Midline stabilization

Midline stabilisation is a crucial aspect of Crossfit, Whilst Crossfit aims to improve Work Capacity across broad time and modal domains, across a variety of intended stimulus, Safety of the athlete remains of paramount importance.

Given that Crossfit movements occur over a variety of planes of movement its crucial that the athlete learns to maintain Midline stabilizations through out the variety of movements and WODs prescribed, with the true test being to be able to maintain that Midline stabilization through threshold training.

Its the responsibility of the coach to ensure that athletes are able to ensure Midline stabilization with Mechanics, consistency, Intensity, starting with the 9 foundational movements of Crossfit.

Ultimately the midline refers to the spinal column connecting into the pelvis. Simply put, its Midline stabilisation that keeps you upright and ensure that that your spine is well protected when lifting heavy weights or moving through dynamic movements.

The spine achieves  Midline stabilisation with the aid of a variety of muscles around the torso, from the lats, the transverse abdominus, the obliques and the glutes. Being able to control the tension of these muscles, relative to the postural goals is what will help support Midline stabilisation. in simple terms the first part of forming Midline stabilisation is to set a neutral spine.

setting a neutral spine-

  • squeeze your glutes, this ensure that your pelvis is set in the correct postion, with out excessive posterior or anterior tilt.
  • stand tall, ensure that head is as tall as possible, and shoulders are pulled back and down.
  • next, set the abs by flexing and pushing against the abdominal walls, this should feel like the torso is being made really solid and creates intra-abdominal pressure creating a very solid ‘foundation’, strangely this should feel like trying to force out a poo and hold in a pee at the same time.
  • once the intra-abdominal pressure has been created, relax the glutes

once you know how to set a solid spine, you then need to learn how to breath and go through motion whilst maintaining varying degrees of Midline stabilisation (you don’t need the same level of rigidity with a 300lb back squat as you do with a body weight pull up). Finally, because of the lifestyle we live in of 9 to 5 office work, generally extra attention needs to be paid to the mobility of the athlete, specifically around the thoracic spine.

Aerobic Capacity

Aerobic Capacity is a crucial part of any Crossfit WOD. In the  Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition of Crossfit, one of the key 10 general physical skills, is Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, Aerobic Capacity is (generally speaking) the measure of this Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, typically, an athlete with high Aerobic Capacity is termed as having a strong engine. Really what this means is that the athletes ability to maximise the rate of oxygen consumption during a given task. Aerobic Capacity basically looks at VO2 max, the amount of oxygen your body is capable of utilising in one minute. It is a measure of your capacity for aerobic work and can be a predictor of your potential as an endurance athlete.

V02 max

The premise is that as exercise intensity increases, so too does oxygen consumption. This Aerobic Capacity increases until it starts to plateau, at which point VO2 max is achieved. In Crossfits aim of achieving increased Work Capacity across broad time and modal domains, we can see that this can also be looked at as also increasing Aerobic Capacity across broad time and modal domains.

French exercise physiologist Veronique Billat found that the fastest way to reach your potential is to run intervals at a speed that elicits your VO2 max, interestingly, this is the premise behind High Intensity Interval Training, which forms the foundation of the principles of Crossfit. As we’ve already covered, intensity is the key to Crossfits effectiveness, and its through intensity that VO2 Max and therefore Aerobic Capacity is challenged and improved.

So in simple terms, the way to improve VO2 Max and therefore Aerobic Capacity is to do more crossfit, the more accurate answer however is to do more crossfit under the format of threshold training. This allows for Aerobic Capacity to be trained, safely across broad time and modal domains across all 3 modalities (Metabolic Conditioning, Gymnastics, Weightlifting).

Additionally, the four main training protocols for training Aerobic Capacity can be found below; as you can see, they fall comfortably within the 3 modalities (Metabolic Conditioning, Gymnastics, Weightlifting), with time and therefore intensity being the primary factor differentiating them. only Aerobic Threshold falls (slightly) out of the Crossfit protocol, simply by virtue that Crossfit generally doesn’t encourage static steady state cardio.

Aerobic Threshold: 
Steady workouts at a moderate intensity to develop fuel efficiency (burn fat), muscular skeleton system, and aerobic endurance.
VO2 Max:Lower volume workouts, shorter distance intervals at higher intensities, and more rest between reps and/or sets.
Speed Endurance: Very low volume workouts with interval distances less than 60sec. Extremely high intensities. Used to recruit fast twitch fibres and force them to develop endurance. Full recovery between reps and/or sets.
Strength Endurance:Low volume workouts with high intensity intervals that include various explosive movements to recruit and develop your fast twitch muscle fibres.

The Crossfit 9 foundational movements

Whilst there are a multitude of movements covering a variety of planes of motion and skill complexities, for Crossfit there are 9 core foundational movements.

The nine foundational movements of the Level 1 Course are:

The Air Squat
The Front Squat
The Overhead Squat

The Shoulder Press
The Push Press
The Push Jerk

The Deadlift
The Sumo Deadlift High Pull
The Medicine-Ball Clean

These 9 movements are separated into 3 sections – squats, presses and pulls. You’ll notice that all are core to extremity, functional movements, and all three sections start from the lowest movement scale.

Whilst the simplest of each of these movements (air squat, shoulder press and deadlift) could be scaled further, further scaling down no longer makes them functional movements, however a coach may decide to scale down further as a way of allowing a lower work capacity athlete achieve the WOD during threshold training.

Its important to consider why these 9 movements were chosen to be the 9 foundational movements. Simply put, these 9 movements are cover the most common movement patterns seen in Crossfit, and whilst they aren’t extensive, they are common enough that achieving standard in these 9 movements has direct transference to other movements. additionally these 9 movements are relatively easy to teach and train to both coaches and athletes with very clearly observable 1) Points of Performance; and 2) Common Faults and Corrections. Finally, all 9 movements fall under a clear hierarchy of scale and can be immediately applied to a WOD.

As an example, by mastering these 9 movements the athlete then possesses the skills to easily master thrusters, clusters, bench presses, barbell cleans, kettlebell swings and a whole host of other movements. Whilst these 9 movements shouldn’t be the be all and end all, they are the foundations from which an athlete can start, and should continue to revisit through their crossfit career.

Programming modalities and priorities

In the  Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition of Crossfit, each work out has a clear  intended stimulus that trains varying levels of the 10 general physical skills.

When we looked at Macro level programming to subject of modalities was touched upon, there are three different modalities in Crossfit – Metabolic Conditioning, Gymnastics, Weightlifting – and there are three ways that these can be combined – singles, couplets or triplets, giving 7 combinations (note MGW or the triplet is only counted once) the theory is that these 7 combinations give athletes the chance to train in Metabolic Conditioning, Gymnastics, Weightlifting in all possible combinations, which supports the Constantly varied aspect of crossfit in a controlled manner.

What it neglects, however is what movements can be inserted under each of the three modalities, which can result in an infinite number of combinations, the art in programming comes from balancing these movements under the 3 modalities so that the athlete doesn’t develop deficiencies whilst developing  work capacity over broad time and modal domains.

Looking into class level programming – the concept of priorities was touched upon. the idea of priorities is to consider the application of intensity to a WOD regardless of the 3 modalities (Metabolic Conditioning, Gymnastics, Weightlifting), from Crossfit threshold training, we know that movement needs to be developed from Mechanics, to consistency, to Intensity. we also know that each WOD has a clear  intended stimulus.

Consequently the concept of priorities is the application of these considerations into a given WOD. there are three priorities – Element Priority, Task Priority, Time Priority. so when combined with the 3 modalities (Metabolic Conditioning, Gymnastics, Weightlifting) and the 3 ways that these 3 modalities can be combined – singles, couplets or triplets, you end up with 18 possible variations (element priorities only focus on single modality days). again, we see how even those the combinations are extensive, they are ‘controlled’, its not entirely random, and the only element left to experience or preference at this stage is still the movements selected.

Focusing on the three priorities – Element priority focuses on technique, consistency and focus on building on a single modality. Task Priority, focuses on a ‘task’ by this we mean a clear end, such is with a for-time or rounds for time style work out, the focus here is to develop speed towards an end goal, the work is fixed and the time is variable. Time Priority focuses on achieving as much in a fixed time as possible, so the work is variable but the time is fixed.

the difference between Task Priority and Time Priority can seem superficial, but strongly influences the pacing and strategy an athlete would take to approaching a workout.

there are other additional factors that need to be considered in programming-

  • Duration
  • Weight
  • Skill complexity

however, given the focus on high intensity, these variables directly influence on the level of intensity a workout can deliver and can be addressed in the workout simply by addressing the scaling.

Class level crossfit programming


In our post about Macro level Crossfit programming the concept of the 3 modalities was touched upon, these 3 modalities set out the primary focus for Class level crossfit programming for the class, for example if the modality focus for today was metabolic conditioning and weightlifting, then using the table attached, this would allow the coach to program according to movements categorized under each of the 3 modalities. Adhering to Crossfits aim of developing  work capacity over broad time and modal domains, through WODs that are Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition, the coach would also need to plan this on a macro level to ensure that the movements are not too regularly repeated at the expense of neglecting other movements.


In addition to considering the 3 modalities. the coach also needs to consider the priority  – task, time, element, and  the intensity prescription – long, skill, heavy.  these additional considerations are where the art of good crossfit programming really become apparent, how do you balance between covering as many variable as possible, without spreading the variations so thin that the athlete doesn’t get consistent enough focus on each?

The magic is in the movement, the art is in the programming, the science is in the explanation, and the fun is in the community.” -COACH GLASSMAN

Good quality Crossfit programming should ensure a balance between skill, intensity, and the 3 modalities. But really all it boils down to is – has the programming improved work capacity over broad time and modal domains, through WODs that are Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition. For most beginners and intermediate athletes, most decent Crossfit gyms should reasonably achieve this. It can be easy to get carried away with focusing on programming, but only advanced athletes will have the need to micromanage this element of their training, for the rest of us, general adherence is more than sufficient.

Macro level Crossfit programming


Macro level crossfit programming

Most Critics of Crossfit would argue that theres no programming at all, that Crossfit is simply high intensity interval training done totally randomly with no rhyme or reason, but as you’ve see, there’s actually plenty of logic, planning and science that supports why and how Crossfit works, whilst on the surface theres no programming, upon closer inspection you’ll find that its simply that the programming is quite complicated and detailed, its not as simple as prescribing 8 reps of whatever exercises focus on the body part of the day. The root of this is in Crossfits aim of developing  work capacity over broad time and modal domains, through WODs that are Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition.

So on a micro level each work out has to be different each day, but taking a further step back, to a macro view, each workout should also have different intended stimulus that covers varying levels of the 10 general physical skills, thus, not only is each individual workout different, but each day of training also needs to be different in terms of its focus and structure. Because of this, the programming can appear random and unpredictable.

Whilst its ok that it’s unpredictable given the overarching concept of Crossfit aiming to help people prepare for the unknown, its most certainly not random.

You can see from the image, there are 3 main modal focuses  – metabolic conditioning, gymnastics and weightlifting that are combined and planned across the training cycle, you can also see how successive cycles would mix these 3 modalities in various combinations, but there are finite combinations.  you can also see that rest days are programmed into the cycles as well. so in this sense, on a macro level of programming, Crossfit training cycles aim to cover every combination of the 3 modalities with rest days factored in.

You can also see how there are 3 types of days – single modality days where the focus is only on 1 of the 3 modalities, double modality days where 2 of the 3 modalities are combines, and finally triple modality days where all 3 modalities are combined. The typical prescription of this macro level crossfit programming is on a 3 on, 1 off cycle, but in reality, most athletes with day jobs typically find the 5 day on, 2 day off cycle more fitting. Whilst fitting to a cycle like this is ideal and will benefit the athlete, the reality is most of us don’t have the kind of time to commit to something so structured, the key however is that programming should ensure that all 3 modalities are covered and combined in as many combinations as possible, with adequate rest included.

Crossfit threshold training

Crossfit places a huge amount of value on the concept of high intensity, especially as means of increasing  work capacity over broad time and modal domains. But the hard part is how to achieve this state of stress on the athlete without compromising safety or compromising on movement Mechanics, consistency, Intensity. Whilst there’s an element of pacing involved, Threshold training is a style of coaching in crossfit where the coach constantly monitors the athlete increasing and decreasing the intensity to meet the athletes changing reaction to the stimulus.

The dilemma is simply that in Crossfit intensity plays such an important role, regardless of the level of athlete, so how do you ensure intensity is as high as safely possible regardless of the level of athletic ability. if the athlete focuses too much on a perfect form they will invariably compromise on intensity, too much intensity and fatigue will compromise technique, a common phrase is often used – ‘do let perfect be the enemy of good’. Thus, in Crossfit the ideally the atheletes technique must be competent enough to be performed safely at the required intensity, and secondly, the technique must be encouraged to be performed s close to ideal as possible without compromising on intensity, hence, this directly supports the application of sound technique in context of increasing  work capacity over broad time and modal domains.

So in crossfit threshold training as the athletes movement quality remains strong, the athlete would be encouraged to speed up, as movement quality begins to diminish towards risky, the athlete would be encouraged to slow down, as the athlete recovers, they are encouraged to speedup once again and thus continuously and constantly advance the margins at which form falters.

its this ability to maintain quality technique at speed that forms the foundation for allowing an athlete to progress their work capacity.

Mechanics, consistency, Intensity

mechanics consistency intensity

“Learn the mechanics of fundamental movements; establish a consistent pattern of practicing these same movements, and, only then, ratchet up the intensity of workouts incorporating these movements. ‘Mechanics,’ then ‘Consistency,’ and then ‘Intensity’– this is the key to effective implementation of CrossFit programming.” -COACH GLASSMAN

It’s easy to get carried away in crossfit and want to jump right in with awesome looking movements like Clusters, muscleups, and butterful pullups. But the reality is the vast majority of us spend so much time seated in front of a computer that our mobility and muscle imbalance means we’re at best not ideally conditioned to handle such movements and, at worst in a position where doing these movements are likely to cause injury.

Crossfit also attracts very ambitious eager indivduals, not the kind of people who take well to sitting in the remedial class and having to re-learn everything, in fact, the hardest athletes to coach are generally those who have previous athletic back ground. It takes huge amounts of self-reflection and humility to be willing to admit that starting from scratch can sometime be a good thing.

Safety underpins everything in Crossfits  Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition. And the first step in ensuring safety is to ensure that the points of performance for any movement are clearly explained to, learned and adhered to by athletes regardless of intended stimulus or time and modal domain.

Sound technique ensures good safe and efficent movement mechanics. the next level up is to ensure that this technique doesn’t falter as external stresses are place up on it, be that weight, share of the object or any variation in time and modal domain.

The final point is Intensity, once the athlete can demonstrate that they have consistent technique through a wide range of  time and modal domains, the factor of time and competition can be applied.

by progressive increasing the challenge in this controlled 3 step manner we can ensure that the athlete progresses through movements achieving the points of performance, whilst minimising risk of injury.

The importance of pacing in Crossfit

We often focus on Crossfits  Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition, which is acheived though developing  work capacity over broad time and modal domains and we know that one of the big secrets to the effectiveness of Crossfit is that component of high intensity, that develops Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, one of the10 General Physical Skills (GPS), this in turn helps develop stamina.

The Challenge however, is that once you get past the rapid gains made by the vast majority of beginners, results and performance begin to plateau. it’s all well and good saying we should simply do more crossfit, but the reality is that to really progress in crossfit, you need to have consistent and progressive structure that allows you to train with intensity, regardless of your level or ability, this is why theres so much focus in crossfit coaching on ‘intended stimulus‘ and how that impacts on scaling. Good scaling should (in theory) maintain the level of intensity required to ensure progress whilst lowering the challenge of the workout to something within the athletes abilities.

But that all goes out the window when the buzzer goes and you kick off the workout, go too fast at the beginning as you’ll be gasping for air later, go too slow and you’ll loose that intended stimulus, so in turn, as a crossfit athlete, being able to assess a strategy for dealing with a workout is a key skill to be developed.

take murph for example, a hero WOD consisting of 1mile run, 100 pullups, 200 push ups, 300 squats and another 1 mile run. Do you sprint the 1mile, or pace it? do you do all the pullups in one go, or do you break them up? if you break them up, how do you split them? all the questions are important in helping you to achieve your goal, completing the WOD quickly, safely and without compromising on movement quality.

This is where pacing really comes into focus. good pacing is all about ensuring that you’re going at a consistent pace thats’ manageable under the load of the workout and sustainable for the duration of the workout, it also involves knowing how to split up reps, when to take rest and when to breath.

Take our example of murph, one of the easiest ways to split murph’s body weight movement is to split them into rounds of cindy 5 pullups, 10 push ups, 15 squats, and resting after each round of cindy.

another example of good pacing is to ensure that when you take breaks you keep moving and walk to a target adnw alk back asa way of ensuring that you limit the time you take resting, you’ll find that standing still hands on knees is the biggest time sucker.

in the WOD DT, we see deadlifts, transition into hang power cleans, into push jerks- so part of pacing here is where to transition. for most you’d do all the deadlifts, rest, deadlift into the hang clean position before doing a hang power clean, an athlete with pacing would rest one deadlift before, so that the last deadlift automatically transitions into the first hang power clean, this is not only more energy efficient, but also saves time of the duration of a longer workout.


Rest and Crossfit

Rest is a crucial part of fitness and training, it allows our body to recover and repair the stressed faced. However Crossfits gung-ho go-getter lifestyle doesn’t necessarily encourage the best Rest habits. i’ve seen athletes do multiple WODs on their rest day.

However to understand what the appropriate amount of rest is, we also need to appreciate that adequate rest is in context of an athletes overall work capacity or rather how developed their fitness, and where on the fitness continuum they sit.

For some athletes Rx’d Fran is a full workout, for others its a warm up, so having a high level athlete perform WODs on their rest day would be reasonable, given their work capacity is not only capable of handling the workload, but also, proportional the the volume of training they do this would be significantly lower in volume, time and load.

For the rest of us however, rest generally means no training at all, at the most a long work or a casual day of sports, but more often, just a day of not doing anything overly physically stressing.

Generally Crossfit’s prescription is to have a 3 day training cycle with 1 day off, so in a given week you’d have 1 day rest. whilst this doesn’t sound like a lot, its important remember that in Crossfits  Constantly varied, functional fitness, at high intensity, that is universally scalable definition, we train for work capacity over broad time and modal domains – meaning that there are heavy days, fast days, slow days, light days. the science and art of good Crossfit programming is to accommodates for the athletes need to recover between training.