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Crossover Symmetry: Bulletproof your shoulders

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You can do push-ups for days in a wod, but when you jump onto the rings, you crumble instantly.
You squat 400 pounds, yet when you put 135 overhead, the bar wobbles uncontrollably.
You can rep out push presses at 95 pounds no problem, but try using 35-pound dumbbells, and what the ***?
Bar muscle ups? Yeah, okay. Ring muscle ups? No chance.

**Double tap if this sounds like you**

What is happening in these cases? Do you always have an off day when it’s DBs instead of barbells? Will ring dips just forever evade you?

No, none of this is true. You’re running into the concept of stability, which is related to but distinct from strength. Just because your muscles are capable of generating enough power to move a given amount of pounds, doesn’t mean your body understands how to keep that amount of weight still, or stable. You might have experienced this if you somehow completed a crazy lift, but it was sloppy and marginally embarrassing. Or maybe you picked a weight for your WOD you thought was moderate, but since you can’t keep the weight stable, you expended an unnecessary amount of energy on each rep and fatigued after the first round … FRUSTRATION! In the worst case scenario, you could get injured lifting a weight that your muscles can handle but the rest of your body cannot.

So how do we work on stability? At EVF, we actually get quite a lot of stability work. Any time you see dumbbells, unilateral (single side) elements, strict gymnastics, rings, banded exercises — these are all helping you build stability. Yet, even with all of this practice, most of us also grew up in a culture that distinctly values pure strength over stability. Bottom line: all of us can stand to work a little bit more on our stability.

Have you ever seen that very official looking, colorful set of bands hanging from the rig at both EVF locations? That is Crossover Symmetry, and if you haven’t already, you should get acquainted.

What is Crossover Symmetry?

Crossover Symmetry is a simple system specifically designed to make developing shoulder stability easy, effective, and practical in less than 5 minutes a day. The bands come with an instruction card, so all you have to do is follow along. The movements are not challenging and can be easily modified based on your level of experience and comfort. Crossover Symmetry is designed to do two major things.

First, it strengthens your stabilizer muscles. In simple terms, your shoulder stabilizers are tiny muscles that help keep your scapula in place. Strong stabilizers allow your bigger muscles (like pecs, deltoids, and lats) to do the work they’re supposed to do, i.e. actually move the heavy weight overhead or propel your body up to the bar. If your stabilizers are weak, your bigger muscles have to do extra work — either to do the stabilizing instead or because your unstable scapula makes them work from a compromised position. Best case scenario, this leads to loss of strength. Worst case scenario, this leads to injury.

Second, it teaches your brain how to express strength. The movement patterns we do in CrossFit are complex. They require your brain to send fast and powerful signals to multiple muscle groups. Then, those muscle groups need to work together to accomplish complicated tasks like Olympic lifts and kipping gymnastics. The Crossover symmetry exercises are intentionally sequenced to layer the movement patterns in the right order for going overhead. By consistently practicing the exercises, you are training the brain on what muscles to activate, how, and in what order. The more practice you get, the faster and more powerfully your brain will be able to send these signals to your muscles.

By strengthening your stabilizers and training your neurological pathways, you are putting your body in a better, safer, and stronger position to express the strength that you develop every day in class.

Crossover Symmetry Exercises 101

The Crossover Symmetry system comes with a very simple instruction card. It even includes pictures! You don’t need any rigorous training to figure out what to do. That said, here are a few basic principles to help you get started.

Setup and Posture

Set your bands up to the proper height. About half of the exercises will call for the bands to be at eye level, and the other half will call for the bands to be at your knees. Crisscross the bands. The band on the left goes in your right hand, and the band on your right goes in your left hand. (Get it? “Crossover” Symmetry!)

Establish an athletic position before every rep. Your feet should be approximately shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and torso upright. Your hips should be back, like in the receiving position for a power clean.

Brace your core. Crossover symmetry is deliberately designed to be executed while standing. Research shows a strong correlation between core stability and shoulder stability, and the standing position requires you to activate your core similarly to how you will when hanging or putting weight overhead.

Finally, bring your shoulder blades back and down, while keeping your core tight. In this position, you should feel rock solid!

Selecting the Right Bands

Choose two bands to use for your exercises: one “heavy” and one “light.” The instruction card includes guidelines for which bands to choose. If you’re just starting off, follow the “novice” guidelines: yellow is your “heavy” and green is your “light” band. As you get used to the exercises, progress up to red for “heavy” and purple for “light.” Most of us don’t need to advance beyond these resistance levels. Remember, Crossover Symmetry is about training stabilizer muscles — no one needs to PR their banded reverse fly!


Choose one of the three major Crossover Symmetry programs. Each program includes a sequence of exercises, which are designed to be performed in order.

Activation: A warm-up for your shoulders
The focus is on getting your brain to activate the right muscles in the right order, which improves your ability to use them in your upcoming workout. Perform 5-8 reps of each exercise listed. For each rep, hold the finish position for 2 seconds before returning to start.

Recovery: A cool-down for your shoulders
The focus is on slow, eccentric contraction, which promotes increased blood flow, reduced inflammation, and tendon health. Perform 10 reps of each exercise listed. For each rep, perform a 6-second negative back to the starting position.

Strength (“Iron Scap”): A more rigorous program to improve strength and dynamic stability in your shoulders
It can be difficult to maintain the right posture through some of the exercises, so you should only advance to this once you are comfortable with the Activation and Recovery series. Perform 10 reps each of each exercise listed. Each exercise has a different prescription in terms of holds and negatives.


Crossover Symmetry is most effective when performed regularly and consistently. If you do it sporadically before some classes, you’ll still probably feel better for the subsequent workout, but for true, long-term benefits you should perform it consistently. Pick a frequency that seems reasonable to you, and be consistent with whatever you choose.

Crossover Symmetry recommends that you do the exercises 2-3 times per day, 5 days per week for optimal benefits. Once you get used to it, this could be easily accomplished by using it for 5 minutes before and after every class. Like any new habit, this may take time to build. A good starting place could be doing the Activation or Recovery series three times a week before or after class. Once this becomes an easy habit, you can either add days or start doing it both before and after your workout.

Increasing your stability is just like improving mobility or tackling a tough skill: consistency is key. Pop in a few minutes early or stay a few minutes after class, and your shoulders (and your lifts!) will thank you.

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