The New Fitness Pyramid

This is the new Fitness Pyramid. You can find the old one in one of CrossFit’s founding documents, “What Is Fitness?

What’s the difference? The difference is that we’ve reorganized the priorities and identified some missing links. It still works the same way in concept: you must have a solid foundation, each layer below forming a stable surface upon which you can construct the next.

We recognize that Education & Mental Health are paramount. We don’t know what we don’t know, and there are still people doing Deadlifts without a coach with a rounded back, or pounding the pavement with a heel strike for years, and in pain, who were never taught any differently. Sitting for hours is the new smoking. People developing Type 2 Diabetes because they follow the FDA guidelines and put grains instead of meat and vegetables at the base of their nutrition pyramid. Even within the CF community, new trends are constantly being popularized, such as High Volume = More Fitness, Secret Squirrel Programs (train everything everyday and get every result evarrr!), and Low Bar Squats for better Olympic Lifting. Fortunately they fall as quickly as they rise, because they’re not evidence-based. The grass is always greener on the other side, and everyone’s looking for a sharper edge. All of these things stem from a basic lack of knowledge. Nevertheless, we are lucky to have access to new information, and be a part of a community of pioneers and thinking people that will constantly challenge each other’s ideas, and slay sacred cows when needed.

Mental Health is right there as well, and this is new thinking. We can’t treat disordered behavior without addressing the underlying disorder. We are multi-faceted human beings, and our need for belonging is right up there with our need for physical activity. We could go further in depth here, but I’d refer you to Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs for a better understanding of the physical, social and psychological components that go into this layer. Long story short, we recognize that we are in The Relationship Business first, for which Fitness provides a happy medium to connect with people. We focus on building good relationships first, because that’s what keeps you going.

Nutrition could easily share the base of the pyramid, but some decisions had to be made, and we decided the capacity to make healthy decisions would enable proper Nutrition to happen, whereas the opposite is not necessarily true. Your chemistry directly plays into your Metabolic and Mental Health, and provides the fuel for all physical systems to function, and ultimately create movement. You want to put “gas in the gas tank” in order for the “engine” to run clean, and when you don’t, the car backfires, and the engine begins to degrade.

Mobility comes next, and this is another revelation. The Mobility movement within CrossFit is going strong for at least 7-8 years now. Believe it or not, there was a time when this wasn’t considered very important, at least not as a daily practice. There was mobility as it flows naturally from functional movements, but fixing your tightness or pain directly? Good luck pre-2010. There were a lot of inflexible “fit” people who thought Overhead Squats were just dumb, because they couldn’t do them well (funny, that). Today, good mobility and the tools to create it are ubiquitous (in many CF gyms anyway). Thanks K-Star ;). The new reality is that you can’t build the next layer on an immobile platform. Duh, right? If your shoulders are like the Tin Man’s, good luck doing any sort of kipping-based Gymnastics. Movement without good functional Mobility eventually leads to injury. We probably don’t need to do the splits, but there is a lot of room for improvement between there and the Tin Man.

Next comes Gymnastics & Weightlifting, and this is pretty normal again. But wait, where did the Metcon go?! Oh yeah, it used to be right above Nutrition… This comes from the recognition that proper technique comes first, before the capacity to deliver and sustain it across Broad Time and Modal Domains. 1 rep before 100 reps. A case can be made that you can technically develop some forms of Metcon prior to technique, like by riding the Assault Bike, for example. This is the same type of thinking that leads immobile people to avoid Overhead Squats. You’re not training to just burn calories or sweat. You’re training to learn how to move in a functionally diverse and injury-preventative way, that then enables you to develop functional power and work capacity by varying the time and modal domains. First, the 1 rep must be done right, and you can’t accomplish much by “delegating to future you” on your technique.

Finally, there is SPP at the top, or Special Physical Preparedness. This used to be just “Sport.” Not everyone is training for a traditional Sport, however. Most of are training to… “not suck at life,” as the t-shirts used to say. Or to be a good parent/grandparent. Or do outdoorsy, fun activities without worrying about your body holding up. Triathlons. Mud Runs. Pick up Softball games. These are all slightly specialized activities, but not necessarily competitive, or even scored, though some might be. Just special, like being able to squat down to a toilet without assistance in your 70s, 80s, and beyond.

If you follow this new pyramid, you will find that you can climb over a lot of the obstacles that have held you back in the past. Often times it’s just a lack of Education, proper Nutrition, or Mobility tools that stop people from reaching their potential. Once you get these priorities straight, you will see that those limits are often self-imposed.  But it may require you to think and act in fundamentally different ways than you have before. Simple, not easy. You can do more, better, when you live and train smarter. Coaching can help with that too, because we don’t know what we don’t know. Change something in your routine today, and discover a new way forward.

Mauricio Leal

Cypher Health & Fitness Owner


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