Food For Thought: CrossFit Theoretical Hierarchy of Development

If you’ve been in to Cróga in the last week or so, you may have noticed a handful of new posters by the front desk and around the corner by the plates.

With those posters in mind, I’ve decided to do a weekly “poster series” where I chat about the different posters around the gym and their significance to our methodology and instruction.

So, first stop, the CrossFit Theoretical Hierarchy of Development.

When you look at this pyramid, you need to think about how each level depends on the support of the level below it.

So, level one of being happy, healthy and more fit is to eat right.

Nutrition is the foundation for all athletic development.

Poor nutrition will sabotage any amount of training and you will never reach full potential without your diet locked in and consistent.

This does not mean you have to be the guy/gal eating chicken and broccoli at Thanksgiving while everyone else is enjoying Turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, but you do need to keep those bad meals and alcohol consumption to a minimum to make any serious impact on your health.

Level two on the pyramid is metabolic conditioning aka “cardio”.

To keep it simple here, you need to be able to breath well and circulate blood to your muscles well to be able to perform any of the movements above this step of the pyramid in any significant quantity.

You might be able to hit a 1 rep max back squat or do a couple pull-ups without being able to breath well, but if we start asking you to work for more than 30 seconds, you better believe having a aerobic engine will be important.

Level three is gymnastics and this is the one that I think most people don’t pay enough attention to.

Gymnastics movements are ones that involve you moving your own bodyweight or parts and pieces through space.

The better you are at knowing where you are in space, creating tension throughout your body and moving accurately, the better you will be at all other skills.

So, spend the extra time to work on your movement and fine tune the way you move so that you move more efficiently, which will help you last longer in workouts and move yourself and external objects with ease.

Level four is weightlifting & throwing aka moving external objects.

This could be cleans, snatches, wall balls, KB swings, deadlifts, weighted squats, etc. you get the idea.

It should go without saying that moving a barbell is a lot easier if you’re bodily aware and can move efficiently, which is why gymnastics falls below weightlifting and can help so much.

I once heard Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, on a podcast talk about how working on a freestanding handstand will help you snatch more weight at a significantly faster rate than all the barbell accessory work (snatch pulls, drop snatches, hang snatches, etc.) we come up with because it’s more fun.

Level five is sport.

“Sport is the application of fitness in a fantastic atmosphere of competition and mastery.”

It is the pinnacle of the pyramid because sports are your opportunity to express your fitness and excel at a specific task that requires excellence in all the levels of the pyramid below it.

Finally, when you think of the five levels of the pyramid together, you start to get a full picture of what we mean when we say “A Theoretical Hierarchy of Development”.

“This hierarchy largely reflects foundational dependence, skill, and to some degree, time ordering of development.

The logical flow is from molecular foundations, cardiovascular sufficiency, body control, external object control, and ultimately mastery and application.

This model has greatest utility in analyzing athletes’ shortcomings or difficulties.

We don’t deliberately order these components but nature will. If you have a deficiency at any level of “the pyramid” the components above will suffer.”

I copied that last piece from the What is Fitness? article on the CrossFit Journal because the words are so eloquent and succinct that there is no way I could summarize them and do them justice.

So, with all of that said, I know we joke sometimes about “trust the process” at Cróga, but we’re very serious about that process.

We do breathing work daily, we teach gymnastics progressions or scale gymnastics pieces more than half the week, we move barbells more than half the week, and we encourage all our members to get out there and use their fitness by participating in sports or other athletic endeavors.

So, next time you’re worried about your progress in one of these levels, take a look at yourself and evaluate yourself on the levels below it.

Chances are, you need more work on your nutrition or breathing or gymnastics, not just to move more barbells…

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