CrossFit | The Power Of Progression, Part 5: Building Progressions

The Power Of Progression, Part 5: Building Progressions

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ByCrossFitNovember 6, 2019

In parts 1-4 of the “Power of Progression” series, we covered standard progressions used in CrossFit certificate courses to teach complex movements like the push press and push jerk, sumo deadlift high pull, med-ball clean, and snatch. These are a few examples of progressions, and while we have found these particular examples effective, they are not the only possible progressions for these movements. There are also many other movements for which a progression may be an appropriate teaching tool. Thinking about and attempting to create your own progressions is a great way to develop a better understanding of a given movement while also providing your athletes with new learning tools.

When developing your own progressions, keep in mind you are attempting to navigate between two extremes — having too few steps in the progression will require athletes to take in too much information at once and prove difficult for them to follow successfully. Too many steps, on the other hand, will unnecessarily slow the process and possibly overwhelm the athlete with unnecessary information. Therefore, it is critical that each step of the progression has a clearly defined outcome. For example, in the push press progression, the initial step of the dip and hold is focused almost exclusively on the vertical dip position. Both the trainer and athlete should be acutely aware of this before moving on to the next step. If there are steps included that do not tie to a clearly identified point of performance, the piece may not be critical. Generally, four to five smaller skills culminating in the full movement is about right.

While complex movements are obvious choices when creating movement progressions, the ultimate goal is to accelerate the learning process of any movement. A good progression allows the full skill to be developed more quickly, which in turn allows for more quality full repetitions and creates a positive feedback loop.

Simple movements can also benefit from a different form of progression that is similar to a road map. For example, the air squat may not require a multistep progression, but presenting the points of performance one at a time will allow the athlete to retain the information more fully. For the first few reps, the focus may be on keeping the chest tall and spine neutral. The next few reps may shift the focus to keeping the heels on the floor. The movement itself hasn’t changed, but the focal point has. The best trainers establish a clear navigational path through these points of performance for their athletes.

Once your game plan has been established, remember the progression is a means to an end. A clear path to the full movement is the goal. Watch out for the tendency to become trapped in an endless series of steps that never culminate in the full movement. On the other hand, rushing to the end state when obvious errors are not resolved will result in frustration for both the athlete and trainer. Over time, the best trainers develop a sense of when to push an athlete to the next step and when to remain in the same place and practice. This threshold will vary from athlete to athlete, movement to movement, and session to session. Strive to remain observant and allow honest, consistent assessment to be your guide.


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Comments on The Power Of Progression, Part 5: Building Progressions

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Tyler Hass
November 9th, 2019 at 4:05 am
Commented on: The Power Of Progression, Part 5: Building Progressions

Great article and nice insights about integrating points of performance into progressions. Progressions aren’t just about scaling an exercise to an athlete’s capacity, but they’re a teaching tool as well. Offering the right coaching cue at the right time is epitome of good teaching. I remember watching Mike Burgener observe an Olympic lifter from across the room. He spotted a fault, shouted out a cue and saw the athlete implement it and correct the flaw in real time. It was a 30 second master class in coaching.

Progressions can get pretty complex when you are dealing with skills that have multiple components. For example, a clean can be approached from the beginning (deadlift/1st pull) to the second pull or from the end (front squat) and moving towards a hang clean that gradually increases in range. Ideally, you approach a complex skill from multiple directions and converge at the desired end point.

The World Class Coaching videos mentioned in an early CrossFit Journal article teach the Olympic lifts via incredibly detailed progressions. It becomes almost tedious to watch, given the level of detail. But once you understand the logic of their approach, you can apply the progressions without referencing each and every step.

And no matter where you are in a progression, it’s always useful to warm-up by going through a few steps in the progression that got you there.

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Joe DeGain
November 7th, 2019 at 3:17 pm
Commented on: The Power Of Progression, Part 5: Building Progressions

What a practical article for ALL trainers!

As a gym owner, the lesson plan I supply to my trainers will sometimes have an assigned progression, but sometimes I will simply write for my trainers to "instruct and rehearse" a movement with the athletes. I like to allow for this creative freedom for them to express their "art" of teaching.

I will be distributing this article to my staff as it will enhance their ability to teach...

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Peter Shaw
November 7th, 2019 at 12:07 pm
Commented on: The Power Of Progression, Part 5: Building Progressions

Not only are progressions an incredible teaching/learning tool for the athlete, but the Trainer who uses progressions on a regular basis and understands their purpose accelerates from “good” to “great” very quickly.


Writing out progressions is akin to “doing you’re homework” for a particular movement. If you write a progression, you begin to clearly understand the points of performance and the purpose behind the teaching points. This can streamline your teaching, seeing and correcting by allowing you to focus on the big ticket items and get rid of the fluff.

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Brunno Silva
November 7th, 2019 at 1:50 am
Commented on: The Power Of Progression, Part 5: Building Progressions

Awesome article


This is the best way to invest time in a movement and maybe spend a good time teaching even “simple” movements. I like to think that each movements has a lot of part or positions an each position has a lot of details. Doing this I can reflect how I’ll progress through the movements.


For instance if we take Box Jump. We can teach how to transitaste position to the jump position and hold. Lot of things can happen on this. Knees can cave in, weight can go to the fore foot, midline can be lost. And So on.


The argument that “ this movement is too simple to spend 10 minutes teaching it” can not exist for who’s trying to be an excellent coach.

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