7 Crossfit Efficiency Tips & Devotion to Doing the Little Things Right

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a story about the little things

When I first declared I wanted to compete with the world’s best in the sport of CrossFit it was easy for people to write me off. Standing at 6’6 and weighing 245lbs, I am far from your traditional CrossFit archetype. To me this doubt wasn’t anything new. Growing up playing basketball in Canada with the goal to one day wear an NCAA Division 1 jersey, people laughed and joked, questioning why I would even try. I was told I was too big to be a guard, too small to be a forward, and oh yea, I was Canadian!

To prove myself and succeed as an athlete I have had to identify those small things that add up to make a big difference – eventually allowing me to surpass those with more “potential” and “natural talent.” On the court this meant spending long hours honing my skills, doing the dirty work other players would shy away from, and vocalizing my role as a leader.

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In CrossFit it has meant devoting myself to the study of efficiency, capitalizing on every opportunity to spend less energy while accomplishing the same task as the more “gifted” athlete beside me.

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I am no superstar, far from it. But I continue to surpass athletes with more potential and talent based on my dedication and devotion to the little things. One of the beautiful subtleties of CrossFit is the concept of ‘skill transfer’, as you master efficiency in Crossfit’s most basic movements, that skill will transfer in application to more complex and dynamic movements. I’ve provided examples of skill transfer in the 7 Efficiency Tips below.

The Burpee

Believe it or not, the burpee is extremely dynamic. When repeated for fifty, 100, or 150 reps there is a lot of room for us to waste energy and efficiency. One of the most common areas for wasted energy in the burpee is the transition from ground back to standing. Specifically:

  1. Getting lazy with the hip drive coming off the ground resulting in a growing gap between feet meeting hands.
  2. Letting the feet flare out as they snap back to the hands versus landing in a strong jumping position.
  3. Doing a “double bend” with the knees and legs before standing up and clapping overhead.

Eliminating these inefficiencies dramatically increases speed per rep, but also puts you in the strongest position to transition into any movement a burpee could be coupled with (box jumps, jump over barbell, pull ups, plate jump, etc.).


Wall Ball

The efficiency tip here is all about taking advantage of time we can be “off tension.” In the wall ball, off-tension equals the time the ball is traveling to and from the target in the air. An inefficient energy spend I often see is when athletes leave their arms actively extended overhead while the ball is in the air. To reduce your energy spend per rep, let your arms relax and fall down to your sides as the ball is in the air. This also allows you to catch the ball closer to the ground, reducing the overall time and distance your working against gravity.


Cycling Shoulders to Overhead

When dealing with a high volume of shoulder-to-overhead reps you can maximize efficiency by leveraging what’s called the ‘stretch reflex mechanism’ at the bottom of every rep. This elastic compression can be turned into an extra drive to explode the weight immediately out of the racked position back overhead. Using stretch reflex not only capitalizes on your body’s natural energy response, but as you’ll see in the video below it’s also a much faster way to cycle reps. When you fatigue, try resting when the weight is in the locked overhead position.   Your body is in a strong stacked position and your lungs are more open than in the compressed front-rack position. 


Double Unders

Efficient Double Unders are all about staying ‘organized’ as a system – holding just enough tension to accomplish a rep in as little movement as possible. This means keeping your arms down by your sides, feet together, core tight, wrists relaxed, and steady breathing.   In the video below you can see the difference in energy output between inefficient reps compared to when the whole body is organized and controlled. 


Strong Pushing Position

It took me a while to transition my push ups from elbows out to elbows in and arms internally rotated when starting CrossFit. What I have realized is this is not only a more effective pushing position, but it’s also the exact same movement pattern as the bench press, handstand push up, and any shoulder to overhead movement. Are you thinking “skill transfer”?

Keep your elbows tight to your body in all of these movements and you will start to see the benefits and application of skill and strength from one movement to the next.


Early Pulls

One of the most common mistakes I see in Olympic lifts (and any pulling movement for that matter) is engaging the arms far too early in the pull. These same pulling mechanics translate to ball slams, muscle ups, rowing, and even rope climbs. In all of these pulling movements your hips need to be the star, not your arms. Let your arms stay long and relaxed while your hip drive generates the power. Only after your hips have fired should your arms begin their pull. Again, this not only allows your hips to do what they're supposed to, but it drastically reduces the time your arms are “on tension” in the pull.  


Kipping Pull Ups

The key to increasing efficiency in the kipping pull up (and many gymnastic movements) is to focus on constantly being in a state of what Kelly Starrett and Carl Paoli refer to as global flexion or global extension. Just like doubleunders the kipping pullup is about staying organized through the entire movement – either in global flexion, or extension.. Take a look at the difference in the video below.


Bonus: Squat Your First Rep

This is a simple efficiency tip that will save you time and energy. Any movement that requires a squat (overhead squat, front squat, clean, wall ball, ball slam) can be initiated with a squat clean (or snatch) as the 1st rep. Get comfortable with squat cleaning that first rep right into your working set.


the bigger picture

Whether you’re a weekend warrior or a Games level competitor, I believe the true foundation of Crossfit is about getting better everyday – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I hope these tips inspire you to continue your own journey of learning and improving in this sport, and in life.

I would love to hear the efficiency tips and learnings you have experienced, send me a tweet @TyrellMara.

photo credit: Crossfit 604

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Tyrell Mara - Blonyx Athlete - Crossfit Vancouver

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Join me on the journey to competing at the 2014 Crossfit Games

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