In a CrossFit gym, if you are caught performing bicep curls during open gym it is a guaranteed shit talking session. This will (and should) always be playful teasing, but nonetheless, it will make a scene. CrossFit generally despises traditional bodybuilding exercises. You know, the stuff you used to read about in the magazines or the things you see in Gold’s Gym. The stuff Arnold used to do!
CrossFitters LOVE to hate on the globo gym! Why is this? My only guess is that in the early years of the functional fitness craze, traditional bodybuilding exercises were their competition. Functional fitness was trying to convert everyone to the light side. Now days, there really is no competition. We are all trying to figure this out together. Sure, there are still some major haters out there on both sides of the argument, but for the most part we have all learned to get along. Knowing that we are simply trying to find the best exercises out there to make us all better.
For avide CrossFitters who only spend an hour in a group setting class, I have noticed a pattern in specific areas of weaknesses throughout their body. Many people come to me asking what they should be doing on their own time in order to get better at CrossFit. My answer almost always is mobilize certain body parts so they can get into better positions during exercise. But for those whose mobility is up to par, these are the most common exercises I recommend CrossFitters perform during open gym.
The bench press is probably the movement most CrossFitters neglect the most. And I really don’t know why. First off, there is a benchmark workout called “Linda” that includes a bodyweight bench press for 55 reps! This workout used to be programmed often on the CrossFit main website. If this is a benchmark workout, I’m pretty sure Greg Glassman intended for you to train bench press in order to get better at this workout.
Thankfully, this got brought to light in the 2018 CrossFit Regionals event where the athletes were required to perform “Linda”. Many great athletes did not qualify that year for the CrossFit Games because they were very slow on the bench press. So do your bench!
Why is the bench press such a great exercise? First, when done properly it is a FULL body workout. It takes a massive amount of leg, glute, and back stability to bench press heavy weight. Second, it allows you to use a lot of weight which taxes your pecs, triceps, and shoulders much more than a strict overhead press. More weight equals more stress on your muscles, which equals more strength and size gains.
How it transfers over to CrossFit? These are some things that I notice get easier when I train bench press regularly. Burpees become easier as I am stronger doing push ups. Muscle ups and ring dips become easier because of the added shoulder strength. Anything from shoulder to overhead feels lighter. The list goes on! I would simply start with 5 sets of 5, once a week and watch your performance in CrossFit workouts improve!
Bent Over Rows
In CrossFit we are constantly pulling from the floor with deadlifts, cleans, snatches, etc. This is awesome and there is a ton of posterior chain work being done here. All good. Sometimes, when the weight gets heavy enough, the weaker upper back muscles are the first to fatigue. When the upper back fatigues, it starts to round. When the upper back starts to round, the lower back follows and begins to round. That is when most people get hurt. Lets prevent this from happening by training the upper back specifically with bent over rows.
Another reason I like bent over rows is because many people are slightly hunched forward due to life style habits. Sitting in the car, texting, typing on the computer, all these positions place us in a forward inclination position. When we are in this position, our chest and front shoulders get tight. When those get tight we experience pain in our upper back, especially if the upper back muscles aren’t strong enough to support this forward inclination. The way you can strengthen those upper back muscles is with bent over rows! Start off with 5 sets of 10, twice a week. You can do these with a barbell or unilaterally with dumbbells or kettle bells.
Strict Pull Ups
Love me some strict pull ups for all the reasons I explained above with the bent over row. The added benefit from strict pull ups come from the excessive amount of kipping pull ups that we do in CrossFit. When performing the kipping pull up, it places a ton of stress on the smaller, weaker rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder. When those muscles are weaker than the bigger muscles that move you during the kipping pull up, it can be a recipe for disaster and you will eventually get injured.
Plus, when you are under fatigue during a workout involving kipping pull ups, the kip will only take you so far before you have to rely on raw pulling strength to get you through. The way you do this is by training strict pull up. I know many many elite level CrossFit athletes who train strict pull ups for this exact reason. They are no strangers to this movement!
Start by performing 30 total reps of strict pull ups. Try to accumulate 30 reps in as few of sets as possible. When you can do 3 sets of 10, move on to 40 reps and do the same. When you can do 4 sets of 10, do the same thing and hit 50 reps total. Once you can do 5 sets of 10, you can start doing weighted strict pull ups, starting back with the first rep scheme. Incorporating this into your routine once or twice a week will do your training wonders.
If you cannot do pull ups, start off with very strict ring rows with the same rep scheme. Then move up to jumping negative pull ups, focusing on a very slow negative.
Romanian Deadlifts (RDL)
Crossfit is a very frontal plane sport/exercise program, which means most of what we do involves using the muscles on the front of our body. At the same time, there is a heavy emphasis on pulling things from off of the ground. In order to do this safely we must be aware of all of the muscles on the back of our body.
During the deadlift, many of us have a hard time activating our hamstrings and glutes. This creates a problem as the weight gets heavy because our quads can only do so much. In order to lift heavy weight we need to have strong, flexible hamstrings. There is no better way to develop this than by doing RDL’s (this movement is sometimes referred to as stiff legged deadlifts).
CrossFitters will also notice that they are able to cycle a heavy barbell during deadlift workouts easier when exposed to this movement because you won’t need to bend your knees as much. Think about the workout “Diane” for a second. In order to quickly cycle the barbell during deadlifts, you aren’t going to want to bend your knees very far. Less bend in the knee equals faster barbell cycling. Faster barbell cycling equals a faster time in deadlift workouts! Start off with 5 sets of 10 once a week.
Abdominal Specific Work
Who doesn’t want to work on their abs?! Functional, AND sexy! We work our core in everything we do, yes. Rarely do we specifically target the abdominals in a workout. Yet, they are key movers in kipping pull ups, muscle ups, toe to bar, burpees, and all sorts of exercises we do in CrossFit. So why neglect them?
I prefer GHD sit ups. My suggestion is to follow the same rep scheme as the pull ups. Be careful, GHD sit ups are potent exercise that should be treated with respect. This is easily overtrained and I would not recommend starting out with any more than 50 reps in a training session. I recommend starting off with 5 sets of 10, once a week for at least a month. Then, move on to twice a week for a month, then 3 times a week. Doing this more than 3 times per week is a recipe for overtraining.
If you feel like you are stuck in a rut at the CrossFit gym, go old school with it and try out these bodybuilding movements to help increase your performance in the gym! If you want specific training advice for YOUR individual needs, I’d love to hear from you! Enjoy!