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Building Gymnastics Density & Functional Volume for the CrossFit Athlete

July 6, 2022 by

What is the best way for me to train to master gymnastics biased tests in CrossFit?

That’s a question I’ve gotten from many athletes, in some form, and a question that I’ve spent loads of time trying to figure out myself.

And while there’s never a one-size fits all approach to training, there are principles and themes that I have identified and distilled into a (hopefully) easy-to-digest format.

Let’s begin by standardizing the language and terms that we used to talk about gymnastics qualities in the Sport of Fitness.

Gymnastics Density: the ability to do more reps in less time of a given movement

Example: Over the course of a training cycle an athlete goes from completing 100 Chest-to-Bar for Time in 7:28 (13.4 reps / min) to finishing in 6:12 (16.1 reps / min).  

Functional Volume: the maximum number of contractions in a movement that an athlete will perform based on the testing parameters of his or her sport

Example: A top 10,000th place finish for a female in an Open event containing Toes-to-Bar is a functional volume of 67 reps.

Identifying What Qualities to Train

Everyone wants to talk about programming.  And we will. But before we do it’s important to first identify what qualities an athlete lacks and put a structured plan in place to improve those qualities before it’s time for competition preparation.

Don’t skip or overcomplicate this process.  Usually it’s the simple things that an athlete has neglected to address that need the most focused attention.

I still don’t have a Ring Muscle-Up.


My Handstand Walks go to sh*t every time they’re paired with heavy TnG deadlifts.


Big sets of Toes-to-Bar always blows up my grip.


Off-Season Training

Working on your unique limitations (I call them “athlete priorities”) happens in the off-season for the advanced athlete.  

Note: This is also true for the intermediate athlete, but their limiter-based training will continue through their comp prep cycle.

This is often training the athlete adapts slower to and focused on things that don’t come as naturally to him or her.  Hence this aspect of their training needs to be highly structured and doesn’t need to mimic the sport as closely.  

The goal of this time is to set the athlete up for success through developing the specific qualities in which they lack.

For Ashley it’s going to be working drills and progressions to get her to her first ring muscle-up

For Jake it’s going to be frequent exposure of pairing Handstand Walking with heavy hinging variations, often in interval formats.

For Taylor it’s going to be doing workouts with high movement interference that taxes the grip, often hanging gymnastics and barbell cycling or dumbbell movements.

Preparing to Compete

As an athlete approaches their competitive season, the focus on their training shifts from a high focus on the athlete’s limitations and individual priorities to developing the qualities they will need to be successful in the way CrossFit tests it’s version of fitness.

For gymnastics biased tests this means maximal MetCons, mainly couplets and triplets.

Early in the athlete’s preparation this means building the athlete’s tolerance to handle the sport’s functional volume.

This allows for the final weeks of preparation to focus almost solely on the intensification process: preparing the athlete to handle game day density. 

It’s about giving the athlete a variety of exposures to gymnastics biased MetCons that produce the highest density possible while keeping them within the limits of functional volume.

Sample Training Sessions

Here are two sample sessions for an advanced CrossFit athlete.

These sessions are meant to keep the turnover / cycle speed high while still accumulating the volume necessary.

An appropriate avatar for these workouts would be…

• 29 years old
• Quarterfinals Qualifier
• Chest-to-Bar Rep Max: 23
• 100 Chest-to-Bar for Time: 7:17

Chest-to-Bar Density

4 Sets for Quality
-12 Tabletop Glute Bridge
-12 Supinated Scap Pull-Ups
-12 Banded Good Morning
Prep as Needed:
-CTB, BJO, Burpee, DB HC&J
For Time // 14-12-10
-BJO 24/20″
(Rest 1:1)
For Time // 14-12-10
-Burpee to 6″ Target
(Rest 1:1)
For Time // 14-12-10
-DB HC&J 50/35lb
4 Sets for Quality
-12 Tabletop Glute Bridge
-30s Supinated Dead Hang
-30s Supine Hamstring Stretch / leg

Hanging Gymnastics Density

A1. Beat Kips (3 x 8)
A2. Seated Good Morning (3 x 6) 75/55lb
A3. Barbell Bent Row (3 x 8) 75/55lb
B1. HFT (2 x 8 / leg)
B2. sCTB (2 x 2-5)
C. EMOM 3: 3 TTB + 3 Snatch 75/55lb
D. EMOM 3: 3 CTB + 3 Thruster 75/55lb
AMRAP 4:00
-8 TTB
-8 Snatch 75/55lb
(Rest 2:00)
AMRAP 4:00
-8 CTB
-8 Thruster 75/55lb
(Rest 2:00)
AMRAP 4:00
-4 TTB
-4 Snatch 75/55lb
(Rest 2:00)
AMRAP 4:00
-4 CTB
-4 Thruster 75/55lb
5:00 Foam Roll; Choice Muscle Groups

Recommit to the Process

The goal of my posts is for them to be actionable. 

After all, the steps I outlined here are literally what I use on a weekly basis for my 1-on-1 athletes. 

So please, take some time right now to figure out what line of action makes the most sense for your athletic development.  

Map out your yearly training calendar.  

Build out a progression for a movement with which you’ve been struggling.

Be willing to invest in resources that can help take you to the next level.

And then recommit to the process.

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