What I learned at San Francisco CrossFit

SF Crossfit
Photo courtesy of San Francisco CrossFit

I am pleased to say that after my 14 years of being in the strength and conditioning field I still have the passion inside to search for knowledge to be the best trainer I can be for the people I work with. I have traveled across the United States, taken numerous certifications and attended seminars in search of knowledge not only for myself to ponder but to apply when I train others.

The umbrella of fitness can cover many different factions some of which take up more space than others. The ones that seem to get the most attention, thanks to the instant gratification of the social media world, are aesthetically pleasing physiques and unusual displays of physical prowess. What gets lost in translation is the process or journey that takes someone from point A to the end result we see everyday trolling the internet.

Now I am not immune to admiring someone with a nice physique nor being awe struck by a double bodyweight deadlift, however, as a practitioner of strength and fitness the in-between steps are where I need to constantly study; I need to know the how and why to get my clients to the next level.

Lucky for me there are plenty of mentors close to my gym and one of those people happens to be a pioneer trainer dedicated to helping individuals be the best they can be and construct their training around their goals starting with a strong foundation and building upwards from there to reach a final goal; that person is Kelly Starrett and his team at San Francisco CrossFit. I got to talk to Kelly at a recent seminar and he invited me to come down and train with them to see what they do in person; I did and this is what I learned…

Starting Out of my Comfort Zone

Due to my work schedule my best option to make it down there was during the Gymnastics Skills class. When it comes to CrossFit training I am definitely out of my league because I do not do any Olympic lifting let alone gymnastics, however if I had to pick one of the two to start from scratch I am glad it was the Gymnastic skills class, at least the only weight I would be dropping would be my own bodyweight.

Our coach was Carl Paoli, a very outgoing and accomplished gymnast in his day; he proved to be the perfect instructor for a nervous newbie like myself.

Right away I knew I was in good hands. A sign of a good coach is to find a way to include everyone simultaneously while catering to the needs of the individual skill level; this is not an easy task to accomplish and clients can see this right away if trainers favor making the training too difficult or too remedial for the group.

Before we even began to move we had a quick debrief of the goals for the day and the workout that was going to be the road to take towards those goals. We had our main movements which were going to be handstands, pull-ups and double-unders with the jump rope. We knew our hips, ankles and wrists had to be well mobilized to get the most out of the workout and the general mobility warm up reflected that.

Warm Up

We started with general mobility to get the joints of our prime movers ready, warm and loose. The movements consisted of:

  • Bent over wrist (palms on the floor) and knee extension
  • Feet together squats
  • Bottom position squat with hip shifts
  • Mid-position squat with hip shift
  • Cosshack squats

Each movement we were instructed to move within our own comfortable range of motion (ROM) with the goal of being successful at increasing our ROM as we extended our movement within our own personal range.

Many training enthusiasts would call several sets of different push variations a stand-alone workout, however at the SF CrossFit gymnastic skills class it is only considered a warm up. Again we were brought up to speed as to why we were doing several sets in many different variations and their regression options all to ensure a proper warm up of the muscles and joints of the shoulders and wrists to allow for successful handstand practice.

SF CRossfit 2
Photo courtesy of San Francisco CrossFit

We performed the following push-up variations:

  • Regular hand spacing
  • Narrow
  • Wide
  • Hands forward
  • Fingers turned back
  • Downward dog push-ups with various hand positions
  • Lastly we did some partner assisted stretches to get those hard-to-reach ROMs; they included:
  • Shoulder overhead extension
  • Shoulder behind the back extension

 Workout 1

The first workout was considered a skill builder workout rather than a cardiovascular intensive or a goal oriented workout. Having this seed planted in our minds by Carl, we were able to shift the focus more towards the skill development rather than completing the workout. Shoulder mobility and isometric stability were the two main areas of focus. We split into teams of two and while one of us was performing one exercise the other was doing the second.

One of the exercises was a plate push on the floor approximately 20 yards. On the surface it looks like another agonizing conditioning exercise but Carl had us focus on proper shoulder alignment which carried over perfectly to our wall handstand practice.

Workout 2

The second workout was a biggie and it came with a goal for repetitions within a certain amount of time.   The goal was to get 500 repetitions of double-unders with the jump rope and if you stopped during the double-unders you had to perform strict pull-ups and push-ups in between.

Carl told us it would be challenging and said to start with at least five pull-ups less than our max number of repetitions and at least 10 repetitions less in the push-ups. Each time we stopped our double-unders we did 3-5 pull-ups each round and five push-ups each round; this lead to a strong incentive to do the double-unders for as long as one could. The workout was to be completed in 18 minutes.

I was not good at double-unders at that moment and found myself on the bar and the floor doing more than holding the rope. Though I did not have very high expectation due to my lack of jump rope double-under prowess, I was slightly upset at my performance until our post workout discussion where I found that a few got close, however no-one completed the workout; that sneaky coach Carl gave us a goal that was slightly unattainable for our group but never the less gave us hope that we could complete it one day soon.

Also during the discussion we were able to express our own personal achievements during the workout, why the workout was formulated in such a manner and Q&A about future workouts.


Talk with Kelly

My post workout talk with Kelly further exemplified their method behind their training philosophies. He told me that like most great sport coaches, the focus should be on skill development and only a relatively small amount of time should be spent having their players perform or express their skills through sport; Kelly believes, “Scrimmaging is a privilege and not the primary focus.” He believes that when the focus shifts too much on the sport itself and detracts from the constant development and frequent re-acquaintance of the primary skills needed to perform the sport then that leads us down the rabbit hole of poor foundation development, decreased performance and possible injuries.

The coaches at SF CrossFit live by this credo and bring it with them in every class and it serves as a good foundation for new coaches and a nice reminder for season ones:

  • Focus on a skill
  • Drill it
  • Put it into a sporting situation
  • Reflect and focus on it after

This is how you train the in between and teach others how to progress down the road towards their own personal mastery of the goals they want to achieve.

Check out more information about Kelly Starrett here

Check out more information about SF Crossft here

* Photos courtesy of San Francisco Crossfit