A few weeks ago, we had a person drop in during a workout with burpees. From round 1, it was clear that his gym did not uphold the same strict standards for burpees that we demand from our athletes. Chest to the ground was questionable, hips never opened at the top, and arms did not extend over his head (let alone clap). The situation made me think of the emphasis we place on standards and how clear we try to be with our clients about how important standards are. During every Fundamentals Class, and even in our free introductions to CrossFit, we explain the importance of standards when we introduce the CrossFit Kettle Bell Swing. So, why are standards so important?
First, let’s make sure we are on the same page when we are talking about “Standards.” When we talk about standards, we mean the point of performance for each movement. Things like hips below parallel in squats, arms locked out overhead with head through the window during overhead presses, chest/hips/thighs to the ground during pushups, etc.
Observable, Measurable, and Repeatable
The # 1 reason we have standards is to make sure all of our movements are consistent. By establishing a standard, we are saying that we are able to observe movement, measure its output, and repeat the same movement over and over again. If we say a squat counts when the hip drops below the knee and opens up at the top with locked out knees, then anyone can watch a squat and determine whether it is a good rep. If the hip doesn’t drop below parallel, no rep. If the hip fails to open at the top with locked out knees, no rep. So, the standard is observable.
If the standard is observable, it is also measurable. We can measure all kinds of things if we have standards. We will focus on time. If it takes you 3 minutes to do 200 air squats today with full range of motion, and it takes you 2 minutes to do 200 air squats in 2 months from today, we automatically know you are improving your fitness in some way. We are able to rely on this time because you maintained the same standard. Without a set standard, we have no way to measure your progress.
Finally, we can repeat the squat standard for every squat, for everyone, all the time. There is no subjective quality that says, “today I will have this standard, but it might change tomorrow.” The standard is what it is and will be repeated. Now, we can compare everyone doing the same thing. We can see if someone is fitter than someone else because both people are maintaining the same standard. And . . . thus we have the CrossFit Games.
Most, if not all, of the standards we maintain for movements also happen to provide the move efficient form of movement. When we are performing a pullup, the standard is arms locked out at the bottom of the rep and pull the chin over the bar at the top of the rep. If we add a basic kip, we cue athletes to squeeze legs together, point toes, shrug shoulders into their ears, and hold tension in their torso. Pullups become very difficult if lockout is not achieved at the bottom of the rep. Additionally, it is almost impossible to do an efficient kip with bent elbows. If the legs are allowed to bend while moving into the arch position, torque is lost and the kip is less efficient. Maintaining standards will also turn on and off certain muscles that will help us lift more, move for longer, and have a higher overall output.
If CrossFit is to be accepted as a legitimate fitness program, it must have standards. This is true for any fitness program or sport. Standards must be set and maintained. If we have no standard for our air squat, then how are we able to argue that CrossFit will make you more generally physically prepared than any other fitness program? We would have no form of measurement. This is where CrossFit differs from other “functional fitness” programs. A burpee is not a burpee if the standards are not maintained. However, for non-CrossFit programs, there is no governing body setting a standard for a squat, a pushup, a handstand pushups, a kettle bell swing, etc. It turns into people moving at a high rate of speed with no consideration to what they are doing. That is a recipe for placing intensity before consistent mechanics and will lead to injuries. CrossFit must be able to separate itself from other programs. Maintaining a high level of standards is one way CrossFit can say, “That is why we are different . . . and better.”