May 11, 2012
May 16, 2012

Thanks to Rachel, Doron, and Sanaa for sharing their Mother’s Day morning with CFDC – kicking ass in the name of mom’s everywhere! 

This past Sunday marked our return the squat cycle for the second of three, 3-week mini-cycles. When we last left our intrepid athletes, they had finished off the first mini-cycle with 6 sets of 3 reps at eighty percent. Well, the weight was still at 80%, but it seems someone got all dyslexic with the sets and reps.

 Squat Cycle 2, Week 1: 
 Back Squat 3 x 6 @ 80%

Back to the Back Squats!  If you can’t remember your numbers off the top of your head – and don’t fret, you’re not alone – remember you can access the CFDC-squat-spreadsheet (including all the Max Effort Squat Numbers and Calculated Percentages) at any time – you can click on the highlighted link, but you can also find permanent access to the spreadsheet on the left hand side of the blog under “Links.”

Entering the mid-point of our squat-cycle, it’s probably about time we address the Elephant in the room: Form. Or more appropriately, Bad Form. Things are hardly ever black and white, but for simplicity’s sake, we’re going to separate the reasons for bad form into two categories: (1) those who care that they aren’t moving correctly but just haven’t mastered the movement, and (2) those who don’t care that they aren’t moving correctly (more weight, MORE WEIGHT! We all know the types). There’s really no point in addressing the second group – until they either stagnate or hurt themselves, they’re not going to do anything about their form no matter how blue in the face you make yourself, and even then, it’s unlikely. So, what to do about the first group, those who care but just can’t seem to nail down a particular piece?

First, we want to make sure everyone understands the cues they’re being given. If not, please, please simply ask any coach, “what exactly do you mean when you say   X  ?” Cues are often short, simplified verbal commands to help a lifter remember or key-in on a particular point of performance. However, if you’re not clear on what that cue means, then the coach might as well be speaking to you in martian. Ask, get clarification, and if you feel like you’re doing it right, ask if there’s a way to work on it. For example, probably the most common cue to be uttered during any squat work is “knees out” or “drive the knees out,” a simple directive to a lifter that their knees are caving at the bottom of the squat, and they need to initiate by driving the knees out, and then continuously push the knees out during the entire squat, from descent to turn-around to ascent. So if you don’t understand what “knees out” means, you can ask and will receive the longer explanation.

Of course, there are those times where perhaps a lifter understands the cue, but just can’t seem to put it into practice – perhaps they haven’t built up a solid enough connection from the brain to that particular muscle group. This is where tactile cues can come in handy. Continuing with our example of the knees caving, a great teaching tool is a resistance band looped around the lifter’s knees. The tension in the bands pulls the knees together, which automatically cues the lifter to press out on their knees in order to resist that tension, tension which they can actually feel. Use of the bands can be done both off the bar (in between sets), or on the bar at light weight (during warm-up sets) in order to help build-up muscle memory.

That’s an older pic of Brendan using a band during front squats, but the premise is the same – use whatever cues necessary to help you nail down the form. 

That’s all well and good, but what about those of us who can understand the cues, and are trying like hell to apply them, but just can’t our bodies work the way we want? In that case, chances are you’re suffering from insufficient flexibility or mobility. Tight hip flexors tend to pull us forward, meaning we can’t sit tall at the bottom of our squats. Tight hamstrings pull our hips under at the bottom of our squat, which usually leads to a rounded back. Tight ankle joints pull our heels off the ground and cave our knees in, which pitches us forward. Even restrictions in the shoulders can cause us to lose tension through-out the back which leads to rounding.

Luckily, there are fixes for these issues as well, though sometimes they do take a little more work. A good place to start is KStarr’s Mobility WOD (MWOD) site, also permanently linked on the left-hand side of our blog (4th link from the top). Simply type in the movement you’re having trouble with (“squat”) or the joint or muscle that’s giving you problems (“ankle” or “hamstring”). For example, running a search for “squats” returns 13 pages of MWOD videos – at 10/page, that’s nearly 130 episodes to help you diagnose the problems with your squat, including this very apt Pre-Squat Hip Opener Mob-Rx (Episode 363/365):

And running a search for “ankles” returns 4 pages of MWOD videos, so close to 40 videos regarding ankle mobility, including the following Ankle Mobility-Self Mulligan Technique (episode 285/365):

Remember, flaws in your form will limit your ability to either lift more weight or lift for more reps, thus inhibiting overall growth in your strength and conditioning. Take the time to fix flaws. Stretch, mobilize, ask for help and reminders, and be sure to take care of yourself out-side of the gym. Don’t be satisfied with insufficient form.

10 x 2 Sumo DL Speed-Pulls 

Sunday’s hamstring-based accessory was sumo deadlift speed pulls. Weight for the pulls was prescribed at roughly 60% of your 1RM squat (not DL), which should’ve ensured the movement was crisp.

We’ve covered the sumo speed-pulls a few times before – “OPEN UP” and “TOP O’ THE MORNING” – and each time we’ve said basically the same thing: the speed pull is about explosively pulling the bar from the floor into the extended position while maintaining contro over the movement. However, there were still a few slow, grinding reps being performed on Sunday with what was clearly too much weight on the bar. The beneficial carry-over from the speed pulls is not about the amount of weight you can move, but how explosively you can move it. Err on the side of being too light, not on the side of being too heavy, and work on producing explosion and control simultaneously – trust us, it’s easier said than done, even at lighter-than-RX’d weight.

Working through the squats and speed-pulls took up a good chunk of class time, but with what little time was left, class moved down to the court for a little group ab-work.

 Team-Centipede Med-Ball Sit-Up Passing Drill 

I’m not sure that description makes anything clear, but the video sure get’s the point across:

Thanks to everyone for sharing their Mother’s Day Morning with us. Great work in a big class. Rest up, stay dry, and we’ll see you on Tuesday.



  1. SBV says:

    This squat cycle is starting to get serious. It’s never a good sign when your warm-up sets feel heavy. I had to go to a “special place” on reps 4-6 on my last set, but I ultimately got the work done.

    I tried to encourage a positive adaptation by consuming a protein shake immediately following the workout. I followed that up with burrito bowl from Chipotle. Double meat? You know it!

  2. Dan Samarov says:

    Looked like a fun one, sorry I missed it, will try to make it tomorrow night, but will definitely be there Thursday!

  3. Steph says:

    Yay, squats!

    It was awesome and a little scary when 29 people showed up for class. I think that’s the biggest class we’ve had yet. I kept waiting for Tom and Ami to walk in and push that number over 30.

    Did my squats after class with Tom and Chris. Warming up with just the bar felt heavy and I thought it was going to be a rough day. But 90lbs felt better and when 105 also felt fine, I figured I’d be okay. 3 sets of 6 at 120 went much better than I had anticipated and made me very happy. Looking forward to another 2 weeks of the mini squat cycle! Chris made a very good point when we were squatting that everyone should find their magic weight, where if a set at that weight feels good, then there’s a good chance of you making the heavier set that day. I want to pay better attention in the future to figure out what my magic weight is for back squat, but for front squats if 95 feels heavy, then that’s usually a bad day for me to go heavy.

    Will be there for the 7pm tomorrow but then absent for the rest of the week cuz of work 🙁 See you all tomorrow!

  4. Erica says:

    Anyone who I’d spoken to this past week about the onset of the second mini squat cycle knows I was pretty nervous about 3 X 6 at 80%. I was really struggling with the last round (6 X 3) a few weeks ago, but yesterday went much better than I expected! Steph in her comment and Chris in the blogpost make excellent points about the importance of the “magic weight”. What I realize is that my body is so unbelievably unpredictable and what feels extremely heavy one day, will feel completely manageable another depending on my soreness, how much running/biking I’ve done that week, etc. So a question…given that our 1 RM are static, yet our bodies’ ability to hit certain weights on certain days change constantly, how do you recommend we attack this during the squat cycle? If we’re feeling pooped, should we opt out that Sunday and try them later in the week? Or should we adjust our number that week? If we do that, will that throw our numbers off for the rest of the cycle? I may be the only one struggling with this, but just curious.

    Great job working with huge class size, happy belated mother’s day to everyone, including the mothers that were not there (i.e., Jenn and Ami), and love the addition of the videos on the blog.

  5. Andraea says:

    Love the videos in the blog! I went this morning to do squats, definitely not much fun alone and at 7:30am but that was the only time I had. It was going well I thought but the last 2 sets of 6 were really rough at the 5 & 6 rep and I think I was psyching myself out too. Form was going to hell on the last couple of reps so I set the bar down to reset so I broke the 6 reps of the last set. 🙁 not my day for squats. I believe I am definitely having a hard time with form due to tight ankles and hip flexors. I found myself being pulled forward. Definitley feeling discouraged at the moment. I’m going to try incorporate some stretches this week such as those in the videos.

  6. Monica Niska says:

    Erica–I love your comments about the workout; it’s so true, that we need to listen to our body and take advantage of those strong days. This was the first “squat” workout I’ve done in a bit and it felt great to squat. One of my favorite exercises (yes, in any form!).

    The med-ball sit-up was silly, yet fun and a great way to build team unity, which CFDC exemplifies everyday. Non like!

    It was fun to be back; looking forward to future months!

  7. Katie says:

    Steph, that video is crazy! I’m all for that as our next WOD as soon as you figure out the scaled version…hanging from the rings? :o)

    Excellent post. I think I’ll try those hip flexor stretches, as I know mine get really tight. I think a lot of my struggle with squats is still because of my lack of quad and core strength, but I’m sure tight hip flexors don’t help. Hm.

    I did my sets at 55#, which I was okay with, since I struggled to do 50# for the 6 x 3 80% reps a few weeks ago. They didn’t feel great, but definitely not as bad as before.

    I wanted to do heavy DLs (before hearing they were supposed to be quick and explosive), so poor Tom searched the entire gym for a 35# plate, which I put on the bar them promptly decided 85# was too much for “explosive” DLs. :o) Thanks anyway, Tom! I did my DLs at 65# instead, and I was able to do that quickly and explosively. My inner thighs are feeling that today.

    The “centipede” workout was really fun. However, since the Easter warm-up, I have this sneaking suspicion we sometimes do things for Chris and Tom’s amusement…

  8. Sara says:

    Hi all, sorry I missed class yesterday. I did my squats on Saturday and I have to agree with SBV that the warmups felt heavy. My 80% was 144lbs so that is what I was working with. They went well but were heavy.

    I used 185lbs for the deadlift and did sets of 3 ring dips between sets. The deadlifts were explosive but not as speedy as I would have liked. I think I may have gone to heavy. The ring dips were great.

  9. Tom Brose says:

    The magic weight is one that lets you know just how the rest of the workout is going to go. Chris and I both can judge things around 225.

    SBV, you are in the thick of it now. Serious squatting is a mental challenge that cant be matched with any other lift. You KNOW the weight is going to be crushing. The last couple of reps (if calculated properly) are about willing yourself through.

    Steph, best squats on the day.

    Erica, there are times when you need to put a workout off a day or two, but under normal circumstances I’d say better to hit it and modify weights accordingly. Every now and then, it just might not be happening and you need to walk away from the bar. Generally though, just grit it out (see my response to SBV above).

    Andraea- If you’re squatting alone on an early Monday morning, were not worried about your mental toughness whatsoever. Good work.

    Glad you all had fun with the finisher. We never want to come across so serious that we can’t have a little fun. Katie, you may be on to something…

  10. Stohlman says:

    This is one of my favorite classes so far. It was fun. I felt okay but not great jumping into the squats after some serious time away from heavy lifting. I worked up to 240×3 in the warm-up (my listed 70%) but dropped the weight back down and stayed at 225, where I struggled to get 6. Oh well, I guess not lifting makes you weaker.

    DLs were fun, crankin them out with SBV. I love your intensity Sebastian, and your comments on my form really helped. The wall ball situp centipede was awesome too.

  11. Kenna says:

    woah, this blog has so many resources! I definitely want to try the band around the knees. I think my problem is that I definitely “haven’t built up a solid enough connection from the brain to that particular muscle group.”

    My last set at 80% (80#) felt like a mess. If I tried to correct one thing, then something else would fall apart. I think generally if I feel good about my form on a rep, I’m probably not going low enough…

    We did our deadlifts at 67-77#. I like deadlifts. Though my inner thighs are pretty sore!

    And love the video. Hilarious.

  12. SaltyHat says:

    Definitely an awesome turn-out on Sunday. Glad so many people are up for trying out some different things to improve their form. I found that my hips and glutes were pretty tight on Sunday, but some dedicated stretching in between my warm-up sets was the perfect remedy.

    The Magic Weight. As Tom mentioned, mine is 225. Regardless of everything else, if I’m tight, tired, or sore, 225 will tell me what I need to know about my squatting for the day. If it feels heavy, if my reps are slow or sloppy, then I know it’s a day to dial the weight back and work at a lesser percentage, and maybe even a different rep scheme. If it feels light, if my reps are crisp, then I know it’s a day to do the work as RX’d. Either way, it’s important to spend the time under the bar.

    Mid-way through the first squat mini-cycle, I really struggled at 225, so instead of doing the day’s programmed work (3 x 6 @ 70%), I did sets of 5 at 60%, just to get things moving. Two days later, I came back, and ripped through the 3 x 6 as though there had never been an issue.

    Part of any strength and conditioning program is not only learning to listen to your body, but learning how to answer too. If you’re sore and achy, take the time to stretch out during the warm-up, and maybe even in between the working sets. The flip side of that is recognizing that soreness is one thing, but if you’re in pain, then something’s really outta whack, and you need to stop and assess what’s happened.

    This is getting long winded, I realize, but to continue with the Q&A hypothetical, 225 (my magic weight) is my way of probing further: am I really tired? am I really not functioning up to snuff today? Once I have an answer, only then do I decide how to map out the rest of the session. The key, of course, is that I still have to show up to get that answer.

  13. SBV says:

    @Erica: Tom and Chris gave gave great answers on how to modify if your legs are zapped. But, let me ask you this: is there any way you can front-load your training schedule over the remainder of the 16-week cycle to ensure that your legs are fresh for Sunday? Maybe hammer away at the running/biking early in the week, and then limit yourself just to swimming/resting on Friday/Saturday. This way, you can feel great like you did last Sunday and keep up with the program.

  14. edgy reggie says:

    New CrossFit DC equation: Squats + sumo deadlifts = more pants-splitting (and some sore glutes and hamstrings for yours truly).

    I hope that all the mothers (and baby mamas) in the world had a good Sunday. 🙂

    Squats: I felt good with the squats. Squatting is one exercise where I will take my time to perform. My “magic weight” is also at “deuce-and-a-quarter” (i.e., 225#), but I worked around that weight for Sunday. 210# (my seventy percent) felt fine. 240# (my eighty percent)also felt fine; although, I did perform these more slowly than the other reps.

    Sumo deadlift speed-pulls: These felt good as well. I used 225# (another “magic weight” for me with respect to deadlifts) for the pulls. Coach did a small form correction on me, and it did make a difference in my pulls.

    Met-con?: It was a lot of fun; although, I had to avoid a lot of slippery, sweaty spots (that even I helped to create). 🙂 Thanks Coach and Coach Salty for the change-of-pace.

    Since this is my “de-load” week before my competition on Saturday (Blue Ridge Open), I will not be in class this evening (May 15). I will provide encouragement and support on Thursday (May 17) before I head off to yoga later that evening.

  15. Erica says:

    SBV, once my unemployment begins I can try and tweak my schedule somewhat, but the weekends are just so much more conducive (and fun!). I will figure it out but I agree, I need a schedule shift.

    Also, Chris, when you refer to your “magic number” what exactly does that mean? like your 70% or a weight that you can confidently knock out several reps, somewhat consistently…

  16. SaltyHat says:

    Erica beat me to it, but I second her opinion that triathlon and endurance training, especially when doing bricks, sorta lends itself to being done on the weekends.

    And my magic number isn’t really an exact percentage, although 225 on my back squats is about 55% of my max, but it’s not like that for all lifts. Really, any magic weight/number should be in the light-to-moderate weight range. For me, it’s just a weight that’s heavy enough to feel on my back, but should move easily. If it’s too light, it will always feel easy, and if it’s too heavy, then you’re probably doing something wrong. I don’t know how 225 became my magic number – I certainly didn’t set out to find one – I just know how my squats are going to go once I have that on my back.