What are CrossFit workouts all about?

Have you ever wondered why CrossFit workouts are designed the way they are? And why do the coaches always tell you to squat lower, throw the ball higher, get your chest to the ground and lock the elbows out? It seems so random but there is a method to the madness. To explain that method it is important to take a look at the three standards or models we use to improve and measure fitness.

  1. The first model evaluates our capacity in 10 general physical adaptations. 
  2. The second model is breadth and depth of performance (how ready can you be for any physical task). 
  3. The third model requires competency and training in each of the three metabolic pathways or engines (where your energy is coming from for the task at hand).

A popular tag line in the CrossFIt culture is “Our specialty is not specializing”. With the 3 models that are used to not only design workouts but also measure results it’s clear that CrossFits fitness initiative is broad, general and inclusive. We use endless combinations of movements, intensities, and loads to create the most varied program out there. 

The 10 general physical adaptations

Let’s take a closer look at the first model, the 10 General Physical Skills read carefully through the list below and their definitions. Each piece is important to our training program, and its our goal to get you to improve on each of them.

  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 bodies 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.

An example: The Wall Ball Shot (aka Wall Balls)

If we take one of the movements we use frequently in our workouts and apply the definitions of these skills to that movement you will see why we have standards in the way we move and perform a workout. Let’s take a look at the Wall Ball Shot for example. 

This movement requires us to perform a full depth squat with a weighted medicine ball then move directly and explosively into a press or throw where the ball leaves our hands and hits a specific target. 

  • Our capacity to perform a large set of this movement requires cardio-respiratory endurance and stamina. We need plenty of oxygen and energy to perform this movement over and over again during a large set. (i am sure many of you can attest to this from direct experience, woof these can get difficult fast!).
  • Although the medicine ball isn’t the heaviest object we move in the gym we still need a certain amount of strength to be able to move it effectively enough to perform the wall ball shot to its standard. If the weight is too heavy the squat or throw becomes too difficult and we lose the intended stimulus.
  • Range of motion is vital to performing this movement. The hips, knees and ankles need to be able to flex properly to hit a full depth squat. The shoulders and upper back need to be flexible enough to throw the ball to the target without compromising other aspects of the body (like the lower back).
  • Power and speed are required to transfer the power from the legs and hips to the ball (core to extremity). A throw is an explosive movement and requires both power and speed. 
  • Coordination, agility and balance come into play when the ball is headed back down from the target. Being able to catch the ball and quickly drop into a good squat position takes skill. It might not be the most technical skill but there is a lot happening in the brain and body when that ball is coming down at you and you need to transition from a standing position with your hands up and quickly get to a full squat with that ball at your chest to get ready for that next rep. 
  • Lastly we have accuracy. Being able to move with good mechanics over and over again is a form of accuracy. Also, and more clearly, being able to hit the intended target with the ball spot on every time displays accuracy in the movement. 

Simple to Complex:

A simple movement like the wall ball shot becomes more complex when we break down what is actually happening. This example is very specific to one movement but the same applies to most workouts we put ourselves through. We should always be looking to improve on each of these aspects. 

Next time you are in class remember the reason we ask you to squat below parallel for every rep, why your chest needs to touch the ground for a push up, why we look for a certain position with a bar over your head. It’s not just to make things harder, it’s to make you fitter according to the 10 general physical skills. 

Something to think about:

…”You are as fit as you are competent in each of these ten skills… : – Greg Glassman

Ask yourself… How many of these skills have I mastered?

Like this info we shared then check out the source for a more in-depth explanation of what CrossFit is all about.

Greg Glassman, CrossFit Journal, October 2002 “What is Fitness?”

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