16 Essential CrossFit Moves to Master

Whether you're new to CrossFit or a veteran, these are the essential CrossFit moves you need to master before your next WOD. (Image: 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).

These 16 essential CrossFit moves will increase your strength, build your lung capacity and make you the best athlete you can be. Don't forget: Proper form is essential to avoid injury, so it's smart to try these for the first time under the guidance of a certified CrossFit trainer.

1. The Box Jump

Here's how to perform a CrossFit box jump with correct form. (Image: Cate Norian)

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.

  1. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, and drop down to a quarter squat.
  2. Drive your arms up as you explode out of the quarter squat and onto the box.
  3. Once your feet land on the top of the box, open your hips and stand up.
  4. 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.

2. The Clean

A CrossFit clean lift builds full-body power. (Image: Cate Norian)

This is an Olympic-style lift that builds full-body power and tests the ability to move quickly.

  1. Places your hands on the bar slightly outside of your shins with the weights resting on the ground and the bar touching your mid-shin.
  2. Keeping your weight on your heels with your chest out, pull the bar up like a deadlift. Simultaneously drive 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.
  3. Once the bar passes the knees, 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.
  4. Next, get under the bar or "catch" it as quickly as possible by squatting under the bar. At the same time, change the hand position underneath the bar, putting the body into a front squat position with the bar resting on the shoulders.
  5. Finally, stand the bar up and, after a moment, release it to the ground.

3. The Back Squat

The CrossFit back squat is one of the foundational movements of the workout. (Image: Cate Norian)

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.

  1. Take a big breath to brace the core, then send your glutes back, keeping your chest out and up.
  2. Bring your glutes down as if sitting into a chair. You should squat below parallel if your mobility allows.
  3. Drive your body up and 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.

4. The Front Squat

The CrossFit front squat is similar to a back squat with a slightly different bar position. (Image: Cate Norian)

This exercise is similar in movement to the back squat; however, the bar sits in the front rack position across the collarbones and shoulders instead. If you have mobility issues in the front rack position, you can cross your forearms in front of your body, parallel to the ground.

  1. Begin with the bar in front rack position over the collarbones and shoulders.
  2. Driving your knees out, sit your glutes back and bring them down into a squat.
  3. As you drive back up, raise your elbows to the sky to keep the bar in the correct position.
  4. Keep the core tight to prevent the back from rounding.

5. The Snatch

Try the CrossFit snatch exercise for the first time under expert supervision. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. Start with the bar on the ground with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. 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).
  3. Pull from the floor with your arms in a locked position.
  4. Drive your hips and pull the bar as high as possible.
  5. 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.

6. The Split Jerk

The split jerk exercise is a powerful, fast movement for advanced CrossFitters. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. Begin with the barbell in the front rack position with your feet hip-width apart.
  2. Take a big breath to tighten your core, then dip straight down just a few inches to get more power.
  3. 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.

7. The Handstand Push-Up

A handstand push-up tests your strength and balance. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. Begin by kicking your body into handstand position against a wall.
  2. Lower your body so that your head touches the ground (or mat) below.
  3. Push yourself away from the ground into a handstand.

Tip

To modify, you can "kip" this exercise so that your lower body helps drive your upper body. Bring 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.

8. The Pull-Up

CrossFit can help you conquer the pull-up. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. To complete a pull-up, start by hanging from a secured bar with your hands in an overhand grip (palms pointing outward, away from your body).
  2. Position your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  3. While squeezing your traps together and engaging your abs, pull yourself up to the bar so that your chin passes over.

9. The Muscle-Up

The ring muscle-up CrossFit exercise comes from gymnastics and is a real challenge. (Image: Cate Norian)

This gymnastics move is one of the hardest moves a CrossFitter can complete.

  1. 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.
  2. 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) to raise your body above the rings.
  3. Keep the rings as close to your body as possible to have the most control and strength on the rings.
  4. Once at ring height, quickly push your head and chest through the rings into a dip position.
  5. Push up out of the dip position with momentum from the legs or from strict strength.

10. The Chest-to-Bar Pull-Up

Take your pull-up to the next level with the chest-to-bar pull-up. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. Start by hanging from a secured bar with your hands slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. While squeezing the traps together and engaging the abs, pull yourself up to the bar and touch your chest to the bar.

Tip

Since this move is even more difficult than a traditional pull-up, you can modify by using a kipping motion or momentum to propel your body higher into the air in order for your chest to touch the bar.

11. The Push-Up

Push-ups are essential moves of any full-body workout, like CrossFit. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. Begin 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.
  2. 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.

Tip

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.

12. The Thruster

The thruster is a compound CrossFit movement, meaning it works several muscle groups. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. The thruster begins in the front rack position with the barbell across your chest.
  2. Squat down, keeping your chest big and knees out.
  3. Drive up from the bottom, similar to a front squat, while driving your knees out.
  4. Use the force you are creating in the squat to drive the bar overhead.
  5. Lock out your arms overhead.

13. The Deadlift

The deadlift is a quintessential CrossFit exercise that requires careful attention to form. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. 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 toward your body and one hand facing away.
  2. With your chest out and core braced, hinge at your hips and pull the bar up while keeping it as close to your body as possible.
  3. Use your hip hinge and push your glutes back to keep your body over the bar.
  4. Extend the hips and squeeze the glutes to complete the move.

14. The Pistol Squat

The pistol squat CrossFit exercise requires strength, balance and flexibility. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. Start by standing on one leg.
  2. Hold your opposite leg out in front of your body with your hands.
  3. Think about rooting your foot into the ground while you squat down and back so that the glutes pass below parallel.

15. The Push Press

The push press CrossFit exercise builds power and pure strength. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. Start with the bar across your shoulders. Your hands should be just slightly outside of your shoulders, and your feet should be shoulder-width apart.
  2. Brace your core, dip slightly into a quarter squat and squeeze your glutes while driving the bar up overhead.
  3. Complete the movement with your arms in the lockout position overhead.

Tip

There is only one dip in the push press, and that is when you push the bar overhead.

16. The Overhead Squat

Complete your essential CrossFit exercises education with the overhead squat. (Image: Cate Norian)
  1. Take the bar from a squat rack by snatching it overhead (see above).
  2. Keep the arms wider on the bar, very similar to a snatch grip. The feet should be a little outside of shoulder-width.
  3. Brace your core, and send your butt back into a squat position while keeping your arms locked overhead.
  4. Once you have reached below parallel, drive your knees out, squeeze your glutes and stand the bar back up.

Tip

Good cues to think of are “show me your pits” or "bend the bar," which will help you externally rotate your shoulders, locking them into a strong position.

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