Skills Levels

Everyone knows that being “in shape” is a good thing. We all know that we are supposed to work out, to burn calories, to get our heart rate up.

What is the end goal though? How much work should you be able to do, how strong do you need to be, what skills are necessary, and how can you measure your progress? There are as many answers to these questions as there are people working out.

If you are training for a particular sport, or activity, it is fairly straightforward to define the desired outcomes. If your goal is simply being fit however, it can be much more difficult to set appropriate goals. What we need are some benchmarks that will help us train in the most effective way, and allow us to evaluate our progress as we go.

I first developed the Athletic Skill Levels in 2006 based on a simple idea; there are a set of skills which will predict success in a broad range of physical endeavors. Since posting the chart on our website in 2006, it was linked on (thanks Lynne), has become a fundamental concept in the CrossFit community, and can be found on the walls of gyms around the globe. These Skill Levels define a limited set of physical skills and set progressive benchmarks in these skills. Using these benchmarks, you can develop a personalized set of goals for improving your fitness.

Having defined goals is a good start, but over the years, I’ve realized that the Skill Levels needed to do more. They needed to provide more guidance on how to make progress toward these goals.

In the last 8 years, we have trained thousands of people, using the Athletic Skill Levels as a benchmark of our clients’ progress. We have seen how people progress toward their fitness goals, and where their progress stalls. That experience has guided the development of a new, updated version of the Skill Levels.

Introducing the ATHLETIC SKILL LEVELS 2.0

Many of the specific goals in the original Athletic Skill Levels are unchanged. They have stood the test of time and have proven to be realistic practical benchmarks. Several new goals have been added, such as rope climbing and levers. The biggest change however, is added detail. The Skill Levels now include many more steps toward each goal.

There are still 4 levels. However, each level is now broken down into 3 sub-sections; Level 1A, 1B, and 1C, and so on. Important milestones in each area of physical development are listed so that you are able to maintain balance in your overall progress. Each of the elements on the list measures a particular area of fitness. The deadlift, for instance, measures hip strength and mobility; the pull-up is about shoulder and lat engagement. The thruster requirement means you’ve been able to develop your rack position, a decent squat, and some work capacity. It’s a good test. But for folks who don’t have good technique, it’s an insurmountable goal. Which is my point: fix that.

What the SKILL LEVELS mean

  • Level 1. You can move like a human. You’re not in particularly good shape, but if your town floods, you can get in a rescue boat without a firefighter pulling you in. If you can’t do three pull-ups, and three dips, you don’t have healthy shoulders. If you can’t squat all the way down comfortably, your hips are not healthy. These are basic health problems in the sense that they affect your quality of life. Fixing these problems generates a lot of self-confidence, and sets the stage for further progress.
  • Level 2. You’re not a competitive athlete, but you’re an active, fit person who can tackle whatever you want to do. All of your joints have full range of motion and adequate strength. You know how to create stability and power. You are ready to dive into learning any new physical activity that may interest you. Being this capable is so much fun!
  • Level 3. This is general fitness for a competitive athlete. That’s already pretty rare territory. Most adults don’t need all this, but it can be fun and give you some challenging goals. If you’re not working on Level 3 – for instance, if you can’t do a few strict dead hang muscle ups – you have no business entering the CrossFit Open and expect to get to Regionals or expect to be in the top 25% globally. Stop being delusional about what you can do. Treat the problem.
  • Level 4. The level 4 goals explore the limits of general fitness. They are attainable only through many years of smart consistent training. None of the individual goals are very advanced when compared to a specialist in that field, but the combination of these qualities is very hard to achieve. For many, if not most people, this level of all around fitness is just not practical. Not practical because achieving all of these skills simultaneously means that you have really become a specialist in general fitness. Many, many people can perform some of the skills listed in Level 4, while at the same time they are unable to perform several level 2 skills. Perhaps the best use of these levels is when you are able to realize that you are already “good enough” in one area, and can then focus on an area that needs work.


Make sure you can do the basics before you try to tackle the advanced!

That, in a nutshell, is the idea of the Skill Levels. Master the fundamentals and then build on them. Sounds simple. In practice, however, it can be tricky. And the real difficulty is this; we are accustomed to working on our strengths. However, for developing general fitness, we need to work on our weaknesses. Finding and eliminating our shortcomings can be very rewarding, but this often requires changing our outlook. We need to learn to enjoy incremental progress and learn to set aside our ego and emotion.

Are you ready for this?

Many years of experience and 2 years of research went into the original Athletic Skill Levels, and 8 more years of work went into version 2.0. I am very excited to present the updated Athletic Skill Levels and I hope that you find them as useful as we have.

How to use the ATHLETIC SKILL LEVELS in your gym

As you know, the people we serve in our boxes come to us with a broad range of skills and abilities. Starting clients in the right place makes a significant difference in their ability to make consistent progress and not get injured. The Skill Levels are a great tool to help you get your clients started at a level of training that is appropriate for them. The Levels show the path for progressions, which helps to minimize plateaus and frustration.

Over the years we have received countless emails and phone calls asking how we use the Skill Levels in our gym, how we structure our classes, how we sort people into classes, and how we inspire people to make progress. To address those questions Nancy Meenen and I have written this article about what has worked for us at Level 4 CrossFit Seattle.

Over the years, I have been asked frequently to share my approach to helping our clients reach their fitness goals and to share how we have created a climate of progress for our clients. Over a year ago I put together a team of experts, and created a website to share our knowledge. This website is offers daily workout programming following the Athletic Skill Level principles. moveSKILL offers:

  • A detailed, comprehensive guide to assess clients abilities
  • 3 levels of programming for Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced clients
  • More than 400 professional demonstration and instructional videos to compliment all programming
  • A structured approach to setting goals and gauging progress

With thousands of clients over the years, my team of instructors and I have learned what really works. That experience powers moveSKILL.

Best regards,
Dave Werner