As CrossFit coaches, we keep our words and cues as simple as possible. We do this because we know that this is the quickest way to teach movements and/or what leads to favorable changes by the athlete fast. We are taught to keep our words short, specific and actionable when we are coaching athletes.
But don't mistake our "simple" cues or phrases or explanation as if we do not know our material or what we are trying to do for our athletes. We spend hours on preparing, studying and learning on how athletes are suppose to move in a safe, efficient and effective manner. We look to see how to best progress our athletes in their fitness journey and how they can accomplish their personal goals.
We spend time on learning the CrossFit methodology, programming, anatomy, physiology and developing our eye so we can see better. We fully understand that our development is tied to our athletes development.
If you are ever curious about why we have you set up in a certain way for a movement or why we provided you with a certain cue during a movement or what is written on our education wall, please do not hesitate to ask your CrossFit coaches. Just know, we may have to answer you after class so we can keep class moving forward in the meantime.
Part of our responsibility as coaches is to educate our athletes.
So lets dissect the air squat and what our "simple" cues really mean.
There are (5) points of performance to an air squat. What this means is that, as coaches, we are looking for you to safely accomplish (5) checkpoints in your air squat to ensure it is being done well. Those (5) points of performance are weight on the heels, knees tracking toes, lumbar curve maintained, hips descend below knees, and hips go back and down first to initiate your air squat.
The cues you hear us say for weight on the heels can vary but most commonly are "shift your weight back" or "lift your toes" or "keep your heels down". Why is this important? If your heels are not rooted to the ground then you are loosing your posterior chain. Lack of posterior chain engagement means you are only relying on your quadriceps to move your body through your squat. If we are loosing our heels then we are pushing through our toes which can lead to a lot of undue pressure to our knees and discomfort or injuries can occur from this. This also can become an imbalance to the lower half of your body since your quadriceps become the primary movers to most of your movements. And just so you know, we do NOT want 100% of the weight on your heels. We actually want an evenly weighted foot but most athletes like to rock their weight to their toes.
The cues for your knees to track your toes can vary from "push your knees out" or "knees over your pinky toe" or "wider knees". Why is this important? Anatomically speaking, your knees track over your toes naturally. It is a safe position for your knee, so for safety purposes, we want your knees to continue to face the same direction as your toes. Your knees are not meant to be in a valgus position because that can lead to your knee ligaments straining or even tearing. If your knee is in a valgus position then it will lead to your ankle rolling in since those joints are connected by your tibia. If your ankle is rolling inwards this leads to you losing contact with the ground with your heels which now means you have lost posterior chain engagement.
As humans, we are meant to move at full anatomical range. This means squatting below your knees is safe for you. This is how you maintain the health of your joints, maintain range of motion, and stabilize your ligaments and tendons. Overall, this is how you build strength in your muscles because you are able to fully support your body at any range. If you fall, you have no issue getting off the floor. If you are getting off the couch, you can do it on your own. If you squat down to pick up your child, you can support both yourself and your child. If we ask you to "get your hips lower" or "touch the medicine ball target" or simply "lower", we are helping you become a stronger human being.
The cues "chest up" or "squeeze your abs" or "raise your arm" are said to athletes so they can maintain a neutral back especially in your lumbar. Our spine is very strong as it is meant to support your whole body but if we do not take care of it, each repetition executed poorly adds to the wear and tear of your back. It is usually never just one repetition which leads to a back injury, it is usually the combination of multiple years of poorly executed repetitions. So when we ask you to "raise your chest" or "slow it down" or remove load it is because we are protecting your spine.
The final point of performance of "hips back and down first" is meant to keep you in the frontal plane. The frontal plane is an area that comprises an imaginary line cutting vertically through both shoulders, separating the anterior side of the body from the posterior. We want you to keep your bodyweight in this frontal plane because doing so keeps your body in well balanced position. If you're body is out of position then we are now stressing certain joints or ligaments to maintain our body moving. An imbalance object is a weak object, while a balance object is a strong object.