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10 Important Exercises for CrossFit Beginners to Learn - wodarmour

10 Important Exercises for CrossFit Beginners to Learn

Not really sure what the key exercises are and how they work? Here are 10 important starting points for CrossFit beginners.


Theory says the front squat raises one’s center of mass from a seated to standing position with a load placed across the front of the torso. Quite obvious, right? But why is this obvious movement so beneficial?

  • Posture: Front squatting recruits the muscles of the upper back and forces thoracic extension in order to hold the bar on the shoulder. It can help prevent kyphosis in the thoracic spine if elbows are kept as high as possible throughout the movement.
  • Flexibility: In the bottom position of the front squat, the ankles, shoulders, wrists and hips will be pushed to their mobility limits. Front squat also helps to develop proper knee joint movement integrity, as lack of quadriceps strength and control can impede knee flexion and mobility, creating a cascade of countering movement imbalances throughout the hips, spine, and ankles.
  • Safety: This upright torso places less of a shear force on the spine and therefore makes it a better option for those with back issues.
  • Strength: Increased quadriceps engagement and development due to higher degrees of knee flexion reached at the bottom of the squat. This movement can add quality amounts of lean muscle mass to the quadriceps and enhance overall leg development and performance, especially if athletes find their hips become the primary mover in most squats, resulting in them losing the “chest up” positioning and/or rounding out in back squats (both high and low bar).


Step 1: Take a deep breath in, tighten your core and pull your shoulder blades down and back.

Step 2: Sit your hips back, bend your knees and push your knees out to lower into the Squat. Keep your chest and elbows up throughout the rep.

Step 3: Continue bending your hips and knees under your thighs are approximately parallel the ground.

Step 4: Drive through your midfoot to stand up out of the squat as if you are pushing the ground away from you. You should feel your quads and glutes doing most of the work. Squeeze your glutes to extend your hips at the top of the Squat.



The back squat is the most basic strength exercise in weightlifting, and one of the most commonly used exercises alongside the competition lifts. The beneficial of front and back squats are very similar. The correctly performed back squat will help you improve in the following areas:

  • Strength:  It is a full-body compound movement. The quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus muscles, erector spinae, gastrocnemius, soleus, adductor and abdominal muscles all are trained with this one exercise. It is used for general leg strength development primarily.
  • Flexibility: Achieve the full range of motion.
  • Prevents injuries: Nearly 90% of athletic injuries involve the weaker stabilizer muscles, ligaments, and connective tissue. The squat helps to maintain good balance


Step 1: Place the barbell behind your neck—retract your shoulder blades tightly and rest the bar in the meat of your upper traps.

Step 2: Place your feet between hip and shoulder width with the toes turned out so that at full depth each thigh and the corresponding foot are in line with each other. Set your back in a complete arch, take in a large breath, and lock it in, forcefully tightening all trunk musculature.

Step 3: Bend at the knees and hips simultaneously to move down as directly as possible into the bottom of the squat with an upright posture, maintaining tension on the legs throughout the movement and controlling the speed of the descent. Full depth is achieved when the knees are closed as much as possible without losing the arch in the back (if you cannot sit into a full depth squat, you need to work on mobility).

Step 4: Upon reaching the bottom position, immediately transition and stand as aggressively as possible, again with the knees and hips together to maintain your upright posture—try to lead the movement with your head and shoulders.


Another vital lift you will need to learn is the deadlift. The deadlift is a weightlifting movement whereby a loaded barbell is lifted off the ground from a stabilized, bent over position into a fully upright position.


  • Increases head to toe strength
  • Increases power 
  • Builds a strong posterior chain
  • Allows you to lift more weight than any other lift


Proper Deadlift form starts with the weight on the floor. Pull the bar to your mid-thighs and lock your hips and knees. Return the weight to the floor by moving your hips back while bending your legs. Rest a second at the bottom and repeat. 

Your lower back must stay neutral to avoid injury. Rounding it during deadlifts is exceptionally dangerous for your spine. It puts uneven pressure on your spinal discs which can injure them. Always deadlift with a neutral lower back – maintain the natural inward curve of your lower spine.³

Things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t arch your back (or roll it in the other direction)
  • Keep your abs and core tight the ENTIRE TIME
  • Keep the bar as close to your body as possible at all times
  • As you bring it past your knees, don’t think about pulling up with your back, thrust forwards with your hips
  • Keep your head up and chest out as you lift




The bench press has always been an important exercise for bodybuilders, strength athletes and powerlifters. It is an effective movement for introducing pressing strength to beginners.


  • Hard active work for the chest, shoulders and arms, isometric work for the forearms
  • A very good place to learn how to bear weight and support a weighted movement 
  • Especially useful for building upper body and tricep strength


  • Shoulders back on the setup/rear delts resting on the bench
  • Bring the weight over the chest (not above the eyes)
  • Shoulders tight on the setup leading to a tight arch in the back
  • Break the bar on the way down: puts elbows in the right position
  • Spread the bar with the hands on the way up: activates the triceps
  • Wide feet/pushing feet into the ground/ spreading the floor with the feet

Don’t have a bench? Execute this movement while lying on the floor. The floor press, often called the “poor man’s bench,” will still increase your pressing power.


The overhead press is a challenging exercise that should be a foundational lift in any upper-body routine.


  • Improved core strength – your core, primarily the muscles of your abs and lower back, help keep you pushing in a straight line.
  • The shrug performed at the top of the press activates the upper portion of your trapezius muscle, which shows as a broad, diamond shape across the upper back.
  • The benefits of the overhead press reach far beyond the shoulders and arms. It builds the abdominal wall, strengthens the hips, and builds stability through the legs.
  • An indirect impact on an athlete’s ability to generate arm swing power. Proper arm swing can increase a jump’s height by roughly 30%.


Step 1: Stand under a barbell rack set at chest height and move the bar, with an overhand full grip, to your chest. Or, use control to hoist the barbell from the floor, clean-style, to rest at the front of the chest. The hands should be shoulder-distance apart and elbows pointing down toward the floor.

Step 2: Inhale and press the bar straight up. Avoid allowing it to waver too far forward or back.

Step 3: Lockout your elbow joints briefly at the top as you shrug your shoulders before slowly lowering the weight back down to your chest.


The snatch requires explosive power, speed, control and strength. It is performed with speed and precision. In addition to moving the weight quickly, the snatch also moves the weight a long distance – from the ground all the way overhead.


  • The snatch is an excellent developer of balance, flexibility, coordination, speed and strength
  • Improves the entire posterior chain
  • Develops quicker reflexes
  • Helps further develop agility that can also help you be lighter on your feet
  • this move engages your shoulders, hips and ankles more than most exercises


The start position in the snatch is often ignored by many beginners because we only really know we have failed the snatch if it doesn’t make it above your head. If you do not start correctly, the bar path and your power can be severely handicapped. When you set up, check your feet, knees, hips and shoulders.

Firstly, start with your toes under the bar, if the bar starts far away, its stays far away. Pressure should be distributed on the balls of your feet to allow your legs to drive through the floor. Points your feet and knees slightly out, this will help the bar stay close without smashing into your knees.

Keep those hips down! Hips should always be lower than your shoulders, so make sure they are in your start position.

Shoulders must be over the bar to start with. This will allow you to produce that powerful hip extension when you move into the extension at the top of the lift.

Check the next page for the other main Olympic lift.


One of the most common Olympic lifts is the clean and jerk — a complex movement that combines the clean and the jerk into one exercise. The clean and jerk is a very dynamic multi-joint compound exercise that incorporates a wide range of muscles and really engages the entire body.


  • Improves anaerobic endurance
  • Requires more overall strength than the snatch
  • It teaches various muscle groups to move together and it helps the body move as a unit
  • It targets the hamstrings, gluteus maximus, quadriceps, calves, back, deltoids, chest, biceps, triceps and even works the core muscles



1.  Position your feet in a shoulder width. Grab the bar just past the shoulder width. Keep your back straight.

2. Align the bar over the balls of your toes. Drop your hips so your shoulders are directly above the barbell. Engage core. Pull your head up, look straight ahead and keep your arms straight.

3. Start lifting the barbell. Push the feet against the floor. Keep your core engaged. As the barbell passes the knees, pull it back towards your legs. Stay connected to it, keep it close to the body. Keep your arms straight and midline tight.

4. Lift starts slowly and accelerates (after it passes the knees) into a quick, explosive movement and full-body extension.

5. When you lift the barbell to the mid/upper tight, explosively extend your hips. Shrug your shoulders, elbows should be bend outward. Aim to keep the bar close to the body as much as possible. Your goal should be a full hip extension.

6. Shrug your shoulders, pull your body underneath into the front squat position to receive the bar on your shoulders. Lift your elbows up, push your shoulder forwards and slightly up. Stand up.


7. After standing up from the front squat, adjust the barbell into the jerk rack position. Recover, breathe and align your balance towards the heels. Bend in your knees and hips, keep your torso straight. Explosively extend and drive from the ground to thrust the bar upwards above the head.

8. Feet split, elbows are locked, core is engaged and the bar is received overhead. Recover to a full standing position.


Try the tips above and learn from a former Olympic Champion.


The overhead squat (OH squat) is, for many CrossFitters—one of the most vexing movements in the CrossFit repertoire. It exposes weaknesses in flexibility, balance, strength and coordination.


  • Teaches your body to learn how to extend properly
  • Engages the muscles in the lower body, namely the glutes, hamstrings, quads, core
  • The OHS force shoulders to stay in the correct position to support the weight
  • Teaches body awareness
  • Improves flexibility and mobility
  • The overhead squat develops core control by punishing any forward wobble of the load with an enormous and instant increase in the moment about the hip and back



  • Review the air squat for the basic squat mechanics
  • Grip the bar such that when placed overhead, it is 6-8″ above the top of your head
  • Push your shoulders and the bar up as high as you can (“active shoulders”)
  • The bar should be perfectly aligned with your heels
  • Maintain a tight core through the entire movement


  • Pull your hips back and down while keeping your weight on your heels
  • Pull the bar back deliberately as you squat to keep it directly over your heels
  • DO NOT let the bar move forward of or behind your heels at any point of the movement
  • Make sure your hips reach a point below the top of your knee (below parallel)
  • Keeping your weight on your heels, stand to full extension

This exercise will take a lot of practice to get good at!


The pull-up is considered a true measure of strength by many trainers and with good reason. Completing a correct pull-up uses all the muscles of the back and arms and is a very effective upper body exercise.


  • pullups are one of the most convenient exercises. You can do them everywhere.
  • pullups do a great job of targeting the back and biceps
  • it engages the back, shoulders, chest and arms.
  • helps developing powerful forearms and grip strength to help improve your performance in several sports


Step 1: Grab The Bar. Grip it about shoulder-width apart. Full grip with your palms down.
Step 2: Hang. Raise your feet off the floor by bending your knees. Hang with straight arms.
Step 3: Pull. Pull yourself up by pulling your elbows down to the floor. Keep your elbows close.
Step 4: Pass The bar. Pull yourself all the way up until your chin passes the bar. Don’t do half reps.
Step 5: Repeat. Lower yourself all the way down until your arms are straight. Breathe. Pullup again.

Why You Don’t Have Strict Pull Ups Yet


It’s a fairly simple execution that requires the whole body to move.


  • developing strong core
  • all-around conditioning movement
  • easily scalable exercise.  Scaling can be done by way of the height, weight, or depth.
  • Wall balls will have a direct impact on your aerobic capacity


When you descend into the wall ball squat, the idea is to get proper depth the same way you would with a back squat. Keep your weight over your heels with your knees tracking your toes, and aim to lower the crease of your hips below your knees. Make sure to hold the ball at chest height throughout the downward movement, as letting it dip will cause you to round your back and shift your weight forward. Drive through your heels on the way up, using hip action to throw the ball into the wall. Catch it on the rebound, squat again, and repeat for reps.

Wall Balls Crossfit



Burpees are an intense exercise that combine push-ups and squat jumps into one physically demanding activity.


  • burpees are dynamic and fast paced and can be a great addition to any training session
  • improving your conditioning and respiratory endurance quickly
  • burpees require no equipment and you can literally do them anywhere
  • strength-building – you will work your arms, chest, quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and core


Step 1: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, weight in your heels, and your arms at your sides.
Step 2: Push your hips back, bend your knees, and lower your body into a squat.
Step 3: Place your hands on the floor directly in front of, and just inside, your feet. Shift your weight onto them.
Step 4: Jump your feet back to softly land on the balls of your feet in a plank position. Your body should form a straight line from your head to heels. Be careful not to let your back sag or you butt Step 5: stick up in the air, as both can keep you from effectively working your core.
Step 6: Jump your feet back so that they land just outside of your hands.
Step 7: Reach your arms over head and explosively jump up into the air.
Step 8: Land and immediately lower back into a squat for your next rep.


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