Two weekends ago, I traveled to the CrossFit Games Central Regional to spectate and learn a thing or two from some of the best athletes in our sport. These athletes have put countless hours in the gym perfecting technique, struggling through sets and fine tuning their bodies. If you are unfamiliar with regionals, it is a weekend long event consisting of 6 workouts for both men and women. These workouts are meant to whittle down a field of 40 and find the 5 fittest men and women to send to the CrossFit Games.
I was there for Sunday only (the last day of competition), so we must take into account the workload that these athletes had already been subject to. With that being said, the pressure was on for those athletes on the cusp of qualifying and this resulted in epic races to the finish line. Below you will find the top 5 observations of these athletes that can help you get better at CrossFit even if your not doing it competitively. These are not ranked in order of importance since every athlete is different.
- Mobility or lack there of: I was surprised to see Games and Regional level athletes struggling with movements such an Overhead Squats with a dumbbell. Yes the dumbbell was 80 pounds for men and 55 for women which would be heavy for the general population but we are talking about the top 1% of the 1% of CrossFit athletes. This weight was not heavy for most. So then why did they struggle? In almost every instance of a missed rep, the athlete missed depth in the squat. Other athletes were coming up on their toes even while wearing olympic lifting shoes. As a coach we would rather see athletes in the gym be able to movement correctly and efficiently before worrying about weight. What I’m trying to say is that if regional level athletes need to work on mobility, so do you. Try spending about 10-15 minutes a day outside of the gym working on mobility of some kind.
- Efficient movement is key: It was very apparent which athletes were able to move well and which had gotten there because they were strong or had a big engine. The athletes that moved well between movements and were efficient and controlled in their movements preformed exceedingly better than those that had wasted motion. From a coaches eye, efficient movement is smooth, controlled and transferable to other movements. The same hip pop used in a barbell clean is the same hip pop used in muscle ups or a sandbag clean. The biomechanics of the ring dip mimic the mechanics of a correct pushup. Although we often stress intensity during workouts, some times it is ok to slow down think about how your moving, how you can improve it and think about whether some movements feel similar or do you have to approach each movement differently.
- Timing and Control > Intensity: This leads off the last point. Other than event 6, the regional events were not sprints. Many such as the Muscle up/DB overhead squat or team event 6 were tests of timing, control and body awareness. Saxon Panchik won event 5 because he broke up his muscle ups and managed his rest between sets. He went into the workout with a plan and stuck to it. It was evident as the workout progressed that he was under control and fully aware of his energy and capacity. Yes, intensity is good but being able to be in control while going hard is better. Going back to the last point, reflect what movements or pace really get your heart rate going or where your movement breaks down. Go into each workout with a general plan or goal. For instance I often just try to do unbroken sets. This often times makes me approach the bar a little slower or perhaps back the pace off a bit but usually results in more work being done, adding time under tension and gives me a base to work from knowing I can do X amount of weight for X amount of reps in an X amount of time.
- Absolute Strength = a leg up: The athletes at regionals are seriously strong. On both the women’s and men’s side, these athletes pushed around big weights all weekend long. Athletes like Sam Dancer and Alex Anderson put on amazing feats of strength when dealing with the assault bike and 150 pound sand bag. If you haven’t been taking your strength work seriously, you should be. The ability to move heavy weights is a huge base to work from. Strength takes by far the longest to build so it is important that it is a priority. On a side note, studies have shown that if you want to lose body fat and burn more calories throughout the day, heavy lifting is more conducive than cardio.
- The name of the game is recovery: These athletes went through a grueling weekend. Six events in three days may not sound like a lot to some but most of us are beat up after one workout a day. These athletes did everything they could to ensure that they were getting the proper nutrition, sleep and mobility work. All brought food and teams of people to take care of small details. Some even brought their own massage/chiropractic person. This allowed them be at their peak all weekend. If your feeling beat up its because you may not be recovering enough. Try tracking your sleep, or your macro nutrients to see if your eating enough. Take a day and get a massage or get a lingering issue looked at by a professional. One final key is to realize that whether your being chased by a tiger or in an argument with your boss, your body interprets the stress in the same way. The less stress on the body the better.
In all, Regionals are an amazing experience where amazing athletes do amazing things. If you get a chance to go, I highly recommend it. I firmly believe that we can learn from every experience and I believe that if you apply the points above, your level of fitness will most definitely increase.