During the CrossFit Games this year, over 25 MEN (and counting) have torn their pecs.
Injuries really suck—and sometimes they can’t be predicted or avoided.
But sometimes they can. Today I’d like to share with you the real reason that people are tearing things and breaking themselves at such a high rate.
It all comes down to understanding 4 things:
- Exercise Selection
- Active ROM (Range of motion) VS Passive ROM
After my rant, I’ll explain how to prevent this kind of thing from happening to you.
THE IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE SELECTION
This past week, over 25 men tore their pecs while performing what I consider to be a “grim reaper” series of workouts.
During a flurry of high-rep, high-speed ring dips and muscle ups (and many other exercises), the competitors just didn’t have the structural integrity to handle THE WAY that force was being transferred through the tissue.
Let me be clear: These are HIGH LEVEL ATHLETES and under proper conditions, can perform these exercises with skill and EASE.
But that’s not what happened, here’s my breakdown…
Unstable training (like gymnastics rings) is not well suited for high speeds, OR high levels of fatigue.
This is the first set of problems with this workout. But you could always argue something something competition, something something ready for anything. Although I personally feel like that’s not a good enough reason to do something a certain way, especially when the health of tough, determined athletes is on the line.
The biggest problem, in my opinion, was exercise selection.
In short, the “programming” of the competition was irresponsible, and awful.
For this part, the athletes take no blame—and I salute them for fighting through a brutal series of workouts.
My friend (and killer athlete) Christian Lucero was one of those injured—after he WON his first two events.
It makes me sad knowing that this could have been avoided.
ACTIVE vs PASSIVE ROM
First a simple definition:
ACTIVE ROM: How far you can move a joint with muscular control
PASSIVE ROM: How far your joint can BE MOVED regardless of muscular control
When there is a large gap between the two, it means you can be taken to a range that you cannot control.
Bigger gap=greater injury risk
Long story short, when you move outside of your ACTIVE ROM under load, you are playing roulette with your body. Doing it ballistically or explosively is like pouring gasoline on the fire.
Enter, the kipping muscle up and kipping ring dip.
Before you send your hate mail, please understand 2 things:
- Be nice—it’s free
- Kipping can be a useful tool during certain exercises for an athlete who has prepared to do it (pullups for example)
The kipping muscle up, and ring dip are different animals entirely.
The reason is the widespread lack of shoulder extension (especially in the male population).
Note: ONLY MEN have suffered from these pec tears.
So what happens when you take a person with a massive gap between their ACTIVE shoulder extension and their PASSIVE shoulder extension and ballistically fling them into their deepest end range?
- The joint will not be in its ideal position, and the muscles that are supposed to help stabilize the joint, can’t.
- Something’s gotta give
Imagine you had someone pull you into the deepest forward bend stretch they could get you into. Then imagine trying to catch a barbell and do a power clean from that extreme stretched position.
That’s essentially what these elite athletes were asked to do last week.
So why does this infuriate me so much?
Because it is SENSELESS—and easily could have been avoided with better programming on the part of the games organizer. I heard that the guy responsible for designing the workouts is writing a book to catalog his thought process.
I wonder what he’ll call that chapter?
“How I single handedly fucked up 30 of the most elite athletes in the world and destroyed their dreams in just ONE WEEK because I am incompetent”!?
That might have been slightly over the top. I get pretty fired up when I see blatant negligence damaging people.
I’m not sorry though. Because I’m not wrong.
Fortunately some good can come from this. There is a solution to helping this be less of a problem.
3 Moves to Improve ACTIVE SHOULDER EXTENSION
As I mentioned before, the male population is notoriously stiff when it comes to shoulder extension. Good shoulder extension is good for owning the top position of a pull-up too (which is another area men struggle with, in comparison to women).
Before we laser in on the shoulder, it must be first understood that shoulder mobility is dependent on several other factors (that are NOT specifically the shoulder).
I go into great detail about this in my Simple Shoulder Solution book and video series.
For now just understand that core strength, proper breathing mechanics, thoracic spine mobility (and a couple others) effect how well your shoulders can move. This is really important. Most people spend years trying to STRETCH their shoulders when they could have solved the problem by doing some side planks and neck rotations with deep belly breathing.
OK Disclaimer over—just remember that “the shoulder” is more than just the shoulder!
1. Tabletop Bridge
First first exercise I like for improving shoulder extension is the tabletop bridge.
This is an exercise that doesn’t get nearly enough love. Shoulder extension plus posterior chain activation? SOLD!
- Hit a few reps (10-15) and then hold the top position.
- Now make your neck long. Take a deep breath.
- From here I want you to try to lift ONE hand ONE MILLIMETER off the ground—keep the rest of your body still.
- Try to keep your hand hovering directly above the spot on the ground where it was.
- No chance? Drop your butt a little bit lower. This will put you in less shoulder extension. Keep going until you are able to perform this drill (you’ll probably end up in more of a crab position).
2. Stretch/Stengthen Combo
Next we’ll do a 1-2 combo for shoulder extension.
- First perform a shoulder extension stretch with deep breathing on the rings OR Skin the cat (if appropriate).
- Immediately follow that up with a dowel raise (weighted if possible with a plate) behind you. Now you’re training the other side of the movement and building strength in that new range.
NEVER STRETCH without ALSO owning that new range of motion with strength and coordination.
3. Dip Test
One last strategy is to use the ring dip itself and test your sport specific mobility.
- Set the rings at a height where you can support your body with your legs at any stage.
- Set yourself up in a dip position (feet supported) and try to lift your hands straight up off of the rings without jacking up your posture.
- If you can’t do this, don’t do ring dips yet. There are a LOT of other great exercises to do in the meantime while you fix your shoulders.
For strength, power, and endurance, just stay in the ranges your body and muscles can control.
In closing, I want to tell the athletes that I am extremely impressed with their physical capacity (LEGIT INSANE), but also their positive attitudes.
THAT actually may have been the most impressive part. This is a great example to set for everyone watching—injuries are not a life sentence. Shit happens, life’s tough, get a helmet and move on. Major props to all of you, and I’m truly sorry that your games had to end prematurely this year.
To whoever put that series of workouts together, may god have mercy on your soul.
To sum up, make sure you dial in your active range of motion, and don’t do workouts designed by a moron.
Better every day,
PS: I put together a comprehensive mobility resource (that builds both active AND passive range of motion) to help people move better, get stronger, and prevent injury. It is also organized into various movement FLOWS that you can use as a warm up, cool down, or part of a workout (they can get pretty demanding). You’ll also be surprised to find that enhancing your quality of movement makes you stronger—and makes all of your movements easier. Whether you’re looking to stay healthy during the crossfit games or improve your posture from sitting at a desk all day—this will help you function and feel better, if you DO IT. Careful though, once you start, you will likely get addicted. Check it out here.