May 30th, 2013

NEW: CFO Endurance Program w Coach Aaron!


Did you know that our very own resident running coach, Coach Aaron or Coach Evil as we like to call him, is also a certified CrossFit Endurance coach?  Now that you do, what does that mean for you?  What is means is that we are lucky enough to now offer a formal CrossFit Endurance program to the CFO community! Classes are running NOW, so don’t wait.  Check out Aaron’s write up for more info:

CrossFit Oakland’s Endurance program utilizes CFE protocols with sport-specific strength training and conditioning geared towards improving performance, fitness and endurance sports potential.  Are you a triathlete?  A road racer preparing to run a marathon, ½ marathon, or a 5/10k race this year?  Is your team looking to complete the challenge of Tough Mudder?  Maybe you’re a CrossFitter wanting to improve your running technique and work on your overall endurance?  If you said yes to any of these questions, this is the program for you!

What is CrossFit Endurance?  Traditionally, endurance training has meant adding more time and volume to workouts for one’s body to compete a specific time or distance.  Instead, this program will demand greater attention at the skill and technique level, then we’ll test that technique under stress over a much shorter period of time developing increased stamina and maximum VO2 capacity to compete faster, longer and therefore see greater athletic gains. 

The CFO Endurance program consists of both track and running WODs with a separate strength and conditioning class that focuses on skill based endurance training and mobility.  Participants can buy into any of the available class options that best meets their needs and schedule. 

Three Available CFO Endurance Classes

TUESDAYS 6:00AM – 7:30AM Group Running/Track WOD – The focus is on proper running technique along with a track or running workout designed to maximize an athlete’s endurance and anaerobic threshold.  Location is Piedmont HS, unless otherwise stated.

TUESDAYS 6:30PM – 8:00PM  Group Running/Track WOD – Location is Piedmont HS, unless otherwise stated.

THURSDAYS 7:15PM – 8:30PM  Group Strength Training/Conditioning Class at Uptown – For the athlete looking for more social and supportive interaction with a team training atmosphere. 

Other CFO Endurance Program Options

Private 1:1 Session – Scheduled during open gym hours, when there are no CF classes, or on the weekend.  Ideal for an athlete wanting a more focused one-on-one session with Coach Aaron, or another member of the CFO/Uptown coaching staff.  It’s also for the athlete that may feel intimidated in a class setting environment.  An initial consultation will take place with each new client to determine their sport-specific goals.

10-Day Pass – For the non-committal athlete wanting to test out the CFO Endurance program without purchasing a month-to-month membership.


$10 Drop-in fee for each track/running WODs only

$25 Drop-in fee for CFO Endurance strength/conditioning class at Uptown

$35 Unlimited Monthly track/running WODs only

CFO ENDURANCE GROUP CLASS – $150/month (Consists of both Tuesday Track/Running WOD and Thursday Strength/Conditioning Class

CFO ENDURANCE PRIVATE 1:1 – $199/month

CFO ENDURANCE 10-DAY PASS – $199 (Applies to both Track/Running and Strength/Conditioning Classes)

Payments accepted through the current CFO online client system

Active CFO/Uptown members are welcome to attend a Track/Running Class or a  

CFO Endurance Strength/Conditioning class by paying the respective drop-in fee 

Email for more information or to get answers to any questions.

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May 29th, 2013

Regionals Wrap-Up with Coach Arnold


Team CFO 2013

Congrats to Team CFO for finishing 8th place in the very tough CF Games Regional division of Northern California. We are so proud of you!  Special thanks to Coach Arnold for programming, training and coaching the team over the past couple of months in preparation for Regionals weekend.  

Here is Arnold’s wrap-up:

Team CFO put in a solid performance at the Norcal Regionals. We were ranked 23rd going in and finished the weekend in 8thoverall.

Candace and Brandon set the tone on the first workout, “Pair Jackie.” Each of them had to complete a 1000m Row, 50 Thrusters at 45 pounds and 30 Pullups. Only half the field was able to complete this workout under the time cap. Candace came out blazing and pr’d by 45 seconds, then Brandon took over and finished the workout in 5th place overall. The entire team followed up with a strong 6th place finish in the 3RM Overhead Squat workout. After surviving the Burpee Muscle Up workout with a 17th place finish, Team CFO sat in 6th place after Day 1.

Day 2 of competition started with all six members of Team CFO having to complete 30 wall balls, chest to bar pullups, pistols and dumbell snatches each, in relay style. Everybody held their own and we took 10th overall on that workout. Justin and Tamara ended day 2 with a 9th place finish on the 21-15-9 deadlift and box jump couplet. Team CFO was in 9th overall after two days of competition.

Michelle and Manwell started day 3 with a brutal workout. They had to hold a handstand while the other did handstand pushups, do toes to bar while the other hung from the bar, do shoulder to overheads while the other held the rack position and then lunge down the field with the bar in the front rack. It was a grueling workout to watch, let alone do. Only half the field completed the workout in the 15 minutes allowed. We were one of them, finishing in 14:38 and a 13th place finish.

Team CFO put in a gritty performance on the final event of the weekend. It was a relay style workout that included rope climbs and squat cleans that pushed everyone to their limits. With the clock counting down and the crowd on their feet, we finished the workout as the buzzer sounded. We were 1 of 7 teams to complete the final workout.

It was a great weekend. Everybody left it all out there on every workout and we finished in 8th overall. Thanks to all those who came out to support us.

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May 20th, 2013

NEW Women’s Strength Class w/ Jo Ann starting June 6th!


Jo Ann Aita has 2 new sessions of the Women’s Strength Class starting Thursday, June 6th.  Classes are held in Max’s Gym and are open to women of all strength levels.  The cost is $180 for the 6-week session, paid up-front.  There are spaces open for Session A ONLY!

BOTH SESSIONS WILL BEGIN THURSDAY, JUNE 6TH AND RUN FOR 6 WEEKS – a total of 12 classes. (Thursday July 4th will be rescheduled to another day).

SESSION A:  THURSDAYS 5-6:30PM AND SUNDAYS 10-11:30AM, ending Sunday July 14th.  
SESSION B:  THURSDAYS 6:30-8PM AND SATURDAYS 9-10:30AM, ending Saturday July 13th
Classes are limited to 12 women with a minimum of 8 participants for the class to run. Interested women need to email Jo Ann Aita directly. Spots held for the 1st 12 women to commit. Jo Ann will respond to participants via email regarding payment.
If you are unfamiliar with Jo Ann or just want a reminder of how amazing she is, check out her World Record video here.
Sign up now and grab a spot before they’re gone!  
More about Jo Ann:
Jo Ann Aita, currently 42 years of age, has been training and competing in Olympic 
Weightlifting since 2003 . She is a National Medalist and currently holds both Snatch 
and Clean & Jerk Records in the Pacific Weightlifting Association.  Despite starting 
weightlifting at the age of 33, and rehabbing two shoulder surgeries in 2010, she was able 
to come back with PR lifts at the Olympic Trials last year, placing 5 lb weight class, against many competitors half her age!

At the recent Women’s  Pro-Am meet in November 2012, Jo Ann went 9/9 setting a 
New World Record Powerlifting Total in the Raw w/wraps category. She also broke 
the American Raw Deadlift record, which has stood since 1981.  Her lifts at 114 lbs 

Back Squat: 309 lbs,  Bench Press: 165 lbs, Deadlift: 375 lbs,  Total: 849 lbs

Jo Ann was also a Track & Field and Cross Country athlete for over a decade and 
competed for UCLA.  She is a USA Weightlifting Certified Coach and has been getting 
lifters strong for the past 4 years.  She is a Certified Massage Therapist, specializing 
in Sports Massage and Deep Tissue Work, with a Bay Area Practice for the past 14 
years.  Jo Ann has accomplished all of this while raising a child, managing 3 careers, and 
running a gym!

Jo Ann Aita stats at 114/117lb weight class:

Snatch:  154 lbs
Clean:  194 lbs
Jerk: 185 lb.
Back Squat: 309 lbs
Bench Press: 165 lbs
Dead Lift: 375 lbs
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Mar 23rd, 2013

Knees in Front of the Toes on the Squat

Reminder: I will be holding a Starting Strength Camp on the low bar back squat tomorrow, Sunday, March 23rd, from 1 PM till 5 PM. I still have a few spots open. Sign ups and additional info can be found at the Aasgaard Company Store.

Jo Ann Clean

Jo Ann receiving a clean in a full depth front squat. Note that her knees are in front of her toes and that her shins are inclined. This segment arrangement keeps her from falling backwards and maintains an upright torso, both of which are necessary for a recovery from a clean.

People often suggest that squatting is bad for the knees. I am not, however, going to address that assertion in much detail this evening. Suffice to say that I disagree and I would sincerely enjoy hearing an explanation for how a properly executed, full depth squat is dangerous to knee health. Said explanation should involve a thorough treatment of knee anatomy and a look at the forces encountered by the knee during a squat. Enough about that.

Instead, we’ll take a brief look at where the knee should end up during the squat, particularly with respect to the toes. When I talk about knee position, think about a plumb bob (I like that word) tied to a string hanging off the front of the knee. The position of that plumb bob above the ground is that in which we are interested.

Let’s address a commonly voiced concern – the knees should not be allowed to travel in front of the toes while squatting. Due to varying segment lengths among trainees, the position of the knee will not be the same for everyone. However, for a large majority of lifters, the knee can and probably should travel in front of the toes by the time they are about half way down in the squat. The biggest reason for this is balance. Try this for yourself – squat with as vertical a shin angle as you can. Not very easy is it? You have to lean pretty far forward to counteract the vertical shin, if you can even maintain such a configuration. Allowing the knees to come forward in front of the toes allows a trainee to keep their center of mass, which closely approximates the barbell at heavy weights, over the middle of the foot, which is also the point of balance for human beings.

How far forward the knees travel will be a function of segment lengths and the type of squat being performed.  Low bar back squats have less forward travel than high bar back squats which have less travel than the front squat. Some are concerned that when the knees travel in front of the toes, the patellar ligament will undergo undue strain. Provided that the hamstrings are properly engaged in a strong isometric contraction (ahem… as happens during a low bar squat), the forces along the anterior and posterior aspects of the femur are very nicely balanced. Remember that the patellar ligament inserts on the tibia and the tendons of the hamstrings also insert on the tibia and fibula. Things work out nicely that way.

Allowing the knee enough forward travel in the squat allows a trainee to stay in balance and also provides the quadriceps additional opportunity to aid with standing back up. The eventual position of the knee with respect to the toe will vary from trainee to trainee. A vertical shin is not necessary in a squat and is not possible for most trainees without a very wide stance, or the use of a box to contact at the bottom of the movement.

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Mar 16th, 2013

Upcoming Starting Strength Training Camps


Connie at one of the first camps I held at the Doyle Street location. Photo courtesy of the lovely and talented Kelly Powers.

I will be holding three Starting Strength Training Camps in the coming five weeks at the CFO Emeryville location. The first one on the low bar back squat occurs next Sunday. For those of you who’d like a longer introduction to the basic strength lifts, these camps are an excellent way to do it. We generally spend about five hours at each camp discussing and then practicing the various lifts in a controlled and unrushed environment. If you are interested, you can sign up through the Aasgaard Company website. The camps are below with links to sign ups and more information for each one:

Low Bar Back Squat – Sunday, March 24 – $135
Deadlift and Power Clean – Sunday, March 31 – $160
Press and Bench Press – Sunday, April 21 – $160

Each of the events start at 1 PM and are limited to eight participants to make sure that attendees get plenty of attention. The squat camp normally wraps up by 5:00 or 5:30 and the camps with two lifts will often go until 6:00 or 6:30 in the evening. I hope to see you there.

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Feb 23rd, 2013

More About Belts


Back in the fall of 2010, I wrote an article on the use of weightlifting belts. I would encourage those interested in the topic to read it when you get a chance. I won’t repeat the entire article today, but will remind readers of a few points.

The belt is an external aid to lifting weights that increases the rigidity of the torso. It does this by providing the abdominals an external resistance against which they can contract. When combined with a strongly held breath using the Valsalva maneuver, your torso can more efficiently communicate the force generated by the lower body to the bar. The second sentence in this paragraph is important and bears repeating. The primary purpose of the belt is to provide your abdominals something against which they can brace. A belt is not designed to support the back, at least not directly. If a trainee cannot keep their spine from overextending, flexing, or otherwise wiggling around, a belt will not save them. A trainee must be able to lift properly before introducing a belt into the proceedings.

When a trainee first begins lifting, most of their energies are spent on learning the gross motor patterns of the movement. There is plenty to keep track of and any additional variables, such as a belt, serve as a distraction instead of an aid. As training progresses and technique begins to solidify, the musculature is forced to adapt to handle heavier loads. During this time a belt is still probably best left out so that a trainee can learn to effectively engage the trunk musculature and hold the spine in proper extension throughout the movements. If a trainee is just learning the movements, or has not started to handle heavier weights, it is best lift without a belt.

What are heavier weights? That varies based on age and bodyweight, but some generalities can be made. Realize that these numbers are not set in stone. If you are a woman and your work sets on the squat are around 150 pounds, or if you are a man and your work sets are somewhere near 300 pounds, then a belt would not be out of place. These numbers get revised downward the older a trainee is, the lighter they are, or if they have a back injury.

Above I wrote that a belt is not designed to directly support the back, yet I suggested that those who suffered a back injury may want to lift with a belt. A belt doesn’t prop anyone up and it will not substitute for proper form. However, if a trainee can use their abdominals properly in a squat, the belt will amplify their ability to utilize the trunk musculature to keep the spine from moving under a load. The spinal erectors in conjunction with the abdominals keep the train on the tracks. The belt provides an extra layer of support to hold everything in place. If you hurt your back, this is a good thing.

Belts are wonderful. They are a popular and essential piece of gear in the strength training arsenal. They should not be used in the early phases of a trainee’s career because they will primarily get in the way. After getting some experience and strength and once proper form has been established, then a belt can be considered.

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Feb 19th, 2013

Mune Competes in the USAPL

115 kg squat

Mune performing a textbook low bar back squat with 115 kg (253.5 lbs)

Mune and I traveled to sunny Southern California this weekend to compete in the 2013 USA Powerlifting (USAPL) California State Championships. Mune went down there to lift and I was there as her coach. The USAPL is one of the largest powerlifting organizations in the country and it is affiliated with the International Powerlifting Federation (IPF), one of the largest powerlifting organizations in the world. There are plenty of powerlifting events available locally, but successfully competing in this meet meant that Mune would be eligible to compete in the 2013 USAPL Raw Nationals which will take place in Florida in July. "Successfully competing" in this case meant that Mune needed at least one successful attempt at a squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Before we continue, I should provide a little context. Powerlifting meets are judged events where participants attempt to lift the maximum amount of weight in the squat, bench press, and deadlift. Competitors are given three tries at each lift. The sum of the highest successful attempt for each lift is calculated to produce a total. That total is often further manipulated via various equations to allow for lifters of different bodyweights to be more directly compared. In a meet, you can never call for less weight to be put on the bar. That is, you must declare an opening weight for the lift. If you miss that lift, you have two options – stay at the same weight, or add weight to the bar. If you cannot make at least one of your three attempts for the contested lifts, you are disqualified from the meet. Therefore, some strategy is involved in picking appropriate weights. You want to successfully complete your opening lifts because it won’t get any easier going forward.

The evening before the meet, Mune and I came up with a plan for each of her three attempts on the lifts. She masterfully executed that plan and made eight of her nine attempts. Her best lifts were as follows:

Squat:  115 kg (253.5 lb)
Bench:  52.5 kg (115.7 lb)
Dead:  115 kg (253.5 lb)
Total:  282.5 kg (622.8 lb) 

Mune weighed in at 109 lbs and competed in the 52 kg (114 lb) weight class. She bench pressed 6 pounds over her bodyweight and squatted and deadlifted 2.32 times her bodyweight. Her opening attempt on her squat exceeded the third attempts of everyone in her flight up through the 60 kg (132 lb) weight class, or the two weight classes above her. That’s pretty damn cool. Mune won her weight class and came very close to taking the best lifter award. The results from the meet have yet to be published, but I suspect she came in second or third overall. It was an impressive performance.

Having successfully totaled in this meet, Mune can now go on to compete in Orlando, FL at the Raw Nationals. Jennifer Thompson, who I wrote about earlier, has been a participant in that contest in years past. Best of luck to Mune as she prepares for that meet.

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Jan 26th, 2013

Jennifer Thompson Redux

How the bench press is done

I wrote about Jennifer Thompson a little over a year ago and decided it is time to talk about her again. She’s an accomplished strength athlete who holds all of the Raw American records for her weight class (60kg/132lb) in the USA Powerlifting (USAPL) federation. She squatted 316 pounds, bench pressed 301 pounds, and deadlifted 430 pounds.  All of that was done in 2012 by this 39-year old mother of two who makes her living as a middle school math teacher and claims to be drug free for her entire career. Did I mention that she trains in her basement gym and that she almost never misses training days? Thompson is impressive.

The video above comes from the 2010 USAPL Raw National Championships and is an example of extraordinary lifting. Firstly, she bench presses 292 pounds quickly and confidently with a pause at the bottom. That is better than 2.2 times her bodyweight. Think about that for a moment.

Of special interest is how Thompson approaches the lift. She doesn’t carry on, do lots of screaming, stomp around, or otherwise turn into an uncontrolled, self-absorbed performance artist. Instead, she sits down on the bench, briefly composes herself, and then dominates the bar in no uncertain terms. Further, after completing what is an impressive physical feat, she neglects to engage in self-aggrandizement, or remind the audience that she is number one. Instead, she smiles and then thanks each of her spotters before quickly stepping off the platform.

In most powerlifting meets, the bench press is done with a pause at the bottom. You can hear the head judge issue the "start, press, and rack" commands. This is to eliminate any chance of a bounce off the ribcage at the bottom. Much like lifting your butt off the bench is a reason for disqualifying the lift, so is bouncing the bar off the chest. While not the safest of practices, using the ribcage as a trampoline is also a good way to avoid getting strong through the initial portion of the bench press.

Not only are the numbers Thompson moves on the bench press incredible, she gets style points, too. She doesn’t make a scene, she just gets the work done. There is no indulgent carrying on. She plants her feet flat on the ground and performs a lift that everyone would recognize as solid bench press without the aid of bench press shirts or other assistive gear. After the lift is done, she stands up and goes on her way. There’s an awful lot of awesome packed into the forty five seconds of that video. It is full of ideas that can be applied to training and how we approach the lifts. I’m a fan.

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Dec 29th, 2012

Things to Read Before 2013

Michael Squat

Michael performing the exercise of the year to the proper depth.

As January approaches, journalists often pen "Best of the Year" articles involving the number 10. While I know that you would truly appreciate reading my "Ten Best Firming and Toning Exercises" post, I have instead decided to recycle previous articles I have written because I am very lazy. I will, however, share with you the best exercise of 2012.

It is… wait for it… The Squat.

Yes, the squat is the single best exercise of 2012, just as it has been, since, well, hominids became bipedal. Depending upon who you listen to, that started somewhere around four to six million years ago. If we really wanted to be safe, we could say that we were full time bipeds by a little less than two million years ago when Homo erectus took their first steps in the world.

Air squats are fine, but squatting with a weight on your back is what truly develops strength. Barbells came into usage somewhere around the mid 19th century. Plate loaded barbells followed sometime in the late 19th to early 20th century. For over 100 years we, as a species, have had access to these wonderful tools and it is my pleasure to report that the barbell squat is still the king of exercises. You can now sleep easier. I sure will.

Now for the promised recycling of previous postings. Since some will have traveled or been unable to get to a gym for a period, I would direct you to an almost two-year old article entitled Coming Back from a Layoff in Training.

On the first workout back, go very easy. Scale weights and repetitions to the point that your pride is insulted. That will be the correct starting point. Some soreness will still result and that is fine. The object is to avoid crippling soreness that serves to discourage another return to the gym.

Next up is an article from earlier this year.  After returning to the gym, it is time to build momentum and make gains. Showing Up is a worthwhile read in this regard.

I mentioned in various postings on this site that strength is built slowly. It also tends to erode more slowly when a layoff occurs than something like cardiovascular fitness. However, when you stop training, you start to get weaker. Getting weaker is the opposite of progress and we want to avoid it whenever possible.  Thus we return to the point. If you want to improve, you must first show up. Again and again. Whether you feel like it, or not.

Lastly, I will close my last article of 2012 with a reposting of Dr. Jonathan Sullivan’s excellent article on the importance of weight training. Read Barbell Training is Big Medicine. If you already read it, read it again. Then send it to a friend. Here is a sample from the article.

This is an increasingly prevalent phenotype of aging in America and other industrialized nations: a living hell of progressive weakness, obesity, inactivity, shrinking horizons, sexual impotence, decreased expectations, mounting despair, a growing list of expensive drugs, learned helplessness, sickness, and pain. It’s being "All Done At Sixty"…or Fifty. It’s a life of waiting to die from a skin infection or a broken hip or a blot clot, of needing a stupid little fucking go-cart to get from here to there, of not being able to reach your own ass to wipe it, of narcotizing yourself with alcohol, cigarettes, American Idol and Doritos so you don’t have to face your own grim existence as a slowly rotting Jabba The Hut. I see it every day. We call it "old-itis." A joke, I guess, but an obscene one. This gruesome avatar of aging offends the eye, the mind, and the spirit, and it cries out for both compassion and correction. Strength training is a macroscopic growth factor, countersignalling all of this evil shit.

This is not my wishful extrapolation of cellular phenomena to the human sphere. It’s a medical observation, supported by study after study. Research with elderly subjects indicates that resistance training improves overall function and strength, enhances bone density and balance adaptations, and improves the metabolic profiles and glycemic control of patients with type 2 diabetes. A landmark 2008 study of nearly 9000 men followed for an average of nearly nearly 20 years showed that muscular strength is inversely associated with death from all causes, even when adjusting for fitness and cardiovascular health.

I wish you a safe and productive New Year that is rich in strength, happiness, and quality of life.

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Dec 22nd, 2012

Socks Make Better Deadlifters


Kelly modeling proper deadlifting attire.

We are going to explore how a single article of clothing can aid the deadlift and in the process make us better people. Since Polonius suggested, "Brevity is the soul of wit," I, too, will get to the point. You should wear long socks that come up to right below the knee every time you deadlift. This will allow you to use better form, lift more weight, avoid abrasion, and protect your fellow trainees in the gym.

As always, performance is of greatest interest. When a trainee pulls a heavy bar off the floor, it needs to be as close to the point of balance of the lifter-barbell system as it can. This allows for an efficient pull and for the most weight to be lifted. In this case, that point of balance is the middle of the foot. The middle of the foot is actually right around where the navicular meets the cuneiform bones, which is to say, quite close to the lower leg. Upon approaching a barbell, a trainee will have the bar over the midfoot when it is approximately one inch from the shin. This is from where the deadlift should start and the bar should not be moved forward from this point.

Now that the stance is established, the trainee grips the bar and drops the hips until the shins come in contact with the bar. Since the trainee knows that the midfoot is the balance point of the lift, they wisely avoid pushing the bar forward with the shins during this process.

Here is where the socks come in handy. An efficient pull is one that moves in a straight line and uses the musculature in such a way that every muscle that can contribute to the lift is called into contraction. When the bar comes off the floor, it needs to be in contact with the legs the whole way up. When this occurs, the quadriceps can be fully utilized to help with the lift while maintaining the highly coveted vertical bar path over the balance point. If the shins are not protected during the lift, a trainee is highly likely to break the skin covering the bony ridge of the tibia and, if they are particularly lucky, they will begin to bleed. This will often happen even if they narrow their stance to avoid the abrasive knurling on the bar.

A nice, long pair of socks prevents this unfortunate situation. Abrading the shins and bleeding on the bar does not make anyone feel any better during what is already a very uncomfortable lift. Continuing to drag the bar up unprotected legs over the course of multiple training sessions can repeatedly reopen the wound, courting infection and scarring. Further, bleeding on the bar makes a mess and subjects other trainees to the risk of infection from whatever blood-borne illnesses the lifter may be carrying around. Wearing long socks during deadlifts, or really any pull, is an act of kindness and respect towards your fellow trainees.

Keeping the bar in contact with the legs on the deadlift allows for proper positioning during the lift and the optimal usage of the musculature. Wearing long socks makes this easier to achieve through the prevention of abrasion and bleeding. The socks protect the lifter from the bar and other trainees from the lifter. If you don’t own long socks, buy a few pairs and keep them with you when you come to the gym. You will lift better and do everyone else a favor by just wearing one article of clothing. Merry Christmas and Happy Deadlifting.

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