You’ve seen it when you walk in the gym, but do you fully understand what it means? The theoretical hierarchy of development is a blueprint of how we should approach our health and fitness. Often, we must take a step back and look at how we are training, because as human we like to get ahead of ourselves when we should go back to the basics.


CrossFit developed this theory circa 2002. It was created with the idea in mind that CrossFit prepares an individual for anything and everything. Being a jack-of-all-trades is the goal, with overall health and fitness as a priority. Therefore, this can be applied to the vast majority of the population. We usually find that if people are deficient on the higher levels of this pyramid it probably means that something in the foundation is what is holding them back.


Easily the biggest part of health and fitness. “You can’t out-train a bad diet” is a common saying in any gym. Most people’s problems can be alleviated on only nutritional changes. Body composition? Blood cholesterol levels? Hormonal dysfunction? These can be helped by a better diet.

When it comes to performance and fitness, the same applies. If you are looking for maximal output, intensity and power, your fuel and nutrients have to support that. Lack of energy, poor recovery, strength and conditional plateaus all can be addressed by improving nutrition. Any training regimen that does not include nutrition will be suboptimal.

Metabolic Conditioning

This refers to cardiovascular ability. Without conditioning, a person will fatigue quickly and every movement will suffer. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how well you move if after a few reps you stop being efficient. Having good endurance and stamina are the most basic physical abilities a human can have.

But this is something most people overlook. Improving metabolic conditioning can take a long time and be tedious. Longer workouts, running, biking and rowing, and splits are some of the most skipped workouts. Many people want to jump the gun and start practicing the cool movements, but the biggest requirement for performance is metabolic conditioning.


This is not the same as the sport of Gymnastics. What we are referring to is the ability of having movement and body awareness. Before one tries to control and external object (barbell, ball, kettlebells, etc), it is important to have the strength, coordination, balance, flexibility and agility to move and control his or her own body.

Having sound mechanics for body positions and movement combinations is the foundation for having those same abilities when loaded with external weights. We usually see people that struggle with major lifts have the same problems when trying their bodyweight equivalents.


The 4th tier of the theoretical hierarchy of development is similar to the 3rd. It does not refer to any modality of weightlifting. Instead it encompass them all. Most forms of weightlifting require gross motor control that expresses power. Unless you are attached to a machine, power comes mainly from core to extremity in order to move an external object.

Lifting, carrying and throwing are a few movements that belong to this category. Weightlifting tends to get the most love in training anywhere. It’s the sexy and fun stuff. And there is nothing wrong with wanting to get better at these movements but we must have the base to support it.


This is the expressions of all your abilities. Sport is specific in its requirements and demands. In class, the WOD falls into this category. If gymnastics, weightlifting or conditioning are not up to par, you will not reach your potential on that workout.

Obviously, the workout targets conditioning and it can improve gymnastics and weightlifting but it is easier to improve on those separately. Working only on Sport will not get you better at Sport quickly. But if you improve your Gymnastics or Weightlifting or Conditioning, you will automatically do better at Sport.

Hopefully now we can look at your fitness and overall health and figure out what tiers of development you are neglecting. The theoretical hierarchy of development is a great tool to pull us back to basics. If you have any questions on how to improve a certain aspect of fitness, come chat with your Celebration CrossFit coaches!


by Coach Matt