What to do About Shin Pain From Double Unders

The pain you are feeling is most often shin splints. If you’re not familiar, shin splints refer to pain and inflammation in the shin and are usually associated with the impact from running. I tend to get them on the outside of the shin by the fibula, but it’s more common to get them on the inside, along the tibia.

This pain should not be ignored – it is a sign that there is too much stress on the wrong area of the shin! Pushing through shin splits can lead to a stress fracture of the bone. My purpose for writing this article is to give you a few ideas as to what is actually causing this issue, and how you can prevent it.

Usually the only way to recover from shin splints is 100% rest for the affected area. For a CrossFitter, this means no box jumps, no running, no skipping. Non impact exercises should be fine though – I usually substitute rowing and step ups. If you really want to heal you have to give those shins a break until there is no pain. But if you don’t address the issues that are causing the shin splints in the first place, every time you return to doing double unders you will start to have pain.

So what causes it in the first place?

1. Poor Jumping Mechanics

Good form is the key to happy shins. Take a look at the CrossFit double under demo video below – check out how soft her landing is here. She’s not jumping super high. She’s not piking, she’s not slamming her legs down with each jump.

When people learn double unders it’s common that they develop bad mechanics right away – and the movement is so tricky it’s difficult to fix. Athletes with shin pain usually have a high jump with a bit of a knee pike, and they slam their shins down with each double. I would try going to a shorter rope and learning to spin faster – ideal jumping form should not look much different than that of a single under!

I would recommend analyzing your jumping form first. Either take a video or jump in front of a mirror. Are you slamming those feet down? Are you jumping too high? Are you relaxed with soft footfalls?

2. Doing Too Much, Too Quickly

Just like running, you have to build up to doing long distances. If your programming just calls for a lot of doubles and you aren’t ready for that volume, you might find yourself with some shin issues. Like an open WOD with 800 doubles? 18.3 anyone? A simple fix can be to throw in a bit of extra skipping each week if it’s not being programmed at your box. Not only can you keep up your proficiency in the movement, but you’ll also keep the muscles of the shin in shape for that kind of work.

Further, double unders shouldn’t be performed until single unders are mastered. This will give the muscles of the lower leg a chance to develop. If you skipped the process of learning single unders, and you are getting a lot of shin pain, it might be a good idea to practice lots of singles with perfect form, build up your volume over time, and only switch to doubles when you’ve perfected your form and built up your shin muscles.

3. Not Warming Up Specifically For Double Unders

If you’re prone to issues with your shins, try 10-15 minutes of rolling, stretching and singles before you start with your doubles. If your calves are tight they won’t absorb the impact from jumping as they should!

My typical warm up includes: a good amount of rolling, standing calf raises (simple but effective), stretching all of the muscles of the calf, lots of ankle rotations, light jumping without the rope, then single unders until I’m good and warm.

4. Shin Function Issues

All of the above muscles, and a few I haven’t mentioned, all work together in order for you to jump and land. If any one of them isn’t operating properly, the others will try (unsuccessfully) to pick up the load. Really tight calf muscles is very common – so if you don’t know where to start, start by rolling and stretching these. Now that I’ve recognized my calves are a problem, I typically roll and stretch them before and after skipping, and again at night when I’m just watching TV or YouTube.

There are other problems that can happen with the lower leg that I’m not addressing in this article. You can have ankles or knees that aren’t tracking properly and cause problems with lower leg function. It could be related to other areas of the leg, such as tight hips. Do your ankles collapse when you walk? There are lots of possibilities – for the sake of space, I am just covering the most common issues here.

5. Not Enough Cushioning (Shoes or Surface)

Take a look at your shoes – if they are worn out, too minimal, or made of too hard of a rubber, they won’t be helping to absorb much force. Second, what are you jumping on? Most of our gyms have rubber floors – but if you’re doing extra skipping somewhere, concrete might not be the best idea. I learned this the hard way, both by practicing on concrete and (only once!) by doing doubles in lifters. Now I always do my extra practice on the corner of my local track, which has a soft rubber surface.


Hopefully this gives you some ideas as to what might be causing your shin pain! If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. matt@matthewtoth.com

Learning to Pistol Squat for “Legend”

Tomorrow’s WOD has pistol squats in it. “Legend” is the name of this particular WOD, and it’s a hero workout. Because it’s a hero WOD, I would really like to give it 100% if I can, and doing this workout as prescribed is important to me. This will be a particularly difficult challenge, as I haven’t yet had the opportunity to learn how to do pistols! Regardless, I think I have the strength to do it, I just need to somehow put it all together by tomorrow night.

Challenge accepted!

CrossFit Movement Standard

Crossfit Movement Definition


Equipment Tips

First, if you have limited ankle range of motion, the pistol is going to be a real challenge. The knee needs to travel a bit further forward in this movement, and you lose power if you come up on your toes. A higher heel can help compensate for this, so I’ll be wearing my lifting shoes! I’ve heard of athletes adding wedge inserts in addition to their lifting shoes to get as much heel raise as possible. I have some new lifters with a good high heel, and my ankle range of motion is actually not horrible, so I think it might be enough if I do some mobility drills beforehand. I’ll also add some hamstring stretching to make sure that doesn’t limit me from putting my leg out in front.

Movement Tips

The hands and foot should be out far in front of you to provide counterbalance. Also, even though it is counter-intuitive (as it is not like back squatting or front squatting), rounding the back and looking down also helps with balance and gives you some traction to push from. When you get to the bottom if you lean forward and think  “head to toes” while you’re pushing up, it should help. Carl Paoli gives a good explanation here, and the way I’m thinking about it, if a 90 year old woman can stand up to get out of bed, why can’t I stand up with one leg?

Movement Progressions

I plan to work through a few of these to as a warm up, to get me ready for the more intense effort of the regular pistol.

1 – Assisted Pistol

2 – Pistol Squat Off A Box

3 – Counterweight Pistol Squat

The Gameplan

First, ankle mobility and hamstring stretching. Then, a good warm up including a few rounds of 1-2 reps of each progression, and then go for it. If I can do one, I probably do all eight – with enough rest between reps. With any luck I’ll be posting an RX score tomorrow!

Getting Help With My Shoulder Posture! Some New Exercises

I’ve been working on improving my shoulder posture for years. I really want to improve my posture – not just because it looks better, but because it will improve my performance in CrossFit, and reduce my chance of injury. The clean, the snatch, toes to bar, overhead pressing, anything with kipping… All these movements put a great deal of stress on the shoulder joint. When your posture is poor, the stress of the shoulder is increased dramatically, as is the potential for injury.

I’ve made some decent improvements on my own, but I realized if I was going to make it to the next level, I was going to have to find some help. And so enter David Veenstra, RMT. I had heard great things about him, and I finally made an appointment. My first treatment was today, and I was not disappointed! The treatment itself was fantastic, and I felt dramatically better afterwards. He spent a lot of time explaining which exercises I could do at home to help fix my issues and why I needed them. It is this focus on self treatment that I really appreciate. I have been studying mobility and anatomy for many years, and take it from me, Dave really knows his stuff!

I put together a routine based on Dave’s recommendations that I plan to do at least 3x a week:

My 45 Minute Shoulder Posture Fix Routine

1 – Pec minor lacrosse ball smash: 2 rounds of 2 minutes per side. I attempt to tack my pec in place on the ball, and then I work my arm through the range of motion – starting in internal rotation at the bottom and working up to externally rotated at the top (see below), and also just wherever it feels like it needs it. Dave reminded me that I intuitively know where and how I need to do this. The spot to place the ball to hit the pec minor is right in the groove under the collar bone. I actually used a baseball, as combined with the soft rug the lacrosse ball was a bit too soft.

2 – Pec minor gravity stretch, 20 minute goal: Placing a rolled up towel under my spine, I let my shoulders drop to the side and just relax. This one feels great for me, and I found that I could stretch various different areas by changing my arm position. Dave also let me know that 20 minute was just the goal, that if my hands started to go numb or if I started to get tingling sensations then it was probably time to call it a day.

3 – Shoulder Capsule Mobilization: Holding a dumbbell with the arm locked, let the weight push the humerus into the back of the shoulder. I spend some time in internal and external rotation, and turning back and forth. This is a really good one for shoulder impingement as well, as here we are trying to loosen up the tissue in the back of the joint to try and regain a bit of space in the joint (between the head of the humerus and the acromian). I’ve found that if I roll slightly toward the weight I can feel it more in the back of the shoulder.

4 – Banded distraction: (2 rounds of 2 minutes per side) Banded stuff always feels really good for me, and I like this one. Note that I put my arm behind my back and use the other arm to pull it up or away to increase the stretch. Dave taught me a new trick here on how to use a door jamb with a heavy band. Blew my mind! I wrapped the band around a towel and then closed the door on it. Fantastic! I added my three favorite banded stretches afterwards that always help me – the pec, the lat and the overhead tricep.

5 – Roll out the lats. (I’ll add some pics later)

Last, he reminded me to be aware of my shoulder position when performing any exercises in the box or the gym. If I find myself doing an exercise and my shoulders are starting to round forward, I have to stop and reset, and train that correct position to make sure I’m not reinforcing bad movement patterns.

I am also suddenly aware of how my posture is all the time, and making sure to get that shoulder back into a better position whenever I can. Sitting at the computer right now typing, and using the mouse with my right arm, I am in a very bad position – so I’m wrapping this up and getting off the computer! 

I made a very quick posture video in the summer “Instantly Improve Your Posture! Hips Shoulders and Neck” with some reminders of what to be mindful of throughout the day. Turn the abs on, flex your glutes, extend the t-spine, externally rotate at the shoulder, and pull that head up!

Save Your Shoulders! Quick Tip #1

Where are your elbows when you press? Do you know which positions are dangerous for your shoulders? Just in case your shoulders need some saving, here’s a quick tip on what to watch for! 

When doing bench press or push-ups, you might find yourself flaring your elbows up towards your ears when you get tired. Usually this is an athlete subconsciously searching for a stronger position. Unfortunately, getting those elbows up too high can easily cause impingement of the shoulder joint. (the ball of the humerus will grind against the tendon of the supraspinatus, which can cause inflammation or tearing)

The bench press (or push-up) can cause shoulder impingement. Right: shoulder abducted 90 degrees, the top of the humerus can grind against the rotator cuff causing impingement. Left: a better elbow position allowing for space in the joint.

The left side of the diagram shows the safer position for your shoulder. Aim for somewhere in the middle (45-70 degrees from your side) and not only will you be in a safer position, you’ll be stronger.

Your starting position will effect your elbows as well. If you start with the bar around the nipple line, it will lead your elbows to a more natural position.

The cue of “breaking the bar” is helpful here, and will help get you in the correct elbow position, tightening up your back and providing a more stable platform to press from. For more detail on bench press form, check out my article on how to add 20 pounds to your bench.

The rules for push-ups are no different, it’s just the cue that changes. Instead of thinking about “breaking the bar”, you can think of screwing your hands into the ground – it will put you in the same position.

Just remember, don’t bench like a T! Keep those shoulders happy!

no t-bar benching!
shoulder impingement syndrome

Add 20 Pounds to Your Bench. Right. Now.

I just promised a friend that I could add 20 pounds to his bench press if he just let me show him how to do it. I’m 100% confident that this is true – and honestly it might be more like 30 or 40 pounds. He is stronger than I am but he’s just lacking the technique – all I see is untapped potential!

I have spent more hours researching the bench press than I care to admit. In truth I studied so much because I was that stereotypical ninety seven pound weakling when I was younger. I have spent over a quarter of a century now (27 years!) grinding it out in the gym, and since I’m built like a distance runner, it’s been a long, slow journey for me. The only way I could get any kind of edge on my competition was by learning everything I could and applying it to my training. My best bench ever was not anything to write home about – I did 275 raw, and 365 with a shirt – and that 365 didn’t even touch my chest so it wouldn’t count in competition. But I tell you this to let you know that I’ve felt a decent amount of weight on the bench before – and the only way I pushed that sucker back up was by doing every one of these points that I’ve listed here.

So if you’re looking to up your bench, try out some of these tips! If you don’t know these techniques already, I can actually promise you your bench numbers will go up!

  1. Set yourself up properly. Take the time to center your head and body properly on the bench. Ensure you’re gripping the bar at the same width left and right. Your feet should be flat on the floor (as a starting point) and tucked in underneath your butt.
  2. Take the correct grip width. Too narrow is all triceps. Too wide won’t be a strong enough position. Aiming for a vertical forearm position is probably a good starting point for where you need to grip the bar.
  3. Grip the bar hard and with straight wrists. Tight wrist straps can help here – where you wrap the wrap across the wrist joint and prevent it from bending back. Additionally, you’ll want to take a full grip on the bar. You might feel stronger with a thumbless grip, but it’s just not worth the risk of the bar slipping and falling onto your chest. A good cue here for how to grip the bar properly is to squeeze your pinky as hard as you can around the bar. Similar to the entire body being tight, your entire grip needs to be tight. Gripping the bar as hard as you can fires the central nervous system and allows you to lift more weight.
  4. Get your body tight. I mean, really tight – head to toe. This is the number one error you’ll typically see when you watch most people bench. If there is any looseness in the body, any twisting, any jittery feet or knees, I guarantee they are benching far less than they could. Not to mention setting themselves up for injury. You need a stable base to push off of- just like a squat or a deadlift, every part of your body has to be tight when you bench. When you get it right, every part of your body should be uncomfortable. Pull your feet in tight underneath your body, a flat foot is a good starting point, this will allow you to learn how to drive into the floor and tighten up every muscle in your legs, your butt, your lower back, your core.
  5. Pack/Pinch your shoulders underneath you. Primarily this puts your shoulders in a safer position, but this also further creates more tension and significantly SHORTENS THE RANGE OF MOTION. Pinning your shoulder blades together under you simultaneously raises your chest towards the bar. You can dramatically reduce the amount of travel you have to move the bar to complete the rep. This shortened range of motion makes a massive difference in the amount of weight you can move.
  6. Arch your back. Essentially this changes the movement into a slight decline bench, (a stronger position), creates more tension, shortens the range of motion further, and keeps those shoulders pinned back. If you do all of this right, your glutes, hams and quads might even start cramping. Especially if the day before was heavy squats and deadlifts… It takes some getting used to. But if you’re uncomfortable, you know you’re getting it right.
  7. Take a big breath. The cue I always yell is “Big air!” Before your decent you take a big breath of air, further expanding your chest towards the sky and tightening up your body. The bar descends while you’re holding your breath, and you drive it up using the pressure. You can’t drive big weight without getting the breath right.
  8. Keep your elbows tucked. If you’re t-bar benching, you’re not going to be moving a lot of weight, and you’re putting your shoulders in a position that’s begging for an injury. If you’re not sure where your elbows should go, aim to have your upper arm at about a 45 degree angle from your torso. Halfway from being tucked right at your sides and flared out by your ears.
  9. SHOVE the bar. Once in the above position, with head to toe tension, chest full of air, when you push the bar off your chest, you can SHOVE it off your chest – and this movement starts at your feet. Driving from your feet at just the right time will assist you in shoving the bar upwards. You don’t bench with your chest. You bench with your entire body. Further, you want to accelerate the bar quickly. Moving fast will help you coast through the sticking point. (for most people, this is around the middle of the lift)
  10. Flare your elbows to get through the sticking point. But if you flare too early, you’re just putting yourself in a weak and vulnerable position. This is a bit more advanced though, and might take more explanation than I can give here – but it’s probably enough to explain that the move starts with your elbows tucked, and the flare is there if you start to stick. Along with the next point:
  11. The bar path is a slight arch. The bar touches the point of your chest that is closest to the sky (typically below the nipple line), but as it travels upwards there is a natural arch back towards your eyes. This is different from person to person, and some people argue that straight up is more efficient – but generally, when you hit your sticking point, if you drive the bar back towards your eyes and start to flare your elbows at the same time, you’ll get through it.

Things not to do:

  1. Don’t bounce the bar off your chest. Sooner or later you’ll injure yourself.
  2. Don’t take a thumbless grip. Not worth the risk.
  3. Don’t let your butt come off the bench. That’s just cheating bro. But have you ever thought about why people lift their butts when they struggle? They are creating a decline position where they are stronger. You can do that with sufficient arch.
  4. Don’t fail. Train yourself to make lifts. If you always put more on the bar than you can handle, you’re training the pattern of failing and giving up. I always trained to make my lifts, and have almost never failed in training. Train yourself for success.

If you have any questions or comments let me know! Either comment on this or feel free to send me an email. matt@matthewtoth.com.

Now go crush that bench press!


Toes to Bar: The Missing Manual

If you are struggling with Toes to Bar and are searching for answers, look no further! Here is my attempt to gather all of the information that I have learned into one place. I will continue to update and edit this article until it is as clear and as useful as I can make it!

When I was starting to learn TTB, I found myself frustrated because I couldn’t figure out how to perform the movement. But I was even more frustrated because I couldn’t seem to find enough information about how to do them. I would learn a bit from one video, a bit from another… I would get lots of help from the coaches at my box, but without enough material to create a frame of reference, it was often difficult to understand what they were trying to tell me.

To start, touching the bar with my feet was not difficult – but it took a while to figure out that I was going about it the wrong way. Figuring out how to string them together, understanding the timing and the movement pattern, that all took a lot longer. Finally I have figured them out, and I can string together quite a few – though I haven’t tested my max yet – 15? 20? And now I actually look forward to seeing them come up in a workout.

A note of encouragement if you are struggling with the movement: TTB were easier to perform than I expected. I would have been happy to string together four at a time, but I can already do much more than that. I would say TTB are more about correct movement patterns and timing than anything else.

First, let’s take a look at the CrossFIt movement standard video:

1. Hands outside of shoulder width

More specifically, your hand width should be where you are strongest at kipping. If your grip is too narrow, you wont be able to push through into the arched body position. You might even need to put your hands out a little bit wider than they suggest here – it might be something to experiment with to figure out where you are strongest.

2. Full grip on the bar

You’ll be less likely to fall off the bar… Which is probably a good idea. I can’t see any reason to go with a thumbless grip here. Also, I’m assuming you’re using gymnastics grips! I have yet to find anything better than Bear Komplex grips, and I highly recommend them. Not only do they prevent hand tears, but they just help to grip the bar really well.

3. Start hanging with arms extended

They are just defining the movement standard here.

4. Initiate swing with shoulders

This is actually something I need to work on. Another way to initiate the swing is to jump forward at the bar, rather than just jumping up to the bar. This initiates your swing and you will have enough swing and tension to begin the movement right away.

5. Alternate between arched and hollow positions

This movement pattern is repeated often in many movements in CrossFit and sports.

6. Lift feet towards bar while in hollow position

I’m not sure how you would do it otherwise!

7. At the same time, push down on the bar with straight arms

This is a big key to the movement. Closing the angle between your hands and your feet makes the movement easier, and less hamstring flexibility is required. Further, pushing away like this gives you enough momentum to swing through to the fully extended position. If you push away too little or not enough, you’ll have trouble timing your swings. “Timing” might be the big key to the movement that they are failing to mention in the video.

8. Both feet contact the bar between hands

Again, the are just defining the movement standard.

What they don’t mention in the CrossFit video:

There are two different types of toes to bar, the pike version and the “tuck and flick”.

If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, check out this video with Dan Bailey  going head to head with Bjorgvin Karl Gudmundsson. It will be obvious, but Dan is doing the tuck and flick version, and Bjorgvin the straight leg pike.

And here’s a great explanation from Chris Spealer as to why the flick is easier, as well as why people mess up their swing. “leg’s go straight down!” that is not to say you just lose tension and drop them, you keep the tension but push your feet straight down as soon as you touch the bar with your toes.

For me personally, the “legs straight down” cue was the missing piece. When I got that, I got the movement.

The tuck and flick version is likely way more attainable for you if you are lacking flexibility. BUT you should probably always be striving to do the straight leg movement. the strength and flexibility required for the straight leg version can only help you.

Building Your Strength To Improve TTB:

There are a ton of useful exercises to build your strength here. Such as sit ups, toes to rig, leg raises, one leg v-ups, v-ups, bar hang for time, scap raises, knees to elbows, partial toes to bars, hanging leg raises, L-sit, hollow hangs, hollow rocks, etc. 

But which exercises you use will depend on your individual weaknesses. For me, I just worked on all the moves until I figured out which I was weakest at, and I focused on that move. It turns out I am terrible at L-sits and v-ups. So for me, I work on those, but also hanging knee raises / knees to elbows, toes to rig and leg raises are helpful.

Improving Your Flexibility To Improve TTB:

Anything that improves the flexibility of your hamstrings (and your hip flexion) will help you here. If you struggle with flexibility and mobility, like I do, you might want to spend a significant time stretching your hamstrings before any TTB workout.

I won’t go in depth into various stretches here, as this writing would get way too long – but I do have one possibly useful tip – try to approximate the movement. I always suggest focusing on whatever stretch that most closely resembles the movement you need to do. As en example, here’s a photo of me doing a hanging hamstring stretch, and if you flip it, you can see it’s the TTB position. (As an aside, this is also a simple test to prove whether you have enough flexibility to do the movement)


Partial movements will help you learn the timing. Knees to elbows, or knee raises past the hip, or straight leg as high as you can but without touching the bar. The focus on the push away is the same, the timing is similar, the kip is the same.

Don’t kick the bar slowly. For the tuck and flick, the flick is done very quickly. Hence, the word, “flick”. You want to touch the bar as quickly as possible so you don’t lose the timing of your swing. Further, if you’re lacking flexibility, holding the toes touching the bar position for any length of time is very difficult. After you quickly tap the bar, you can use that stretch reflex to shoot your feet straight back down to the floor.

Don’t look at the bar! This is a common fault. People tend to stare intently at what they are trying to hit. But looking up like that will effect your spine position and mess up your movement pattern. Keep your head pointing straight ahead, and you will likely find the move easier. If you go back and look at the video that I posted above (the one with Dan and Bjorgvin) you’ll see they both are looking straight ahead.

Maintain tension in your core when you are dropping your feet. If you just relax, you will lose your swing. This is another common fault, and something we are used to perhaps, pushing hard on the positive and relaxing on the negative. But that’s not what we want here – you need to maintain tension through the core on the decent. One way to teach this feeling is to do a toes to bar, and then have someone push your feet down quickly. The feeling of resisting that push is what you need to keep.

Lastly, when all else fails, just get really strong! Drill the movements and work that core hard!

Hip Flexion For More Rowing Power

As a rower, if you don’t have enough hip flexion, you won’t be able to get in an optimal position in the catch. If you are lacking flexion, you have a lot to gain from improving it.

Moving into the catch, as soon as you hit end range of motion with the hip, your lower back will start to round. This position does not allow you to get power out of your glutes. This reduces your ability to drive hard against the foot stretchers. ​Driving out of the catch with a rounded back is also a compromised position for the spine. This is also what happens to you when you squat with poor hip flexion​. If you are descending into the squat and lack flexion, your lower back will round at the bottom, shutting off your glutes. Lack of flexion will negatively impact your running form as well​, as it is difficult to drive your leg in front of you with each stride. Squatting and running are outside the scope of this article, but you can start to see the importance of hip function for all athletic activities.​

Here’s a quick test​ to see if you have sufficient hip flexion: (see picture below) lying on your back raise your knee as high as you can without assistance, without rounding your back or moving the other leg. Ideally, you should be able to hit about 120 degrees before feeling resistance​.

The good news is that there are some simple exercises you can use to improve your mobility – usually, you can see the difference immediately. Mobilizing your hips before you row (or squat) will usually allow you to get into a better position, allowing you to produce more power and reducing your chance of injury. Stretching after you row can help keep you limber so that you don’t tighten up further, and promote better mobility.

1. Banded distraction before your row: If you’re not familiar with banded distraction, YouTube has lots of good videos to get you up to speed. In general, banded distraction is not hard to do, feels great, and usually has an immediate effect. To explain how it works on a high level, the hip joint is surrounded by tight muscle tissue, which binds to the joint and keeps it from moving well. Think about knotting your t-shirt up around your fist, then trying to move your fist. If you loosen up the shirt, it’s easier to move your fist! It works similar with your hip joint and the surrounding tissues.

There are several variations, but here are two basic versions to try. I find just the first one works really well for me, but I need to get a lot of tension on the band.

Banded Distraction 1: 2-3 minutes per leg, moving around to find the positions of restriction.

Banded Distraction 2: 2-3 minutes per leg, as above.

2. After your row: Stretch and lengthen the surrounding tissues

Here are several variations of just one stretch, though there are many more ways to improve flexion. Partner variations are my favorite, as they allow you to relax completely, and your partner can keep the bottom leg from lifting.

I prefer these at 20-30 seconds per side, for 2 sets. But this is up to you depending on time and what feels right.

And let me know how that new PR goes after mobilizing those tight hips!