CrossFit 101

Understanding what CrossFit is, isn’t as easy as one would think. Looking at a CrossFit Gym, it’s pretty spacious. There are rigs for pull-up, barbells, kettlebells, ropes, rowing machines, boxes, and lines on the floor. So, how hard is this to understand?

Well, it’s not hard to grasp, but to truly understand it takes years and years of practice. It’s always changing and evolving. In fact, there is so much to learn and master that we’re still learning and mastering new/better methods and techniques ourselves. At the core, this is what makes CrossFit fun, engaging, and never boring.

A Basic Understanding

CrossFit is a health and fitness program that achieves a very broad, general fitness that is applicable to everyday life. CrossFit is a blend of nutrition, metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, weightlifting (Olympic and Power), and throwing.

The CrossFit Prescription

CrossFit is a method, a way to do things. Like the workouts, the methods it utilizes continuously change, evolve, and adapt towards best practices. At its foundation, the CrossFit prescription is to perform constantly varied, functional movements, done at a relatively high intensity. But what does that mean? Well, let’s break it down.

Constantly Varied

Have you ever noticed that, when you join a Globo Gym, you make amazing leaps and bounds at first but then seem to plateau and not improve? Most people are taught to workout the exact same way week-in and week-out. With the traditional Globo Gym training program, your body becomes accustomed to this routine and stops progressing. The other, and probably bigger, problem with this type of training program, is that training begins to become mundane. It’s the same thing over and over and over and….. You get the picture.

With CrossFit, it’s rare that you will repeat the same workout twice. This means your body won’t ever become accustomed to a routine and the workouts will be fun and different. There are only a handful of “benchmark” workouts that are used as a yardstick to measure progress. These workouts even create a bit of friendly competition with yourself, others in your gym, or those around the world. You’ll often hear people talk about “PR’ing on Fran,” or some other benchmark workout.

Functional Movements

Functional movements are movements you do everyday day or they’re a core element to a common everyday movement. Every exercise, and movement, in CrossFit must meet the following 7 criteria for it to be included:

  1. It must be natural. It’s how we move in real life. In a Globo Gym, the majority of equipment is designed to isolate a specific muscle group. Take the Leg Extension machine for instance. It’s designed to target the Quadriceps, but where in real life do you need to only use your quads? You don’t! It’s not a natural movement.
  2. Universal Motor Recruitment Patterns. This simply means to use all your muscles to move in symphony efficiently, effectively, and quickly from one place to another. Everything from the large main muscles used in a specific movement to all the small supporting muscles that stabilize the movement. With machines that isolate, all the supporting muscles sit idle. They don’t get stronger, this causes muscle imbalance which can cause aches and pains and even serious injuries.
  3. Core to Extremity. The movement starts from your core and works its way out. At a Globo Gym, “the core” is considered to be the abs. This isn’t true. “The core” is a functional group of muscles that acts on the spine and pelvis. This includes the abs, the glutes, hamstrings, quads, the muscles of the lower back, etc. The stronger this group of muscles is, and the more coordinated they are, the faster an athlete can go and/or the heavier the object can be.
  4. Essential Movement. The movement must be essential to an athletes quality of life. Go to a Globo Gym and asked ask people their thoughts on the squat or deadlift. You’ll find that the majority of people there consider these to be dangerous movements, but in reality these are essential movements we all depend on to live. A squat is simply sitting down and standing up efficiently. A deadlift is nothing more than picking something up off the ground, like say a bag of groceries or your kid.
  5. Safe. When compared to non-functional movements. All movements must be safe when utilizing proper form and technique.
  6. Compound, yet irreducible. You can’t break the movement down to smaller exercises or functional movements.
  7. Ability to move large loads (weight) over long distances, quickly. Combined, these three elements (load, distance, speed) uniquely qualify functional movements for the production of work and high power. That means we don’t try to slowly move weight, etc. This can danerously tear and destroy muscles. It also greatly decreases the work and power output of the athlete. However, we believe that speed and power can only come after first learning proper technique and showing consistency with that technique. Reckless movement is just as dangerous as slow movements.

 

Technique + Consistency -> Intensity

Performed at a High Intensity
Intensity is what brings it all together and this gets the results. Intensity is relative to the person, but at the same time we measure intensity based on power output (Read the next section to learn how we scientifically measure performance through work and power output).

But all you really need to know about High Intensity is:

Intensity = Results 

So push yourself and watch as you lose weight, get stronger, and reach your goals quickly.

Heart Rate, Work, and Power

In CrossFit, we don’t rely on heart rate to determine our fitness level or set our pace. The heart rate is as dependable as a digital clock without a battery. Too many things can affect your heart rate, such as:

  • Did you drink coffee before you came to the gym?
  • How did you sleep last night?
  • When did you last workout?
  • How healthy is your diet and what did you eat last?
  • What’s the weather like? Is it hot out? Is it cold? Is it humid? Is it dry?
  • Are you at sea level or in the mountains?
  • Do you have good genes?
  • Are you on any medication?
  • Are you in a good mood?
There are just to many variables that affect your heart rate. It is an interesting metric, but it isn’t one that you can use to base anything on. So instead, in CrossFit we base our results on Work and Power output.

9 Fundamental Movements of CrossFit

There are 9 Fundamental Movements to CrossFit. These 9 movements create the foundation for the majority of movements used within CrossFit. Starting in the left column moving right, each movement increases in skill, from the most basic (foundational) movement to the most complex. Think of each of the following movements, in the progression, as a more efficient means to the same end as the one before it. Mastering each progression builds the necessary universal motor recruitment patterns that translates to other activities.

Basic Progression 1 Progression 2
Squat Front Squat Overhead Squat
Press Push Press Push Jerk
Deadlift Sumo Deadlift High-Pull (SDHP) Med Ball Clean

Why these 9 movements?
Basically, if you desire to get better at things that involve the human body, you need to master these 9 movements. If you want to jump high or far, you need to squat, deadlift, and clean. If you want to run fast… same. If you want to be able to get up and out of your recliner, pick-up a heavy bag of groceries, and put it on the counter in the kitchen when you’re much much older….same.

As far as the overhead movements (Overhead squat, press, push press, push jerk) go, they illicit some of the strongest contractions of the core and require enormous amounts of midline stabilization. This translates to all sports, various activities, and even a healthy pain-free back.

The 3 Standards of Fitness

In CrossFit there are 3 Fitness Standards, or models, for evaluating and guiding fitness.

Model 1: 10 General Physical Skills. These are 10 skills widely recognized by exercise physiologists.
Model 2: The Hopper. Ability to perform well at any physical task.
Model 3: Metabolic Engines. The metabolic pathways that provide the energy for all human action.

10 General Physical Skills
CrossFit makes a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of the following ten recognized fitness skills. These skills are:

Organic Combined Org & Neuro Neurologic
  • Cardiovascular and Respiratory Endurance
  • Stamina
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Power
  • Speed
  • Coordination
  • Agility
  • Balance
  • Accuracy

To be good at anything requires two aspects, physical ability (organic) and the neurologic ability. When you combine organic skills with neurologic skills, Power and Speed are a bi-product, and this creates amazing results.

The Hopper
This is simple, really. We believe in the ability for an athlete to be able to perform well at any given task. To help illustrate this we often use the idea of a hopper, like in bingo. Imagine tons of physical activities individually (pull-ups, push-ups, 100 yard dash, squats, deadlifts, etc.) written on pieces of paper or balls or whatever, and thrown into a hopper. The hopper is turned around and around mixing everything inside. You open the hatch and randomly pull activites out to perform. This is like life, often random and you have to be ready for anything.

Metabolic Engines
There 3 metabolic pathways that provide the energy for all human action. These pathways (or “engines”) are known as phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative pathways. Each pathway is designed to dominate specific activities and for various durations. The following chart breaks it down a bit.

Sprint Mid-Distance Distance-Distance
Primary Energy System Phosphagen Glycolytic Oxidative
Duration of work
(in seconds)
10-30 30-120 120-300+
Duration of recovery
(in seconds)
30-90 60-240 120-300+
Load Recovery Ratio 1:3 1:2 1:1
Repetitions 25-30 10-20 3-5

Essentially this means that any movement that is performed with high-intensity in a short period of time is uses the Phosphagen system. This is why when you watch weight lifters in a gym, they lift a heavy weight in a few seconds and then they stand around for a minute or two. On the opposite side of the spectrum we have the Oxidative system. This is used by marathoners, cyclists, etc. The movements aren’t as intense as those performed with the Phosphagen system, but instead require energy for longer durations.