If you’re not regularly exposed to CrossFit, you might assume the more advanced exercises utilized by this functional fitness modality (think rope climbs, ring muscle-ups, single-leg squats, etc.) are dreaded by CrossFit athletes. However, it’s the foundational movements that CrossFit athletes tend to complain about, according to Giulia DiSanto CF-L1, a trainer with CrossFit Aggregate in Columbia, MS. Ahead, three CrossFit coaches share the movements their members moan and groan about most frequently, plus why these dreaded CrossFit moves are beneficial to any fitness routine.
1. Front-Rack Lunge
If you want to build a full backside and strong core, front rack lunges should be added to your leg day rotation. A full-body exercise that involves lunging forward while holding a weight at chest height (often a barbell in the front rack position, across the fronts of the shoulders), the front rack lunge improves muscular endurance and strength in your lower- and mid- body muscles, according to Kyle Baughman CF-L1, founder and head coach at Golden Goose in Rocky Hill, CT.
“Front-rack lunges effectively work your hamstrings, glutes, quads, hip flexors, and calves,” he says. Better yet, by forcing you to step with one leg at a time, it works these muscles unilaterally. Why that’s so valuable: Most people have a ‘dominant’ leg that is slightly stronger than the other side, Baughman explains. By isolating each leg and forcing it to operate on its own, front-rack lunges can help correct muscle imbalances between the two sides, reducing the risk of knee, ankle, and hip injury down the line.
The exercise is also superior at working your midline muscles. “In order to keep the weight from falling forward or pulling you forward, you have to keep your core braced with every step,” says Baughman. The result? All of the deeper muscles in your midline become stronger and more resilient.
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In CrossFit, this movement is done with barbells, dumbbells, and kettlebells with the same frequency. However, because it requires a little savvy to get the dumbbells and kettlebells in the front rack position, Baughman recommends that beginner athletes use a barbell, which you can either clean into position or take straight from the squat rack. Start with an empty barbell, then add weight in five- to 10-pound increments.
2. Assault Bike
Commonly known as the “devil’s tricycle” amongst CrossFit enthusiasts, the assault bike is a piece of cardiovascular equipment that puts your lungs and heart to work, as well as the rest of your body.
If you’re unfamiliar, the assault bike sports a fan up front, as well as handles that are designed to be pushed and pulled as you pedal. The fan makes the machine look a little clunky, but it’s also the reason the bike is so much more challenging than your run-of-the-mill stationary bike. Baughman explains: The assault bike uses wind to create resistance, so the faster you push and pedal, the harder it gets.
“To work the bike, you call on your hamstrings, calves, glutes, and quads to pedal, as well as your chest, triceps, biceps, shoulders, and forearms to push and pull the handles,” he says. (That said, you can choose to isolate your arms or legs if you have an injury).
Because you’re using so many different muscle groups at once, your heart has to pump blood to multiple different places simultaneously, which increases your heart rate. “The full-body nature of the bike makes it more effective at improving cardiovascular capacity than nearly every other cardiovascular machine,” Baughman says.
There is no shortage of ways to use this machine. One option is to hop on the bike and ride it at low intensity for 10 minutes ahead of a lifting session to prep your muscles. Another option is to pick a distance and try to hit it as fast as possible.
3. Strict Pull-Ups
As far as gymnastics-based movements go, no movement is more foundational than the strict pull-up. Indeed, it’s the movement you need to master before graduating to other pulling gymnastics movements in the sport, like the kipping pull-up, chest-to-bar pull-up, or bar muscle-up, according to DiSanto.
The strict pull-up involves pulling your body up from a dead hang position on a pull-up bar until your chin goes over the bar, before lowering yourself back down to start. It sounds simple enough, but the strict pull-up is no joke! Think about it: If you weigh 200 pounds, the strict pull-up forces you to pull 200 pounds through the air against gravity.
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Who should practice the strict pull-up? Everyone, including those who can already rip off significant sets of advanced gymnastics movements, according to DiSanto. “Stripping a movement back to its basics will help you gain the strength you need to do higher-skill movements or even more reps of higher-skill movements,” she says.
If you don’t yet have the strength to do a strict pull-up, she recommends doing banded strict pull-ups, pull-up negatives, or chin-over-the-bar holds to develop the necessary strength.
4. Burpee Box Jump
In one word, the burpee box jump is brutal—and its ability to exhaust anyone is the reason it makes the list of most dreaded CrossFit moves. “People already complain about the burpee,” says Baughman. “Make the burpee more advanced by turning it into a burpee box jump, and people complain even more.”
A plyometric movement, the burpee box jump improves the power and explosivity in your lower-body muscles, while strengthening all the pushing muscles in your upper body, he says. “Because you’re continuously picking your body up off the ground and jumping over something (a box), the movement also gets your heart rate up quickly,” he says. That’s why the movement is also good at improving cardiovascular capacity.
You can do a set of 10 or 20 burpee box jumps at moderate intensity in your warm-up to prep your body for the lift or workout to follow, says Baughman. Or, you can do 30 or 50 for time to test and train your cardiovascular endurance. If you know how to do the dumbbell snatch, another option is to take on the famous CrossFit workout (dubbed CrossFit Open Workout 17.1), which is a couplet of dumbbell snatches and burpee box jump-overs.
5. Overhead Squat
A combination of the squat and overhead barbell hold, the overhead squat requires that you stabilize a weight overhead while you sit your butt back behind you before returning to standing. Reserved for advanced athletes with sound mobility in their shoulders, thoracic spines, hips, and ankles, the overhead squat excels at strengthening all the muscles in your body, Baughman. “And actually, it’s the most core-demanding movement in the sport of CrossFit,” he says.
Mastering this movement will have carry-over to every other Olympic, powerlifting, and gymnastics movement in the sport because, when done properly, it forces your body to adapt to increased time under tension, he says. Because it’s so difficult, though, it’s one of the most dreaded CrossFit moves in the game.
If you can properly execute both an air squat and hollow hold position, give an overhead squat a try, suggests Baughman. Start with a PVC pipe, broomstick, or training bar. Position your hands wider than shoulder-width, then bring the bar overhead. Position your feet with a squat stance with your toes turned out slightly, then drop to the bottom of your squat before returning to standing. When you can comfortably execute clean reps with a lighter-weight implement, advance to a heavier bar and begin to add weight plates.