Movement Quality vs. Movement Standards

Movement Quality vs. Movement Standards
by Erik Castiglione

As the CrossFit Games Open looms on the horizon once again, it’s an important time to focus on the difference between movement quality vs. movement standards. Simply put, when we talk about movement quality, we’re referring to mastery of technique and flawless form, or the pursuit thereof.

Movement standards, on the other hand, are a metric set by a governing body for ease of judging. In an ideal world, the two would be one and the same. Often, however, they are different. We’re going to look at some general examples for when the deviation is okay, when it’s less than ideal, and when it’s just plain stupid.

To start, let’s look at the kettlebell swing. A high quality American KB swing is done with straight arms through the entire range of motion, and the upward swing continues until the arms are locked out overhead with the ears past the biceps (see the left video below). You’ll also notice that the KB has a slight forward inclination while overhead. In the right-hand video, I perform what are called elevator swings, which are essentially a 2 handed KB snatch. This wasn’t even a thing until the 2011 Regionals, when the KB Swing standard required that the KB be completely vertical overhead. The elevator swing is faster, which allows for greater cycle time, and can jack up your heartrate more than the standard swing. There is nothing inherently wrong with an elevator swing; it’s just less time under tension than a standard American swing. In this case, it’s good to practice both, depending on the goal of the workout. If the workout is designed to be more of a metabolic stimulus (or if you’re prepping for a competition with elevator swings allowed), use the elevator swing. If the workout is designed for strength (or if you’re prepping for a competition that explicit forbids elevator swings), use the full American swing.

Now let’s move on to the air squat. In a quality air squat, we squat with our weight on our heels, knees tracking over the toes, backs tight, chests up, until the creases of our hips pass below our knees. When we stand back up, we achieve full hip and knee extension at the top. In competition, the standard is usually that the hips must pass below the knees, and full extensions must be achieved at the top. There is no mention of back tension or knee external rotation. In other words, I can do shitty less than ideal squats in competition and get away with it, because the standard has been met. Check the video below – in the left side, I do good squats. In the right, I’m merely meeting the competitive standard. When it comes to squats, do them well in training. In competition, maintain good form for as long as you can, but at the end of the day, you need to get them done. While good squats have a faster cycle time, if you’re in the Games doing “Murph”, the bottom line is you need to keep moving.

In some instances, poorly written stands can lead movements that are, well, just plain stupid. I’ve been in competitions where the push-up standard is simply “chest to deck at the bottom, full lockout of the arms at the top.” I’ve also seen power cleans where the standard is “the bar must touch the ground between reps.” While I believe the intent of these standards are clear, they are not robust enough to prevent dumb movements like the ones shown in the videos below.

While the goal of competition is to do the WODs as fast as possible, if you look for loopholes in the standards like those above you are an asshole I mean the reason CrossFit gets a bad name I mean sacrificing the spirit of CrossFit competition in exchange for reps. Don’t be that guy.

At the end of the day, what’s the point? Well, we need to be able to recognize the difference between a movement that meets a competitive standard and a high-quality standard of movement.  We need to strive for good quality movement in our daily WODs. We’ll explore why a little more in depth next week. For now, suffice it to say that while competition is good, quality training is for life.

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