Long-Term Customizations for Common CrossFit Exercises
Written by TJ O’Brien

Last week I detailed how I subbed full movements for their isometric version (just holding one position), in order to make my gym comeback a bit easier on myself. Sometimes the volume of that first day back can knock you right on your butt and sap motivation to return.

But what if you are already in the swing of things and you’re working on a skill that needs some complementary movement? Maybe you don’t have the 10-20 minutes to work on it before your session, you still want to keep inching towards something like:

A Stronger SquatStrict Handstand Push-ups, orMuscle-Ups

But you can never find the time or the right drill. Here are some real-life examples of members who have made the change I’ll advocate for here. It’s a “long term customization” and it’s there so that you can really dig into an element of the thing you’re working on, without adding any extra time in the gym.


A member of the noon class has a solid squat, but their strength in the bottom of the squat is lacking. They often cut a little bit of range as the weights get heavier. Additionally, this member tends to shift forward on their squat, attempting to recruit their stronger quads instead of their weaker hamstrings and hips.

The solution:

For the next 8-10 weeks, whenever we squat in the strength portion of class, perform a box squat. The box squat has been used by powerlifters to increase strength out of the hole, as well as develop the hamstrings and glutes in the squat. 

The box can be a range of heights, and should be just at a level that is able to be controlled down to. The point is, by substituting this variation for a few weeks, and observing the changes that happen, we may be able to break through a strength plateau that we normally would not be able to had we stuck with only the standard squat variation.

Strict Handstand Push-Ups

I see far too many people using multiple mats to make the strict HSPU possible. This is a strategy, but it should be used in conjunction with the main course: seated dumbbell press. I highly suggest doing heavy L-seated presses, and even turning the palms forward, Z-press style, to anyone who wants to break through a strength plateau that might be preventing the HSPU.

You see, the partial range version is useful, and it gets you to feel the whole movement and can be easily scaled up or down. BUT the weakness is that the full range of the movement isn’t trained. Remember the classic gym aphorism, “Strength is gained in the range it is trained.” In the case of the L-seated dumbbell z-press, we’re going to train beyond the range of the HSPU so that we can develop the strength to press out of the bottom.

You’ll know if your weights are heavy enough if you can only do 10-12 when you’re fresh. Of course you may have to adjust your reps or the weight chosen to keep the intended stimulus of the workout, but doing a long-term customization of the L-seated press when working towards strict handstand push-ups is the way to go. Again, one could try it out any time HSPU are programmed for 8-10 weeks, then check back in with the original movement.


For many of you, the forward swing (where the feet are behind you and you are in a big “arch” shape) can feel uncomfortable. We need strength at our end range to make this possible, but what I think is missing is practice at bigger swings and opening up the front of the shoulder.

You’ll see some people try to bend their elbows in this position to protect their shoulders if they aren’t confident that they can take the load. This small compensation can stick around even when we have enough strength to do big swings, so we need more opportunity to practice.

Enter toes-to-rings. If this portion of the muscle-up is challenging, toes-to-rings is a great opportunity for you to practice opening up the chest and moving into an arch with long, straight arms. Same principles here: any time toes-to-bar comes up in group class, perform toes-to-rings instead so that you can get exposure and practice with this shape.

This idea can be applied to almost anything, you just need to know what substitution to make. Do you have something you’re working towards, but are looking for a customization like this?

Let me know and I can help you find something that works.