Doing the Open the Open Way

I have heard a lot of hesitation around the CrossFit Open Scaled Division.  After hearing the questions and concerns of many of our athletes, I think it's time we have a heart to heart. 

The scaled division was created to make the Open inclusive.  No, it was not just for you who are almost at that RX weight, or almost have that muscle up.  It was made to be inclusive of the CrossFitters out there who are still working to get a double under and those who still need assistance on pull ups.  There is one scaled division (made to make comparing yourself to a world of other CrossFitters simpler).  This left those in the middle dissatisfied.  Sound familiar?  Let's chat.

If you are one of the people who feel RX is "pushing it" but scaled feels "too easy" here is my advice based on your particular questions/concerns:

"But I almost have a ___"

If you can do all the workout but 1 movement, and are close to being able to achieve that movement, please consult a coach.

"But the scaled version is TOO EASY"

I would like to answer this one with a story.  Lisa S. is one of our level 2 athletes who completed the open 100% in the scaled division last year while being 8 months pregnant.  She ended up taking 6th in the region in the scaled division.  I asked her if she thought the scaled version was easy.  Here was her response.  "Yes, the movements are more simple than the RX division.  But that means more reps and a harder workout.  You have to push yourself.  It's a different kind of workout than the RX division." 

"I would rather do a hybrid of the Scaled and RX"

We are not allowing this for the open.  Why?  IF you decided to do a hybrid, it invalidates your score completely.  That's right.  Your score won't count for the open NOR will it count towards the House Cup.  Check your ego.  Do the scaled version.

"But I'm not participating in the Open"

See above.  No matter which workout you do, it will be a good workout!

Food for Thought: How To Succeed In Your First CrossFit Open

Is this your first CrossFit Open?  Maybe it's even your first time competing in a CrossFit context?  Here are some sage words of wisdom from Breaking Muscle.

Participating in your first CrossFit Games Open is the ultimate learning experience.

Beginners to CrossFit should relish in the fact that they can’t check the leaderboard for their scores from past years. For this one year, ignorance is bliss. Work hard, have fun, and learn what the Open is all about because you only have one first time.

Here are five ways to make the most of your experience:

1. Ignore the Clock

The fastest way to get discouraged during a workout is to focus on the clock. We’ve all been there: four minutes into a fifteen-minute AMRAP and suddenly we’re questioning how we’re ever going to survive the rest of the WOD. 

Wasting your time looking at the clock isn’t doing you any favors. The time melts away at the same speed regardless of how often you check. So stop dilly-dallying and just do the work.

"By shifting your focus away from the clock, you can dedicate 100% of your effort to achieving your goal. If there’s time left once you’re at your target, the rest is gravy."

Since 2011, every Open workout has been an AMRAP except for last year’s dreaded thruster-burpee descending ladder (which I predict we’ll see as this year’s repeat workout). So, if history repeats itself, it’s safe to say the Open will be a mix of short and long AMRAPs.

With that in mind, the best approach for a beginner to avoid getting overwhelmed is to pick a realistic number of rounds to complete and forget about the time constraint. Just focus on the task at hand and fight to hit your number.

By shifting your focus away from the clock, you can dedicate 100% of your effort to achieving your goal. If there’s time left once you’re at your target, the rest is gravy.


2. Avoid Playing Games

If this is your first CrossFit Open, you might hear conversations among fellow CrossFitters that go something like this: “Dude, step ups are faster than box jumps. I totally timed it.”

But you know what? Who cares? Go ahead and watch the dozens of strategy videos that inevitably pop up after each workout is announced, but don’t let the hype get to your head. As a first-timer, your main concern should be working hard without regrets, not whether or not you maximized your time by doing three reps per set instead of four. Remember, as a novice, you aren’t going to Regionals.

"Beginners to CrossFit should relish in the fact that they can’t check the leaderboard for their scores from past years. For this one year, ignorance is bliss."

Worrying about strategy, like focusing on the clock, will just sabotage your confidence - and for a beginner, it’s all about the big picture. At the end of each workout, ask yourself these questions:

Are you proud of your effort?
Did you work as hard as possible on that given day?
Did you have fun?

If you answer yes to these, consider the workout a success.


3. Don’t Hold Yourself Back

Something magical happens during the Open. Fear and doubt go out the window and countless people find themselves transitioning over the rings for their first muscle up or finally whipping a jump rope fast enough for their first double under.

Athletes all over the world achieve feats of strength and athleticism that once seemed impossible. Watching a friend conquer something that he or she has struggling with since that first nervous day at the box is incredibly rewarding.

Many beginners get stuck in a cycle of always choosing to fall short of what they’re truly capable of doing. But because Open workouts are judged, you’re forced to maintain movement standards and try things you think are out of your reach. Henry Ford said it best: “If you think you can, or you think you can’t - you’re right.”


4. Embrace Embarrassment

Chances are one of your goats will pop up during the five-week competition. Maybe it’s the elusive muscle up that you’re still a bit away from achieving. Or maybe the prescribed deadlift is a weight you only dream about.

It sucks to stand next to a barbell you can’t lift, but unfortunately, when you can’t perform the movement, the only course of action during an official Open workout is to ride out the clock. Your coach will likely give you a high-five for hanging in there, but let’s face it, entering a sub-par score into the leaderboard is going to sting.

Give the workout your best shot, but know when to bow out. Don’t be embarrassed, and don’t hurt yourself trying to get just one rep. Grinding out a heavy snatch or turning into the Hunchback of Notre Dame for a deadlift isn’t worth the risk of injury. Crazy things can happen in the heat of the moment (see tip number three), but sometimes it’s best to call it a day. Remember, you’re a beginner and your goals are to learn and have fun.

"Give the workout your best shot, but know when to bow out. Don’t be embarrassed, and don’t hurt yourself trying to get just one rep."

The silver lining in this situation is that the Open will expose your weaknesses and provide a training roadmap for the next year. You might be surprised at how motivated you feel to train harder after failing in an Open workout. Once competition is over, there are 47 weeks until the next Open. That’s a lot of time to improve strength and skills.


5. You’ll Get Better at CrossFit Without Actually Working Out

Yes, you read that right. Each Open workout must be performed in front of a judge (aka, fellow CrossFitter at your box). Judges are responsible for ensuring each athlete adheres to proper movement standards. If your athlete doesn’t meet these standards, it’s up to the judge to call out a “no rep.”

Judging will make you a better athlete because watching people move is a great way to develop an eye for quality movement. You’ll begin to notice common mistakes that run rampant in CrossFit boxes and you may start to wonder if you’re guilty of the same mistakes. “I hope I don’t look like that when I work out.”

No one wants to “no rep” during a WOD, so do yourself a favor and use this new awareness as motivation to fight for better positions - like maintaining high elbows on front squats or keeping your feet glued together for kipping pull ups. A little extra effort will go a long way for building your confidence.


IT BEGINS... The 2018 House Cup & CrossFit Open


This week we kick off the 2018 United Barbell House Cup! Oh, and a little thing called the CrossFit Open is happening too ;)


This is our favorite time of the year here at UB. Friendly competition runs rampant, people push their limits, new skills are acquired under pressure, and forever friendships are forged. The reigning champs the Mambas will once again take on The Ultimates and Too Fit To Quit.

This is a good time to find team captains Steve & Hayley (Ultimates), Whittney & Chelsea (Too Fit To Quit), and Kim & Adrian (Mambas) and thank them for all their hard work wrangling their houses. It's also a great time to familiarize yourself with our Friday schedule changes.

Friday Schedule Change 2/23 - 3/30

Fridays will be a little different at UB during the House Cup/CrossFit Open. Instead of our regular programming, we will all do the CrossFit Open workout of the week. We won't know what that workout is until 5pm on the previous day.  We also will not hold regular evening classes, instead we'll be running heats of the CrossFit Open workout. This is the time when the House Cup party starts - but you don't need to be participating in the House Cup or the CrossFit open to show up and book your time in a heat.


  • Heats will run from 5pm - 7:30pm. Come early to book your heat. Gym closes at 8pm.
  • You will need a judge. More than likely you'll be able to grab someone from the previous heat.
  • We request that you stay to judge a heat either before or after your own.
  • If you can, stay to cheer on your fellow athletes! 
  • You will be responsible for warming yourself up, knowing your movement standards, and being ready when your heat is called.
  • You will be responsible for turning in your score sheet.

Olivia Graff

Olivia's athletic origins lie in gymnastics and circus arts. After finding CrossFit in 2007, she became obsessed, and three years later left her IT career and opened United Barbell. Olivia is particularly passionate about helping people new to fitness to find joy in their growing athletic abilities. Since the birth of her daughter, Isis, in 2013, Olivia can add helping little ones find their athletic path to her list of passions.

Get a Grip

At the end of a solid CrossFit week, I expect some of you have some unhappy forearms. While we feel your pain, we also want you to hear the wake up call to get a grip.

How is your grip? No, I'm not talking about your handshake (but if that's weak too... get on it). I am talking about your actual grip strength - the most commonly overlooked aspect of athletic training.

Having a hearty grip and developed hand strength is indispensable to every sport - even down to synchronized swimming. As a lifter or CrossFitter, your grip is essential to the intensity of your strength training.

There are four different kinds of grip strengths. Just like with anything else, you should strive to have a balance.


Your pinch strength is your ability to pinch weight between your thumb and fingers. Try gripping two weight plates together in one hand - work up to two #25's.


This is the must popular grip to train. This is the strength you feel when you shake someone's hand and squeeze. The "gripper" is the most popular training device to develop crush strength.


Supporting strength is the grip strength used to hold things like a barbell, tennis racket or pull up bars. Farmer's walks are a great exercise to develop supporting strength. Things like bar hangs are good to develop grip endurance.


This is your ability to open your hand. It tends to be the least practiced in terms of building strength. The best exercise for this is rubber bands around the fingers and spreading them open.

So go grab something. Be creative. There are fun activities that can help (think rock climbing, bouldering, or tug of war). Just remember - don't practice on your friends - they'll practice back.

The Weekly Dose of Awesome

I have to admit that when I first met Sachin and heard the magical words: "I'm an Orthopedic Surgery Resident" I fell in CrossFit-Love and was infatuated with the prospect of having an in house expert with whom I can geek out on musculoskeletal anatomy and physiology. While I've thoroughly enjoyed doing that, that is not the main thing that excites me about Sachin becoming a part of our community. Sachin definitely puts in the work in class but he can also regularly be found "paying the man" in the back working on skills & technique. For many of us, its easy to cherry pick workouts that play to our strengths and overly work on the things we need to work on the least. Sachin's focus on virtuosity and addressing his weaker areas in the back is the best antidote to this.

In addition to bringing the right approach and mentality to working out at UB, Sachin also brings the right mentality to our community. In spite of having a very stressful job, he can almost always be found with a positive attitude and a smile on his face. In just the short time he's been a member, he's become quite a visible member of our community and is always eager to meet new members of the gym.I've already seen significant improvement in Sachin and looking forward to seeing them continue and the Black Mambas are lucky to have him on their team.

  • Name: Sachin Allahabadi

  • Nickname / Alter Ego: I also go by “Sach”

  • Hometown: Glendora, CA (suburb of Los Angeles near Pasadena, CA)

  • Occupation: UCSF Orthopaedic Surgery resident – I am in my first year of a 5-year residency right now (after 4 years of medical school), which will be followed by at least one year of fellowship subspecialty training (perhaps in sports medicine, but we will see!).

  • When did you first start CrossFitting/Strength Training?: I grew up playing basketball and played in high school and on the club team in college. As club season in college was ending in my senior year, I was looking for new ways to train and stay in shape that I could sustain in medical school. At that time, I was in an advanced exercise physiology course where we read literature on the benefits of multi sport training, which got me really into triathlon. From senior year of college through the 3rd year of medical school, I largely focused on triathlon training. To balance the long endurance work, I also did bodyweight bootcamp-style workouts. In fact, I also got certified as a personal trainer during medical school and led group fitness workouts in a local park and at the university gym. I noticed that in triathlon I was always a weak biker, so I joined CrossFit at the end of my 3rd year of medical school as a way to hope I would get more leg strength and endurance to race at a higher level. At CrossFit Central Houston, I absolutely loved the community, the coaches, and being on the other side of group fitness. My 4th year medical school schedule with lots of travel for rotations and interviews didn’t allow me to consistently get back into CrossFit until February 2017, but since then I’ve been pretty consistent over the last year.

  • When did you first start CrossFitting/Strength Training at UB?: I moved to San Francisco in June 2017 for my residency. In my housing search, I looked for places close to gyms and CrossFit boxes so I could have plenty of options, and loved the location of UB being so close to some of the hospitals and read great reviews online. I actually came to UB the same day I arrived in SF (literally within 5 hours) and dropped in for a workout. I waited 2-3 months to get in a rhythm of residency and did workouts on my own at the university gym, and then joined UB when I missed the community aspect of training too much.

  • Favorite WOD: I love longer WODs because I tend to be better at endurance workouts than sprints, and I also am better at workouts with non-barbell movements. I love rowing, double-unders, pull-ups, wallballs, burpees, muscle-ups of all sorts, box jumps, and rope climbs. I’ve recently gotten better at handstand push-ups which I am excited about. I really enjoy barbell movements too, but I am still working a lot on my barbell skills.

  • Least favorite WOD: I don’t really have a “least favorite” WOD and that’s why I love CrossFit, but I am significantly weaker at overhead and pressing movements than I am at others. So any workout with push jerks or push presses for example, even if amidst other movements I’m good at, will significantly slow me down and tank the rest of my workout. I’m actively trying to work on my overhead strength and overhead mobility daily, in addition to proficiency and efficiency in my Olympic lifts. Overhead mobility, core strength, and posture are so key to my work that I think of training these aspects as priority even if not for improving my workout times. I hate the Assault Bike, but I have this awful part of me that will always choose it if it’s an option :)

  • Favorite workout track: Anything REALLY LOUD with a heavy bass or drum with a quick beat.

  • Least favorite workout track: Even really soft, slower songs can be nice at the gym sometimes when doing technique work or recovery/mobility.

  • How did you first get exposed to CrossFit? As someone always reading about exercise online, it was hard to not hear about it. I think my initial exposure was related to “CrossFit fails” where it showed people overdoing movements they weren’t trained in or not listening to their body and getting injured. However, like any sport, if you have good coaching like we do at UB, you invest the time to understand what you are doing and practice good form, know your current level and limits, and listen to your body, you can easily do CrossFit (or any sport) safely. After enough exposure over a few years, seeing the results people were getting, and leading similar bodyweight bootcamp workouts myself, I thought it would be beneficial to try CrossFit to improve my strength and power, especially as a supplement to triathlon training. I haven’t looked back since. Despite my residency hours being demanding (working multiple 28-hr shifts in the hospital a week), I believe I am currently the most fit I have ever been.

  • What is an unexpected way CrossFit has affected your life? I’ve always been into fitness and exercise. Even when I was younger (elementary school) I have books on how to improve sports performance that I would have my parents get me at the bookstore. I majored in Bioengineering and Kinesiology/Sports Medicine in college so I could learn more about movement and performance. Pretty much my whole life my interests have been in sport/exercise and the musculoskeletal system. I hardly know anything about the real world outside of those things… Given that my work and residency is incredibly busy, getting really into CrossFit has probably made me even more unidimensional than I already was since all I do now is work, eat, sleep, and either do or read about CrossFit! But CrossFit and having a community of people around me who care similarly about their health has been fantastic. It’s a great outlet away from studying and hospital life. It gives me something to look forward to each day when I’m either leaving the hospital or waking up after recovering from a call shift. I get so stoked to see the next day’s workout and to see the friends I have made at the box. I have become much more aware of my body and my movement, breathing, posture, and nutrition. I am constantly thinking about how to prep myself for the next workout to get better. I have aspirations to join physician & surgeon communities who support CrossFit and want to try and incorporate some of these principles into my practice with my patients. In April, I am SO excited I have the unique opportunity to go to a Level I training seminar for physicians only with Greg Glassman at the CrossFit Ranch in Aromas, CA. I believe if you can teach people how to move well and understand their body, exercise, nutrition, and health, we can not only combat many chronic and largely-preventable diseases, but we can also significantly reduce injury rates in those pursuing exercise (whether via CrossFit or not), from elite athletes to those just starting to workout.

  • What would be your favorite cheat meal and favorite "good" meal? I have a lot of dietary restrictions based both on preference and my body that fortunately lean me towards eating healthy in general at baseline. I love bowls with foods like sweet potatoes, a variety of green veggies, avocados, carrots, and chicken. I am always also in the mood for fajitas and of course Indian curries. The most difficulty I have with eating is when I have long call shifts and binge in the middle of the night, or long surgeries when I might not eat or drink for hours.  My biggest weakness is dessert, and more specifically, my kryptonite is definitely chocolate. I actually can’t recall a single time I have ever turned down anything with chocolate in it… Also I am a huge fan of gummy bears and funfetti cake…






Food for Thought: The Female Athlete Triad - Are You At Risk?

The following is a lady specific read from Breaking Muscle.


The female athlete triad is a devastating health problem facing females in athletics and sports today. The triad is a syndrome involving nutritional deficits, lack of a menstrual cycle, and issues with bone health.

The triad is defined by the American College of Sports Medicine as, “interrelationships among energy availability, menstrual function, and bone mineral density, which may have clinical manifestations including eating disorders, functional hypothalamic amenorrhea, and osteoporosis.”

Populations most at risk for the triad are usually females participating in sports where lower body weight is optimal, including running, weightlifting, biking, cross country, gymnastics, figure skating, ballet, diving, swimming, and endurance sports. Societal pressure of an “ideal body type” can foster the development of low self esteem and negative body issues associated with the triad. Intense scrutiny, pressure in competition, weigh-ins, and social isolation may perpetuate an environment that can increase the risk for developing the triad. Many athletes do not meet all of the criteria for the triad but may manifest the disorder and behaviors as part of a syndrome.

Three Components of the Female Athlete Triad Defined

Energy Deficit/Disordered Eating

This can be defined as a pattern of obsessive dieting and/or poor nutrition, and can be more be severe as in the presence of a clinical eating disorder. Inadequate nutrition and low caloric intake results in lower energy levels and extreme fatigue in these athletes.

Menstrual Disturbances/Amenorrhea

Menstrual irregularity or amenorrhea, the complete absence of a menstrual cycle for six months or more. Amenorrhea is often a symptom that is unreported and not commonly discussed between athletes and coaches.

Bone Loss/Osteoporosis

Bone loss is the most dangerous component of the triad, as weaker bones may lead to osteopenia and later osteoporosis causing stress fractures and injuries. Stress fractures and broken bones often manifest in the hips and vertebral column of athletes.

Common Symptoms

  • Lower energy levels, fatigue, excessive tiredness, and problems sleeping.
  • Eating issues including low calorie and or low fat diet, obsessive eating patterns and strange diets, and weight loss.
  • Physical changes including; hair loss, dry skin, cold extremities, frequent colds, infections, or illnesses.
  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycle.
  • Recurrent sports related injuries, bone breaks, and stress fractures.

The true prevalence of the triad is somewhat unknown. Studies have reported disordered eating in 15-62% of female college athletes and amenorrhea in 3.4-66% percent of female athletes. Research in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise examined 669 elite female athletes and found that over 60% of the female athletes were classified as at risk of the Triad.

Another study in the Journal of American College Healthexamined bone mineral density of elite endurance runners. Researchers found that 34.2% of the of athletes studied had low bone mineral density at the lumbar spine, and osteoporosis was present in 33% of the sample. Other aspects of the triad including menstrual dysfunction, disordered eating, and low bone mineral density were present in 15.9% of the athletes studied.   

The triad is an alarming health concern that can leave females with enduring health problems, and in an extreme form can be fatal. Education and collaborative efforts by strength and conditioning professionals and coaches is extremely important in the prevention of the triad. If you are experiencing these symptoms you should seek qualified medical advice.

Callus Maintenance

If you are a CrossFitter, chances are you have some mean looking callused hands - especially if you did Friday's pull ups and kettlebell WOD madness.  You probably wear them with pride - after all, they show your dedication because they took time to build.  And calluses are good.  They will protect your hands and allow you to handle higher numbers on your barbell and your pull ups.  But in order for them to serve their purpose, you need to maintain them.  This means keeping them thin enough that they don't raise or pinch while using them on a bar or a kettlebell.  And how do you do that, you ask?  Sure, you could pick at them at your desk in your cubicle (yes, you are still in public) - or even better, bite at your palm while on an awkward first date.  But generally you want to shave, grind or file them down as you start to notice them getting a little thick, keeping them thin and smooth.  People use all sorts of tools for this - a Ped Egg, strong nail file, pumice stone, callus shaver, sanitary scissors, or even sand paper at the gym for a quick, pre-WOD fix.

When Your Callus Strikes Back

Sometimes you over-grip, or you forget your callus maintenance, and you tear or get a blood blister.  What then?  If you have a simple blood blister, I recommend you leave it.  After time, it will get pushed to your surface skin, and you can peel it off like a scab (I know, sexy, right?).  If you tear however, there are a few steps you should follow:

First, cut off any flaps of skins and clean out the wound.  Apply some stinger spray or other type of antiseptic. To cover it, I see people using all sorts of different band-aids, liquid band-aids, tape, etc., but I recommend Nexcare Waterproof Tape because you can wear it during a workout and it adheres to the form of your hand better than other types of bandaging.

That night do a hot salt water soaks with Epsom salt.  Then soak a black tea bag in water then tape it to your tear over night.  Ignore the discoloration - it'll go away in a couple days, but the tea will actually help.

Try keep it moist with a salve like Kiehl's "Superbly Restorative Argan Skin Salve" to prevent it from the top layer drying out and cracking open.   Continue to keep it covered -  this is will also speed the healing process.

That's it!  So maintain your calluses... and happy healing!

Food for Thought: Breathing Air Before Fire

We've been talking to you about bracing a lot lately in class... Here is another article on how to breath properly and putting it into practice.  I knowOriginally published on the CrossFit Journal.

Other than bracing for a heavy lift, most CrossFit athletes don’t pay much attention to breathing technique—inside or outside the gym.

Jill Miller has studied anatomy and movement for more than 27 years, working on the links between the worlds of fitness, yoga, massage and pain management. She is the author of “The Roll Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Erase Pain, Improve Mobility and Live Better in Your Body.”

“Breathing happens automatically about 20,000 times a day,” Miller said. “Think about doing 20,000 burpees (with bad form) in a day. What havoc would that wreak on your system?”

We are born breathing perfectly, but over the years many people develop poor breathing techniques. Breathing is a foundational movement that provides both trunk control and mental acuity, and Miller said an athlete who practices breath mechanics has a performance advantage.

“When the crushing pressure of competition deflates capacity, the skilled breather can inflate him- or herself to rise above any challenge,” she said.

Note the deep belly breath on the left compared to the engaged abdominal muscles on the right.

Note the deep belly breath on the left compared to the engaged abdominal muscles on the right.

(Both: Colleen Baz/CrossFit Journal)

(Both: Colleen Baz/CrossFit Journal)

How to Breathe Correctly

First, the bad news: To breathe properly, you have to inflate your belly.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent much of your adult life holding your stomach tight, hoping to avoid the slightest appearance of a belly. Shallow breathing, using the chest and not the diaphragm, does not allow you to get as much oxygen as you could. This can increase heart rate, which causes stress and anxiety and can contribute to high blood pressure.

When you breathe in and your belly expands, your diaphragm contracts, allowing space in your chest cavity for the lungs to fill. This causes a decrease in pressure, allowing air to flow into the lungs. Breathing out moves the diaphragm back to its original position. With shallow chest breathing, you aren’t making as much room and can’t fill your lungs as much as when you take a deep belly breath. As this video shows, we are born knowing how to belly breathe. It’s something babies do instinctively, expanding their bellies with each breath.

Miller said when we suck in our stomachs while breathing, we keep tension in the transversus abdominis muscle, which runs along the front and side of the abdominal wall, deeper than the oblique muscles.

“The transversus abdominis is stitched into the same fascial fabric or fascial continuity as the respiratory diaphragm. So the respiratory diaphragm could be seen as the stocking cap on the top of the transversus abdominis,” Miller said.

The respiratory diaphragm is tethered to these abdominal muscles and can only move as much as they allow.

If your abs are constantly tight, the diaphragm can’t go through its range of motion, which is a descent on inhalation, she said.

“When the diaphragm goes down, your gut bloats and you get a little baby belly temporarily. And when you exhale, the diaphragm slides back in towards its rib attachments and hides away in there, and everything kind of gets suctioned up. If you are walking around pulling your belly button toward your spine or acting like you have a weight belt on at all times, you are going stifle the diaphragm’s movements,” Miller said.

The heart sits on top of the diaphragm; Miller calls the diaphragm a mattress for your heart. Shallow chest breaths don’t move the heart around as much.

“Your cardiac and respiratory tissues are interconnected—always have and always will be. When there is excessive tension on any tissue, it impedes tissue function. A restricted diaphragm that does not move well can impede the natural assistance it provides to the vena cava (your major vein running into the heart) to promote ease of blood flow,” Miller said via email.

Chest or clavicular breathing—which occurs when you lift your shoulders up to your ears and don’t fill your belly—mimics the type of breathing common during stress, in fright or after difficult physical exertion.

“You see this all the time in athletes. They will run up and down the court, and they will partially hinge over, hands on their knees, and drop their head down and try to catch their breath. And you will see their shoulders are up by their ears,” Miller said.

This is fine when we’re struggling to catch our breath during or at the end of a difficult workout, but it’s not a good way to breathe habitually. In a workout, athletes must often use thoracic breathing. Athletes need to maintain abdominal tension at times, and belly breathing isn't always possible. Imagine trying to take a deep belly breath while doing heavy push presses. At times like that, athletes must expand their ribs to take in air while bracing the spine with the core muscles. Unfortunately, most of us unthinkingly use shallow thoracic breathing when hunched over a computer or phone.

“And so you have this false-clavicular-breath posture that many of us are holding from a day-to-day basis, and that’s something you definitely want to address in your self-care routine and in your awareness of your breathing,” Miller said. “You don’t want to be breathing up into your trapezius or your scapula all the time. You want to have a rhythm of breathing that happens below the collarbone.”

This common post-WOD posture can be troublesome if you replicate it by elevating your shoulders and taking shallow breaths when working at a computer. (Piero Lupino/CrossFit Journal)

This common post-WOD posture can be troublesome if you replicate it by elevating your shoulders and taking shallow breaths when working at a computer. (Piero Lupino/CrossFit Journal)

Performance Breathing

Deep, diaphragmatic breathing helps athletic performance by sending more oxygen to the muscles, improving muscular endurance.

Another advantage of deep breathing: It relaxes the body. Anyone who has tried to do a high-skill gymnastics or weightlifting movement when panicked or anxious knows the value of relaxed energy in athletics.

So how do you break a bad habit you’ve been practicing most of your life?

You’ll need to start outside the gym—or at least not in the middle of a workout.

Miller said a yoga class is a good place to learn and practice breathing strategies. If yoga isn’t your thing, Miller said studying voice, hiring a vocal teacher or joining a choir can also correct breathing habits.

“You will probably learn some phenomenal breathing mechanics, and if you like being in groups, then that might be something that is actually fun,” Miller said of singing lessons.

Try taking a deep belly breath while slouched. It doesn't work well, so you can imagine what poor posture does to breathing over the course of a day. (Thomas Campitelli/CrossFit Journal)

Try taking a deep belly breath while slouched. It doesn't work well, so you can imagine what poor posture does to breathing over the course of a day. (Thomas Campitelli/CrossFit Journal)

To get the hang of diaphragmatic breathing, lie on your back. Put a hand on your chest and one below your ribcage. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose, making sure you can feel your stomach move with your hand. Exhale through pursed lips. Throughout, the hand on the chest shouldn't move much. After you get the hang of diaphragmatic breathing while lying down, practice the technique while sitting in a chair.

Once you’ve practiced this style of breathing, either in a yoga class or at home, you can start incorporating it into your workouts.

Miller suggests isolating portions of the workout so you can observe how your body breathes in reaction to the exercise you are doing and the moments in between. At times you'll need to employ deep belly breathing for best results, but at other times thoracic breaths will help you perform better.

“Just let yourself be coached, but your inner coach is observing you breathing every time you breathe. That’s what yogis do. Every single breath is observed (during yoga practice). It’s an incredible way to sharpen your mind and get familiar with the behavior of your breath,” Miller said.

Miller recommends you pay attention to your breathing as much as you can during the workout, using it to stabilize during a heavy lift or to calm down during rest periods. Your focus will go in and out as the workout progresses, but make an effort to check in on the quality of your breathing as often as you can.

Another way to observe and control your breathing is to try a breathing-ladder workout. The simplest version of a breathing ladder is an ascending scheme of one rep followed by one deep, controlled breath. Kettlebell swings are most commonly used, but you can select other movements.

A one-to-10 kettlebell breathing ladder starts with one kettlebell swing followed by one breath, then two kettlebell swings followed by two breaths. You can breathe as much as you want while you’re swinging the kettlebell, but you can only take the prescribed number of breaths during the rests. So eight swings are followed by only 8 breaths, and then it’s back to the kettlebell. If done heavy enough and with enough reps, a breathing ladder induces a panicked type of breathing. Being aware of this type of breathing, and learning how to control it, is valuable when you find yourself in a situation where you’re gasping for breath.

Keep your breaths deep when doing a breathing ladder and see if you can resist switching to shallow, panicked breathing, even under stress. Then see if you can improve your breath control and avoid panic breathing in other workouts.

Grace Under Pressure

How might a belt affect your breathing before a workout? (Colleen Baz/CrossFit Journal)

How might a belt affect your breathing before a workout? (Colleen Baz/CrossFit Journal)

Practicing breathing isn’t a showy, Instagram-worthy skill, but it can be done anywhere without any special equipment.

The next time you walk into the gym and see something terrifying on the whiteboard, something that causes your shoulders to rise up to your ears, stop and take 10 deep diaphragmatic breaths. Then use that relaxed energy and go attack the workout.

Updated 11 a.m. PT, Jan. 26, 2018, to include additional information on thoracic breathing.

About the Author: Hilary Achauer is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health and wellness content. In addition to writing articles, online content, blogs and newsletters, Hilary writes for the CrossFit Journal. To contact her, visit

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Welcome to the World Penelope!

I'm overjoyed to congratulate Coach Jenny & her husband Matt on the birth of their baby, Penelope Louise!

Penelope made her way into this world on Friday, February 2nd at 8:58am. Weighing in at 6lb and 19in in length, Penelope is healthy and Jenny is recovering well!


If you'd like to support the Elkins Werba family as they adjust to life as a trio, member Molly L. has set up a meal train. Thank you Molly!

Olivia Graff

Olivia's athletic origins lie in gymnastics and circus arts. After finding CrossFit in 2007, she became obsessed, and three years later left her IT career and opened United Barbell. Olivia is particularly passionate about helping people new to fitness to find joy in their growing athletic abilities. Since the birth of her daughter, Isis, in 2013, Olivia can add helping little ones find their athletic path to her list of passions.