Something to consider from our good friend Justin @ CrossFit East Sacramento.

Too Much Muscle, and the Core To Extremity Violation

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Is it possible to have too much muscle?  Well not really unless you have used performance enhancers or have a genetic abnormality.  However I want to discuss the effects of your previous fitness regimens and their effects on performing functional movements with efficiency. 

First lets take a look at our two participants here.  Matt Marabito on the left has an extensive traditional fitness background.  He was a trainer in the past and is steeped in the traditional Arnold Schwarzenegger/Joe Wieder single joint body building movements and overload principals.  Matt has developed great contractile strength, meaning that his major muscle groups can produce tons of force.  He is also mentally tough and physically conditioned from his years spent in the gym.

Next we have Bryan Wheeler, who came to us with little to no fitness background.  Bryan came in with next to no strength in the major muscle groups and conditioning so poor that he would get sick from just doing a few squats.  He probably lost his lunch about his first 10 workouts here.  Lucky for Brian he was blessed with natural flexibility and mobility.  This has been a saving grace for him in terms of having been able to progress quickly.

Before we go any further I want to define the “Core To Extremity Violation.”  Functional movements, when performed correctly, use the strongest body parts first and move outward to the weaker parts of the body in sequence.  In other words, when you perform a clean or a jerk, you want to use every inch of your hip (core) range of motion before you begin to move your arms (extremities.)  When the extremities move before the core finishes, you put a weak link in the kinetic movement chain and the speed/power of the movement is limited to the weaker part of the body.  When the movement is coordinated in the correct order, the body is able to express the full potential of the strongest body parts.  If you begin to pull your arms on the clean before you finish hip extension you have committed a core to extremity violation.  The same is true for the push press if you begin to press the bar overhead before your hips finish extension.  These violations are punishable by burpees without need for a fair trial.

The problem with muscle men like Matt, is that they have trained their bodies to perform slow controlled, non-functional movements while isolating parts of their bodies.  The movements typically performed in traditional body building training do not require coordination of multiple body parts together.  Matt’s body is convinced that his arms are stronger than his hips, and even though he knows we want him to finish jumping before he starts to pull on the bar, it is going to be a very difficult process for him to master.  The same problem is evident when trying to teach Matt the kipping pull up.  As a guy who can do many strict pull ups, he goes straight to muscle strength in his upper body vs using the momentum and explosiveness of the hips.  As he goes through a high rep clean or pull up workout, he will wear out his arms prematurely and need to rest.  This in-efficiency in his movement will lead to a slower time and lowered work capacity.  The good thing about Matt, is that once he overcomes this coordination problem and learns to apply the force he can produce in effecient movement patters, he is going to be a fucking monster.

Brian on the other hand has never learned to use his arms to produce high amounts of force.  He has been very easy to convince to use his hips when lifting and performing pull ups.  If you look at the first two shots taken during yesterday’s Foundation WOD you can see Matt with those huge meat hangers forcefully pulling on the bar before he has reached hip extension.  Brian on the other hand is perfectly starting to pull on the bar just after his hips have opened.  Same idea if you look at the push presses.  Matt has started to push the bar up before his hips can finish driving it up, and Brian is beautifully starting his press just at the instant of hip extension. 

Also you will notice that in the pictures Brian’s bar is really blurry, and Matt’s bar is pretty clear.  That is because Brian’s bar is moving with much more speed and power.  The key to all functional movement, not just Olympic lifts is to use your body, or your core to do the work.  Your ass is much more powerful than your arms.