Last month we discussed the benefits of 3 exercises that improve the flexion and extension of your thoracic area for back and shoulder health. You can find that post here. Today we are going to give you 3 exercises that are often forgot about or even worse……….removed from crossfit programs, but you may find that by adding them will improve muscle imbalances, strength, and functionality of your arm strength. Chin-ups, Curls, and hand over hand pulling!
CrossFit’s prescription for achieving this fitness is constantly varied high intensity functional movements. We emphasize core to extremity with everything we do. Which puts a big emphasis on using those main muscle groups that can produce the most force. Core to extremity is the path that power and velocity will take in a properly executed compound lift. You begin the lift with a buildup of of static strength in the core, hips, and shoulders as that move begins the power moves outward into the large muscles as they work together to complete the task moving further down the order of operations this power begins to flow to the extremities and eventually completing the movement with maximum velocity. Think of throwing a baseball. This explains why crossfit athletes will possess lots of strength in the compound lifts such as squats, deadlifts, push press, cleans, snatch, etc. But may not possess the hypertrophy or muscle size as a more traditional aesthetic based program.
Now we know the benefits of these movements for performance and health have a more powerful bang for the buck to the average fitness enthusiast but as we progress and eventually begin to plateau it’s time to start adding some isolation work to those smaller extremity muscles such as the upper and lower arms. Most moves involving arms in crossfit are a over-hand pulling motion. Think about every lift we do with the barbell. Deadlift, cleans, snatches, pressing, and anything else all use a over-hand grip. With good reason, this grip allows us to identify the cue “arms are straps” and we let the hips and legs do all the work. But are biceps are missing all the work. Sure we don’t want to start having a early arm pull in our lifts but again all movements should be proficient before adding any supplemental isolation work. A little bit of added strength in our arms for the pull can only benefit us and make the lift that much easier.
Pullups are the biggest controversial move we do in crossfit. That’s a topic for a whole other post but let’s just agree for the purpose of this blog that a good program will include a mix of static hangs, strict pullups, kipping pullups and if shoulders are healthy and movement is efficient…….butterfly pullups. Again just like with the barbell, when we start adding lots of force with the big muscle groups to get more reps the arms become just a anchor point for the whole body to do the work and the biceps start getting skipped again. Also pullups are dominantly used with the over-hand grip in order to use more hips but sometimes we need to flip those hands around and hit some chin ups.
Hand over hand pulling motions require a unilateral movement, meaning that we have to alternate pulling with one arm at a time. In crossfit gyms this move is shown in the rope climb but as functional as that move is, again it is limited by its nature to be a fully functional or compound movement. We spend time learning how to properly perform the spanish wrap or leg curl technique so that you can climb the rope using your legs for most of the work. Now the last couple of years we have seen a rise in the popularity of the “leg-less” rope climb which is a great hand over hand pulling exercise but this is a advanced move that most average athletes do not possess the strength to perform. Adding some hand over hand pulling motions will help build this strength through the lats, shoulders, biceps, and forearms.
Adding strength and performance is always at the top of any crossfitters mind, and adding these 3 exercises will help in building some arm strength to assist with your lifts but the biggest benefit in my opinion is addressing muscle imbalances to avoid injuries. Working a balance between all muscles small to large is important and we often forget those small ones. Switching your routine up by alternating your grip will probably cause a little discomfort in the beginning, that just proof that you have a imbalance already forming……adress it now before it becomes a injury. You know the term “use it or lose it” which definitely applies here, and having a lacking amount of bicep or forearm strength could be whats keeping your from linking those butterflies together or the reason you have some elbow and shoulder impinging when you try adding velocity and speed in a workout such as “Fran” or “Cindy” Here is my recommendations of 3 uncommon exercises you can add to supplement your training to address arm strength.
- Barbell Curls-
recommended dose: 3-5 x of 10 reps 1-2 x a week after a heavy deadlift or clean workout
recommended dose 5 sets x 5-10 reps once a week after doing a high rep pullup workout such as cindy
3. hand over hand sled pull
recommended dose – knock the dust off that sled and grab a 20-30′ rope to tie on there. Pull the sled to you, walk it back down and perform a 10-15 minute amrap at a conversational pace 3-4 x a month.