Of course, this differs from a personal experience and sporting history. A Powerlifter that decides to start CrossFit will pretty surely be one of the strongest athlete in the Box, but that probably won’t let them run well or do some Muscle Ups.
The former triathlon athlete might beat you one every run or swim WOD but struggle when it comes to heavy weights. Nevertheless, there are certain fields that every new CrossFitter should focus on.
ESTABLISHING THE RIGHT FOUNDATIONS
No matter what you did before, a CrossFit Workout will be something new. For you, your body and your mind. The intense mix of different, often technical and highly demanding exercises will push you past new limits and exhaust your body and mind. Soon you will have found out what you are able to do. But even more importantly: what you cannot.
THE CROSSFIT PYRAMID
This is the classic CrossFit Pyramid. The most important and basic first step is nutrition. You will not be able to perform well if you eat crap. You don’t put diesel in your car if it runs with petrol do you? Of course there can be cheat meals here and there. No reason why you shouldn’t have some fun making pizza or eating ice cream now and again as you eat clean the rest of the time.
Metabolic Conditioning is next. This is the heart of a WOD. You will soon find out how hard even the “easiest” WOD can become. Here you feel every pull on a cigarette you have ever done, every deep fried burger and every run you omitted. But: it will get better and better!
Metabolic conditioning (where the term “metcon” come from) refers to conditioning exercises intended to increase the storage and delivery of energy for any activity. This equates to you improving your fitness as you get more CrossFit workouts under your belt. Metcons can be designed in an almost infinite amount of ways (as you have probably already experienced). Each respective workout will challenge and improve your muscular stamina, endurance, resistance to fatigue etc.
Although it is not written directly on the diagram above, I would include Mobility at this point.
The third step is mobility. Work on it. Every day. This is the physical foundation for everything that follows. You will not be able to go heavy, neither do things pain free if you are not able to to move through the full range of motion. Try Yoga classes, if your box does some, or use the mobility tips from your coach, he or she will know what you should do best.
Fourth is gymnastics. Kipping movements, handstands and so on. These will help you to achieve a better understanding of your body and how it moves. Valuable. There are many movements in CrossFit that are Gymnastic based, and it is worth taking the time to learn how to perform these correctly.
Fifth is Weightlifting. This is the heavy weight fun stuff. To master these lifts you have to internalise the previous steps. You will need great mobility, technique and a strong physical feeling for your own body to clean or to snatch properly.
The final layer equals sport. CrossFit is “constantly varied”. Try new things, routine is the enemy.
A DEEPER ANALYSIS
What I do not like about this pyramid is that it does not differ enough. Yes, gymnastics is an important point. Here you learn some essential moves for further exercises. But: Just because you are able to do a kipping pull-up does not mean that you are nearing completion. There are far more complicated movements you still have to learn. Some will take years to get there.
It’s the same with Weightlifting. Deadlifts are not necessarily a weightlifting movement, yet they are a basic lift. You will surely master the deadlift and the back/front squat before you come to cleans and finally to snatches. This is a field olympic lifters work for years and years. Take time to build general strength with the basic compound barbell lifts (bench, squat, deadlift, overhead press) and when you start learning the Olympic lifts then your body will thank you for it.
Therefore I personally prefer this:
The middle section of the pyramid looks at the body’s ability to produce useful force a single time (strength), while the sides comprise the ability to repeat that effort many times (conditioning). Combined, this is a complete Crossfitter.
The base consists of three things: mobility, nutrition, and sleep.
- A lack of Mobility is probably the primary determinant of injury susceptibility.
- Does something hurt when you do any barbell movement? Mobilize it!
- Unless you can front squat, jerk, and snatch without pain, you have something you need to work on every day because you have become immobilized by your daily habits.
- Also, fix your posture. Posture and mobility issues are directly related.
The second section within recovery is nutrition.
IF YOU DO NOT EAT WELL YOU WILL NOT GET RESULTS!
It’s like a reset button for your nervous and endocrine systems, and you are doing something good for your growth-fueling anabolic hormones. Without sleep your brain won’t function properly, your muscles are far more likely to cramp up, your appetite-regulation hormones leptin and grehlin get all out of whack, it’s harder to gain muscle and to lose fat and so on.
So to summarize the base of the pyramid: If you find your progress stagnating, start here. Examine your recovery, look at your nutrition and sleeping habits, and be honest with how often you practice mobility work.
These are the low-skill movements that you cannot live a normal life without. In this category are:
- Locomotion, or getting from one place to another (running, rowing, jumping, swimming, biking)
- Basic bodyweight movements that everyone should be able to control (pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, dips)
- Basic lifts (deadlift, front & back squat, strict press, bench press, Russian kettlebell swing)
Mastering the first two levels of this pyramid is all that’s really necessary to get you in really good shape, and any good fitness program will be set up accordingly.
These are higher-skill, fairly quick to learn, and not that difficult to master with some practice.
This is where it goes into:
- Gymnastics (rope climb, L-sit, handstand, kipping)
- Olympic weightlifting (clean, push press, power snatch)
- Strongman (atlas stone/odd object lifting, loaded carries, tire flips, weighted throwing)
Everyone can learn these, but sometimes it takes awhile; the mobility and coordination requirements are greater than for the previous tier’s movements.
This is the tricky stuff with a “wow” factor. That requires barbell gymnastics (full snatches and all variety of jerks) and bodyweight gymnastics (rings, single-leg squats, freestanding handstands). These expect unrestricted mobility, excellent balance, and in the case of the bodyweight movements, a superb strength-to-weight ratio.
If you can correctly execute these advanced movements you will develop and display elite athleticism. It’s frustrating at first, but the more you practice the more fun it becomes.
To help you understand all of these things, here list of quick definitions:
1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance – The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
2. Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
3. Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
4. Flexibility – the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
5. Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
6. Speed – The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
7. Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
8. Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another
9. Balance – The ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.
10. Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.