Don’t Sweat The Skills Stuff, ‘Cause It’s All Skills Stuff

So, Young Hector, I have not forgotten about our text exchange the other day regarding the weekly programming and this workout, among others…


I promised you an explanation. I didn’t forget. Here’s my answer to you, Young Hector…

“Trust your sensei young grasshopper.”

What? Not satisfied with such a succint answer? Do I sense a bit of doubt even after all your PR’s and increased chest hair volume whilst on this very program? Tsk, tsk. Ok, I guess I’ll give you a more detailed explanation.

You asked about one particular workout, which included rowing on a Concept 2 rower with either stiff legs and using just the upper body or stiff arms and using just the lower body. I assume you also had some questions about the barbell holds, some of the Olympic lifting sequences, plyo jumps and the like. Actually, Young Hector, your question of “why are we doing this or that?” actually comes up every now and again. So to satisfy you and others that may also have questions, I’ve decided to answer more generally than about any one workout, sequence or move. So here are some, though not all, of the reasons I program what I program:

1. Because it was on the mainsite

Does that seem like a cop-out answer? But is it? Remember the goal of this program is not to get fit per se, but to compete in athletic pursuits, particularly competitive CrossFit, at a high level. One of the goals of this program is to have done everything that has ever appeared on the Mainsite (in terms of movement) at least once. And where has HQ given us clues about what might appear in HQ organized competitive CrossFit events? The Mainsite. So while this might seem like a dissatisifying answer, it is really the primary driver of why we do what we do in this program. If forward rolls were on the mainsite, then you can bet we will be doing forward rolls.

2. Development of core to extremity coordination

One of the reasons we employ the Olympic lifts so heavily is their use in developing core to extremity coordination. As is pointed out in Glassman’s classic article “Foundations“, the Olympic lifts assist in learning how to “apply force to muscle groups in proper sequence, i.e., from the center of the body to its extremities. Learning this vital technical lesson benefits all athletes who need to impart force to another person or object as is commonly required in nearly all sports.” I would say, including competitive CrossFit.

In the workout you questioned Young Hector, core to extremity coordination was called on throughout the workout, particularly in the rowing sequence. Thus to your question, yes, it does transfer to other things. Your ability to transfer power from your trunk to your arms without the use of your hips or legs, is vital to your ability to later generate power using your entire body.

3. Constant variance

Young Hector, constant variance is a hallmark of CrossFit and this program. As to why I program what I program, I can many times simply answer “constant variance”. However, I won’t delve too deeply into this concept right now as I feel it deserves it’s own level of attention. I promise I will get to it in another post. Which brings us to…

4. It’s ALL skills

One thing I think that makes this program unique is unlike other programs that have a narrow definition of what would constitute skills in CrossFit, I believe everything can be broken down into component skills. In the User’s Guide, which I recommend you read again, I talk about geniuses. I point out that geniuses are geniuses partly because they practice their skills in a particular way. I always imagine that Derek Jeter practices each part of this swing before he goes out and tries to hit. I argue that competitive CrossFit athletes should do the same thing. Do you remember that?

From the User’s Guide:

Put simply, the competitive CrossFit (CCF) athlete must practice higher-level skills, typically the gymnastics skills common to CCF and the Olympic lifts to some degree, in a deliberate manner to reach competitive level competence. The keyword here is deliberate. It is simply not enough to practice these skills more often than the typical CrossFit athlete. It is simply not enough to say, “practice handstand push-ups for 10 minutes.” Deliberate practice would call on the athlete to break the movement down into component parts and drill each of those consistently. The CCF athlete must do this in a process-driven manner.

Using the rowing workout yet again as example, what we had is the row stroke broken down into two component parts, and we drilled each. Yes, rowing, like everything is a skill and should be treated as such. Remember the workout where I had you hold a barbell both in the air and in the rack? My aim was to help you develop the ability, if not the fortitude, not to drop the bar during a workout. And possibly learn how rest in each of those positions. The best in the world have learned this is the way to go. Just take a look at Annie T in the thruster portion of the Europe v. USA comp, or Froning Jr. in the chipper wod from the 2012 Games. Now, I have no idea if they drilled this, but wouldn’t it make sense to drill it as a skill? I think so.

I’ll say again Young Hector… trust your sinsei.

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3 Responses to Don’t Sweat The Skills Stuff, ‘Cause It’s All Skills Stuff

  1. son says:


  2. joelsnape says:

    This sounds good, but I’m basically certain Derek Jeter doesn’t break his wing down into parts. I’ve certainly never heard of rowers breaking down their stroke into two parts, and I’ve interviewed a couple of former Olympic rowers about their training, as well as reading everything that Brad Alan Lewis has published. So, you know, there’s that.

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