The first step in the journey to health is to learn to perform basic movement mechanics. Mechanics create the structure of movement and dictate the safest, most efficient way to complete it. Thus it is critical that an athlete develop good movement mechanics before pushing for intensity in the form of weight, high reps, or speed.
CrossFit makes use of a variety of movements and movement categories, many of which have multiple applications. The goal is to learn a base skill and then, once the proper movement mechanics are executed consistently, you challenge that skill with a more advanced variation. For example, the air squat introduces the fundamental mechanics of squatting that then carry over to front squats, back squats, thrusters, and/or overhead squats A new athlete will have more success by learning the most basic skills first, then applying what they’ve learned to more complex movements as their competency allows.
When asking a beginner to perform a movement, they must first learn the key positions (example: start and finish position of the deadlift). Once they have practiced these positions, they must next learn how to transition between the two with efficiency and without breaking form and mechanics. Slowing down the movement to help them understand positioning is often most helpful.
Coaches will commonly explain movements by teaching the points of performance. Complex movements, like cleans and snatches, will follow a progression to try and simplify the learning of the movement and teach proper positioning. The points of performance and positioning should be the focal points when first learning how to do a movement. During this phase, it’s very easy to push the limits of the athlete too far and cause them to lose efficiency. Fatigue, losing focus, and performing several different skills during a workout can significantly compromise an athlete’s movement.
The threshold between good and poor execution of a movement is razor-thin, especially with newer athletes. Many of you have probably had workouts where one round feels great and the next feels awful and the coach is all over you. Breakdown in mechanics will happen, but when you are a beginner, you won’t have the capacity and resilience that an established athlete has to overcome it. This is why the coach is there to help you recognize what’s happening and guide you along. Great training programs provide enough of a challenge to help athletes progress without overwhelming them and pushing them beyond their current capacity. If the athlete isn’t being pushed, there won’t be progress. Too much and it may discourage them and push them too far past their limits.
There is a common trap that coaches fall into where they believe their athletes won’t receive the benefits of a “real workout” when honing in on movement mechanics. When this happens, coaches must remember the effort required to perform a new skill to a high standard. Despite the reps being low and the load of the bar being light, dedicating time to focus on movement mechanics will absolutely be a challenge. Getting into new ranges of motion and positions creates a great physical response. It takes time to learn new skills and movements. This process should not be rushed and will result in better development and retention.
It is also worth noting that an athlete’s overall capacity won’t give you an accurate gauge of how they will handle new skills. Athletes with a high level of fitness in one area may struggle when exposed to a movement outside their strengths. A former football athlete may have the strength to “muscle” through movements but should start with learning the basics of gymnastic skills before attempting some of the higher skill movements. They might have the raw strength to power through the motion but their mechanics will limit their performance and their true potential will suffer.
The most difficult part about the training process is deciding when an athlete can handle being pushed beyond that initial learning phase. The basic mechanics of the movement need to be understood and, more importantly, executed well. However, do not confuse this standard with technical perfection. We will discuss more how the concept of consistency should act as a guide for how and when the athlete should be challenged.