Last week, I asked you, “What do you train for?” I know after talking with a few of you that this question got some gears turning. For the sake of discussion, let’s say the answer to the question for you at this moment is simply to be fit, to feel strong and capable and have energy and health so you can show up in your life for yourself and for others. A great reason, if not a general one. Written out, this probably applies to you in some way, shape or form. You started CrossFit and you were introduced to this world of things you’ve never done before (or, quite honestly, never thought you would ever do). But you’ve drank the Kool-aid and now you want to become proficient at all the things. Pull-ups, toes-to-bar, snatches, handstand push-ups, double unders - you name it, you want to be able to do it.
And you want to be able to do it now.
And that’s the problem.
Recall our conversation during the month of November about broad time and modal domains. CrossFit aims to prepare us, developing our fitness and therefore improving our health over time. However, we are quick to get caught up in the shiny object trap of consistently trying to do movements with less than optimal technique, skipping steps in our development. Then we wonder why our form breaks down on handstand push-ups during a workout or we can only perform one toe-to-bar at a time before losing our kipping rhythm or why we are uncomfortable dropping under the bar in a squat snatch.
It’s because our skill rests on a shaky foundation. First hand, I am guilty of this. When I first started CrossFit in 2013 I was quick to want to learn how to kip my pull-ups because I couldn’t do them strict. I figured if I learned how to kip, I’d be able to do the benchmark workouts I found on the internet like Fran and Angie. Fast forward two years later and I spent a good chunk of the year dealing with some pretty serious shoulder problems. I jumped ahead before mastering the basics and, in my case, it resulted in injury. To be fair, it doesn’t always end up this way. This story could’ve also seen me constantly getting stuck on larger sets of pull-ups in workouts, reduced to doing 1-2 reps a time when I get fatigued because I never built the requisite strength or proper, efficient mechanics for pulling my body weight vertically. That would be equally frustrating.
So what should you do? Look for progressions. Consider each skill like a pyramid that needs to be built, with the lower levels wider and stronger than the upper levels. Mastery of the basics - ring rows, controlled kipping mechanics, proper mobility through the range of motion required by the skill, development of the strict pull-up - are required prior to simply jumping up on the bar and seeing what happens.
It’s not sexy. I get it. Basics are boring or it means you have scale (oh no!). Let’s change the conversation around this. If we look at skills like pyramids (and stop thinking of scaling as the boogeyman), we know that mastering the lower levels may take more time than the upper levels. But by taking that time, the ability to achieve the next level up will come more easily because you’ve built a strong foundation. Instead of viewing this as scaling, let’s view it as a step through our progression. Our ability to master any given step is going to help build towards the next step. It also gives us more tools in our tool box to use in any given workout situation where volume, intensity and conditions may change.
One quick example:
The skill is the handstand push-up (HSPU). And as your coach, I am going to give you a checklist (your progression) for what you need to be able to do prior to attempting a HSPU.
A proper, full range of motion push-up - if you can’t perform a push-up with proper mechanics, you sure as hell shouldn’t be flipping upside down to try one any time soon. We will build here on proper horizontal pressing mechanics.
Supporting your body weight on your hands - this likely starts with practicing weight shifts into the hands from a piked position (think A-frame or teepee with your body, hips high) on the floor. We can progress this by putting the feet on a box or walking them up the wall. Our goal would be to feel comfortable supporting our weight on our hands while completely vertical.
Kicking up into a handstand - you have to develop the ability to transfer your weight from your feet into your hands and rotate into an inverted position.
Controlling your descent into tripod with proper positioning - this includes proper hand and head positioning (an equilateral triangle is ideal, but is relative based on limb length). It also requires the requisite strength to control your body weight down using your shoulders. This is where multiple ab mats for a target help. As you get more confident, you can remove ab mat pads.
Controlling the legs into the bottom of the kip and maintaining position - if your tripod base is solid (and it should be if you’re on this step), you should be able to bring your knees down towards your elbows, flexing through the spine (hollow) to bring your lower back flush with the wall. It’s important in this step to distinguish between your butt and your low back. Many athletes will bring their knees down but the spine will stay in extension (arch). If this happens, the rep is still possible but eventually your arms will fatigue and you will have to rely on the kip more. Developing this fuller range of motion, including the transition from arch to hollow (to then return to arch on the next step), will lend itself to better skill mastery.
Synchronizing the timing as you transition from hollow back to arch and simultaneously press with your hands - this one is tough and it takes a lot of practice and patience. It’s also where the concept of skill transfer can be helpful. If we think about kipping on a bar, we know that our force or power comes from a) tension and b) transition in our shape, from hollow to arch and back again. A handstand push-up is not unlike a knee-to-elbow or toe-to-bar: in the hollow the knees tuck towards the elbows then rapidly snap back into extension (arch) as we push the chin and the chest forward.
There are certainly nuances and other ways of approaching the progression of the HSPU. This is just one way. However, as you read this, you should be able to identify where your sticking point is. At what step listed above did you read it and say, “I’m not sure I can do that” or “I’m not sure I’m doing that right?” That is where you should focus your efforts. Keep in mind too, that we aren’t looking to be sort of okay at any of these steps. We are looking for mastery. We want to consistently, regardless of the circumstance, be able to perform a perfect push-up or to support our weight with our hands. Until you can make that claim, stick to your guns. By being willing to take the time required to lay each foundational level in developing a skill, your skill is going to be that much more solid when put to the test.
Next time you’re in class, I encourage you to ask your coach what progression they think would be most valid for you on that day. I encourage you to listen to them and stick to their recommendation. Trust that we know where your edges are and when and where to push them.
Strength - Front Squat sets of 8 @ RPE 5
This week is a deload week. Athletes will have 20 minutes to build to and complete 3-4 sets of 8 front squats @ RPE 5. The focus should be on reinforcing good positions and working out soreness. DO NOT GO HEAVY!
Metcon - 3 Rounds for quality:
2 minutes Assault bike with nasal breathing only
REST 0:60 seconds
2 minute AMRAP for quality*
30 Double unders
15 Russian KB swings @ light to moderate
REST 0:60 seconds
*Athletes will start each AMRAP where they left off during their previous round.