Pilates and the 5 Unchanging Elements of CrossFit

A few weeks ago, I attended the CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Certification at NorCal CrossFit in San Jose. Not only was it very well run by some of the most awesome coaches in CrossFit and super inspiring, it also helped me to really see the synergies between CrossFit and Pilates that I have been exploring over the past year.

At the Level I Cert, we spent a lot of time on the 9 fundamental movements in CrossFit:

1) Air Squat
2) Front Squat
3) Overhead Squat
4) Deadlift
5) Sumo-Deadlift High Pull
6) Shoulder Press
7) Push Press
8) Push jerk
9) Medicine Ball Clean

All of these fundamental movements have the same 5 unchanging elements:

1) Midline Stability
2) Posterior chain engagement and weight in heels
3) Core to extremity
4) Active shoulder (load overhead)
5) Range of motion

These 5 unchanging elements are the same principles of Pilates.

Midline Stability: In Pilates, we teach clients the importance of stabilizing their torsos (via pelvic stability). Core stability can be thought of as the ability to keep the pelvis and spine in the desired position while moving the limbs or the whole body through space without undesired distortions or compensations. Someone who is not maintaining desired control of this area in a given movement and who arches the lower back or moves the pelvis excessively is often said to have a weak core or demonstrate poor core stability or poor core control, which can lead to a whole host of movement dysfunctions and potential injuries.

Posterior Chain Engagement: One of the main goals of Pilates is to help clients to engage their posterior chain and to get out of their quad muscles. The term posterior chain refers to the series of muscles that include the low back, the glutes, the hamstrings, and even the calf muscles. Posterior chain exercises involve most, if not all, of these muscles in a chainlike manner. Athletes in sports that involve swinging, throwing, and lifting (think CrossFit!) know that generating power in one area is not enough; the muscles must be strong enough to transfer it along the chain.

Posterior chain exercises also contribute to a strong core. A common assumption is that the term core applies only to the abdominal muscles, but the low back, glutes, and even the top of the hamstrings are all part of the core as well. This back side of the core must also be developed and maintained.

Core to Extremity: Another basic tenant of Pilates is to have all movements initiate from the core. Many Pilates exercises involve maintaining a stable trunk (spine) whilst moving arms and/or legs. Typically the weight of the limbs and their movement act as a challenge to that stable trunk position. This is vital to preventing overuse injuries and for promoting functional movement patterns.

Active Shoulder: Pilates teaches the importance of scapular stability and the importance of a strong and stable shoulder girdle. This also means an active, engaged, and strong shoulder girdle!

Range of Motion: There is not one, single Pilates exercise that works a joint or muscle in isolation. Joseph’s own principles for his method were: breathing; whole body movement; and whole body commitment, and that intrinsically means full, healthy, complete range of motion at all joints!

I’ll finish with this. When I was reading my CrossFit training guide, I was geeking out on the article on the Overhead Squat (http://journal.crossfit.com/2005/08/the-overhead-squat-by-greg-gla.tpl) in which Greg Glassman stated that “The overhead squat is the ultimate core exercise, the heart of the snatch, and peerless in developing effective athletic movement.” He finished the article by stating that “Once developed, the overhead squat is a thing of beauty- a masterpiece of expression in control, stability, balance, efficient power and utility. Get on it.”

Well said Greg. And with that, I am convinced that Joseph Pilates would have been involved in CrossFit, had he the chance.

CrossFit could very well be, the next evolution of the Pilates method.


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