I recently completed my CrossFit® Level 2 Trainer seminar and it was jam-packed with functional movement.
Functional movement can be described as movement patterns that contribute the most to accomplishing a physical task.
One can make associations between the deadlift and picking up heavy things or the overhead press and an organized “top shelf.”
Functional movement patterns also contribute the best to fitness, where “constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement” prepare a person for any physical-contingency, the known and the unknowable.
The course was mostly designed for coaches, with practicals on spotting and correcting movement patterns in the squat, press, and deadlift. Yet, there was still discussions and insights into its core prescription: how does one achieve optimal fitness using this methodology?
What is Fitness?
My original post on the CrossFit prescription delves into the core fundamentals of the methodology:
“CrossFit was developed to enhance an individual’s competency at all physical tasks. We have designed our program to elicit as broad an adaptational response as possible. CrossFit is not a specialized fitness program but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of 10 fitness domains. They are cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.”
Furthermore, the core concepts are based on this hierarchy:
Functional movement stems from developing quality patterns. These patterns translate towards a multitude of exercises and offer the best carry over to competitive sports.
Common Movement Themes for Functional Movements
♦ Midline stabilization — often synonymous with “core strength,” it is the athlete’s ability to maintain a neutral spine position while performing a movement. A loss of midline stabilization puts an athlete at risk for injury, whether performing a heavy back squat or while attempting to catch a ball in the air.
DO: engage the abs, internal and external oblique muscles and spinal erectors creates a “belt” of musculature around the vertebrae.
♦ Core-to-Extremity Movement — it is a sequence of muscular contraction that begins with the large-force producing muscles of the core and hips and ends with the small-force producing muscles of the extremities. It starts with good midline stabilization that creates a “base” for force production. This sequence maximizes performance because it loads the bigger muscles before a transfer to smaller muscles, ensuring that the bigger muscles absorb most of the load. An example would be the legs absorbing the bulk of the weight during a deadlift, before a transfer of energy to the back and biceps. If an athlete hurts their back or rips a tendon in their biceps, they violated the theme of core-to-extremity.
♦ Balance about the Frontal Plane — the frontal plane splits the anterior and posterior of an athlete in half. When movement deviates too far from the frontal plane, ability for task completion will begin to weaken. Efficiency is best observed when weight is maintained close to the frontal plane, such as keeping the line of action above an athlete’s midfoot.
DO: keep movement within the frontal plane. Think of an ineffective front squat, where the weight travels forward causing an athlete’s back to round. When running, an athlete will want to keep a majority of the weight over the midfoot by using a proper “foot strike” while striding. When doing pull-ups, an athlete should strive to keep their movement tight and in line in order to maintain proper rhythm. Keep movement within the frontal plane.
♦ Posterior-Chain Engagement — the posterior-chain consists of the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors. Engaging the posterior chain helps to properly distribute force which increases power generation. Greater musculature is recruited to either move weight or stabilize the midline to brace against weight. Imagine a running back about to be tackled, if the posterior-chain is engaged, then the midline is stabilized, weight is properly distributed, and knees are in proper alignment with the feet, thus placing the running back in the best possible position to be tackled injury-free.
♦ Sound Hip Function — the hip is the body’s most powerful joint and sound hip function describes the athlete’s ability to flex and extend the hip to maximize its contribution to the movement. Powerful hip extension allows an athlete to apply the most force on an object and creates the most elevation of an object. The speed of hip extension also translates to power transmission; it is necessary to produce the most force as possible. Proper hip extension is crucial in the sport of Olympic Weightlifting and athletes that master the movement are often able to translate that power into the real world and in the field of sport.
♦ Active Shoulders — an active shoulder, when an athlete applies force in the direction opposite the load, is the most stable position for the shoulder when working against a load. This applies to movement overhead such as the press or in other movements that require a stable shoulder to transmit load: deadlift, pull up, ring dip, row, and snatch. Some of the most common injuries in sport involve the shoulder so optimal skeletal alignment is required to prevent injuries. Avoidance of injury and optimal performance coincide when proper body alignment is achieved.
♦ Full Range of Motion about a Joint — full range of motion is required to recruit all of the necessary joints and muscles to complete a movement. Practicing in the gym requires full range of motion in order for a movement to transfer outside of the gym. Additionally, the more muscles and joints used during a movement allows the athlete to develop the neuromuscular coordination that is universally found in compound movements and sport. Squatting below parallel and deadlifting to full hip extension are examples where full range of motion are required to maximize benefits of the movement.
♦ Effective Stance and/or Grip —how you stand and hold the bar matters in relation to optimizing movement and transfer of load. For a squat, shoulder width works best for maintaining lumbar curve, keeping knees in track with toes, and hitting adequate depth. Deadlifts and presses work best with a hip width stance since it allows for a greater activation of the posterior chain. Additionally, an ineffective stance or grip universally affects the points of performance involved in every type of movement.
Aim to maintain these common movement themes at all times to maximize performance and safety. Avoiding injury is an often overlooked critical factor in long-term success. If you are able to stay injury-free, then you can continuously train and get better. A major injury can set you back months and complete recovery is never guaranteed. More than likely you will deal with a nagging problem for years, which degrades motivation and confidence.
The Level 2 Trainer Test
Anyone interested in taking the course should study the points of performance in addition to the movement themes. The test is not incredibly difficult, but it requires the trainer to understand the movement patterns enough to teach, see, and correct problems.
It would also be beneficial to review the movement guide in the CrossFit Level 1 Training guide.
In Pursuit of Excellence
The author is a CrossFit Level 2 Trainer but did not entirely buy into CrossFit at first go around. It took years of falling and getting back up again before it all eventually made sense. As in nature, some rocks are harder than others.