Thursday, October 30, 2014

Basement Gyms - Dealing With Low Ceiling Height

The Basement Gym is a great place to retreat to whether it's first thing in the morning, late at night or somewhere in-between.  You can decorate it how you like, play your favorite music and no matter the weather, you've got no excuses to have at it.  It can be liberating to have your own space to do what you like, practice movements on your own and pursue goals at your own pace.

But, basement gyms can sometimes have their drawbacks and most normally that comes in the way of limited ceiling height.  And that lower ceiling height can put a damper on some movements that you want to keep incorporated into your workouts.  But does that mean we should set aside some of our training tools until the garage opens up in Spring?  We don't think so.  There are some alternatives when working with low ceilings and in today's blog post, we'll discuss a few of them.

The bottom line up front is to not be discouraged because of the handful of exercises you can no longer do with the restricted ceiling height but to look at what other exercises you can do.  Necessity is the mother of invention and staying creative with your programming will keep you improving and interested.  Looking forward to the move to the basement gym can be just the thing we need to shake up our routine and to bring in new exercises we haven't tried before.

Moving the Bar Overhead - Here's a big one.  Working with a bar is important and when challenged with a low ceiling height, pushing a bar over shoulder height is sometimes just not possible.  But instead of completely abandoning the bar from use, just keep all your movements no higher than shoulder height.  That still leaves deadlifts, bent rows, good mornings, cleans, front squats, hack squats and back squats.  And if you've got a flat bench handy, shoulder pressing from the seated position is still an option and actually keeps your lower body from helping to get the load overhead.

But how to train movements like the snatch, jerk, overhead squat when the ceiling height is low?  Assuming you can extend your arm fully overhead without punching a hole through the floor, your new best friend is the kettlebell.  Many of the movements done with a barbell have kettlebell counterparts and if the kettlebell is held on the back of the wrist or the front, it will never reach higher than your outstretched fist.

Box Jumps - Traditional box jumps in low ceiling spaces can get a little hairy.  With a box that has multiple height options you can choose the smallest height, stand on it then check for good overhead clearance.  If you've got good overhead clearance, it's safe to jump.  Normally, athletes land on the top of the box after a jump with hips, knees and ankles flexed then stand upright.  So it won't be the jump on to the box that gets you.  However, jump off the box when you haven't got a lot of overhead room and you might be counting stars.

A Mini Plyo Box [16x20x24] is a good solution.
Here's a few options to keep plyometrics in your routine if you're feeling a little cramped on space.  First, don't shove that plyo box into the corner until spring.  It has a ton of other uses including elevating your feet for pushups and ring rows.  Second, no worries about being forced into a lower box height to keep from knocking your head on the ceiling.  Instead, use a weight vest to add intensity to the lower height.  You'll probably run out of gas a lot quicker than with the higher box jumps, too.

Pull Ups - When limited ceiling space threatens to eliminate pull-ups from your routine, now's the time to get creative and force yourself into thinking of new ways to keep your raw pulling strength moving in the right direction.  Assuming you've got the pull-up bar installed as high as possible while allowing enough room to get your head over the bar, let's talk about a few ideas to keep this number one bodyweight exercise at number one in your training program.

The kipping pull-up is getting a ton of press and it's not all good.  There are those that openly oppose the kipping pull-up stating that it leads to shoulder damage and produces much more stress on the joints.  We're not sold either way actually, but one thing is true:  In order to kip, you really need to have your feet hanging free from the ground.  Odds are, you won't be able to do that in most basements anyway so instead of working kipping pull-ups, work on slowing the exercise down and concentrating on dead hang, strict form pull-ups.  And when you can knock out 3 sets of 8-10 reps, it's time to add some weight and vary hand position.

Ring Muscle Ups - Nothing lets the air out of the ballon as much as not being able to work on ring muscle ups when we're forced into the basement gym.  It's a fun movement and without the freedom to swing freely under the rings to develop momentum for the kip, it can be extremely challenging.  But just because we can't perform a kipping muscle up doesn't mean we abandon gymnastic ring training.  They are great for a host of other movements such as ring push ups, ring rows, ring dips, levers and more.  And if you haven't tried ring turn out ring dips, this winter is the time to master them.

But just like the pull-up, you might want to work on that strict muscle up.  I'd bet good money that anyone who has the strict muscle up can certainly perform one while kipping.  And the lower ceiling height will force you to keep the kip out of the equation.  So, we might have a little challenge in the works for the winter months.  Nail that strict ring muscle up.

Double Unders - If you're really cramped for space, even double unders can be a challenge.  And if your rope is hitting the ceiling as you are trying to jump, then there's not a lot you can do.  But movements like the Tuck Jump or stationary jumps to a target overhead can be a good substitute.

And the winter season is one of the best times for an excuse to buy an indoor rowing machine.  Concept 2 manufactures a stellar rower with a great performance monitor.  And Concept 2 has a great online logbook where you can log in your workouts to keep track of your progress and to see where you stand among others that log in their workouts.  And even if you find one on craigslist, you don't need to be a registered owner to take advantage of the log book.

Floor Movements - There are literally tons of challenging pressing movements you can do in a space no taller than 3 feet.  The pushup is one of the most basic fundamental pressing exercise but by adding some variation in hand placement and body position, you can crank up the difficulty well beyond the average athlete's reach.  The next time you are knocking out a set of 20 or more, try moving your hand position into a diamond shape just under your navel.  If that doesn't ratchet it up high enough, move that diamond to just under your face.

Wall Walks - If you've got enough room to stand with you hands outstretched above your head, you can incorporate wall walks into your routine.  One warmup we did for a long time in the gym was a set of 10 of these unbroken.  From the prone position with your feet touching the wall behind you and your hands just under your shoulders, pick your body up and walk your hands backward toward the wall behind you.  As your hands step backward, your feet walk up the wall.  Stop when your hands are less than 6 inches from the wall.  Your body will now be completely vertical.  But you're only half done.  Now walk with your hands and feet in unison again back to the starting position.  That's one rep...only nine more to go :)

Variations - once you've got ten consecutive wall walks down, now try Wall Runs.  From the vertical position against the wall, pick one hand up off the floor and touch the same side shoulder.  Return the hand to the floor and repeat with the other hand and shoulder.  Believe me, it sounds much easier than it is.  And once you've got 10-20 solid unwavering wall runs down, now walk laterally with your hands along the wall.  See if you can make it all the way around your basement. [Corners are challenging].

Even with a challenging ceiling height, you can make due.  And the added challenge it can sometimes bring helps us look for new ways to train.  Instead of seeing the lower ceiling height as a detriment, instead embrace it as an opportunity to vary your routine and bring a handful of new exercises into your wheelhouse.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Pull Up Rack - The Definitive Guide

The Pull Up Rack is the cornerstone of any gym and deciding on which one is right for your space is an important decision.  Below we outline a bunch of the differences between the two types as well as many of the frequently asked questions we get.

Types - There are two main types of pull up racks for the commercial gym; the Free Standing Unit and the Wall Mounted Unit.  Both of them are constructed of the same pieces - poles, pull-up bars and barbell hooks - and both can be transformed from one style into another with just a few simple modifications.  Quite a number of our customers have begun with one type then as their gym grows, expand to the alternate style.  Neither is wrong. Most find that their decision to pick one over the other depends on the layout of their space.  From a space standpoint, even a large 8 Pole Free Standing Rig takes up only 120 Square Feet.  That's not a lot.

Here's some quick comments on each style with the advantages of both:

The Free Standing Pull Up Rack
  • This type of unit works best in an open space with plenty of room.  22 Feet wide is ideal.  The footprint of the rig is fairly small [6 feet wide by however long] but to make the best use of it, leave a minimum of 8 foot clearance all the way around the rig.  That provides enough room for your athletes to work with a barbell, perform burpees, double unders or box jumps with plenty of room to get back on the rig for pull-ups, toes to bar, etc.
  • The Free Standing Unit provides the best ratio of Squat Stations to Pull Up Stations too.  If racking the bars is going to be a norm in your facility for strength work, then the Free Standing style is going to be a better bet.  In the same foot print as a Wall Mount Unit, the Free Standing Unit offers twice as many locations for racking the bar.
  • This type of unit also frees up the most wall space in your facility too.  So whether you need it for storage of bumpers, kettlebells, medicine balls or maybe for Wall Ball throws and Handstand work, the Free Standing Rig is advantageous.
  • Larger Class Size - With four sides of the rig exposed at all times, the Free Standing Rig is better for larger class sizes as well.  If athletes are scrambling during a met con to get on and off the pull up rack and onto the next movement, finding a spot on the rig is easiest with this style.
The Wall Mounted Unit
  • Ideal for the narrower space, the Wall Mounted Pull Up Rack is perfect for the startup gym.  It's lower cost still delivers all the same great benefits as it's counterpart and should you desire to change the unit into a Free Standing Rig as your gym grows or should your location change, it can be easily done by adding just a few pieces.
  • Anchoring on the wall can seem like a chore but it's really not that big of a deal.  A few 2x6 timbers anchored into each stud along the length of the rig make the perfect mounting point.  And the added stability of anchoring the rig to the wall also stiffens the installation, too.
  • The Wall Mounted Unit, although not having an opposite long side, makes up for it with the usability of the pull-up bars attached to the wall.  With a Free Standing Unit, it can be a challenge to get inside the middle of the rig if athletes are all around the perimeter.  The Wall Mounted Rig provides an easy spot to grab for athletes on the long side as well as on the pull-up bars attached to the wall.
  • Visibility - one distinct advantage the Wall Mounted Unit has is giving the coach the best view of all the athletes.  With the unit anchored to the wall there is less chance of an athlete being completely hidden from the view of the coach.
  • Even Short on Space it's a Winner - For those that are feeling the squeeze in a smaller space, having the unit against the wall is the best spot.  With a surprisingly small footprint, you won't feel like there is no room left.  And at 6 feet away from the wall, there is plenty of room to get athletes in there for Handstand Pushups or Wall Balls.
  • Ideal for the Startup Gym - coming in at a lower first cost, the Wall Mounted Rig is a perfect first pull up rack for the new gym owner.  And there's nothing to sacrifice in the way of available exercises with the Wall Mount Unit so in the end it's still a win.
  1. Should the Pull Up Rack be installed on top of rubber flooring or directly on concrete? Good question.  There is no appreciable difference in rigidity of the rig by installing directly on to the concrete surface versus placing over gym flooring.  And since the overall footprint of the rig is quite small [most are 14x6 or 20x6], it doesn't break the bank to have flooring underneath anyway.  If you are considering leaving the flooring out from under the rig, it can become a dirt trap and a tripping hazard.  Bottom line - install the flooring first then place the rig right on top.
  1. What type of floor anchors do I use and how long should they be?  How about wall anchors too?  If you purchase one of our pull up racks, we furnish all hardware - including floor and wall anchors.  So no worries about choosing what's best - we've done it for you.
  1. What are the most common heights for installing pull-up bars?  Our rig poles provide plenty of adjustment [2" increments] so even if you get everything installed you can always make a change later by removing 6 bolts.  But, we recommend bar heights ranging from 7'4" - 7'11".  The Basic Cross Members in the center of the rig have their bottom bar hanging at 7'6" when installed all the way to the top of the post.  That's ideal for most 5'7" to 5'10" athletes.
  1. Where is the best place to install the rig?  If possible, make sure that the front entryway to your gym is clear and unobstructed with the rig.  That serves a few purposes - it provides good visibility for you and for newcomers.  Also, putting the rig in the center of your space can make it act as a divider.  With a wall mounted pull up rack it isn't as critical as a free standing unit.  But anything that can potentially obstruct your view of your athletes isn't ideal.  Wherever you do place the pull up rack, be sure to allow up to 8 feet all the way around the circumference to make room for barbell work, double unders, box jumps and the like.
  1. What tools do I need to install?  Assuming you've got at least one helper [three installers is ideal], here's what you'll need: a stepladder, an industrial quality hammer drill [anything less and rig install will be 2x], 2 to 3 extra concrete bits [1/2" diameter], an extension cord, a level, adjustable wrenches or a socket set.  Have all this ready to go before you get started.  Making trips to the hardware store after you've started is zero fun.  Remember - all hardware is included with our rack so you'll need tools only.

What is the number one prescribed use for the Pull Up Rack?  Ok, not a trick question here.  It's the pull-up :)  So, you'll want a rig that is super versatile and adjustable for all different heights of athletes.

Height Adjustment - because you've got all heights of athletes that walk in your door, having a ton of versatility in how high your pull-up bars are is important.  Vertical poles that have plenty of adjustment available mean you can raise or lower bars to just the right height.  And here's where that makes a ton of sense - Ever seen or been to a box where athletes are stacking bumpers or plyo boxes underneath their pull-up stations?  It happens all the time and most often because there isn't enough height adjustment in the pull-up bars.  Whenever an athlete grabs a box or a pile of bumpers to help them get to the pull-up bar, that equals equipment you can no longer use for the workout.  In other words...expensive step stools.

Two Pull Up Bars in One - An Offset Pull Up Bar like this one is really two bars in one.  The bar heights differ by six inches so with one of these installed, the shorter athlete can stand inside the rig facing out while a taller athlete could stand outside the rig facing in.  One bar installed with two useable heights.

Roomier Inside the Rig - That outside bar on the Offset Pullup Bar is a full 10" away from the rig poles.  With the aggressive kips that some athletes have, the inside of the rig can become a 'kill zone' ;).  That extra distance that the top bar puts the athletes away from the inside of the rig goes a long way in keeping the inside useable during the workouts.

The Bar Muscle Up - As your athletes make more and more progress, they want new challenges.  The top bar of the Offset Pull Up bar is great for the Bar Muscle Up.  When first learning the movement, it is natural to lean over the bar and with the second bar 10 inches away and 6 inches lower, your athletes stay safe without fear of hitting their head.

Basic Cross Members - The rectangle shaped 'basic' pull-up bars add an amazing amount of rigidity to either style rig but if the two bars aren't spaced far enough apart, that top bar can feel like impending doom to your forehead.  With nearly 12" of inside clearance, problem solved.  And the dog bone center strap wraps the top and bottom bar with more than just a simple seam weld.

Super high ceilings in a space can make it feel more open and are great for mounting Climbing Ropes but can present some challenges for hanging Gymnastic Rings.  With all the variety that gym rings bring to the table, hanging them up from 14 foot bar joists is great for some movements but not for others.  Ring Rows, Ring Pushups and Ring Dips are great exercises to keep in your grab bag but you'll probably not want to have to drag out the ladder  [or boom lift] to take rings up and down.  We've got that little problem solved.

12 Foot Poles are a great idea for hoisting up a set of rings to maintain overhead clearance.  One little problem - they are super expensive to ship.  Anything over 9 feet in length and you are paying a hefty premium.  So how do we solve the dilemma of increasing pole height without emptying your wallet?

Rig Pole Extension Kits - Hanging Gymnastic Rings from even the highest mounted pull-up bars on the standard 9 foot poles doesn't get them up high enough for Muscle Ups and some of the other more advanced movements.  But extending the rig poles by three feet works like a charm.  And these extension kits can be added at any time and easily moved.

Ready to talk to someone about getting a pull-up rack for your gym?  We can help.  Just send us a note here.  Or feel free to give us a call 585-298-1718

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Opening a CrossFit® Gym - Is Being Different Achievable?

There can be a tremendous amount of pressure on the desire to market your gym as different than the one around the corner.  Maybe you might think that if you aren't different, then potential clients won't be drawn to your business.  But the market is quickly changing into no longer being about the gym that is different - the 'different' gym card has been played.

There are now multiple CrossFit® Affiliates in every major city and suburb and touting your gym as different than the others doesn't have the same effect as it once did.  Competition is no longer with the traditional old school gym and with this change in the market there are other factors coming into play when potential clients decide on which gym they want to be a part of.

If being different in how you train them isn't going to draw their attention, what is it then that will get you noticed?  The need for curb appeal along with quality coaching and great equipment is beginning to be the game changer in drawing clients to your gym.

Advertising has it's highest impact when it's targeted toward something your client wants.  For me, no amount of Coca-Cola advertising dollars will get the job done.  That's a product that I just don't want.  That's not to say that they aren't good at what they do.  But what can we learn from the Coca-Cola story above?  Make sure your advertising is hitting your target audience.  None of us have unlimited marketing dollars.  We need to spend them very frugally and very effectively.

Before we talk at all about spending time and money on advertising, recognize first that your own clients have the highest potential to bring you the greatest success.  That next client of yours will be much more apt to walk through your doors if they know someone on the 'inside'.  The personal invitation from a friend costs you much less and is much more successful than many other forms of advertising.  So what to take away?  Offer some incentives to your current members to bring in their friends.

Location, Location, Location - We've all heard that location is one of the most important factors in success.  If your gym is to far off the beaten path, it may be harder for people to find you.  Of course, finding a spot closer to residential areas will cost more.  A quick rule of thumb is that if it was hard for you to find the first time you looked the location over, how hard will it be then for others?  And a few things to put on your checklist when scoping out the new location:

  • Is there ample parking?  Is it close?  Where is overflow parking if necessary?
  • Be sure to visit after dusk or early in the morning to see how well or how poorly the place is lit - both inside and out.  Your gym will be running early in the morning and after dusk at night.  Making sure there is ample light inside and out is important - especially if the space is being re-purposed.  Proper lighting outside will make your clients feel safe and your business more noticeable.  And be sure to ask about who is responsible for changing/replacing light bulbs.
  • Are there other businesses close by? - Coffee Shops and other eateries are good places to check out.  If they are busy and within eyesight, chances are if they are doing well then you can get a lot of attention by virtue of being close to them.
  • Will you have neighbors adjacent or above? - There's no harm in being upfront with the leasing agent that you are going to be noisy.  It is a gym after all.  And if there is potential for other small businesses to move into the same building with you, be sure to get something in the lease to protect yourself form complaints.
  • Heat and A/C - Be sure to ask about what services are provided.  Who is responsible for utility costs?  What are they per month on average?  What happens if they are insufficient or break down?

Hours of Operation - Here's one that can make all the difference, too.  We saw a message board post lately where a small gym owner was wondering why his 'unlimited' clients were only showing 1-2 days a week.  We looked a bit at the website and found that only one 'early' morning class was offered.  The time?  7AM.  Not so good for those that have to be at work by 8AM.  We've seen most gyms successful with 2 early morning classes of 5:30AM and 6:30AM then maybe a 9:00AM or 9:30AM, a Noon class and a few more after 5PM.

Website / Photography - There are a few website developers that cater specifically to CrossFit® gyms.  We like Box Jump Marketing.  It's worth the investment to hire someone that knows what they are doing.  Stay away from stock pictures and hire a professional photographer for a day.

Social Media - We all know that Facebook, Google +, Instagram and other type of social media are free.  And establishing and maintaining a good presence is important.  It is possible to spend advertising dollars on Facebook by Boosting posts.  It's not a bad idea as long as it is done very frugally and targeted correctly.   I saw a Facebook "Sponsored" post [the kind you pay money for] for a CrossFit® Gym more than 150 miles from me.  If you do decide to boost a post or photo to get some local attention, make sure it is targeted locally.  That will make the best use of your money.

Apparel - Making branded gym apparel is super smart and is definitely the norm.  Your clients are going to need gym apparel and why not let them buy it from you than from someone else.  One thing I'd like to see more gyms doing is to put their location somewhere on the shirt.  A physical address isn't important, but listing the city/state is.  If one of your members is grocery shopping on a Saturday morning while wearing your shirt, imagine how much more effective having the location of your gym on the shirt is.  You are spending the money on apparel anyway, adding one line with your location costs you nothing extra but solidifies where you are.  And if you are in a large urban area, put something else of note so folks know your whereabouts.  It's that one little extra thing you can do to help people remember you.

Sponsor Something Local - most people love to support local small business.  But they will never support you if they don't know about you.  Go sign up for a table at a local 5K race.  Most small towns won't ask for more than $50-$100 for a table.  And while you are there, please have something fun.  Maybe stay away from Muscle Up Competitions and move more into having Lollipop Trees there.  I know, pushing candy isn't your thing.  But here's what works...getting the kids interested in what you are doing brings Moms & Dads over.  If you don't want to give away candy, make a carnival game that's fitness oriented.  Keep it light and fun.  If people are having fun at your tent, then good things follow.

Don't Be The Amazing but Dirty Pizza Shop - There's a local pizza shop that makes amazing pizza.  But I no longer take my family there and I'm vocal about it if someone should ask.  Why don't we go there any more?  It's dirty.  Really dirty.  The door to the bathroom, the floors, the tables...I have seriously considered cleaning the place myself.  The bad news is that I really love that pizza.  But I just can't get past the grime.  No, you aren't running a restaurant, I know.  And it's much easier said than done to clean the gym especially after a 14 hour day.  But you'll never hear someone being negative about how clean your gym is.  If it helps to break it up into a little bit every day then great.  And you can always hire it done, too.

Get Out the Notebook - Go out and buy a $1 Hand Notebook at the local Target Store and write down on each page one of the things you are doing to market your gym.  Maybe it's Apparel, Facebook, Twitter, the 5K Race you Sponsored, or Member Referrals...  Each time you meet a new client or someone calls in, be sure to ask them how they heard about you and what brought them in.  Keep that notebook right on top of your desk so it's always on your mind and always handy.  When someone tells you how they found you, write that down.  At the end of every quarter, review your book to see what is working and what didn't.  Concentrate your time and funds on the stuff that brings people through your door.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Your Guide to Bumper Plates

With the increasing popularity of CrossFit® and functional fitness training both at home and in the gym, the demand for bumper plates is skyrocketing.  And that increased demand brings about new manufacturers that are diving into the bumper plate market.

Granted, all bumper plate manufacturers thus far are abiding by the same general rules.  They are manufacturing the plates to the same general outside diameter [any variation out there has proven to be insignificant] and the same collar diameter to ensure that their products are compatible with all the current bars in the marketplace.  That's all pretty standard stuff.  And that means that even if you've got an old olympic bar that fits standard steel plates, bumper plates will fit on the sleeves.

There are a few considerations to make when it comes to purchasing bumper plates and we'll do our best to get you in-the-know so you can make the best decision for your needs.

The Basic Stuff First - Why bumper plates over steel plates?  Bumper plate sets are more expensive then steel so why spend more money?  Quite simply, the bumper plate is designed to be dropped.  Even from as high as overhead.  Why is that important?  If you are interested in olympic style lifting - the clean, jerk or snatch - then invariably you will be dropping the bar from shoulder height, overhead or anywhere in between.  The bumper plate gives you that extra confidence in your equipment to go a bit heavier without the risk of damage to the floor or the equipment if dropped.  Dropping a bar loaded with steel plates is dangerous at best - both to you and the equipment.

Here's the Trade Off - Bumper plates are great at what they do - saving floors and equipment - but they also have their limitations.  Any by that we don't mean limited in terms of abuse they can take [everything has its breaking point - more on that later] as much as their limitation on how much weight you can get on the bar.  Most standard bumper plates are going to top out in terms of loading a bar in the 400-500lb range.  It's all due to their thickness.  Some 45lb bumper plates we've seen as thick as 4-1/2".  That takes up real estate on the bar sleeve quickly.  But that thickness is necessary to absorb the impact from the floor.  The bottom line trade off?  Steel takes up less room on the bar sleeve and is a lower cost investment per pound but dropping from anywhere above the knees is risky.

Weighing in on Thickness - As we mentioned, there is a vast array of bumper plates out there but all of them toe the same line when it comes to fitting on the bar sleeve.  Where they do differ is in materials of construction and thickness.  Generally speaking, the thicker the bumper plate is, the more impact force it can absorb.  Hi Temp Bumper plates are some of the thickest bumpers on the market because they are made from recycled rubber.  That manufacturing process creates a lower density bumper that is 'spongier' and thicker and one that has a textured surface.  The more common, high density rubber bumper is much thinner than it's Hi Temp counterpart and has a smooth finish.  The thinner bumpers rebound less when dropped and up to 20% more fit on the standard length bar sleeve.

Bumper Plate Sets - Before deciding on how many bumpers you need or what type of set you want to purchase, remember that by and large, steel plates can cost up to 20% less than bumpers.  And static movements such as the Back Squat and Deadlift being some of the heaviest lifts demand the most amount of weight.  Our suggestion is to consider purchasing a lighter weight bumper plate set and supplement it with steel plates for those heavy static lift days.  Bumpers will serve you best for movements like the clean, jerk and snatch where failed lifts and drops are going to happen.  But those types of movements won't be your heaviest lifts.

For loads 75lbs and under, a Training bar is key.
Protecting Your Investment - The most common failures in bumper plates happen when the low weight bumper plates are the only plate on the bar sleeve.  The 10lb and 15lb bumpers are the thinnest in the line up and when they go solo on the bar, there isn't enough surface area to absorb the impact as well.  When the bar is loaded with 25lb, 35lb or 45lb bumpers, each of these bumpers can stand well on it's own.  The quick rule of thumb to protecting your investment is to be sure that the weight you load on the bar exceeds the bar weight itself.  Lightweight bumpers can begin to flex against the weight of the 20kg or 15kg bar.  If you find that you are going to be working with total weights of 75lbs and under, then a good quality 15lb Training Bar is going to be the best solution to keeping your bumpers safe.

Do I Need Rubber Flooring Too? - If considering a set of bumpers for your Home Gym, then Rubber Flooring is a smart investment but not always necessary.  High Density bumpers have the least amount of rebound, but also make the most noise when dropped on the concrete floor of a garage.  One of the more common types of rubber flooring is the horse stall mats from the local Home & Garden Center.  At 3/4" thick and measuring 6' x 4', these type of mats do a great job of protecting your floor but don't really add enough sound deadening to keep the neighbors from hearing.  The lower density, Hi Temp Bumper Plate is no doubt the quieter bumper and it's better shock absorbing qualities make it a better choice if you are working on bare concrete.  Rubber flooring is a great choice to make your gym more friendly for getting down on the ground for sit-ups, pushups and burpees, but generally won't make a big difference when it comes to deadening sound for dropped bars.

Tried the Atomic Situp yet?
Other Uses - Bumpers aren't just for loading the bar up.  Unlike steel plates which don't play well with shins, heads and body parts in general, bumpers have a 'soft' enough surface that you can grab them with your hands and use them for other movements such as lunges and overhead squats without fear of knocking yourself out should you accidentally hit yourself in the head with them.  They also make great tools for Farmer's Carries, and for adding weight to pushups [add them on your back] or gymnastic ring rows [lay on your chest].  And if you don't own a plyo box, we've seen many an athlete stacking up a set of bumpers and using them for box jumps.

Don't Forget These - As important as it is to own a set of bumper plates for many of today's popular movements, steel plates are still a necessary supplement.  That holds true especially for the smaller incremental weights.  Even one set of 2.5lb and 5lb steel weight plates can make all the difference in the world when it comes to loading up the bar in a wide range of weights.  Since the smallest common manufactured weight in bumpers is 10lbs, that means making jumps in weight is limited to 20 pounds at a time only.  Making a weight jump that significant will hold you back from PRs.  Here's the big picture:  The 190lb Bumper Plate Set - 10/15/25/45 pairs can load the bar with 13 different weight combinations.  Add 15lbs of steel weights as described above and now get 23 more available combinations.  That's one small investment with a big pay back.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Building Pull-up Strength

In the next installment of Adam Cristantello's blog, he goes on to outline a strength routine to bring about some serious gains in pulling strength.  But as Adam tells us, it's all about consistency and in proper performance.

In the previous blog, I discussed the importance of progressing in the pull up by first establishing scapular control. After a couple weeks of integrating that stuff you should be able to move onto more advanced strengthening. That said, there are instances where you may need to spend more time (hyper-mobile, poor endurance, limited kinesthetic awareness, etc.) or less time (good kinesthetic awareness and baseline muscular strength/endurance) working on scapular control. Keep in mind that even if you have a few strict pull-ups this progression will help…especially if you have poor scapular positioning and control, or are a dreaded chin-reacher.

Additionally, for those that want to work on kipping, shoot for between 5 to 10 reps of perfect strict pull ups before moving on. While I don’t have any scientific literature to drive this number, it is a decent range to balance strength and endurance for most people. Once you are in this range, you can PROGRESSIVELY introduce kipping in your repertoire if wanted. 

So how do you know more precisely where you should shoot in this 5 to 10 range? First and foremost is the quality of the pull-up. This is especially important under fatigue; the state in which kipping will most likely happen. I suggest that you stick to the higher rep range of strict pull-ups if you lack endurance but have strength (i.e. you find that you are perfect at rep 5 but fall apart at rep 6).  Also, hold yourself to the higher criteria if your relative strength to body weight ratio is low (creates more momentum to control). Like I said not exactly scientific. Erring on the side of caution, and holding off a little on the kip to build strength and muscular endurance will only pay off in the long run.

In line with the above criteria, this program will focus more towards getting you in that 5 to 10 range. Is it a “magical bean” exercise program that will make everything, including your car insurance rates, better? No. But with a little Vitamin C…a little vitamin consistency that is, the simple can be profoundly powerful.

Even this relatively simple program may benefit more advanced athletes in a strength phase (may need to add load or some variations). Once you have given it a chance for 4 weeks then you can start tweaking by varying grips, and doing different row positions.

Keep in mind that you are focusing on PULLUPS. It is ok if you lose some ability in another movement for a short period of time. You will quickly make that up, and ultimately have greater fitness. In the mean time, there will always be something that wants to pull you away from your goal and success. Boredom, peer pressure, quest for instant-gratification, lack of faith in yourself, etc. Create inspiration through achievement visualization, and practicing faith in your ability…you have done some badass things in your life. Then carry on with the plan and make it a reality!

Program Directions:
  • Have 3 or 4 days in between days (and other upper body pulling movements)
  • Maintain standards of movement: if you start to lose technique, make necessary adjustments and focus on specific cues that help keep the standard. Don’t just will your way through… The purpose is to build upper body pulling strength WHILE hitting all the performance criteria. 
  • Ask a coach how to incorporate this into your training (for group training)
  • Perform for 6 to 8 weeks:
    • Track your progress: Test/re-test, training log
    • Add difficulty if it gets easy (load, elevate feet on ring rows, etc.)
    • Add a download week if you are burning out or hitting a wall
    • Add one set to “C” exercises on your 4th week or after a download
  • Tempo explanation here
  • A-B-C explanation here

Day 1:
A. Vertical Pronated Pull (Pull Up or scale with band pull down): 5 x 3 reps
  • Rest 3 to 5 minutes between sets
B. Rotating Grip Ring Rows: 4 x 6 to 8 reps @ 3101 tempo
  • Rest 2 minutes between sets
  • Progress by elevating feet, then adding weight
C1. Reverse Shrugs: 2 x 12 to 15 reps
C2. Retractions: 2 x 12 to 15 reps
  • Rest between 20 to 40 seconds between sets 

Day 2: 
A. Vertical Pull Negatives: 5 x 3 to 5 reps w/ a 3 second lowering phase
  • Rest 3 to 5 minutes
  • This should be done with little effort exerted to get up to the bar (you may need to step, jump up, or have a partner assist you to get on the bar.
  • The eccentric portion should be very difficult
  • End the set once your descent is no longer smooth and even
B. Rows (any variation): 5 x 3 to 5 reps
  • Rest 3 minutes between sets
C1. Banded Pulldown: 2 x 12 reps
C2. Retractions: 2 x 12 to 15 reps

C3. Bar hang: 2 x Submax hold (challenge yourself without going to failure and losing position)

About the author:

Adam Cristantello ATC, USAW-L1SP, CPT
Co-owner of Nova Fitness

Adam's 14 years of strength training experience, to include sports performance and a degree in Sports Medicine, has led to his prioritization of teaching a healthy perspective towards exercise and wellness. This is important because a misaligned perspective often leads to short-term results and long-term problems. His process begins by building a solid foundation based in quality movement, while analyzing the motivations for exercise (goals, current health and psychological state, life priorities, etc.).

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Gymnastic Ring Hanger and Climbing Rope Attachment Explained

We're all about making the most of any space but let's face it, sometimes hanging gymnastic rings and climbing ropes can be a bit of a challenge in some gyms.

Without proper overhead clearance, neither of these fantastic training tools can be put to their best use.  Gymnastic Rings can still function when hung off a pull-up bar, but it is optimal?  Not really.  Some movements on the rings like muscle ups and pull overs just can't be easily done if the rings aren't hanging up high enough.  And if your climbing rope isn't hung up high, then it really isn't as functional either.

To make the most of the climbing rope and the gymnastic rings, we came up with the perfect accessory to make proper, safe installation a snap.  Even when our ceiling height isn't the issue, hard ceilings or exposed floor joists can leave us scratching our heads a bit on how best to safely install this equipment.

To solve the problem of hanging gymnastic rings we came up with our Ring Hanger.  It mounts easily to a hard ceiling or to exposed floor joists with just a few lag crews [provided by us].  And once it's installed, overhead clearance for the gymnastic rings is no longer an issue.  After having that product on the market for a few years, it dawned on us to add an attachment to hang a climbing rope on that hanger as well.  We saw the center of the ring hanger as the perfect spot to add a climbing rope.

We have been getting a few questions on how the climbing rope hanger attachment works and thought it would be best to explain it in a video.  If you have one of our gymnastic ring hangers currently and would like to add the climbing rope attachment, look for holes that have been pre-drilled in the center of the hanger.  If they are there then it's easy to add a climbing rope and you won't even have to take the hanger down.

For more info see below!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Opening a CrossFit® Gym - The One Piece of Equipment You Can't Live Without

We saw a question asked up on the CrossFit® Message Boards from a new gym owner and thought it was super relevant.  Here's what he asked:

We will be opening our doors in the next few months. We have put together a list of standard equipment for a start-up.   My question is, What piece of equipment can you not live without that you did not even imagine having before opening your affiliate?
I may have some room in the budget for something other than "needs" and I would love to hear what experienced owners have to say.
Many thanks,Mike

That's a great question from Mike and I'm glad he asked it.  A piece of equipment that you can't live without is one that you can use every day and that brings about a great level of fitness.  By and large the best use of your funds is in basic, multi-use equipment.  If there were room in the budget for more equipment, sticking to the basics is always the smart choice.

What we've seen starting gyms most successful with is a list similar to this:

A Wall Mounted Rig - lower cost than Free Standing, takes up less space too and leaves athletes most visible. It's also more economical than separate pull-up bars and squat racks in most cases.

A mix of men's/women's and training bars - this is always a gamble on what is the proper mix. But don't forget training bars. If you buy solid quality, then you can use them for class overflow, too. They can easily handle loads of 75lbs and less.

Hi Temp Bumpers [average 120lbs-140lbs per athlete] - as others have chimed in on and we can attest to as well, buy quality here. Even if upgrading bumpers to Hi Temps is an add of a few hundred dollars, it's always worth it.

100-150lbs of small steel weight plates [2.5lb, 5lb] - low cost but super necessary. Don't forget more than just a few of these.

Gymnastics Rings - One of the most infinitely scalable tools that nearly any level athlete can use. There are no less than a dozen different push/pull exercises you can incorporate in a class with rings. That versatility comes in handy.

Kettlebells - it's easy to over buy here but kettlebells are another piece that fills your grab bag with exercises. We agree that it's better to stay away from heavy kettlebells when starting out. Buy too few and you won't be able to incorporate them into your classes. A good rule of thumb is to have 2x on hand for the number of athletes in your class.

Resistance Bands - low cost and helpful for mobility, and adding resistance or assistance to many different movements.

Medicine Balls - another big winner when it comes to versatility. These are great for core work too.  And nearly anyone who walks through your door will be able to pick them up and put them to use immediately.  They can be great to add weight to squats, teaching the clean and intensifying lunges to name a few.

Abmats - pretty standard stuff here. They aren't a huge investment but will make getting down on the floor a bit easier for your clients.  Great for HSPU too.

Jump Ropes - a handful of low cost jump ropes with thick durable cables should be in every gym. The thin cable jump ropes are hard for beginners to use and as your athletes improve enough to need an upgrade, encourage them to buy their own fitted to their own height/style.

Possible Add Ons:
Plyo Boxes [16x20x24 or 20x24x30] The 20x24x30 has been the dominant piece in most gyms but now we're seeing more need/requests for the 16x20x24 for that shorter jump height. They also work great to measure squat depth [save the medicine balls for being used as measuring squat depth]

Resist the temptation for single use or low use equipment right off the bat. There are ALWAYS unexpected costs that come up and having some reserve in hand will help you sleep a lot better at night.

Our 5 Athlete Packages are perfect for starting your CrossFit® Affiliate and are packed with more than enough equipment for 5-7 athletes working at once.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Training for the Pullup and Beyond

The Pullup is one of the foundational bodyweight pulling movements in the book.  Adam Cristantello, one of our on staff bloggers brings up some important points on training for the pull-up to ensure that you've got the proper strict pull-up strength before diving into the kipping pull-up.  As Adam tells us, the kipping pull-up puts much greater stress on our joints and by training for better Scapular Control we can not only avoid potential injury, we can see some serious gains in our pulling strength.

The Pull-up is one of those important movements to building balanced fitness, and subsequently is one a highly sought after ability/skill. Whether for application of sport, or for living into your later years with high levels of function…the pull up is something worthwhile to pursue. I am talking specifically about a strict pull up. While a kipping variation can have application (especially for competitive CrossFit), the increased joint forces demand greater muscular strength/power, and coordination under fatigue. This means you need to develop strength and coordination before stringing together kipping pull-ups. Fortunately, a simple progression can help you build your pull-up regardless of the goal. This first article will address building your pull-up by establishing scapular control and movement coordination. The next will address building strength for the strict pull up. 

Step 1: Establish Scapular Control

The scapula (a.k.a. shoulder blade) is important to the shoulder joint because it controls position of the articulating surfaces. The head of the Humerus (the upper arm) sits on the Glenoid Fossa of the scapula, and with proper position the rotator cuff strongly reinforces the joint.

A simple and loose analogy is that of a golf ball and tee. When positioned correctly, the ball is balanced and well supported for you to crack the hell out it. However, if the tee is misaligned the ball will easily fall off.  Good luck controlling the shot even let alone hit the ball. What does this mean if you have poor positioning in your pull-ups? The smaller biceps are forced to work harder, the larger lats are limited, and often leads to a chin reach rather than elevating the chin over the bar (huge f*ing pet peeve). 

Besides not actually being able to do a correct pull up, there is also an increase risk of injury. The rotator cuff is struggling to keep shoulder alignment while in a weakened position. This causes undue forces on your labrum, joint capsule, as well as close down an already limited amount of space for your tissues. Over time this wears on the tissues until they finally break. This is called Micro-Trauma. Hello SLAP tear, impingement, labral tear, and months of not using your shoulder!!! Hence micro-trauma should be a CrossFitter’s, or an exerciser’s, biggest concern in regards to injury. The gist: by having good scapular control, you will be putting your shoulder in the most efficient (and safest) position to move, and keep you progressing towards your goals. If you don’t, every rep is just a game of probability and chance. How often do you roll the dice?

Since I potentially just scared you from ever wanting to use your arms again, let me point out a few very important things. 
  1. Nothing is perfectly safe…welcome to life. Live in a bubble, or step out the door.
    Don't live in a bubble!
  2. Pull-ups are a very safe exercise when set up AND PROGRESSED properly. Scaling by slapping a band on the bar because you don’t have the strength for 100 pull-ups is not progressing. That is often the equivalent to duct-taping your car window. It works in the short term, but it is not great as a long-term solution…no matter how awesome duct tape works. 
  3. Kipping doesn’t necessarily translate to better “fitness.” A strict pull up is always more impressive than a kip. So don’t succumb to the pressure and rush into a kipping pull up. I know plenty of people that can kip but can’t climb a rope in an L-sit. What do you think requires greater fitness? 

Practical Application

The following exercises are meant to help build the ability to stabilize, depress, and retract the shoulder blades. Without going into a ton of the specifics; elevation and protraction is the caved-in hoarding look that we are trying to prevent. Additionally these exercises will also translate to other movements as well… BONUS! 

1) Retractions:  Purpose is to build awareness and control
-Allow your shoulder blades to move forward (protraction)
-Pull them back and slightly down
-Pause in the end position
-There is no motion of the elbow
-In either a bent over row position (RDL position), with a band, or on the rings

2) Rows: Using the same variations (I prefer the rings or bent-over variations) 
-Hold the scapulae in the retracted position 
-While maintaining posture, pull the elbows back with a slight flare (not dragging on the body)
-Slowly and with control return to the starting position
*Tip: focus on pulling from the “elbows” and not the hands. This will often lead to smaller muscle groups (i.e. the elbow flexors) doing too much work.

3) Reverse Shrugs:
-Hang from the bar with a pronated grip
-Relax and allow the shoulders to elevate towards your ears
-Pull your shoulder blades down 
-Pause at finish position and control the return to the start position


4) Banded Pull Downs:
-From a kneeling position, start by initiating scapular depression/retraction (this will resemble showing your chest to the bar)
-At the same time, contract the abdomen and glutes to stabilize
-Pull from the elbows
-Lower the band down until the band goes below your chin
-DON’T reach with your chin…think double chin and that usually helps

5) Assisted Pull-Ups:
-Hands in a pronated grip 
-Use a band at the foot or knee (less assistance), or cross your ankles and have a partner assist you.
-Start by initiating scapular depression/retraction (this will resemble showing your chest to the bar)
-At the same time, contract the abdomen and glutes to stabilize
-Pull from the elbows until the bar is below your chin. Again don’t reach your freakin chin up!

Here is a simple start up program to ensure you have adequate scapular control, and to build your strength for every variation of the pull-up. Add it into your weekly training when you are fresh to prevent interference from fatigue. The next article will further expand on techniques for building strength for the strict pull-up.

Day 1: 
A. Ring Row Retractions: 3 x 6 w/ a 1 second hold at end position
B. Ring Rows: 5 x 6 to 8 reps w/ a 1 second hold at end pos
C. Reverse Shrugs: 3 x 6 to 8 reps w/ a 2 second hold
D. Banded Pull Downs: 5 x 6 to 8 reps

Day 2:
A. Reverse Shrugs: 3 x 6 to 8 reps w/ a 2 second hold
B. Bent-Over DB Row Retractions: 2 x 10 reps w/ a 1 second hold
C. Bent-Over rows: 4 x 6, 1 second pause at finish and a 2 second eccentric
D. Assisted Pull-Ups: 5 x 3 to 5 reps, 1 second pause at top to ensure proper scapular positioning, and finish with a controlled and even descent

  1. Shoulder Boney Structure:
  2. Shoulder Anatomy:
  3. Bubble Boy:

About the author:

Adam Cristantello ATC, USAW-L1SP, CPT
Co-owner of Nova Fitness

Adam's 14 years of strength training experience, to include sports performance and a degree in Sports Medicine, has led to his prioritization of teaching a healthy perspective towards exercise and wellness. This is important because a misaligned perspective often leads to short-term results and long-term problems. His process begins by building a solid foundation based in quality movement, while analyzing the motivations for exercise (goals, current health and psychological state, life priorities, etc.).