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Why The 9 Foundational Movements of CrossFit Are So Important

I’ve recently stumbled upon an interesting concept: the 9 foundational movements of CrossFit. While talking to a coach, he mentioned that during the Level 1 certification they were introduced to the nine foundational movements.

Six months into my CrossFit adventure, it was clear why some of these moves, like the Front Squat and Shoulder Press, belonged on that list. Others, however, didn’t make sense at all. For example, the Medicine Ball Clean, what on earth was that doing on there?

Foundational Movements of CrossFitSource: Photo courtesy of CrossFit Inc.

Before we go any further, let’s establish what these movements are:


Air Squat  ———–> Front Squat ———–> Overhead Squat
Shoulder Press —–> Push Press ————> Push Jerk
Deadlift Sumo ——>Deadlift High Pull —-> Medicine Ball Clean

It’s best to think of them as a series of progressive moves across three categories of movements:

  • Squats
  • Overhead Lifts
  • Floor Lifts

You start with the basic movements, after all these are the foundational movements of CrossFit: the Air Squat, Shoulder Press and Deadlift. You learn the fundamentals of a squat: stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart, toes pointing out, weight on your heels and now push your hips back before you drop, and go: make sure you go below parallel!


Imagine walking into a box and trying to do that with a bar for the first time? I had so much to unlearn, years of bad habits, that this seemed like a whole new movement!

Having said that, the mighty squat, without a doubt, is also one of the most important functional movements: as we age, we gradually lose the ability to stand unassisted, we lose the ability to pick things up off the floor, or to carry our weight freely. To maintain our quality of life as we age, we need to strengthen our legs and ensure full mobility.

As you progress through the squats, you’re learning to firstly add weight to the squat and then to squat whilst holding a heavy object above your head.


The Overhead Lifts allow you to bring that object overhead! They’re important for strengthening our shoulders, but also for helping develop mobility in the hip flexors, hip extensors, spinal erectors, and quadriceps.

You start by learning how to properly perform a shoulder press, and then you learn to use the explosive power of an upwards drive to lift a heavier object above your head with the push press, before learning to lift even more weight (typically 30% more) than the push press using the push jerk where you learn to drop under the bar (we’ll talk about that later) rather than simply pushing the bar up.


Finally, we have the floor lifts. We start by picking a heavy object off the floor, to hip level (deadlift), and then we learn to pick a heavy object off the floor to chest level (the best analogy I heard for the importance of a the Sumo Deadlift is think of how you’d lift a couch to move it: you’d stand legs wide, bend down and lift) and finally you learn the fundamentals of the clean with medicine ball.

This final movement is the one I continue to find the most challenging even today: it seems so simple, but you need to get so much right!

Beyond the clear health benefits, the reason these movements are foundational is that you can use them to construct (or deconstruct) some of the other movements in CrossFit. Thruster? Well, that’s just a front squat with a push press. Want to improve your Clean? Focus on building strength using the deadlift and your front squat. Flipping Tires? Merely fancy deadlifts!

These foundational movements of CrossFit are certainly nowhere near as impressive as a muscle-up or double-unders, but if you’re serious about getting the most from CrossFit, improving your quality of life, and 10x-ing your performance at sports, then you should dedicate some serious time to perfecting these movements. You’ll be grateful you did someday soon!

Want to learn more, try this article:

10 Important Exercises for CrossFit Beginners to Learn

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