Skills vs. Functional Movements: A Beastmodal Guest Post

Beastmodal Domains is proud to present a guest post by Tim “Brad ‘Tim Francis’ Pitt” Francis.  While the opinions presented in this post are not from my brain, I agree with all of it.  All I did was add the stupid pics and captions.  Commence pot-stirring now.


We’ve all been there before.  You open up your web browser, navigate over to, and check the WOD with some level of anticipation, hoping for another great workout.  After quickly scanning the WOD, you shake your head in dismay and think, “What kind of butt fucking CrossFit sorcery is this?”  That’s right, they programmed the mother fucking handstand walk again.  Somewhere a Gymnastics WOD’er is servicing his raging boner, and somewhere else I’m contemplating nailing my scrotum to my chair.  Fuck.

One of the things (including passive-aggressive behavior) at which women are better than men.


CrossFit is built on the three focus areas of intensity, variation, and functionality.  I’m going to focus on functionality.  There is a rash of stupid shit that pollutes the generally functional exercises of CrossFit, but handstand walks are probably at the pinnacle of Stupid Shit Mountain.  Look no further than Event “Skills 1” of the WSOE for an unabashed spectacle of stupid shit. 

Here’s a rhetorical question, “Should a reasonable test of the fittest person alive include a softball throw?”  I lied.  That’s not a rhetorical question.  Fuck no.  Also, can anyone tell me where “skills” fit into intensity, variation, and functionality?  “Nunchuck skills, bowhunting skills, computer hacking skills…”  It’s funny in Napoleon Dynamite because it’s stupid.


Slightly more functional than double unders.

Now the CrossFit Stasi are surely flipping through their notebook of “Canned Responses To Reasoned Criticism” and finding all kinds of rationalizations for why a handstand walk is a functional exercise.  It’s a skill, peeps.  Handstand walks are a bar trick, not a measure of functional fitness.  Softball throwing is a skill.  That’s NOT a test of fitness any more than knitting a fucking scarf is.  As a side note, have you ever seen a professional speed knitter get busy?  Shit’s bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s. 

When a real gymnast does a muscle up or handstand walk, the moves look effortless and sleek because the Carl Paolis of the world are skilled fucking badasses.  In the hands of a gymnast, those movements look nothing like the epileptic hot mess of appendages on display when I do them.  That’s because they’re skills, not functional movements.

Cute trick, pig. Larry, get my axe.

A functional exercise is something that is intuitive and simple.  We’re talking deadlifts, bench, swings.  Meathead shit.  Functional fitness should allow you to perform tasks that aren’t skilled.  Think:  I’m a caveman, and I need to lift this saber toothed tiger off the ground.  That’s not a skill.  You just lift the fucking thing. 

The odd thing to me is that while CrossFit is light years ahead of most fitness programs in terms of functional movement, it seems to miss out on a lot of potentially functional exercises.  The best example among many is one-armed rows.  Have you ever tried to start a lawnmower or, say, lift anything ever off the ground?  I bet if you could yank 150# one-armed rows, lifting shit off the ground would be a lot easier.  You’d also have Hank Aaron forearms, son.

"What, no masturbation joke?"

Further, high rep squat cleans and squat snatches don’t make much sense either.  Those are highly technical movements that should be done in low numbers of reps.  If you want to do high reps, use power cleans and power snatches.  As Rip has said, a squat clean is just a missed power clean.  There’s a reason real life Oly lifters do the functional movements power cleans & front squats along with power snatches & OHSs to improve the money lifts.  The money lifts are skills, the functional movements make you strong.

"You mean to tell me you got to this level by never doing 30 squat snatches (135#) for time? mind-blowing."

Skill work is valuable inasmuch as it has a direct correlation to your sport-specific movement.  In other words, football players should work football skills, not handstand walks or double unders.  If CrossFit is your sport, and these movements show up in competition, then hopefully you’ve trained them.  As one who competes in CrossFit, I begrudgingly train these movements when programmed.   

I’ve developed a test to determine if a movement is functional or not.  If the movement wouldn’t fit into Rocky’s training montage in Rocky IV, then fuck it.  I literally (figuratively) get a fucking aneurism whenever I see handstand walks programmed.  Now go ice your cheek.  You just got mushroom stamped by the flying cock of function.  Get functional, get strong.

  1. #1 by Sean on August 17, 2011 - 12:38 PM

    So one arm row is functional but throwing a ball isn’t? Have to disagree on that one considering at one point in every culture throwing an object was the basis for hunting and warfare.

    Handstand walks are functional if you are in a remake of crouching tiger hidden dragon. Or are a nice girl putting herself through college.

    • #2 by EPIC on August 17, 2011 - 12:51 PM

      Yes, throwing a ball is a skill. Just because it relates to hunting and war (which are fucking awesome and manly – unlike handstand walks) doesn’t mean it isn’t a skill. How come all the European/African/South American competitors looked the most ridiculous during that event in the Games? Because the event wasn’t a Soccer Ball kick for distance/accuracy. If CrossFit is functional, Froning is the most fit and throwing a ball is NOT a skill, why is Froning not an MLB pitcher?

      • #3 by John Lohry on August 17, 2011 - 3:06 PM

        Is it possible that the simple act of throwing, even if simply for distance, can be viewed as functional, whereas, throwing for accuracy is more skill-based? Anyone can throw a rock or a spear (functional), but it takes practice to be able to hit a moving animal (skill).

        • #4 by Tom K on August 17, 2011 - 6:13 PM

          I think the CF Games dshowed us all that throwing is not functional and a skill that not everyone has.

          Going off of what Sean wrote, I agree that throwing things was how we fought and hunted in the past; however, the rotation of your shoulder and gripping the object is the functional part, where as the form and specifics required to throw as football/spear/grenade is a skill. If I don’t have the skills needed and all I have is the functional part then I throw like some of the Games Athletes…terribly.

  2. #5 by Walter Ezell on August 17, 2011 - 12:41 PM

    This article gave me the vision of somebody starting a lawmower and ripping the engine off of the wheeled base by the cord. Dumbbell rows mother fucker.

    Handstand walks are meant as an accessory movement. Accessory in that it builds body awareness and strength that can be contributed towards the whole. In this case the whole would be the press. I like handstand walks, but then again I can handstand walk a football field.

    Functional in that it can benefit in an everyday life type of scenario? No. Functional in that it is simply another auxiliary exercise to increase shoulder strength and balance? Yes.

    • #6 by EPIC on August 17, 2011 - 12:57 PM

      I really like Double Unders because I am fucking awesome at them. However, I can not defend them against the fact that they are a skill and are really far from functional. CrossFit has many movements that are skill-based and we need to realize this when we tell people CrossFit is functional. It’s functional most of the time. Handstand walks do have their benefits in the areas you’ve mentioned. I’d hate them less if I could do them. But I’m not going to waste time which I can spend doing presses on shit 6 year old girls can do. Also, I’m petty as fuck.

  3. #7 by Bubba on August 17, 2011 - 12:42 PM


  4. #8 by Sean on August 17, 2011 - 1:06 PM

    I remember all those times I have been laying on back and pressing a weight up. Wait, No that’s never happened.

    Rocky did double unders and Drago did doing power cleans.

    • #9 by EPIC on August 17, 2011 - 1:10 PM

      Yeah, me and Tim were waiting on the call out about Drago’s Hang Power Cleans from that clip. Why do you think I didn’t link it? Well-played Sean, however – you absolutely can not advocate Ivan’s form in those hybrid-HPC’s/reverse curls.

      • #10 by Walter Ezell on August 17, 2011 - 1:34 PM

        Maybe Apollo Creed wouldnt have died had he done more handstand walks.

        • #11 by Tim on August 17, 2011 - 1:45 PM

          Haha. I’m digging that the Rocky IV comment is generating a lot of discussion. I didn’t mean it as a doctoral thesis quality health theory. I think it’s safe to say that the theme of the montage is Rocky doing hardcore, old-fashioned, functional shit while Drago does some coddled, technologically over-reliant garbage.

  5. #12 by volgawv on August 17, 2011 - 1:39 PM

    I love this one because it is so freakin funny. I know there is a serious message here but I feel like I have just read the script of Comedy Central. On a serious note, kudos to Walter who can handstand walk across a football field!. Holy shit balls!! I cannot,do handstand walks or double unders so now I don’t feel quite so inadequate. My self esteem has just ‘doubled”!
    @ Sean, you are very witty, I never see that side of you in the gym…..”
    nice girl putting herself through college”. You completely made my day with that comment.

  6. #13 by Rafy on August 17, 2011 - 2:58 PM

    Epic you are the fucking man and this more than complete sense. Keep them coming

  7. #14 by Andy G. on August 17, 2011 - 10:37 PM

    First off CrossFit’s primary claim is that they are a core strength and conditioning program . A claim that they have definitely backed up. They also claim to forge elite fitness and as stated and mocked a bit in this blog post and the comments below “a functional fitness program”. Yes there are several movments that we see regularly in our WODs that are not functional in the direct sense. But in the crossfit level 1 manual and at the certs functional movement is described not only in the literal sense but also used to descibe any move that falls into the character of moving LLLDQ.

    Many movements in CrossFit require a great deal of skill. I will never be in a situation where I need to double under or handstand pushup away from the enemy. But the agility accuracy, core strength, and conditioning required to not only do multiple repetitions of those movements, but do them well over and over again will serve me well over a series of real world tasks. Which leads me to my next point. Why we do multiple reps of movements like squat cleans and squat snatch in metcons. The level of body control and functional strength required to repeat these movements properly while under physical and mental distress develops a high level of compotency. Are we as proficient as competitive oly lifters…hell no! But we aren’t claiming to be specialists. we also perform these movements in metcons because they elicit the physical repsonses from our body that dramtically improves our level of overall strength and conditioning and allow us to look fucking awesome naked!

    I wasn’t a huge fan of the softball throw. It does take some functional strength to throw anything but as we saw the non-ball players did horrible. Kristin Clever, who I always pegged as a softball player sucked as did Chris Spealler. But hey, if you want to be the games champ you should regularly learn and play new sports. No one had a problem with the swim but you could be a badass athlete and be afraid of the ocean. Swimming is all skill. Thats why there are so many overweight lifegaurds that can swim their asses off.

    As for dumbbell rows, I have done them many times in the past. Actually I used to prefer heavy barbell rows. Can you develop strength not only in the prime movers but in your core from doing them? Sure, and Ive seen barbell rows along with stiff legged deadlifts in mainsite wods before. But when trying to condition our athletes with metcons it doesnt fit to put a limited range of motion movement in there that slows you down. I rather program a kettlebell or dumbbell power snatch.

    These are just my opinions. I really enjoyed the article as well as the comments. There are still things in CrossFit programming that has me scratching my head sometimes and I definitely have alot more to learn. But overall the mainsite programming does a great job of developing athletes that are physical specimens and can perform better over a broad fitness spectrum than any other focus group.

    Andy G.

    • #15 by EPIC on August 17, 2011 - 10:48 PM

      Well put, solid comment, Andy. Besides the good points you make, I want to highlight the brilliance of one particular quote: “Kristen Clever, who I always pegged as a softball player…” That’s funny as fuck.

    • #16 by Tim on August 17, 2011 - 11:27 PM

      Thanks for the feedback, Andy. I’ve never done this before, but it’s really fun to put your thoughts out there and get people’s honest opinions back. When I wrote this, I wondered how people would receive the squat snatch and squat cleans section. In my mind a squat snatch is like a diver on the 10m platform doing one of triple somersaults and a dive. That takes a fuck ton of core strength, flexibility, body control, etc. The diver wouldn’t, however, do 10 triple somersault dives for time. It’s still fun as fuck to throw a bunch of weight on a bar and see if you can do a full snatch. I just sort of doubt the efficacy

      I also understand your point about CrossFit being a core strength and conditioning program, but that’s an ambiguous definition. That’s why I chose to judge it based it their own variation, intensity, functionality definition. I felt that was fair. I disagree with the manual in putting things like the handstand walk in functional movements. If that’s their definition, then obviously in their mind they’re meeting the standards for functional movement. I would tend to disagree. Why not do OH walking lunges with a barbell or water pipe? You pretty much elicits the same response, it’s intuitive, and you work your legs simultaneously with your shoulders/stabilizers. In the end, though, I’m right with you…still learning.

      • #17 by Tim on August 17, 2011 - 11:29 PM

        The last line in the first paragraph should read “efficacy of high reps of full snatches.”

    • #18 by Walter Ezell on August 18, 2011 - 6:21 AM

      I pegged her as a baseball player myself.

  8. #19 by Andy G. on August 18, 2011 - 11:52 AM

    Timmy I enjoyed the post man and some definitions and explanations are always going to be interpreted differently. The “CrossFit is a core strength….” statement is amibiguous as a stand alone statement. Thats why it must be explored deeper as are most one line statements. There are some aspects of Crossfit that can be disected from the outside looking in. for instance, “you will be a master of none if follow a crossfit program”. This is a valid statement. But other criticisms or assumptions made about CrossFit Methodology are unfounded and are made by so-called fitness experts that don’t know what they are talking about.(I’m definitely not making that statement directed towards you Timmy).

    I would issue a challenge to anyone out there that can find a program that puts out more functionally fit and well rounded athletes than CrossFit. Whether or not every movement can be classified as functional is a pretty clear no. Can doing double unders and handstands improve your ability to perform better within the realm of the 10 general skills of fitness, hell yeah! Back to the challenge of finding a better program: for this to take place clearly defined standards and definitions on what a functionally fit athlete is will always be up for debate.

    Our outlook at TakeOver is simple. We are going to incorporate as many useful movements and skills as possible to ensure that our athletes have no weaknesses. I know some very good athletes, some of which are included in this discusision, that have trouble initiating active shoulders or maintaining them very long after fatigue sets in. Guess what? Handstands and handstand pushups would help. I know guys who are extremely strong but have slow feet and their coordination sucks. So in a fight or in a given sport, say football they don’t have the speed to compete….something that might help, box jumps and double unders bitches!

    Ok I’m done guys. Timmy keep writing dude!

  9. #20 by Charlie R. on August 18, 2011 - 3:38 PM

    This is funny shit! I really enjoy reading your posts; however, I disagree that skills practice has no place in crossfit programming. Crossfit recognizes ten (10) fitness domains, which include: flexibility, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy. Of course, these aren’t nearly as beastly as endurance, stamina, strength, power, and speed but how else are you going to improve something like balance or accuracy if you’re not practicing skills that require it.

  10. #21 by Ab on August 24, 2011 - 5:51 PM

    You may have something legitimate to say but I was distracted by all the cussing and potty mouth language. Had to stop reading. Perhaps a thesaurus will help expand your vocabulary?

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