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9 Fundamental Movements of CrossFit- Part III

The last two weeks, we have introduced the 9 Fundamental Movements of CrossFit, and detailed the three versions of squat and three types of pressing that are among the nine foundational movements.  We also discussed the bracing sequence, which is common not just to these nine, but to virtually anything you do with your body.  Get caught up here and here.  For this, our final installment, we’ll go over two lower body pulling movements plus a variation on the squat: the deadlift, medicine ball clean, & the controversial sumo deadlift high pull.

Deadlift: The Deadlift is either the king or queen of barbell movements, depending on whom you ask (the squat is the only challenger).  It is also about as simple as it can get: the loaded barbell is on the floor.  You pick it up.  You put it back down.  Of course, doing it as well as you can and as safely as possible is a bit more complicated, but not by all that much.  Step up to the bar, perform the bracing sequence.  Push your hips back and down like you’re sitting into a chair until your hands can grab the bar.  Grab it, then pull your shoulder blades down and together (like you’re snapping the bar in two).  Arch your back slightly, drive through your heels, consciously squeezing your buttocks, and stand up.  Sit your hips back and down to lower the bar to the floor.

You pick it up. You put it back down.

Because the weight is in the hands, virtually every skeletal muscle in the body is involved in this lift.  Keeping your back flat or slightly arched is the key to safe performance.  If your back starts to round, put the weight down.

Related: Training for Obstacle Course Racing

Now we come to the two most complicated movements of the nine.

Medicine Ball Clean: The Medicine Ball Clean can be performed with any ball or similar object.  It is performed by straddling the ball, squatting, placing your hands under it, then driving up through your heels with your upper body as upright as possible.  Do that fast, and the ball will become weightless when your lower body has fully extended.  This gives you time for the next phase.  Immediately drop back into a squat, while releasing the ball and moving your hands under it, moving your elbows up and out at first, then pinning them to your sides.  You should now be in the bottom of a squat, with the ball in your hands at your breast and arms tight to your body.  Stand up to finish, keeping the upper body upright.

Related: What Do You DO at a CrossFit Box?

Sumo Deadlift High Pull: The Sumo Deadlift High Pull (SDHP) is a controversial exercise, and is difficult to do.  The controversy arises from the danger of pulling too much with the arms in a position that can cause shoulder issues for some athletes.  The key to avoiding this is to do the movement properly.  Naturally.  The trick to the SDHP is to use the hips to lift the bar, not the shoulders and arms.  This is something we are always trying to achieve – it’s much harder than it sounds – and the main benefit of the SDHP is that it’s relatively easy to tell when you’ve used the hips correctly and when you haven’t.  This feedback helps you develop the hip drive needed to reach your potential in nearly every other lift.


To actually do the SDHP, stand with your feet wider than your hands and your toes pointed outward.  Grab the bar with your hands about double-thumb’s-distance apart.  Bring your torso as upright as you can, brace hard to keep your back flat, and drive your heels into the floor and bring your shoulders up at the same time as your hips.  Once you are past the knees, stomp your heels into the floor with an explosive ‘pop’.  That will cause the bar to float up.  Your hands just keep it under control.  Despite the name, there should be no pulling with the upper body.  The bar should reach collarbone height.  From there,  get out of the way of the bar by sending your hips back and down.  Allow gravity to bring the bar down, just keeping your hands in place to be ready for the next rep.

Perform the SDHP only with light weights you can drive with the hips, and only with bumper plates on the bar, to allow you to let gravity lower it without your needing to slow it down.

This concludes our exploration of the 9 Fundamental CrossFit Movements…in print.  Watch for future posts that will review the movements on video.

—John Bryant

Founder & Head Trainer

CrossFit Slipstream