Our kind of fitness is awesome. It’s fun, it’s functional, it provides measured progress, and it connects a local and international community together for motivation, encouragement, accountability, and enjoyment.
From a programming perspective, however, CrossFit is difficult because it’s not a spin class. People go to spin classes to lose weight and get in shape.
One activity, two goals.
But CrossFit is more complex. Weightlifting, gymnastics, strongman, WODs. Athletes want lifts to continually go up and metcon times to perpetually go down. They want to be able to do pull-ups, muscle-ups and handstand push-ups. Strength, power, speed, coordination, agility, endurance – all of these things need to improve, and all at the same time.
Things begin to get complicated, though, when you combine all these different types of training and physical qualities with a population of people with a wide variety of goals and motivations. Some join the gym because they want to lose weight…and some want to gain weight by building muscle. Some only want to get stronger, some only want to get more conditioned. Some are there to regain physical function, and some are willing to destroy physical function in a quest for better performance. Some are there casually, and do Zumba and run on their off days, and some are training every day to make it to the Games. Some love strength work, and some hate it. Some love “cardio” and some hate it. Some “just want to have fun”, and for some, fun takes a back seat to progress.
Things get even more complicated when a gym owner needs programming that accomplishes all of these differing goals, lasts for one 60 minute session per day, for people with all these various goals and ambitions, with likes and dislikes, and with varying levels of attendance and consistency.
The only way to navigate this maze is to simplify. What does everyone need? What work can be performed that will give the gym as a whole the greatest return on investment?
Directly Transferable Movement
The primary going of physical training is that it improves a person’s quality of life. That might be defined as better health and function or as increased performance and competitive success, but everyone, regardless of goal, motivation, activity, skill or experience level needs to participate in a training that offers the possibility of a more full and enjoyable existence.
With the goal being established, the next step is to determine what kinds of training will help every kind of person that participates.
Every person, regardless of goal, motivation, activity, skill or experience level will benefit from increasing strength, aerobic capacity, movement proficiency and short, simple, high intensity efforts (I’ll explain more about the “why” of these in a future post). I believe that gyms offer the best return on investment to their members they train these qualities of fitness with an emphasis on using directly transferable movements.
Directly transferable movements are lifts, holds, and patterns that are found in both the gym and commonly in the “outside world”. They are simple, have a low technique and mobility requirement, and provide the foundation for more complex movements.
For example, a sandbag lift, hold, and carry is a directly transferable movement because mimics how we would have to lift, hold and carry an object in nature. It’s a fixed, in front of the body, between the hands weight that is awkward and without contrived handles to improve grip.
A thruster, on the other hand, while being a great, effective, compound movement isn’t a directly transferable movement. The load is outside the body, which is moving at a repetitive high rate of speed from deep flexion to extension, require a high technique and mobility requirements.
Is that saying that we shouldn’t do thrusters? No. Learning and performing a wide variety of movements is necessary and will improve health and performance faster than performing a small, more specialized set of movements.
All movements lie a spectrum. Some movements provide the most wide ranging benefit – these are the directly transferable movements. The middle part of the spectrum are movements serve as a middle point – not quite found outside the gym, but close, but not quite specific enough to be only found in competitive situations. The final side of the spectrum are movements that are really only performed in competitive situations and requiring a high level of skill to be performed safely and effectively.
Directly transferable movements:
Sandbag lifts, holds and carries
Farmer’s carry, both one-handed and two handed
Sled pushes, pulls and drags
Dumbbell movements such as presses, curls, and rows
Running, lunging, and other single-leg movements
Strict gymnastic movements – primarily pull-ups, push-ups, and dips
Jumping – both vertical and horizontal
Indirectly transferable movements:
Squats – back, front and overhead
Shoulder press, push press, push jerk
Strict weighted gymnastic movements – primarily pull-ups, push-ups, and dips
Equipment based monostructural movement – rowing, biking, Skierg
Indirect (sport specific) movements:
Full clean and split jerk
High level gymnastic skills
Again, so I’m clear, I’m not saying that athlete should never or seldomly perform indirectly transferable or sport specific movements. All of these movements should be learned and performed in the interest of balanced, effective, and enjoyable fitness. But you will affect the lives of more people in a more profound way if a large focus of training is on directly transferable and indirectly transferable movement.
There might be resistance to this at first. Because of the popularity of the CrossFit Games and “fitness as sport”, the definition of what CrossFit is to most people is competitive, sport specific movements. People think that “that” what will give the what they want. But Glassman himself said, “The magic is in the movements”, and good programming considers what movements in what frequency, intensity and volume will benefit the most people.