The Two Best Cues In Training

...And They Come From The Practice of Yoga

Everyone should practice yoga. Yup, I said it. I don't care what the rest of your training looks like because it can be modified and worked into any program for great health benefits. Everyone in the whole world should make it to yoga once a week. 

Show up. Leave your expectations at the door. Get on the mat. And practice moving better.

Sure, yoga has it's shortcomings just like every other system. I don't think anyone should be practicing with their feet smashed together with respect to hip anatomy. There's definitely a skewed ration of push to pull actions in regards to muscular balance. Couple of other small rocks. But that's besides the point. All seemingly complete systems have their flaws.

The big rocks are what matters. What’s important here is that the culture of yoga demands grace unlike any other fitness experience.

It's not the smell of the incense wafting through the air, or the wise Buddha staring at you as you take your space. It’s not the dim lighting or the hushed whispers.

No matter the environment -- you could be in a community center all-purpose room or the spare office at the end of the hallway -- As soon as we step foot into the designated yoga space, we are immediately reminded that there is a higher purpose to our practice than fitness.

We lay down on our mats silently and begin to attune to our bodies with an elevated level of attention. We come to place our hands at heart center, knowing full well that our movements must be executed with the highest measure of integrity.

We hit our first sun salutation with the inherent knowledge of these implied expectations.

So why do we forget them as we step in front of the iron?

What is really different between the two training sessions? We are simply practicing moving well again, only this time there is added load to the challenge in the form of weight and speed. 

Isn’t that more reason to “turn inward?” To remember precision? To remember grace?

And so I offer to you the two best cues I’ve ever received -- from my yoga instructors. The two cues that will protect your joints from that wear and tear we seem to incur as we lift heavier in the gym. The two cues that will remind onlookers of a yoga flow chair pose as you drop into a barbell squat. The two cues that will push you past plateaus.

The two cues that can and SHOULD be applied to any exercise. 

Because your lifting sessions demand the same level of respect to the body that your yoga sessions ask for. It’s your responsibility to answer.

The First Cue - Root To Rise

In yoga, we assimilate good posture with the way a tree grows. As the branches grow taller, the roots dig down deeper into the ground to anchor the trunk.

You want to root down through the feet. This will ensure you always use the floor as the unspoken piece of equipment it is.

And you also want to rise up tall through the crown of your head. This will ensure your spinal alignment is perfect for your body.

Together, rooting through the feet and rising up tall creates length in the joints. And when we lift, the entire purpose of our training is to overcome whatever resistance is being applied. To maintain the space we already own.

If we give up that space, we are not honoring the purpose of the exercise. We are losing the battle and we are not really getting stronger.

This is how we maintain good posture.

Internal Commands: Root to rise. Get tall through the crown of your head. Ground down through your feet.

The Second Cue - Play Tug of War 

This one is not too far from the first cue. They are in the same family tree, if you will.  But we’ll concern ourselves less with the body as a whole, and focus on the appendages independently.

As you reach, you play tug of war with your whole arm. The fingers and palm push into the floor or the weight. And the upper arm pulls into the shoulders joint. This action creates internal opposition.

As you step, the foot pushes into the floor while the top of the leg pulls into the hip. This internal opposition creates tension.

This is how we find stability through our appendages. 

Internal Commands: Play tug of war. Pull shoulders down and back but reach the hands away. Pull the hips together but push the floor away. 

Everything Is The Same

Applying these two cues to your next lifting session will change everything! You will find more ease in your lifts. You’ll get stronger. Your body will feel more resilient. And you will own your lifts. Plus, you’ll look real good doin’ em. Less aches and pains. More gains.

There are a TON of other traditional yoga cues that can serve you in the gym.

Remember, most systems that have survived for years and years are still around because they have some real good rocks. And lots of those rocks, tend to look oddly familiar. We just call them by another name. So there is tons of carryover across different schools of practice if you choose to see it.

High Crescent is just a lunge. Warrior III is just a single-leg deadlift. 

Close your eyes and turn your mind back to your last class in reflection. Start to draw the similarities between your lifts and your poses. If it helps, you can totally burn some sage and dim the lights for your next heavy squat session. It’s actually quite the spiritual experience.

Root to rise. Play tug-of-war. Use these intentions to focus your direct gaze(yogic gaze) and train like the graceful warrior. 

#gracefulwarrior #sophisticatedstrength

Are Your Ankles Adequate?

And What To Do If They Are NOt!

Lunges are necessary—The split stance should never be ignored. And I don't care what anybody says on that particular subject. Front squats are a great introduction to the world of barbell lifts—the one true 8-minute ab workout among the gimmicks. Sprints are theoretically the best choice for cardio—and can turn you into a fat-burning machine.

All three of these exercises have two things in common. The first is that they are all simple but excellent staples, that merit a place in any good training program. From fat-loss to core strength, they all hit the marks with multiple shots.

The second, is that they require a certain amount of mobility to be completed successfully. Lunges, front squats, and sprints all require you to have ankles that move pretty damn well.

And bad ankles affect more of the population than you might think. It’s kind of a hidden problem because tight, locked up ankles typically don’t result in pain at the site. It’s a rare occasion that any client ever comes to me actually complaining of ankle pain.

Limited ankle mobility affects other joints, and shows itself as seemingly unrelated issues. So it can be really difficult to realize unless you actually measure it.

Clients DO often complain of knee pain during lunging.They experience back pain after goblet or front squats. And I’ve seen a slew of runners with frequent ankle sprains. These are merely possible clues. But, any one of these issues could prompt an ankle investigation. 

The simplest way to know? You don’t need a kinesiology degree to dig a little deeper. You just need a dowel(could be the swiffer mop in the closet) and a ruler(your phone works fine. An iPhone6 is about 5 and a half inches long for reference).

How To Know If Your Ankles Need Work

Now, should you find that your ankle mobility is less than stellar—as you learned from the video, a distance from the wall of less than four inches, you need to work on your ankles before you jump into any of the aforementioned exercises. 

In the meantime, you can swing and snatch yourself silly. Do all of the deadlifts. And any upper body stuff is of course fair game. Simultaneously, you’ll be working towards earning your sprints and front squats back. 

Here is a quick routine to run through, with a bonus exercise at the end after you’ve been working for about two weeks(every day 2x a day or 4weeks 1x a day).

**Should you find that one ankle is tighter than the other, you'll complete 50-100% more work on the challenging side.

***THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT! If you experience closing joint PAIN-- and that means that as you push the knee further in that ankle mobility assessment and the front side of your ankle hurts--DO NOT try this routine. DO NOT even bother reading the rest of this blog. Proceed to your nearest body work professional. This is not going to work for you and might make the situation worse. 

If everything feels good, let's get going!

(1) Foam Roll Calves

As we covered in the last blog, we don't necessarily know why it works, but foam-rolling the calves can get you a little more range of motion in a snap.

(2) Stretch Calves

Push into the wall as you drive the heel back into the floor. Make sure that foot is straight and hold for thirty seconds.

(3) Mobilize Ankle

This is my go to mobilization if I know my client is going to be working out alone. All you need is a sturdy band and an anchor to tie it to.

Post stretching and foam rolling, you should have gained more flexibility. Now move through it! 8-10 strides is perfect.

(4) Core-Activated Hurdle Hold

This one can seem kind of silly. You might even get into the hold and think, What's happening here? Where's the work?

The feedback from the cables(or a band works here too!) teaches you to push into the ground with the standing leg and elongate your body, creating space in the joints. In yoga, we call this rooting to rise.

All of our joints work better when there is adequate space to move properly. Including those pesky ankles that can get otherwise squashed in single-leg balances. LENGTHEN.

If you pay attention to this subtle activation, you'll learn to apply the concept to the next two exercises...

And maybe EVERYTHING you ever do. And then maybe EVERYTHING you do gets better as you set yourself up for increased core stability with this one simple cue. BOOM. Automatic sophistication. You can stop reading now. Ok, just kidding.

(5) Assisted Split Hold

OK, Ok I know we said lunges will cause you problems if you have tight ankles. 

But! If we dial it back down and regress our split stance to an isometric hold, and we take off some of the load by adding assistance, you should be able to find the perfect first challenge. 

Progressively load the ankle by using the straps less and less as the exercise becomes easier. Thirty seconds on a hold is great.

(6) Squat Toe-Touch*

*To be completed only after progress has been made and confirmed by reassessment. 

Not to be confused with a typical bend-patterned toe-touch. Don't worry about hinging back. I want you to drop that booty for 8 reps on this one.

I also want you to look for a lot of ankle dorsiflexion i.e. push that knee forward to challenge your new range of motion. 

And move slow! Speed makes everything harder. A four count down and a four count back up, minimizing any shift on the foot as much as possible to be successful. A loss of balance is an indicator to you that your learning speed may be slower than you think.

And finally, remember that space concept from the hurdle holds? Root to rise! 

The Program

(1) Foam Roll Calves (60sec)

(2) Stretch Calves (30sec)

(3) Band Ankle Mobilizations (x8-10 strides)

(4) Core-Activated Hurdle Hold (30-60sec)

(5) Assisted Split Hold (30sec)

*(6) Squat Toe-Touch (8 reps) After clear progress has been measured


Now, once you get to that magic 4-inch mark, don't just jump right back into long sprints and heavy front squats and loaded bulgarian split-squats.

Adding load and jumping ahead too quickly is a sure-fire way to negate your progress.

Start with short sprints. Begin with unloaded split-squats and lunges. Stick to easy reps on the front squats. 

The benefits don't just stop here. Your single-leg lifts should all benefit from the ankle work. And you may even find your glutes engage a little bit better as well. As your newly named glute goddess, I know a thing . 

#adequateankles #sophisticatedstrength

This Is How We Roll

The other day I was rollin’ with my homies… well ok, my girls and I were getting ready to blow off some steam and WORK out, not ROLL out. But we were rolling out our glutes before a heavy deadlifting session and ended up pre-gaming the workout with a lot more spots than originally planned. I added one little step to the first lat roll and this single cue brought the whole mobility session to the next level.

benefits of foam rolling

What was the step that pushed the night over the edge? Well, before I recount that event, I should probably bring you up to speed on what foam rolling really does for us. The story just won’t make much sense without some background leading up.

Rolling has a multitude of benefits. But you may have heard that silly rumor that foam rolling by itself is a great stand-alone program to solve your range of motion limitations. Foam rolling is great. But not alone. And not the way most people go about it.

And why it’s great? Well, it may feel like you’ve got the spins after you read some of the research. Google foam rolling and you are guaranteed to find a multitude of seemingly complete answers, hidden under mountains of big words and scientific jargon that you don’t understand. I will save you the biological sciences dictionary translations. The real secret is that these “answers” are mostly incomplete and full of speculation.

we don’t really know

Very concretely, foam rolling can, in fact, increase range of motion. That is the most important thing to note. And whether that is by hydrating the muscles(making them more pliable), decreasing pain by placebo(that’s a real consideration), decreasing pain by activating neuroreceptors(brain tricks), or actually causing some change to the muscles themselves(which is actually the least likely of all theories), IT WORKS. We just don’t really know for sure why that is exactly. 

But what we do know, is that any of these explanations would only result in a short-lived window of opportunity. Meaning that, you’d need to challenge this increased range of motion(with strength work of course!) for it to stick. Making foam rolling a solid, if not IDEAL choice for pre-warmup mobility. Like I said, not meant to be practiced alone.

And that, for most of these explanations to be true, and to maximize your efforts, you’d want to find a way to get some shearing force going while you’re foam rolling a trigger point, rock of stability, knot in the muscle, acorn you’re storing away for winter (yeah I’ve heard that one) or whatever label you use to describe that one single junky spot that seems to always get in the way of you moving more freely.

Find a Stretch

"Applying shearing force" is a fancy way of saying find yourself a way to pull apart that nasty spot while you've got it wedged between the pressure of your body weight and the foam roller. In other words, STRETCH.

This is a game-changer! We added a stretch to the lat roll and the girls found that they had way more range of motion in their shoulder warm-up exercises. Which led to a particularly awesome push-press session later in the class. Everyone felt great with the overhead challenge, which is an extremely rare and awesome occurrence these days.

Get creative here. I’m going to show you my most useful foam roll stretches. But feel free to play! There’s not really a wrong way to foam roll. 

Because the truth: we try to make our mobility sessions at sophisticatedstrength as fun and effective as possible. That’s how we roll.

Foam Roll Lats

Start on your side, rolling from back to arm pit to find a spot. Reach, roll, lift x 5.

Foam Roll Gutes

Sit on one glute and bring that leg up and over. To stretch, exhale and pull the knee into the chest x5.

Foam Roll Pecs

Keep the palm down on the rolling side. Exhale and push the opposite hand into the ground and turn away from the rolling side. Inhale back down.

Foam Roll Quads

Exhale and pull your heel to your butt x5. This can also be used for hamstrings/IT band if you roll the side of your leg. It's a particularly mean one.

Foam Roll Calves

Point and flex the ankle or move it in a circle x5.

Foam Roll Thoracic Spine

Start with the roller at the bottom of your rib cage. Inhale and reach your chest to the wall behind you. In the bottom, you can exhale and let the elbows open up. Close the elbows to pull yourself back up out of the stretch. Move the roller one inch up your spine each rep.

#thatshowweroll #sophisticatedstrength