How to Build Skill and Movement Capacity
How many times have you heard "Just do the movement more to get better at it"? This has some merit but most of the time it ends in failure, lack of progression, or worst case injury. So how do you get better at a movement then? It all starts with FUNCTIONAL CAPACITY
What is functional capacity?
Functional capacity is the limit at which your body can maintain ideal stabilization when completing a task. When an athlete is not able to maintain good stabilization, this is when form begins to break down. This is considered entering the functional gap. If you reach a maximum threshold and can no longer complete the task with ideal patterns this would be passing your functional threshold. If you are no longer able to complete the task overall you have reached your absolute fatigue point.
Most of your training should be below your Functional THRESHOLD, while competing will usually fall inside of the Functional GAP.
Our goal for rehabilitation and training should be the exact same. To increase the functional threshold of that person. Rehabilitation and training just have different points of entry for exercise. To increase functional threshold there are a few rules that you should follow to make sure the athlete or patient does not take steps backwards.
Side note: All of these rules and steps are based on the goals of the client or patient. You should be able to match their current capacities and goals to give them the best program possible.
So what can you do to increase your functional threshold?
Prerequisites: You need a prerequisite tissue resiliency, joint range of motion, strength, and coordination in order to complete a movement. If you do not have one or more of these, this should be your starting place. Using a pull up as an example, you need to have full shoulder flexion, or over head movement, enough strength to pull your chin over the bar, which includes but is not limited to elbow flexion strength, scapular strength, shoulder extension strength, and upper extremity muscle coordination to keep your arm in the correct place while pulling.
Skill acquisition: In order to complete a skill or task at a high level you must first learn the skill. Kipping pull ups are a very good example of this. You should not be just jumping up on a bar and flailing around like a fish trying to do kipping pull ups if you cannot do a few strict pull ups. Having the proper prerequisites from above will make learning the skill much easier.
Now how can we start learning the skill itself. Well you can start by breaking the pattern of a kipping pull up into parts. Start with learning a good kip swing where your shoulder is stable and you are learning to control the movement from your shoulder to transfer power to your hips.
Example Program of Skill acquisition
Session 1) Kip swings x3-8 for 3-5 sets with full rest
Session 2) Kip swing with small pull x3-5 for 2-5 sets with full rest
Session 3) Kip swing + kip swing with small pull x2-4 for 3-5 sets with full rest
Session 4) Kip Swing jumping pull up x 6-10 for 2-4 sets with full rest
These small steps can be repeated until you feel confident in your kip swing timing. This should also be used in conjunction with the strength work you are doing to keep building your strict pull ups.
Now you have learned the Kip swing we can start building into kipping pull ups and adding a slight increase in volume.
Skill plus Volume accumulation
Session 1) accumulate 10 kipping pull ups as singles with full rest between. Each rep should look the same and you should not fail
Session 2) accumulate 12 kipping pull ups as singles with full rest between. Each rep should look the same and you should not fail
Session 3) accumulate 14 kipping pull ups as singles with full rest between. Each rep should look the same and you should not fail
Repeat this sequence until you are confident in how the kipping pull ups look and feel. Again this should be supplemental to building the prerequisites skills. You may not need to do as much of the isolated strength work but it will help build the proper muscle and joint strength.
Skill building with slight fatigue or complimentary movements
After a few weeks of good kipping pull up work in singles, we can add a slight amount of fatigue. The best way to do this is to use cyclical complimentary movements. These are movements that do not use the same body part (IE upper body in this case). Some examples of this are biking and running if you are proficient in running.
Example of complimentary movement
Session 1) 8 calorie assault bike + 2 kipping pull ups rest 1-2 minutes x 6
Session 2) 100m run + 2 kipping pull ups rest 1-2 minutes x 6
Session 3) 8 calorie bike+ 1 kipping pull ups + 100m run + 1 kipping pull up x6
In each of these sessions, volume is being built up SLIGHTLY from session to session. The goal is to execute the movement perfectly with a slightly elevated heart rate. If you are needing to rest in order to complete the pull up with great technique you are going to fast on the conditioning part. REMEMBER this is skill building not cardio training.
Skill Building with NON-complimentary movements
The next step can be to add a non-complimentary movement into the mix. These movement will tax many of the same muscle groups that you need to perform a kipping pull up which will add another level of difficulty.
Example of non-complimentary movement
Session 1) EMOM 16 minutes
Minute 1) 5 push ups
Minute 2) 3 kipping pull ups
Minute 3) 5 DB push press
Minute 4) 10 calorie bike
Session 2) 5 Kettlebell swing + 2 kipping pull ups rest 1 minute x6
Session 3) 100m farmers carry + 2 Kipping pull ups rest 1 minute x 6
You can see with all of these session you are close to the same amount of kipping pull ups per session as every other progression.
My suggestion is to keep cycling through each of these steps while increasing the volume from cycle to cycle to meet the demands of your sport.
TO BE HIGHLY COMPETITIVE IN CROSSFIT YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO COMPLETE 100 PULL UPS OR MORE IN A SESSION, WHILE HAVING THE ABILITY TO RECOVER FROM IT.
That being said most people do not need to get to this point in order have a good workout. If you can build to around 50 perfect kipping pull ups in session this would be the time to start adding intensity.
Skill building with intensity
I know this is what you have been waiting for this entire time. You get to do Crossfit.
Adding intensity to these skills when they have been built properly can have tremendous effects on your fitness.
Example for someone that has built to 50 pull ups in a session consistently and has the ability to recover from these types of contractions.
Session 1) 5 rounds for time of 5 pull ups + 7 push ups+ 200m run rest 3 minutes x2
Session 2) Max calories on the assault bike every 90 seconds complete 5 UB kipping pull ups until you complete 50
This style of progression should be used with every movement that you are trying to learn or become proficient at. Crossfit is a sport that has many different movements all with their own challenge to build capacity in.
Before starting a training program you should be assessed by a professional coach to see where your starting point is for all of the movements that will be needed in your activities. A coach can then help you create a plan of attack for safe progression of fitness.
If you want to be assessed by a coach, Dr. Kopp is an OPEX CCP certified coach that can help determine where you are at and where you need to be for your goals.