The worldwide fitness phenomenon of CrossFit is designed to get you in shape and set a foundation for any fitness you can dream up–from playing with your kids to trying out for American Ninja Warrior. And they following foundational CrossFit moves build overall strength, balance, power, agility, flexibility, endurance, and hip extension/flexion all at once–which is especially critical in the era of the desk jockey.
We tapped Conor Murphy, a level 3 trainer at Reebok CrossFit One, for a clue as to how the simplest moves give the greatest challenge to new and seasoned CrossFitters alike. Here are nine foundational CrossFit moves, plus three exercises that pull it all together, along with Murphy’s top tips to help perfect your form. “This is about mechanics followed by consistency and then intensity follows,” says Murphy. Time to lay a strong foundation!
Start in shoulder-width stance, feet naturally turned out slightly, which give hips more room. Raise arms to eye level in front of you.
Initiate squat by moving hips back and down as your chest stays nearly parallel to floor. Try to create as much space as possible between knees rather than trying to keep them pointed forward.
Lower hips until they are lower than knees.
Maintain your lumbar curve rather than rounding your back.
As you rise, push knees outward.
“There are four non-negotiables when it comes to foundationals, starting from the ground up. 1) Keep weight rooted in heels, 2) knees should track over toes, 3) full range of motion (i.e., hip crease below your knees, and 4) keep a neutral spine through- out. A good drill to practice if your chest keeps falling forward in squats: Hold a weight plate out in front of you to counter hips,” Murphy advises.
Set up as in an air squat: shoulder- width stance behind a lightly loaded barbell, holding with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width, natural curve in lumbar spine.
Clean bar to your collarbone: Drag bar close to body up to chest level, flaring elbows out as bar rises. At the same time, lift onto toes to further lift weight up and then flip wrists under bar and toward ceiling. Lift elbows toward wall in front of you until bar rests on collarbone. Loosen fingers so you’re only slightly gripping bar. The higher the elbows in this “rack” position, the more stable the bar.
Initiate front squat by moving hips back and down, thinking about an imaginary line from ears to heels (while standing) and keep the bar as close to that frontal plane line throughout full range of motion.
Lower hips until they’re beneath level of knees while keeping lumbar curve.
As you rise, push knees outward.
“Think about driving your elbows up the entire time. This will help maintain a good “rack” position and help keep the bar in the frontal plane.”
Set up as in front squat, feet shoulder width and naturally turned out slightly. Standing in front of an unloaded barbell or PVC pipe to start, holding it with an overhand grip, hands slightly wider than shoulder width.
Clean barbell to your shoulders as in front squat, then press it over and slightly behind your head, making sure your elbows are locked out and facing down and armpits are facing forward.
Lower hips into a squat, while keeping bar in the frontal plane, until hips are lower than knees.
When rising, push knees outward, and make sure to extend your hips and knees fully at the top.
“The overhead squat is the ultimate core exercise, the heart of the snatch, and peerless in developing effective athletic movement. If you struggle with the mechanics of the air squat, the front squat, and overhead squat will only expose that. Practice and train all three, but remember that mechanics come before consistency and intensity.”
Grasp bar with an overhand grip just outside your shins.
Make sure your lumbar spine has a slight curve in it rather than being rounded. Chest is up and inflated, arms lock but not pulling, weight in heels.
While keeping bar close to your body, lift it until your hips are fully extended.
“A deadlift is the most efficient way to pick something up, utilizing the posterior and anterior chain. Initially, when the bar moves from shin to knees, make sure hips and shoulders rise at a constant angle, which helps move the maximum amount of load. Then open hips all the way to stand, but don’t overextend at top. If form starts breaking down, drop weight and lessen load.”
SUMO DEADLIFT HIGH PULL
All points of performance will be the same as the deadlift. Stand with feet slightly wider than shoulder width behind a loaded barbell.
Grasp bar in overhand grip, with hands inside stance.
Keeping knees in line with toes, pull with your hips and legs only until both are fully extended.
Aggressively open hip fully, shrug, then pull with the arms until bar reaches the clavicle or just under the chin. Elbows will be high and outside of the hands.
Lower bar along the same path, reverse order, until weight touches floor.
“Don’t roll shoulders forward or put elbows in front of hands. Think about keeping your elbows high and back. It’s a great lift where you can teach the hip extension without having to worry about a receiving position.”
MEDICINE BALL CLEAN
This is similar to the press-under movement of the push jerk. It also has the same mechanics of a sumo deadlift high pull, but instead of pulling the object to our chin, we now pull our body under the ball receiving it in a full front squat and stand to full extension before the rep is complete.
Stand with feet at shoulder width, behind medicine ball, with hands on sides of ball. With a slight curve in lumbar spine and arms straight, clean the ball to chest (lowering your elbows beneath ball) while lowering hips into a deep squat.
Press through heels to explode to standing.
Lower ball to the floor while keeping spine curved, arms straight, and chest up.
“This movement is a great introduction to the Olympic lifts. In CrossFit, we use the medicine ball because it’s a little less intimidating and provides more room for error.”
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CrossFit Basics: SHOULDER PRESS
Take a hip-width stance, and clean a lightly loaded barbell to your shoulders so you are in the rack position.
Keeping a firm grip on bar held slightly wider than your shoulders and your elbows slightly in front of bar but not forward, push bar overhead without bending knees.
Head must move back for a second to accommodate bar. Return to start, stabilizing bar with your core, keeping legs and core static entire time.
“Squeeze your belly and your butt when performing this movement to help tighten your midline and help keep you stable throughout the movement. ”
Set up as in the shoulder press, but a dip and drive phase is added to this move: Stand with feet hip width and clean a lightly loaded barbell to your shoulders.
Grip bar, hands slightly wider than shoulder width and elbows in front of bar but not forward.
Keep torso vertical as you initiate move by dipping down a few inches with no pause at bottom then rapidly extend your hips and until both fully extended.
Once extension is complete, use the shoulders and arms to forcefully press bar overhead until fully extended.
“Speed and timing are key here. Make sure legs and hips extend before bar leaves the shoulders. Start to utilize the hips. Dip, and drive before the press. Make sure the torso stays vertical rather than forward (or back).”
PUSH JERK (Pictured)
Set up as if doing a push press, but a press-under is introduced to this move (dip, drive, press-under, stand): Clean bar to collarbone.
Dip knees and hips and without pausing at bottom then extend fully. Then press bar overhead, letting your feet come off the ground slightly and hop into a slightly wider stance, arms locked out, but knees bent and in a partial overhead squat.
Straighten legs. Then pulse bar to clavicles.
“Practice with a PVC pipe or dowel. Jump with the PVC in rack position and land with it locked out overhead, with your feet in partial overhead squat stance. Once proficient here, slowly add weight. Ensure that your hips continue to open before you press under. Land with elbows locked out.”
Stand in front of a wall holding a medicine ball at chest with feet shoulder width and toes turned out.
Lower hips into squat, keeping chest up, until hips are lower than knees.
Explode from the bottom, pushing through heels and keeping ball at chest; then release ball against wall to a target.
Catch the ball as it comes down and immediately lower hips into next squat.
“This is a thruster where the ball is released at top. Make sure to hold the ball on the lower half the ball to increase efficiency of the release and catch. Keep all form tips from the thruster in mind for this compound move.”
GYMNASTICS KIPPING PULLUP
Start with an overhand grip on the bar, just outside shoulder width; arms and legs straight.
With hips and shoulders moving in concert and your upper body powering the movement, lift your feet forward in front of your body, legs straight, a foot in front of start, and torso a few inches behind start.
While keeping legs straight, swing feet beneath and behind you, arching your body.
Swing legs forward again, bending your arms to bring your body weight up and your chin above the bar.
As your feet drop to the start and your legs come forward, swing your legs back to provide the momentum to launch into the next kipping pullup.
“People think of a strict pullup as the ‘better’ pullup; and the strict pullup is excellent. But in CrossFit we are looking for a higher power output, and that’s why we mainly focus on the gymnastics kipping pullup. It helps you develop a capacity to move your body weight faster over a shorter distance. But it’s one that should be trained with a coach first.”
Set up as in a front squat, cleaning bar to rack position.
Keeping elbows up in front of you, start your squat by pushing your hips back behind you.
Lower hips until they are lower than your knees, pushing knees out throughout.
Keeping chest up, stand from the bottom of the squat, extending hips and knees simultaneously, until arms are straight overhead.
Lower bar to clean position and, without pausing, immediately lower into squat.
“This is a front squat paired with a push press, so your front rack position has to be on point for this move. Make sure your hips are open and your glutes are squeezed before pressing the bar or dumbbells overhead.”