Core to Extremity & CrossFit


Many strength and conditioning programs nowadays are using the relatively well known phrase of “Core to Extremity” to define the basis of what the program is all about.  CrossFit just so happens to be one of those programs.  Yes, the “definition” of CrossFit is: Constantly Varied Functional Movements executed at High Intensity.  However, it is also widely described, even by Gregg himself, as a Core to Extremity strength and conditioning program.  To determine what that actually means I think it best that we first define the components of the moniker itself before defining it as a whole.

Core: often referred to as the “midline” is the bridge that connects our upper body to our lower body.  Anatomically I consider this to be the glutes, hips, and torso.  

Extremity(s):  points or segments that are distanced or furthest from a center mass or body. 

Core to Extremity: the origin of movement that utilizes the largest muscle group possible and progresses onward/outwards to the smaller muscle(s) or groupings of muscles

So we may ask the question, why is Core to Extremity so important especially pertaining to functional movements and fitness?  Well, I believe the answer is because functional movements originate from the core!  In our world of “fitness” where the vast majority of movements are functional, the importance of this cannot be overstated.  For example in movements such as squats, deadlifts, snatches, clean & jerks, thrusters (just to name a few) the focus is to move a specific load or the heaviest load possible rather than the traditional focus of isolating a specific muscle or muscle group.  To move the load most effectively and efficiently our bodies will engage and initiate movement starting with the largest muscle groups.  Once the larger muscle groups have finished, the movement progresses distally to the weaker and smaller muscle groups to complete the movement.

  A great illustration of the “Core to Extremity” principle is to look at the sequence of movement in a Power Snatch.  The athlete will pull the bar from the ground using the legs and hips, while the torso is used to stabilize.  Once the athlete has utilized the full range of motion of these larger muscle groups, i.e. reaching “extension” (ankles, knees and hips in a straight line), the athlete will then transition to the smaller muscle groups of the arms and shoulders to finish the movement by pulling and catching the bar overhead.   It is the natural transition of force and momentum working with the sequential engagement of specific muscles that allows for optimal power output and efficiency.  This movement pattern can be identified as the “Kinetic Movement Chain”.  If we were to break this sequential progression, for example an athlete begins to pull with the arms before reaching extension (the full range of motion of the larger muscle groups), it would be known as a “Core to Extremity Violation”.  When movement is coordinated in the proper order, it allows our body to express its fullest strength and power by utilizing all muscle groups to their fullest potential.

Perhaps the best analogy that gave me my initial understanding of the Core to Extremity principal was to express the relationship between the concrete foundation to a house in relation with the “core” to the human body.  If the foundation of a house is cracked, damaged or off balance the house sitting atop it will crumble or collapse at some point.  The same with our spine (as brutal as it may sound).  If it is damaged, out of position, or unstable at any point, our extremities will be unable to support any loading and surely crumble or collapse.  In the sense of exercise or activity this can cause harm or injury.  I was once told by an old strength coach, “It doesn't matter how strong your arms or legs are if you cant support them with your mid-line!”

Fundamentals are always of paramount importance.  At times it's easy to overlook them in pursuit of something more advanced or appealing.  However, to ensure a lifetime of progress, growth, and health we must alway revisit the principles and fundamentals in any and all things especially those pertaining to fitness and health.  It is my opinion that any strength and conditioning program should be centered around developing an individual's ability to support themselves and external load.  That ability derives from an individual's “core” strength.  Therefore any program should incorporate frequent and multiple exercises to strengthen the hips and torso of those who follow the program.  To optimize our health, performance, and lives I believe we must focus our efforts on strengthening that which supports us throughout this life as well aseach and every endeavor we undertake The Core.

- Coach Taylor Rank

Rebecca Koch