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Ankle Mobility By William Imbo

When we think of mobility in CrossFit, we usually focus on our shoulders, traps, IT band, quadriceps—pretty much the entire posterior chain (which includes the glutes, hamstrings, posterior deltoids, and more). But what about the ankles? You might scoff at the notion of spending time to work on the flexibility of the joint, but what if I told you that doing so would significantly help your squat, improve your strength and reduce the risk of injury? Now I’ve got your attention.

To learn why ankle mobility is so important in a squat (or any closed chain movement where the foot is in contact with the ground), we must learn more about dorsiflexion and how it relates to the ankle.

Dorsiflexion and the ankle
The ankle is a hinge joint, and is only able to move (on it’s own) through one plane of motion—the sagittal plane. There are two movements within this plane, plantarflexion and dorsiflexion. Plantarflexion is the movement or pointing of the toes downwards (like a ballerina going on to her tip toes). Dorsiflexion, as you might imagine, is it’s opposite. This is when you lift the ball of the foot with the heel in contact with the ground, as if you were pulling your foot upwards towards your knee. Now the reason why dorsiflexion is considered to be the most important of the degrees of freedom of the ankle is because it allows for the tibia (the shin) to move forward, relative to the position of the foot. This is crucial for correct body positioning and the efficient production and application of force.

What causes poor dorsiflexion?
Poor dorsiflexion can be attributed to a number of factors. These include:

  • Flexibility issues with the Gastroc/Soleus complex (muscles of the calf).
  • Ankle joint restriction. This can be due to a tight joint capsule and/or scar tissue and adhesions in the joint from prior injuries or surgeries.
  • Anterior pelvic tilt posture. Bad posture (how often do you slouch when you’re sitting at your desk?) brings the body’s center of mass forward, which causes the ankle to plantar flex in an attempt to balance it out.
  • Other injuries in the lower body. If an athlete is experiencing knee, hip or back pain as well as any other muscle soreness in the lower body, they will instinctively limp or modify their movement to avoid discomfort. Doing so will cause the ankle joint to tighten and limit it’s range of motion.
  • Frequently wearing shoes with elevated heels. Most shoes have a heel that is slightly higher than the front of the shoe, so wearing them excessively will result in a progressive loss of flexibility. Now, I know what you’re going to say: “What about OLY shoes?” There is a varying debate on the usefulness of OLY’s—Matt Chan has actually attributed a knee injury he sustained to lifting in this shoe. On the other hand,Greg Everett points out that OLY shoes are around for a reason—to increase an ankle’s range of motion and allow them to dorsiflex. Obviously an OLY shoe doesn’t have as high a heel as, well, heels.

How to test your ankle mobility
So how do you know if you have poor ankle mobility? There are a couple of ways to find out:

  1. Perform a basic air squat a few times and have someone watch you. A telltale sign of poor mobility is if your heels routinely come off the ground.
  2. Stand straight with your feet together. Can you lift the ball of your foot off the ground without moving your body?
  3. Kneel on the ground and assume a position similar to stretching your hip flexors, with one knee on the floor. Your lead foot that you are testing should be lined up 5 inches from the wall. From this position, start to lean in towards the wall while keeping your heel on the ground for as long as possible. This position allows you to measure the tibia angle in relation to the ground and measure the distance of the kneecap from the wall when the heel starts to come up. If the kneecap can touch the wall from 5 inches away, you have good mobility in the ankle.

How does poor dorsiflexion affect your performance?
Depending on the level of inflexibility in the ankle, it may cause a complete inability to perform a movement, or create a negative knock-on effect all the way up the posterior chain with the serious potential to cause an injury. As I mentioned, poor ankle mobility causes the tibia to be dragged into a more vertical position, the trunk to lean forward and the loss of a neutral spine (as well as a host of other maladies). So what are the practical implications of poor dorsiflexion of the ankle?  Primarily, it severely decreases the ability to generate maximum force, thanks in large part to the loss of a neutral spine impairing the ability to transfer force from the hips to the load. In particular, it will affect your the front squat (and therefore clean) and overhead squat (and therefore snatch). Furthermore, if you are performing lighter or unweighted variations of these movements, you are building negative technique habits and unsafe joint loading patterns that will leak efficiency, reduce your work capacity and increase the risk of injury.

Obviously, it’s important to spend time working on ankle mobility to improve dorsiflexion. Here are a number of exercises to help get you started:

  1. Self myofascial release on the foam roller. Grab a foam roller (the harder the better) and sit on the ground. Place one leg on the roller, just above the ankle, and the rest the base of the heel of your free leg on your toes. Roll up and down the entire length of your calf and Achilles’ tendon for 1 minute. If you hit a tender spot (you’ll know if you do), pause and focus on this area for 10-20 seconds. The great thing about this exercise is that you can turn your body to the side and hit both the medial and lateral aspect of your calf, and you can add in active movements during the rolling such as actively dorsiflexing the foot or performing ankle circles.
  1. Banded heel cord with anterior bias. Take a monster band and fasten it against something stable such as a rack, and loop your foot through the front.  Maintain contact between the front crease of your ankle, and have the cord pull you back.  Step up and place the ball of the working foot onto a 25 or 45lb plate, or just an elevated surface, allowing your heel to still be on the ground.  Drive your knee forward and backward, to put pressure on the front of the ankle to get a good stretch into the joint.  Move into the end of the available range, and then move out of the end range, for about 1-2 minutes.
  1. Heel raises. This is a simple and quick drill that is easy to perform. Simply place your toes on a slight incline (like two 5lb plates) and move into dorsiflexion by bending your knees. Increase the incline as you progress.
  1. Half kneeling PVC drill. As the name suggests, start with one knee bent on the ground, so you are half kneeling. Keeping your chest straight and high, hold a PVC pipe upright at the outside of your front foot.Lean into dorsiflexion, ensuring that your knee goes outside of the PVC.

There are a ton of additional exercises you can find by doing some research online, or you can ask your coaches for some useful exercises. Just make sure that you start adding in an extra few minutes to your daily mobility routin



One Pan Autumn Chicken Dinner

Yield: About 4 servings


  • 4 – 5 (6 – 7 oz) bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp each minced fresh thyme, sage and rosemary, plus more for serving
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large sweet potato (peeled if desired), chopped into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts, sliced into halves
  • 2 fuji apples, cored and sliced into half moons about 3/4-inch thick
  • 2 shallot bulbs, peeled and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
  • 4 slices hickory smoked bacon, chopped into 1-inch pieces


  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Pour 2 Tbsp olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic and herbs into a gallon size resealable bag, add chicken, season with salt and pepper then seal bag and massage mixture over chicken while working to evenly distribute herbs. Set aside and let rest while chopping veggies.
  • Place sweet potato, Brussels sprouts, apples and shallot on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil then toss to evenly coat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread into an even layer then set chicken over veggie/fruit mixture. Sprinkle bacon (separate any pieces that stick together) evenly over veggie/fruit mixture. Roast in preheated oven until chicken and veggies are golden brown, about 30 minutes (chicken should register 165 in center). Broil during last few minutes for a more golden skin on chicken if desired. Sprinkle with more herbs and serve immediately.


Pumpkin Pie Smoothiepumpkin
yield: SERVES 1 (LARGE SMOOTHIE) prep time: 5 MINUTES

1/2 cup pure pumpkin puree
1 large banana
6-8 ice cubes
6 oz vanilla yogurt
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp agave nectar (or honey would work too)
3 Tbsp milk
pinch nutmeg and whipped cream, optional garnish


In a blender (I love this one, it does a great job crushing the ice), combine pumpkin, banana, ice, yogurt, spice, agave nectar and milk. Pulse until smooth!
Pour into a glass and top with whipped cream and pinch of nutmeg. ENJOY!
**If desired, add a scoop of vanilla protein powder before blending. **


Sometimes I rant, rave or ramble, today I’m just sharing something that popped up on my newsfeed last night. Given the fact that I’ve got 4 (not a typo) foam rollers at home, it was interesting to see a different perspective on them:

Your IT Band is Not the Enemy (But Maybe Your Foam Roller Is)

By: Robert Camacho //

Foam rollers seem to be all the rage these days and often for good reason. They’ve been demonstrated to restore lost range of motion at certain joints and many of us swear by their ability to help massage away soreness and speed recovery.

Chances are high that if you’ve ever used a roller, you’ve used it to roll out your iliotibial band (IT band), and likely at the recommendation of a trainer or one of your runner friends. It’s okay. We’ve all been there.

But now do me a favor. Stop abusing your IT band. It is your friend, and you haven’t been treating it like one.

Initially, the logic behind rolling your IT band seems fairly sound. Foam rollers increase range of motion and reduce pain. My IT bands are tight and my knees hurt. Therefore I should apply the roller to my IT bands to solve these problems, right? Unfortunately, more often than not the answer to this question is a resounding “no.” It’s quite possible you’re actually doing more harm than help and further stretching an already abused and over-elongated piece of tissue.

In order to understand why rolling your IT band isn’t always a good idea, you first need tounderstand the anatomy of your hips and thighs and the issues that most commonly lead to IT band pain in the first place.

[Click to read the full post]

Crossfit and Music . . .to me these two go hand in hand. Music has been such a big part of my life that I cannot ever imagine lifting without it. In fact, I know that I tend to be more motivated during my workouts as a direct result of what music is currently playing. Then again I can’t seem to go a single class without throwing in some super fabulous dance moves so maybe I’m just “special”. lol Anyways, considering I cannot get enough of music and we just so happened to completed Cindy – here is an interesting article that I found from Box Life Magazine about the effects of music and our workouts.

Does Music Decrease Overall CrossFit Performance?

By Gavin Brupbacher, cand. BSc

3…2…1…Go! That’s how the WOD starts in most CrossFit boxes all over the world. With this trigger the music gets louder and the symphony of fast beats, crashing weights and gasping athletes begins. Some CrossFitters can’t and/or don’t want to perform at their best without music blasting in the background. This raises the question of whether the principle of “not only for the unknown, but for the unknowable” isn’t in jeopardy. The caveman didn’t have music to escape and evade dangers or to hunt prey. Or as Miko Salo, 2009 CrossFit Games champion puts it: “If you need music for training, go get another hobby. You have to be able to train without music.” 

Is there any evidence to back claims in favor of either side? There is a bulk of scientific research which has investigated whether music is beneficial during exercise. The review of Karageorghis & Priest (2012) sums up all the data there is (until 2012) on the use of music in the exercise domain. It states that “During repetitive, endurance-type activities, self-selected, motivational and stimulative music has been shown to enhance affect, reduce ratings of perceived exertion, improve energy efficiency and lead to increased work output.”

The research makes it clear that music enhances performance during endurance tasks, but what about during CrossFit workouts? A CrossFit workout not only challenges your body in many different ways (high intensity, varying movements and speeds), but also—at least to some extent—your brain. Keeping good form, counting your rounds and making sure you do the right number of reps for each exercise needs cognition. It might sound easy, but it’s definitively more of a strain on your brain than running on a treadmill. Being succinctly different, it seems reasonable that what pertains to endurance doesn’t necessarily apply to CrossFit.

Unfortunately, despite its growing popularity and importance, music in CrossFit (and CrossFit as a whole) has received very little attention in research. In order to start closing this gap, we decided to investigate this topic. So the questions we tried to answer were: when working out with music, do we get more reps in, feel less pain and lower our perceived exertion—or is it the other way around?

To answer these questions we conducted a randomized, controlled, crossover trial. 13 participants performed four “Cindy” (20 Minute AMRAP of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats) workouts, two with music and two without in randomized order. At the 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th minutes the workout was interrupted (max. 30 seconds) to draw a blood sample for blood lactate analysis. During this time, participants filled out a questionnaire with five items: perceived exertion, perceived pain intensity, and three items of affect. Affect, unlike mood, which is less specific and intense, is the instant emotional reaction to a stimulus.

In order to keep the training setting as authentic as possible, the chosen music corresponded to a typical selection played at the time during workouts in the CrossFit box, CrossFit Basel (Switzerland). It was important to reduce the risk of participants understanding the true nature of the investigation in order to reflect the real-life situation most adequately. The playlist (AC/DC: Shoot to Thrill, Rock N’ Roll Damnation, Guns For Hire, Cold Hearted Man and Back in Black) was standardized in terms of titles, order of titles, and volume.

We were in for a surprise when we ran the data. The statistics showed that training with music resulted in a significantly lower number of reps (for all you science geeks: with music: 460 (±98) vs. without music: 497 (±104), p = 0.03). Put in more practical terms: only three of the thirteen participants had more reps with music. All other parameters remained the same, whether music was present or not.

Additional analysis showed that there were time effects for perceived exertion, pain, blood lactate and heart rates. Heart rate significantly differed between the 5th and 20th minute. Blood lactate, pain and perceived exertion significantly differed between the 5th and 15th as well as 10th and 20th minute, indicating a meaningful physiological and perceived increase of strain in 10-minute intervals. Affect did not change over time. This is interesting because it shows that although physiological strain and pain change over time, affect stays stable.

As always it’s important to put the data in perspective, consider limitations and draw conclusions for practitioners. One limitation is that participants did not classify the music with respect to its motivational quality. The results suggest that the presence of music was disadvantageous, although it was a frequently used playlist. It might be possible that the chosen music does not reflect the preferences of the majority. Coaches who use music during group training sessions should take this into consideration when composing a playlist. Furthermore, participants were not asked whether the music was a distraction. As CrossFitters often choose to train with music, we deemed it superfluous to control for this variable. In  light of these results, however, this seems to be an important factor to consider. Lastly, the sample size (13 participants) is very small. The results give a first indication that music might decrease CrossFit specific performance but does not yet settle the matter once and for all.

Moreover, every coach/box has their preferences when it comes to music. With a growing number of participants it will become more difficult to select music which satisfies/motivates everyone. One possibility is that everyone listens to their own playlist with headphones. That, however, makes it impossible for the coach to give cues and motivate their athletes. So like everything in life, it comes down to what you want. Do you want to maximize your results? Then it might be better to train without music. If you enjoy your workout more with music, then that might have priority over your performance. Either way, hit it as hard as you can!

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