CrossFit : The top 3 most efficient exercises to include in your off-season – Part 2

Karim El Hlimi

Articles, Crossfit, Rehab, mobility & injury prevention, Strength and performance

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CrossFit : The top 3 most efficient exercises to include in your off-season – Part 2

CrossFit : The top 3 most efficient exercises to include in your off-season – Part 2

In this article series, I will present the most efficient exercises I use in the early preparation phase of CrossFitters. Basically, if you didn’t reach the regionals or you are coming back from them or from the Games, these are in my opinion the best go-to exercises to start your year right.

Part 2 : The under-estimated « overhead » DB press

Let’s face it, anybody who started CrossFit had a hard time with those overhead squats. Actually, you don’t see it quite often performed in almost any sport-specific training except…Olympic weightlifting (for the training police out there, you may see much more different variations of the BB snatch or DB snatch in this context).

On the other hand, considering the number of different movements that require overhead mobility and stability as well as overhead strength and endurance, it has become as important as being able to do burpees now. Looking at the table below, you can see that in almost every CrossFit Open events, your shoulder was a game-changer:

18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4


Hang DB clean
and jerk


Overhead squat + DB snatch Handstand
push ups


Same thing at this year’s regionals: 5 out of 6 events required solid overhead mobility, stability and strength:

Event 1

Event 2

Event 3

Event 4 Event 5 Event 6
N/A Bench press Muscle up +
Handstand walk
BB Snatch Kipping HSPU +
OH DB lunges

Heavy thrusters

So, you’re starting your off-season and you want to target that weakness of yours. Where do you start? Go from the bottom.

  1. CrossFit is an « overhead » sport: scapular control

Having had the chance to train a baseball player who was trying out for the Philadelphia Phillies was a major game-changer for me. It opened my eyes to how important the little details were when training an overhead athlete and understand that it wasn’t only about getting more powerful and doing barbell strict presses. Hell no. Same goes for CrossFit. You need to understand how to press using your scapula.

When you lack mobility or have a certain weakness, the way the scapula is moving can change as well as it’s stabilization and that can ultimately lead to injuries or decreased performance. So, when your best bud is telling you his overhead squat is weak or his handstand push-ups, you may want to seek further than only the main movement he is telling you about.

There are many muscles that serve to stabilize the scapula, but the main ones are the serratus anterior, the rhomboids, the levator scapulae, as well as the trapezius. Then you have the muscles of your rotator cuff that acts to guide scapular movement: supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor and subscapularis.

*borrowed from

  1. Use the single-arm DB press to learn about scapular control

If you put all the band exercises that exist when you tap « scapular control exercises » on Youtube, you may want to go more specific and learn how to press using a light to moderate load for 12-20 reps (see table below). That would be the first part of your off-season shoulder training. I tend to use the single-arm DB strict press so you can focus only on one arm and repeat the same pattern with the other one.

Alterations to the normal positioning of your scapula can mostly occur if you load both arms. I also use the closed-chain variation of the movement, placing the elbow closer to the mid-line so the scapula can be stabilized more easily. The further from your midline, the harder it gets to your scapula to stabilize.

Week 1

Week 2 Week 3

Week 4

1st phase – control
*end of your session


3×15 3×15-20


2nd phase – hypertrophy
*end of your session




3rd phase-hypertrophy


4×6-8 5×6-8


  1. Ask your coach!

This is probably one of the hardest neuromuscular movements to understand so you may want to work with your trainer to be as perfect as possible. If you lack mobility, you can still use this one with a light load focusing on stretching at the top position. Try out other variations that can help you either to activate your overhead stabilization or getting that work done on your shoulder.

DB z-press neutral grip:

Half-kneeling bottom-up KB press: