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Exercise Anatomy

The Science of Evaluating Movement Technique

Understanding the characteristics of efficient human movement enhances your performance and builds your coaching skills.


Have you ever been asked to evaluate someone’s movement and knew there was something wrong but just couldn’t find the right words to explain the problem? Join the crowd.

Fact is, most athletes can see that a particular movement is inefficient but do not quite have the scientific or technical terms to fully understand or describe it. Below are five standards — key characteristics of human movement — that must be maintained for efficient performance. They can help CrossFit athletes not only evaluate others but also improve their own performance. An easy way to remember them is to use the mnemonic “C-R-A-M-P.”

C: Core to Extremity

Movements should be initiated from the core and then move outward toward the extremities. For instance, a kettlebell should be swung from the hips, with arm movement following and making use of the momentum created by hip extension.

Likewise, when you evaluate an athlete’s squat, note which joint moves first. If an athlete begins by bending at his knees (extremity-initiated) rather than by moving his hips backward (core-initiated), he will end up driving out of his toes instead of flat feet during the ascent, which means he will be less powerful and more unstable.

R: Range of Motion

Remember, range of motion deals with movement at a joint; it has nothing to do with muscle tightness unless that muscle limits a joint’s movement. For instance, when an athlete continually falls forward during the clean, he may have a limited range of motion in either the shoulder or wrist, causing the bar to pull the torso forward.

In the overhead squat, it’s quite common to see range-of-motion problems. Tight ankles will cause the heels to come off the floor at the bottom, and shoulder mobility limitations will not allow the bar to stay over the plane of the shoulders and the feet.

A: Active Shoulders

There are two main reasons to maintain “active shoulders” during any overhead lift: injury prevention and efficiency. Problems can occur when the forces produced by a resistance are not met by sufficient contractions in the 10 muscles that control movement at the shoulder

But active shoulders are important because they raise the upper torso, elevate the shoulder girdle and help a lifter maintain good posture and mechanics during a lift. Ever see a lifter get to the bottom of a snatch and sit there trying to maintain position and come up? What does his or her coach yell? “Reach!”

M: Midline Stabilization

Think of the “midline” primarily as maintaining a “natural” lordotic curve in the lower back. 

Midline stability problems are commonly seen in lifts during which there are compressive forces on the spine. For example, we have all seen a rounded back during the squat. What results? The person usually will either dump the bar or end up with a very sore lower back.

In addition, an athlete simply cannot keep his torso in a good position to execute the second pull in the snatch if he has lost his midline stability, which often occurs during the first pull. That’s why a good starting position is critical to a successful lift.

P: Posterior-Chain Engagement

An athlete’s hamstrings, gluteals and spinal erectors are relatively very strong; not engaging this “posterior chain” is a major flaw. In the Olympic lifts, a good coach is looking for full hip extension. Only on seeing the hips “pop” forcefully forward does a coach know the posterior chain is activated.