Vanity muscles? I think not…

Mr. Burgundy, being the excellent newscaster that he is, is correct. I do have a very important breaking news story for all of you, although it’s not what he is speaking of. Those of you who CrossFit regularly and have been doing so for a while, are very aware of the movements involved in CrossFit. That is to say, many total body movements done with either no weight, barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags and so on. My estimation is that 85-90% of these lifts are what are referred to as “compound movements”, which basically means large movements that involve multiple muscle groups. Rarely in CrossFit do movements that isolate a certain joint or muscle pop up. For the general population, working on these compound movements alone is enough to strengthen and improve someone’s fitness level. However, for those of you who are looking to improve your performance, working on single joint exercises is a near necessity. There are many common “weak links” that may be preventing you from executing certain movements to their maximal potentential….Here are 4 different muscles (or groups of muscles) that may be holding you back, and how to work on them effectively.

The biceps. Ahh yes, Marcus has finally put all of that girth to use and decided to become a body builder. I’m sure you’ve all seen me in my shirt with the sleeves cut off down to the waist, my hat turned backwards, and a fanny pack full of protein supplements and steroids. Uh not quite. Actually, the biceps are some of the most underestimated muscles in CrossFit. Think about it like this… the stronger your biceps are then the easier pull ups, muscle ups, cleans, ring rows, and rowing become (not to mention how much more awesome you look with a short cut shirt on). My advice for strengthening the biceps is as follows:

-Barbell or dumbbell curls. Go heavy once a week for 3 sets of 5 to keep volume minimal but adequate.

-Eccentric loaded chin ups: negative reps done with manual resistance with a palms up grip pull up… no more than 3 sets of 3. Eccentric loading does a lot of muscle damage due to the force exceeding the muscle’s capability.

The forearms. Forearm and grip strength is such an afterthought.. That is until you do anything that involves deadlifting, high reps of pull ups, hang cleans, and rowing. Let’s not even mention holding and maintaining that pesky false grip. Chances are, your grip is the first thing that goes during most workouts, making you set the bar down and debate whether life is even worth living anymore. So here’s what to do about it:

-Farmer’s carry your ass off. For those of you who don’t know, that means pick something heavy up in each hand, and walk with it. Not only is this great for your forearms and grip strength, but it also teaches you how to suffer a little bit more.

-Use a thicker grip… I think this might be one of the simplest ways to work grip that gets neglected. I often see people going for the thinnest pull up bar, or lifting with thinner bars. Trying a thicker object to grip will work wonders for your grip strength.

Check out Rob Orlando's biceps and forearms.

The triceps. Oh yes, one of the only muscles that challenges the bicep in a vanity contest. Guess what… Suck at push ups, ring dips, bench press, wall balls, or overhead lifts? How about handstand push ups? Odds are that your deficiencies in those movements are more than likely due to you having the tricep size and strength of the baby on the Gerber labels. Almost entirely responsible for extension of the elbow, the tricep has a lot of weight to pull (actually push, but pun was still intended). Powerlifters devote entire sessions to improving their triceps in order to help improve their bench press numbers. Here’s some examples of how to help strengthen those triceps in more of a CrossFit setting:

-Close grip bench press (by close grip i mean thumbs directly above the nipple line. Dont go too close together with the hands because it puts a lot of strain on the elbows. Again a heavy 3 sets of 5 will work wonders.) Close grip push ups at higher reps can be subbed in if you do not have access to a bench or spotter.

-Tactical Dips. This is actually one of my favorite excercises to help people get ring dips faster. Set up the rings where the bottom is even with the top of the shoulder. Jump up and press into a lockout position, then slowly lower yourself keeping your elbows and hands close to your body until your feet touch the ground. This is another type of eccentric loading, so keep it right around 3 sets of 3.

The vastus medialus. Damn right I know big words. None bigger than this power house of a muscle. One of the four muscles of the quadricep, it is the lowest part of the inner thigh. If you are experiencing knee trouble, want to get faster, or need to improve that final push to lockout during a heavy squat, this is the muscle for you. Called the VMO for short, it is partially responsible for full knee extension. Here’s what to do about them:

-Step ups on a small box with weight. The purpose of this exercise is to acheive full knee extension, so make sure that it it acheived. 3 sets of 10 per leg with a moderate weight should be adequate, and the height of the box should not be so high to turn into a hamstring glute exercise.

-Weighted barbell lunges… Again the key here is to acheive full knee extension, so put an emphasis on standing all the way up. Go for distance, 2 or 3 sets, with weight on the shoulders.

If you dedicated 4 days a week to working on which ever of these weak links apply, it would take aproximately one total hour out of your week. That one hour would in turn show you riches beyond your wildest dreams. Muscle ups, heavy lifts, and unbroken reps will be in your near future. It’s not about vanity, it’s about being the best person possible. The only way to do that is to be fitter than everyone else. If you’re not fit, you’re nothin’.

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One thought on “Vanity muscles? I think not…

  1. Awesome! Love that farmers carry can help my kipping! Glad I dont have to deadlift to see grip strength gain.

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