functional training

The Most Effective Workout To Lose Fat And Keep It Off

Everybody Knows You Need To Lift Weights

Google "strength training and fat-loss" and you'll find a plethora of articles encouraging you to add heavy lifting to your weight-loss plan. And that's for good reason.

  • Building muscle increases your metabolic rate, helping you to burn more calories both in action, and at rest. 
  • Lifting weights improves your insulin sensitivity, helping your body make better use of blood sugar and avoid storing it as fat.
  • Strength efforts result in varying hormonal releases that all prompt your body to get better at using stored fas as fuel.

These are some pretty sweet benefits, right? There's even more pluses, but you get the idea. By getting strong, you're essentially optimizing the efficiency of your metabolism - defined by how your body makes, stores, and uses energy - which will result in also optimal physique benefits like...

  • better muscle definition which is totally sexy and
  • easier healthy weight maintenance i.e. you won't need to keep up with those insane amounts of cardio you've been doing to avoid big fluctuations

But What Kind Of Strength Training Is Best For Fat-loss?

Well, the best payoff really comes from sustained bouts of nearly maximal efforts(as opposed to actual max effort, HIIT, circuit training or bodybuilding). In laymen's terms, that translates to lifting pretty heavy weights for a decent amount of volume. This style of lifting will give your body the best shot of all those hormones like the catecholamines (epinepherine and norepinephrine), growth hormone, and testosterone. Yes, girl. Testosterone levels that are close to the high-end of the standard range are associated with leaner body composition in women too.

HOWEVER, the total-body, big lifts required for that kind of grinding effort we're looking for, are pretty complicated. And the technicality of said lifts, like front squats, deadlifts, and bench presses; can get in the way of your ability to safely get the rep count high enough for the intended result. My experienced gym-goers know what I mean here.

As time goes by, form starts to break down under these super heavy weights; and suddenly the costs of doing business, like loss of alignment and subsequent compensations and stress; are higher than the payoff. 

If you're new to lifting, you definitely don't want to practice your skills under such high pressure; not to mention risk. Constantly pushing past the edge (what's comfortably difficult) not only stunts your physique goals by inappropriately revving your nervous system, but also puts you at a higher predisposition for injury. Laying in bed, nursing a tweaked back is certainly no way to get the fat-loss results you desire.

Not to worry! When Self Magazine asked me to supply my number one fat-loss tip a while back, I gave them the best tool I've got. And it's the most effective and safe way to begin incorporating heavy lifting into your routine more often.

Enter The Heavy Carry

To introduce our secret weapon, I'll leave you with a comment one of my mentors, Charlie Weingroff, made that I never forgot. For reference, he’s a world renowned physical therapist with a reputation of being genius-level smart. He lives primarily in the rehab and strength and conditioning worlds. But, he said if he did ever take on a fat-loss client, he would simply give this person some heavy kettlebells and ask them to carry the weights up and down Broadway, where we worked. This was some sage advice.

What Is a Heavy Carry?

A carry is really just the action of picking up something really heavy, and simply holding it or walking with it. That’s it. Doesn't sound that spectacular, right? But what is profound about this simple exercise, is that it’s way less risky than say, barbelll back squat for twenty reps.

Carries solve that problem of complication we encounter with the technical lifts, allowing us to hit the heavy weight and high volume requirements we need to get the right training effect.

There are an infinite amount of carries that you can practice throughout your workout to make it fun and challenging. It’s all about getting creative with the way you hold the kettlebells, dumbbells, sandbags, plates, whatever you got; and the kind of walking you choose to do or the static stance you hold. You can keep it super simple with a regular ole’ stroll as you bear hug a sand bag or plate. Or you can get as fancy as a heel-to-toe walk with one kettlebell in rack and the other at your side. In the photo below, I'm holding two kettlebells in that in-line half-kneel. Before you judge the difficulty of the work going on here, let me warn you; it's actually much tougher than it looks. 


Create Your Own Carry Workout

Carry positions: single bell, double bell, over head, rack position, at your sides, bear hug(for sandbags and plates), baby carry, behind the back…

Static options: tall-kneeling, half-kneeling, half-kneeling in-line stance, half-kneeling with open hip, standing

Walking options: natural stroll, in-line, heel to toe, march

Combine any carry position and walk, switching it up as many times as you like. Some of my fave combos with bells are demonstrated in the video below. 

Start your carry conditioning with at least a 1:1.5 work to rest ratio. So if you're carrying for 30sec, break for at least 45sec. You can add work time or decrease rest time as you get stronger.

Choose weights that you cannot do much else with besides walking or holding (with good alignment, of course).

Four Ways To Improve Your Hip Flexion

Decrease Lower Back Pain And Improve Your Lower Body Lifts

You’re not alone if you experience back pain when you train lower body, girl. Lower back pain is pretty much the number one reason why most people avoid heavy squats and deadlifts in the first place. And insufficient hip mobility, necessary to pull yourself to the bottom position of said exercises, is typically the culprit. 

Inadequate Hip Mobility Is Hurting You

I’m going to keep this explanation short, but it all goes back to a little idea called Joint-By-Joint Theory. One of the major conclusions of this important philosophy is that if you are lacking control in one joint, one or more of the surrounding joints are absorbing an excess of stress. And this may even lead to a waterfall of irritation and dysfunction up or down your entire body. 

Pain is a signal. In the specific case of back pain due to heavy squats, that alarm is your body’s way of letting you know that you’re trying to force the pieces - put your joints into a tough position - when they don’t quite fit. And you’re cruising for more severe injury if you keep ignoring this warning.

Work On Your Hip Flexion

So how do you put out the fire and get back to working out comfortably? Squats and deadlifts are valuable exercises in the gym for building strong legs and a nice tight booty. And they’re also important in your every day life to ensure you can bend over and tie your shoes or squat down and lift the value size bucket of cat litter.


So, I’m giving you four exercises you can use to improve your hip flexion. That’s the action of pulling your knees to your chest with a neutral spine. You need to be able to put your hips in flexion while under load, with structural integrity, at the bottom of your squat or top of your hinge. Even in a split squat. So its’s quite imperative that you own this mobility with specific strength challenges in order to continue to make progress on your legs and lifts. 

Four Exercises To Strengthen Hip Flexors

This progression of exercises will increase in difficulty, taking your from the ground to a super tough hanging position. So be sure to spend about 3-4 weeks on each one before moving on. You can use them as a warm-up or as an accessory to your big lift. 

Band Hurdle Hold 

Place a mini band around the balls of your feet. Begin with your spine flat and your knees tucked. Exhale and reach one foot away to challenge the opposite side. Inhale and return to the starting position. 

Side Plank with hip flexion

Begin in a short side plank position from your elbow. Without any other motion, pull your knee to your chest and hold.

Banded Mountain Climbers

Set up a looped band at a fixed point. Begin with one foot in the loop from a push-up position. Maintaining neutral spine, exhale and pull the knee to your chest. Inhale and return to the starting position.

Hanging Hip Flexion 

Begin in a hollow hanging position with active shoulders. While keeping the anchor leg straight, exhale and pull the opposite knee to your chest. Inhale and return to the starting position.

Want to accelerate your progress and cement your strength? My STRONGENOUGHTORUN program was designed to help restore your hip mobility and core stability, plus burn fat, build strength, and return to running pain-free. It's on sale for $29 with code HELLO2018 for a limited time.

Side note: All bands can be found at

How To Really Master the Pistol Squat

Oh it's me, so you must know there's almost always a "but." And here it is: I do not think you NEED to be able to complete a perfect pistol squat in the same way I believe that EVERYONE should be able to deadlift, goblet squat, run, and sprint. It's not necessary for joint health and certainly not an indicator of overall fitness. I even wrote an article on the premise that pistols are more of a party trick than a training tool. The sentiment still remains.

However, I've had some fun messing around with them myself recently; and coincidentally, a very dear friend asked for help with her first rep as a decent bodyweight challenge in light of facility/equipment challenges. So, I felt inclined to oblige your requests for a "how to" as well.

You see, the truth is, a pretty-looking pistol isn't that difficult to achieve, if you've got the patience and the path. And as a product of your diligence, you'll also gain previously unfathomable mobility in your hips and ankles, as well as covetable core strength and chiseled abs. 

As said, I've got the path. It's simply the practical way you would try to master any other physical skill. We'll break it down the lift into smaller, more manageable pieces to master the movement as a whole.

But the patience part, now that's all up to you. You'll need to spend considerable time on each of these exercises as part of a bigger training cycle. And you may even need to complete the cycle twice before you are able to drop it all the way down on one leg. This willingness to respect the process ensures your safety and success.

And one more thing before we get lost in the explanation of each exercise in the cycle: A rounded spine and collapsed upper body(as I've seen some IG movement specialists ignore) is inexcusable in a pistol. It's a poor pattern to reinforce, and also indicates suboptimal lower body mechanics that you may not be able to see distinctly. In short, you can end up doing more harm than good to your joints and tissues, resulting in aches, pains, and injury.

You'll know to progress to the next exercise when you can maintain the integrity of your posture though the movement, and you can also find some ease in the execution of the exercise. So while I recommend a certain amount of sessions with each skill, you may need slightly more or less time than the prescribed interval.

Progression #1 The Narrow Stance Squat

Also called the "flat foot squat," this skill pre-requisite is imperative to your practice. Because it's ludicrous to try to attempt on one foot, what you cannot do on two feet. But in fact, this is the most frequently skipped skill on the path to a perfect pistol.

As demonstrated in the video, you''ll begin with your feet pointing straight forward and hips width distance apart. The key is to bend from the knees first before breaking at the hips for maximal mobility. If however, you cannot get to the bottom with that tall spine we talked about earlier, you can use a weight far away from your body as a counter balance or place a small wedge of some sort like a 5lb plate beneath your feet. Take the assistance away when you can comfortably complete the exercise with ease. You can also add resistance to make the exercise harder by holding a weight close to your body.

You'll want to work on these at least two time per weeks. 3 sets of 10-12 reps with a 3-second lower would be excellent. Train whichever variation you begin with for 3-4 weeks.

Progression #2 The Isometric Pistol

The goal of the first exercise was to gain the mobility and strength to own the bottom of the pistol squat on two legs. The goal of this progression is to own the bottom position on one leg. 

You'll begin by descending into your narrow stance squat. But instead of coming right back up, you'll hold at the bottom and begin to shift your weight. To add more challenge, you can actually lift the foot off the floor as I demonstrate in the video. And to even further challenge, you'll begin straightening that leg out as you kick it forward. In this practice, you'll find that the opposite foot is just as important as the one you're standing on. You'll need great control to keep that hip in flexion and prevent the foot from touching the ground. Add some suspension for assistance with that posture again.

You'll want to work on these at least two time per weeks. Completing 3 sets of 8 shifts, lifts, or kicks would be excellent. Remember to breathe! Train whichever variation you begin with for 3-4 weeks.

Progression #3 The Eccentric Pistol Squat

You practiced on two feet. You learned to own the bottom. Now, it's time to work on the descent with a little more focus. Your intention with the eccentric is to fight gravity and control the lowering down part. 

Beginning at the top of of the pistol, attempt lower down on one foot on a count of 4 seconds. Do not, come back up out of it. Simply roll out of the bottom. Return to the starting position however you like for the next rep. Add in suspension for postural assistance.

You'll want to work on these at least two time per weeks. Four sets of 4 reps with a 4 second eccentric would be excellent. Train the exercise for at least 3-4 weeks.

Progression #4 Toe Grab Pistol Squat

It's important to remember here, that the pistol demands a high degree of difficulty. And once you achieve your first pistol, it still requires a max effort at one rep alone. So, I want you to do away with structure here. You're holding on your foot in efforts to assist the flexion on that side and aid in stability.

You'll train this toe grab pistol at least three times per week now. And you might do 2 sets of 3 reps. You might do 3 sets of 2 reps. Or you might even do 6 sets of single reps. The benefit of this sort of structure, is you're free to follow your intuition and train what feels right. You might train the singles on days where you feel more tired or sore. And you can train the doubles and triples when you feel fresh and strong. 

Pistols and other single-leg exercises can be super tough. But just like your two-legged sills, the right progression will get you to your goal, and really impressive feat of strength at that. #sophisticatedstrength.

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Play With Speed (Part 1) - Add a Pause To Your Lifts

When you think about your overall abilities in most strength exercises, you probably tend to judge your progress by how much weight you can move at once or how many reps you can complete at one time. And so, these two variables, load and volume, are likely the ones you focus on the most as you practice. You make the work more challenging by increasing one or both.

This strategy is quite smart. Changing only these two variables will work for quite some time before your progress seems to level off - years, really(when programmed correctly). However, there is another variable you can manipulate just as easily to bust through that next plateau. You can play with the speed of your repetitions to help you get stronger, and closer to your aesthetic goals.

And there are a lot of upsides to this beyond those two more obvious, covetable benefits. The first is that you can work with relatively light weights for big gains. You’ll have considerably more options to train sub maximally and still continue to build strength, without super heavy weights all the time. Working with super heavy weights more than a few weeks at a time can fry your nervous system and stunt your progress and cue significant detriment to your health, so this one is major. Whether increasing or decreasing the speed, you'll be working with no more than 60% of your max.

The second is that you'll really OWN the movement. Like any other skill - and strength is a skill to be sure - it's to your advantage to practice slowly at first. As you gain proficiency and fluidity in the movement, you'll be able to add speed and complication while maintaining integrity.

OK, OK. On to the reasons you really care about...

Add Speed For Challenge

As you can imagine, you have many options here. You can try to move your body or the weight(the load) really quickly and explosively. This action teaches your brain to recruit motor units very quickly, and therefore get your muscles to help you execute the action really fast. We’re talking about building efficiency here. You'll feel more like the strong chick you already are. Keep in mind, this is on the advanced end of the spectrum. 

Decrease Speed For Mastery

You could also slow down the concentric or eccentric(the push or pull) parts of the lift, fighting gravity a little more to lengthen out the time of the reps. This action teaches your brain to recruit a higher number of motor units, and therefore get more of your body involved. We’re talking about keeping your bod looking like it does all the work you do. Also important to note, is that exaggerated isometrics and eccentrics have been shown to reduce inflammation that can keep you feeling both achey and boxy(you know what I mean here). These are great options on the more beginner end of the spectrum, as we sort of touched on above.

Or, you could slow things down so much that you take a PAUSE somewhere in the lift.

Pause To Break Through Plateaus

Now the pause is great for multiple reasons including all the benefits that come from decreasing the speed of work. But, the pause being a quick hold that you add to a specific part of the lift, also helps you gain more specific strength at the moment you stop, and work through weaknesses that might be holding you back from progress. For example, if you find it difficult to get your back knee close to the ground in a split squat - if that end range mobility is tough - you could dump some of the weight and add a pause in the bottom of the movement, adding greater value and dare I say FUN to the session.

There are an unlimited amount of moments at which you can add an unexpected pause to your typical movements. So, get creative if you're not sure. Really girl: Trust yourself. Try adding it in different places and see which feels most challenging. This can lead you to intuitively find the weak links and learn about your body.

Here are some wonderful ideas (including the split squat example above) that focus on owning that end range of motion, as most of you lovelies express concern with mobility. Beginners can start with 10 reps and a three-second pause. More experienced lifters can use loads of 40-50% for 4 sets of 5 reps and a two-second pause.

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The Pull-Up Tutorial

Welcome To My Pull-Up Tutorial

Some of you Lovelies may be looking for your first rep. And some of you might just be looking to improve your current abilities. Either way, this comprehensive tutorial will teach you drills and progressions to help you finally master this highly coveted skill.

Don't forget to download the written program. Just tell me where to send it!

The Secret To Improving Your Squat Depth

Many of you lovelies are concerned about squatting past parallel. So we’re going to chat about that today.

But, let’s get one little disclosure out of the way first:

***Getting to rock bottom in a HEAVY barbell squat is really not as important as you may think. Unless you are stepping onto the powerlifting platform that is - in which case you’ll want to train to that desired depth as outlined by the rules of your league. Otherwise, dropping it to the point that is comfortably difficult is the best course of action when faced with more MAXIMAL EFFORT weights. And this kind of squat is really not what we’re talking about here anyway.

OK. Back to it...

To get this started, let me just say that I happen to think it’s generally SUPER important to be able to goblet squat at sub maximal loads to at least a depth that allows your hips to sit below your knees. But it’s this type of squat—the more upright, front loaded, tailbone-at-6pm kinda squat, where we seem to struggle the most.

I don’t really mean “we" as in you and I. I am not one of the strugglers. Just recognizing the truth here: I don’t have ANY issue with dropping it like it’s hot. I wait for the subway at Spring Street with my booty between my heels and my nose between the pages of a Henry James novel. 


Some Bodies Can Just Get There Easier

I don’t point this out to gloat. Although this ability has certainly allowed me an immeasurable advantage in shaping my very curvy backside. Hah.

I note this for two reasons. My joints are arranged definitively differently than yours. And, I spent many hours from the ages of 4 to 13 working on my flexibility in ballet shoes. What that means is, I’ve got an advantage in both leverage and training history. Those are two very important factors contributing to squatting ability.



But You Can Drop It Low Too!

But, just because you may not have the same body or background as me, doesn’t mean you can’t get to be as comfortable as I am in a fuller range of motion with some intentional practice.

And oddly enough, all those releves and grand plies - those deep knee bends at the bar - taught me an important cue that you might find is the game changer for improving your squat training.

The one cue that makes all the difference - the one that will ultimately allow you to sit into a fuller range of motion - is exactly how you initiate lots of your basic ballet skills....

Instead of moving from the hips to start, you need to begin solely by pushing into the knees first.


But Won’t That Hurt My Knees?

Now, you may be thinking to yourself “But I have bad knees.” First off, don’t talk about your joints like that. How you speak about your body has a powerful effect on your brain. Don’t forget that! 

And yes, it’s certainly easy to imagine that aspiring for a sharper angle at the knee as we’re implying here, is going to make matters worse.

But, the thing is darling, doing a slow and controlled deep squat—putting your knee into greater flexion with intention and care; will actually help strengthen that knee you are worried about.

You know that knee of yours that doesn't feel so great after lunges or jump squats or sprints - when it’s forced into those tighter positions under much higher speed, load and pressure from that amrap clock. Slow it down. Give your brain and body a chance to learn and understand the motion.

As you practice BONUS, you'll also be giving your body a chance to strengthen other joints in a fuller range of motion like your hips and ankles - and those guys love to move.


How To Initiate Your Front Squat

So here’s your challenge. Start tall with your feet rooting down and the crown of your head reaching to the ceiling. Begin to pull the floor apart with your feet (if you've never heard that before, click here!) as normal. Now, keeping your hips locked up tight underneath your shoulders, continue to pull the floor apart as you bend the knees and pull them apart too. You can think of this like sliding your back down the wall a few inches.

Once you've got that slight bend, THEN you may move from your hips. But instead of sitting back, aim to get your butt right between your heels on the way down - i.e. push forward as you go down.

Watch this quick vid for a visual demonstration of what we're saying.

Did you get lower than you normally do? Do you think you could get even lower if you held on to something like a rack or a TRX? Make adjustments with assistance to achieve an even better result if you can't get all the way down there.

And more importantly - Do you feel how your quads, those muscles on the front side of your thighs, are working super hard? Thats gonna help you get that nice defined leg you’ve been chasing after. Just beware, you’re gonna be a lot more sore than you normally are.



Start with 3-4 sets of 10-12 reps. Try and descend nice and slow - like a 3 second count, before returning to standing. Add in a 2-3 second pause(without losing tension) once you've practiced a couple weeks. Add weight as needed.

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How To Get Strong Enough To Run

Strength Training For Running 101 - Trunk Stability

In-person and online distance coaching clients included, many of my lovelies like to use running as a means for improving fitness. It’s an economic and effective choice.. Running is what we call in the industry a “low-barrier-of-entry sport,” - i.e. something that requires small financial investment and little or no facility/equipment requirements. That sounds great, right? Fitness should be available to all.

HOWEVER, the ease with which we have access to running sometimes tricks us into believing there’s no major pre-requisites in terms of skill either. And unfortunately, that just ain’t true.

In order to withstand the repeated stress of running and reap all the potential benefits—and yes, there are many reasons to run—your body needs to be strong in all the right places. There are certain strengths REQUIRED before starting a running regimen.

Getting stronger in order to run better is an easy concept to grasp. “But, strong in what ways,” you may ask? Well, that my dear is a very good question. Cause you certainly don’t need to go wasting your time with bicep curls and tricep push-downs, as I see lots of cardio queens toiling over in the weight room.


You need to focus on developing certain qualities that will have better impact on your readiness for running like plyometric and deceleration training. You’ll also benefit from lower body mobility and strength training.

We can get into those concepts more at a later time(shout me out @ashleighkast if you have interest), but right now we’re gonna talk about the most important quality you should work on first - the one that is going to influence your success through all the others - and that is trunk stability.

I'm going to give you one bit of magic that will help you increase your trunk stability - which by the way is important for EVERYONE, not just runners - but first, let's talk about what it is.

Ok, what is trunk stability?

Trunk stability is what you may really be imagining when you think about “core training." You know that your trunk is your body—your torso without the appendages. So trunk stability is then defined as your ability to keep your torso stable throughout any given movement—moving with integrity and honoring the way the joints work there.

Why is this so important to me? 

Well, for our purposes, we’re going to focus on the lower part of your spine. As you run, you need to be able to keep your lumbar spine and your pelvis stable…

To Improve Your Mobility

Proximal Stability Leads To Distal Mobility. What leads to what? Ok. let’s break this loaded statement down. Cause it’s actually a lot simpler than it sounds. When we say “proximal” we mean towards the midline of your body i.e. your trunk. When we say “distal” we are referring to joints further away from your midline, like in this particular case - your hips.

So what we’re saying is:

If you can create a more stabile environment throughout your trunk, you can gain better mobility through your hips without doing a single isolated stretch. 

And that increased mobility can potentially lead to a WAY more efficient stride. With a more efficient stride, you’ll be able to run faster with less effort. That sounds good, right?

To Breathe More Efficiently

Your diaphragm is primarily a respiratory muscle. Everyone knows that. However, the diaphragm also plays a significant role in your postural stability, including the lumbo-pelvic complex we’re focusing on. As you engage in more strenuous workouts, the priority of the diaphragm needs to shift to that cardio focus. But you’ll need to have enough strength in other supporting muscles like the pelvic floor and the transverse abdomens in order to continue breathing optimally as the threshold shifts. 

So what we’re saying here is:

If you can challenge your trunk stability and in turn strengthen all those muscles involved in that task, you can be more efficient with your breathing pattern as you run.

With a better breathing pattern, you can run at higher speeds and you can run for extended time. 

To Lessen Your Risk Of Injury

We mentioned this before, but you need to honor the way you were made to move and therefore respect the function of your joints. As we said, your lumbar spine and your pelvis need to be more stabile and your hips need to be more mobile. Dishonoring of that relationship will result in unnecessary stress on joints that can't handle it. And more than likely, you'll run into lower back stiffness or pain first.

So what we’re saying is:

If you can challenge your trunk stability and strengthen your joints PROPERLY, you can build the capacity in your trunk and lower body to withstand the stress of running.

With the right strength, you can ensure your benefit is higher than your cost, and get better every year without being sidelined.

How can I start working on my trunk stability?

You can start building better core strength for running right now by training in the half-kneeling position. This posture works great because it not only mirrors what happens when you run (putting one hip in flexion and one in extension), but it's also simply difficult to screw up. You'll know if you're not getting it right because you will lose your balance and fall over. That doesn't sound nice. But the results from challenging half-kneeling are VERY NICE.

Start with these three:

Half Kneeling Chop

Chop the cable down and across your body as you keep your hips unmoving.

Half Kneeling Lift

Lift the cable up and across your body as you keep hips unmoving.

Half Kneeling Belly Press

Press the cable straight in front of you while keeping hips unmoving.

STILL 7.jpg

Crunches Are Bad For You. And This Is Exactly Why...

I Refuse To Do Crunches 

I used to feel bad about it. 

I would lay on the mat in the dark with everyone else and and pretend to be adjusting this or that on my clothes,  maybe stretching some tight muscle, or even feigning more significant fatigue.

It was a little dance I'd have to coordinate without disrupting my very near-by neighbors to get out of doing crunches in yoga class any time my favorite teacher was absent.

I just had this terrible fear, that whichever instructor was substituting, would see my refusal as a sign of disrespect.

I'm a coach. I know what it's like to be thrown into the fire, in front of someone else's loyal followers. You can literally feel the skepticism and ambivalence as you call the class to attention.

But see the thing is, those crunches that many instructors like to begin class with, are actually disrespecting me and my body. They're not "lighting up the core," as they are so innocently intended to.

These abs were not built by crunches....

These abs were not built by crunches....

So instead of acting out my silly pantomime, that stresses me out and turns my focus away from my body, I now just kick back by the candlelight, lay still on my mat, and come back to my breath.

Why am I so literally unmoving in my stance?

Joint-By-Joint Theory

Well, I have very few beefs with the practice of yoga. I personally practice yoga once a week religiously. And I'm actually completely convinced that some of our more typical yoga exercises and principles that I do disagree with, are more likely good intentioned but ill-advised Americanized interpretations of said ancient practice. See also: We're doing it wrong.

And one of those misinterpretations is the idea that the lower back, or lumbar spine, needs to be any more flexible and mobile than it already is.

In fact, most of the population already has wayyy too much movement going on there, and that needs to be put in check.

Joint-by-joint theory is also an old concept, not quite as early as yoga of course, as I believe it dates back to the late 1800's. But even by then, we had real evidence from Vladmir Janda to support our "crunches are bad" statement.

Joint-by-joint theory is the idea that the body is made up of joints that exist in alternating priority as we travel from the ankle, all the way up to the neck.

We have joints that are more mobile, sandwiched between joints that need to be more stabile. If we honor these differing responsibilities, we can build a strong and resilient body while protecting ourselves from excess stress and injury.

Let's look at the ankle as an example. in order to run, jump and walk with good mechanics, our ankles need to move really well. 

If our ankles do not move adequately, and we continue to go about our business without addressing this issue, we will likely end up with breakdown of the connective tissues in the knee as it attempts to pick up the slack.

This is why one knee surgery usually turns into two and three down the line -- by ignoring the dysfunction of the surrounding joints.

When we address the symptom without addressing the original cause, we don't actually fix the problem.

But what does this have to do with crunches?  Hang on. We've got one more principle to discuss.

The Four Knots

When we go further up the line, we find that the hip is even more important, as most of our movements as humans originate from the four knots, that is the two hips and two shoulders.

You can liken the kicking of a soccer ball to the crack of a whip. It all starts at the hip, with the leg following in a whipping action that terminates at the foot as it strikes the ball. This is how most movements happen. 

When our hips are not mobile, and I mean mobile, not flexible. It's important here to note that you may be passively very flexible in the hips, folding into a pigeon pose that leaves your chin on the floor in front of you with zero effort.

But, if you cannot control those ranges with strength, your hips are not actually mobile. And as you move about on your feet and get into a squat, or are even further taxed by dumbbells or barbells, that flexibility will be lost to you. 

But we as humans can be very determined when we step into the gym or onto the mat. We often disregard that the cost is higher than the benefit and risk injury for the sake of our pride (this is part of the argument against that no pain-no-gain mentality).

And when you do attempt something that is say outside your range, or past the edge (that's yoga speak for all you non-yogis), your lower back will have to move more than it should to account for the inadequacy in the hips. Can you say lower back pain?

Crunches Disrespect Your Body

So back to our original point. Why are crunches so bad?

You are probably already drawing the correct conclusions in your brain. The reasoning is two-fold.

1) Crunches violate joint-by-joint theory

Your lower back, that includes all of the vertebrae there, falls in the stability category. Instead of teaching us to protect our lumbar spines and limit movement there, to keep good space between the joints with muscular strength; crunches demand that we shorten the space between each vertebrae and add unnessecary stress to all those tiny joints. 

You would be much better off with exercises that increase the stability in your lower back, that honor the proper function of the joints like dead bugs and planks. And there are limitless variations on these two alone to keep you busy.

2) Crunches violate the theory of the four knots

It's like taking violation number one to the next level. Not only do we ask our lumbar spines to move, but to further create the motion that we are trying to execute. This creates a bad pathway in the brain. If we know we can rely on this shortcut, we'll probably just keep using it as an alternative strategy to get by in other situations beyond the crunch. That's just natural adaptation.

You need to work on your hip mobility to be able to create a better and more efficient pathway to that super low chair pose (narrow-kneed squat) you desire, as crunches will certainly have zero translation here. I'm a big fan of the high tension 90/90 stretch.

Honor The Way You Were Meant To Move

So please please please, stop doing crunches.  If you want that deep definition that separates a super strong midsection from the silly superficial abs (and who doesn't?), cut the crunches.

Focus on appreciating your body and loading up exercises that honor the way we were meant to move. As I love to say, a real good front squat with a well braced midsection is an honest 6-minute ab miracle. 

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