Mechanics Matter


09 Mar
09Mar

Recently, while helping a few of my staff members study for their upcoming CrossFit L1 Certificate Course, I was reminded of a few things, specifically the following:

  • Just how difficult the test for this course is;
  • The importance of scaling until fundamental precision is achieved; and,
  • The emphasis on neuroendocrine adaptation with functional movements and high-intensity interval training.

We are going to focus a lot on #2 this week.  In order to understand scaling, you first have to know how CrossFit recommends scaling, or modifying, for beginners.  Many people believe that CrossFit is based on the premise that form, mechanics, and precision do not matter.  This is simply not the truth.  It’s actually quite the contrary, and it’s because of a handful of rogue trainers and coaches that this reputation has fallen on CrossFit.  The premise CrossFit operates on is a balance of safety, efficacy, and efficiency which hones in on mechanics, consistency, and then (and only then) intensity. 

With that in mind, it is imperative that the movements can be performed correctly and consistently before load and speed are added.  It is of great importance that beginner CrossFit athletes scale the intensity back.  As I have told you in the past, intensity in your workouts is important, and I will give you some examples of how you can achieve that, while also following proper training guidelines in scaling.  For example, consider the following WOD:

12 Min AMRAP
10 X Overhead Squats (95/65)
200m Run

Many people struggle with squatting below parallel (which is full range of motion) with an Overhead Squat.  There are multiple ways to scale this WOD, but CrossFit recommends scaling in specific ways in order to “preserve the stimulus.”  What is the stimulus?  The stimulus of the workout refers to the effects of the specific combination of movements, time domain, and load. 

First, I would recommend scaling the load.  In this scaling scenario, a male athlete completing this WOD may choose to load the bar with the female prescribed weight in order to practice the full range of motion on the Overhead Squats. Or if there is a severe deficiency in hip flexibility, it might be ideal to complete the WOD with an empty bar or a PVC pipe.  In a gym setting, CrossFit Trainers and Coaches often struggle to get the athlete to understand the importance of scaling in this way.  This is why I encourage everyone to check their ego at the door.  Your ego will be your worst enemy in improving your skills.  The same principle applies at the firing range.  

The next option I would recommend would be to scale the volume (or number of reps).  This is why I sometimes tell our non-kipping pull-up athletes, they might have to scale the number of pull-ups in order to complete the WOD with intensity while doing strict pull-ups.  This allows them to preserve the stimulus.  In this Overhead Squat WOD scenario, the athlete may choose to do 5, 6, or 8 Overhead Squats per round, in lieu of the prescribed 10.  How does this benefit the athlete?  Well, if doing 10 overhead squats is going to take 60-90 seconds, even after the load has been scaled, then this specific athlete would be much better off doing fewer repetitions of this movement and keeping their heart rate up for the duration of the workout. 

The third option I recommend scaling is speed.  In this scenario, the load and reps have already been scaled down and the athlete is still struggling with the movements in the WOD.  Specifically, my recommendation would be to focus on form during the Overhead Squats, and sprinting as fast as possible during the 200m run.  This preserves the stimulus for the athlete in the following ways: 1. This workout is designed to take 12 minutes for everyone completing it. This athlete will also be working for 12 minutes.  2. The movements are prescribed to be taxing on your quadriceps and hips.  This athlete will also be squatting and running, while focusing on holding something overhead to ensure the form integrity of the squat.

The last method of scaling I recommend is substituting a movement.  With the workout described above, this could be completed in multiple ways and the best method would depend on the fitness level of the athlete.  For example, if an athlete is struggling with squatting down while also holding an object (barbell or PVC pipe) overhead, then it might be best to do a weighted rep of push press and front squat for each overhead squat.  This would still be a really good workout.

Now, you are probably asking yourself, “Why wouldn’t that be the first scaling option?” Well, some days it might be.  If you haven’t gotten a good, intense workout in for several days, you might need this to be that workout.  To the contrary, there is no way an athlete will ever improve on their ability to execute an overhead squat, unless they practice the movement.  This is why I program so many low weight reps each week.  Completing 40 reps of back squat at 65% of your 1RM will improve your range of motion with a squat.  It will also make you stronger.  So, we are proverbially “killing two birds with one stone.”

Honesty hour: I struggle with double-unders.  I can jump rope all day long, but I get frustrated when I miss a rep on double-unders and it completely throws my rhythm off.  I should be practicing double-unders every day.  I don’t, but I should be.  These skills are not nearly as important as the skills that keep the men and women in gray alive on their shifts, but they are important for my fitness goals, so I should prioritize that better than I do. 

I encourage you to focus on the following movements and practice them regularly: Air Squats, Front Squats, Overhead Squats, Shoulder Presses (Strict Press), Push Presses, Push Jerks, Deadlifts, Sumo Deadlift High Pulls, and Cleans.  These are far more important to your success than the fine-tuned skills (double-unders, handstand pushups, muscle-ups, etc.).  If you can perform these fundamental movements with precision, we can scale any workout that will make you a better version of yourself.  If you perfect these movements, step it up with practice on the fine-tuned skills.

Next week, we will discuss the neuroendocrine response to functional movements and HIIT.  In the meantime, my staff members will be taking one of the toughest tests ever created in order to achieve their L1 Certificate status.

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