Ok, so when many people hear weight-lifting, guys often think yes, and girls either zone out or say ‘I don’t want to get too bulky’. Seriously, the scientific understanding has moved on. Weight-lifting is about strength and power, not muscle size. Strength is more than your muscles’ ability to stabilise and move increased load. Strength is a skill set. It’s about learning how to use your body in a more effective way – following a few basic rules:
Core to extremity or use your butt before your bicep. Everything we do is about originating a movement via engaging the glute-hamstring area to begin to shift a load. Everything else is secondary to that one rule. Butt before bicep (or any other muscle).
Keep it tight. Squeeze your belly and your butt. This is in fact more a skill than any thing else, which can be practiced.
Load those hammies. You posterior chain is (or should be) the strongest part of your body. It runs from the bottom of your feet to the top of you head. It includes the calves, hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back, and back of the neck. In any movement which you are either lifting something from the ground to overhead or vice versa, the posterior chain is going to play the majority of the roll in doing the work. Not all the work, but most of it.
A fairly standard movement within the strength and conditioning world. It’s pretty well utilised in most Olympic weight-lifting programs because it translates directly to the receiving position of the squat clean. In simple terms it is about lifting a load in front of you up to shoulder height and back down again.
More technical than the front squat, this is the receiving position for the squat snatch (lifting an object in one movement up overhead and driving up out of an overhead squat to a fully extended standing position). This requires more shoulder, hip, thoracic and ankle mobility than any other movement. It also requires more midline strength than any of the others. It is a brilliant movement (without even using hardly any weight) to diagnose movement and mobility issues early on. This is excellent, because you can increase your performance whilst simultaneously reducing the likelihood of injury. Cool, huh?
By far the most technical, of the Olympic lifts. One fluid movement from ground to overhead is simply quite elegant when done properly.
From the ground to shoulder height, this movement is a combination of the deadlift (lifting an object off the ground to hip height) followed by an explosive hip extension, that drives the object up further, and the shoulders shrug, followed by arms pulling up as the body drops down into the bottom of the a front squat position. From there on in, simply drive the load up to a standing fully-extended position. It’s a cool movement, and the most powerful of the two lifts. Overall, it makes you faster, stronger and more explosive.
The overhead shoulder press is quite simply just that. The load is resting at shoulder height, the belly is tight, the butt is squeezed, the shoulders are pulled back, the elbows pointing to the floor and the ribcage is down. Everything is loaded. Then the head goes back, the shoulders followed by the arms extend and the load is pressed over head.
A cheeky variation on the press allows more load to be driven up overhead. The push press is the same set-up as the shoulder press (except the elbows are slightly more elevated), but the initial movement is a quick dip of about two inches, then the hip violently extends. As this happens, the head goes back and the bar is then pressed overhead. It is a dip and a drive.
A further variation of the push press, the push jerk allows you to drop your body under the load, as the weight becomes too difficult to simply press overhead. The result of which allows for a greater load to be lifted. So with the same set-up a push press, you dip and then drive the bar up. As the bar travels up, you the dip again, under the bar, keeping the feet parallel, knees bent and pushed out, with the arms fully extended under the load. That then gives the advantage of being able to stand up underneath the load and getting the (triple) extension you need to complete the lift.
As you probably saw in the Olympics, this is how most of the top Olympic lifters will get the bar overhead. The premise is similar to the push jerk, only one leg extends back and the other goes forward flexed. What does this mean? They lunge underneath the bar as it goes weightless for the fraction of a second – it is motionless in the air after being driven up on the first drive. In order to maintain tension in the landing position, is advisable to push your forward knee out, and twist your back foot slightly in. This keeps the much needed torque in your system (yes, your body is now a system) to receive the load in that position. It’s a little trick, but will work wonders for getting that weight overhead. Once the bar is received and the load is stable, then the athlete stands back up (pushing off the front foot first) with both legs parallel in the fully extended position or in triple extension as us geeks like to call it.
Love them or hate them, thrusters in CrossFit rear their beautiful/ugly head quite regularly, in varying combinations of pain/pleasure. They are a combination of a front squat and a press. The bar starts with you standing it up in the front rack position and then dropping into a front squat. Then as you drive back up to the top of the front squat, you extend the arms into an overhead press position. Then drop the bar back into the rack position and repeat the process for however many repetitions your coaches/torturers have decided for that particular workout.
The snatch balance is all about being able to receive load in the overhead squat position, by dropping underneath a barbell held on the back. The focus is on foot positioning and speed. Keeping the feet 10-15% pointed out under load requires practice and the ability to stabilise the load in the position requires developing strength and speed. It requires learning how to keep your shoulders in external rotation, which can be likened to keeping a rubber band twisted and under tension, hence it remains strong and the athlete can learn to still be strong in the bottom position. Brilliant for developing a good overhead squat and snatch.
Sumo Deadlift High Pull
Key to developing posterior chain strength and good lifting mechanics. The focus is on core to extremity with this bad boy. The legs are wide, the arms are holding on to the middle of the bar or slightly apart from one another in the centre of the bar. It is close to the shins on the floor. The athlete sends the knees back, thus the hamstrings and glutes take the load of the bar. The belly is tight, keeping the spine in a neutral position. The main force of the movement should be felt in the high hamstring and the glutes. The bar travels up above the knee where the hips extend and the arms remain straight. As the hips reach full extension, the shoulders shrug, dragging the bar up further. Then and only then, after the shoulders are fully shrugged, do the arms draw the bar up to shoulder height, with the elbows nice and high (no cat poses people…meow). At this point the process is reversed as the bar travels back to the floor. The arms extend, the shoulders drop down, the hips flex, and the knees bend as the bar is returned to the floor. Phew. Remember this is designed to be a fast movement. If you’re not fast, I’ll say ‘faster!’
Clean + Jerk
The main thing to remember with this kind of movement is it’s the transition between the two movements previously described above.
Like in all movements, squeezing your butt and your belly and keeping that tension throughout the full range of motion is really key to doing anything without injury. Sure, you can do a push-up with a weak middle and soft shoulders and get away with it for a while, but eventually you’re going to run into problems. So, as with everything we do, keeping tension is key to good form.
A fairly standard movement in CrossFit, right? However, it has a hidden treasure trove of technicality. The pull-up is brilliant benchmark of athleticism. It displays a clear power-to-weight ratio and the body’s mechanics to lift itself up off the ground. So when it comes down to it, there are a few things to remember:
1. Hook grip. Your thumb has to grip the opposite side of the bar to your fingers. This creates more torque in the shoulder and so improves the stability of the system. Your hands are also less likely to tear, as your grip will allow for much less movement, and instead you will be hinging off your wrist, not the bar.
2. Squeeze your butt and belly. Keeping your ribcage down and your spine neutral, as always, is paramount. By breaking your ribcage and thus trying to bend your back as you pull up is an immediate fault. Don’t do this. Get a stretch band on the bar, hook it in your feet and try again. Scaling is an important part of training.
3. Keep your chin pulled into a neutral position. Just because your chin went over the bar doesn’t mean you’ve done a proper pull up. This is really important. Like your back and ribcage, if you do what most people do, which is pick their chin up as they come up to the bar to get that extra inch, your whole system goes soft and you’ve technically cheated the move. Your chin should not move throughout this movement. Get a stretch band if it does.
4. Strict is best to begin with. Learning how to kip is cool, but doing strict pull-ups will be far more beneficial to your overall strength and athleticism. It also will help diagnose shoulder problems early on so that you don’t hurt yourself doing too many.
Like the pull-up, there are good and bad versions of the push-up. I’m not going to bore you with the specifics too much, but there are a few key points:
1. Start on all fours and screw your hands into the ground so your middle fingers are facing parallel to your body (if your wrist turns out during the movement, I’d recommend watching the video above to help sort it out). This creates the beloved torque in your shoulders.
2. Bring yourself off your knees, by squeezing your belly and your butt. You should now feel like your body is one rigid plank. Back straight, belly tight, butt tight.
3. Begin by lowering your body through your shoulders. Remember this is about core to extremity.
4. Keeping your forearms vertical, lower your chest to floor. Keep tension at the bottom, even as your chest touches the floor.
5. Drive back in the same sequence. Rinse and repeat.
Learning how to squat with perfect form can take years. However, like the basics of any sports, this is first learnt, last mastered. So don’t worry if you can’t do this perfectly for a long time.
- Set up with your feet shoulder width and turned out 5-15 degrees. Squeeze your butt and your belly.
- Send your butt back and your arms forward – in a stable shoulder position.
- Keeping your shins vertical, drop your butt down, feeling the load on your hamstrings and glutes.
a. Keep you weight your heels.
b. Push your knees out. Imagine you’re pulling yourself down to the floor.
- Keeping your back straight, once the hip is below your knee, squeeze your butt further, keeping your knees out, drive back up to a standing position.
As a skill transfer, burpees are a key athletic movement. The notion is that you have to learn how to pick yourself off the ground in the most efficient and quick manner. This is especially important for those in the frontline. Having to drop to the ground quickly and then pick yourself up at a sprint involves serious organisation on your part as the athlete. For one, keeping the shoulder in a stable position, engaging the glutes and the abs, and preventing yourself from losing that torque.
- Set up in a jumping stance. Squeeze the butt and belly.
- Send your butt back, push your knees out. Keeping those shins nice and vertical. You want to be hinging on your hips. Keeping your back flat, reach your palms to the floor.
- Jump your feet back, so that you’re now in a push-up position. Maintain that torque on your shoulders and keep the tension throughout.
- Lower your chest to the floor. Keep your elbows into your body and shoulders over the wrist.
- In one explosive motion, extend your elbows, drive your hips up as you reach full extension, and pull your knees toward your chest.
- As you pull your legs underneath your body, try to replace your hands with your feet. You’re looking to land in the bottom of the squat, with your feet straight and shins vertical.
- Drive out of the bottom position, and perform a vertical jump. Keep your legs together, toes pointed, arms extended overhead. When you land, land with your feet together, knees out, ready to transition into the next repetition.
Handstand push-ups are performed against a wall, with your hands screwed into the ground. The basics of it are to kick up into the handstand against a wall, with your hands about a foot away from the wall. Once up in that position, keep your body tight (butt, belly and legs), with your chin pulled in. Lower your head to the ground, keeping elbows vertical. Then drive up out off the floor into a fully extended position. Keeping tension in your body and torque in your arms and shoulder is really key to performing these effectively.
Muscle-ups (on rings):
Often the fabled benchmark of the CrossFit athlete, the muscle-up is merely the beginning in the gymnastics. However, it is supremely satisfying attaining it. The muscle-up is beautiful expression of athleticism. The way to do it is firstly found in the grip. To begin with, the false grip is the most widely used grip with the muscle-up because it shortens the pull distance that your body has to go.
- To get the false grip, hook the edge of your wrist through the rings, so that you feel the ring resting on the outside of the your wrist. Carl Paoli has a good video on this.
- Keep you butt tight, legs together, ribcage down, belly tight.
- Your arms want to be in external rotation, in a fully extended position before you make the first pull, by internally rotating your hands, but keeping your shoulders in. As this happens, your legs want to come out in front of your body.
- Again like the push-up, your elbows want to be kept into your body as you pull yourself up. In order to maintain a stable shoulder, you feet should be pushed forward, so your body is now at a 45 degree angle.
- As your chest comes up towards the rings, bring your head through the rings, which will get your torso through. Again, keep toes pointed, positioned out in front of your body. This helps get your body through.
- Once in the dip position, spin your thumbs toward the outside of your body to create the torque in the shoulder.
- Drive out of the dip, into the top position, whilst still turning your hands out, so that you finish with your hands turned out, in a externally rotated position. There you go!
The basis of the finish for the muscle-up, the ring dip is fairly simple to do. However, it does require a certain degree of shoulder flexibility, due to the amount of internal rotation and flexion required.
1. Start with your shoulder extended, and your thumbs pointing out away from your body. This generates the external rotation needed to stabilise your shoulder. Your legs should be fully extended throughout the entire movement, so make sure the rings are high enough. Butt on, belly on, toes pointed.
2. Keeping those elbows vertical, lower your body, maintaining that stable midline. Your head can come forward slightly in this move as you reach bottom position.
3. Keeping your hands turned out as best you can, drive up out of the bottom position and re-establish your top position.
Fairly self explanatory, however, the main thing to remember is the to keep your feet on the floor, knees bent, and to move from the hips, not the head.
Awesome moves that will destroy your calves if you’re not careful. Jumping and landing is all about torque. Keeping your knees out as you land, and maintaining a strong midline.
There are fewer, if any, conditioning machines to match a rower. That’s why we use them. It’s a low-impact exercise which, depending on how you train, can bring about anaerobic and aerobic benefits. Rowing targets upper and lower-body muscle groups.
There’s an efficient and inefficient way to row. You can’t cheat on a rower. It will punish you if you try. Commonly, you see many people pulling too hard with their arms when the bulk of the work should be done by the legs. Study this video for some tips on how to groove the movement. Technique is everything!
We use running drills anywhere from 20m sprints to 5 miles, but, generally, our running elements tend to be of a shorter and more explosive nature. However, because variation is a key part of our program, we mix it up and sometimes even throw in added resistance, like carrying a medicine ball.
Most important, regardless of the distance, is developing an effective running style – leaning forward from the ankles to use gravity to make you faster, staying strong in the core, landing on the balls of the feet, knees going forwards rather than upwards, relaxed thighs, jaw, shoulders…watch these videos to learn more.
CrossFit Chichester benchmark: sub 8-min mile (no walking)
Swimming doesn’t come up often, but, being close to the sea, we may throw in a beach workout now and again or visit a local pool. As with all movements, effective swimming is all about efficiency and minimising resistance. Is there a more beautiful stroke than this?
An excellent exercise for full-body conditioning, co-ordination and strengthening the mind using a medicine ball and throwing it at a target (10ft for men, 9ft for women). This video is from the CrossFit Open in 2013 and shows the standards and techniques required.
CrossFit Chichester benchmark: 15 continuous @10/6kgs
Great for warming up, conditioning, hand/feet co-ordination, developing wrist speed, strong calves and core strength. Most beginners quickly learn to do singles, but achieving double-unders (two revolutions per jump) takes practice, timing and a fast turnover of the wrist. Work on it daily and it will come. Watch the video above to see the standards to aim for.
Usually, one can shift more weight using a deadlift than any other lift. The deadliest is the ability to move a heavy load from the ground to standing. Master this movement to preserve your back and strengthen the muscles in your posterior chain (glutes and hamstrings). Many leading strength coaches, when asked what they would choose if they could pick only one lift to do, said they would prescribe the deadlift.
Because it’s such a powerful movement, it can also be dangerous in terms of causing injury. Good form is therefore paramount, particularly when going heavy or asked to perform multiple reps at speed.
Deadlifting in powerlifting is always performed with a barbell, but there are variations of the deadlift – for example, one-legged deadlifts with kettlebells. According to Pavel Tsatsouline, the founder of the Russian Kettlebell Club, one-legged KB deadlifts “makes for invincible hamstrings and ankles”. For the best results do it is slowly and barefoot, gripping the floor as you lower the weight and avoiding having the free leg extended like a gymnast to act as a counterbalance. Try to keep the shin of the standing foot as close to upright as possible.
CrossFit Chichester barbell deadlift benchmark: 75% of bodyweight for multiple reps
In bodybuilding circles the bench press is a staple diet. But you won’t often be asked to bench press in a CrossFit wod. Because you require a bench and, when using heavy weights, are best to lift with two spotters (helpers), it doesn’t lend itself well to timed workouts.
But as a strength component it is useful. It is not just a chest movement either. Benching, when done properly, works most of the body. The tighter you can get from head to toe, the better the lift, which involves lying on a bench and pushing a bar from the chest until the elbows are locked out
Some would argue this is the king of all lifts, probably because it works every inch of the body and places significant demands on the central nervous system. You require a tremendously strong core, power in the legs, lower back, glutes, abs as well as flexibility in the hips and ankles to execute the lift properly and safely. There are variations of the back squat – the high bar and low bar resting positions and hands narrow or out wide. Which works best for you often comes down to body composition. But even Adolf Hitler was perplexed by which to use!
Dennis Koslowski, who won a wrestling silver medal in greco-roman wrestling in 1988, said of kettlebell training that “it’s like weight-lifting times 10”. The Russians have long hailed this piece of equipment as “the ultimate tool for all-round extreme fitness”.
The Russian swing, as shown in the video, requires one to take the kettlebell from the ground (between the legs) to eye level. Nearly all the power is generated by extending the hips and not the arms, which are kept straight. Russian kettlebell swings can also be done effectively using single arms.
The American swing travels further than the Russian – the finishing position is with arms overhead and the base of the bell, under control, facing the ceiling or sky.
More often than not, when kettlebell swings are programmed in CrossFit, the American swing is called for. There are debates as to which is more effective. But seeing as the Russians developed this piece of equipment, they should be respected, don’t you think?
Fantastic for improving shoulder stability and core strength. In fact, it’s arguable whether there is a better movement for developing core strength.
Start light and work your way up. You will be surprised by how taxing this is with only a small weight. Get the technique down before adding to the load. Take your time and control your breathing. Keep your eyes on the bell until you are standing with the bell overhead (then put your head in neutral). Focus on the bell again as you return to lying, reversing precisely your steps to standing.
This movement is not exclusive to the kettlebell. You can perform a TGU with a barbell, dumbbell, ball or, for the supremely strong, even a person!