CrossFit – The Top 3 Most Efficient Exercises to Include in Your Off-Season
In this article series, I will present the most efficient exercises I use in the early preparation phase of CrossFit athletes. 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 1: I will start with my favorite: The traditional leg curl
Yup. You read it right. Like my friend Stéphane Aubé (Hungry for Victory) said to me in a meeting, « There’s nothing better for your hamstrings than a traditional leg curl ». Even though Crossfit has brought new popularity to functional training, I see a lot of coaches that forget the benefits of isolation exercises or who didn’t even learn the basics from the bodybuilding world.
Special thanks to Marcus Filly, who is educating the Crossfit world right now – the last time I showed a barbell hip thrust to one of my members, she said : « Oh yes, that’s Marcus Filly right ? » … Meeh, maybe ? Here are the main reasons why we use it a lot.
Muscle imbalance: There aren’t many well-balanced programs that give your posterior chain a good shot weekly. Moreover, if you come back from those 2-3 strenuous months where you were preparing for the Open and then striking for the Open, you may have neglected your hamstrings and your glutes.
Even better, if you have any knee problems, are quad dominant and your hamstrings are never sore, it’s time for your coach to bring back some simple hypertrophy training methods, including some high threshold muscle building.
For people that don’t have any injuries and can’t feel their hamstrings, I always go with some high-reps hypertrophy, including isometric holds (12-20 reps T2230). Add with that different foot positions: dorsiflexion in concentric, plantar flexion in eccentric.
Posterior chain is not only a hip hinge: My first reflex as a coach back in the days when I had someone that was anterior chain dominant and had zero or close to zero posterior chain mind-muscle connection was to start with a couple of hip thrusts as fillers between sets of Romanian deadlifts.
I would see if they could engage their posterior chain while standing up vs lying on the floor and choose at what level they were ready to work. The problem is we always address posterior chain work with the hip hinge movement, as it is the movement that is referred to as « hamstring » work in CrossFit.
But count the amount of people that can perform a hip hinge properly. Not many. So, learning the motor pattern is always the first step before doing more reps and adding more weight. I would add this – while learning the motor pattern, execute isolation exercises to help people to connect with the right muscles that need to work for that specific exercise.
So, for someone with « no hamstrings », I would start with a leg curl over a SLDL, or a SLDL for the motor pattern with a leg curl in super-sets.
Training experience : I train a 15-year-old teenage girl ranked 2nd in the world right now and this year she has a shot to be world champion. Of course, she is young. Of course, she has not been doing CrossFit for years, OF COURSE I am not training her in CrossFit all year long, and OF COURSE she is not doing what a regional qualifier is doing.
She is doing a lot of simple isolation exercises: dumbbell Z press, dumbbell curls, dumbbell skull crushers, leg curl, GHD raises and a lot of strict pulling work. As she used to be an elite gymnast and has around 8 years of experience in her sport, she does other sports during her off season (running, swimming, skills/light plyometrics circuit) and also other functional stuff as she has good mind muscle connection: single leg deadlift, Bulgarian split squats.
If you’re a rookie, you may be between 15 or 20. If your first experience of training is traditional CrossFit, you are a couple of years behind those who started with traditional body-building. They all NEED to get through that « bodybuilding » phase which lays the foundation of future performance and success. Bring back the leg curl!
Don’t forget, functional training may be trendy, but stop trying to re-invent the wheel and throw whatever you think is cool coming from the gram university. Stay simple and effective, staying in line with specific and clear intentions.