Strength Matters Kettlebell Certification Level 1: NYC Oct 21-23, 2016

It’s the beginning of September, and I ping Mark “Rif” Reifkind, my kettlebell coach and Chief Instructor of Strength Matters, on Facebook. I talk about the problems of my right arm press of 24kg, one of two last problem points as I head into the Strength Matters Kettlebell Certification. Of course, it degrades into defeatist talk at which time I rally and tell him I won’t let him down.
Up to this point, it’s been a 5 year journey. Never have I felt closer to being able to complete a real kettlebell cert, and I finally committed to a cert date and location: Oct 21-23 in NYC at Exceed Physical Culture in Tribeca. With about 1.5 months left, I am attempting to hit all the requirements of the cert and own them by then, so that they do not require excessive effort or energy to just execute and survive. But not all is proceeding to plan; time is running out and I am wondering if I will pass on the cert date or after.
By now, I have been doing the 10 minute Swing Test (1 arm Swing for 10 reps in 15 seconds, rest 15 seconds; switch hands and repeat; continue until you hit 10 minutes) for months; not that it seems easier every time I do it – at least I am recovering well which tells me that I’ve adapted somewhat. This, I feel, is crucial. I want to be adapted to as many of the cert required loads and moves so that I can get through the 3 days without collapsing.
Also, I’ve been doing the Swing Test with the 28kg. Earlier this year when I signed up for the cert, I weighed upwards of 168 lbs and thought that I would have to get through the Swing Test with the 28kg (I’m in the 50-59 age group). Little did I know that I would show up at the cert weighing a measly 141 lbs and could do the Swing Test with the 24kg! This would prove advantageous as spending so much time with the 28kg at the VO2max cadence meant that the 24kg felt light, and I didn’t feel so wiped.
Other cert requirements that I already hit were the Turkish Get Up, Clean, Front Squat, and the Goblet Squat, although it was not testing requirement. While not a testing requirement, there is a Snatch VO2max workout (Snatch 7 reps in 15 seconds, rest 15 seconds; switch hands and repeat; continue until you hit 20 minutes) with the 16kg which is definitely something I would not just want to walk into the cert without preparation, thinking I would just gut through it. In the weeks before, I hit the full 20 min several times, interleaving them with shorter workouts where I stopped due to fatigue or hand problems.
There is another graduating workout which I heard would be a combination of Swings and Goblet Squats. They are done in matching numbers: 1 Swing + 1 Goblet Squat, Rest; 2 Swings + 2 Goblet Squats, Rest; and so on up to 10. Then do it again! So I added a multi-set Goblet Squat workout weekly just to get my quads up to par in case I had to do a squat dominant workout.
The two cert requirements that escaped me were the 24kg 1 Arm Press and Snatch. The easy one to talk about was the Snatch as it was just a build that I had not reached yet, and I did make it to the cert with a few workouts achieving 10/10 at least once. Still, I did not feel like I owned it but with time running out, it would have to do.
The much harder and stressful one was the 24kg 1 Arm Press. For months I had been building up slowly to 5×5/5 with the 16kg, 20kg, and then finally with the 24kg. However, my left arm was much more capable. It could put up the 24kg 5x nearly effortlessly. In stark contrast, my right arm was totally inconsistent. I would run through 5 sets, sometimes varying set by set between 1 and 4 reps. I knew something was deficient, and it wasn’t an energy problem because I often hit a 4 rep set towards the latter half of the 5, after doing a bunch of singles, doubles, and triples.
With Rif’s help, I was finally able to diagnose it as a lat problem, which then related to a tight and overactive right trapezoid that tended to drag the shoulder up when attempting the press. This turned it into a muscle lift and not a whole body lift, at which point my shoulder muscles simply could not make it to 5 reps without failing.
Finally, the week of the cert comes and on Monday of that week I figure out that if I contract both lats (versus only my right lat) before the lift, I could do 5 reps! In fact, I hit it twice! With newly armed confidence, I hop on the plane to NYC and the cert.
Arriving the day before was risky; I would have jet lag to contend with since the cert started (more or less) at 8am each day. Also, I like to get up well before that so that I can have my usual daily Hanna Somatics warm-up, as well as my coffee. However, as circumstances would have it, I got in the day before. I ate a big steak and a large potato to fuel up for the next 3 days. I prepared my backpack for tomorrow:

  1. 4 rolls of Johnson and Johnson athletic tape – this is the only brand of tape to use. Other brands cannot be ripped by your hands; you need scissors to cut which is annoying.
  2. Scissors
  3. Thin workout gloves – wasn’t sure if I would rip my hands.
  4. Kettlebell wrist guards – in case my wrists got overly bruised, or more recently, scraped to bleeding due to the bell resting there.
  5. Chalk – had to bring my own brand, didn’t trust anybody elses. Rif’s recommendation: GSC Gym Chalk
  6. 2 Bananas – refuel whenever possible!

Day One began a bit drizzly and muggy. But thankfully Exceed had air conditioning in the basement room where we were. I shudder to think if we had to be in their street level workout room which was rumored to never have the A/C on.
Rif led the instruction, with instructors, Ed Cashin, co-founder of Truth Training, and James Breese, CEO/Founder of Strength Matters, helping out.
We did a quick group warm up. As an Original Strength coach, it was great to see Original Strength movements worked into the warm up! Strength Matters has a partnership with Original Strength, and it’s good to see the integration.
Then, we dove right into learning how Strength Matters teaches kettlebells. Swings were taught first with progressions and corrections. After teaching the Swing, it was nearly lunch time and we had the first test of the cert: the 10 min Swing Test. We lined up 3 at a time to test. The instructors would count and make sure each rep was within specifications. As each group crossed half way and closed in on 10 minutes, there were definitely instances of flying kettlebells as peoples’ grips gave way – very dangerous!
As I hit the last 3 sets of my right hand, my grip started weakening. I could definitely see the jet lag in action here as I hadn’t had grip issues with the Swing Test in months. But I made it through with no further issues, or a flying kettlebell!
After lunch, we went through the Clean and 1 Arm Press. Throughout the technique teaching, there were cues I knew and a few that were new. With Rif as my coach, I had seen many already but there were some that I had not seen before.
Note that there were two additional workouts within the day – just enough to maintain a healthy energy drain!
Day One ended with me feeling tired but not too bad. My hands were thankfully in good shape. Some of the others developed some blistering calluses and rips; I’m very glad that my technique has advanced past the ripping stage – well, mostly! Afterwards, we all went out to a grill/bar called Mudville 9. It was good to socialize with everyone.
I began Day Two with little sleep. Street noise woke me up around 230am, and I didn’t really fall back asleep for the rest of the night. My glutes were a bit sore, and my shoulders were tight. Otherwise, I felt OK. Certainly I am super happy not to be more sore!
Ed ran us through a quick warmup, and we began the day with Turkish Get Up instruction which felt good as Rif had taught me in the same way. We then moved to the Front Squat. I am glad we went through some mobility work for creating a good deep squat. Sometimes I feel that too many people don’t have good skills to help a client achieve a good, safe deep squat. We had another short workout before we hit Snatches. Having been trained by Rif, I had already seen the low Snatch drill that he likes to teach with. After the technique teaching, we all formed a big circle and began the 20 minute Snatch VO2max workout.
I started out strong, maybe too strong, as I got caught up in the group spirit. We moved through the 20 minutes, and it always seems like forever. Towards the last 5 minutes, both my arms started weakening – jet lag plus layering on all the workouts over the two days was taking a toll. It was getting harder and harder to get a good punch to the high bell position and initiate a good, fast drop afterwards. Still, when the body starts giving up, it’s time to dig deep into the spirit, focus, and keep going. As a group, we made all triumphantly made it to 20 minutes, and we were all relieved to have made it to the end!
I also wanted to say that here it was great to see the other two instructors, Ed and James, join in with the workout. Often we hear that instructors at certs tend to sit out the workouts while watching us hapless attendees struggle and sweat. But seeing Ed and James whip through the workout alongside us impressed me; you could see that they really walked the talk.
Day Two ended with me strolling around Exceed and cooling down for many minutes after the Snatch VO2max workout. I politely declined meeting up for dinner to head home to refuel and shower, and do some movements to make sure I wasn’t holding extra tightness from the day anywhere.
The morning of Day Three, I woke up with lightly sore hamstrings, glutes were a bit sore, and my shoulders were tight. Thankfully, none of the soreness was super severe. A little bit of warmup and the soreness and tightness calmed down to barely there.
Today was the big day: technique testing. Once again Ed ran us through a group warmup, and then we all broke up into our testing groups and discussed and reviewed each technique. I was in Ed’s group, and we all asked questions and rehearsed the techniques with comments and some corrections.
We then split up to do our official test. First up was the Swing Test of 1 arm Swings 10 reps each. I end up going first every time, and knocking out the Swings was no issue. Next, we did Turkish Get-Ups, one on each side. This was a little bit harder. I was beginning to shake just the tiniest bit as I executed the moves of the TGU. I could tell that 2 days of workouts (aka “shared suffering”!) was taking a toll. But I focused to hold it together for a few more techniques.
Cleans were after TGUs, and 5 on each arm. I had no issues here; thankfully I had “cleaned up” all my issues with my Clean months ago. But after the Cleans, my right shoulder starts to ache a bit. I started to worry; would it flare up and prevent me from executing the bane of my training existence, the 1 Arm Press of the 24kg?
The time finally comes. I line up on the 24kg kettlebell and prepare for the 1 Arm Press. I quickly rehearse all the things I will do and visualize the bell going up 5 times. Taking in some preparatory breaths, I clean it with my right, squeeze both lats down and push it up with a big TSSSS. I lock it out, sniff in air, and come down with big TSSSS. Then I repeat 3 more times with no issues, and now comes the finish line – with a sniff of air, I lift the bell up and with a big TSSSS I triumphantly lock out my arm for the fifth rep! Returning it to rack, I switch to the left and press it out in the same way for 5.
I put the bell down, and many people surround me slapping my hand and clapping my back! It was later that Rif told me he stopped his crew to watch me do it, knowing this was my personal sticking point for weeks. I am really glad I was too focused to notice I had an audience – that would have been too much stress!
Front Squats were next and a dull roar for me. I was still pumped from successfully pressing the 24kg for 5/5!
However, last but not least, was the Snatch technique test. For Strength Matters, we need to Snatch with good form the 24kg 10 times on each hand. For many men who use kettlebells, snatching the 24kg is the gold standard for many other certs. For me, it has been a long journey to get here. Prior to the cert, I could do it 2×10/10 and have done it for a few weeks now. However, I would say that around half the set the snatches are pretty good; the other half, they can be somewhat messy with poor hand insertion and/or being slightly off balance with the fast movement of the bell to overhead position. Also, the effort to snap the bell up to the top for 10/10 would leave me with nearly maxed out heart rate at the end of the set, which tells me that I have not yet adapted to this effort.
I line up for the Snatch technique test, focus on my torso stabilization, and go for it. I also pause at the top just to give a bit more rest; I have noticed that after practicing the Snatch VO2max workout for so long, I often have a tendency to skip the pause at the top because in order to keep up the 7 rep cadence in 15 seconds, you have no choice but to just touch the top and then whip the bell back down between your legs. However, there is no need to wipe myself needlessly for the Snatch technique test and so I make sure I pause at the top before letting it drop for the next rep. 10 reps on each hand go by before I know it and I’m done!
I watch the rest of my group finish, and we all congratulate each other for making it through the technique tests, and through the entire 3 day cert.
We decide to skip lunch as Rif needs to catch a plane back to California that night. So we all cool down and listen to James give a lecture on running a business for coaches. It’s a good topic to discuss as I’ve had many questions about the sustainability of any coaching businesses. I look forward to having more discussions with James on this topic over the next few months.
With his lecture over, are we done yet? NOT YET! One more graduation workout to go. We form a big circle and prepare to do the combination Swing and Goblet Squat workout. That’s the one I mentioned before: 1 Swing + 1 Goblet Squat, rest; 2 Swings + 2 Goblet Squats, rest; and so on up to 10 Swings + 10 Goblet Squats. Rif takes stock of all of us and our current physical state (after 3 days of workouts!) and decides we’ll do a ladder up to 10, and then back down to another ladder up to 5. After that, we’ll do 40 Swings as a group.
The three instructors then call their respective group members one by one to go over the results of their technique tests and whether or not they passed the cert this weekend. Ed calls me upstairs and tells me I have officially passed! I go back downstairs and pick up my official Strength Matters Certified Coach T-shirt. Success!
The 3 days are well planned out and filled with great information. I was VERY impressed that they actually followed the manual and didn’t go off script nor have too much additional material. I’ve been at other workshops where they gave out manuals and the actual teaching didn’t follow the manual at all. Trying to look up information later in the manual, therefore, becomes very difficult if not impossible.
The teaching techniques are the result of the evolution of kettlebell teaching for decades. So there are some teaching techniques you will have seen before, but then you may see some that you haven’t seen before. Having been Rif’s client for years now, I had seen a lot of these techniques already. Not that the old techniques wouldn’t work – it is just good to see refinement and efficiency taken into account when creating a teaching system. You can always fall back on other older, traditional teaching techniques to support, when something you’re using doesn’t seem to be working.
I am torn on whether all the extra workouts are important or not. It is said that people attending the cert expect or want some kind of physical challenge. Whether or not I agree or disagree, I think the workouts were just enough to challenge the state of your energy systems and put you on edge for last two days, and also see if you can still perform technique while somewhat depleted. The “shared suffering” does create a sense of belonging, where everyone who gets through a cert has a common experience that is bonding. There is one aspect which I think is important, which is to show people what it means to engage the spirit in training. When you are depleted by Day Three and you *still* need to perform, there is no choice but to focus and dig deep despite whatever fatigue you have built up. Everyone’s goal is to cert at the cert; how much do you want it despite your tiredness and the aches in your body?
Personally I like to be prepared for physical challenges. Having raced six Ironmans and numerous triathlons and marathons, I knew what it was like to be prepared and how crappy it can be if you’re not. You think you can finish the race, and maybe you do hit the finish line, but the aftermath is not satisfying and neither are the extra muscle aches! So taking the time before a cert to really prepare your skills and your energy systems is a good idea. Too many people just get to the cert and wing it, thinking they can just get through it. It may be better to just sit out the workouts and techniques and send in videos of you performing the techniques to pass later, rather than risking injury to pass at the cert.
I like James’s attitude towards the business issues faced by coaches. I am glad he has formed an aspect of Strength Matters to support building sustainable coaching businesses. Most people are great technicians but unfortunately not so good at running a business and acquiring/keeping customers. Personally, I’ve seen some people operate but have no idea how they keep going or even are profitable.
How does this cert compare to others like Russian Kettlebell Certification (RKC) or StrongFirst (SFG)? I asked myself the same question when Strength Matters came onto the scene. When I first started kettlebell work, the big popular one was the RKC. Then, SFG came into being. And now, there is Strength Matters. I have not taken the other certs as Strength Matters was my first. I know of many others who have gone through either/both RKC and SFG and then also Strength Matters. I chose Strength Matters due to:

  1. Timing – October was the perfect time given my training progress and having enough time to build having a chance of passing the requirements of the cert.
  2. Travel – NYC was a place I frequented often, so I didn’t need to stress about the place, finding food, nor a place to stay. As mentioned before, jet lag was definitely a concern but at least I had been there often enough to at least have some knowledge of a 3 hour time difference’s effect on my physical capabilities.
  3. Rif – Given that he is my coach and Chief Instructor, I thought it would be a good thing to honor his system by going there and passing his cert. Now, failure was not an option!

Ultimately, while the quality of the information and teaching is important, I think whatever system you choose to be aligned with is really about what tribe you join. I’ve taken a bunch of workshops and certs in other systems. I’ve seen some have incredible tribes, and some with dead tribes, meaning there was no support to help build community. I have also seen some systems led by arrogant, greedy people who enjoyed the attention of followers, and just kept trying to sell you stuff. Having known Rif for a couple of years now, I had at least some sense of what the Strength Matters tribe was like. Also, I had the opportunity to talk to James to see where he wanted to take Strength Matters and I like his direction of making this more than just kettlebells, and to create a lifestyle brand that encompasses all aspects of health and fitness. So far so good; post-cert I like what I see in the forums and Facebook pages.
I think we all wish we could have been more prepared. But I am probably being extra hard on myself due to this being my first cert. I think others who have been through other systems’ certs before will have an easier time of it as I had to build and solidify technique in addition to building strength-endurance. But, definitely, there are the highly metabolic Swing Test and Snatch VO2max workouts that you will have to get through.
As always, I wish I had more time to really cement the Snatch and 1 Arm Press. Certainly there comes a time when it’s time to fish or cut bait. And sometimes you just need a deadline to bring it all together, like an event such as the cert. Otherwise, the training can seem very endless.
I think that jet lag was definitely a factor. I hated racing Ironman while jet lagged. You always wonder what effect it has on your performance and whether you would have done better without it. This cert was no exception. I flew in the day before from California and had to wake up 3 hours earlier than normal. Then you add in the effect of sitting on a plane for 5-6 hours, with both travel fatigue and not having many movement options. I would have much preferred to have flew in at least 2 days before the cert. Or perhaps I should have attended a local cert or in the same timezone. But then, I would have needed to wait until next year. Fish or cut bait, right?
5 years, 50 years old.
5 years of training, that is, with the goal of a strong showing and passing the cert at 50 years old. Yes, this cert was 5 years in the making.
It was 2011, and my son was a year old. I was winding down my triathlon racing due to time constraints, and was looking for a new physical challenge. The same year I bought my first kettlebell off Amazon. It was a black CAP Barbell 35lb kettlebell, and I was cheap so I ordered from Amazon and received these with Amazon Prime free shipping. Shipping big, heavy pieces of iron is expensive!
I remember buying some books and DVDs to help get me started. But soon, I would have my first injury. Doing 1 Arm Swings, I felt a kind of sickening compression of my left ribs and managed to pop a rib out of its socket. This led me to find a real coach instead of trying to learn this via videos and text.
Two years later in 2013, I was amazed to find Mark Reifkind was coaching in my town of Palo Alto! I immediately reached out and tried to get on his busy schedule.
From the technique perspective, I improved a ton with Rif’s help. I think that too many people don’t seek live help in coaching for a sport. They may think it’s too expensive or have the mindset that they can learn on their own, especially now that we have Youtube and the secrets of kettlebells are now posted for all to see. I have found that in the long run, it’s just better to find someone to show you how to do something new, watch you, and fix your mistakes fast. Video and books are fine for reference, but there are too many details you will miss trying to coach yourself. And coaching yourself is often the most difficult thing you could ever do. Over the years I’ve built up a collection of video cameras and rigs, as well as one that shoots slow motion, and a mirror to help me self-evaluate. While that helps a lot, you still need to know what to look for and only an expert eye can do that.
If there is one great thing about kettlebells, it is extremely REVEALING. I had the hubris to think that, because I had raced Ironman and also “lifted weights” before, that I could get to a kettlebell cert in a year. Boy, was I wrong. So as I progressed, I got injured many times alongside finding out all the deficiencies and compensations my body had for physical movement and handling loads. Most of the time, it took getting injured to uncover a deficiency or compensation. There were a few times where assessment teased out a compensation. Know that when you get to 50 years old, you’ve had decades to screw up all your movement patterns. It took 5 long years to unwind a lot of that, which depressingly would reset my training every time.
The issues ranged from an existing back problem with discs, an impacted left hip, poor posture, poor hip mobility leading to inability to deep squat, protracted shoulders, poor breathing patterns and intra-abdominal pressure generation, poor glute activation, obliques were totally offline and bad shoulder mechanics, even gait and foot/toe problems. Most of these I have solved, while some are still ongoing. For me, the results are clear; I finally have reached a point where I can workout week after week, recover fully, and not have recurring injuries.
While all this seems complex, I will say that the human body is a fascinating subject and is a worthwhile endeavor to figure out not only how to fix yourself, but how to fix others. It does take a lot of time and patience, and you will end up spending a lot of money trying out a lot of things and seeing many different kinds of therapists. There are many ways to get from point A to point B and it may take many different tries to find techniques and systems that resonate with you and that can make progress. You will also find many techniques and systems that won’t resonate and won’t get you results. That is unfortunate but a fact of life that it is the unique you and your body that will respond to some things but not others. Still, there is no better experience than to apply techniques to yourself and intuitively feel their effects and see results.
Patience is key; rushing it could mean lots of injury episodes and hopefully not a serious one. Or it could even mean that the discovery process is filled with minor restarts as each deficiency and compensation finally reveals itself and you need to deal with it before advancing further. In totality, it took me 5 years of training and fixing to reach a point of being able to pass the cert.
All this at 50 years of age.
After Day One during dinner at Mudville 9, the subject of age came up. I think I surprised some folks there when I told them I was 50. While some of that surprise was due to the youthful demeanor I carry, I think some of that surprise was due to performing kettlebell movements with the vigor that I expressed.
All in all, age is just a number (definitely recommend reading Age is Just a Number by Dana Torres, Olympian and multiple medalist in swimming). We are conditioned to believe that when we get older, we start to break down, and we get weak. Many have (annoyingly) told me, “You better watch out, you might get hurt,” or “you just don’t have the genetics for (insert physical activity here),” or “old people can’t/shouldn’t do (insert physical activity here).” You know what – it’s all bullshit.
People don’t know what they don’t know. They get caught up in defeatist talk with no real evidence to support these assertions. I, for one, am out there to prove that we can fix our movement problems no matter how old we are, and that we can practice any kind of sport at any age. You first have to want it. Then you must have patience and discipline to keep at it because it can be a long frustrating road. I can definitely say the end result, however, is worth it.

The Carb Back Loading Update

Carb Back Loading has been giving me some pretty awesome results. Back on April 6, I measured myself with my Omron Body Monitor and got:

Weight 157.6 lb
Body fat 18.9%
Muscle 38.8%
Visceral fat 8%

Today, June 25, nearly 3 months later, I got:

Weight 149.8 lb
Body fat 17.0%
Muscle 39.7%
Visceral fat 7%

Contrast this from when I trained Ironman, I would start the season at 154 lbs, and as soon as I started training, I would drop to 151 and I would hang there for months, until about 1-1.5 months before the race. At that point, I would be peaking and my training distances would be maximal – think 3 hour runs weekly along with 6 hour bike rides the day after, not to mention swimming 4000m. It was only at this point, after 6-7 months of training, that my weight would start falling to race day weight of about 147 lbs. Then, 2 weeks after the race, my training volume would be lower due to recovering from the race, and my weight would go back to 151 lbs. until the next race.

If there is anything I’ve learned, it’s that losing weight is not driven consistently nor effectively by exercise. Sure, if I got to Ironman level training volume, my body would eventually adjust its setpoint. But who is willing to put themselves through that? And I’ve seen many who reach the Ironman starting line who are clearly not very skinny at all.

However, when I employed CBL – or more accurately, nutrient timing along with Bulletproof fasting – things only got enhanced when my training volume went up and it was nowhere near the volume of Ironman level training. My workouts today are about an hour tops, and with an 8-15 min kettlebell HIIT session about twice a week, resistance training about 4 times a week. Clearly something else is at work here and it showed me that exercise was not the number one factor for weight loss. Nutrition by far has a greater effect!

I just read Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes. It finally gave a consumer readable explanation of how we really get fat, and why everything we have been taught about diet is totally wrong. Highly recommend it. It also details research that shows that exercise has little or no effect on weight loss in general and that exactly what you put in your mouth does.

Where to go from here? Besides getting to my kettlebell certification, I am now playing with reducing the amount of carbs I eat and seeing if I can get to no carbs. There is some research out now that shows that athletes can still get optimal performance with low/no carbs. I believe it is because most athletes don’t complete the adaptation period from their previous carb heavy diet to no carbs, and there are side effects like fatigue during this time – some of this is talked about in Why We Get Fat. When I first started a low/no carb diet, I was on the training path to the LA Marathon. I didn’t feel any kind of low energy effects at all. I did take gels during my long runs as well as during the race, as well as do the controversial carbo load the night before. The race itself wasn’t problematic from an energy standpoint either. So I do think it is possible to get there and I’m now seeing if I can get there too.

Intermittent Fasting + Carbo Back Loading = Success

About a year ago, I tried intermittent fasting (IF). I was disappointed that I didn’t get any results, with no change in body composition after 2 weeks. I noted some things that could have improved the results – it seems that IF is pretty sensitive to a lot of things in order to really get benefits.
Just recently I got turned on to Carbo Back Loading (CBL) by John Kiefer. Despite the overwhelming marketing on his site, I actually found his method to work for me. The process is pretty simple, even though his book is 290+ pages long. You basically just only eat carbs towards the end of the day, and move the workout to right before dinner time.
I had already added carbs back into my diet as I was wondering if my thyroid issues were the result of being on a low/no-carb diet for the last 4-5 years. The low/no-carb diet worked wonders for my fat composition, but other things seemed not quite right. I also didn’t seem to be gaining any muscle but I also found evidence that I needed carbs to make my muscles grow.
So I began adding carbs back, but I found that I was gaining weight, up from about 156 lbs to 168-169 lbs! My waistline wasn’t looking trim – my Omron said I was up to 25% body fat now. And by the way, my thyroid numbers didn’t get better by carb intake which was disappointing, so I fixed that via supplements prescribed by my functional medicine doctor, Dr. Justin Marchegiani.
At this point, I was working out mid-morning. I would take Infinity Fitness’s 100% MR and Muscle Synthesis before and after workout, and then started eating carbs at lunch time to refuel as if I did not, I would often get into a low energy state by mid-afternoon. Taking carbs in right after working out seemed crucial, although it seemed that this was also making me gain a lot of fat. So carbs seemed essential for recovery from a tough workout, but it was making me fat too.
Enter CBL. There is a ton of theory that I’m working my way through now in Kiefer’s book. But implementing it is relatively simple.
I moved my workout to around 4pm every day instead of about 10am. I then only ate carbs after working out, and only at dinner time. During this time, I would have breakfast consisting of whey protein, eggs, and Bulletproof coffee with grass fed butter. At lunch, I would eat about .5 lb of beef on days I worked out – if I didn’t workout, I would just healthy but not necessarily meat to keep some variety in my diet. At dinner after workouts, I would have another .5 lb of beef, and on non-workout days just vary it up with something healthy again.
Note: I try to eat 1x my body weight in grams of protein per day for recovery and for growth. There were times when I could only recover with 1.25-1.5x my body weight. So weighing about 165 lbs, I try to eat 165g of protein. In beef, there is about 6g or protein per oz of beef. One pound = 16 oz = 96g of protein. I can then make up the other 65g or so with protein powder supplementation and other foods.
I did this for 2-3 weeks and found that not much was moving in my body composition. What the heck was wrong with this? If you read the book, Kiefer claims you can eat whatever you want including crap at night. Not sure if I would ever do that, or even buy into that. But still, if someone can eat crap and still lose fat, then why was I not losing any?
Side note: Dr. Kathy Dooley, a coach therapist based in NYC, was the one who turned me onto CBL. In my conversations with her, she told me that CBL works with some people and not so well with others. I find that consistent with my own observations and readings on diet; some diets work great with you and some don’t work so well or not at all. There definitely seems to be some differences between humans in their responses to food intake and how they process it. How do you tell what works and what doesn’t? I think the best way is to try some for a while and see what gives you the best results AND is sustainable by you, given your mental make-up (ie. how good is your willpower and focus?) and your lifestyle (ie. traveling often for work sucks for eating right).
So just a week ago, I decided to add IF back into the equation. I started skipping breakfast and only drinking some Bulletproof Coffee, and only consuming food during an 8 hour period between 12noon and 8pm. This is recommended by Kiefer, which is to simply skip breakfast.
At the same time, I was wondering about my ultra-high cholesterol numbers and Dr. Justin mentioned yet again that he has seen cholesterol go up when people start drinking Bulletproof Coffee with butter in it. So I started drinking Bulletproof Coffee without butter, but with only Brain Octane to give my brain a boost and MCT Oil which will give me energy benefits as fat but doesn’t get stored in my body in fat cells.
Just this week, I measured myself now at 164 lbs and 24% body fat (down from 168 lbs and 25% body fat). Wow! Now things were working better!
However, the fact that I lost about 4 lbs and barely moved in fat % worried me. Was I going catabolic during the morning when I didn’t eat? I then added in 10g of 100% MR in the morning which are BCAAs to help me maintain muscle during fasting periods. The results were pretty good. Now I’m at 164 lbs and 22% body fat. So body fat dropped while weight stayed the same. Pretty cool.
Note: The 100% MR I take is their new product that is Stevia sweetened. I believe this was the missing element during my first experiment with IF that cratered my results. Their old product was sweetened by sucralose which in many ways is worse than sugar! When I worked out mid-morning and bracketed my workouts with sucralose sweetened protein powders, my belief is that this messed up my ketosis big time and made IF produce no results. Stevia however seems to not interfere with ketosis. I have ordered all new Stevia flavored versions of the protein powder, both 100% MR and their new Muscle Synthesis. Can’t wait to go through my final sucralose flavored tubs of those two. Thankfully it seems that taking in sucralose during my non-fasting period seems to be OK from a fat loss perspective.
It’s pretty interesting to see my progress. Definitely there is a lot of tweaking here and there. You also have to pay attention to labels and what you’re putting in your mouth. Any little unknown deviation could stop your results cold, as I found out. I’ve also started taking Omega-3s when I eat a take out meal or eat out. So many restaurants use crappy oils for cooking; it’s a good idea to balance out the Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio somewhat if you are eating food cooked by a restaurant.

Total Immersion: Can’t Seem to Get the 2BK? Try Cross Crawling

If you’re finding that 2BK coordination is difficult, give this a try….
The kicking practice i typically use with first timers of 2BK is simply, use both hands and hold onto the wall of the pool. Put your head in the water, and push out from the wall while still holding onto it and extend your body straight horizontal on the surface of the water.
Then practice 2BK of one leg at a time, while holding the other leg perfectly still. Do this a few times, then switch to the other leg.
As you may guess, with many people, they cannot hold one leg still while only kicking the other leg in 2BK form. Often they will move both legs.
After trying both legs and seeing difficulty, I have them stop and stand. Then I have them do a standing cross crawl exercise. This is simply: raise one leg and touch the opposite hand to the thigh or knee. Note the leg raised is bent. Imagine yourself marching but instead of raising your hand high along with the opposite leg’s knee going high, you touch the hand to the rising opposite leg. Then repeat with other leg/hand. And so on.
This improves your contralateral or crossing the midline movement pattern and stimulates the vestibular system to operate better, and what it was designed to do. Often through years of improper use (ie. walking around with a bag slung on one shoulder, or having things in your hands – essentially walking without swinging your arms) or disuse (ie. sitting too much!), the nervous system can literally forget how to enable cross body movement patterns.
I have found instantaneous results before and after doing cross crawling. I have them stand there and I cross crawl with them. I do it for 10-20-30+ times – more the better! Then I put them back on the wall for the 2BK kicking practice. Now they can do it! It just shows that with the proper nervous system reactivation and stimulus, things like 2BK can now be more easily learned.
Pro tips: For even better results, make sure your mouth is closed and your tongue is touching the roof of your mouth. If your mouth is closed, make sure your jaw is not slack in the mouth which makes it hard to touch your tongue to your roof of mouth; barely touch your teeth to make sure the jaw is not slack. Why does this help? People have found that touching the tongue to roof of mouth further enhances stimulus of the vestibular system to speed up learning and imprinting. If you find results are spotty, makes sure your mouth is closed and tongue touching roof of mouth and you may find that results are much better.
Note that the first level in the cross crawl progression is to touch your hand to the opposite rising leg, either on knee or thigh. The second level once you improve your skill, is to touch your forearm to the opposite rising leg, either on knee or thigh. The last and highest level is to touch your elbow to the opposite rising leg’s knee/thigh. This requires not only coordination but also mobility and stability as well.
A small detail, you may find better results if you dorsiflex the foot as you raise it (ie. do not point the toes down but rather bend the foot up to 90 deg or a bit higher). Dorsiflexing the foot will help you engage muscles to bring the leg up as high as possible and help enable meeting the opposite arm’s elbow/forearm/hand.
Many thanks for Original Strength for showing me this technique.

Breath Training for Intra-Abdominal Pressure from the Total Immersion Forums

I thought I’d repost this thread from the Total Immersion forums. It touches on some key points I’ve learned about IAP generation, and the context is for swimming. The full thread is entitled Reasons for the arched back and how to fix it?.
User sachintha writes:
In a recent underwater video I was surprised to see the amount of back arching happening
(by arching I mean my head and butt being relatively close to the surface while midsection is towards the bottom of the pool as in a banana shape). I think this obviously breaks the head-spine alignment.
So the question is what causes this and how can I fix this? I believe I could significantly reduce the drag and improve body position if I could sort this out.
My reply:
The most common reason for arching your back is lack of proper torso stabilization technique. The reason why you might do it more in the water is to attempt to lift your arms/head and butt/legs up to the surface, thus forming an arch with your body at both ends.
You will likely have an arched back while standing on dryland. Thus often the postural problem starts on dryland and is transferred to water.
The easy fix is to try Torpedo (stand tall like a statue and straight up with arms at sides), and then holding this position, lean forward like a tower falling, and fall into the water and attempt to hold your straight body position despite falling into the water and now you are not even standing any more. You will need to engage your core and figure out how to turn on stability up and down your spine to stop you from losing your shape even though you may be floating in the water.
The harder and longer but more proper way to do this, is to:
1) make sure you are diaphragmatically breathing.
2) once you can d-breathe, then learn how to generate intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) with each breath inhale.
Proper IAP generation will engage the correct internal torso stabilizing muscles which will not wipe out despite being used for long periods of time. They are designed to stabilize all day long but if you don’t d-breathe, they will stop engaging which is bad.
The torpedo leaning exercise can help with this, but you can hold a straight stiff body by using other core muscles. It is possible to do this while swimming, but you may find it hard to maintain this for long periods of time.
If you want a taste of d-breathing and IAP training, check out this post of mine:
How to Train for Abdominal Breathing and Generating Intra-Abdominal Pressure
This post may also be good for you to read, regarding d-breathing:
Optimal Breathing: The Case for Diaphragmatic Breathing
User sachintha replies:
Thanks David. You are spot on regarding my dry land posture. I tend to have anterior pelvic tilt which makes the back arch prominent. But I have worked on stretching (specially the hip flexors) and strengthening for some time and it is significantly less severe now.
When you say “harder and longer but more proper way to do this …”, do you mean harder to learn but easier to maintain for longer swims once learnt or harder to learn and also harder (more effort) to maintain?
My reply:
Sorry bad choice of words. harder = more time/difficulty to learn due to doing something for so long as habit, and to create a new habit while removing the old one.
However, if you do this, it will take MUCH LESS EFFORT and a LOT LESS ENERGY to maintain torso stability in the water using the internal torso stabilizers (ie. transverse abdominis) which were built for this, versus other torso muscles which are typically primary movers (ie. obliques, rectus abdominis) and aren’t built to maintain stability for long periods of time. You’ll likely wipe them out and lose stability once you tire.
You may also want to explore the dead bug:
Total Immersion: The Dead Bug
Note that i need to shoot that video again. one crucial point I did not describe in there was the importance of lifting your tailbone off the ground while doing this. This will engage your anterior core and give you feedback when it has let go (ie. tailbone touches the ground again).
It is only through proper IAP generation that you will be able to sustain dead bug reps. Otherwise, you’ll start vibrating and shaking like crazy. But that’s ok in the beginning – that’s also your nervous system telling you it’s learning.
Good luck and let me know if you have other questions.
User bx then writes:
Regarding torso/core stabilization with 360-degree breathing (which I’m familiar with from weight training), is this compatible with the “tummy up” instruction from Richard Quick in his Posture, Line and Balance dryland exercises, where he gets Shelly Ripple to draw navel to spine?
To my mind, these seem like pushing out versus pulling in, if you get my drift.
I WAS a pusher-out, but when I saw the Quick video, I became a puller-in 🙂
My reply:
Note that a traditional PT/coaching technique was to create transverse abdominis activation via drawing in. While this DOES happen when you draw the navel to spine, it is conscious action, not a reflexive one. Also, you cannot breathe properly if you are trying to stabilize by drawing in the navel and trying to maintain it through the entire length of a training session or race. You will end up chest/clavicular breathing the whole time which is sub optimal. then you will wipe out either physically and/or mentally to hold your navel to spine the whole time.
See: How Are We Still Getting It Wrong: Abdominal Hollowing vs. Bracing
If you use d-breathing to activate the transverse abdominis (TA) through stabilization reflex, this is a much better and natural strategy. It is one that we are born with and happens when you are a baby – sadly we lose it through our 21st century lifestyle over the years. You will find that the TA and other torso stabilizers will activate naturally and sustain their activation with far less effort.
The idea for swimming is that you renew your d-breath and torso stabilization every time you take your breath. Then you hold it until the next breath. So a quick inhale drives the diaphragm down and activates stabilizers all the way down to your pelvis. this gives you an incredibly stable platform on which your muscles and limbs can perform from.
About pushing out – this is something i’ve learned which is that you should not be simply pushing out with your belly the whole time. I only use this part as a transition to proper d-breathing and IAP generation. It is however, really good as a way to retrain activation of the diaphragm WHILE removing activation of the chest and clavicular breathing muscles. So it is possible to d-breathe via belly in/out, but it may not generate much IAP at all. Most people, when they train for d-breathing, do this, but then do not proceed further.
This is why I move quickly to 3D/360 deg breathing so that it is less an in/out of the belly, but a pressing down of the diaphragm, which then becomes more of a pressure increase (hence intra-abdominal PRESSURE) in all directions in the area of torso that is the lumbar spine. Thus in/out is in all directions 360 deg and not just in front. So the feeling will be much different than you experienced before I’m sure.
User sachintha writes:
Does the IAP decrease when breathing “out”? The reason for asking this is, if we exhale (which we do) when our head is in the water and if that leads to a decrease in IAP wouldn’t the posture go back to that sagging form until you take the next breath?
My reply:
Good detail point –
The idea is to train yourself how to activate those muscles and maintain it even if you are exhaling. However, one thing to note is that you shouldn’t exhale completely. Thus IAP is maintained if you can keep some air in your and don’t blow it all out.
Note that ultimately when activity happens, you should always have some reflexive stabilization capability that just is there simply because your body knows it’s doing movement.
Also note that if you practice this a lot, you will find that you will be able to activate the stabilization strongly even without breathing in. essentially you can command some descent of the diaphragm to give you IAP but not be taking in air. this will happen over time.
If you analyze freestyle, there are really only moments when you need a lot of IAP. You need more IAP during the moment of rotation to the other side and maintaining body shape during that rotation as your spear and stroke with authority. Once you are in the recovery phase, you just need enough IAP to maintain a straight body line but not as much as for a body that is rotating strongly to the other side.
User jenson1a writes:
I watched the video regarding how to get IAP. I can do the belly and the sides, but the back part barely moves. More practice needed. The million dollar question is how do you do this in the water? Obviously if one makes this type of breathing an everyday practice, there is no problem. But how long does it take to make this IAP a reality?
How would one go about integrating this iap while in the water? A focal point?
My reply:
Great question.
It depends on the individual as you might guess. Habit change can take months or seem incredibly long (and frustrating). Think about how long you have ingrained your current breathing habits – decades maybe?
As a case study of one (myself), it took me about 2-3 months to switch from my chest breathing to belly breathing. However, I noticed that under certain circumstances I would still go back to chest breathing, like during a reflexive yawn or cough. At the time I didn’t know about 3D breathing until I took a Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization course whose basis for rehabilitation is to make sure breathing happens properly and is used for good IAP generation and torso stabilization. I immediately started practicing 3D breathing and a few months later, I took my first yawn with my diaphragm descending versus via my chest.
I think the first thing to do is to make sure you are just breathing naturally using d-breathing on dryland. After all, we spend the other 23 hours of the day on dryland and only 1 in the pool, right? The more time this becomes habitual, the better results you’ll have in the pool.
The water provides a new environment, with new sensory experiences which can interfere with transference of dryland practice to the water. How many times have we practiced the swinging arm recovery on dryland and then returned to the pool to swim a few laps with our videocam on, and then upon playback we are doing not a swinging arm recovery!
I would say that the next stages for IAP practice is to:
1. Practice driving IAP way down to the pelvis on every breath. Instead of just pushing out the belly, make the diaphragm descend until you feel a “quickening” way down in your private parts. Make this natural on every one of these breaths, breathe in and way down and don’t stop inhaling into you feel it way down at the bottom. Then exhale and repeat.
You can start with doing a set number of reps, like 5 and then taking a break. Then you can build up from there. I once did this practice sitting in a theater for the entire length of a 2 hour movie. You learn a lot about breathing when you do that!
2. Once you get 1., then practice taking in a quick breath and being able to feel IAP generation in the lower torso all the way down to the pelvis. On every quick inhale, practice to generate IAP quickly and reflexively down there.
While I’m an advocate of nasal breathing, swimming is pretty much done via mouth breathing. So in this case you may want to try a few inhales with the mouth instead of through the nose. The change in intake methods may make IAP generation difficult and need to be reinforced in the other method.
3. In the pool, practice your basic drills with IAP generation and holding it. As you prepare to launch off into SG, take a breath in and generate IAP. You can use your fingers on your sides to feel them pressing out. Hold IAP and your breath, then launch off into SG. Were you able to hold IAP? You may notice that the touch of the water and how it suspends you may all of a sudden cause you to release IAP. Practice holding the IAP despite launching off into SG.
Once you get this, then try holding IAP and launching into SG and then Skate.
Then try holding IAP while taking one stroke. Could you perform a complex movement like one stroke without letting go of IAP? Once you get this, try a few strokes but without breathing.
The next step on this is reinforcing IAP upon every breath. This can feel hard, but if you are practicing on dryland the reflexive, quick generation of IAP via a quick breath in, I believe this will come quickly.
A quick note on IAP and being relaxed:
Remember that we in Total Immersion like to tell people to relax. However, this is a cue. Most often it is used on people who hold too much tension because of unfamiliarity with the water, nervousness, fear, etc. But we have also seen people take that too far, where people are way too relaxed in the water like a piece of loose spaghetti. So great job in working on that cue, but bad because we didn’t tell you at what level of tension you should have stopped relaxing!
This relaxation extends to IAP generation. You need to maintain the minimum level of tension necessary to hold body shape and adjust it based on the need to perform movements. IAP will need to rise during that moment of stroking – when the limbs have a stable base to perform from, they will perform optimally. You don’t want the limbs stroking as if attached to a bag of jello right?
So yes, relaxed down from a lot of tension, but not so relaxed that you are like a loose piece of spaghetti and have lost IAP.
Give this a try and let us know how it goes. Be patient, it can take many months to develop this new breathing habit. Diligent, mindful, consistent, and constant attention to it will make progress faster.

Total Immersion: Ankle Mobility

Ankle mobility is important for swimming well and with the least drag. Swimming with your feet not pointed behind you means you have two feet that are creating drag as you swim.
Sometimes it’s a motor control problem. You tell the swimmer to keep the toes pointed behind them and they imprint it, and just keep doing it. They don’t have any inherent mobility problem but rather they just weren’t keeping their attention on it, and now they are and they can do it.
For others, pointing the toes behind them as swim can be hard if not impossible. This is because they have restrictions in their muscles and soft tissues around the ankle that hold them in their normal bent position and getting out of that position can take a lot of effort if the soft tissues aren’t addressed. If you ask these swimmers to point their toes, they will either 1) point for a few strokes but when they get tired they revert back to not pointing, or 2) they will cramp their calves which will be overworked to keep their toes pointed.
Watch this video for some ideas on increasing your ankle mobility:

Total Immersion: The Dead Bug

The Dead Bug is a funny name for a pretty important exercise. It is called Dead Bug because you lie on the floor with your arms and legs up in the air, just like how dead bugs look when they are dead and lying on their backs.
I first learned the Dead Bug from Original Strength. Then I cruised through physical therapy sites and Youtube and found a myriad of variations of the Dead Bug. In this video, I distilled some info about how to do the Dead Bug, and how to build yourself up to the hardest version of the Dead Bug. Certainly there are other variants available to try; I picked some of the more useful ones and put them here.
Key to executing the Dead Bug correctly is the ability to stabilize the torso. While many of us know how to do this with what we like to call a “high level strategy”, meaning squeezing the heck out of every muscle around our torso, yes it accomplishes the task but unfortunately it uses so much energy and restricts your ability to breathe. Thus, we need to train our ability to stabilize with a “low level strategy”, one that creates enough stability for general movement tasks and does not require so much energy and effort. A “high level” stabilization strategy is still important and required in some cases, like attempting a maximal lift of an object. But you shouldn’t be using the same level of energy and effort for things like bending down and picking up a pencil…or swimming.
The other value of the Dead Bug is that it trains our nervous system and re-encourages our coordination in using the cross pattern of moving our limbs. The cross pattern is when our left arm moves with the right leg, and right arm moves with the left leg. This pattern is so important to the normal functioning of a human being; we use it every day for moving but our 21st century lives have cause severe atrophy in this essential skill. Re-educating and reinforcing that with the Dead Bug will increase your ability to learn new movement skills and improve your swimming greatly.
Note that Dead Bugs are especially great for those have over extended backs. There are many reasons why people exhibit over extended backs. One of the possible reasons is lack of proper activation in the anterior muscles and structures of the torso. Without proper activation, they cannot lock their rib cage down to their pelvis. The entire region below the rib cage essentially opens up, and the lumbar spine behind becomes extended. Dead Bugs activate and stimulate the anterior structures, and trains the torso to stabilize in neutral spine position.
Take a look at this video on The Dead Bug:

Total Immersion: An Assessment for Swimmers Part I

In my work with swimmers, I’ve come to realize that we, as 21st century creatures, are now coming to the pool with a bunch of adaptations due to our lifestyles that are constraining the ability to swim properly and advance as quickly as they could.
Over the years, I’ve immersed myself in the physical rehabilitation world, mainly through certifying in the Functional Movement Screen and becoming a Crossfit Movement and Mobility Trainer. Additionally, I’ve supplemented my knowledge through Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization and the Original Strength systems. Through these systems, I’ve developed a physical assessment for swimmers, which I like to do when I meet them for the first time.
Why assess?
When I see the results of the assessment, I can almost predict now where a swimmer will have issues in the water and where their performance limitations will be. These limitations are magnified in beginner/intermediate swimmers, whereas in experienced athletes we often see them compensate their way around these physical limitations. Still, they are limiters to their full potential, and in either case, are areas for potential injury.
My assessment series is this – these are in the instructions I give. There is no further prompting. I want to see the person’s first, natural inclination to perform the action or movement without me coloring it further:
1. Stand up straight – I take shots of the person from the front and side. i have lately done the back too.
2. Take a deep breath in, then let it out.
3. With palms facing in, raise your arms slowly above your head, then let them down. I video front and side, usually asking for it twice.
4. Make fists with your hands, holding the thumbs in your fists. In one smooth motion, raise one fist over your head and bring the other fist behind your back from underneath and attempt to touch your fists behind your back. I repeat for each side and video from the back.
5. Bend over and touch your toes. I usually video from the side.
6. Squat down as you low as you can go. I usually video from front and side.
This assessment set is a modification from the Functional Movement Screen and adding in some MobilityWOD tests. My problem with just using the FMS is that there are tests that require a tool (ie. the bar/pole) and require the person to get on the floor. I didn’t want someone to get on the floor of the deck of a pool, or have to lug around extra tools.
However, I add in some MobilityWOD style tests to get at more detailed mobility problems. I think that depending on the person, you’ll find everyone has their favorite tests, which are all derived from standard physical therapy physical evaluation tests. As MobilityWOD likes to say, every movement can also be used as a test. My criteria for forming this set of tests was: 1) focus on swimmers’ issues, 2) don’t require extra tools, and 3) don’t ask a person to get on the ground.
What exactly do these tests assess?
Let me stop here for now and let those of my readers who want to take the tests themselves do so now without more information as that can alter their performance on the tests if they already know “the answers.” Grab your video camera or smartphone, set it up on a tripod or have a friend video you as you go through the tests one by one. In a few weeks, I’ll post a more fuller discussion on what I look for in these tests and what they mean for swimmers.
On a related note, I hope to produce posts on common physical problems of 21st century athletes, their effect on swimming, and suggestions on how to fix them. This assessments can tease out what the limiters are, if they are not obvious in a swimmer’s posture.

Total Immersion: Neck Mobility for Swimming

Neck range of motion is important in swimming. The problems manifest themselves in:

  1. Forward head on neck where the neck is stuck with the head in a forward of spine position. This puts your head in a deeper than necessary position which makes breathing hard.
  2. If you cannot turn your head enough on either side, then you may not easily turn to air. It could mean that you will need to compensate by turning your body more. However, the more vertical your body angle is, the more likely you will sink which will make it even harder to breathe. As you turn to air to vertical, you actually start sinking which takes your mouth further from the surface.
  3. If your neck is not mobile and movement of your head is restricted, you may find that the head moves back and forth with the body as it rotates from side to side. The head wants to maintain the forward position relative to the chest due to the stiffness of the neck. This will increase drag when swimming. We want the head to be looking down the whole time and motionless as the body rotates from side to side.

What is a good range? You should be able to put your nose in line with your shoulder on either side. If you can get a little more behind the shoulder, that’s even better.
However, note that your head should be on the neck and aligned with the spine when you test this. If you need to tilt your head in order to get your nose to line up with your shoulder, that doesn’t count! So posture is important here, and needs to be restored as you work on neck mobility.
Watch this video on some techniques to increase neck mobility:

Avoiding Car Seat Hell

A user on the mobilitywod forums posted about problems they were having while driving. I can relate. I think all car seats are ergonomically deficient. You’d think someone would have done something better after all this time, but they are terrible. The user was complaining of tight neck and shoulders. Here was my reply:
When you drive a lot, your body can get stuck in a bad position. If the steering wheel is too far forward, it can drag the shoulders forward with it. Holding the arms on the steering wheel can create tension in the arms and shoulders. Most car seats are poorly shaped. They are concave and the head rest kicks the head/neck forward. The concavity in bucket seats pushes the shoulders forward. The way the back is not optimally shaped to cause the pelvis to roll into posterior tilt, causing the entire spine to have problems. If someone spends a lot of time in this bad position, the body will rebel.
Here are some forward head on neck videos (from
Episode 169: Forward Head on Neck
Episode 109: The Neck of a Desk Warrior
Work the thoracic spine – I’m sure it’s stiff:
Episode 294: Shoulder What to Fix First and Wii Mob
For some trapezoid work, I’d stick two lacrosse balls, one under each trap and lay on them. Arch the butt up but keep good torso position. Then move the arms overhead and around in snow angel fashion. Move the balls for optimal effect.
The other suggestions would be alterations to her car seat setup.
1. I use the Gokhale Method StretchSit cushion. It hangs nicely down from the head rest supports. However, it is usually not enough by itself in today’s bad car seats. I use some big rubber bands and attach a paperback to the back of the pillow which pushes the body forward enough to clear the wings of a typical car seat.
I would not recommend a lumbar support. It pushes the lumbar spine into extension and does not solve the shoulders pushed forward problem.
Note that this cushion should not be placed at the bottom but rather it should center around the junction between the t-spine and lumbar spine. This allows the butt to push further back and prevents posterior tilt of the pelvis. It also puts the body into a more upright position.
This then allows the head to be more upright and not be kicked forward by the bad head rest. You can still rest the head on the headrest, but the head/neck will be aligned properly on top of the spine.
2. Move the seat forward so that you are not reaching for the steering wheel. Get it as close to your body as you can get it. You may need to slide the seat back to get out of the car, but then slide it back forward when you get back in to drive. This prevents the shoulders from reaching forward and getting wiped out from holding them up there so much. Find the seat position where you can reach the steering wheel AND still have the shoulders in good position, and not forward.