Setting a New Standard… with Purpose

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Good for competition, but maybe not-so-good for neck/shoulders

Good for competition, but maybe not-so-good for neck/shoulders

Back in 2008, CrossFit was still in its (relative) infancy. As the Games were drawing closer, it became clear that the participation was going to dwarf that of the preceding year. In an attempt to weed out competitors and make judging easier, a new standard was implemented for pull-ups: chest must hit the bar. In the same Games, another standard was introduced which we commonly see: burpees finished with a clap overhead. Fast forward another two years: since athletes moved so fast during push-ups, they were never included in the Games. The 2010 solution? Introduce the hand-release push-up.

Decisions like these have unintentionally changed the movement, coaching, and programming of many gyms.

Why Standards Matter

[W]orking out should not always be treated like a sport. Standards, in the case of exercise and movements, should be situational.
A standard in both doing and teaching is the most important thing to make clear because it always gives you something to measure against. A small deviation from the standard is a mistake, and a large deviation is an error. You cannot teach without a standard. Head through the window, hip crease below the knee, chin over the bar, full hip extension on top of the box, false grip, clap over your head — these are all movement standards common in CrossFit. And because of various reasons, an overwhelming majority of gyms adopt these standards in their everyday practices. They provide a “compare-to” that has become very efficient and effective…for its purpose.

In reality, many of the movement standards we see in CrossFit are there because they make it easier to judge reps. They give a common denominator across the board of athletes – same as a ten foot rim in basketball. But as I stated before, working out should not always be treated like a sport. Standards, in the case of exercise and movements, should be situational.

Here’s an example: except for the occasional workout, chin-over-the-bar is pretty much a universal standard for the pull-up not only in CrossFit, but in strength and conditioning in general. Why? Because it is an easy standard to explain, judge, and repeat. But does this standard best fit every athlete for every training purpose? Scaling ways to help get the chin over the bar definitely helps (jumping pull-up, bands, weird-looking-Gravitron-thing-in-the-old-CrossFit-videos). But chin over the bar might not cover everything.

In our gym, for instance, we adopted a standard a few months ago for the pull-up where full range-of-motion is achieved when elbows are in line between the shoulders and hips while maintaining a globally flexed position and hook grip on the bar. Doing so has all-but-eliminated the tendency to chicken-neck; challenged shoulder range-of-motion and grip; and translated more to a push-up, muscle-up, rowing, and clearing an obstacle in real life.
Then when workouts like Helen, Cindy, or the recent “Cindy XXX” come up, we change our standard back to chin-over-the-bar for simple comparison purposes.

Obviously, this is not the only way to do a pull-up and may not be a good fit for everyone. But it just gives you an idea of how to experiment – and it also brings me to another main point: No two CrossFit gyms should have the same standard of movement across the board. Following best practices is great, and so is picking up ideas from other coaches/gyms. But the overall movement standard should be unique to your gym alone.

Champions Club new standard pull-up. Band-assisted

Champions Club new standard pull-up. Band-assisted

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