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“The Tortoise and the Hare” – Part 1

May 16, 2013

We all recall the fabled story of the tortoise and the hare. The hare was the fittest of the two athletes, and also a braggart! In the end, the more cerebral of the two athletes won the competition.

Ok, so what does this have to do with CrossFit athletics? When you reflect on this story it can be applicable to the CrossFit method and how each athlete approaches his/her training. Each CrossFit athlete will be faced with the common dilema and question of, ‘accuracy vs speed’. That desire to beat the clock, the inherent need to beat their last FRAN time will reflect whether the athlete trains like the tortoise or the hare. In all seriousness, the answer defines the athlete, the aptitude and the long-term adaptation.

Let’s take this ‘tortoise and hare’ analogy and apply it to a movement. Some of the movements we use are more efficient for getting a designated amount of work done. As it applies to a movement, the kipping pull-up is a great example. The task; get your chin above the bar. For the purpose of achieving this task as quickly as possible kipping is the chosen variation because it is much more efficient than simply pulling with the arms in what we call a ‘strict’ pull-up. Those outside CrossFit consider this cheating, but when the point is to get your chin over the bar as many times as possible, it is hard to argue that kipping pull-ups are not the most ‘efficient’ way to do it.

At the very foundation of CrossFit are ten recognized general physical skills.

You are as fit as you are competent in each of these ten skills!

The 10 General Physical Skills 
1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance – The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
2. Stamina – The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
3. Strength – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
4. Flexibility – the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
5. Power – The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
6. Speed – The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
7. Coordination – The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
8. Agility – The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
9. Balance – The ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base.
10. Accuracy – The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.

As we look down this list of ten general physical skills take note to #2, #9 and #10. What do all of these have in common? They are key components to understand my analogy, the relation to efficiency and how it all ties together with the kipping pull-up.

In my personal coaching experience those athletes that are efficient at strict pull-ups are also efficient at kipping pull-ups. There is that word again! Lets take a second to define efficient:

  1. (esp. of a system or machine) Achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense.
  2. (of a person) Working in a well-organized and competent way.

Efficiency can be used as an adjective to define a system like the kinetic chain which is the body and its extremities working in disciplined order. To keep this in simple terms, in human movement one segment cannot move without affecting another segment. It is like the childhood song says, “the leg bone is connected to the hip bone, and hip bone is connected to the back bone…”

Efficiency in motion (Olympic/barbell lifts, running, gymnastics, etc) can only be done by making sure all the links in the movement pattern are working properly through the kinetic chain.

Accuracy defined as ‘The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity’ in my opinion is one of the most overlooked attributes by CrossFit athletes and uncoached (70% of athletes at some boxes) but an inherent part of building and establishing strength & conditioning. Accuracy is an essential component of becoming an elite athlete.

Taking all the aforementioned into consideration we can compute that Kipping pull-ups have no skill transfer to strict pull-ups nor should they be used to build strength as they do not create enough tension or stress on the shoulders (traps, delts) and back muscles (teres major, rhomboid, latissimus dorsi commonly referred to as the lats) and they also neglect quality stress on the biceps (bicep brachii, brachialis, and brachioradialis) that is necessary for sufficiently developing STRENGTH.

So what is my point? My point is this, the tortoise understood that a methodical approach to his race would ultimately achieve victory, and he became the victor. The hare on the other hand focused more on his ability to ‘go for broke’ and placed no value on the most valued criteria for victory, being a cerebral athlete.  The hare represents the athlete that places the importance on getting their chin above the bar as many times as they can in the shortest period of time, with poorly executed mechanics. The hare may be efficient at completing kipping pull-ups, which is great for getting your chin over the bar, but it sucks as a means of climbing a ledge, tree, or rope, all more commonly encountered climbing implements in the real world. The tortoise represents the cerebral athlete that has mastered the fundamentals and seeks virtuosity, which in turn translates to real world strength, consistency and a more complete victory!!

CrossFit Pneuma practices and preaches above ALL else:

  1. FORM

Our Coaches here at CrossFit Pneuma understand and adhere to the three-part charter of Mechanics, Consistency, and Intensity. These three aspects are intricately interrelated; CrossFit does not work to its potential unless you execute each one and understand how it is bound to the others. These three must be adhered to in order to avoid injury or over­load, and to facil­i­tate efficiency and efficacy of each movement.

CrossFit competitions are merely an extension of our CrossFit training, competitions are not the reason for our training. Competing allows us to showcase the fruits of our labor. How we rank in these competitions is a reflection of task oriented, methodical and disciplined effort and program design.

Proudly, I state that in today’s CF community you now see the elite CrossFit athletes working with strength & conditioning coaches. Why? Because the coaches of the Rich Fronings and Annie Annie Thorisdottir’s of the world comprehend that you cannot simply be the guy/gal in your CF box ‘going for broke’ cranking out vertical presses (thrusters) each week trying to beat the clock and become the next ‘Fittest On Earth’.

Coaches of Elite athletes understand effective training programs include primary lifts and assistance lifts, that attack all planes of movement not just the sagittal plane (up and down, flexion and extension). Programs that do not incorporate this structure inhibit a balanced program by eliminating any movement in lateral or rotational.


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