Virtuosity : Efficiency : Performance

Virtuosity is much discussed in the CrossFit community.

Every time we walk onto the floor at CrossFit Boston the lead instructors (including Neal Thompson, Jon Gilson and Eva Claire "EC" Synkowski) emphasize proper technique as the most important lesson. The refrain is that the number of reps doesn't matter; perfect form is what makes the difference. Counting pushups when your chest didn't touch the floor or pullups when you haven't gotten above the bar might allow you to "count" more reps in any workout. But unless you've done the movements correctly you've not accomplished more, you've only pretended that a poor performance was better than it actually was.

Virtuosity : Efficiency : Performance (Stacey) from Mark Connell on Vimeo.

As a spectator at the CrossFit Games Northeast Qualifier over Memorial Day weekend I saw several hundred people making all out efforts. What separated the winners was the ability to perform more efficiently. The first place finishers, Stacey Kroon for the women and James Hobart for the men, are both instructors at CrossFit Boston.

[caption id="attachment_388" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Bent elbows pulling the clean ... Wrong!"]Bent elbows pulling the clean ... Wrong![/caption]

The folks pictured above were working to their limits in cleaning a 155 lb barbell, but faults in their form left them doing more work than they needed to do. Pulling up on the bar with bent arms is like lifting a weight tied to a spring. The work done by the muscles in their arms is all wasted effort. In contrast, the efficient technique is to pull with straight arms, which is comparable to lifting a weight tied to a rope. Pictured below are Stacey on the left and James on the right pulling the barbell into the air. By keeping their arms straight, they use the bigger muscles of the hips, the posterior chain and the shoulders, while avoiding unnecessary effort in their arms.

[caption id="attachment_407" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Straight elbows pulling the clean ... Right!"]Straight elbows pulling the clean ... Right![/caption]

The video below shows James doing kettle bell swings during the final day of competition. Compare James' form with the fellow in the background (who starts swinging a kettle bell at 9 sec into the video). Like he did with the clean, James leaves his arms straight like ropes and uses the power of his hips and posterior chain to move the kettle bell. The fellow in the back uses his arms to lift the kettle bell, while for James the kettle bell moves as a result of the follow through from opening his hips. It's easy to see which athlete will tire first in this exercise.

Virtuosity : Efficiency : Performance (James) from Mark Connell on Vimeo.

Virtuosity is key. Mastering technique allows an athlete to operate at peak efficiency. In a situation like the CrossFit Games, where several hundred elite athletes are competing, the prize goes not to the biggest nor the strongest, but to the most efficient. The result is top performance.