Back in the day, Coach Glassman devised a pretty clever five-tiered pyramid of theoretical athletic development.
You might have seen it.
At the base you have nutrition, then metabolic conditioning, then gymnastics and body control,
then weightlifting and throwing, and finally at the top you have sport.
Well, it occurred to me that nobody has taken the “sport” of CrossFit and developed a more specific pyramid for it.
(I use “sport” because it’s a blend of athletic competitions like track & field, gymnastics, and weightlifting,
not an actual sport with offensive and defensive components like wrestling, football, hockey, and beer pong,
but that’s a pedantic rant for a different time.)
So I went and did it.
It consists of three things: mobility, nutrition, and sleep.
Every time I or someone else gets banged up in here, it’s for one of two reasons:
insufficient mobility or freak incidents.
Freak incidents are things like fracturing a toe by dropping a kettlebell on it;
falling over backwards on a clean without dumping the bar off your body and spraining your wrist;
or biffing a tall box jump and giving yourself a lovely tibia contusion.
I’ve done probably thousands of cleans, jerks, snatches, and overhead squats at this point and
have dropped the bar on myself exactly twice. Neither caused damage to anything except my dignity.
[I also have good body awareness and make a concerted effort to avoid doing stupid shit in the weight room.
These things help.]
So this leaves mobility as the primary determinant of injury susceptibility.
Does something hurt when you do any barbell movement?
Guess what: YOU NEED TO MOBILIZE.
A human with normal mobility can correctly execute a full clean, power jerk, and full snatch without issue;
these are standard physiologic ranges of motion.
If you can’t do these movements, something is wrong with you and you need to fix it.
This requires more work than most people realize.
Unless you can front squat, jerk, and snatch without pain, you have something you need to work on every single day
because you have become immobilized by your daily movement habits.
Get a copy of KStar’s “Becoming a Supple Leopard,” read it enough to commit it to memory,
and do that shit every single day until you’re where you need to be.
Also, fix your shitty posture. Posture and mobility issues are directly related.
The second section within recovery is nutrition.
I’ve talked about it here, here, and here, and also here, so I’ll summarize everything by saying this:
IF YOU DO NOT EAT WELL YOU WILL NOT GET RESULTS.
No exceptions (unless you’re a genetic freak [which you probably aren’t]).
Third, we have sleep.
You need it.
It’s like a reset button for your nervous and endocrine systems, and you make a good chunk of your growth-fueling
anabolic hormones when you’re conked out.
Without sleep your brain won’t function properly, your muscles are far more likely to cramp up,
your appetite-regulation hormones leptin and grehlin get all out of whack, it’s harder to gain muscle and to lose fat,
and life just sucks more in general.
So to summarize the base of the pyramid: If you find your progress stalling, start here.
Examine your recovery, look at your nutrition and sleeping habits, and be honest with how often you practice mobility work.
I can tell you right now that the problem ain’t programming–it works SCARY well if you’re doing your part to recover.
Second up we have fundamental movements.
These are the low-skill movements that you cannot live a normal life without.
In this category we have locomotion, or getting from one place to another (running, rowing, jumping, swimming, biking);
basic bodyweight movements that everyone should be competent at (pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, dips);
and basic lifts (deadlift, front & back squat, strict press, bench press, Russian kettlebell swing).
Mastering the first two levels of this pyramid is all that’s really necessary to get you in damn good shape,
and any good fitness program will be set up accordingly.
The third level consists of intermediate movements.
These are higher-skill, fairly quick to learn, and not terribly difficult to master with some practice.
This is where we get into gymnastics (rope climb, L-sit, handstand, kipping),
Olympic weightlifting (clean, push press, power snatch),
and strongman (atlas stone/odd object lifting, loaded carries, tire flips, weighted throwing).
Everyone can learn these, but sometimes it takes awhile; the mobility and coordination requirements
are greater than for the previous tier’s movements.
Finally we have advanced movements.
This is the fun stuff with a “wow” factor–the stuff you see on TV.
Here we have the full gamut of barbell gymnastics (full snatches and all variety of jerks) and
bodyweight gymnastics (rings, single-leg squats, freestanding handstands).
These require unrestricted mobility, excellent balance, and in the case of the bodyweight movements
a superb strength-to-weight ratio.
Realistically, most people never achieve these skills; this is not an indictment of the skills’ difficulty–
anyone dedicated enough can do it–but rather of the state of the average person’s fitness these days.
I’m still working on making my handstand not wobble around like a drunken inverted toddler,
but a gymnast can rep out HSPU’s in the middle of the floor because they practice handstands every day.
If you can correctly execute these advanced movements you will develop and display elite athleticism.
It’s frustrating at first, but the more you practice the more fun it becomes.
Since this is CrossFit, after all, the side pillars are muscular and cardiovascular endurance.
Recall that muscular endurance is the ability of the muscles to resist fatigue from repeated submaximal loading,
and cardiovascular endurance (cardio) is the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver oxygen during extended efforts.
These attributes are interrelated; the better your stamina, the less strain you place on your cardio.
Stamina is dependent on muscle fiber type and glycogen storage and is trained through high-rep weight training;
this causes sarcoplasmic hypertrophy–primarily of type I muscle fibers–and little improvement in maximum force development.
Cardio is best developed with met-cons like Cindy or Murph, with lower reps per set and
a higher cycle rate between movements to keep blood pumping to different body parts.
So now let’s bring everything together.
The middle section of the pyramid looks at the body’s ability to produce useful force a single time (strength),
while the sides comprise the ability to repeat that effort many times (conditioning).
Combined, we have a complete CrossFit athlete.