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16 Essential CrossFit Moves

by
author image Collette Stohler
Collette Stohler is the author of Passport to Fitness. She is also the creative director and co-founder of the travel blog, Roamaroo. She was an All-American Track and Field athlete & Olympic trials qualifier in Olympic Weightlifting. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and received a master's degree from the University of Miami.

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16 Essential CrossFit Moves
Cate Norian

Whether you are a newbie CrossFitter or a seasoned veteran, there are foundational movements that everyone should master prior to completing a WOD (Workout of the Day). On the next slides, we’ll show 16 essential CrossFit moves that you need to know. These moves are proven to increase your strength, build your lung capacity and make you the best athlete you can be. Proper form is essential to avoid injury.

1. The Box Jump
Cate Norian

1 THE BOX JUMP

Jumping is the purest form of explosiveness. In this move, the athlete starts from the ground and jumps onto a box of a certain height – start with a lower height box and build your way up. HOW TO DO IT: Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, and drop down to a quarter squat. Then, drive your arms up as they explode out of the quarter squat and onto the box. Once your feet land on the top of the box, you open your hips and stand up. To repeat, you can “plyo” the jump by rebounding immediately off of the ground. An alternate way of completing repeated box jumps is to step down off of the box before jumping back up. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.

Related: Video Showing How to Do Box Jumps

2. The Clean
Cate Norian

2 THE CLEAN

This is a lift that builds full-body power and tests the ability to move quickly. HOW TO DO IT: Start with the bar on the ground. Place your hands on the bar -- a little outside of your shins -- with the bar touching your mid shin. You should keep your weight on your heels with your chest big and pull the bar up like a deadlift, while driving the knees back so that the bar path stays perpendicular to the floor and you stay over the bar. This utilizes your hip hinge and activates your posterior chain. Once the bar passes the knees, you jump up (you may not actually leave the ground, but you should feel like you’re trying to) and shrug so that the bar comes as high as possible. The next step is for you to get under the bar or “catch” it as quickly as possible by squatting under the bar and changing the hand position underneath the bar, putting the body into a front squat position with the bar resting on the shoulders. You then stand the bar up. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstring, calves, shoulders, core and traps.

Related: Sign Up to Receive the FREE LIVESTRONG.COM Weekly Health & Fitness Newsletter

3. The Back Squat
Cate Norian

3 THE BACK SQUAT

One of the foundational moves of any strength program is the back squat. The back squat is performed with a barbell across the trapezius muscles, feet a little wider than shoulder-width apart, and feet slightly turned out. HOW TO DO IT: Take a big breath to brace the core, then send your buttocks back while keeping your chest big and proud. You should squat below parallel if your mobility allows. As you drive up, think of screwing your feet out and into the ground. This cue will fire the glutes so that you can get the most strength out of the movement. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and core.

Related: Video Showing How to Do Barbell Back Squats

4. The Front Squat
Cate Norian

4 THE FRONT SQUAT

This exercise is similar in movement to the back squat; however, the bar sits in the front rack position across the collarbones and shoulders of the athlete. HOW TO DO IT: As you drive back up, it is imperative that you raise your elbows to the sky to keep the bar in the correct position. The core should be tight to prevent the back from rounding. If you have mobility issues in the front rack position, you can cross your forearms in front of your body, parallel to the ground. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves and core.

Related: Video Showing How to Do Front Squat With Dumbbells

5. The Snatch
Cate Norian

5 THE SNATCH

This is an extremely high-skill movement, and is one of two Olympic Weightlifting events. HOW TO DO IT: Start with the bar on the ground with your feet hip-width apart. With your hands wide on the bar, keep a big chest as you deadlift the weight off the ground (similar to the beginning of the clean). Pull from the floor with your arms in a locked position. Then, drive your hips and pull the bar as high as possible. As you receive the bar overhead, drop down as quickly as possible and lock your arms into place in a squat position with the bar overhead. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, traps, core, shoulders and back.

Related: Olympic Lifts for Beginners

6. The Split Jerk
Cate Norian

6 THE SPLIT JERK

The split jerk is a very powerful and fast move. HOW TO DO IT: The bar starts in the front rack position with your feet hip-width apart. Take a big breath to tighten your core, then dip straight down just a few inches to get more power. Next, drive the bar up overhead while splitting your legs into a lunge position. The goal is to get under the bar as fast as possible while driving the bar up overhead. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, core, shoulders, back and triceps.

Related: Sign Up to Receive the FREE LIVESTRONG.COM Weekly Health & Fitness Newsletter

7. The Handstand Push-Up
Cate Norian

7 THE HANDSTAND PUSH-UP

There are many ways to do a handstand push-up. One starts in the handstand position against a wall. HOW TO DO IT: To complete this movement, lower your body to the ground so that your head touches the ground (or mat) below. Then, push yourself away from the ground into a handstand. You can also kip this so that your lower body helps drive the upper body. This can be done by bringing your knees to your chest while you lower your head toward the ground. Then, kick up to the sky as you push off of the ground with your hands. The two forces combine to bring you back to the beginning handstand position. MUSCLES USED: Shoulders, core and triceps.

Related: Video Showing How to Do Handstand Push-Ups

8. The Pull-Up
Cate Norian

8 THE PULL-UP

Pull-ups have become the quintessential move to any CrossFit workout. HOW TO DO IT: To complete a pull-up, start by hanging from a secured bar with your hands in an overhand grip (palm pointing outward, away from your body) and slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. While squeezing your traps together and engaging your abs, pull yourself up to the bar so that your chin passes over. MUSCLES USED: Back, core, shoulders and chest.

Related: Video Showing How to Kip Up in a Pull-Up

9. The Muscle-Up
Cate Norian

9 THE MUSCLE-UP

This gymnastics move is for the advanced CrossFitter. Hailing from gymnastics, the ring muscle-up is one of the hardest moves a CrossFitter can complete. HOW TO DO IT: Start with either a false grip or regular grip. For the false grip, hook your wrists into the ring. This position, while uncomfortable, shortens the lever of the arm, creating less distance for you to travel. Most CrossFitters kip this move because of its degree of difficulty, but it can be done strict as well. Swing your body back to gain momentum and thrust your hips into the air while pulling with all your upper body strength (similar to a pull-up) so that the body raises to ring height or above. Always keep the rings as close to your body as possible to have the most control and strength on the rings. Once you are at ring height, quickly push your head and chest through the rings into a dip position. Then push up out of the dip position with a kip from the legs or from strict strength. MUSCLES USED: Back, shoulders, core and triceps.

Related: The Controversy Behind CrossFit

10. The Chest-to-Bar Pull-Up
Cate Norian

10 THE CHEST-TO-BAR PULL-UP

Since this move is more difficult, you may sometimes use a kipping motion to propel your body higher into the air in order for your chest to touch the bar. HOW TO DO IT: Start by hanging from a secured bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. While squeezing the traps together and engaging the abs, pull yourself up to the bar and touch your chest to the bar. MUSCLES USED: Back, core, shoulders and chest.

Related: How to Kip Up in a Pull-Up

11. The Push-Up
Cate Norian

11 THE PUSH-UP

An essential move to any workout. Keep in mind that if doing a push-up on your toes is too tough, you can always start on your knees. It’s still a very effective strengthening move. HOW TO DO IT: Begin the push-up in a plank position with your hands on the ground under your shoulders and with your feet together, toes driving into the ground. Your body should be in one straight line with your core locked. Slowly lower yourself down to the ground so that your chest touches the ground, then push yourself back up to the starting position without collapsing your lower back. MUSCLES USED: Shoulders, triceps, biceps and core.

Related: 10 Essential Push-Ups You’re Not Doing – But You Should Be!

12. The Thruster
Cate Norian

12 THE THRUSTER

The thruster is a compound movement, meaning that it is a multi-joint movement that works several muscle groups. HOW TO DO IT: The thruster begins in the front rack position across your chest. Squat down, keeping your chest big and knees out. Drive out of the bottom of the hole, similar to a front squat, while driving your knees out. Then use the force you are creating in the squat to drive the bar overhead. Then lock out your arms overhead. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, core, shoulders, back and triceps.

Related: Video Showing How to Do a Thruster

13. The Deadlift
Cate Norian

13 THE DEADLIFT

The deadlift is one of the foundational strength movements in any exercise program. HOW TO DO IT: The deadlift begins with the bar on the ground. You can perform this with a regular grip or an alternating grip, which means one hand facing towards your body and one hand facing away. With a proud chest and locked core, pull the bar up while keeping it as close to your body as possible. Use your hip hinge and push your knees back to keep your body over the bar. Then extend the hips and squeeze the glutes to complete the move. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, back and core.

Related: The Science of Building Muscle Mass

14. The Pistol Squat
Cate Norian

14 THE PISTOL SQUAT

This move requires a great deal of strength, balance and flexibility. HOW TO DO IT: Start by standing on one leg. The opposite leg can be held out in front of your body with your hands on the non-working leg. Think about rooting your foot into the ground while you squat down and back so that the glutes pass below parallel. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings and calves.

Related: 8 Things to Consider When Choosing a Protein Powder – and Our Top 5 Picks

15. The Push Press
Cate Norian

15 THE PUSH PRESS

The Push Press is a move that incorporates your entire body. While the strict press focuses only on the upper body, the push press incorporates the lower body to drive the bar up overhead. This synchronic movement is great for building power and pure strength. HOW TO DO IT: Start with the bar across your shoulders. Your hands position on the bar should be just slightly outside of your shoulders, and your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Brace your core, dip slightly into a quarter squat and squeeze your glutes while driving the bar up overhead. Complete the movement with your arms in the lockout position overhead. There is only one dip in the push press, and that is when you push the bar overhead. There should not be a second dip at the top of the bar path or that movement would be called a “jerk.” MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, shoulders and core.

Related: The 20 Best Foods for Building Muscle

16. The Overhead Squat
Cate Norian

16 THE OVERHEAD SQUAT

The overhead squat requires strength and flexibility. HOW TO DO IT: You can take the bar from a squat rack by snatching it overhead or by cleaning and jerking it. The arms should be wider on the bar, very similar to a snatch grip. The feet should be a little outside of shoulder-width. Brace your core, and send your butt back into a squat position while keeping your arms locked overhead. A good cue to think of is “show me your pits” or bending the bar, which automatically externally rotates the shoulders and locks them into a strong position. Once you have reached below parallel, drive your knees out, squeeze your glutes and stand the bar back up. MUSCLES USED: Glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, core, shoulders and back.

Related: 5 Common Myths About High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

What Do YOU Think?
Cate Norian

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Have you ever done a CrossFit workout? What are your thoughts about CrossFit? Are you new to CrossFit or an experienced CrossFitter? Which of these moves is your favorite? Are there any of these moves that you dislike? Which is the most difficult move for you? Were the descriptions helpful? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Related: 10 CrossFit Myths Debunked

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