Defusing the time bomb that is your shoulder.




Injuries happen. When they happen we blame the activity at hand and quote Roger Murtaugh saying something lame like “I’m getting too old for this…..” In reality age has a lot less to do with our injury than the fact we didn’t do anything to prevent it. During my short history in law enforcement I’ve seen more cops get sidelined for shoulder injuries than anything else. Know anyone that has murtaughtrashed their shoulder recently? Ask them what they were doing to prevent it. I’m betting the answer is a blank stare.

Your crappy shoulder mobility is a ticking time bomb. It’s way past time to start working on some shoulder maintenance strategies. The implications of your junky shoulders go well beyond the obvious torn rotator cuff or dislocation injuries that come to mind when you think shoulder problems. Even if you don’t outright injure your shoulder it’s responsible for pain in more places than you think.

Do you have neck pain? Fix the shoulder.

Do you have back pain? Fix the shoulder.

Want to prevent pectoral tears? Fix the shoulder.

What about your elbow problems? Big surprise, fix the shoulder.

The list just keeps going.

If left unchecked sitting in a squad car in uniform all day will trash your shoulder mobility (Are you starting to notice a common theme with my writing here?). Spending year after year in a squad car with your shoulders in midrange flexion and anterior translation (shoulder sitting in the front of the socket) is a massive maladaptive positional load to overcome. It quickly becomes your default position which is not where you want it to be if you’re trying to be powerful and injury free.

By the way if you’re a big into bench and biceps curls there’s a really good chance your show muscle has you locked in some crappy positions and the timer is ticking faster. Don’t get me wrong I like getting a sweet pump from a good chest and arms session too, and nothing is specifically wrong with either exercise, but too much focus on both really shortens the pecs and biceps and will age your body faster than chain smoking in tanning booth.

 Your shoulder is an officer safety issue.

Almost all of us know a cop that jacked up their shoulder while scrapping with a suspect at work. Chances are they fought through the pain won the fight and got the arrest. They dealt with the pain for a few days, weeks or months before finally getting it checked out and ended up under the surgeon’s knife and off the schedule. Despite our best efforts to be safe the same thing happens during training. Think about the last time you practiced handcuffing at defensive tactics. How many guys took it way too easy or avoided being the suspect because of their shoulder? What about working on joint locks? Have you ever worked on an Americana or Kimura at ¼ speed and the guy playing suspect is tapping before it’s locked in? Yeah we’ve got serious problems if we can’t drill important skills at speed and be safe about it. These techniques can be effective but need to be trained often and sometimes at full intensity. Practicing them puts a stress on our bodies and too many of our compromised shoulders can’t handle it.  If the training is not safe or effective then what’s the point? Ask your departments’ workman’s compensation provider how they feel about you drilling some ground fighting skills. I’m willing to bet they prefer you do something else because with little doubt they will be paying out for something.

I wish I could tell you that I had a quick fix for this problem, but it’s going to take some work. Step 1: Keep working on thoracic spine extension. Step 2: You have to pay attention to your shoulder position at work: retract the shoulder blades just a little bit and keep the shoulders back. When you see yourself defaulting to a hunched over shoulder forward position slap yourself of the wrist and make a better decision. Step 3: Start building some shoulder maintenance into your life.

Introducing the MAWAP® © <———My idea, you can’t have it, but I’ll let you use it…. For a nominal fee.

Crossfit may be the king of popularizing the use of acronyms in the fitness world. They got WOD- Workout Of the Day, AMRAP- As Many Rounds As Possible, EMOM- Every Minute On the Minute. Here’s one they missed MAWAP- Move As Well As Possible. This is a workout that has very little to do with rep volume and how many rounds you perform. Frankly it’s the anti-AMRAP. The purpose is to work in as much time under tension in various positions as you possibly can while moving. Going slow makes it harder and more effective.



Proof I made MAWAP up. Just saying.

One of the many knowledge bombs I picked up from Pavel Tsatsouline’s book Kettlebell Simple and Sinister comes from the section about the benefits of preforming the Turkish getup slowly. Pavel uses the example of martial artists preforming katas real slow to expose flaws in form and balance that would otherwise be rushed past and unnoticed. After perfecting movements at slower speeds the accuracy and quality of movement at full speed is impressive.

What we’re shooting for is mastery of shoulder positions but I’ll happily take simple competency for now.  I can’t stress this point enough. Slow it down. I guarantee if you do you will find out why less is more.

The proposed version of workout is a half hour long and should give you plenty of time under tension in these positions to not only mobilize the shoulder but give you a pretty solid workout even if you only do one round. In fact if you are moving the entire time and you only do one round you can consider yourself a beast.

If your shoulder is a ticking time bomb consider this the bomb squad.

We’re going to utilize variations of the animal movements you haven’t done since elementary physical education in combination with some loaded pushes and carries alternating movements in a down and back fashion. The goal is to work on mobility and stability in as many shoulder positions as possible. 30 min MAWAP.

A quick aside about the animal movements and P.E. I’ve only practiced these movements once since school and that was training for a GORUCK. Even being involved in fitness most


My extremely broken crab walk several hours into the GORUCK

of my life the benefit of these movements never dawned on me as anything other than a method of fitness torture until recently in a moment of satori that was like Daniel LaRusso figuring out that wax on/wax off was actually allegory for deflecting an attack. It turns out these movements are just ways of challenging full expression of shoulder mobility under body weight load. Those tricky gym teachers are smarter than you think.  waxon_waxoff_application







The movements

Push– For this I used my trusty Westside butcher sled. If you don’t have some sort of push sled then use a vehicle with training partner behind the wheel, or just push the training partner if you have one heavy enough to create enough resistance. Whatever the load is, make sure it’s enough to make you grind a little and move slow. Depending on your forward lean and torso position this can be analogous to the press (vertical torso) or overhead position (forward lean).




Bear Crawl– I like the knee-less bear crawl because it really gets after end range of shoulder flexion. Think about hitting your best possible downward dog and move. Take slow small steps across the yard using the pattern hand, hand, foot, foot. Focus on how this reaching overhead while keeping the shoulder stable in external rotation (get the creases of the elbows pointing toward your fingers) and did I mention to move slowly?



Good extension here but my elbows need to rotate so the creases are pointing toward my hands.

Crab walk– This is the arguably the most beneficial movement of the workout. Shoulder extension (arm behind the body) is the key here. If you can, take the kink out of the hips Squeeze the butt and get yourself in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Open the chest and feel the stretch in the biceps. The goal here is a little closer to the yoga position of tabletop than what you remember crab being. Call it walking table top if you want I don’t care. Take your time and do the best you can. A lot of cops are going to be missing shoulder extension so scale this to be as safe as you can.



If your hips need to drop, let them drop take a few steps and press back up into table top. Ideally you will have fingers pointing toward your feet. This stabilizes the shoulder with internal rotation. If you’re missing that you can let the hands turn out a little but keep working on it.


 Ape walk–  Bend over, touch your hands to the ground, then drop your hips all the way down and try to posture your torso up until the weight is about 80% on the feet 20% on the hands. The shoulders are going to reach forward a little here. Suck the shoulder in and keep the lats turned on to keep it stable. It seems to work best if you keep the pattern foot, hand, hand, foot.




Sandbag bear-hug walk – After I get the bag into position I prefer to grab the bag with closed fists and focus on pulling the weight into my body with the shoulders. You have a couple options with bag position:  1) you can keep it vertical and hug the bag with your arms in the center or 2) start to challenge yourself with a horizontal bag and use over-the-top grasp. If you have to start bending your legs to support the weight from underneath, you either need a lighter weight or a stronger grip position.




Farmer walk– Few things hammer posture and rotator cuff stability better than a farmer walk. Pull your shoulders back just slightly and grab the weight just a little off center to the back so it tips forward a few inches. Flex your triceps and you’ll get a fantastic stretch in the biceps to undo some of those preacher curls while you’re at it. I’m fortunate enough to have some farmer walk handles but a couple of big dumbbells or kettlebells will work just fine.



Overhead walk– Pure stabilization of flexion and external rotation here kids. If you don’t have a good overhead position then this may not be for you for a while. If you can’t do two weights overhead try one sided overhead walks. If you want to make it harder do a one side overhead in combination with a heavy farmer carry in the other hand.


Putting it together

On the experimental trial I did 30 minutes of this in the back yard which is about 50’ fence to fence.

Prowler push down, Bear Crawl back

Farmer Carry down, Crab Walk Back

Ape walk down, sandbag bear-hug walk back

Overhead walk down start over with prowler push and repeat until the timer says stop.

And that’s pretty much it. The day after doing this my shoulders felt strong so I gave it a try and crushed a personal best on a strict kettlebell shoulder press. Maybe that was coincidence but probably not.

You can modify according to the implements you have and your ability to get into any of the shapes. I’ll only judge you a tiny bit if you don’t have a bag of sand, kettlebells, a prowler and some farmers walk handles available in your garage or gym. Experiment with it and try new movements.

 Q: Should you do the animal moves forward or backward?

A: Yes and maybe even laterally or not at all if necessary.

 You’ll reap benefit from variety here. I’ll use the crab walk to explain why. When crab walking feet first you see that you load the shoulder in less extension and use the movement of your body to bias it into more extension. If you move head first you’ll see that you have to use active shoulder extension to move your arm back and stabilize before receiving the load of your bodyweight. If you want to go laterally you can apply the same ideas to some horizontal abduction and adduction. Even vary which hand or foot you lead off with will make a subtle difference as you grind this one out.

If you find that you absolutely cannot get into a shape and move then get in the best version you can and perform a static hold. When you’ve had enough, walk down and move on to the next movement. Take your time and do it right. What happens when the bomb squad goes fast and screws up? BOOM!


Murtaugh may be too old but Riggs is reckless, has a crappy shoulder and can’t defuse a bomb…. Just saying

If you fear this workout is beyond your physical ability just alternate some downward dog and Crab/table top static holds for about 10 minutes a couple of times a week to get started. Work them into walks and start adding everything else.



 Final thoughts 

This thing is great for the shoulders but I can’t ignore the other pieces this workout hits. This post is getting long so here are the bullet points of some of the other benefits.

  • Spending time with your hands on the ground hits wrist flexibility.
  • The various forms of crawling challenge hip and ankle mobility and motor control.
  • The farmers carry works on grip strength and posture mechanics.
  • The sandbag bear hug walk challenges posture and breathing mechanics.
  • Pretty much everything can be used to challenge reflexive trunk stability.

It’s time to start reintroducing full range of motion to your shoulders. Take your time and whatever you do don’t force or rush any part of it. Your body can take months to adapt, and you’ve got a ways to go. Keeping that in mind this is not a one and done experiment. Work it in about once a week or so for a few months and defuse that bomb. You’ll be stronger, able to trainer harder and safer for your efforts.

Stop doing that twisty back cracky thing in the car and how to use your back cracking professional better.



We have all done it. We pull the steering wheel with our left hand, press off the passenger seat with the right and twist… twist…. twist until pop. Sweet sweet release in the low back. The action itself may not be bad. I’ve heard it argued both ways: 1) you will die a slow and painful death by degenerating the joint, and 2) the contrary being that it’s probably not a big deal as long as it’s not super habitual, which might result in some damage to the joint capsule.

What happens when you “pop” a joint?

The gist of what my simple brain can understand is this

  • Your joint has a capsule full of fluid and gas.
  • When you pop a joint you are releasing the gas, which is the audible noise you hear.
  • Also during the popping you have a release of endorphins that provides a near instant mechanism for localized pain relief —part of the reason popping your back feels so good.
  • The other reason it feels good is that it’s believed the pop stimulates the golgi tendon (which is a nerve bundle that helps regulate the tension of a muscle) and the nearby muscles relax a little.

So what’s the big deal?

Studies on habitual joint popping which focus on degeneration on the joint don’t outright prove its a a problem. Here’s my real issue with it: Gray Cook, a really smart physical therapist and strength coach, drives home the point time and time again that if you do something to change position and movement you have to challenge it so the body will graycook.pnglearn to be stable in new positions and ranges of motion. It’s like hitting save on the word document. If you make adjustments or change to your body your next position and the load on that position are really important. As mentioned above, when you do the twisty back cracky thing you stimulate the golgi tendon and trigger a release in muscle tension which opens up some new range of motion.

Sooooo…. what is your next position? Probably more sitting in the car hanging the end ranges of your soft tissues and bony structure in a crappy position.

What is your low back not doing while sitting in a squad car in uniform? Stabilizing in good position.

What are you reinforcing?

Absolute best case scenario that I can see (Which by the way I don’t think is the case); you’re doing nothing. You’re just doing it again in every 20 minutes because it does feel good and you’re chasing the high (You freaking junkie).

More than likely You pop your back, and you prime the region for input for input and learning. Now you’re further normalizing sitting in the car in a crappy position.

Furthermore, while we know positional load is important for shaping our bodies, we also know that repetition is a good teacher as well. If you’re cracking your back in your car all the time you’ll probably gain some rotational capacity. This might atZoolander first glance seem okay until you consider that you can’t do this well both ways. Next thing you know you’re making confessions to your shift partner like Derek Zoolander and you have asymmetrical rotation that happens to be unstable which can be a powerful combination for injury.


I know I’m getting long winded here but let me add in one more knowledge bomb from Gray from his thinking on the joint by joint approach

The lumbar and sacral region has a tendency toward sloppiness and therefore could benefit from greater amounts of stability and motor control. This region sits at the crossroads of mechanical stress, and lack of motor control is often replaced with generalized stiffness as a survival strategy.

Do you see where I’m going here? There’s a pretty good chance you’re setting up for catastrophe. While the joint popping itself might not be so bad, it’s easy to see how you were setup for that back injury you got scrapping with the drunk on the side of the road. The good news is that your body is pretty good at trying to avoid catastrophic injury. If you’re lucky you end up with a little back tweak while picking your kid up that only puts your back on lock down for a few days so you learn to make a better decision. By the way, when it’s half healed you know what feels really good? Doing the twisty back cracky thing in the car. 3-dodgeball-quotes

While we’re on this path of thinking.

A chiropractor or physical therapist they should be using the same principle of reinforcing change. If they don’t it’s kind of like getting home from the grocery store and pitching half of your groceries immediately into the garbage. Have you ever gotten adjusted and feel great until you get back in the car and drive home? All of a sudden it’s not as quite as good as when you left the office or even like you never went? … Weird (This is also due in part to the endorphins wearing off).  A lot of practitioners skip this step because let’s face it time is money and that back cracking degree wasn’t free. The dirty little secret that they don’t tell prospective practitioners before they take out student loans is that paying them off with insurance company’s reimbursement rates isn’t as easy as they think. Don’t get me wrong they can still make positive improvement with adjustments but the guys that take the extra step seem to see me fewer times for whatever issue I have.

It turns out that a good physical therapy or chiropractic session might look something like a solid yoga session.

First you make a change (stretching). Then you challenge position within the new range of motion (static and balancing postures). Rinse and repeat. Finish up by taking a little time with deep diaphragmatic breathing in a good posture. Usually standing tall (mountain pose /Tadasana) lying down (corpse pose /Savasana) or some variation of sitting cross-legged (easy pose /sukhasana or lotus Padmasana).

 Note: This isn’t necessary a universal principal in all yoga practices, but I see it a lot. I really don’t think the similarities are a fluke.

If you like your back cracking professional but they skip this step, that’s fine. Just be aware of the issue and take some ownership of your body. It’s not rocket surgery. Get yourself into a good position, and find a way to challenge it. A good hard style plank, a Cook hip lift or two and maybe loaded carry will work great. At a minimum practice some neutral spine bracing and diaphragmatic breathing while you walk around for a few minutes. Whatever you do don’t just go directly to your car and sit in a compromised position for the next half hour while you drive home. If you can walk to and from your appointment do that too. You can do great things with a little bit of knowledge and a pinch of effort.

That’s just my basic understanding. It’s also easy to go much more in depth with these ideas and build some really good ways to hit save on your movement practice.  Gray Cook is better at that than me so I’ll let his video give you a good example.


Final thoughts.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to write a blog post about not cracking your back in the squad car then go sit in a squad car and not crack your back? Probably about as hard as reading the same post and not go crack your back in the squad car. As a way to combat the urge try this for a nifty low back massage from the inside out.

NOTE: Don’t do this if you have a known hart condition.

  1. Sit as upright as you can. (Think sit tall).
  2. Exhale all the air that you can. When you think your out start making the “SSS” sound to get the last little bit out. You should feel your abs get tight your rib cage tilt down during this which helps align your diaphragm and pelvic bowl.
  3. Keep your belly tight and breath in and out into your gut. Try to keep your belly firm and in place so your breath pushes into your low back.
  4. Just hang out and try this for a few minutes.

AAAAANNNNNDDDD you’re welcome. Ironically enough the first time I did this I got an amazing clunk deep in my sacraliliac joint. It wasn’t the same as the air bubble pop. It was more like something slipping back into place and my hips felt great the rest of the night. If you get that you’re double welcome.

Restoring the T- Spine



Okay Officer Hunchback, it’s time to address your thoracic issues. The bad news for you is that having a rounded upper back can be the gateway to back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and more pain (and by the way you cant press as much weight overhead). The good news is that you can work on your thoracic spine, start relieving all that pain and be more awesome at pressing weight overhead.

Fun fact for all of the Keith Cushman  (the kid from Jerry Maguire) fans: The human head doesn’t weigh 8 lbs. Okay I’m sure some do but it’s usually estimated at 10-12 lbs according the googles. It’s widely quoted that for every inch your head of forward of center, the stress on your neck increases by another 10 lbs (I didn’t find the study but have seen the textbook  Physiology of Joints by A. I. Kapandjii cited as the source)  Is your head 3 inches forward of center? Well that’s like 42 lbs of stress on your neck so…. way to go you overachiever.

The vest/uniform shirt combined with sitting in a squad car is a powerful combination that will Quasimodo you in a hurry if you’re not cognizant of position and fail to take corrective measures.  If you’ve let this go on long enough your spine is probably stuck. It’s bad enough that trying to stand up straight like mama said won’t quite cut it. Even going through a solid bracing sequence wont quite get the T-spine where it needs to be.  You’ll need some amount of force to restore extension. Don’t have a chiropractor in your pocket that can adjust you before and after work? Give this a try.

Quick test: Can you keep your body in a braced position neutral spine position and put your arms overhead? If yes, check again make sure your rib cage is still down… cheater.


Not overhead. Try to load a kettlebell in this position and see how long you can hold it there.

Still not overhead. My hands are more vertical, but I’m cheating. Look extension load in the low back to get them there. Can you load this position? Yes you can. Do it enough and you’ll find out why missing thoracic extension can lead to low back pain.

Much better here. We have a flat back, the ribs are down and hands are vertical.  Not quite perfect, but this good enough to safely put some load on it.



















NOTE: The overhead position is a great test and retest to look at improvement in T-spine extension but there’s a lot more work that can be done to clean his position up including soft tissue work on the chest, triceps, lats, and serratus just to name a few. We’re just looking for improvement. This post isn’t the end all be all for perfect overhead position. 

Foam roller extension level 1

Roll your back from the base of your ribs to your neck over the foam roller 20-30sih passes or until you stop noticing change. Focus on getting as much extension out of your thoracic spine as you can. Put your hands over head to make it a little more awesome. Feel free to roll side to side as you roll up and down to get the ribs moving too. By the way if this makes you want to vomit, chances are your tissues are junky. But on a more serious note if this feels like it’s aggravating any injuries then bail. Go see your chiropractor, physical therapist or other qualified professional.


This my friends is flexion of the T-spine, you might start here to make some superficial passes but you need to work on getting that upper back as extended as you can to try to restore normal position. If you’re stuck here keep working and think about relaxing over the roller. Foam rollers are really big and soft so if just doing this is causing discomfort, you got some work to do kiddo.



Here we are looking better with a flattish back. Remember flattish is extension in comparison to today’s standard kyphotic rounding. Even when you get here, keep working to bias your t-spine into extension.


Here’s a good variation to get some snap, crackle, pop going. Hug yourself, hang your head back and slowly steamroll the foam roller toward your head.


Throwing the arms overhead really cranks up the extension tension. The function of the shoulder blades and the thoracic spine are so intertwined that they’re inseparable as a functional unit when it comes to putting your arms overhead (hence our earlier test) Hit this position before you even think about putting weight overhead in a military press, snatch, jerk or anything.


You can drop your hips and use that to bias a more globally extended spine. You can keep or leave  dropping the head back here. (my head looks like it’s gonna explode for a reason, and it’s not because this is without discomfort for myself).  If you’re actively dealing with some low back issues, keep your butt active and squeeze it a little to prevent too much low back extension.


You have a variety of options here Use what works for you in your current situation.

Foam roller extension level 100

Alright, now it’s time to turn it up a notch. Grab a weight, put it on your chest, hug it and start rolling out your back keeping the focus on thoracic extension. Use what you can of all the above mentioned techniques in combination with a huggy weight. The hands overhead variation is tough here but you can place the weight on the ground above your head. Grab the weight and use it to anchor your arm into a stable position as you bias extension.

I use a 40 lb medicine ball as my “huggy weight.” You can use about any weight you have accessible. kettlebell, bumper plate or even your two year old child…. yes I’ve done it, and it worked.

Work on extension joint by awful joint.

The foam roller is great for restoring multi segment extension but sometimes we need to be a little more precise and a little more severe. A couple of lacrosse balls taped into a peanut of death or a MWOD Gemini work great. Take a few light passes up and down the length of the t-spine first to get warmed up. Then settle in, let the shoulders and neck lay on the ground and lower your hips using the peanut as the fulcrum to work on each joint individually. Let as much as your trunk contact the ground as you can. Think about breathing through your back into the peanut, and work gently in and out of flexion and extension taking several reps at each segment. Work all the way up to your shoulders from the base of your t-spine/ribs. Add your huggy weight to really ratchet it up here.



I promise this feels good.


Do what you can with the foam roller and peanut variations. If it’s ever so much discomfort that you find that you can’t relax or, take a full breath in and out, readjust and/or back off a progression.


The squishy balls soft tissue smash.

When we need to unstick some junky fascia and reset muscle tension softer balls are clutch . The harder and larger implements work better for forcing your spine into extension and can get some of the soft tissue work done but inversely, a softer ball will do some of some of the extension work and seems to work much better on the soft tissues of your back. The reason they work so well is that they are a little more grippe and create a little more shear between tissues and they yield to bony prominence allowing them to get into some nooks and crannies that harder balls bypass.  I love pinky balls for this. The older harder version are my favorite but they’re becoming more difficult to find. The newer softer versions of the pinky ball work fine too but at they’re a little softer. Jill Millers Yoga tune-up balls are also fantastic. You know what Jill Miller also has that’s fantastic? This video on a ball sequence to work on the back and neck.


Think about restoring extension before/after work, and always make sure its there before you start putting weights over head. I highly recommend doing the softer ball work a little before you go to bed…. Aaaaaaannnnnnddddd you are welcome. I’m serious it’s money for turning on the “off switch.” When  I take the time to do this I need fewer pillows bolstering my head and neck and I sleep like a rock.


Becoming a modern spartan ” The 300 challenge”


The title of Kelly Starrett’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard comes from  the concept that you should have full capacity of your body readily available at all times. The leopard doesn’t go through a dynamic warm up, stretch out and foam roll before it takes off at a dead sprint to do leopardy things. The leopard is just in a state of readiness so it can do what it needs to whenever the opportunity arises.

I can’t think of any segment of the human population that the supple leopard concept applies to more than the modern law enforcement officer or soldier. No other professions require a higher state of readiness. We are required to be able to go from sitting in a car for the better part of eight hours to getting into a foot race, wrestling a suspect to the ground or fighting for our life in all out war without the opportunity to warm up  and mobilize. It’s really an insane requirement that cops are trying to meet every day.  Instead of the supple leopard I like to call it being a modern spartan. 

It’s a massive undertaking to maintain this state until retire. I hate to say it but the ugly truth is that most of us aren’t there.  Even if we forget about the requirements for speed, strength, power, endurance we’re still working with limited capacities  of our body which leads to injury and that’s not good enough.

In my Last post I talked about restoring hip extension and feeding some slack into the front of the hips. At first glance it sounds counterproductive to say that sitting in flexion is the enemy shortening anterior structures of the hip and extension is the fix. In the next breath I say you need have more hip flexion. Guess what. It turns out that sitting in a squad car in mid range positions wrecks flexion too so basically the average cop is really messed up and stuck in a crummy position. To work on flexion we’re going to use the the deep squat. Not only does it challenge hip flexion but it gives us a look into the other problem areas in the feet, ankles, and back which we’ll talk about over the next few weeks.

Time for a little reality check

Squat down while you read the rest of this blog.  I’m talking allllll the way down. Like thighs below parallel, can in the sand chilling on the street corner of a third world nation squat. Seriously, if you’re somewhere that it is at least somewhat socially acceptable and you don’t have any known injuries that prevent you from squatting give it a try. If your job requires you to run, jump, wrestle, fight or whatever without warning you should be able to squat for the next few minuets.

When’s the last time you squatted like this and held it for any length of time? For cops that don’t intentionally work on this position, the question is answered with a surprisingly simple and accurate mathematical formula:

Years you’ve been a cop  Forever = Last time you squatted and held it.

It’s not just cops but most humans  in industrialized nations don’t spend enough time in this position. In the first episode of MOBILITYWOD, DR. Starrett introduces the 10 minute squat test and makes the claim that nations with populations that sleep and toilet on the ground have very little hip and low back disease. I couldn’t locate the research that makes that claim directly but did find an interesting study that states high income nations are 2-4 times more likely to suffer from low back pain than low income nations so Starrett’s claim seems to hold water.

Check it out here:  The epidemiology of low back pain in the rest of the world. A review of surveys in low- and middle-income countries.

I’m going to suggest that your performance in 10 minute squat is inversely correlated to the likelihood that you do or will have back pain. If I’m correct  then we can decrease back pain by improving competency in the squat. It’s not so much the squat itself that addresses back pain but having a bodywith the attributes that can be stable and comfortable in the bottom of the squat is a body that is less likely to have problems that result in back pain.

The 300 challenge

The objective is to accumulate 300 minutes of squatting an eliminating free time couch sitting for 30 days. Think of this as a 30 day cleanse for your hips and back. If your good at math then you probably figured out that I’m just applying the 10 minute squat test every day for 30 days.

The idea is to use cumulative dosing to get you comfortable in the position. I’m talking about FIVE HOURS throughout the month in a squat. After the month hopefully you’ve mastered the test and are comfortable in this position. All you need to do to maintain it is use it in every day life. Squat down to play with the kids, grab something off of the bottom shelf, organize the fridge, change a tire or whatever. Try to accumulate 10 minutes every day using the squat. That’s something like 2.5 days of squatting in a year! Use the test periodically to check in and make sure you haven’t lost capacity.

Let me be clear… 10 minutes of legit, unsupported squatting in one session is the end goal. The first few times you try this it will humble you.  It doesn’t have to be a perfect squat and you might need to break it up into multiple sessions for the first few days with a minimum dosage of two minutes per session.  But we’re working toward the goal.

Some pointers on the squat

Want to start an online argument in the exercise and fitness community? Try to teach the squat. A lot of smart people out there teach the squat differently and argue that their way is the only and best version of the squat. Here’s the deal… the best way to squat is going to depend on the task at hand and individual lifter anatomy. Without getting overly specific, here are some basics.

  1. Like everything else we start with a braced neutral position
  2. Initiate the squat by setting the hips back to load the hamstrings.
  3. Keep the shins vertical as long as you can.
  4. Keep the knees over or slightly outside the feet, don’t let them collapse in.
  5. Maintain even pressure throughout the foot.
  6. The squat isn’t legit until your hips are below your knees.
  7. Maintain a flat back as deep as you can. We’re unloaded here so rounding at maximum depth isn’t the end of the World.

Keep even pressure throughout the foot. All three points should be in contact with the ground at all times.

Don’t over-complicate the squat. If you need more instruction,  just look at the natural squat of a toddler. It’s beautiful and effortless. These photos were taken simply by asking my kid to squat. ZERO instruction required. Frankly her position is immaculate and not trashed by a destructive environmental load.

Scaling the squat test 

If your body is lacking the capacity to get down into the squat then we can start by simply mimicking the squat position by laying on the ground with your butt as close to the wall as possible and putting your feet on the wall to get you in deep squat position.


If you can squat but need a little help maintaining stability or just need some help with endurance while you’re down there we have a few different options available.

Back to the wall. This allows a substantial amount of support and increases demand on the legs and torso from the feet on the wall option.

Grab onto something solid. A door frame, squat rack or training partner works great. This allows you to have more control over your position. You can pull forward with your arms to control your torso position and adjust demand on our ankle. You may find that just pilling with two fingers is enough assistance.

Use a counter weight. It doesn’t take much weight to change your center of gravity just enough to take some of the demand off the ankle and allow you to maintain a more upright torso. Holding an object in both hands also allows you to stabilize your thoracic spine through external rotation of the shoulder.

Power band around the hips. It helps keep you upright and allows for freedom to work toward an unsupported squat. The power band also forces you to push your knees out to maintain a stable hip. You really have two options here: 1) Arms in the band 2) Arms out of the bands. In the band creates a more stable position. Arms out of the band requires you to generate a little more stability on your own.

No sitting

As for the no sitting portion of the challenge. No unnecessary crappy sitting for the month. You’ll still sit when required to at work or other like situations. But we’re focusing on the extra mid range sitting here.  You can still sit but use the floor and if you use the couch then sit in half lotus, crossed legged, legs straight, or really crank up the hip stability with full lotus. Don’t forget there is always kneeling, half-kneeling, or you could just squat and do the couch stretch during your down time.



Use your best judgement here talk to your doctor, chiropractor or physical therapist before you start if you think you need to. If you can’t get near this position without excruciating pain that’s not good enough.  Work with them on a plan to get a legit 10 min squat because theirs a high likelihood that’s the plan that gets you out of pain.

Believe me this challenge is a worthwhile endeavor. Make the commitment and keep working the couch stretch too. After learning to stand and work from a neutral braced position, maintaining full range of motion in both extension and flexion is an obvious second step to becoming a modern spartan and a pain free cop.




Restoring hip extension.


If you’re sitting in a squad car all day you’re going to be short in the anterior (front) hip. Realistically you go days without bringing your hip into extension for any meaningful amount of time.  You might spend some time in neutral while standing but you spend almost no time in hip extension. When you don’t get into extension your body adapts to this flexed hip paradigm and shortens the hip flexors. When these structures get short it creates passive tension in the system and becomes a major contributor to anterior pelvic tilt, overextended lumbar spine and ultimately back pain.

My first post addresses pelvic tilt from motor control standpoint. Now it’s time to start feeding some slack into the system to relieve the passive tension that’s dumping you pelvis. Lesson one still applies, don’t forget to stabilize the trunk and pelvis as we work on extension.

Step 1 Spend more time standing- Siting too much is the problem it only makes sense that standing more mitigates the problem. When you stand you need to stand well. If you let your pelvis hang out all dumped forward and don’t level it out while you’re standing the relative position of your hip and thigh is still in flexion.

Step 2 Spend some time in the half kneeling position- Gotta do something on a table or desk? Ditch the chair when you can and go down to one knee. Get your down knee behind the hip to bring it past neutral into extension. Use some padding on the down knee if you need it.


Step 3 Torture yourself with the couch stretch- Simplistic and evil the couch stretch is the best way to open the front of the hips.  Kelly Starrett popularized it in the second episode of MWOD.  Think of it as a runners quad stretch on steroids and PCP.

The setup– Start on all fours and place one shin against the wall with your knee in the corner of the wall and floor. The opposite foot steps forward into a lunge position.


Squeezing the butt and driving the hip forward in this lunge position might be enough for starters. If this is all you can handle that’s fine. This is still extremely effective. Work from this position until you’re ready to go vertical.

The stretch- Squeeze your butt, drive off of your front foot, bring your hips forward and posture up.  The words tear open the hip come to mind here but in this case it’s a good thing.

All of the slack is pulled up by extreme knee flexion on the vertical shin. When you bring your hip to extension it’s really something special… in a painful want to throw up but still a good thing kind of way. Chances are that you will pull the knee out of the corner of the floor and wall. That’s cheating and you’re robbing yourself of maximal hip extension. Don’t be that guy.

When you’re able to keep posturing up until you can get your back upright and parallel to the wall without overextending your low back. If you get all the way up make sure your butt is still turned on and hang out for a minimum of two minutes. If you can’t squeeze your butt then back off a little bit.

If you need a little support to posture up a PVC pipe works great in this end position.


When to do the couch stretch

It’s a great option for cops before and after a shift. Your hip is going to be in mid range flexion for an extended period of time so prep for it then undo the damage of your shift as soon as you can.

How to super charge the couch stretch

Front foot elevation – If you want to take this stretch to a level that might be outlawed by the Geneva convention put something under the front foot to raise it up a few inches. We want quality stretching not just a circus trick here so if you can’t do this and keep your butt turned on then stick with the original recipe couch stretch for your extra crispy hip flexors.

Power band hip extension assisted torture hell– You know that spot where your butt meets the rest of your thigh? Stick a power band there and wrap the other end around something solid to assist your hip into full extension.

If you don’t have a squat rack to tie a band to then a kettlebell or a trustworthy training partner works well too.

Work on it

The couch stretch is not just something you try every now and then. I know it can suck big time but you need to take your medicine and dedicate some serious time to working on it. Several times a week if not daily is not unreasonable. Keep practicing it until you get comfortable doing it. When you got it mastered keep working on it to maintain hip function. Don’t forget you’re still sitting way too much. Full hip extension is the first half of complete hip mobility. Next week we’re going to work on some full hip flexion in the deep squat.

We gotta start somewhere.


Here’s the deal, being a cop can be AWESOME! Having a badge is the a ticket to the greatest show on earth. One thing about being a cop no one told you before you joined the brotherhood is that this job will wreck your body. The reality is that someone probably told you but you were 22 and bulletproof  which makes you deaf to such warnings. The ugly truth is that your body takes a slow quiet beating day after day that you don’t notice until its too late. You end up injured, broken and off of work. If you’re lucky enough to last your 30 years to a full pension you probably wont have enough use of your body to really enjoy your retirement years if you don’t do something about it sooner than later.

We gotta start somewhere

We got to start somewhere our first project is to go after the champ. Low back pain (LBP). It sends cops to disability retirement all the time so mission one is to start take a crack at it.

Cops have crappy backs so do most modern humans.  Back pain is estimated to effect 80% of the American population at some point in their life and it costs us an estimated 50 billion dollars a year. Cops back problems are only slightly more common (about 6% more than the the rest of the population).  While the injuries are not necessary unique cops deal with a specific set of compromises that send us to pain city so what does the research say?

There a handful of studies that have been done on back pain. If your interested in reading a summary of the studies here ya go. Allow me to summarize the summary.

  1. Sitting in a car with a duty belt on is bad.
  2. Sitting in a car with a duty belt on while over weight is worse.
  3. Sitting in a car with a duty belt on while overweight and not having any physical activity is really really bad.

The studies correlate risk factors but at best we’ve only been theoretical about the actual mechanism of injury. Most theories seem to focus the blame on the weight of the duty belt others focus on uneven weight distribution being contributing factor. But ultimately everyone’s just hypothesizing so I’ll toss in my two cents with the rest of guessers.

It’s all about position. We need to take a look at positions we’re in or more importantly the positions were restricted from getting into as we spend all day sitting in uniform. Long story short were stuck in mid range positions and hanging on the meat. We almost don’t hit full range of motion in our hips so our bodies adjust to the ranges we require of it which on a routine basis is enough to sit in a car and reach the steering wheel. Most of the time just chill with our musculature turned off letting our body create a crappy default position that translates from our sitting to our standing, running, jumping, ect. So that’s where were going to start. The default position.

Before you move well you need to learn to stand well.  I get that it sounds super lame. It’s hard to get stoked about standing but standing is a technical skill. Building a template on how to organize your body in a way that protects your back is key to injury prevention and longevity. Practice it enough to make it your default position and will unlock performance even when your tired. This is truly the first steps on the path to being pain free.

Yo mama’s coaching cues are so bad…

Like I said standing is a skill and it’s not as simple as you probably think. When you young your parents probably told you to stand up straight. It’s the right idea but a little more coaching needs to happen here. Go a head give it a shot real quick stand up straight. Chances are that you just extended across the length of your spine. Which does counter the kyphotic curve of the thoracic spine making it a little flatter and makes you “puff” your chest out  so you look confident. This also exaggerates the lordotic curve of the lumbar spine. This is not a straight back. Yo mamas coaching cue is so bad it just gave you stripper back.  Trying to stand up straight without making your hips neutral is like trying to build a tower of playing cards on a slanted table. It’s not gonna work right.

Standing up “straight” with a huge extension load in the lumbar spine. That big sweeping curve in my low back that’s “stripper back”

To stand well means you have a neutral pelvis with a supported flattish spine.  It’s more than just standing upright and not slouching. It’s active standing. The yogies call it Tadasana (tah-DAHS-uh-nuh) or mountain pose. The quick and dirty on it is this. Working from this position protects your back. When you work from a protected position your body knows it and opens up the flood gates of power with more range of motion. If you really want to dig into the reasons why check out Kelly Starretts’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard.

Follow this quick sequence and see how you feel.

  • Start by standing with your feet under your hips and pointed straight. (for the yoga purists out there true tadasana starts with feet together)
  • Squeeze your but to bring your hips to neutral and externally rotate your your legs. Think of screwing your feet into the ground. Left foot counterclockwise and right foot clockwise. if you are doing it right you will see the arch in your foot rise.

    K eep your feet stay straight and your toes on the ground. just add tension to the system with external rotation generated at the hips to screw your feet in the ground.

If you think your flat footed chances are you stand like a fool. Top: Collapsed flat foot with navicular drop which is a mechanism for injury. Bottom: foot with arch created with a little butt squeeze and some external rotation.

  • Keep your ribs down. If you find yourself getting puffy chesty you’re  overextended at the thoracic thoracic spine then you need flatten it out.
  • Support the flat thoracic spine and keep your shoulders back with active, externally rotated shoulders. With your arms at your side turn your thumbs away from your body by rotating your shoulder. Keep your elbows close to your sides and move your hands away from your body. Think reverse seal clap.

    Fist try to just pull your shoulders back. It probably feels more stable than letting them hang out in the front of your shoulder capsule. Now try the external rotation model shown here. Did you feel that the contraction across your back? That’s what were looking for to support your back. You don’t have to walk around with your arms out just hang on to the tension back there to keep your shoulders back and the spine supported.

  • Get tall. If your head is ahead of your shoulders thing about makeing your neck as tall as possible. This cue seem to work better than bring the head back

The difference is suttle but the ramifications over thousands of hours is not. Top : Overextended back with anterior pelvic tilt is a recipie for disaster. Bottom: Neutral pelvis generated with a squeez of the butt and a little external rotation.

If you have back pain you might find going through this sequence alleviates the pain. Detectives might call a clue. This neutral position or some variation of it is what you should strive to be in at any given time. When you stand, walk, run, deadlift or squat. Any time you move you challenge your ability to maintain this position. The goal now becomes to test how much load you can handle with a braced flat back. The more  demand (weight, cardiovascular, any kind of fatigue ) you can handle without breaking your neutral position is the new metric by which we need to start judging our movement.

Knowing how to learning to organize yourself to stand is only the beginning. Once you learn the model you have the opportunity to make a better decision. Now go make a better decision.