Ask the Doc: Master Movement with the PVC

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by MISSY ALBRECHT, DPT, CSCS, FMS| Physical Therapist/Coach

Ask the Doc: Master Movement with the PVC

“Across the three sets, you’re supposed to go up in weight. I started with a 45-pound bar and two 5-pound plates, for a total of 55 pounds. I got the weight overhead, but when it came time to drop into a squat I could only go a few inches. Beal gently suggested that I use the 35-pound bar with no weights – the girl bar. I took the suggestion, but my right knee had a different plan from my left knee. I looked crooked enough that Beal, again with a gentle tone, and as much positive, affirmative energy as anyone could have mustered, suggested I use a pvc pipe instead of the bar. So we started there.”T.J. MurphyInside the Box

[T]he PVC pipe can be used as a means to practice a movement and build strength/flexibility during a workout, not just during the warm-up.
The above is part of T.J. Murphy’s first experience with CrossFit, in which he later describes his surprise at feeling so sore from doing weight training with a PVC pipe. But he also shares how grateful he was for the modification in the long run, because it taught him proper form and proper progression into heavier weights. No doubt about his first workout being a humbling experience — which most of us have also experienced personally.

Do you remember the last time you did a barbell movement with the PVC pipe and found it challenging? Maybe during the Burgener warm-up? Or while practicing the movements of the Bear Complex? Or trying to tackle a warm-up overhead squat? I remember the weekend I did my CrossFit Level 1 certification we worked on the overhead press for what seemed like 2 hours. Only with the PVC, and we were all SWEATING. That night I felt like I had just done Cindy, but what I had really done was practice perfect movement with low weight and high reps. This had been perfect timing, as I was recovering from a shoulder injury and hadn’t pressed in over 3 months. So it was the perfect transition back into barbell movements, and it ensured that I mastered the movement before I added weight. And because we did SO MUCH practice, I had perfected it and was ready for the barbell the next day!

The point is this: the PVC pipe can be used as a means to practice a movement and build strength/flexibility during a workout, not just during the warm-up. You can still get your butt kicked with the PVC if you are missing the mobility and/or motor pattern to do the movement properly. Add the PVC into a workout (for a movement that you struggle with) with high reps, and I guarantee you will improve your form, improve flexibility, and get an excellent workout… all while not stressing the other areas of your body that may take the brunt if you’re not ready for weighted movements (i.e. low back, shoulders, elbows, knees, etc.)

How Do You Know if You Should Be Replacing the Bar with the PVC?

How Do You Know if You Should Be Replacing the Bar with the PVC?
This is hard to give a general answer because it’s important to have a coach watch you and help you decide. But if the movement feels wrong or you know you’re not getting full range of motion, it’s time to try a workout with just the PVC. Here are a few general situations to consider:

1. Limited mobility.
Adding weight to a poor movement pattern will just reinforce that pattern and may even cover it up if you add enough weight.
If you can’t lift your arms overhead into a press position with a strong midline, use the PVC for movements like the press, thruster, overhead squat, snatch, and jerk. If you can ‘t touch your toes, do the deadlift with a PVC. If mobility is limiting your air squat, use the PVC for the back squat, front squat and overhead squat. The ladder is the correct order of progression for the squat, so if you can back squat but not quite front squat, use the PVC for the front squat. Same goes with front squat to overhead squat. Using weight will only wreck your body if mobility is limiting you.

** The Functional Movement Screen is a great way to tell if you’re ready for a lot of the barbell movements. If you’re a CFSB member, look at your recent results and use them to help guide you during your workouts.

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