Dave answers some good questions about the Athletic Skill Levels

We regularly get questions about the Athletic Skill Levels. Here are some interesting questions about capacity and strength that Dave responded to recently.

Stephen: Can I ask a question in the most non-complainy way I can muster? Most advanced CrossFitters I know can't do three straight strict, gymnastic muscle ups - and they don't have to since CrossFit and most WODs test work capacity, not strength exclusively. Are intermediate athletes hitting that muscle up benchmark consistently?

And 45x unbroken thrusters at .5 BW (95# for a 49-year old like me) would be doing over double the first round of Fran, which is not impossible, just seems beyond intermediate, especially compared to 1.15 BW back squats (195#) - pretty obtainable for most middle-of-the-road xfitters. I'm curious if I'm just an outlier (and weakling) or if you see any specific, consistent roadblocks from athletes on certain benchmarks. If I knew someone who could rock 45 straight thrusters @95, I'd be wishing them good luck at regionals, not having them hanging out with the old guys like me.

In any case, I'm definitely motivated to go work on my thrusters now! Thanks, again.


Dave: Good questions and they get right to the heart of a common misconception about CrossFit and about training progress in general.

Part of what makes CrossFit so much fun is the regular testing - where do you stand, how do you stack up against others? We love this kind of information about ourselves! But we end up just taking tests all the time. Every single workout is a test. Checking our progress is not how we make progress. In order to make progress we have to actually train the qualities that we’ll need. The quality that is most trainable and has the biggest effect on our capacity to improve work capacity is strength.

Remember some basic physics here. Work = Force x Distance. Force = Mass x Acceleration.

So if you train to create more force (get stronger) you will be able to do more work. Although you will still have to train for work capacity. Using muscle-ups as an example, if you are strong enough to perform multiple dead hang muscle-ups you will then be able to learn kipping technique and perform many more kipping muscle-ups than if you are too weak to do the strict version. In the early days of CrossFit the only muscle-ups we practiced (from Coach Glassman on down) were strict. The point was to be strong enough to do muscle-ups. Kipping in competition came later. Now people ignore the strength development and just try to do kipping muscle-ups. This is missing the point and setting themselves up for injury - twisting your shoulder as you fall off the rings is a quick trip to surgery.

At my best I could perform 9 strict dead hang muscle-ups in one continuous set, at 47 years old with an old shoulder injury. I could also do 3 strict dead hang muscle-ups with a 16 kg kettlebell on a weight belt. This is from a guy who is not naturally good at strength stuff. I just worked at it for several years. Most people can’t do strict muscle-ups simply because they don’t work on them. We could have the same conversation about pull-ups. You should be able to do 6-8 strict pull-ups before starting to work on kipping pull-ups. It’s not that kipping is bad it’s just more advanced and more demanding on your shoulder tissue.

The thrusters are heavily dependent on good technique. If you have a really legitimate rack position and you are able to drive the bar up with your hips (kettle bells or dumbbells are fine here as well) then this thruster test is not that bad. We have had many many people over the years be able to do that.

As for someone being able to attend Regionals based on the thruster test alone? HAHA…. those days are long gone! It just means that you will be able to finish most of the open workouts. Sorry, I’m not laughing at you, regional athletes are now very very high level athletes. Truly world class athletes are competing to get into the CrossFit Games. My thruster test will not even register as hard for any of the athletes that make it to Regionals.

Good training

Dave Werner

Athletic Skill Levels