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5 Moves to Master Before Entering the Box

The top exercises to know for crossover CrossFitters.


Bodybuilders are quite familiar with everyday compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, but we don’t do many others … cleans-and-jerks or push presses? Sounds kind of goofy, if you ask me. In my attempt to broaden my horizons into CrossFit, though, I knew my whole repertoire was up for grabs. First-timers in a box may wonder, What actually happens during CrossFit workouts? Are there breaks? What do I need to master before making the jump?

These are the five biggest exercises to know going in for anyone looking to be a strong athlete in the gym and the CrossFit realm.

1. Squats

While many bodybuilders and coaches will swear that deep squats are the only way to build great glutes, another camp disagrees. In my own quest to grow bigger quads, I’ve found success in keeping the work just above parallel and never fully coming to the top of the movement.

Bodybuilder Tip: While going full-out ass-to-grass has butt-building advantages, that range of motion isn’t needed to score you points in CrossFit. The judges are looking for your butt to get to parallel — that’s what makes it a successful squat. If this proves to be a struggle with poor mobility, try putting some small plates (5 pounds) under your heels.

2. Box Jumps

Some bodybuilders include cardio conditioning in their circuits, but many stick to the basics for stripping fat. Moderate-intensity stairs, intervals and Wingate sprints are found in the majority of our plans. Box jumps, though? Fear of catching my toes and smashing my shins (or knocking out my teeth) makes me shudder. And as a competitive athlete, I see a bunch of boxes and go straight for the tallest one, hip height — which may be a little overzealous and self-handicapping.

Bodybuilder Tip: Check your ego at the door and start small. Squat low, explode up and land low. Use your arms to generate momentum. Box jumps add up fast, especially in repetition, regardless of your cardio level. Of course, mastering a new metabolic routine also means you’re going to need to update your nutrition to maximize recovery. I’d recommend a high-quality blend of casein and whey protein isolates like Quest’s Cookies & Cream Protein Powder. It provides readily available amino acids to keep you in top form and some slower-digesting aminos to help sustain you through the day.

3. Pull-Ups

Lat pulldowns, barbell rows, cable rows and wide-grip pull-ups are pretty standard in a back workout for bodybuilders. But ask for something beyond a wide or narrow grip pull-up and you’ll probably just get a blank stare. A kipping pull-up? A butterfly pull-up? These are pretty standard in a box and moves to get familiar with as you embrace the new sport.

Bodybuilder Tip: A kipping pull-up may look like it uses momentum, but it requires a lot of strength and control to complete properly. “Kip” yourself up with a small swing at the bottom before pulling your chin up over the bar. The butterfly is even harder, like a kipping pull-up with a circular movement. To master these, start by progressing up from standard bodyweight pull-ups. You can anchor a band around the bar and rest your knees in the loop to take some of your weight out of the exercise, if necessary.


4. Barbell Thrusters

As if maxing out on each individual exercise wasn’t difficult enough, this combines two — a front squat into an overhead press with a barbell! This move requires the athlete to lock out at the top of the press for it to fully count as a rep. The major advantage of this exercise is that it’s a full-body burn, recruiting all major muscle groups, pumping your heart through the roof and torching calories (while building serious strength). It doesn’t get much better than that!

Bodybuilder Tip: Master each move independently before combining. Find your balance with the front squat and work on getting full depth by pushing through your heels. Work your way up to the press by building strength through reps of both seated- and standing-form shoulder presses. Pay extra attention to your weaker side (we’ve all got one) because any strength imbalance or lack of mobility in a shoulder joint can lead to injury easily. Don’t overlook your core! Keeping your torso straight and strong will go a long way.

5. Burpees

Ahhhh, everyone loves to hate burpees! From boot camps to conditioning workouts and now WODs, you’re bound to encounter them in a box. At a glance, they’re not too intimidating — vertical jump and a push-up? Easy enough … until you string them together for an endless minute and your oxygen supply runs out. Cardio endurance is needed here, especially as these get incorporated into a WOD among other strength moves.

Bodybuilder Tip: Push through it. The safety comfort here is that you don’t have to land on an object, so your shins are safe. But the hard truth is that you just do them over and over, again and again … and again! Building overall cardio endurance will be your greatest strength, so you might want to pick up the pace on the stair machine.

Once you’ve mastered these five moves, check out 7 First-Time Tips for a Bodybuilder Doing Yoga!