Why do we do wallballs? What are double-unders for? What about the snatch?
I think it is very important that we understand what we are doing and why we’re doing it. Most of us know that the very definition of what CrossFit is, is rather simple: Constantly varied, functional movement at high intensity.

To some people doing CrossFit just means getting out there and doing a lot of different, random stuff really fast. To the onlooker, it most definitely appears that way. But if you break it down, CrossFit is constantly varied, yes, but not random at all. There is a purpose to each movement and each combination. You then add the intensity piece which could mean going slower, like doing a tempo pushup or back squat to make it more intense or, more obviously, doing a movement faster or with more weight.

Simple enough, right?

Most of us can follow the varied and intense part, but when it comes to “functional” we seem to not connect what we are doing and what it’s for. However, this is a real key in getting stronger, faster, and having more power and stability! It starts with understanding and truly knowing the movement and how to do it correctly.

You must know the purpose of the movements you’re doing! They are “functional.” The word functional is defined, of or having a special activity, purpose, or task; relating to the way in which something works or operates.” and “used to contribute to the development or maintenance of a larger whole“. It’s important to understand the “why” behind these functional movements in order to grow in develop as a CrossFitter.

For example, there’s a reason we deadlift. As everyday people, not just the super athletes, we SHOULD know how to safely lift something or drag a heavy object. That’s one aspect of what it means to practice functional fitness. Further, I believe it’s essential to understand what the stimulus of each CrossFit workout is, so you can get everything out of it.

Let’s break it down and take a deeper look at several specific movements…

Snatch or Clean: I hear a lot of people complain when they see these lifts posted on the board. Because these lifts are the most complicated ones in CrossFit, people tend to shy away from learning and using them for their benefit. Even though they might not seem “functional” or “useful”, they really are. Functional movements are ones that mimic things we do in our normal lives. The snatch could be compared to learning how to receive weight overhead without injuring yourself. In the clean, we learn how to get our body under a heavy load. The increase in power you get from the Olympic lifts is un-paralleled. Coordination, flexibility, and body awareness are all attributes that come from using the Olympic lifts. These things sound great, right? You can gain these positives when you do the movement the way they were intended. But what if we “cheat” the movement so we can “get it done”? Then we have bypassed something crucial… THE POINT OF DOING THE MOVEMENT!

Box Jumps: In a lot of ways, some of the same things apply to the box jump as the Olympic lifts. The goal of a box jump is to increase our explosiveness and learn how to land without getting injuring. I see all too often people go way too fast on box jumps and not extend their hips when jumping up. This has no benefit to you at all, you are also making yourself vulnerable for missing the box. And it’s not better on the landing many times either. Do you ever catch that jump in the bottom of a squat just so you can push the RX button and say you did a 30” box? Even though you are going to leave feeling accomplished because you used a higher box, nothing was gained. It would be much better to swallow your pride and stack up some plates or grab a lower box so you can land much higher. Extension, loading, and landing are all extremely important and THE POINT OF THE MOVEMENT!

Pushups: I am sure everyone is very familiar with this movement. Even though it is simple, how easy is it to do it wrong? Very! If you are snaking your hips on a pushup, you aren’t getting a single benefit from it, go ahead and move over and get the assistance of the band and maintain proper form. If you aren’t pushing through your shoulders, chances are you have a sagging back and are compromised. How about range of motion? It is much better to use a small band so you can get that chest all the way down. The pushup is an amazing movement but is often times “short-cutted” at the expense of THE POINT OF THE MOVEMENT!

Squats or Deadlifts: We have already established some of the main points above and those again will apply to this. The squats and deadlifts have their own set of problems. Because both strength lifts are much simpler than Olympic lifts so most people can push the weight a little more. The goal of the squat or deadlift is to strengthen your quads, knees, glutes, hips, and hamstrings. But can you strengthen your hamstrings on a deadlift if you are rounding your back? The answer is obviously no. Can you strengthen your quads or knees if you don’t squat to a full range of motion (relative to you)? Not really. Don’t let the person next to you dictate how much weight you use. In the long run, doing the form correctly with a slightly lighter weight will make you much stronger in the end. These movements are a small aspect of CrossFit. You aren’t more fit because you can squat five more pounds than the next person. So, slow it down, be humble, and move properly so you achieve THE POINT OF THE MOVEMENT!

I could keep going with this same theme on almost every movement in CrossFit. But, I think you get my point. So, how do we use this perspective and put this into practice while still getting a great workout? Keep all the aspects from above in mind as we break down some workouts…

WOD: 5 rounds 15 Burpees and 5 Cleans At first glance this looks horrible, but this an incredible workout opportunity. So let’s say the coach goes over the clean and they say it should be a moderate weight. Good coaches give out cues like this all the time. These little nuggets of wisdom help us understand how the workout should be performed so listen for them. Moderate weight means something you can do with confidence, but it still challenges you. Don’t use a heavier weight if you cannot move it proficiently. It shouldn’t be something that you stand there looking at the whole time.

The workout starts, you can use this as a time to work on your cleans. Just because the clock is going doesn’t mean form goes out the window. Take a couple extra seconds to set up properly and complete the clean the way it is intended to be done. You might be thinking that taking more time on the cleans will take away from the overall workout. Fear not, the burpee will come to your rescue. When you get to the burpees, this is the time to really push! I see many people sandbag movements like burpees, running, or rowing. Simple movements like these are great because it is very difficult to injure yourself on these. Unless you have an injury, there’s really NO limiting factor here. THEY JUST SUCK and your body can handle that! I know this is a fake workout but the same principles apply to any METCON we do. Push those simple movements with good form and take your time on those heavy or complex movements.

Cindy: If you aren’t familiar with this workout, it is 20 minutes of 5 Pullups, 10 Pushups, and 15 air squats. Many people don’t do this workout correctly. Because these movements are so simple you should be moving pretty much the whole time. If you are having to break the pullups into singles it’s time to move onto the modification. It might not be as fun, but you will get a much better workout. I have already gone over pushups so I won’t repeat myself, but that applies to this workout in a major way. The air squats are the easiest, but it’s important to keep good form such as chest up, knees tracking with the toes, and squat to a full range of motion relative to you. If you understand and truly keep the desired stimulus for Cindy, you will have a great workout and get so much for your fitness. Shortcutting just gets you a good standing on the leader board but doesn’t advance your body the way that it can and is intended to.

Every one of us is guilty of these faults at one time or another. But it’s vitally important to remember why we do CrossFit… think years ahead. Is it worth it to get five more pounds now or to still be lifting 20 years from now? Is it worth it to click RX if you didn’t do the workout properly or gain anything? Even though it gets said a lot, always keep mechanics, consistency, and intensity at the forefront of your mind. As you get better at the mechanics and consistency the intensity will quickly follow. Ask plenty of questions and stay humble.

A few encouragements that might help as you seek to grow in understanding the movements:

  • Listen and watch while the coach goes over goes over everything even if you’ve heard it a
    thousand times.
  • Make sure to complete the warmup and progressions the coach has everyone go through.
  • Take your time! A lot of times people just try and get through the set. This will gain you nothing if you are doing it wrong. Take that extra two seconds to do it properly, in the long run this will serve you so much better.
Why Are We Doing This?