Functional Bodybuilding at the CrossFit Games

Functional Bodybuilding at the CrossFit Games, Part 2

In Part One of this series, we looked at ways to use functional bodybuilding accessory movements to increase rope climb efficiency, especially under fatigue as seen in the 2223 Intervals event at the Games. This week we’ll break down another event and show you how to support the movements involved.

Part 2 of 3: Pistol Squats, Dumbbell Shoulder to Overhead

Event: Triple G Chipper

Movement – Single Leg Squats (Pistol Squats) – The single leg squat was the third movement in the 300 rep chipper. There were 60 reps that the athletes had to perform and they needed to be performed in equal numbers on either leg. These came immediately after 80 GHD Sit Ups. The core and hip flexor demand on the athletes from the GHD Sit Ups was considerable and of particular importance as these muscles area also heavily utilized in the Pistol Squat to stabilize the torso and non working leg. Here are a few Functional Bodybuilding movements that can be implemented to build efficiency in the Pistol Squat. They are all different than our previous review of the Pistol Squat.

Goblet Cossack Squat

Goblet Cossack Squat

Why: This movement is a great way for athletes that are new to Pistols Squats to gain an awareness of how to load their legs unilaterally. The range of motion is also quite similar to the full movement of the Pistol Squat. Lastly, the torso position can be held at a very similar angle to that of a the Pistol Squat and the Goblet loading helps with balance and control.

How to: Alternating legs for sets of 8-10reps/side with a tempo of 31X0 is a great start. 3 sets in your warm ups would be a great dose to give your brain and hips a little exposure to the movement.

Movement Notes: Keep the load in the back or middle of your foot of the working leg. Avoid loading the ball of your foot. Really focus on keeping your torso upright throughout the full range of motion.

Front Rack Box Step Down

Front Rack Box Step Down

Why: This movement is great for building the strength necessary for the Pistol Squat. This movement allows the athlete to not be limited by flexibility and be able to focus solely on eccentric loading of the working leg. The barbell front rack position provides a counterbalance as the athlete attempts to push their hips back and engage the posterior chain on the lowering phase of this lift.

How to: Try to perform sets of 4-6reps with a 5sec eccentric. 4-5 sets per leg.

Movement Notes: Choose a lower box height if you are just learning this movement pattern. Save higher box heights for when you feel more stable. When you begin to lower down, move your hips back first to engage the posterior chain prior to flexing the knee.

Weighted Pistol Negatives

Tempo Pistol Negatives

Why: Similar to the Front Rack Box Step Down, this movement can aid in building the necessary strength to get your first pistol or increase your efficiency. This movement adds a layer of complexity in that it will require the same flexibility demands to accompany the eccentric loading of a Pistol Squat.

How to: On a separate day to the Front Rack Step Downs, perform sets of 8-10 on each leg with a 3 sec lowering and then stand up with both legs. 3-4 sets on each leg.

Movement Notes – The weight serves as a counterbalance for you to really be able to maintain proper torso position. Move the weight further away for an easier time staying upright. As you progress move the load closer to your body.


Movement – Single Arm Dumbbell Shoulder to Overhead 100/70lbs – This was perhaps the most pivotal movement of the entire workout. This was a make or break point for many athletes as it proved to be very difficult for competitors to stabilize the dumbbell not only overhead, but also in the rack position. Athletes were exposed for having side to side imbalances. One arm that could handle the weight well with another that was unstable cost them precious seconds if not minutes on this event. Functional Bodybuilding takes side to side balance very seriously and the below movements are a great way to attack training for this pattern.

Single Arm Dumbbell Jerk Balance

Single Arm Dumbbell Jerk Balance

Why: We love this movement because it combines some footwork coordination with single arm overhead pressing and stability. The addition of footwork coordination along with loaded overhead pushing builds athleticism and has great carryover to olympic lifting as well. The movement standards of the event at the CrossFit Games allowed for a dumbbell split jerk and if the weight gets very heavy this can be a great exercise to build confidence in performing a dumbbell split jerk under pressure.

How to: This is ideal for warm up days when going overhead with a barbell or dumbbells. Perform 6-8/arm for 3-4 sets in your warm up. Build the load a little as you move through your sets.

Movement Notes: The movement starts with your feet in a half split stance. Measure this by taking your full split jerk stance or a comfortable lunge stance. Then move the ball of your leading foot back to the midpoint of your full stance. You will likely have what feels like a dominant side. It still pays to alternate feet with arms on this exercise.

Single Arm Wall Facing Handstand Holds

Scale – Feet on Box Pike Single Arm Handstand Hold

Why: This is a closed chain overhead stability drill. It will place a demand on your trunk as well as shoulders to find stability. It is useful to approach movements in a number of different ways. By fixing the hand on the floor and inverting we effectively close the chain at the hand and allow the brain to adapt to stabilizing the rest of the body over the shoulder. This is opposite to the dumbbell shoulder to overhead lift we are aiming to improve. However, it allows us to train the brain in multiple ways to achieve the common goal of increasing stability overhead.

How to: 15-30sec holds for 5 sets each arm as a finisher to your overhead training day.

Movement Notes: If you widen your legs on the wall this can help with balance as a starting point. You will want to work towards feet closer together.

Single Arm Dumbbell Push Press Eccentrics

Dumbbell Single Arm Push Press Eccentrics

Why: The front rack position proved to be a limiter in Madison for athletes. The commentators kept talking about how hard it was for athletes to bring the heavy DB back to their shoulder in the right position. This movement has been a recent favorite of Functional Bodybuilding for this exact purpose. We slow down the lowering dramatically to teach position. You will see very quickly how if you are in the wrong position you lose power and the DB falls unstable to the shoulder.

How to: Perform sets of 2-6reps with a 50X0 tempo. 4-5 sets per arm.

Movement Notes: It is critical that the lowering tempo is maintained. Think about what elbow position as you lower the dumbbell fells most strong for you. Keep your shoulder blade packed down and tight.