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Transferable vs. Specialized Skills, Where Five Years of CrossFit has Brought Me


Fitness is an ever progressing journey that can never be totally mastered. Early in your fitness pursuits the following is true: Progress in one area of fitness leads to unintentional growth in other areas as well. This has basically held true for me for the past seven or so years of exercise. I started in basic bodybuilding, and through lifting weights I developed the foundational strength and transferable neurological capacity to do gymnastics movements. So when my friend showed me a handstand push up for the first time I gave it a try, and it worked! Soon after that came the muscle up, then weightlifting movements, all from the transferable skills required in bodybuilding which I was unintentionally developing (also keep in mind I was a younger man at the time, around twenty).


You may be in this phase as well, where transferable skills are everything, ie. the better you get at burpees, the better you’ll be at pull ups. This phase lasts for a long time, and can even last a lifetime, because moving past this phase is tough and takes not only hard work in the gym, but cooperative nutrition and sleep and other lifestyle habits. Most people don’t want to (nor NEED to!) get that specialized.



But lately I’ve noticed in myself that gains are getting tougher. I mean, like, really tough. Gone are the days where transferable skills give me a stronger snatch just because I grew my deadlift. Now when I focus on one area and make improvements there, other areas don’t get better, they get worse!

So it’s time to do one of two things:

  1. Specialize completely and forget about the rest, or
  2. Do short periods of specialization while trying to maintain other skills as much as possible.

It’s like a balancing act, when you focus on one area the other slips a little. As Homer Simpson put it, “Like when I took that home wine-making course and forgot how to drive.”


If you are concerned about this then you are probably a CrossFitter because CrossFitters don’t want to specialize, but with all the frustration that comes with this phase of training, there are many joys as well.

  1. You’ve come a long way and have mastered a wide variety of skills which you can call upon, from gymnastics, to lifting, to running and more.
  2. Transferable skills are high, meaning you can face an odd and unfamiliar object with confidence.
  3. You are now forced by necessity to try out even more new stimuli, and I don’t mean new movements, but the new stimuli of specific and intense training cycles.

Ever done German Volume Training? No? It’s time. Ever snatched 5 days a week? No? Ty it out for a while. Don’t forget to maintain the other skills while you specialize, but remember also that any lost progress comes back quickly when you turn your attention back to it.

After seven years of weekly (almost daily) exercise and five years of CrossFit, this is where I am, still trying to get better, but mostly enjoying the lifestyle of fitness and the variety of trying new things. Keep trying your best, and if you’re looking for some new fun fitness modalities to spice up your training, let me know. I may join you. I’m thinking swimming or KB sport?

– Coach Patrick


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