A Theoretical Progression Of Development For A CrossFit Athlete

nic dolby crossfit

A Theoretical Progression Of Development For A CrossFit Athlete

One of the hardest parts of being a new or even plateaued CrossFit Athlete is understanding how to focus your attention. There are a million movements and movement variations that you need to get good at usually no one has enough time to practice them all.

The goal of this post is to give new CrossFitters a very general direction to head and to give old vets a template oo measure your progress by. Additionally this serves as a good outline for progression in gaining skills, and where to focus/regress to if you are having trouble advancing your skills. This post doesn’t take into account the limitations of the specific athlete (age, mobility, injury…etc), so please don’t read it like it’s a constitutional amendment, or some religious text, it’s merely the opinion of 1 coach.

 Phase 1: The Foundation & Framework 

Initially CrossFit can be confusing, challenging and exciting, disheartening and exhilarating and this just during the warm-up. There is a ton of progress to be made and yet it can feel like you are getting nowhere.  In this brave new world it can be very hard to understand where you need to focus yourself because there is a insane amount of movements, workout names and skills to learn, remember & master. The list below are the foundations for everything else we do. If you can focus yourself on the mastery of these 13 elements in your first 6 months to a year (maybe longer) in CrossFit, you will be set-up to be successful for a long time. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t understand & perform a movement like the snatch when it’s programmed in the WOD, it just means that you shouldn’t expect it to be your jam and when you have some extra time you want to dedicate to something you should start here before grabbing the barbell and attempting to set a world record in the Olympic lifts.

Note: Movements like BURPEES, Thrusters, Lunges & Wall Balls are not listed because they are variations of the movements listed below. In the process of mastering the basics below you will become competent in these other related movements.

“At CrossFit the pull-up is sacrosanct & everyone needs more” – Greg Glassman 

  1. Pull-Up (a few strict then kipping)
  2. Push-Up (with perfect mechanics…i’d like to see everyone have 50 u/b)
  3. Hollow Hold & Sit-Up (the hollow hold mastery being the more important of the 2)
  4. Back Extension & Hip Extension (on the Glute Ham Developer)
  5. Ring Dips
  6. Squat (all forms should be mastered front, back & overhead)
  7. KB Swing
  8. Deadlift & Sum0 Deadlift High Pull
  9. Presses (shoulder press & push-press)
  10. The Squat Clean (only after mastering a good squat & should initially only be done from the high hang)
  11. Running
  12. Rowing
  13. Double Unders


When Your Foundation Is Strong Enough: 

  1. Cindy: 15 Rounds (AMRAP 20 of 5 Pull-Ups, 10 Push-Ups, 15 Air Squats)
  2. Fran: sub 5 minutes (21-15-9 Thrusters/Pull-ups)
  3. Sub 8 Minute Karen (150 Wallball Shots For Time)
  4. Elizabeth: sub 10 minutes (21-15-9 Squat Cleans @135/95, Ring Dips)
  5. Helen: sub 12 minutes (3RFT 400m Run, 21 KBS @ 53/35lbs, 12 Pull-ups)
  6. Annie: sub 10 minutes (FT 50-40-30-20-10 Dubs & Sit-Ups)
  7. Deadlift 1.5-2x bodyweight
  8. Back Squat 1.25-1.5x bodyweight
  9. Shoulder Press .75 bodyweight
  10. 1-Mile Time: sub 8 minutes
  11. 2k Row Time: sub 8 minutes
  12. 5k Run Time: sub 25 minutes

Note 2: In doing these tests you should find your weaknesses. When you find a weakness you should work on it until it’s a strength. 


Phase 2: The HVAC, Cabinets, Doors, Tile work…etc

This phase of development is all of the stuff that makes your house look sexy. However just like the model home on Arrested Development if you jump into this phase before your foundation is strong enough you will fall apart (read get injured/break). In this phase the skill & strength demand goes WAY up. It is very normal to get hung up here for many years. The movements of this phase require that you spend WAY more time  drilling boring, unloaded progressions & regressions to achieve mastery of position and movement. It’s also normal to see progress slow to a near halt in this phase the beginner “gains” are over and you’re in your in a place where your movement quality and technique is as important as your strength. That is a long way of saying don’t expect to learn & perfecta muscle-up in 1 day. You may spend 1 year working the toe nail transition before you get 1. The thing here is being patient in waiting for the results to come and  enjoying the process of becoming a better mover.


Movements to master in Phase 2

  • Handstand Hold, Walk & Push-Up (strict then kipping)
  • The L-Sit Pull-Up (keeping legs in an L the entire time, starting from full lock out)
  • Muscle-Ups (rings and bars)
  • GHD Sit-Ups (50 unbroken is a good entry level goal)
  • L-Sit Hold (2 minutes unbroken will do the trick)
  • Jerks (both split & squat variations)
  • The Clean (Power, squat, hang..etc)
  • The Snatch (Power, squat, hang..etc)
  • Toes To Bar
  • Chest To Bar Pull-Ups
  • The Butterfly Kip
  • The Pistol


Benchmark Measurements

  • Fran: sub 3:30 (21-15-9 Thurster & Pull-Ups)
  • Diane: Sub 5 minutes (21-15-9 Deadlift @ 225/155 & HSPU)
  • Amanda: unbroken (9-7-5 Squat Snatch @ 135/95 & Ring Muslce-Up)
  • Nancy in 10-15 minutes: 5 RFT 400m + 15 Overhead Squats @ 95/65
  • Mary: 13+ rounds (AMRAP x 20 5 HSPU, 10 Pistols, 15 C2B Pull-Ups)
  • Kelly: Sub 22:30 (5 RFT 400m Run, 30 Wallball Shots @ 20/14, 30 Box Jumps @ 24/20)
  • Sub 3 Minute Grace (30 Clean & Jerks For Time 135/95)
  • Sub 2 Minute Isabel (30 Snatches For Time 135/95)
  • Front Squat: 1.5x bodyweight
  • Jerk: 30% more than your 1 rep max push-press
  • Clean: 85-90% of your Front Squat
  • Snatch: Your body weight
  • Complete Linda 10 to 1 Deadlift @ 1.5 Bodyweight, Bench Press @ Bodyweight, Squat Clean @ Bodyweight in under 20 minutes
  • Run 5k in less than 20:00
  • Consistent sub 1:10 400m pace is workouts


The Reclaimed Wood Accents..etc

I am not currently at this level of CrossFit and don’t know if I will progress there in my life time (although I will try), so I will only speak to this based on observation and how I coach others. The stuff here is very high level and it equates to having marble tile, 24 carrot gold faucets..etc in your home. It should be noted that when you get to this level you should have the lungs of a porpoise, the ability to control your body in space like a veteran gymnast as well as the ability to control external objects & their relationship to your body perfectly. At this stage of your CrossFit “journey” you are probably dedicating most of your time to training to improving weaknesses & getting very very skilled at complexes of movement. Goals for this stage may look like the following…

  • Sub :90 Grace
  • Sub :60 Isabel
  • Sub 2:00 Fran
  • Sub 3:00 Diane
  • Sub 6:00 Elizabeth (if not faster)
  • Sub 7 Minute Helen
  • Sub 13:00 Linda
  • Unbroken Karen with a 30/20 lb Ball
  • Press To Handstand
  • Planche
  • Back Lever
  • Front Lever
  • Standing Backflip
  • Snatch 1.5-2 x Body Weight
  • Clean & Jerk 2-2.5 x Body Weight
  • Back Squat 500+ lbs
  • Deadlift 600 + lbs
  • 5k in under 18 minutes
  • Do 20+ reps over the overhead squat @ 2x bodyweight
  • Complexes of gymnastics movements (i.e. freestanding HSPU to HS Walk to Forward Roll to Straddle Press back to HS Walk)
  • 30 Unbroken Muscle-Ups
  • L Sit-Muscle Up
  • Heavy/Longer variations of traditional CrossFit workouts
  • Complete every CrossFit.com workout as prescribed
  • Sub 2:45 800m repeats with :30 rest between each


At this point you are strong enough to where you can start adding some volume to your training (i.e. doing a lift, steady state training, metcon, accessory and gymnastics focus to every session) and your body will be able to endure it without breaking. That is if you have the time to do that.



In Conclusion

If you have done this long enough you already know this, but all of these phases tend blend and blur together. Sometimes the pursuit of one thing will give you the ability to do another (i.e. mastering a HSPU might make your Squat Snatch better). The goal of this is to give someone new a direction to head and some benchmarks to hit. For the crusty vets looking at this may make you realize you need to regress a few things and patch up holes in your foundation OR maybe that you have stopped getting fitter because you have quit attempting to get better (i.e. you’re too comfortable). Lastly none of this is required for fitness. If you eat clean (this is the most important part) & do some constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity you will look good naked and have no problem doing any task that is in front of you.


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