CrossFit is flush with movements, drills and endless variations that help keep our workouts exciting and our bodies constantly adapting to new stimuli. There are, of course, the usual suspects that crop up in our workouts more often than not, such as thrusters, pull-ups and kettlebell swings. But within the extensive catalogue of accessory exercises—which are designed to strengthen particular muscle groups and our core lifts—are countless movements that are often neglected, when they actually deserve more of our respect and attention. After all, if we spend more time working on them, we can reap the benefits that they are designed to provide! So, what are some of the best exercises that you’re currently not doing?
The Sots Press (pictured above)
Also known as the ‘press in clean’ or ‘press in snatch’, the Sots press is a mobility and strength exercise for the receiving positions of the clean and snatch. The intent of the Sots press is to improve mobility in the ankles, hips, thoracic spine and shoulders. As a bonus, the nature of the movement (in which you press the barbell over your head in the bottom position of a squat) has a tremendous impact on your balance, overhead and back extension strength and trunk stability. The Sots Press not only helps to develop your clean and snatch, but also your pull-ups, overhead squats, presses and more.
• Begin with the barbell on a squat rack and, depending on whether you are performing a Sots press from the clean position or snatch position, adjust your grip accordingly and lift the bar from the rack.
• If you are performing a ‘press in clean’, take the bar from the rack in the front squat position with a normal clean-width grip. If you are performing a ‘press in snatch’, take the bar from the rack in a back squat position with a snatch-width grip.
• Lower yourself into the bottom of a front/back squat. You should aim to mimic the exact squat stance you have in the clean and snatch. For extra guidance, have your coach demonstrate the correct position for each lift.
• From this position, tense your core and press the bar up and overhead, taking care to move your head back out of the way so that the bar can travel in a straight line.
• Try to hold this overhead position for a few seconds to replicate the sensation of receiving heavy weight overhead. When you do return the bar to your shoulders, do so under control. You don’t need to completely reset yourself with each rep, but make sure that the bar does touch your shoulders with each rep.
• Naturally an athlete needs to consider how flexible they are to hold a bottom position in the squat, let alone press weight overhead once they’re down there. If you feel any pain whatsoever, work on your mobility first, then start with a bar and add weight in small increments.
The Barbell Row
The barbell row is renowned in strength-training circles for its ability to build impressive strength in your lats and traps (short for trapezius, a crucial muscle in your back that supports the arm and moves the scapulae—your shoulder blades). By bending over to perform bent over barbell rows, you’re adding gravity to the mix, which places extra impetus on your lower back and abdominals to maintain tight body control throughout the movement. In addition to strengthening the shoulders and arms, the bent over barbell row “can serve to help develop postural strength, shoulder stability, back arch strength, upper back arch strength in particular, and arm strength for the pull under the bar in the clean and snatch [though increased pull strength will obviously come in handy for pull-ups, toes-to-bar and more],” as Catalyst Athletics points out.
• Deadlift the bar to a standing position with a clean-width grip.
• With a slight bend in the knees, hinge at the hip and allow the bar to drift down your thighs until your trunk is nearing a horizontal position, similar to the Romanian deadlift.
• Keeping the bar close to your thighs (but not touching!), squeeze your shoulder blades together, tense your abs and pull your elbows up to row the bar up in a straight line so that it makes contact with your abdomen.
• Lower the bar under control, ensuring your shoulders don’t drop forward and that you don’t lose your arched back position. If this happens, the weight on the barbell is too heavy. Pick a lighter weight and focus on good technique and solid repetitions before progressing.
Max Height Box Jump
You are all no doubt intimately familiar with the standard box jump, a core movement of many WODs. The main benefit of a box jump is that as a plyometric exercise, it will improve the reaction times of the fast twitch fibers in your body—which in turn increases your power (especially in your legs). Additional benefits include increased strength to your muscles, an efficiency boost for the neuromuscular system and a decreased risk of sustaining an injury in a workout. Max height box jumps are valued for exactly the same reasons. You may be used to generating just enough power to get you on to a box X number of times, but think about the surge in fast-twitch explosiveness and muscle recruitment when you have to coil all that power into a single jump to the highest box (or stack of plates) possible. There’s a reason that sprinters, basketball players and football players perform max height box jumps, and that’s to increase their power—not to mention reinforcing efficiency of movement and good mechanics in the hips. As you might have guessed, your ability to fully extend your hips and do so with power directly translates to your success in numerous lifts within CrossFit—particularly the snatch and the clean and jerk.
• If you have multiple boxes that vary in height, begin by warming up on a box that you are comfortable using.
• Grab a box that is a few inches higher, or add a bumper plate to the box you’re already using. The plate you use will vary according to your goals and comfort level with the movement. A 45lb plate is obviously much thicker than a 25lb plate.
• To perform a max height box jump, get situated in a solid squat stance. You want to be close enough to the box to ensure that you don’t have to jump too far forward to reach the top of the box, but not too close that you’ll bang your shin on the way up there.
• Bend your knees, squat down and quickly explode from the the squat, snapping your hips aggressively and tucking your knees in as you launch yourself into the air.
• Land in a stable squat position with your feet securely on the box—preferably with your arms between your knees as this will force your knees out—before standing to full extension. If your feet don’t feel stable on the box, allow yourself to drop down and repeat.
• Increase the height of the box by using plates or taller boxes as necessary.
While performing sit-ups and back extensions on a GHD is a great way to develop core, back and hip-flexor strength, the name of the machine reveals its true purpose—to develop an athlete’s glutes and hamstrings. This is important because your glutes and hamstrings (and calves) generate a huge amount of power. When you drive your toes into the toe plate during a GHD raise, you engage your calves and generate force to help your body move upwards. GHD raises strengthen the hamstrings by forcing them to work their two primary functions—knee flexion and hip extension—simultaneously. This is exactly what’s happening when you perform everyday movements like running, squatting and jumping, which are key factors in almost all functional movements—particularly the Olympic lifts—and the reason why GHD raises are regularly done by Olympic weightlifters. Furthermore, because GHD raises increase muscle mass and strength in the back and posterior chain, the exercise is effective in preventing injuries —particularly hamstring strains, back injuries and ACL tears.
• Begin by positioning your knees directly on or slightly behind the pad of the GHD, with your feet flat on the platform, calves pressed lightly against the upper ankle hook and your torso facing away from the GHD and perpendicular to the floor.
• To begin the movement, squeeze your hamstrings, glutes and abs and lower yourself slowly and under control until your torso is parallel to the floor.
• To return to the starting position, push your toes into the footplate and squeeze your butt to help raise your torso back to perpendicular. That’s one rep.
Photos by Phillip Elgie Media
From the Dec/Jan 2015 Issue of BoxLife Magazine