Fitness: Order of Operations
Fitness: Order of Operations
What if you were able to step back, evaluate honestly where you are at with your fitness progress and identify where you are lacking the most? A difficult task, but if you decide you want to have that conversation with yourself, this is the framework to address what you find. If you can find a way to carve out a bit of extra time to bolster your foundations, you will be much better off in the long run.
It is assumed you naturally have uneven ability across each domain. It is also assumed that you can (and probably should) work two angles at the same time (i.e. steps 1 and 3 simultaneously). The most important thing is that if you have a large deficiency in a step, the steps ahead of it will be even more difficult to gain mastery within since your absolute potential will be limited. Likewise, if you take a step backwards and focus on a precursor, you will ultimately take more steps forward as a result. Alright, enough preamble — here we go.
PHASE 1: MOBILITY
First, your body must move through space in a controlled manner. If you cannot reach end-ranges of motion and demonstrate control, you need mobility work. This is NOT the same as being flexible. Flexibility is passive, mobility is active. It doesn’t matter if you can bend your leg behind your head if the moment you add outside load to the movement pattern your body explodes.
Can you hang out in the bottom of a squat with a PVC pipe shoulder width apart, overhead and arms locked out? Comfortably? Yes? You have perfect mobility. Almost no one has this. This is your goal.
Unless you are truly gifted with mobility, chances are you will need to address this foundational step for the rest of your life to always improve positions that want to revert back to a stiff baseline.
PHASE 2: TECHNIQUE
Once your body moves in an unrestricted manner, you can incorporate technical applications of tools. The simple act of squatting can be applied to cleans, the act of jumping to double-unders, the act of pulling to muscle ups and so on. Technique without mobility can pass the “get shit done” test, but it will never look pretty and there will be glaring inconsistencies in your numbers.
-Is your Clean/Snatch approaching 90% of your Front Squat/Overhead Squat?
It doesn’t matter what the absolute numbers are, but if your relative ratios are far apart — chances are your technique (and probably some mobility) is suffering. If your technical abilities give out at the limits of your strength, then your technique is solid. Therefore…
PHASE 3: STRENGTH AND POWER
Once you move in an unrestricted manner, have at least acceptable technique to avoid injury and make sustained progress — then you can add to the load progressively. It is perfectly reasonable to work on strength and technique concurrently as you will never be “perfect” and can never get “too strong.” Once the basics of mobility are achieved, nearly every progressive program works Strength and Technique simultaneously.
Strength can be a horrible curse, however, as it is one of the more rewarding systems to go for (YAY A BRAND NEW PR!!! RING DAT BELL!!!) and can limit your progress in technique and mobility. It is almost a cliché how many strong dudes there are that can muscle weight around with bad technique that rarely touch end ranges of motion.
- Do you have 10 pullups/Dips but no muscle ups?
- Can you muscle clean more than you can squat clean?
- Do you have a 500 pound back squat but no pistols?
Chances are that both your mobility and technique are suffering in differing ways across each of those questions.
PHASE 4: ENDURANCE AND STAMINA
And last we come to endurance or specifically to CrossFit — the WOD. Sorry boys and girls, this step is last because, honestly, WODs don’t matter. WODs are the test. They are the outcome. They are the SATs. And if you simply practice the test over and over and get “better” you have lost the trees in the forest. Whereas if you hone your fundamentals and get better at the test by accident, then you win the game.
This is also where people most often experience wear and tear and might face an injury. If you have poor mobility, poor technique, go for Rx weights with marginal strength/power to do so AND apply INTENSITY on top of that…well, you are begging to experience a tweak. In fact, this is the strongest and most pointed criticism of CrossFit overall — the burning desire (and sometimes encouragement) to add intensity to poor fundamentals.
If you move through controlled ranges of motions correctly, apply good technique and can push around some decent loads, well…then you have the potential to really go out there and some interesting things.
There isn’t really a “test” for endurance — you either keep moving our you stop. Really, just a never ending battle against your own will.
Did you stop? STOP STOPPING.