| | Attacking Limiting Factors: The 2015 CrossFit Games

Author / John

Dan-Bailey-Power-Athlete-CrossFit-GamesChatter among the crowds during the 2015 CrossFit Games called this the year of the power athlete.  Several events throughout the competition personified the methodology of Power Athlete, and these events exposed this as a weakness for many.  If you did not watch the events, check out the Individual and Team workouts here for reference as we view them from a Power Athlete coach’s perspective.  Overall, the combination and order of events for both the individuals and teams were programmed in a fashion to find the fittest on earth and truly tested the athlete’s competency in CrossFit’s ten general physical skills.

While weaknesses in these general abilities negatively affect an athlete’s performance, simply looking at these as good or bad from a coach’s perspective, has a far greater negative affect on performance.  The CrossFit Games takes a sabermetric approach to find the fittest on earth.  The leaderboard is ripe with weaknesses that jump off the page with dramatic peaks and valleys from athletes in the top 10, and the water finds its level at the completion of the competition.

Screenshot 2015-07-28 at 9.43.07 PMWhat appears as weakness cost certain athletes on the scoreboard, for example check out Matt Fraser’s performance on Events 6 & 7 compared to his others.  The scoreboard matches the truth told by how these athletes moved during each event.  While the leaderboard serves as a nice summary of performance, a coach must look beyond the scores and identify the limiting factors that affected athletes.

A limiting factor is defined as a component of an athlete’s capabilities that limits the development or expression of their ability to the fullest potential.  Not simply physical skills that stand alone, but the breakdown of movements and abilities to fundamental components.  If something is preventing an athlete from displaying their capabilities in their sporting arena to the capacity they’ve demonstrated and replicated in training, then there is a limiting factor standing in the way.

This article will identify several limiting factors witnessed during the 2015 CrossFit Games competition that are low hanging fruit for every athlete and coach to correct, no matter what they’re training for.


No matter the sport, investing in mastery of the fundamentals pays huge dividends.  Especially in the sport of CrossFit where efficiency of movement at a high volume over a 5 day period.  Fundamentals then this become more important and even more basic.  I’m not referring to the fundamentals of specific movements like the positions of the Clean, but to the fundamentals of all human movement called Primal Movements.

Power Athlete focuses on 7 primal movement patterns to drive physiological adaptation:

  1. Vertical Push
  2. Horizontal Push
  3. Vertical Pull
  4. Horizontal Pull
  5. Squatting
  6. Lunging
  7. Stepping

One Primal we noticed that was a screaming limiting factor for a surprising amount of athletes was the Vertical Pull during Event 12’s 3 Peg Board Ascends.  These athletes can do weighted kipping pull ups (Event 3) and kipping bar muscle (Event 10) at high volumes with ease.  Yet the limited isometric demands at various joint angles and unilateral eccentric loading crushed the unprepared!


As discussed in Attacking Limiting Factors: Shoulder Girdle, the ability to vertical pull needs to be developed from proximal to distal and isometric to eccentric.  Once competency in isometric and eccentric action at the shoulder girdle and vertical pull, then concentric and dynamic movements like the kipping pull up are given to the athlete.  The demands of the peg board are effectively trained with this approach, but are missed when an athlete relies on their hips during the Vertical Pull primal.

The simple fix of mastering the vertical pull is incorporating strict pull ups and constantly varying the stress through external resistance, objects hanging from, arrangement of hands and angles (grips and unilateral), and muscle actions.

Speed KillED at the 2015 Crossfit games

Events 6 & 7 got the Power Athlete team’s chili hot.  We left the intern in charge of the CrossFit Football booth, found some shade, and turned on our coach’s eye.  Several fundamental limiting factors were evident during a majority of the athlete’s sprints. Especially when they were tasked with combining the Lunge and Step Up primals!  What was more clear was the approach and ease the experienced sprinters and field sport athletes displayed during these events.

CrossFit Football Booth CrossFit GamesTheir approach was simple: Fearlessness.  As the experienced athletes approached the dummies, they dropped their hips and their shoulders into the turns!  During the hurdles, these fearless athletes accelerated as they approached and leaped over.  It was a glorious sight and all of us were geeking out.  We even picked up on one of the announcers call these top finishers, “powerful athletes”!

The acceleration towards an object and lowering the center of gravity were natural instincts, developed long ago during these athletes sporting youth.  As natural as it seemed, these capabilities shouldn’t be labeled as ‘weaknesses’ for the other athletes.  Rather, labeling them as limiting factors mentally prepares an athlete to break these components down and build them back up to strengths instead of accepting limiting capability.

Three simple fixes for correcting majority of these athletes sprint and change of direction technique limiting factors:

CrossFit-Games-Event-5Speed is a product of posture and technique.  Period.  With the amount of volume these athletes must endure before speed events, perfect posture and technique become that much more important.  Many CrossFit Football seminar alums will attest to the value in how these components are taught, and as sprint events become more and more prevalent during the CrossFit Games, even the fittest in the world must be prepared to go fast.

Bottom line, get your ass to a CrossFit Football seminar and fix the low hanging fruit you’ve been blaming on your genetics.  No other seminar out there is dedicated to developing straight ahead speed and teaching the fundamentals of change of direction.

Water Finds Its Level

A keen observation made from the competition was no matter the event, the best movers we’re the best.  There is no way these athletes make it as far as they did without being solid movers, but when the reps and weight began to add up, the best remained the best.  That simple.  This is a message to any athlete or coach who is out there chasing numbers.  Chase perfection of movement and the numbers will follow.

The greatest limiting factor for any athlete to master is their ability to replicate their abilities to the highest capacity developed in training.  No matter Olympic Lifting, Football, or CrossFit, if an athlete cannot call upon their performance traits or general skills during competition they will not succeed.  To simplify this preparation, focus on the 7 primal movement patterns and mastering each.  This focus will accelerate preparation for the unknown and unknowable and set them up for the seemless execution of what we call Praxis.  It also is our contention that athletes should spend as much time on replication of their track and field performance as many do their Olympic Lifts!

12-Labours-CrossFit-Games-Power-AthleteEmpower Your Performance: Know What You Don’t Know

Do not simply label a general task or specific movement as a weakness.  Find out why an athlete is weak or incapable, and create a solid default position for this athlete to fall to when the going gets tough and the Games get going.   If you as a coach are unable to identify why an athlete is not progressing, find one that does.  We have written many articles on common Limiting Factors, check out our archive.

The ‘Do work’ approach to weaknesses will lead to minimal progress in a world that is dominated by accelerated adaptation.  Remember, only perfect practice makes perfect.

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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. ronelv on July 29, 2015 at 6:32 am

    As always an excellent article @mcquilkin, and a warning that it can not continue divorced concepts such : Posture & Position of sport of Crossfit

  2. […] of my favorite things about the Games is the analysis that comes out immediately following. This article, for example, is an excellent piece from Tex over at Power Athlete. In it, he talks about the […]

  3. Smoothmoose on July 31, 2015 at 9:58 am

    Great points. Though I’m pretty sure all the women at the Games are able to do 10 strict pull-ups without an issue. I’m pretty sure that’s sufficient strength and time under tension to complete the peg board. The reality is most of them were just too beaten up through the 5 days to do it. And maybe, some strategic posturing when they saw so many other competitors unable to climb it, it made more sense to save energy for the final event.

  4. Tod Bormuth on September 2, 2015 at 1:47 am

    Go rock climbing, run through trails, hike up mountains, learn new sports, and test your body in unfamiliar movements and terrains. In the gym it s a matter of improving grip strength training similar to what obstacle course racers do. The CrossFit athletes will obviously hit the pegboard, but Schroeder suggests they get skilled at rope climbs, weighted pullups, and chinups, too.

  5. […] More Info: Power Athlete HQ […]

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