Compound yet irreducible?


I just read this article:

And then I read this article:

The first article is basically hater fuel. It says that it is inevitable that people will get hurt in CrossFit. I protest – “Not necessarily”.

In the second article the author seems to think it is more likely that someone will be injured doing CrossFit if the coach or trainer is inexperienced and i tend to agree. He states:

“This certification( BF: level one seminar) alone does not prepare you to understand programming, modalities, movement patterns, periodization, mobility, proper lifting technique, etc. You need more education. It is a good cert to prepare you to work under someone, but not to open up your own box.”

That said I know there are plenty of affiliates out there who are lacking in experience or picking it up as they go. So I was hoping to give some basic rules to coach by:

1. Straight from the level one seminar – the CrossFit charter is: Mechanics, Consistency and then Intensity. If you stick to that then you cannot go wrong. At worst you will lose potential members who will bad mouth you to their friends with comments like : “Don’t train there, they wouldn’t let me lift heavy just because I couldn’t set my back!” or ” They don’t let you try the snatch unless you can overhead squat.” This is the reputation I would love CrossFit gyms to have in the wider fitness community. Refresh your knowledge of good Mechanics by continuing to educate yourself perhaps sit another L1 or a CPC.

2. Stolen from Dan John ( Manage options or manage compromises.

Most athletes at your box are not going to make it to the Reebok CrossFit Games. So it is ok for them to front squat while everyone else overhead squats until their positions make it safe for them to join in the overhead squatting. This is an example of the options vs comprimises piece. If you are trying to get fit using CrossFit at an affiliate and the WOD calls for squat snatch but you are struggling with that movement then you can either choose a better option (one of the progressions in my picture) or adopt a compromised position to get the work done (this is ok at home but is straight up NEGLIGENT if you are at a supervised facility).

3. The affiliate must have clear relationships, coaches and athletes. When the coach directs the athlete the athlete must comply. If the athlete thinks they know better perhaps they would like to train with someone else or on their own.

I realise this can be tough for new affiliates and new coaches which is why the logical decision if you are new to CrossFit and considering opening an affiliate is to start small, build an athlete base and a culture then slowly grow. You will grow. By making the hard decisions and culling the herd of those that are uncoachable or don’t want to be coached you will increase the experience for those that do want to be coached.

– A tool to help implement MCI and give your athletes options:

If I may refer to my elaborate diagram at the start of the post, This is a thought exercise on the snatch or squat snatch where I tried to include all of the building blocks for a snatch. I put to you that an athlete that claims to have consistently good mechanics, or proficiency, on the snatch should be able to demonstrate proficiency on any of the prerequisite movements (this is implied by the arrows on the outsides) and any athlete that hasn’t got proficiency in the snatch should be able to work from the ground up on the diagram and progress to a snatch by achieving proficiency at each of the stages. An athlete that can complete the task requested by the snatch ( load from ground to overhead) but who can not demonstrate competence in the preceding movements has found a loop hole that may set them up for an injury. It might not but that is not a risk I would take with my athletes.



Don’t get covered in moss.


A number of conversations have inspired this post and essentially I want to share some wisdom from my time teaching Combat Fitness Leaders in the Australian Army.

One message I remember receiving and then passing on many times was regarding assessment:

“You will always be assessed by yourself, your peers and your class”

It is easy to get caught up in the hype of the class – everyone gets a good workout, nobody dies and there are high fives going around like there is no tomorrow. Do not get me wrong, your clients must be happy with the service you provide else they will stop training with you.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of “my class thinks I am a superstar so I must actually be a superstar”.

Remember your class or audience is a variable group. Some will be new and easily impressed while others might be a little more jaded and harder to bring around.

Are you getting feedback from other trainers where you work? People with a similar knowledge or experience base. Your peers can keep you from growing complacent when you cut corners that the class may not realise.

Lastly are you proud of the effort you put into the class you just took, the bathroom you cleaned, the program you wrote and the PT you are doing right now? or have you already identified some ways you can improve upon it the next time.

You know best what things you want to be better at as a coach so get after it every time.

Regardless of how good you are you can be better you just have to keep working at it.

Keep on rollin !

RHIP (Rank Has Its Privileges)

rankI used to hate the rank structure when I was in the military, “What makes them better than us”?
What I was missing was that it is about the greater machine not about the happiness of the individual cogs.
If we think about a CrossFit Affiliate as a military unit then there are only really three ranks – Affiliate Owners, Coaches and Athletes. Humour me and this concept as I try to unravel why your coaches and “senior” athletes are all chasing extra work, following OPT or Outlaw Way instead of the program you have slaved over your keyboard to create.

As the Tag line states Rank Has Its Privileges – The affiliate owner and the coaches don’t necessarily have to follow the same programming as the athletes but there better be a good reason.

If the big cogs turn one way and the little cogs another then it MUST be so the machine keeps operating at its best. The choice to pursue something different in ones own training as a big cog can send the message that there is better programming than what is being provided to the smaller cogs.
I have found ,when talking to affiliate owners who don’t follow their own program, that they are not programming or planning much more than a week in advance or that they let their coaches do a week each on some sort of a roster. I fully understand why that affiliate owner might be interested in following a program from a known good coach like Ben Bergeron who stakes his reputation with every post on the internet but can you smell the hypocrisy?

What also becomes apparent is that there is an inner circle of coaches and ‘senior” athletes that are aware of the programming dilemma and these are the individuals who I would imagine are seeking out a reliable program on the internet – they are not following their affiliates program.They are loyal and don’t want to leave but conflicted because they know what happens out the back.

I went to uni and did my fair share of all nighters the day before an assignment was due – I get it, but I sure as hell didn’t brag to the lecturers as I was handing it in that I slapped it together in 14 hours because that is not how that game is played. If you want your programming to be respected and followed then treat it like an assignment that you need a High Distinction for i.e.. Finish it in time to get some feedback or look it over a few more times before it is released, apply the lessons learned in previous months and endeavour to evolve it. Most of all don’t be lazy.

You can get by on good Athlete/Coach or Client /Trainer relationships up until the point that your affiliate community gets wind of the fact that programming isn’t a high priority for you and then my fear is that it unravels. What sometimes transpires then is a following of the latest trend hoping to give the masses what they want when really all that is needed is that the programmer puts some effort into the programming.

I get it that sometimes you are dealing with a newly converted bootcamp, circuit class, boxercise client base but in that instance perhaps you could provide options. CrossFit Brisbane has an intro process, the WOD, extra weightlifting work and extra competitor specific work available for that CrossFitter that wants a little more, Schwartz CrossFit Melbourne has a Group 1 and Group 2 program, so there is something for everyone.

As a takeaway from this post I would suggest to new affiliate owners:

1 – to prioritise programming – Coaching and running classes are your bread and butter, programming is up there with those tasks. Ask yourself what are the results you want for your affiliate? Increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains for the rest of their lives or do you want a team in the games at all costs. Programming must be goal oriented.

2-  to be prepared – start next months programming the first week of this month make sure it is ready a week early so you can look over it a few times.

3- to be consistent – let the program you wrote run for 4-6 weeks and look at all available data – attendance, performance, enjoyment, adherence. Be careful not to change your focus before you have seen what this program can do.


4- to learn from those more experienced than yourself – If you are new to this then stalk the good coaches on the internet or better yet get a mentor who has time to help you out and teach you some things before you rush into the process of promoting yourself to the lofty rank of Affiliate Owner.


“Get up!….at your own pace.”


Scaling implies surmounting an obstacle using some method or another to get to the top. As a CrossFit or fitness trainer of any denomination scaling is the tool in your tool belt to make your program accessible to anybody and everybody.

It is my opinion that the hallmark of a great trainer is the ability to scale any workout, any movement and have the athlete/participant leaving having completed a great workout that was as close to the stimulus the program intended for the highest level of athlete.

So how do we scale?

Let me refresh your memory from personal trainer school and revisit the basic principles of fitness (taken from

The Acronym SPORT helps us to remember the principles.

S is for the Principle of Specificity, essentially if you want to be better at bench press then do bench press and related activities, programming running for this athlete would not be keeping with the principle of specificity. If however you want a state of General Physical Preparedness (GPP) then you should Constantly Vary the prescription.

S could also be for Safety. Adherence to good mechanics, consistently before pursuing intensity is my favourite safety plan when training.

PO is for the Principle of Progressive Overload. This is the crux of my post. Scaling allows us to find where someone is at and then slowly take them past that point with the eventual goal of capacity at a prescribed task.

R is for the Principle of Reversibility – If you don’t use it you lose it. In the Charter MCI the consistency piece definitely refers to an ability to demonstrate good mechanics consistently but can also refer to using them consistently and regularly before embarking on new levels of intensity.

T is for Tedium – I have long been an advocate of the statement that the best program is the one that gets done. If a scientifically valid program is so tedious that nobody can stick to it then it is not effective. I think we have Tedium covered in our Constantly Varied prescription.

Progressive Overload is addressed in CrossFit by its claims of universal scalability. When I scale a workout I want to preserve 3 things:

1. The Intensity or Power


Force: This is most obviously scaled by using less load. It can also be scaled by decreasing the stability requirement (reduce internal work) think parallel dip vs ring dip.

Distance: Reducing the range of movement is viable when comparing the “power” version of the olympic lifts to their “full” or “squat” counterparts. Or when comparing a full deadlift to a partial version of the movement in a kettle bell swing.

Time: Either the total duration of the workout can be modified or the tempo of the workout can be modified i.e.. insert some rest.

Lets explore some options:

So you post “Eva” as your WOD – If you are like every box I have visited then you have a wide array of fitness levels and injury statuses. Scaling should be individualised as much as possible to meet specific needs but go in with a plan Eva is tough:

5 rounds for time of:

Run 800m

Kettle bell swings 2pood (32kg)

30 Pull Ups 30

This is a long and horrible workout. You will need some scaling options. I am proposing one of hundreds.

If we start with scaling the workout via force we could use a lighter KB on the swings and bands to assist our pull ups.

Scaling with respect to distance we could reduce the reps to 20 or 15 or even 10 of each piece. Run less distance, use a shorter Range of motion swing (Russian instead of American) and a short Range of movement Pull Up (Jumping Pull up where the legs do the first bit).

Up to this point it is easy to accidentally create a workout that looks like “Eva’ but packs none of the punch.

We have to be careful not to neuter these workouts as we scale them.

Imagine 5 Rounds for time :

Run 400m

20 Russian Swings @ 24kg

20 Band assisted pull ups

This is still a good workout but in the wrong hands this becomes a 15min effort that didn’t quite measure up to the 30-60min session that is Eva.

We can play around with the time aspect and introduce some AMRAPs.

What about shooting for about 40 mins on this WOD. As a scale for new or unconditioned athletes I may set three separate 12 min AMRAPs with 2 mins rest between each:

AMRAP 1: As above Run 400m

20 Russian Swings@ 24kg(scale as appropriate)

20 Band Assisted Strict Pull Ups

AMRAP 2:  Run 200m

15 American Swings @ 16kg (scale as appropriate)

15 Kip Swings

AMRAP 3: Run 400m

10 KB Dead lifts @ 32kg (scale as appropriate)

Run 200m

10 Jumping Pull Ups

If we strip the scaled workout down; in AMRAP 1 there is potential for a good athlete to get 6 rounds (90 second 400m runs and unbroken swings and pull ups) so volume wise it is 2.4km running, 120 Russian swings and 120 Pull ups. The same good athlete may hit 10 rounds of the second AMRAP and 4 or 5 of the third.

I think when planning a beginner or basic option that it should be able to provide a solid workout for a high level athlete not just be a watered down version of the prescribed stimulus, AMRAPs are a great tool for this IMO.

If we look at the three AMRAPs the movement functions were conserved as much as possible. This brings me to the second thing I try to conserve when scaling.

2. The Movement function : There are many movements with a similar pattern that have different coordination or stability prerequisites for execution. The basic pattern descriptors are: Squat, Lunge, Push -Up, down and forwards, Pull- Up, down and backwards, Bend (Hip Flexion), Extend (Hip Extension), Twist and Gait.

In the interest of Constant Variance we program to hit all of these functions as regularly as possible, granted we don’t twist that much in CrossFit, everything else gets its fair share of attention. Conserving the movement function aids in not having too many cases of repetition and hopefully fends against Tedium. For example having an athlete do a ring row for all the pulling movements because they cannot yet do pull ups may get tedious but more to the point wont expose the athlete to pulling down.

I like to think of every movement as existing on an infinite ladder  or staircase.

A push up can be made more challenging in a number of ways: Add weight, do it slower,do it explosively, elevate the feet (change the angle and disadvantage the stronger muscles), use rings (increase the stability requirement, extend the range by elevating the hands and getting the chest to the ground, use only one foot, use only one hand.

All of these movements can be stacked on each other from easier to harder and the variable that was adjusted can be adjusted to make the movement easier or harder in the smallest of increments. Thus if every movement is accessible to us then the push up family of movements is more like a ramp than a ladder and when scaling for someone doing push ups I just need to find the right point on the ramp.

The final thing I will scale to preserve is near and dear to my heart,

3. The Charter (MCI) : Pick movements the athletes have consistently good mechanics in before requesting intensity. Event if that means selecting a different movement pattern. Often with an injured athlete trainers are unable to conserve the movement patter and need to opt for something different completely.

We have a saying “Program for the best and scale for the rest” I like it but I appeal to you to realise that most of the CrossFit population is the rest so practice scaling and seek out compliments of how you made the workout accessible rather than “compliments” on how hard the thing you programmed was.

I will wrap up with a quick quote from Coach G’s article : “Virtuosity” if you haven’t read it you need to – click here. This is the CrossFit I signed on for and the one I will continue to express to the best of my ability.

“It is natural to want to teach people advanced and fancy movements. The urge to quickly move away from the basics and toward advanced movements arises out of the natural desire to entertain your client and impress him with your skills and knowledge. But make no mistake: it is a sucker’s move. Teaching a snatch where there is not yet an overhead squat, teaching an overhead squat where there is not yet an air squat, is a colossal mistake. This rush to advancement increases the chance of injury, delays advancement and progress, and blunts the client’s rate of return on his efforts. In short, it retards his fitness.”

Merry Christmas 🙂


Fun Police

“Don’t let your athletes snatch or overhead squat unless they can Sotts press a bar!”
Let me try to rationalise the outburst.

In my interactions with coaches and affiliate owners I have constantly been confronted with a reflection of my own desire for knowledge around correct and most efficient coaching practices. Rules to coach by if you will. There is no one way and the best way is the way that works. Now with my politician answers out of the way let me share with you a theory that just might have the makings of a rule for best practice.

Sotts Press is a key movement.

Many movements are difficult or not yet achievable for some athletes due to barriers that prevent their progress. A gate through that barrier could be unlocked if you spent the time to get the key.

Sotts Press is a key movement.

So lets have a look at this movement and a great expression of it from KStar.

The proposed rule is that new athletes be held in a pattern of power snatch and front squat and not be encouraged to practice Squat Snatches or Over head Squats until they can display competence in the Sotts Press.
Now there are more subs than just those two but essentially the proposal is that Sotts Press is a prerequisite movement for squat snatch and overhead squat.

If you have an obstinate athletes (or you are the obstinate athlete) that insists on overhead squatting and snatching despite not being able to Sotts press then the practice of those movements should be done with a focus on correcting the limiting pieces of the Sotts Press.

If you cannot Sotts press because you have poor thoracic mobility then any snatching or OHS you do should be part of a strategy to correct that dysfunction rather than practicing how you can “get it done” around your personal tightnesses or weaknesses.

Why the Sotts press?
In the upper extremity we have a behind the neck press, in my opinion, a great tool for identifying tight shoulders or upper backs.

In the lowerbody we have a squat with the most upright posture you can manage – the ideal receive position for the snatch or clean. As long as the backs stay neutral and the heels are down and tensioned. This position alone highlights tight ankles, weak glutes and a host of other lowerbody position flaws.

I feel a little like captain obvious with this article given just brought out this video:

A similar key movement is the overhead squat with Dumbbells or kettlebells as seen in the San Francisco CrossFit Man/Woman Test.

Pointing out what people cannot do or what they should do differently is much easier than identifying what they can do to eventually achieve the positions that elude them.

I like the idea of training for the test.

Step 1: Can you BTN Press? if yes proceed to step 2. If no, get busy with a combination of mobility work from MWOD, Specific External rotation exercises like this gold from Nick Tuminello:

not to be confused with this move:

And most importantly go as light as you need to in order to achieve a BTN Press while keeping your elbows slightly forward the whole time.

Step 2: Can you squat with a vertical torso (heels down of course!)? if yes proceed to step 3. If no, get busy with a combination of mobility work like these aggressive ones from Cal Strength click here.

If you are lacking flexibility in the ankle – get yourself into a lifting shoe. If you cannot get one then jack up your heels and simulate one. Or reduce your squatting weight to a load you can hit the vertical positions with.

Note: I believe that this is an advanced squat – athletes must have a solid understanding of their hamstrings being active in this knee forward position to ensure the knee is protected. This understanding comes from box squats, low bar back squats without oly shoes and progressively adds a forward knee and upright posture in the high bar back squat and front squat.

Step 3: Start Sotts pressing with whatever training aids allow that to happen, chock up your heels, use bands to assist your balance the lightest bar you have. Then slowly wean yourself off the training aids and sneak the bar weight up.

There are plenty of ways to get your extra oly lifting prescription Outlaw, Catalyst, Cal Strength,Mike’s Gym just be careful that you are not practicing poor mechanics.

The charter to train by is; strive for good MECHANICS, Practice until you can demonstrate good mechanics with CONSISTENCY then finally challenge your ability to consistently demonstrate good mechanics by adding INTENSITY.

Grip it before you rip it.

One of my least favourite things to hear is the story about how CrossFit ruined someone’s shoulders or knees or back etc.

Why? … because it simply isn’t true.

For the most part catastrophic injuries started well before the day they were first noticed and unless CrossFit, the strength and conditioning program , drove the bus that hit you – it was a poorly executed movement or an ignored symptom that led to the demise of a joint.

Knees hurt when you squat? Check out if the posterior chain is engaged the whole time.

Back hurts when you deadlift? Are you squeezing down on the abs as well as arching to find your “lumbar” or are you just arching?

Shoulders hurt in KB swings, pull-ups and overhead squats? Check your shoulder position.

The shoulder position in high rep pull ups can be affected by grip failure.

I watched the CrossFit Games 2012 Regionals Breakdown Event 4 video by Carl Paoli and like most of the video’s from San Francisco it took a while to sink in – months in fact.

Watch it closely especially at 2:07 “Can you get the pinky knuckle over the bar”.

I had a moment on a set of 20 pull ups where I got the pinky over the bar and it felt awesome from the wrist to the shoulder. I have been musing on this for a while now and found that the effect can be quickly identified with some kettle bell swings.

When we grip a kettle bell most people let their pinky hang out of the grip because the space is too small for two whole hands. I call this the monocle grip because if you do it with out the KB and hold it up to your eye…

Have a crack at this:

Do a set of 5-10 swings with only the thumbs and the first 2 fingers of each hand gripping the bell (monocle Grip) .

Only Thumb and first 2 fingers gripping

then contrast that with a set of swings with the Little, ring and Middle fingers of each hand (pistol style) gripping the bell.

Little, Ring and Middle finger gripping

 What do you feel at the wrists? at the shoulders? This grip helps me achieve an active shoulder and an active wrist.

On pull ups as Carl suggested – keep the pinky knuckle over the bar – that is actually quite tough- as fatigue sets in you go to the strongest grippers to keep you on the bar for a few more reps and that happens to be the thumb and index finger. Try hanging off the bar with a monocle grip and facing your arm pits forward – it is tough like collapsing your ankles inwards and then trying to get your knees out in a squat.

I regularly get quizzed on wrist position in the overhead squat, neutral or extended. I lean toward extended, especially if when you initially grab the bar you get your pinky knuckle as far around as possible this ensures my wrist is active and extended rather than passive and extended.

Grab the bar as you would grab any racquet you plan on wielding one handed – the active wrist is what ties your racquet into the shoulder and it is what will do the same for your barbell.

In an effort to strengthen the “weaker” fingers (don’t call them that when they can hear you) I have been playing with pistol grip pull ups and pistol grip barbell rows. I may even have done a few pistol grip curls.

So there you have it, interact well with your implement( grip it right) and hopefully it will interact well with you.


Cat flesh everywhere.

Start with the head or start with the tail?

Remember at taxidermy school when the lecturer listed the seventeen approved methods for relieving a feline of its integumentary system? No? Me neither, but I am sure you have heard the old adage – there is more than one way to skin a cat.

With that in mind and with a lot of my discussions lately being around olympic lifting I am going to discuss snatching for beginners. There are many great articles out there on the intricacies of olympic lifting check out this one by my mate Danny Mellor of CrossFit Noosa.

Snatch 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 is the workout I have been least comfortable programming for boxes that I work with. Why? I love a lazy session of Snatch 1-1-1-1-1-1-1. A few mates, a few warm up sets and some friendly heckling and cuing/observation and it is a great hour. This is obviously dependent on having at least a basic appreciation of the movement. Is the workout as beneficial or as enjoyable if you have to scale the movement down to the stick?

Scaling snatch singles is a very cool opportunity to explore the mechanics, consistency, intensity charter of CrossFit and the principle of progression.

Let us look at what the workout could look like for an absolute beginner. Just did an intro session two days ago and they walk into the gym and catch the end of the first class, they see barbells flying, hear feet stomping, there are missed lifts, oly shoes and high fives getting thrown around – this can be an intimidating environment.

So I throw them in the warm up with everyone else after assuring them that i have something that they will be able to handle. The Warm up has some prep pieces that are demoed as we go and finishes with the burgener warm up. The athlete may not get the burgener warm up right the first time but this IS run number one of thousands for this athlete if I can get them hooked on olympic lifting like the rest of us are. I constantly have pennies drop or light globes go off during things I have done thousands of times so I don’t believe perfect from the start is important.

After the Warm Up the experienced athletes go to work on their snatch, the intensity is achieved by Snatching more weight or by reducing the rest time between sets. Lets say the class plan allows 30 mins for Snatching then I have 30 mins to work with my beginner athlete.

One way I might program for the beginners is this:

5-5-5 Sumo Deadlift High Pull (approx 10 minutes) This conserves the explosive hip extension stimulus of the snatch.


AMRAP in 10 mins

10 Hang Muscle Snatches 20/15kg

100m Overhead walk 20/15kg

10 Front Squat 20/15kg


Halting Snatch grip deadlift practice for 3-5 mins


Email me for an example lesson plan for Snatch 1-1-1-1-1-1-1 :

On the SDLHP to avoid the classic deadlift to upright row movement we often see try the Slow then cheat drill.

The slow then cheat drill

I get the athlete to do the slowest upright row they can possibly do with a manageable load – empty barbell or lightish kettle bell. Then I explain that that is as hard as that movement can be, 10/10. Then I tell them I want to move it the same distance but to make it as easy as easy as possible, cheat using the hips make it a 3 or a 4/10.

If your gym has a culture and a athlete base that supports months of stick work on the olympic lifts then don’t mess with that. What I have seen and heard is that more often than not athletes get frustrated by this complex lift and would rather not do the session than turn up and work technique on a stick.

Write the book you want to read.

Give it a try and see if your beginners turn their noses up to snatch workouts anymore.