The Elsa Method: Let It Go

Sometimes as a coach, you need to be like Elsa from the Disney movie Frozen, and Let It Go! That’s right, just Let It Go.  All the technique flaws your coach’s eye is picking up, you do not need to address them at this time, you and your athlete might do better if you just, Let It Go!  (FYI: We are both Dads to girls under 4… Hence our in-depth knowledge of Frozen… We felt a need to make that clear… just saying) It is OK, and sometimes a must, to let your trainees practice complex fitness exercises with what would be considered poor technique.  Before the internet fitness police come and hunt me down, please let me elaborate.  

Think about youth sports in this country.  There are many kids who play organized sports from a young age.  However, even at their pinnacle as an athlete, very few of these kids will build sports skills that are refined enough to be considered exceptional.  At their age none of them do sports or athletic skills at a high level, and most of them are done poorly.  Go to the park and watch a group of 12-year-old kids play basketball.  While the majority can exhibit the necessary level of skills to play a game, there will be frequent inconsistencies and mistakes.

Image result for kids playing basketball

Check out a high school JV cross-country race and take a look at the running form or go to a high school track and field meet and watch the field events.  The running, jumping and throwing skill you see will be full of errors, due mostly to a small window of experience, but also poor strength and fitness.


Do we make these kids stop playing or competing because they do not perform sports skills well or have the requisite fitness level?  Of course not!  What do coaches of youth and high school sports do if they recognize poor skills being performed?  For the most part, they Let It Go!  They have to let poorly performed jump shots and baseball swings go or they will never be able to play a game.  The entire skill must be performed, as full of holes as it might be, to get better at it. When it comes to youth sports, people generally understand that improvements take a long time to accrue and we faithfully give coaches a lot of leeway to make our young athletes better over time.  We need to understand this happens in the weight room too.file_002

“The Elsa Method” of purposefully letting things go isn’t only for your trainee’s sake, but also for yours.  Don’t put so much pressure on yourself as a coach to make someone perfect in short order. It once took me two years to get an Olympic weightlifter to consistently squat below parallel.  He had some flexibility and strength issues, that eventually resolved over time due to proper cueing, proper intensity, and continued practice.  Some of my other athletes have taken the same amount of time to keep their arms straight on cleans and snatches.  With proper drills, training loads, and well-timed and clearly understood cues, most of them eventually get it. As the coach, it is your job to understand what your trainee responds well to and which drills lead to the most technical improvement for that individual. It’s also your job to make sure ego (both yours and your client) does not overtake their physical capabilities and current skill level.  

Recently, when discussing the idea of letting things go, I received an anecdote from a coaching colleague of mine, that will help illustrate what can happen if you are overreaching a trainee’s skill level.  This coach was having his client deadlift.   The client was doing the deadlifts very well.  The back was neutral and they were successfully loading tension into the body/bar system.  The bar path was on point, the hip hinge was flawless and the sequencing of muscle action was spot on.  But the breafile_001thing…the breathing was not exactly perfect. She was not filling air into her belly optimally. So, instead of just being happy with all that was going right, he tried to coach her into make the breathing pattern more optimal.  This is where the ice castle crumbled to the ground.  The sequencing became choppy, the hinge got worse, the loading of tension into the bar disappeared, and the performance of an exercise that was nearly perfect, became terrible.  

Luckily this coach was seasoned enough to realize the error of his way, and Letfile_004 Go of his attempt change the breathing by telling his client to forget every cue he just gave her, and go back to what she was doing before.  It was outside of the client’s ability to perform the new breathing pattern AND deadlift correctly.  Now the coach knows where her limits are and that he has to introduce the breathing skill separately before adding it to the deadlifts.

Technique errors need to be fixed to the best of your ability, but it can’t be done all at once.  Poor movement skills in beginners is usually just a lack of experience, and it can take a lot of time for someone to learn and master new skills.  We’ve written on the blog before about how the body creates myelin and make physiological changes in the nervous system to literally build skills.  This process takes time, and it is worth it to take the time.  In the next two installments of this three-part coaching series, we will talk about how and when to use coaching cues.  In the meantime, if you come across a new trainee that struggling to pick up a new skill, focus on one piece at a time, and for everything else that is going wrong, be like Elsa, and just Let It Go!

The Best Exercise You’re Not Doing (For Your Shoulders) Part 2

In our last post on the Armbar Kathy Dixon of Action Potential Physical Therapy took me (Coach Joe of Fit EDU) through the set up of the unloaded Armbar. Now it’s time to take the next step, but first a follow up to “my shoulder story”. I am still working my way back to 100%  and regularly perform the Armbar months after completing PT. Here’s why I mention my progress… I feel much more stable/packed in all loaded upperbody push/pull work because I am “in touch” with my shoulder stabilizers… particularly immediately after performing the Armbar in my prep work.  I am better able to get and keep the stabilizers active and know this will improve performance and prevent injury long term.

Now back to why you clicked…

Now that you have a basic understanding of what the Armbar is, when/why to implement this exercise, appropriate body position, and how to get into position it’s time to introduce load (from part 1 of this series). Please note it is critical to be conservative with the weight load and to follow each step in this process. Additionally, a kettlebell (not a dumbbell) is our preferred method of loading for a variety of reasons.

When making the transition from unloaded to loaded with the Armbar (assuming correct position) you will immediately feel the stabilizers (posterior cuff and serratus anterior just to name a few) turn on. When watching the video below you will notice quite a bit of shaking when Kathy loads me with just a 12kg kettlebell (55 seconds in). This isn’t a bad thing and is a great opportunity to help your students/patients/clients feel their shoulder stabilizers turn. This has become my “go to” exercise to teach shoulder packing even before loaded carries.

Here Kathy coaches and explains how to perform and coach the loaded Kettlebell Armbar with Shoulder Internal/External Rotation.

Important coaching points to remember:

  1. Ensure proper alignment of the spine, scapula, and arm before introducing load… position is everything
  2. Watch and palpate the scapula, pecs, traps, and lats to minimize compensation
  3. Develop cues that work for you as it relates to describing ideal shoulder blade position (I like “slide your shoulder blade into your back pocket”) and muscle activation
  4. Master the static loaded hold in this position before introducing internal/external rotation

Here’s a recap of the step by step process of the Loaded Kettlebell Armbar:


  1. Assume a supine position (pic 1)
  2. Grasp a kettlebell with the hand on the “working side” and bend the “working side’s” knee
  3. Placed the other hand behind the head and keep the other leg straight (pic 2)
  4. DSC_0008DSC_0009 Establishing posterior cuff activation {be sure the ribs are down (not splayed) and the spine is neutral} and then press the kettlebell up to the position in pic 2-notice how I closed the gap between the scapula and the ground in the above pics
  5. Ensure proper alignment of the arm and shoulder blade on the working side and centrate the joint (pic 2)
  6. From this position roll the body as one unit onto the “non-working” side while maintaining shoulder joint centration and scapular position (pic 3)
  7. Connect the working side’s knee to the ground (pic 3)
  8. Now that you’re finally in position ensure proper alignment of the spine  and working arm (fist is directly above the shoulder joint) (pic 3)
  9. Activate the posterior cuff and Serratus Anterior in order maintain a depressed and retracted scapula
  10. Slowly perform internal/external rotation of the shoulder joint with an increased emphasis on maximal external rotation (pics 4 and 5)

If it’s already obvious to you, this is an exercise you must practice on your own before implementing into your performance or rehab programs. If you are working alone we recommend videoing from a posterior view and reviewing positioning. However, your best bet is to perform with a colleague present so you can practice performance and coaching. Once again thank you Kathy Dixon of Action Potential Specialized Physical Therapy for great information.

Want to learn more about this or other fitness related topics? Then visit us at for tips on kettlebell and barbell exercises, breathing and postural control, and metabolic conditioning just to name a few topics. We also just so happen to offer 5 (soon to be 6)  live, full-day seminars on a variety of fitness topics.

Transference of Exercises — When the Unexpected Helps the Unintended

Did you ever start training an exercise or using a new training program, and after a few weeks tried something completely different and experienced success?  Most likely the exercise or program transferred to this other aspect of your life.  If you are a bit fuzzy about what I’m getting at, let me give you a real life example.  A  few years ago a woman was doing a general strength and fitness program with me over the winter months.  When the weather got better, she went back to one of her favorite spring/summertime activities–hiking.  2012-08-18-Lions-Binkert-Hike-9867-MKHWhen she came in the next Monday after her first weekend hike of the season, she was raving about how fit she felt and how she left her husband in the dust as they went up steep hills.  She experienced little to no breathlessness and zero soreness the following days.  Obviously her general training program of Deadlifts, Turkish Get-Ups, Goblet Squats, Ring Rows, and other basic exercises, transferred nicely to being successful during a tough hike in the woods.  She was pleasantly surprised about this outcome.  This is the hallmark of a properly designed training program.

Heavy-Deadlift-LockoutRecently, a peer of mine in the lifting world, Dane Miller, wrote a piece about how front squatting and pull-ups allowed him to set an all time personal record in the deadlift of 600 pounds without training the movement at all.  You can see this idea of transference among all sports and disciplines.  My track coach in college was adamant about our 400m runners sometimes racing in the 200m.  Same goes for the 800m runners racing in the 400m.  He knew that the foot speed needed for the shorter distance would help improve the time in the longer race.  Shot putters and discus throwers have always known that performing the snatch and clean & jerk in the weight room will help them throw their chosen implement farther because of the power it helps to develop.

Many times, like the example of the effortless hike through the woods, transference of h=300training will come as a surprise.  It was a surprise to a former rotational shot putter of mine when he realized, that all of a sudden, he had a lightning quick turn around pivot move to the hoop on the basketball court.  Another reason kids should be playing multiple sports as they grow up is because there is, what should be, obvious transference from one sport to others.  It’s also a reason why programs like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) are popular and successful in schools.  The subjects are so interrelated that it makes sense to combine them together instead of breaking them apart.  

The older and more experienced you become as a coach or teacher in your chosen field, you will notice transference between two drills more clearly.  From experience, I now know you can increase a power clean by deadlifting 10 set of 2 reps, with moderate weight and doubled up mini jump stretch bands attached to the bar, once a week for 6 weeks.  When my Strength and Conditioning class finished their 6 week block of banded deadlifts, and we switched back to cleans, they were all able to do 10 sets of 2 with their old max!  


Even though it gets easier to notice transference as you grow as a coach, you still can be surprised at what relates.  In our last article on the front squat we spoke about variations of the front squat for people that have trouble with the front squat.  One of the variations was to use lifting straps on the bar that give the lifter more “breathing room” in regard to elbow and wrist flexion.  This allows you to still train the movement and work around poor flexibility.  Personally, I have never had to use this variation until recently.  I’ve been dealing with shoulder pain that makes the rack position impossible.  So instead of ignoring front squats, I started to use straps.  After a few weeks of practice, more attention to what was starting to happen allowed a transference effect to be noticed.  I noticed that I had to shrug harder into the bar when using the straps which lifted the bar off my collar bones.  It allowed the bar to sit a bit deeper on my neck and allowed me to stay more upright than ever before on the front squat.  One day after front squatting with straps, I decided to try some cleans and what happened with my body surprised me.  When I received the bar I also shrugged my shoulders high and it landed securely deep into my shoulders and neck.  I had never felt the receiving position feel like that before.

If you have ever taught someone to clean, they most likely have had the bar crash onto their collar bones or low on the shoulders.  Front squatting with straps helps to groove the proper receiving position by forcing the shoulders to elevate and be active into the bar.  This variation of the front squat, that I once thought was garbage, will become one of my go to drills to reinforce proper receiving position.  Like some of the best inventions ever created, it happened by accident and was totally unexpected.  Keep those eyes open coaches! Like front squatting with straps, sometimes you have to give things a chance.  You never know where an answer to an unasked question is going to surface.

Interested in learning more about the front squat? Check out Certified Barbell Coach Seminar here.

The most fundamental functional exercise

You know breathing is important when it comes to movement and training. We have all been taught exhale on the exertion and inhale on the return (this is a general statement… there are nuances). Ok great… easy enough, but is there more to it? If so, is this out of our scope as fitness professionals? 
To answer the above questions:
YES there is much, much more we should / need to do with our clients and NO it isn’t beyond our scope with a little education and practical experience on the most current science related to breathing assessment and corrective strategies. 

Human-LungBreathing is our first motor program. It’s also the most essential and foundational motor program we have. Unfortunately, we begin to lose optimal function of this pattern early in life. We’ll get into why later. When our breathing is compromised, so is our posture. When this occurs, our deep core muscles (specifically the diaphragm) don’t function properly and our breathing gets even worse.  This can have detrimental implications on movement quality because the diaphragm is the center point of our body. If the diaphragm is faulty, there is a lack of stability that no amount of abdominal or gluteal bracing can compensate for.  

Have you ever tried to improve a movement pattern OR increase ROM in a joint OR improve flexibility OR try to move up in weight in a “big lift” where all the “normal” strategies fail?  Believe it or not, if you’re not assessing and correcting breathing you might find that you get stuck more often than you’d like to admit. 
 Correcting breathing will:
DSC_01121. Improve deep core muscle function
2. Improve length in muscles being forced to assist in breathing because the deep core muscles are under-active
3. Allow joints to return to their optimal position (if they’re being pulled in bad position by overactive “compensatory muscles”)
4.     Improve bracing
5.     Decrease stress and anxiety
6.     Improve endurance
7.     Decrease neck tension
8.     Improve posture 

Whether you are a “function first” fitness professional, strength and conditioning coach, or specialize in fat loss you NEED to better educate yourself in this area and here’s why:
Function First Fitness Professionals:
6752PS2If your client is being pulled into flexion as a result of bad posture there are often significant posterior chain limitations. For my “FMS People”, I’m talking about a poor score on the Active Straight Leg Raise and/or Shoulder Mobility. Additionally, if you’re goal is to train the “core”, but you ignore deep core muscles you’re not training the core in an ideal manner. 
The bottom line is if you can’t breath correctly you aren’t really training the core. At least not the deep core.
Strength and Conditioning Coaches:

DL Rounded spineThis is an easy one. If you want your athletes to lift significant weight you need them to learn how to brace and maintain that brace while moving and applying significant force.  You also need to teach them power breathing. If your athletes lack the ability to perform basic diaphragmatic breathing they can’t correctly perform power breathing. Therefore, you will see bad posture in the head, shoulders, C-Spine, T-or Spine. I think we all know deadlifting heavy weight with bad posture can result in bad things…


Here’s how screening for and correcting dysfunctional breathing patterns will help in strength and power training:
Battling Ropes Metabolic ConditioningProfessionals Specializing In Weight Loss:
Your success (in the weight room) is all about getting the metabolism up and keeping it there for hours and days after the session. The better your client breathes, the more work they can perform in a session. If you’re programming the right way this will help your client in the quest for weight loss. 
So… Why do we lose our breathing patterns?

1.     Sitting too much (especially in bad posture)

2.     Too much screen time

3.     Poor posture / postural awareness

4.     Movement dysfunction (increased compensatory strategies)

5.     Early specialization in sports

6.     Improper training methods (Training muscles not movements)

Notice the trend above? The bottom line is spending too much time in flexion (sitting in some form) and poor movement are the primary culprits.
Where and how do breathing assessment and corrective strategies fit into your programming?
There are simple assessment and corrective techniques that can be included in your initial fitness screening and in their training programs. Just like any other exercise, it can be progressed and regressed accordingly. Most importantly, you are teaching them strategies they can integrate into their daily life to not only improve their fitness, but their overall well-being.

If you would like to learn specific strategies to screen for and correct dysfunction breathing patterns attend Breathing and Postural Control by Dr. Missimer on 4/2/16 in Malvern PA!

The FMS and Screening for Dysfunctional Breathing Patterns

If you’re an FMS Practitioner and value the system (as you should) it’s used every day. Having a tool in your belt that exposes movement quality issues in the most fundamental of patterns is so important when it comes time to program corrective and traditional exercises. Knowing what movements are safe and which should be avoided (until the client is ready) was really a game changer for me in my career and maybe yours…?

Unknown-1Now that I’m done putting the FMS on a pedestal let’s talk about what it’s not… IT’S NOT THE WHOLE ANSWER.  Most of “us” also use additional break out test to determine if the issue in a pattern is motor control or a “hardware issue”. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, even when we add breakout testing (measuring dorsiflexion, glute max activation, hip hinge mechanics, etc.) to the process we don’t always come up with a corrective solution that works. 

What’s missing? 


We NEED to screen for dysfunctional breathing patterns so we have all the information we need to improve movement.
maxresdefaultWhen a client has dysfunctional breathing patterns all the leg raises, rolling drills, and foam rolling in the world won’t fix movement dysfunction. That is… until the breathing pattern is reset. 
DSC_0112Dysfunctional breathing patterns have the potential to wreak havoc on our bodies. Inhibition of respiratory stabilizers such as the diaphragm, TVA, multifidus, and obliques (just to name a few) force the respiratory system to default to the recruitment of muscles not designed to be involved in respiration. While the recruitment of these muscles is inefficient, the body will recruit whatever it needs to keep you alive and breathing. 

So what…???

Well… most often, dysfunctional breathing patterns will drive compensation upward and downward into the surrounding musculature of the shoulders and hips. To be more specific, pain and/or stiffness often presents in the Neck/Shoulder Musculature (Pec Minor, Scalenes, SCM)SI Joint/Lumbar Spine, and Anterior Hip Musculature. If significant enough compensations will likely result in mobility, stability, postural, and motor control issues.
It’s finally time to bring this all together… If we don’t screen for dysfunctional breathing patterns we end up trying to prescribe correctives to address The Active Straight Leg Raise and Shoulder Mobility Screens. The likelihood of correcting movement dysfunction without addressing breathing is VERY UNLIKELY. Therefore, using a systematic method to screen for and correct dysfunctional breathing patterns is critical if we want to get our clients/patients the results they want. 
Now… to develop a systematic way of screening for and correcting dysfunctional breathing patterns. There’s lots of great breathing research out there now, but few systems that can easily be learned and implemented into your practice with ease. 

Until now…

Fit EDU and Dr. Arianne Missimer have collaborated to bring you Breathing and Postural Control. 
This course is designed to help you: 
1. Recognize the importance of breathing and postural control for optimal performance in life and sport
2. Develop a better understanding of functional anatomy including the fascial system
3. Identify screening methods for postural control and breathing dysfunction
4. Learn strategies to correct these deficits
5. Integrate screening and corrective strategies into your current fitness and/or corrective program
Seminar Details

Save $100 on Breathing and Postural Control when registering by 3/18/16
Use coupon code BREATHE at checkout. 
Limited to the first 5 registrations.

Offer Expires 3/18/16.


The Barbell Coaching Series: The Deadlift Part 3… Hip Position

Perform the ‪deadlift‬ ? Great! Are you sure you know what to do with your hips before “lift off”? Should they be high… or low… or somewhere in the middle? What if you’re tall or short? Much like Ricky Bobby being interviewed after winning his first race… you’re just not quite sure what to do with those hips before lift off. Well we got you… read on…

DSC_0303 (1)

In our previous posts about the deadlift we discussed how to set your feet, grip the bar, breathe, and explained the movement. However, we weren’t specific enough with how/where to set your hips. Since this is something many fitness professionals think they know, but often will admit to grey areas in how they explain hip position, we felt it necessary to dedicate a posts to the hips.


Common hip and body position set up flaws
DL Hips lowHips too low
– In this position, you’re not deadlifting… You’re squatting. The bar will inevitably scrape this shins… Bad… And you will have less than ideal leverage given your shin and torso angle. Oh yeah… And you’re not actually deadlifting.

If the hips are too low the shoulder blades will be behind the bar and will prevent the bar from leaving the ground. If it is light enough, the bar will leave the ground but be in front of the mid-foot, putting the student at a significant mechanical disadvantage. The vertical spine angle will likely lead to scraped shins from pulling the bar “through” the shins.. Remember the deadlift is more of a back exercise and less of a leg exercise.

DL hips highHips too high – In this position, you have poor leverage (quads cannot make a significant contribution) and you will have no choice but to pull with your “low back” putting significant stress on your lumbar spine.

If the hips are too high, the legs will be too straight. This will put all of the stress on the low back and hamstrings and the quadriceps won’t be in a position to contribute. The bar will also swing away from the shins creating a mechanical disadvantage making the bar feel heavier and more difficult to control.

DL Rounded spine


Spine in Flexion (upper back, lower back, or both) – While this technically isn’t a hip position issue, it’s still important to address. With the spine in flexion, shear forces will dominate the spinal column, leaking energy and increasing the chance of injury. If a neutral spine can not be obtained, put the bar up on blocks and pull from a height that allows the spine to be in a neutral position.



We discussed how different anthropometrics impact set up in one our previous posts. For more information how how shin and femur length differences results in differences in set up click here.

Much, much more to come on coaching barbell exercises in the future. Until then…

The Barbell Coaching Series: The Deadlift Part 2 Short vs. Tall

Businessman and Author, Stephen Covey, once said, “ Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.” Stephen Covey is best known for his authorship of the widely popular 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. His above quote was probably meant for themes of relationship building, leadership qualities, and diversity training. We are going to use the quote to frame a completely different conversation based around one of the most basic of all strength exercises, the deadlift.

As a strength coach, I teach very few exercises. In fact, the amount of exercises I use when training others could pretty much be counted on one hand. That’s because human beings are all pretty similar when it comes to what our bodies look like. Where the strength part comes in, is your strength as a trainer to identify the small differences in mechanics from person to person. What I am trying to say, is the deadlift is a valuable exercises for everyone, but how it actually looks from individual to individual may be very different.

For the sake of time, we will keep it simple. Let’s talk about tall people vs. short people in the deadlift… Hence the pic of Arnold and Danny from the movie “Twins”.  A great 80s movie I might add… Anyway, this is a topic near and dear to my heart because I am very tall, and at 6’6” my deadlift looks vastly different than someone who is 5’7”. The main difference you can expect is the height at which the hips start.

DL Tall Set Up


A tall person (Arnold) is going to have a more horizontal spine angle and higher hips.





Deadlift Short Set Up


Conversely, a short person (Danny) is going to have a more vertical spine angle, maybe around 45 degrees, and a lower hip angle.




Keep in mind, some absolutes are still in play, such as, a neutral spine throughout the exercise execution, a barbell that remains over the mid-foot, and a starting position that places the shoulder blades directly over the bar.  Here are the basics that hold true for everyone in their deadlift set-up.

Watch the video here

There really is more to this whole idea of identifying individual anthropometrics. Both tall and short people may have a very short femur and a long spine. They both could have short torso and a very long tibia. All of these differences may make things look different, even within the categories of tall and short. As your journey as a trainer continues, and as you work with more and more people, you will begin to take notice of these subtle differences. You will come up with ways to identify movement issues and create visuals in your mind for what the movement should look like based individual differences. This is where your strength and value lies as a trainer.

Here’s a more in depth explanation of the differences in set up.

Watch the video here

We will continue to post tips for helping coach the deadlift and other barbell exercises. We are also excited to announce the launch of our barbell certification in 2016. The Certified Barbell Coach will launch in March and will be held in Malvern, PA. This certification will focus on the performance, evaluation, and coaching of the Barbell Big Three (Deadlift, Front Squat, and Overhead Press). More details will be released by the end of the year.