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Hamstrings in Children

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Here’s a good article suggestion by our Parkour coach, Andrey Pfenning.

Gotta stretch the hams!

Gotta stretch the hams!

This article from Positive Sport Parent is a pretty good primer on the need to make sure your kids stretch their hamstrings.

We find flexible hamstrings are super important for adults in their CrossFit endeavors, but the hamstrings are a major mover of the body in all types of athletic movements.  What’s more, because they’re so integral to the functioning of the hip, having inflexible hamstrings can lead to back problems and deformities, especially in children.

The article gives some tips for being able to spot tight hamstrings in your children, as well as some sample stretches.  The article suggests the following with regards to frequency and volume of stretching:

“· Best recommendation is to hold each stretch 30-40 seconds. Repeat 3 times and try and repeat that 4 times per day.

· Stretch 6 days per week to improve flexibility. Once flexibility is where you want it, maintain this by stretching 3 times per week.

· Stretch into discomfort and not pain. Tease out the tightness. No jerkiness or bouncing into the stretch as this can cause a reflex tightening of the muscle.”

Make sure you and your kids are stretching these important muscles for their athletic ability and their general health!

See you in the gym!

What Do These Two Videos Have in Common?

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

Ok Cavers, I’d like you to carefully analyze these two videos and try to figure out why they are “the same”.  This is very important for your skill development.  Watch closely.

Video A:  This one is a very good video demonstrating a “Squat-on” in a preschool gymnastics class.  (I know, the little girls are amazingly cute.  We have that same kind of cuteness in our gym. )

OK, now how is Video A the same as Video B, with Ninja Warrior veteran and Cave gymnastics & parkour coach JB Douglass (more on our newest coach to follow in a subsequent blog post) demonstrating this little “Double Kong”.  That is Seraphina Schinner’s (ok,.. Michael & Miyoko Schinner’s) yellow pickup truck that you’re looking at and that is me in the background.  Check this out.   Video B:

OK,… think about it… now I’ll give you some space so you can figure it out without reading the answer below.





…….  Did you figure it out…?

…….. Ok, I’ll give you a little more time…

……… OK, now?…..

……… Here’s the answer:

If your skill level is exactly the same as demonstrated in the squat-ons on Video A, or exactly the same as demonstrated by JB in Video B, or somewhere in between, then you are ready and perfectly capable of participating and completing the American Ninja Warrior Seminar at The Cave on Sunday Nov. 4th from 8:30am-2:20pm.  It is also the perfect place to employ all that fitness and skill that you’ve been working on by training that explosive hip extension, those kipping pull-ups or if you’ve been working gymnastics skills.  Few things could be more fun than exploring new movements in an obstacle course coached by a dozen Ninja Warrior Veterans.  Come meet and train with the celebrities at The Cave.  More details can be found here.  The current pre-registration price is $75 and you can sign up online.  There may also be a couple of slots left for the kids’ session on Nov. 3rd.  Additional details can be found at:   I know that a bunch of Cavers wanted to come this weekend but had scheduling conflicts.  We’re looking into scheduling another one around April 2013.   By the way, another similarity between the videos is that both the little pre-school girls and JB are overcoming obstacles with just the power of the human body, specifically referred to as vaulting in this case.  Also, the squat-ons are at the beginning of a progression that turns into Kongs and later double Kongs.  I hope you enjoyed the videos, and by the way, here are the answers to last weeks American Ninja Warrior trivia:

Who is this Parkour phenom on the American Ninja Warrior IV Course?

Who is this phenom on the American Ninja Warrior IV Course?

1>  Name the Caver depicted in the “cover” picture of the May 8th, 2012 American Ninja Warrior Workout Men’s Health article show here:

Andrey Pfening. He coaches at The Cave on Wednesdays & Fridays regularly, when he’s not subbing or planning out spectacular class programming and obstacle courses.

2>  Name the obstacle that he is on.

Pile Slider

3> What “stage” of the competition is it in and what obstacle on course?  (Ergo, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th,… etc.)

2012 ANW Venice Beach qualifiers

4> What region did he compete in and where was the competition held?

The “Great North West”, as one famous comentator put it.  Venice Beach

5> What discipline does he specialize in?  Parkour, of course!

6> How far did he get in the competition, ergo, what obstacle  (if any) did he fall on?  He fell about 1.5′ past the spot where he is on the picture, before the dismount to the pipe slider

7> Who were the commentators for his run?  Jonny Mosely & Matt Iseman, of course.  I hope I’m spelling their names right.!

Ok,… so,… how about this guy?  (This picture was used on buddy TV:

as well as Monsters & Critcs:

Can you name the Cave Ninja??

Can you name the Cave Ninja??

1>  Name the Caver depicted in the picture above.  -  That’s me, Andres De la Rosa

2>  Name the obstacle that he is on.  Arm Rings.

3> What “stage” of the competition is it in and what obstacle on course?  (Ergo, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th,… etc.)  Venice beach Regional Finals Course, 7th obstacle.

4> What region did he compete in and where was the competition held?  North West, Venice Beach.

5> What discipline does he specialize in?  None.  I’m not a specialist.  I’ve done them all, just about.

6> What obstacle during the competition(s) (if any) did he fall on?  Trick question.  Did not fall!  Finished course with 6minutes + change., which was the slowest run of the athletes completing the course.  Note to self: don’t stop to stretch on the course because you’re tired!

7> Who were the commentators for his run?  Matt Eiseman & Johnny Mosely, same as for Andrey

Come train with both of these Cave Ninjas and many more of the ANW 4 Celebrities at the Cave on Nov. 4th.  Read more here:

I hope you guys can make it.  All I can promise is how much fun it can be!

So,… other than the blog0-post coach being a little bit of a pain in the ass, I hope that all is well and that you’re all having a fantastic experience at  The Cave.


Have you ever done AcroYoga?

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Hi Cavers,

Have you ever done AcroYoga?  I’ve had the pleasure of playing around with it a little with Shira, co-owner of  The Athletic Playground in Emeryville and some of our other friends.  I think it’s actually really fun and stretches you out in a way that feels so positive to your body that it’s hard to describe.  I was wondering if any of you have ever tried it and what you think of it if you have.  There are two main “types” of AcroYoga, one “therapeutic” which feels,… well, therapeutic, and the other one that emphasizes the Acrobatics and fancy moves which is fun and cool but a bit more show-offish.  Here are some videos that can give you an idea of what it’s about.

This is a really good example of therapeutic Acro.  You have no idea how good this feels are your spinal column unless you’ve tried it.  The “flyer” is the one benefiting from the “base”.

I really like this one not just because the practitioners are so good, but also because of I think the sound track and tempo are perfect for a good relaxing, therapeutic AcroYoga session.  Not that these two throw in their fair share of acrobatics in there as well!

Here is one of Crystal and Kathy from The Athletic Playground demonstrating one of their tricks:

Can you believe that there is also an AcroYoga move called a “Ninja Star”?  Well, you know I have to post a video of a “Ninja Star”, don’t you?  These are Zac and Crystal from at The Athletic Playground  as well:

And finally here is the 2011 AcroYoga festival, which gets pretty fancy.  Maybe even proves that  even hippies are competitive at heart.  Rofl.

So what did you think?  Would you try something like this?  Why or why not?

How Important Is Mobility?

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

So we are constantly reminding you all to keep working on your mobility. We tell you to stretch and move at the end of your workouts. We lead mobility sessions at the end of class when we have time in the programming. I can not stress how important it is to be disciplined about this. I am not naturally flexible. I’ve relayed this to many of you, but if you weren’t aware you might be surprised that at one time I couldn’t even come close to touching my toes. It took a lot of work for me to get flexible. If I don’t stretch regularly I loose quite a bit of mobility. It will never go back to the limited flexibility that I once experienced even if I don’t work at it because I have changed my base mobility. For me it took stretching 5 times/day for about 6 weeks to radically change my flexibility. It isn’t necessary to stretch that frequently to gain mobility, but it certainly goes faster that way. I had additional motivation to get flexible quickly due to collegiate competition.

There are a lot of resources on mobility. Read PNF Stretching from my DrillsAndSkills website as well as reviewing the catalog of stretches found there. Be sure to take the time to stretch. After workout is best. If you can find time at home, or elsewhere to stretch do so. Additional mobility will improve your performance and in some cases will enable you to perform movements you couldn’t do at all otherwise.

If you were not aware we are starting a mobility class. Our first sessions start Wed 8/1 at 10am. Be sure to check out these classes and drop on in. Your mobility is important. It will help in many aspects of life. Similar to how you discover great things about how you can feel when you make certain dietary adjustments, you will discover that certain things are just easier and more comfortable if you are more flexible. The new mobility classes will be a combination of yoga and other mobility techniques, designed with our programming in mind to optimize efficacy. See you in mobility class.

How to read the “Warm-up”

Friday, July 15th, 2011
What does this mean?

What does this mean?


 Often times I see our athletes taking the warm-up as it’s on the board way too “literally”.  The whole point of the warm-up is not to do exactly what is written on the board as if it were a pass/fail exam, or dogma handed down from a CF deity.  What you’re trying to accomplish is to get your blood flowing, your joints looser and more mobile, and your nervous system in gear to move and to work out.  The idea of warming up is basically, well, to warm up!.  To illustrate my point, let’s take an example and analyze a warm-up from CrossFit Marin’s programming from a few Fridays ago:

Warm up:

  800m Run

10 Air Squats, then:


         5 False grip PU

         5 Ring dips

        10 Squat cleans


  30s Handstand


Ok, so the 800M run and air squats are rather straight forward, but what about the false grip pull-ups?  They’re tougher, and not everyone in the gym can do a strict pull-up, let alone a false-grip pull-up.  Or maybe an athlete can do them but just barely,  squeaking them out two or three at a time.  What should one do in this situation?  Should the CrossFitter grind them out, proving to his/her peers that he/she is tough and can push through the warm-up and complete it as Rx’d?  The only thing that one would prove in this situation is that one doesn’t understand the “spirit” of the warm-up, which is to get you ready for the skill training and the rest of the workout, reduce the likelihood of getting injured and to be considerate to your body.  Should you then skip the false grip pull-ups altogether?  No!  They’re probably included in the warm-up for the day for a reason, so simply scale them just like you would any exercise but scale them in such a way so that it feels like a warm-up and not like a one-rep max effort at the very beginning of your workout session.  Keep your feet on the ground and go through the full range of motion of the pull-up in a false grip.  It will get your arms and wrists and lats ready for the muscle-ups that are almost certainly coming in the main workout.  Do the same thing with the ring-dips.  You can even add an extra movement if you feel “tight” as appropriate and you’re doing the warm-up on your own or ask the trainer “…can we do ________” (shoulder roll-throughs, wrists-push ups, hip circles, whatever) because you’re a little stiff, cold, sleepy, grumpy, etc, or ask for mobility exercise for a tight body part.  Remember that you should care less about what other people think and more about your own health.  I often scale the warm-up movements myself, even though I could do the movement Rx’d if it were necessary.  The ego thing simply doesn’t play a factor and when someone asks me “Andres, what are you doing?!”  I feel perfectly comfortable saying “I’m doing jumping dips, because I don’t feel ready to do real dips yet”  I know that there’s an old CrossFit shirt slogan that says “Our warm-up is your workout”, but if you end up straining during the warm-up, you may not even get to the workout or you may injure yourself during the WOD.  So stay injury-free so you can be consistent, which is the most important element for improvement, and then you’ll be able to rock the “Our warm-up is your workout”  shirt because you’ll be that good. 


Notice that in our example warm-up there are two rounds of:

   false grip pull-ups

   ring dips

   squat cleans


 What I often recommend for a section like this is to do the first round a little light and go up in weight or reduce the scale for subsequent rounds, providing a ramp-up to the weight/difficulty at which you will be doing similar movements during the main workout or skill training.


What about the “30 sec handstand”?  Obviously this is to be scaled appropriately as well but what is interesting about this element is that we often include a repetitive skill element in our warm-ups for the week because the consistency of including these elements will help you improve rapidly at them.  Whatever you throw into your warm-up consistently you are likely to master quickly.  So if you want to get better at your double-unders, or over-head squats, whatever, come in a little early and work on them for a few minutes before your “official warm-up”, but be smart about what movements you pick. Muscle-ups are a poor choice for a “pre-warm-up” exercise!  If you’re proficient enough at them handstands make a great warm-up exercise, or donkey-kicks if you don’t have handstands.  They’re basically stretching and balancing up-side-down.  I hope this was useful.  We want to keep everyone as safe, injury-free, and happy as possible!

Ankle Strengthening Tutorial by Dogen

Friday, June 10th, 2011

When engaging in activities such as gymnastics and parkour one needs to have very strong joints in order to stay healthy and prevent injuries. At CFM we’re all about pre-hab and preparing our bodies for the stresses of our disciplines. I used to think that soccer was the hardest sport on your ankles and knees, but now I’m not so sure. Check out this ankle strengthening tutorial by Dogen:

I know, interesting choice for a sound-track.  I think it’s supposed to numb your mind to the paid of the ankle conditioning exercises.  =D

Functional Movement and the Weakest Link

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

We talk a lot about functional movements, but what are those?  Typically, we think of a functional movement as having some application in the real world and this is partially true.  But there plenty of movements that we use every day but that that we never train in the gym because they aren’t “functional.”  Bicep curls are a perfect example, for those of you who have ever lifted a bag of groceries onto the table.

Squats are functional movements.

Squats are functional movements.

But CrossFit defines a functional movement as any movement that is capable of moving a large load, a long distance quickly.  That is, movements that generate a high power output.  Of course, those terms are relative to other exercises that utilize similar muscles.  We don’t do curls because we do pull-ups; both activate the biceps, but the power output of a curl is much less than that of a pull-up because the pull-up moves a larger load a longer distance faster.

You might also notice that a curl is an isolation  movement, it focuses on just one muscle, but the pull-up uses most of the muscles in your arms and back, more if you kip.  This is also an important concept in understanding functionality: functional movements are compound movements.  If we want to maximize load and distance while minimizing time, we’re going to have to use more than one muscle and typically multiple joints.

Another way of thinking about this is to consider all the muscles and joints needed in a movement to be a chain.  You won’t be able to do the movement  if you have a weak or broken link in that chain.  This is the basis of the breakdown of form with the increase of intensity.  It’s also the starting point of a lot of injuries.

Since our curriculum consists primarily of compound movements performed at high intensity, we need to make sure that every link in our chain is strong.  If you lack hamstring strength and flexibility, you need to work on that before you go crazy with squats.  If you have tight shoulders, you need to stretch them out before you start doing heavy squat cleans.  In short, learn what you aren’t good at and do what is needed to be good at it.  Take time before and/or after class to stretch and do mobility exercises and concentrate on proper movements during the workouts.

Squat Mechanics - Repost

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

It’s come up a couple of times in class over the past couple of weeks, so I’m reposting my first blog article– Squat Mechanics.  Strengthen the lower back, stretch the hamstrings and hip adductors.  Don’t worry about “good depth” until you are squatting correctly.  Enjoy.

One of the things I’m very critical of in classes is keeping your back angle correct when performing any type of squatting move. It doesn’t just make you look good, there are actually anatomical reasons for it!

Consider the figures below. Figure 1 has a correct back angle, causing the hamstrings and hip adductors (red line) to tighten up between their origin (lower left corner of the green box) and insertion (behind the knee). This allows these muscles to fully engage in the squat, allowing more productive application of force and spreading load more evenly across the knee joint.

Figure 2 is experiencing what I call “butt wink,” the turning under of the pelvis at the bottom of the squat. This can clearly be seen by the angle of the green box around the pelvis. This position reduces the distance between the origin and insertion points of the hamstrings and adductors, taking load off of those muscles. You can see this by the difference in length between the blue line (length with improper back angle) and the red line. The result of unloading those posterior thigh muscles is that load must be shifted to the top of the legs, which reduces the number of muscles you can use to come out of the bottom of the squat and shifts more load to the front of the knee. It also keeps you from being able to use the stretch reflex of the hamstrings and adductors to be able to “bounce” out of the bottom of the squat, which will lead to faster fatigue when performing high volume squats and failed lifts when attempting heavy loads.


We stress the ability to squat below parallel, but many people will find that they do not have enough hamstring and hip adductor flexibility to get that low and still maintain a good back angle. Most of you should include that in your stretching goals. Until you get there, focus on eliminating the “butt wink,” as it will prevent you from truly increasing your squat depth, as well as keep you from using all of your thigh muscles efficiently. It may also overload connective tissue in your knee and lead to pain and injury.

Squat smart!

When To Stretch?

Sunday, October 17th, 2010
One way to stretch dynamically

One way to stretch dynamically

So we’re always reminding folks to stretch, and stretch often. If there is time we’ll lead a mobility segment at the end of a workout, but this doesn’t always occur. Stretching is a discipline. It takes dedication, can be frustrating, and is certainly uncomfortable.

Generally we talk about stretching during foundations. Remember all of that? Probably not. It is more beneficial to stretch AFTER a workout than before. In fact it’s better to stretch several hours after a workout, but that is often times impractical. If you do a static stretching session prior to a workout you will reduce your potential for power output. Many people are taught to stretch before an activity to reduce the chance of injury. This is simply false. There have been many studies showing no correlation between static stretching as part of warm up and injury rates.

Stretching and Flexibility is an article I wrote for the CrossFit Journal that covers this topic.

Does Stretching Before Running Prevent Injuries? is a NYT article on this specific topic. There are some interesting points in the article. Some are valid, others I know to be false.

1. There was NO difference between those that performed static stretching and those that didn’t in injury rates.

2. 16% of the participants in BOTH groups suffered an injury within 3 months that took them out of training for at least 3 days. This is almost 1 in 5. This tells us that running is risky, and over the course of a year this number would be huge.

3. They reference a lower vertical jump height after static stretching. This ties to the reduction in power output.

4. Runners who were used to a static stretching routing increased their injury rate by not stretching. They do note that this was likely due to a sudden change in training regiment in those who were very routine about their training. So, the key is don’t get too routine in your training. No trouble with that here.

5. Dynamic stretching doesn’t cause the same reduction in power output. Swing away, work range of motion, just don’t hold stretches.

Stretching in the Shower

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

You know how some people sing in the shower?  Well, I recommend stretching in the shower.  As long as you’re taking a nice warm shower as opposed to a contrast or cold shower, your body is going to be a little more relaxed and responsive to stretching than usual.  This may actually be your ticket to finding an extra “5 minutes a day”.  There will often be a little ledge along the end of the walls in most showers that will be convenient for a cat stretch.  You can also (if you have good balance, footing and coordination) put one foot up on the wall and stretch out your hamstrings or grab your foot behind your butt and do the runner’s quad stretch.  As long as you’re soaping up your back, why not try to see how close you can get your hands behind your back with one coming down from your shoulders/behind your neck and the other one coming up from under your lats/mid-back?  If you can already touch your hands, then try to overlap your fingers or hands as much as you can.  One of my favorites, if you have something anchored that you can hold on to, is doing the stretch where you open up the back of your shouder, lats and back where you step across your body in front of you with one foot, while holding on to the anchor point with your opposing hand as you lean back and kind of twist to lengthen the line from your anchored hand to your hip.  I’ll post a picture of this later to illustrate, but not in the shower. 

Some of the hazards involved in stretching in the shower may include, but are not limited to: slipping and getting hurt, tearing the shower curtain pole along with the shower curtain off of the wall and creating a mess as well as a time-consuming repair job, taking longer in the bathroom and making your roommates/family-members angry, increasing your energy & water bills, contributing to California’s water shortage and drought issues, and of course, having a very embarrassing story to tell the paramedics or your friends when they need to come get your clumsy-ass off of the bath tub after you got hurt.  Nevertheless, barring any slips or injuries, you may be able to get considerably better range of motion  for many exercises and your CrossFit coach might stop yelling at you to go deeper in your squats.  If you’re really concerned about the water, energy conservation, and contributing to the earth’s engergy problems, you can always just try stepping up on the sink counter with one foot while brushing your teeth if the counter is secure and sturdy enough.  This will loosen up your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. 

That’s it, folks.  If you REALLY want to, go ahead and post some pictures of yourselves doing various stretches in the shower.  Knowing how reserved and polite everyone here at CFM is, I’m sure no one will gossip, make fun of you, or copy the pictures and put them on FaceBook or anything like that.

See you in the gym,