CrossFit Gymnastics


hat is CrossFit  Gymnastics? CrossFit Gymnastics is one of the primary pillars within the philosophy of CrossFit. It is all of the movements that is programmed within CrossFit that focuses on moving one’s body through space, that uses functional movement patterns, and isn’t involved in locomotion (for example, running wouldn’t be considered a CrossFit Gymnastics movement).

When looking at the philosophy of CrossFit, it can all be tied back to the following statement by the founder and creator of CrossFit, Greg Glassman:

Increase work capacity across broad time and modal domains. – Greg Glassman

Let’s break this down.

Work capacity is a measure of horsepower. It doesn’t matter what the movement or domain you are operating in. It is only concerned with how much of something you are cable of performing in that time frame.

Broad time(s) is a reference to the length of the effort. For example, let’s look at a sprinter vs. a marathon runner. A sprinter has a great performance in efforts that are only a few minutes or under.  A marathon runner has a great performance in efforts that are hours long. For the purpose of CrossFit performance, we are looking for people to be adequate at both according to Coach Glassman. We want to to be able to spring better than most and we also want you to be able to run longer than both. But we don’t need you to be better than the specialist sprinter or marathon runner.

crossfit-gymnasticsModal domains are where CrossFit Gymnastics comes in. Within CrossFit, there are going to three primary domains of movements: Weightlifting, Gymnastics, and Locomotion.

Weightlifting is primarily done with a barbel but it can be pretty much any external load. Weightlifting is broadly described as using your body to move an external object. A barbell is just an efficient way to train the body to do that. But you could use kettlebells, sandbags, tires, or even other people!

Locomotion is moving your body from one point to another. This can be swimming, running, crawling, jumping,  biking, or rowing — just to name a few.

Gymnastics is what we are talking about today. I thought it would be helpful to anchor us to where gymnastics fits within the broader philosophy of CrossFit. Gymnastics, by CrossFit standards, is going to be the ability to manipulate your body through space. We then use that idea to develop certain physical attributes that allow us to increase work capacity across broad times and modal domains.

CrossFit Gymnastic Movements

If you are struggling with the gymnastic movements in CrossFit, this isn’t going to make you feel better. The CrossFit gymnastics movements used in most CrossFit programming is stuff a gymnast either learned as a kid, use in their warm-up, or don’t even bother with. For example, in the men’s gymnastics ring event, a muscle-up is simply how they get onto the rings to begin their routine. It’s not even part of the routine. But its one of the main component of CrossFit Gymnastics movements.

Sorry to burst your bubble.

In CrossFit, our movement ambition is a little embarrassing when compared to a gymnast. But that’s OK. Remember, we want to be pretty good at a lot of things. Not overly specialize in one area.

In CrossFit, the bread and butter movements are as follows:

Yes, there are more. But these are the movements you’ll find in your week-to-week training. Once you have those down, you can start thinking about some more advanced moves.

Learning more advanced moves helps you learn body awareness and better prepare you for those curve balls that sometimes come up in WOD’s. What these are good for is strength building, body awareness, and translation to other movements. For example, if you became proficient at handstand walking, you would have more shoulder, wrist, and core strength that would make you a more efficient mover with other movements.

Once the basics are handled, and you want to develop some more skills, then here are few might want to take a look at.

  • Front Lever
  • Back Lever
  • Planche
  • L sit
  • V sit
  • Manna
  • One Arm Pull Up
  • Strict Muscle Up
  • Free stand handstand
  • Air baby
  • QDR

These are just to name a few. Each one can take months or years to develop. But once you have it they don’t take much extra work to hold on to the skill.

CrossFit Gymnastics Program & CrossFit Gymnastics Course

Remember, there are three domains. Barbell, Locomotion, and Gymnastics.

When considering working in a specific domain, you should consider the opportunity cost and plan accordingly.

For example, let’s say you are working out at a CrossFit affiliate and doing four classes a week. Things are going pretty well but you notice that your pull-ups and ring dips aren’t progressing. So you jump into a CrossFit Gymnastics Program and get to the point where you can RX kipping pull-ups in all of the weekly WOD’ and it takes you three months. But at the same time, had to scale back your weekly running and classes and now your running endurance has taken a hit.

Or, let’s say you join a local running club and are now doing three CrossFit classes a week and three runs a week. After three months you’ll notice that your overall strength progress has slowed.

When it comes to programming for CrossFit, it is all about timing and order.

The way I think about it is through the idea of ‘unlocking ability’ and then maintaining it while working on other areas. For example, let’s take an imaginary CrossFitter named Jen as an example. Jen has been going CrossFit for 1 year and her barbell and locomotion capacity has progressed well. But, Jen is still using bands for her pull-ups and dips. She also has to scale for an HSPU and Muscle Ups.

In this situation, it would be worthwhile for Jen to spent 3-6 months progressing her crossfit gymnastics training so that she no longer has to scalecrossfit-gymnastics those movements. She can spend those 6 months to unlock kipping pull-ups, dips, hspus, and maybe muscle ups. Once has those down, the can then maintain and build them through the weekly WOD’s at her gym.

I offer an online program like this called the RX Gymnastics Course. It is meant to get a CrossFitter like Jen to the point where she can RX any WOD that comes up with those challenging bodyweight and gymnastics movements.

Many people address this by throwing in some banded pull-ups before or after class. Maybe do some more push-ups. But this path is fraught with failure. This stuff is not rocket science but it does require intelligent programming, diligence, and effort. 

The RX CrossFit gymnastics program is designed to help people like our friend Jen. It is online guided training plan to help you RX CrossFit WOD’s that have kipping pull ups, push ups, ring dips, handstand push-ups, and muscle ups. By the end of it, you will be able to do any WOD that has those movements. Once you have them, you put the program aside and get back to your regularly scheduled CrossFit programming.

CrossFit Gymnastics Progressions

CrossFit Gymnastics progressions are dedicated training programs to help you advance your strength and skill to the point where you’ve shown a certain level of competence for that movement. These progressions are seen in dozens of shapes and forms.

The way I like to handle progressions can be seen in the graphic below. I look at a CrossFit gymnastics progression as different levels. Once you can perform the base level of strength for that level then you move on to the next level. Each level has its own custom programming.

This is how all of the lessons are configured within the CrossFit Gymnastics Program.


CrossFit Gymnastics WOD

If you take a look around, you may see that other programs offer a “WOD style” approach to gymnastics progressions. This is a terrible idea and goes against the basic principles of strength training and progressions.

Remember our friend Jen from earlier? Let’s use her as an example.

Jen has been doing CrossFit for over a year and can’t do kipping pull ups, HSPUS, muscle ups, or ring dips.

If she was using a WOD style approach to conquering those movements then she would fail miserably. The reason why is because advancing at bodyweight movements relies on small little micro progression changes each and every week. After months of working on slightly more difficult movements, you make break thought. You get your first strict pull-up. Then two. Then five. Then you start to kip. Then you start to adding kipping pull-ups to your WOD’s.

It is a logical series of progressions.

CrossFit Gymnastics WOD’s don’t follow a diligent or intelligent structure. They are a smattering of random movements that make you sweat and make you feel like you are making progress. You aren’t. You’re just doing cardio and HIIT training that happens to have some gymnastics movements in it.

Interesting in learning more about CrossFit Gymnastics?

The Introduction lesson will give you a deeper understanding of these concepts about CrossFit gymnastics.