Go SLOW(er) until you go FAST(er)!
A discussion on BMUs and understanding timing to move better in CrossFit
Written by Kirsten Ahrendt
They say “timing is everything” – job opportunities, victory and defeat in sport, near-miss connections, relationships, etc. Turns out this is also true in functional fitness movements in CrossFit.
Last week, Invictus Gymnastics Coach Travis Ewart stopped by for a seminar and we got to talking about a client of mine who is working towards bar muscle-ups. This client has what I would call, “virtuous movement”; meaning they understand gymnastics positions, the idea of tension, and have the mobility and strength to put themselves into solid positions for more technical gymnastics movements without injury. They worked through “boring” positional and motor-pattern drills with me for a couple of months and then achieved their first BMU – and it looked good! Yay! Congrats to them! A couple of weeks later though, they struggled to repeatedly perform it. It was as if having achieved the goal put a new pressure on them to be able to continue to perform it; The focus shifted from something positive (achieving the goal) to something negative (not losing the skill). This is not the first time I’ve seen this phenomenon occur and I’ll write an entirely separate blog post on it, for now let’s move on to the discussion of physics, timing, and force.
I asked Coach Travis:
“Have you seen this happen before with other athletes? Do you have any tips for me as a coach in terms of drills that I could incorporate to help the client consistently perform the skill?”
Immediately, he mentioned two things to direct my coaching eye to:
- The importance of hitting the right positions at the right time. Namely passing through vertical alignment under the bar, then hitting your arch-load position with your feet behind your hips. (*I felt confident the client was fairly consistent on this*)
- Not rushing the arch swing.
Point #2 really stood out to me. It was applicable as I reviewed the videos of this client’s BMU reps. As well, this idea of “timing” and “accelerating” has massive carry-over to many movements taught in CrossFit.
The idea is simple – even within complex movements where it looks as though the entire movement is happening quickly there are undulating moments of speed and power production and more importantly, moments of massive acceleration to create change of direction. The word “patience” comes to mind as I think about this concept. The idea of knowing when to move FASTER or accelerate.
Travis and I were discussing this theme of “SLOW(er) to FAST(er)” as it relates to gymnastics, but you can connect the dot to many other movements/lifts within the CrossFit space. They include:
Cleans & Snatches
The fastest and most explosive part of these olympic lifts is not when we drive the bar off the ground. We move with the most force and speed during the last few inches transitioning from the mid-hang to the high-hang position. We must lift the bar off the ground aggressively, but slow enough in order to transition the knees out of the way and bring the bar back in towards the hip. If we move TOO FAST in the “first pull” we struggle to hit the right positions later in the movement. Once above the knee, the bar travels from the low-hang to high-hang power position at a rate of relative speed akin to “fast > faster > fastest!” Hence the Olympic lift is not performed from start to finish at one speed.
In an effort to drive powerfully away from the flywheel, many athletes attempt to create as much force as possible from the catch position, when in reality there is a small window of distance as we begin our leg drive where we pull SLOW(er) and then accelerate FAST(er) as we finish our leg drive and combine our hip sweeping open. Next time you are rowing – bring conscious awareness to slowing down (just by a bit) your initial few inches of drive away from the fly wheel and then accelerate the force and speed as you combine leg drive with hip sweep.
(Image from “Prediction of rowing ergometer performance by technical and core stability parameters” – Journal of science. Super interesting article!)
The fastest part of the thruster is NOT when we are coming out of the bottom of the squat, it is the top ½ – ¼ of the squat as we ramp up speed and leg drive to accelerate the bar off our shoulders to overhead. To be clear, this does not mean we are squatting slowly! It means we are accelerating our speed and power as we approach the top half of the squat, not the bottom half.
(Image from CrossFit LLC)
Back to the BMU…
So how does this “patience” actually play out in the bar muscle-up? Assuming ALL of your other positions are correct – jump to the bar (bad cheerleader), passing through vertical, launching into your load swing, we must have patience in the loading/arch swing as our feet circle around and come back in front of our hips. If this patience is skipped, you’ll miss future critical positions and timing will be off. When I watch athletes hit this timing correctly, it’s only the moment of a heartbeat skipped – i.e. – not long! Next time you’re doing BMUs, pay attention to not rush through the load/arch position and see if this generates more power in your BMU.