motion on a stable trunk, . We can use this position to teach the athlete to squat below parallel by focusing on keeping a stable midline and neutral spine. We also use this position as a foundation for reaching and pulling to teach the athlete how keep a stable core, and to understand that the arms and legs are able to move while maintaining a neutral spine.
- Half Kneeling
This position being the most advanced of the 4 allows for a great amount of muscle activation. It can be used for pressing, pulling, pushing and lifting motions. In this position full shoulder motion can be trained with the upper body stacked over the hips and a neutral spine locked in place. It is also a great tool for introducing full foot contact as well as single leg strength development.
The ground up approach that we teach at CrossFit Double Barrel has unlocked unparalleled potential for our athletes to use full range of motion of their joints, and to achieve positions that minimize injury. These positions are emphasized in each fundamentals class so that the athletes develops consistency and awareness. In addition 2-3 breathing and bracing drills are incorporated into the warm up for daily CrossFit classes. We believe that all athletes, not just those who are new to CrossFit, will benefit from these drills to prevent muscle imbalances and movement compensations from occurring. Even seasoned athletes will require a “regression” from time to time to train basic movement patterns in order to see transfer of skill under high loads and high intensity. Undoubtedly, the low injury rate at the gym and the success of my athletes is rooted in the belief time spent daily on muscle activation and proper posturing has aided in our athlete’s growth since joining CrossFit Double Barrel. In conversation with fellow gym owners and program developers there seems to be a lack of awareness as to where to place breathing and bracing drills in the athlete’s program. Our CrossFit community has found success with using the drills with new athletes before progressing to barbell training, as well as maintaining those teaching as part of the class warm up.