People say CrossFit is dangerous. But here’s the thing: Nearly every approach to fitness is dangerous if you’re unable to correctly get into the exercise positions required, says Kelly Starrett, author of Becoming a Supple Leopard and creator of MobilityWOD.com.

Poor or incorrect movement patterns during any workout will not only increase your injury risk, he says, but will also decrease your performance. You won’t be able to lift as much, move as fast, or go as long as you potentially could if you had full range of motion and full capacity in your joints.

CrossFit is no different, says Starrett, who has trained everyone from CrossFit competitors to NFL teams. “It’s a complete movement practice.” If you don’t have the ability to safely and effectively do an exercise, you shouldn’t do it. There’s an underlying problem you need to work on first, he explains.

For most men, those problems are usually the same, says Starrett. That’s why all CrossFitters—and, really, any man who works out—should be able to flawlessly pass the following four simple tests before performing their exercise routine.

If you can’t pass these tests, then there are underlying mobility problems you need to address, Starrett says. Add the fixes to your routine, and then retest yourself in four weeks.

Arms Overhead Test

Overhead

How to Pass

If you pass: You have the shoulder and upper-back mobility to safely and effectively perform exercises that involve lifting your arms overhead like the military press, push press, pullup, clean and jerk, or snatch.

How to Fail 
Your elbows flare out, your shoulders roll forward, and/or your back arches

If you fail: That means other areas of your body—like your lower back—need to overcompensate for your lack of mobility during overhead movements. This can put you at risk of serious injury, like disc bulges.

Your fix: overhead distraction

band-arm-stretch

Anchor a band on a pullup bar or rack above and behind you. Thread your arm through the band and hook it around your elbow.

Step out so the band is “pulling” your elbow back overhead. Slightly “crunch” your abs so that they’re tight and your ribcage is down, not flared out.

Latch onto the outside of the band with your hand. Stand in that position for up to two minutes, and occasionally pull your elbow towards your head with your other hand. Repeat on your other arm.

Arm Hang Test

Hang

 

How to Pass

If you pass: You can safely do exercises that work your shoulders when your arms are at your sides. For instance, the starting position for any exercise where you pick weight up off the floorlike the Olympic lifts—and the ending position of the deadlift.  

How to Fail
Your shoulders roll forward, your elbows flare out, and/or your wrists stay in front of your body.

If you fail: If you can’t get into this position, it puts your delicate shoulders joints at risk.

Your fix: internal rotation mobilization 

ground-final

Lie on your back with your knees bent 90 degrees and your heels pressing into the floor. Pull your shoulders away from your ears and pull them down, “pinning” them to the floor throughout the move. (It’s helpful to have a friend physically push your shoulders into the floor.)

Place your hands underneath your low back. Slowly push your back into your hands without letting your shoulders rise. You should feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders. From this position, locate where you feel tension in your shoulder blades.

When you feel a tight spot, stop, and oscillate your body side to side, front to back over it. Do this stretch for up to two minutes.

Pistol Squat Test

Pistol

How to Pass

If you pass: Being able to go from sitting on the floor into a pistol squat means that you have full range of motion in your hips and ankles. This mobility ensures that you can get off the floor from a seated position—like you do when you squat or perform a Turkish Getup—and step up or down from an elevated platform—like you do when you box jump or perform a stepup.

How to Fail
You can’t get into the position off the floor, your knee collapses in, passing your ankle, and/or your heels come off the floor

If you fail: Your back and knees have to compensate for your decreased range of motion in your hips and ankles during most lower-body exercises. This sets those areas up for injury and pain in the future.

Your fix: banded heel cord

banded-heel-cord

Anchor a band to the bottom of a squat rack. Face away from the anchor, and hook the band around the front of your ankle. Step away from the anchor point, trying to create as much tension as possible in the band.

Keeping your entire foot in contact with the floor, drive your knee forward toward your toes as far as you can. Continue to drive your knee forward, pause, and then release. So this for up to two minutes. Repeat on the other side.

For a greater stretch, place the ball of your foot on a weight plate and perform the exercise.

Lunge Test

Lung1

How to Pass

If you pass: You’re able to perform athletic movements like throwing, sprinting, cutting, jumping, and bounding, and Olympic lifts like the split jerk with effective lower-body form. You’re also protecting your hip, knee, and ankle joints from injury during every day activities like walking up stairs, kneeling, and jogging.

How to Fail
Your knee goes over your toes, your knee caves inward, your back knee doesn’t stay behind your hips, and/or your toes don’t stay flat on the floor

If you fail: You’re missing the ability to extend your hips, causing weight to shift to your spinal column.

Your fix: couch stretch

couch-stretch1

Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Your feet should be against a wall. Keeping your knee on the floor, lift one foot and slide it up the wall until your shin and foot lie flat against the wall. Step the other leg forward.

Now squeeze your glutes and lift your torso so it’s in line with your back quad. Actively try to pull your heel to your butt by contracting your hamstring for 2 seconds. Do up to 40 contractions on each leg.