3 Exercises Every CrossFitter Needs NOW

Key Takeaways:

  • Most CrossFit training programs fall short of developing sound athletic potential due to trying to accomplish too much all at once.
  • Neglecting major aspects such as: developing the Posterior Chain can be hinder progress and increase potential for injuries.
  • Glute Ham Raises, Good Mornings and Horizontal Back Extensions can add massive amounts of strength, hypertrophy and increase athletic potential IF added correctly to programs.

In past articles I have discussed some of the unfortunate athletic holes that can develop in a majority of CrossFit training programs. In recent years some coaches have finally become more diverse with their programming – realizing that there is more to “Forging Elite Fitness” than shaving a few seconds off your ‘time,’ and there is definitely more to strength training than increasing a 1RM.

In fact, what’s now trending in popularity for CF training programs is more of a hybrid approach that incorporates traditional CrossFit methods and movements with some bodybuilding-type work. I’ve seen some programs like Hybrid Athletics and Pharos Echo Park incorporate these ideas with much success – improving both body composition and performance.

But even some of the better programs out there sometime still leave a heaping pile of #gainz on the floor. A lot of athletic and aesthetic potential is under-developed due to neglecting the oh-so massively important big daddy of movement: The Posterior Chain.

Actually, let me be more specific…

A lot of athletic and aesthetic potential is left under-developed by not effectively training the posterior chain through ALL of its ranges, functions, and muscle fiber types.

Here are 3 exercises to start including NOW into your CrossFit Training that will specifically address and correct some of the glaring missing links in your Posterior Chain (pun intended). If these are included all ready, then you are truly ahead of the curve, but keep reading for detailed info about how to get even greater benefits from these amazing exercises.

  1. Glute Ham Raise

In my opinion, this is by far ranked #1 as the most underutilized exercise at your box and most necessary.

To fully appreciate why, let’s back up a moment and quickly discuss the function of the Hamstrings. They perform two primary functions: Hip Extension and Knee Flexion.

Ok. All things being equal, you are currently training them as hip extensors:

  • On a squat, as you pass through 90 degrees on the way up
  • On a deadlift, as soon as the bar leaves the floor
  • On oly lifts, during your triple extension
  • And on things like box jumps, kettlebell swings, etc.

And here are all the ways your training them as knee flexors:

(…crickets…)

The hammies as knee flexors play a massive role in proper knee tracking and stability. They are also comprised of more fast twitch fibers, and will respond better to lower rep/higher weight training. Hmm, that sounds like something that might carry over into Powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting, eh?

As a bonus, from a physique standpoint, fast twitch fibers have better propensity for hypertrophy. So it’s likely an untapped source of some extra muscle mass.

(For the nitpickers out there, the Glute Ham Raise still trains the slower twitch hip extension with an isometric hold, but the primary movement is still knee flexion.)

If you have access to a commercial gym, this is where Leg Curl machines actually come in handy. Use variations of Lying, Seated, and Kneeling/Standing if they have it. I’d hate to break it to you, but certain machines actually have major benefits to athletic development in sports. If you only have access to a CrossFit gym, use the GHD machine. This video will give you a pretty good rundown of how to execute properly:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w_7UaXfsbaw

  1. Good Morning

If you are a serious Oly lifter, you may have done these from time to time. But they are rarely programmed into the average CrossFitter’s training program. Granted, they’re not as sexy a deadlift or squat, and you’re not going attempt 1RM’s with them, but they offer a huge return on your strength and structural balance development.

The key benefit from this movement is that it works the BOTTOM RANGE of the posterior chain strength curve (when the muscles are at their longest/stretched). See in the picture below how gravity exerts the most force when the lifter is positioned at almost 90 degrees. Also, the Moment Arm (distance from the hinge point to the weight) is greatest.

As an added bonus, you’re getting a lot of work on your abs and spinal erectors, which are holding an isometric contraction to keep your spine neutral. Again, this has huge carryover to your other lifts.

And if you’re feeling frisky, try a wide stance for even greater stretch and challenge to the Adductors. These babies are often the unsung heroes of helping you get out of the bottom of a squat.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zThPHJm3wVM

  1. Horizontal Back Extension

While I have found this exercise to be a little more prevalent in gen pop programming, I rarely see it performed correctly. Yes, there are a couple ways to use the GHD machine for “Back Extensions” for different training goals, but usually the end result is some kind of sub-optimal blend.

By the way, to avoid a debate on the semantics of calling the exercise a Back Extension or a Hip Extension, I’m simply going to use the industry-standard terminology “Back Extension” – with the understanding that there are variations that target your back more and some that target your glutes/hamstrings more.

As a side note, keep in mind that we can either use this exercise to target more glutes or let the hamstrings take over more of the work. But that comes down to training with a specific mind-muscle connection and intention, and that’s a whole other Pandora’s box.

The first main point I want to emphasize with the Back Extension is that it overloads the SHORTENED RANGE. Gravity exerts the most force when the body is horizontal and the glutes/hammies are most contracted in hip extension.

Second, in order to optimally train the glutes/hammies during this movement (and avoid hyperextension of the lumbar spine), you must INITIATE the movement with them. This means extending from your hips, not raising your chest and shoulders.

The cue I give to my clients is: Hump the pad.

Don’t think about raising your chest and shoulders, but rather driving your thighs and pelvis down into the pad to extend your hips. This is going to feel very different and much more difficult if you’ve never performed these correctly. The good news is, you will stop feeling like your lower back is on fire every time you do this exercise. Your spinal erectors, etc will still be working, holding an isometric contraction, but they will not be the PRIMARY MOVERS.

HONORABLE MENTION: The RDL (Romanian Deadlift)

The Romanian Deadlift is a fantastic exercise, and only gets an honorable mention because you’re probably already doing a number exercises that work this part of the range (deadlifts, kettlebell swings, oly lifts). Plus, the mid-range is where you’re always going to be strongest anyway.

However, it’s still a dynamite addition to your routine, since you’re likely not training that movement under control, where the tension is focused on the posterior chain. In the aforementioned exercises, there’s either momentum or zero eccentric loading during the movement.

Next time, do your RDL’s with a 3-second eccentric (negative), and then really think about driving your heels through the floor and pulling your hips into the bar on the way up. When you wake up the next day with a deep, deep soreness in your hammies and glutes that you’ve never felt before, you can send me a thank you note. I also accept Edible Arrangements.

CONCLUSION

Very little specific attention is paid to the posterior chain when it comes to typical CrossFit programming. If you’ve never tried these exercises I just described, there are definitely some gaps in your training – from both a strength and physique standpoint.

If you have done them before, do them some more. And then some more. And then add intensifiers like bands, tempo, pauses, and intention. Once added in on a regular and focused basis you’ll realize your knee pain is gone and your lifts went up 20%.

It’s best to always train all the functions of your muscles, like hamstrings as hip extensors AND knee flexors.

It’s also best to train all ranges of the strength curve, especially the often overlooked top and bottom range.

For the coaches out there, here is a simplified guideline on how you can start programming these:

LIFT REPS ECCENTRIC TEMPO
Glute Ham Raise 4-8 3-8 seconds
Good Morning 6-12 3-4 seconds
Back Extension 8-15 2-4 seconds (to intensify, use holds at top and bottom)
RDL 6-12 3-4 seconds

Here are examples of two lower body workouts that incorporate these movements. You would do these at least a couple days apart, to allow for sufficient recovery.  *Note that the tempo is in [brackets]

LOWER BODY 1

A.  Back Squat

5x 4-6 reps [40X0], rest 180 sec

B1. DB Split Squat

4x 6-8 reps [3010], rest 90 sec

B2. Glute Ham Raise

4 6-8 reps [4010], rest 90 sec

C1. Barbell Hack Squat

3x 8-10 reps [3010], rest 60 sec

C2. Back Extension

3x 8-10 reps [3010], rest 60 sec

 

LOWER BODY 2

A.  Front Squat

5x 4-6 reps [40X0], rest 180 sec

B.  Good Morning

4x 6-8 reps [3010], rest 90 sec

C1. Standing Calf Raise

4x 8-10 reps [2110], rest 60 sec

C2. Ab Rollout

4x 8-10 reps [3010], rest 60 sec

Of course, if you simply want to avoid all the guesswork, and follow programming that incorporates all this and more into comprehensive periodized strength and physique programs designed specifically for CrossFitters, go check out my online programs: Stronger Things and Breaking Bod on TrainHeroic.com where each day’s workout is dropped right in your email inbox with videos, notes, explanations and tracking, and coaching feedback.

(Plus, get 20% off your programs with code: stronger17)

Have fun, and get stronger!

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