Pro CrossFit Coaches Want You to Learn These Moves

Their go-to exercises to build muscle, athleticism, and strength

T.J. Murphy

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CrossFit advocates are known for their borderline masochistic approach to fitness. Chains, tires, and loaded barbells are all part of a grueling training process in which athletes are constantly asked to push their physical and mental limits. But to many, it might seem like the constant quest for CrossFit greatness neglects a focus on fundamentals.

Unless you talk to the pros. They’ll tell you that mastering the basic skills and techniques is the key to seeing real success over time (and staying injury-free). We asked five CrossFit diehards to give us the single move they think is most important to hone and perfect. Their advice may surprise you.

The Burpee

Burpee. (Robert Prince)

Jason Khalipa, 2008 CrossFit Games Champion and CEO of NC Fit

What It Burns: This compound blend of a push-up, plank, and squat—performed at high speeds—will quickly humble the best, says Khalipa. The burpee builds endurance and strength all at once. It cranks up your heart rate and targets your entire core, as well as engages major muscles like your quads and glutes.

Why He Chose It: As a former CrossFit Games winner and CEO of global fitness enterprise NC Fit, Khalipa spends most of his time on the road. The burpee can be done anywhere you have a few feet of open space on the floor. In ten minutes, you get a highly efficient workout that ramps up your heart rate and fires up multiple muscle groups.

Pro Tip: “Fast transitions and constant movement are critical,” says Khalipa. At the top of every minute, rep out 15 burpees. Use the remainder of the minute to rest before starting again.

The Air Squat

Air squat.
Air squat. (Robert Prince)

Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, 2014 CrossFit Games Champion and CrossFit HQ Seminar Staffer

What It Burns: You’ll get a lung-scorching workout that makes your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and, surprisingly, your core work in overdrive. “The air squat can crush even the best athlete,” says Leblanc-Bazinet.

Why She Chose It: “Everything builds off the air squat,” she says. You’re focusing on your base and zeroing in on the body parts that will drive every other moment. If you build good mechanics here, you’ll be able to ramp up your workouts, performance, and results at a much faster rate.

Pro Tip: Master the move at tempo, and then pair the air squat with a weighted lift—like a dumbbell thruster—to up your calorie burn and target even more muscles.

The Snatch

Snatch. (Robert Prince)

Annie Sakamoto, Two-Time Qualifier for CrossFit Games Elite Division and 13 Years as a CrossFit Coach

What It Burns: This is a total-body exercise, calling on everything from your calf muscles to your delts and traps to move the weight up and over your head.

Why She Chose It: For starters, it looks hardcore. You explosively move a loaded barbell from the ground to overhead in full extension. Second, “the neurological and physical demands are second to none, in my opinion,” says Sakamoto. “Strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, balance, accuracy—you need it all to execute.”

Pro Tip: Form is critical. Consult a coach if you aren’t totally comfortable with the movement, and don’t be afraid to start with lighter weights or dumbbells to perfect your technique.

Barefoot Jump Rope

Barefoot jump rope.
Barefoot jump rope. (Robert Prince)

Erin Cafaro-MacKenzie, 2008 and 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist in Rowing and Power Speed Endurance Coach

What It Burns: This will make your feet and lower legs stronger, faster, and more agile, says Cafaro-MacKenzie.

Why She Chose It: Cafaro-MacKenzie adopted a CrossFit Endurance conditioning platform to help her grab Olympic gold. She continually relies on the barefoot jump rope to learn how to “be dynamic and feel connection with the feet.” It’s the perfect cross-training for endurance athletes.

Pro Tip: Start on a softer surface like grass, soil, or a padded mat. It will lessen the impact absorbed by your ankle joints and feet.


Muscle-up. (Robert Prince)

Greg Amundson, CrossFitter Since 2001 and Author of Firebreather Fitness: Work Your Body, Mind, and Spirit into the Best Shape of Your Life

What It Burns: Everything. It takes the sport’s highest pull-up and combines it with the sport’s lowest dip, so it requires huge range of motion, coordination, and strength to power you through the effort.

Why He Chose It: “The muscle-up is a compound multijoint skill,” says Amundson. “Once you master it, you can quickly and potently introduce larger changes to the body and mind so that every other gym exercise or athletic sport comes to life.”

Pro Tip: Prepare to be frustrated at the start as you struggle to string together two moves that you might be able to do as standalones. That’s normal.

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