This article is written by Barrett Danz as part of The Barbell Spin’s Contributor Network. To learn more about the Contributor Network, go here.

Organizing and running a CrossFit class is much more complicated that it looks on the surface. Creating a program from scratch and carrying it out with all the individualizing needed for athletes as well as ensuring all the main work is completed in the general hour long format takes a lot of organization. As affiliates and coaches we don’t have the time to do it all in an hour, so we tend to focus more on the major compound lifts (squats, deadlift, oly lifts, pressing etc).  However there are a plethora of accessory movements/concepts that will drive progress in these core lifts as well as keep you healthy.  

1) Horizontal Pulling

As a methodology, CrossFit tends to perform most of it’s movements in the ‘vertical plane.’ Basically this means your torso is usually vertical when performing most movements. Take a second to think about it; squats, pull up variations, Oly lifts etc. all in the vertical plane. This is one reason why CrossFitters tend to have big meaty upper trapezius muscles. However, neglecting the horizontal plane movements can both inhibit your performance in the long runs as well as increase the likelihood of ‘tweaks’ or injuries. The middle of your back, mainly the mid to lower traps, get overlooked and underdeveloped. These muscle groups play a key role in creating and maintaining a neutral thoracic spine as well as control the scapular optimally- think shoulder health. Here is the short list of great ‘horizontal’ pulling accessory movements:

  • Bentover Rows. Probably one of the best movements for developing mid and lower back strength as well as increasing your overall pulling power- CTBs and Muscle ups anyone?
  • T/Y/I’s and external rotation drills. A great accessory to target those middle and lower traps for both activation and some strength building to ensure shoulder health. There’s a reason why the Crossover Symmetry system has exploded in popularity in recent years.
  • Bench Press. Yep that’s right I said it. Bench is a great way to develop raw pressing strength that will carry over to all of your overhead movements. As a supplemental story from CFBD- I notice a lot of our athletes were struggling with the push press/jerk combo. In our next cycle we did close-grip bench press for a month 1 day a week. The result? Tons of PRs in the following cycle on push jerks/presses.

2) Bro Stuff

Along the lines of preventative exercises some of the old ‘bodybuilding’ stand byes can be used to optimize function and health as well. Do 70+ kipping pullups in a workout and you can bet those elbows will be a bit achy. Using simple dumbbells to augment smaller muscle groups can go a long way in staying healthy. Exercises to try:

  • Dumbbell lateral raises. Both vertical and bent over (see my last point). A great way to ensure you are developing ALL of the heads of the deltoid including the medial and posterior heads that often gets overlooked.
  • Dumbbell Curls. That’s right curls. While pull up variations will develop this muscle, the curls will isolate this muscle group and ensure elbow health.
  • Tri’s for the Guys. Tricep extensions (ideally overhead) will help strengthen your lockout position which obviously carries over to all your overhead exercises.

3) Aerobic Conditioning  

Ah yes. There’s a funny saying in the affiliate owners community that goes something like; “If you ever have a bunch of work to get caught up on just program a 5K run and you’ll have the whole day to work (because no one will show up).”

Listen, I get it, steady state ‘cardio’ is BORING, but it develops a very crucial metabolic pathway (the aerobic pathway) that helps with many different points of performance from recovery to controlling your heart rate in a MetCon. The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily take a soul crushing effort to develop this pathway.

When performing aerobic pathway work you should focus on monostructural exercises that you can maintain for long durations (running, rowing, biking and swimming). And you don’t have to ‘crush the pavement’ either. Perform these modes 1-2 times a week at the conversational pace and just watch your MetCon times start improving.

Barrett Danz is the owner and founder of CrossFit Big Dane– located in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. He brings experience as a strength and conditioning and power lifting coach prior to starting CrossFit. He has been an athlete and an avid fitness fanatic his whole life and he truly enjoys helping others find new confidence through fitness.

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