In CrossFit, performing a single-joint movement like a DB Bicep Curl used to be frowned upon. More recently, we’ve started to see more CrossFitters use single-joint movements to become more balanced and target individual limiting factors. It’s funny that’s it’s taken this long for many to realize that accessory work is just as vital to an athlete’s success and health, as are the bigger, sexier bilateral movements like squats, deadlifts, pull-ups.
CrossFit has done a lot for the lifting world. It has helped people see the benefits of the power-lifts, Olympic lifts, and lifting heavy. Indeed, single joint movements and machines may be more common to most gym-goers than the squats and deadlifts, but there definitely is a place for both types of training in any successful training program.
Bilateral movements should be the cornerstone of a successful program, but another aspect of a balanced training program should be single-joint movements, or as Louie Simmons likes to call them, “special exercises.”
Special exercises allow us to target muscular imbalance which is tough to do with bilateral movements. For instance, if you were performing heavy back squats, you’d want to follow those up with some special exercises for the lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and quads which all assist the back squat.
Special exercises will help strengthen the weakest links in the chain and, in turn, improve your back squat. Overall, single-joint movements can be pushed to a much higher degree with little to no risk of injury whereas bilateral movements if pushed to near maximal effort on a continuous basis, can result in overuse injuries or overtraining.
Athletes of any sport need to bring up their weak links in the chain if they want to be healthy and successful. Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention that single joint exercises will also allow you to add muscle-mass to lagging muscle groups.
Adding muscle mass not only ensures you’ll look good at the beach, but it will also help protect your body from injury. Double-win. How does this apply to CrossFitters? Strength work will occur first, then energy systems work will take place in the middle of their training session, culminating with special exercise work. All in all, sessions should take no more than 60 minutes to complete.
You may wonder how this hypertrophy work fits into a CrossFitters training plan so below I’m going to outline a 5-day sample training plan.
This is something I would prescribe for an athlete that has some time under their belt training, knows how to move properly, and most likely has some athletic background, but just as easily this routine can be scaled for a beginner athlete. In fact, the need for single-joint exercises with newer athletes is even more critical to establish balance and control.
Max Effort Lower
1) Anderson Back Squat off high pins: 1RM. Rest 2:00
2) Goodmorning: 4 x 8. Rest 60s.
4 Rounds of:
8 Power Cleans (135, 95)
12 Lateral Burpees Over the Bar
1) Reverse Hypers: 4 x 25 @50% of Back Squat. Rest 60s.
2) Standing abs: 4 x 15. Rest 60s.
Dynamic Effort Upper
1) Speed Bench Press: 9 x 3 @50%, every 60s. Change grip every 3 sets (close, medium, wide).
2) Chest Supported DB Rows: 4 x 12-15. Rest 60s.
50 Box Jumps w. step down (24, 20)
25 Calorie Row
4 Rope Climbs
50 Hand Release Push-ups
25 Calorie Row
3 Rope Climbs
50 Push Press (115, 75)
25 Calorie Row
2 Rope Climbs
25 Calorie Row
1 Rope Climb
Accumulate 150 Reps of:
Active Recovery Measures
x 2 Rounds @130-150 BPM
Dynamic Effort Lower
1) Wide Stance Box Squats: 12 x 2 @50% + 25% band tension, every 60s.
2) Speed Pull Deadlifts: 8 x 1 @50% + 30% band tension, every 30s.
5 Rounds of:
3 Touch n Go Squat Snatch @70%
10 Calorie Assault Bike Sprint
Rest 4-5x as long as each round takes you.
1) Glute Ham Raises: 4 x 10. Rest 60s.
2) Banded Side Bends: 4 x 15 ea. Rest 60s.
Max Effort Upper
1) Jerk: Work up to 1RM. Rest 2:00
2) Close Grip Bench Press w. chains: Work up to a heavy set 5-6. Rest 90s-2:00
15 Air Squats
Accumulate 150 Banded Face pull-aparts + 60s L-Hold
6 Days of training that covers all your bases. There is a nice balance of heavy lifting, speed lifting, conditioning (both high, low, and moderate intensity), and accessory work. This type of programming will make athletes well-rounded and bulletproof.
The more movements we have available to us the more likely we can identify our weakest links enhancing both body composition and performance.