Fixing Loss of Lumbar in the Deadlift

The deadlift is a great exercise for overall strength and transfers to a great deal of other movements and exercises. It can get a bad rap for being “dangerous” which is why form is critical. But how do we fix bad form?

When you look at the spine, the thoracic (upper back) has a natural kyphotic curve to it while the lumbar has a natural lordotic curve to it. In the case of an athlete’s shoulders leaning forward with a curved upper back, some would argue this is bad, while others would actually encourage this for competition since it allows the bar to stay lower to the ground. The reason some people are ok with it is that it is just an exaggeration of the kyphotic curve that is already in place. For the record, I coach new athletes to keep everything tight and as neutral as possible.

While kyphosis in the upper back is a debatable topic, kyphosis in the lower back (lumbar) is a more black and white issue. In a deadlift, if an athlete’s spine is curving in the opposite direction that is natural, we need to fix this.

Here’s an example of Brian, who was doing a deadlift workout – you can clearly see the change in lumbar as he initiates the deadlift. I believe this was 275#.

Most people would think it was the weight that was the issue. While this is partly true, I had him drop the weight to 135# and he STILL had this loss of lumbar. (no video of that unfortunately) So then I had him slow the movement down to 50% and this is what happened:


Still can work on it, but incredibly different than before. If I were doing a full PT with him, I’d have Brian add a little weight (20#) and have him deadlift at the same speed. If mechanics were faulty, we’d drop weight and/or slow it down even more. Because of the TUT (time under tension) with slower speeds, it makes sense to do slow reps at lower weight. Then we would play with different combinations of speed/weight/form to find a balance and promote positional and neurological strength.

Sometimes it’s not the weight, but rather the speed that we need to slow down. CrossFit is great because of the high intensity workouts, but there are two prerequisites to Intensity – Mechanics and Consistency. (for those of you old enough, remember MCI phone service??) Show me you can do a movement well, then show me you can be consistent with it. THEN we can do it at high intensity.



How to Take High Quality Photos for CrossFit – Part I: Equipment

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Besides the efficacious workouts and strong community, I believe CrossFit went viral because of the media it has put out over the years. I started CF by following mainsite ( and everyday a workout would go up with a picture and usually a video of some sort. At first, people scoff at the idea of taking pictures of people working out, but it has become commonplace to see everyday people squatting, deadlifting, and snatching barbells and bumpers. For affiliate owners, one of the best things you can do is to take high quality photos of your members. Not only does this serve as great retention for your member base (member: “hey look at me lifting all the weights!”) but it also serves as great marketing material for your website and social media (member’s friends: “hey look at my friend who never used to workout and now she’s lifting all the weights and looking great!”)

As a semi-professional photographer, I’ll break down the equipment and techniques that will allow you to get great shots of your members. To start, let’s go over the gear.

There’s a saying that the best camera is the one you have on you. While there’s no denying that a better camera can produce better images, but it’s not guaranteed. Just like a Ferrari can technically go faster than a Camry, you still need to know how to use it. If you truly can’t afford a DSLR, then wait for Part II on the technique section and come back to this when you have the dough. (But really, you should budget $500 or so for a decent camera and lens!) Below I recommend several camera bodies and lenses.

Note: I don’t include flash because 1. it’s distracting to athletes 2. it usually results in washed out photos and 3. most people need to learn how to use their camera before using flash. I avoid using flash as much as possible.

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A bigger camera is better mostly because it has a bigger light sensor. This is the “canvas” that actually sees an image coming through the lens. The bigger the sensor, the more you can get away with shooting in darker environments. If you’re looking at the two major brands (Canon and Nikon) you really can’t go wrong with either. For most people it comes down to either recommendations from other people or using the controls on the camera itself. This is why I recommend going to a Best Buy and playing with the DSLRs.

Either brand will have entry level bodies (The “Rebel” series for Canon such as the Rebel T6i and any D???? series from Nikon such as the D3300) and the prosumer level bodies (The ?D series for Canon such as the 6D or 5D and any D??? Series from Nikon such as the D610 or D750) The difference between entry level and prosumer is big – both in actual quality (better materials, more features) and price (hundreds or thousands of dollars usually) While the prosumer level WOULD be better because of typically darker conditions inside gyms, paying $1500-4000 just for a camera body is not reasonable for most box owners. And if there’s something to know about photography, it’s that you should spend your money on the lenses. Why? Because these are the “eyes” of the camera and will usually last decades compared to quicker upgrading/turnover with camera bodies. So unless you have a big bankroll, just get an entry level Canon or Nikon body and save your dough for the glass.

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The lens is everything. A standard kit lens (usually 18mm-55mm f/3.5-5.6) that comes with the body is fine if you’re outdoors and have great natural light (think typical box that has huge bay doors that are open in the summer) but that kit lens is crap if you only have artificial lighting (think any other situation – winter, night time, retail space, etc) The reason is the aperture number (eg f/3.5 to f5.6) I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole of explaining what it is, but all you need to know is that lower numbers are better. For a box that has average fluorescent lighting and it’s night time (so absolutely no natural light) you’ll want at LEAST f/2.8 and really f/1.8 or f/1.4 if you can manage. This allows way more light to come into the lens and hit that sensor. How much? Well since aperture is actually a ratio, f/1.4 lets in twice as much light as f/2 which lets in twice as much light as f/2.8 which lets in twice as much light as f/4. So f/1.4 lets in 8 times as much light as f/4! It’s the difference between trying to put out a fire with a straw or a fire hose.

Lenses I recommend in order of price are (prices as of 1/25/16):
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM – $149
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G – $196 (entry level body only)

Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 – $509
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G ED – $526
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM – $549
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM – $899 (has Canon and Nikon versions)

Why didn’t I include any lenses like a 24-70 f/2.8?
For those that have the budget and the experience, 24-70 is a staple. But here are some reasons I’m not recommending it (or other f/2.8 zooms) to this audience:
-they’re CRAZY expensive compared to the ones I listed above
-this blog post is for the affiliate owner/coach that doesn’t know much about photography
-they don’t allow as much light as most of the lenses mentioned
-there’s argument for the better clarity, ISO performance, IQ, etc. for prime lenses
-they’re CRAZY expensive (yeah, I listed that twice)

Where’s the 50mm options?
If you are a photographer, you may notice I left off a LOT of options. One of the most popular “step-up” lenses for beginners that is frequently recommended is the Canon or Nikon 50mm f/1.8. I don’t recommend any 50mm lenses here because of the crop factor in entry level cameras. To understand crop factor, you need to know about focal length. The bigger the number, the more zoomed in the image will be. 24mm is being able to see a lot of the scene in front of you while 135mm is “zoomed in” much like you would look down a paper towel tube. If you have an entry level body, you have a smaller sensor which leads to something called a “crop factor” which messes with the perceived focal length. This means a 50mm lens on a Canon Rebel 5Ti or Nikon D5500 actually looks more like an 80mm lens because of a 1.6x crop factor. So while the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens is SUPER cheap and great for outdoors, it’s probably too zoomed in for indoors. Aim for anywhere between 20mm to 40mm. If you go with a full frame/prosumer level camera body, then 50mm lenses are on the table.

If I had to recommend a starter setup, I would recommend the Nikon D3300 ($446) + Nikon DX 35mm f/1.8 ($196). This is going to give you the best combination of price and quality lens. You can only use that lens on an entry level body, so if you’re going to go prosumer/full frame, you’ll have to swap lenses. For a full frame option, I have to recommend the setup I have: Canon 6D ($1399) +Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ($899). I can’t recommend the Sigma lens enough – the quality is arguably the best out there and while there are equivalent Canon and Nikon 35mm lenses, they cost $1000 more! All of the images of athletes in this post were taken with this setup.

YES, there are a lot of options out there and you may have a system that you like better. Sweet! Post in comments so readers can figure it out for themselves. But in order to avoid decision fatigue, I’ve listed one budget setup and one mid-budget setup. If you have thousands to spend, PM me separately and I’ll give you my recommendations (and ask for some of that as a commission)

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There are plenty of other options out there such as mirrorless, high-end point and shoots like the Sony RX100, and other brands of DSLRS. However, to keep it as simple as possible, I’ve recommended two main setups here to avoid decision fatigue. At the end of the day, if you choose to go with something else, focus on keeping the aperture low (pun intended) and choose a useful focal length.

Click here for Part II where I’ll talk about technique for taking pictures with both iPhone and DSLRs.

3 Steps to Becoming a Better CrossFit Coach

So you started CrossFit, fell in love with the idea of coaching, got your Level 1 cert (aka $1000 T-shirt), and even found a coaching gig or internship – now what? We all know that you don’t magically become a world-class coach in a weekend, but how do you get better? Whether you’ve been coaching for five years or five days, these tips should help you on the road to coaching virtuosity.

#3 – TRAIN
If you’re going to talk the talk, walk the walk. If you are coaching CrossFit, you don’t have to look like the next Mr. or Ms. Olympia, but you should obviously be training. And don’t be afraid to play around with all different programs: Outlaw, Invictus, OPT, CF Football, mainsite, your home box, and yes, specialty programs like Westwide (powerlifting) and Catalyst (olympic lifting). Notice that I did not say that you needed to be an “elite exerciser,” but by trying these programs, you’ll be able to give firsthand testimony to the efficacy of each instead of the common “I read on the internet that this program is good.” I’ve personally spent 6 months to 2+ years each doing mainsite, CF Football, Outlaw, Invictus, and my home boxes, and I think it has helped tremendously in terms of knowing what does and does not work. If you are in charge of programming for your box, I think it’s even more vital that you try other programs. 

And since CrossFit is about doing the “unknown and unknowable” why not take a yoga class, run a road race, and play other sports? You don’t have to be a Pilates-addict, but it can only help your credibility as a coach if you can say “I’ve tried that.”


Competing – photo courtesy of Lam Nguyen

#2 – LEARN
The best teachers are also the biggest students of their craft. I could probably write a few thousand words just on continuing education, but let’s keep it simple: keep learning! While there are a good amount of CrossFit coaches out there with an exercise science or kinesiology degree, there are just as many (probably more) that do not. And both groups could stand to continue their education through formal and informal channels. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Formal certificates/degrees – these include degree programs (part-time school anyone?) and certificate programs. Check out your local colleges/universities to see if they have exercise or nutrition programs. With technology these days, you can also turn to online degree programs, just make sure they are accredited. CrossFit has plenty of their own coaching and specialty certifications, but look to outside certs as well. Since weightlifting is such a big part of CrossFit, I would highly recommend (almost mandate) a weightlifting certificate from USAW, Catalyst, or CrossFit. Other areas that can be highly technical are gymnastics, running, powerlifting, strongman, nutrition, rowing, and if you are kid-friendly, CrossFit Kids. We are generalists, but the best people to learn from are the specialists. The advantage to these programs is that you can add that credential to your resume, but the downside is that they are usually long (full weekend to a few years) and costly ($500 up to a few thousand)
  • Informal clinics/seminars – Besides official channels, some of the best ways to learn are through non-certificate clinics and seminars. Your local boxes or fellow coaches may host a running clinic, weightlifting seminar, mobility class, or strongman clinic – these are usually very active, hands-on events that last a few hours or even a day, where small groups of people are led by an expert in that particular field. You tend to get a good amount of personal attention and can pick up some nifty cues for coaching. These smaller clinics/seminars are probably the best bang for your buck since they tend to be shorter and cheaper than official certificates. One of the best clinics I went to was Natalie Burgener’s private class she did for us, and I didn’t even lift because I just had shoulder surgery!
  • Books/videos/blogs – there are a MILLION (maybe even a bazillion!) resources out there when it comes to videos, articles, books, etc. about weightlifting, nutrition, endurance, etc……so you better get started! Consume as much as you can, but keep a critical eye out for everything. Question what you read and hear, not with the intent to be cynical, but so that you don’t get wrapped up in shiny marketing and important sounding words like “vestibular.” When I heard about CrossFit in 2007, I didn’t even start working out – I only watched videos on mainsite for about a month. I’m sure many of you have a similar story, but there are so many good resources out there now.
  • In the interest of time, I am not going to link everything here, but these are just a FEW of the resources I have gone to in the past:
    • Weighlifting – Catalyst Athletics (Greg Everett), USAW, Diane Fu, Mike Burgener, Glenn Pendlay, Spencer Arnold, California Strength, All Things Gym
    • Powerlifting/Speed/Power – Westside Barbell (Louie Simmons), Mark Rippetoe, CF Football (John Welbourne), J&M (Jim Laird and Molly Galbraith)
    • Nutrition – Gary Taubes, Whole9 (Dallas and Melissa Hartwig), Robb Wolf, Mark Sisson, Chris Kresser,
    • Competitor programming – Outlaw (Rudy Nielsen), Invictus (CJ Martin), OPT (James Fitzgerald), Competitor (Ben Bergeron)
    • Other specialties – Kelly Starrett (mobility), Brian Mackenzie (running), Chris Sommer (gymnastics), CF Journal (general CF), Jon Gilson’s Mic’d Instructor (general CF)
  • I would also recommend reading about psychology, business, and other personal “improvement” books and blogs. While the technical knowledge is important, so are the interpersonal skills! One of my favorites is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. 
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attending the Catalyst Athletics Weightlifting Certification

#1 – COACH
It’s not enough to just be an “internet coach” – you know these people: they see a video of a clean or snatch and immediately critique it with “gotta open the hips more,” or “didn’t lock out right away” and yet they’ve never coached a person in real life. While it’s great to read books and watch videos until your eyes blur, the BEST way to get better at coaching is to actually coach! Nothing beats the experience of seeing something in real-time, and going into your toolbox of cues and corrections to help your athletes get better. This is where you will find your own voice and put your own spin on coaching. Put in the hours and it will reward you. You won’t notice any immediate changes, but there is something to be said about that 10,000 hour rule of simply putting in the time. You’ll realize that the same cue for Athlete A doesn’t work for Athlete B. That just because you say “open your hips” doesn’t mean they’ll do it right away. That coaching is less about the technical corrections and more about listening to your athletes. The best coach isn’t the one with the most certifications – it’s the one who cares for their athletes and helps them towards their goal in a safe and effective manner. If you can realize this, you’re already on your way to becoming a better CrossFit coach.

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Coaching the clean

Are you a CrossFit coach? What helps you on the road to coaching virtuosity? What resources do you turn to?