One of the most important things that Greg Glassman created with CrossFit is the Sickness, Wellness, Continuum. This 1 of the 4 staple models behind the CrossFit program. The more fit we are the less sick we are. The more fit we are, the weller we are, and the weller we are the more fit we will be. In my opinion and total retrospect, the more skills we obtain for our fitness the less sick we will be. So high skilled movements may not be necessary for all athletes to excel in their sport, we are training to be further from sickness. Keep it at bay for many years to come, because as soon as we start to lose skills we become more unfit. And the more unfit we are the closer…….well you get the idea.
Lets talk about how the muscle up fits into this model. Often gym members wonder why we make them do scaled versions of the muscle up when they don’t even have a pull-up yet. At first glance people either say “I can never do that” or “I want to do that” the person that says they can never do that will do just that….never. But the other person will work and strive to obtain that skill. Once it is obtained they can put it in the tool box. It doesn’t mean that they instantly increased there v02 max, cured thier on cancer, or achieved sub 10% body fat. BUT it does mean you have a new and more efficient skill to continue to increase your fitness and stay away from sickness. Prior to your muscle up training your vertical pulling and pressing was limited to your skills. Which was maybe just a couple pull-ups or even worse some lat-pull downs and machine/chair dips. That’s fine for a starting point but think how long it took you to do “that workout”. A agonist/antagonist superset of 10 pull-downs and 10 dips 3-5 rounds could take you up to 30 minutes. Add In your warmup and transition times from 1 station to the next and you just put In your hour at the gym claiming this as your upper body day.
Now that you have muscle ups a skill lets look at the same volume of work using a muscle up. You could take a very simple approach and just do a muscle up every 20 seconds for 10 minutes. Of course a quick prep warmup before and you have just cut your time 66% for the same volume of work. When I say volume I’m referring to 30 pull-ups and 30 dips in 10 minutes vs. 30 minutes. And I’m not even talking about doing 30 Kipping muscle ups. Of course that’s a little different, being that a fit athlete can knock out 30 in under 4:00 pretty easily. Yes this is different in that aspect that we’re not really trying to build strength when we kip but more of being efficient with that movement and those muscle groups to work something else like ctardio-respiratory and muscular endurance. But your still working those vertical pressing and pulling movements and muscle groups just in a more dynamic way which also builds strength while working other energy systems as well. Previously if you wanted to work all these systems you would of had to add some treadmill sprint intervals to the end of your hour long “upper body” workout.
Now the big differences! A muscle up is not a simple pull-up plus a dip. There’s this nasty transition in the middle that builds some muscles you didn’t even know you had. Why do you think so many crossfiters go straight to the kip and never master the strict? Because it’s hard!!! Kips take out the hard part of the transition to make it faster. Pull-ups vs. pulldown is basically functional movement vs. isolation movement. The pulldown takes your entire body out of the sequence. Sit on a chair to take all balance and core out of the equation and also your no longer pulling your body weight up which might be a useful tool in life, and now your pulling a bar down and isolating only those muscle you choose to engage which honestly there is no movement in life that we need that…..maybe closing a overhead bay door? Going back to training for life and keeping sickness at bay, if you’ve been pulling yourself up your whole life there will come a day you need to pull yourself off the floor. Will you be fit enough to do it because you obtained that skill or will you just lay there waiting for assistance from your pulldown machine because you can’t lift your body.
There’s many other tools but I’m just going with the muscle up today. What if your pretty strong but can’t complete the move because your too heavy? Well you gotta lose some weight. One should have the strength and appropriate size to pull themselves up. So now we know we need to focus on nutrition and maybe use a scaled or assisted version of the muscle up to start getting fitter. Okay so you strong enough and your not overweight but you can’t pull your thumps to the top of your shoulders or lower your self into the bottom of a dip. Now the muscle up has show you that your mobility is an issue…..guess what it doesn’t get better with age, in fact it never gets better unless you make it better. So now muscle up has told you to start focusing on mobility and your quality of life has just improved because of it. Even at the higher athletic level of the spectrum you can see athletes knock out about 10 muscle ups and just get gassed…….time to work more muscular endurance.
There’s all these things happening in our body beyond the muscle that bring the results. I’ve already mentioned balance but what about stability? The ability to stabilize your core through movement AND on unstable surfaces such as rings will increase proprioception and another muscular strength system. What about the connective tissue? The entire muscle and nervous system is connected by this fascia or “net” that strengthens the body as a whole unit. If you ever seen the solidity of a gymnast
Performing a iron cross or walking on the hands in perfect upright solid position you can picture this connective tissue and the role it plays on your body working together as a whole. All these things take more energy to perform. The more energy we perform and the more aspects we work per exercise per Rep and set the more bang for your buck. More work and less time = better and faster results. Years ago a popular method for personal trainers to help clients lose weight was to use only exercises that involved standing. Thea idea being that it takes more muscle to stand which takes more energy and burns more calories which results in more total energy expenditure over the entire session which means weight loss. Great idea! Now apply that to a high skilled movement and BAM! Your one functional, lean, calorie burning machine.
Isolation has its place. Isolate for rehab of injuries or for even a little spot application. I.e. I If you want bigger biceps do some curls after your workout or if you want bigger traps and upper back knock out some shrugs BUT do not do the isolations for the sake of muscle quality or performance. It’s extra and you should know by now you don’t eat dessert first, you don’t always eat dessert, and your sure as hell don’t only eat dessert. Any of those options will lead us away from fitness, and the further we are from fitness the closer we are to sickness. So even if you never get the muscle up, a pistol, a double under, a handstand push-ups, or whatever goat you have in the gym. Simply trying to achieve and working a version of that movement is the direction you always want to go. Moving forward is moving fitter > being fitter is being less sick!