Understanding CrossFit: Pyramid of Development


Understanding CrossFit: Pyramid of Development

A couple weeks ago I began a series on helping to explain common phrases, images, and concepts in CrossFit, so that members could have a better understanding as to what it is that they are doing. I want to continue this by breaking down an image that a lot of you have likely seen, especially at Innerdrive since we have it on the wall. The Pyramid above is actually called the “Theoretical Hierarchy of Development”, and I think on top of giving us general aspects of fitness to try and improve it also shows us what we should be getting the most of. You can think back to elementary school when we all saw the food pyramid in the cafeteria (that model is completely outdated, but that’s a different blog topic), and whatever was at the bottom you needed the most of in your diet since it was the biggest and least of the stuff at the top.

We start at the bottom with the biggest, and therefore most important, portion of the pyramid: Nutrition. I’ve touched a bit on nutrition in several past blogs, but the bottom line is you can’t out train a bad diet. First we need to make sure we’re eating enough to support what we’re doing in everyday life, whether that includes exercise or not. Quantity isn’t really a problem here in the United States for a lot of people, so then we need to look at Quality. Eating whole and real foods rich in essential vitamins and minerals should make up almost your entire diet (I say almost cause cookies exist and are hard to resist once in a while). Often people have trouble here because “it’s to expensive”, but frozen vegetables hold onto most of their nutrients and even if a banana isn’t “organic” and “free range” it’s still better than the cinnamon apple sauce with tons of sugar thrown in it.

Once we’re fueling our body properly and with the proper sources we need to have some ability to use all of our energy systems. This is what Metabolic Conditioning refers to. It’s not just 5k runs and 30 minute rows, but also 100 meter sprints, a hike with your friends, and running around the yard with your dog. It’s also our bodies ability to switch between each of our 3 energy systems, and recover them so when a workout needs to use our sprint/power sources of sugar to do heavy deadlifts after coming back in from a mile run that used oxygen, it can.

Continuing up the pyramid we get to Gymnastics which does refer things like pull ups and handstands, but more accurately is described as moving your body through space. Gymnastics can be complex movements, but at its base foundation it hold the prerequisite abilities we must have before we move external loads. For example before we’re capable of moving a barbell for a back squat we first need to be able to do an air squat. This makes sure we have proper mechanics and movement patterns to maintain when stressors or intensity or load are added.

Once we have the proper foundation of movement fundamentals and conditioning we can apply them to external objects, I.e. Weightlifting. This allows for highly effective power and strength development. Adding outside loading also helps us to get a better realization for core to extremity initiated movement because we have to be in better control of our motion to prevent the loading from pulling us in another direction. It’s very common for us to grab weights and move them around because it is really fun, but you can understand why this is so up high on the pyramid by thinking of how much constant work goes into them. By comparison to once you get your first pull up you just try and be able to do more of them and they stop being so frustrating, but even after years of doing snatches there is always something about them that might feel off.

Topping off the pyramid we have Sport. Having built up a solid foundation through conditioning, gymnastics, and weightlifting, and we’re properly fueling ourselves, we can start taking on complex patterns involved in sports. I don’t personally consider this to encompass the general act of playing sports, but more the specific nuances and highly specific skills practiced in sports. I’ve had the opportunity to coach several sport teams through the years, but it’s always been my job to improve the middle three sections so that athletes have a higher capacity. Even having large capacities and a solid foundation it takes hours or practicing things like starts, steps, spins, and routes to become proficient and truly adept at a sport. Even if the work is put towards those things, however, without a proper base to use them effectively we have no ability to show our skill.

-Coach Tristan