Technique – Sun 9.03.17
“Learn the mechanics of fundamental movements; establish a consistent pattern of practicing these same movements, and, only then, ratchet up the intensity of workouts incorporating these movements. ‘Mechanics,’ then ‘Consistency,’ and then ‘Intensity’– this is the key to effective implementation of CrossFit programming.”
Adapted from Coach Glassman’s Dec. 1, 2007, L1 lecture in Charlotte, North Carolina and placed in the CrossFit Level 1 training guide:
In no small part, what is behind this program is the quantification of fitness. This means we put a number on fitness: work capacity across broad time and modal domains. You can assess one’s fitness by determining the area under their work-capacity curve. This would be similar to a group of athletes competing in 25 to 30 workouts. Include a range of activities—like three pulls on the Concept2 rower for average watts to run 10 miles—and a multitude of workouts in between. Compile their overall placing across these events, and everyone then has a reasonable metric of their total capacity.
This quantification of fitness is a part of a broader concept that is at the heart of this movement: We call it evidence-based fitness. This means measurable, observable, repeatable data is used in analyzing and assessing a fitness program. There are three meaningful components to analyze a fitness program: safety, efficacy and efficiency.
The efficacy of a program means, “What is the return?” Maybe a fitness program advertises that it will make you a better soccer player. There needs to be evidence of this supported by measurable, observable, repeatable data. For CrossFit, we want to increase your work capacity across broad time and modal domains. This is the efficacy of this program. What are the tangible results? What is the adaptation that the program induces?
Efficiency is the time rate of that adaptation. Maybe the fitness program advertises that it can deliver 50 pull-ups. There is a big difference whether it takes six months versus nine years to achieve that.
Safety is how many people end up at the finish line. Suppose I have a fitness program. I start with 10 individuals: Two of them become the fittest human beings on Earth and the other eight die. While I would rather be one of the two fittest than the eight dead, and I do not know if I want to play, I am not going to attach a normative value to it. The real tragedy comes in not knowing the safety numbers.
These three vectors of safety, efficacy and efficiency point in the same direction, such that they are not entirely at odds with each other. I can greatly increase the safety of a program by turning the efficacy and efficiency down to zero. I can increase the efficiency by turning up the intensity and then possibly compromise safety. Or I could damage the efficacy by losing people. Safety, efficacy and efficiency are the three meaningful aspects of a program. They give me all I need to assess it.
This quantification of fitness, by choosing work capacity as our standard for the efficacy of the program, necessitates the qualification of movement. Our quantification of fitness movement introduces qualification of movement.
For the qualification of movement there are four common terms: mechanics, technique, form and style. I will not delve into them with too much detail: The distinction is not that important. I use both technique and form somewhat interchangeably, although there is a slightly nuanced distinction.
When I talk about angular velocity, momentum, leverage, origin or insertion of muscles, torque, force, power, relative angles, we are taking about mechanics. When I speak to the physics of movement, and especially the statics and less so the dynamics, I am looking at the mechanics.
Technique is the method to success for completion of a movement. For example, if you want to do a full twisting dismount on the rings, the technique would be: pull, let go, look, arm up, turn, shoulder drop, etc. Technique includes head posture and body posture. And there are effective and less effective techniques. Technique includes the mechanics, but it is in the macro sense of “how do you complete the movement without the physics?”
Form is the normative value: This is good or this is bad—“you should” or “you shouldn’t” applied to mechanics and technique.
Style is essentially the signature to a movement; that is, that aspect of the movement that is fairly unique to you. The best of the weightlifting coaches can look at the bar path during a lift and tell you which lifter it is. There are aspects to all of our movements that define us like your thumbprint. It is the signature. To be truly just the signature, style elements have no bearing on form, technique or mechanics. Style does not enter into the normative assessment, is not important to technique and does not alter substantially the physics.
Technique is an intimate part of safety, efficacy and efficiency.
We are the technique people. We drill technique incessantly, but simultaneously I want you to go faster. You will learn to work at higher intensity with good technique only by ratcheting up the intensity where good technique is impossible. This dichotomy means that it is impossible at the limits of your capacity to obey every little detail and nuance of technique. Some of the refined motor-recruitment patterns are not going to always look perfect.
I do not know of a domain where speed matters and technique is not at the heart of it. In every athletic endeavor where we can quantify the output, there is incredible technique at the highest levels of performance.
Suppose someone set the new world record for the shot put, but his technique was poor. This means one of two things: one, either with good technique it would have gone farther, or two, we were wrong in understanding what is good technique.
Technique is everything. It is it at the heart of our quantification. You will not express power in significant measure without technique. You might expend a lot of energy, but you will not see the productive application of force. You will not be able to complete functional tasks efficiently or effectively. You will not be safe in trying.