One of the tasks given to Mountain Strength CrossFit interns is to write essays on a few articles from The CrossFit Journal. Jenny Corso, a 2016 intern, wrote this essay based on Greg Glassman’s article, “What Is Fitness?” Jenny is a student at Bentley University majoring in corporate finance and accounting.
The 10 General Physical Skills
-by Jenny Corso
As a broad strength and conditioning program, CrossFit was designed to train athletes for mastery in each of the ten general physical skills: cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. In his article “Foundations,” Greg Glassman, CrossFit founder and CEO, describes that CrossFit seeks to develop a fitness that is “varied, yet complete” (2002a). Accordingly, CrossFit movements and the Workout Of the Day (WOD) combine multiple physical skills, resulting in intense, efficient movements. The ten general physical skills are each unique, yet interrelated, as complete functional fitness can only be achieved through mastery of all ten skills. The importance of each skill can be explained through the example of shoveling dirt for a garden, an everyday functional movement that uses all ten skills.
The first set of closely related general physical skill are cardiovascular and respiratory endurance and stamina. Cardiovascular and respiratory endurance is the ability of body systems to gather, process and deliver energy. This skill is similar to stamina, which is the ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy (2002b). Both of these skills determine how effectively the body processes and utilizes the energy harvested from the food we eat. However, stamina emphasizes one’s ability to store energy, and thus determines one’s ability to put out longer durations of physical work. Let’s apply these skills to our example of shoveling dirt. A gardener with strong cardiovascular and respiratory endurance would have the ability to maintain a relatively stable heart rate and breathing pattern throughout the duration of work, making for an efficient and stable pace. Coupled with strong stamina, the gardener would be able to perform repetitions of the shoveling movement over a long duration of time due to effective energy storing and utilization. With weak cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, she would most likely have to take multiple breaks and be unable to complete a large volume of work due to ineffective processing, storing, and utilization of energy.
The next set of closely related general physical skills includes strength, power, and speed. Strength is the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force. Power is the ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time. Speed is the ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement (2002b). Due to their similarity in wording, these definitions can become easily confused. However, our example shows both a clear differentiation and interdependence between these three skills. The gardener’s strength determines how much dirt she will be able to lift with the shovel at one time. Her power determines how quickly she can lift this amount of dirt from the ground to waist-level. Her speed determines how quickly she is able to move twenty shovels full of dirt from the garden to the wheelbarrow. Like shoveling, certain CrossFit movements, such as the clean, train all three of these physical skills.
Another group of skills to examine includes flexibility, coordination, and agility. Flexibility is the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint. Coordination is the ability to combine several distinct patterns into a singular distinct movement. Agility is the ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another (2002b). In terms of our example, the gardener’s flexibility determines how far she can squat to pick up a shovel full of dirt, and how high she can lift the shovel full of dirt. Her level of coordination determines how efficiently she is able to combine the movements of picking up a shovel full of dirt and dumping it into a wheelbarrow. Her agility determines the amount of time needed to transition from shoveling to pushing the filled wheelbarrow. Similar to gardening, elements of CrossFit, like the snatch and the varied structure of the WOD, train these three skills. The snatch requires flexibility during the squat portion and coordination during the shrug and catch portion. The WOD structure is designed to train athletes to quickly transition from one movement to another movement of a different skill emphasis.
The last two skills to discuss are balance and accuracy. Balance is the ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base. Accuracy is the ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity (2002b). Referring to our example, the gardener’s balance determines whether she is able to control the extra weight of the dirt on the shovel, or if this shift will cause her to fall forward. Her accuracy determines her ability to throw each shovel full of dirt into the wheelbarrow every time without missing. Once again, the skills utilized in this everyday movement parallel skills practiced in CrossFit, like the box jump. When performing the box jump, one needs balance in order to land on the box in a quiet, controlled manner with the knees in line with the toes. One also needs accuracy to land in the middle of the box for each rep.
From the gardener example, it is evident that each of the ten general physical skills is integral to functional fitness. Each skill has unique traits, but all skills are interdependent, as deficiencies in one skill will most likely limit another skill. For example, if the gardener lacks flexibility in the knees and hips, she will not be able to reach her full potential of power and strength due to lack of range of motion. If a movement as commonplace as shoveling dirt uses all ten skills, an effective strength and conditioning regimen must also train all ten skill. Therefore, CrossFit is unmatched in the fitness world because it focuses on complete functional movement mastery, which enables people to move well in their daily lives.
Glassman, G. (2002a, April 1). Foundations. CrossFit Journal.
Glassman, G. (2002b, October). What is Fitness?. CrossFit Journal.