Apr 6, 2012

Crossfit and the Athlete

The Columbia River Gorge is home to many athletes, who participate in a variety of sports ~ mt biking, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, climbing, and more. How do you become the BEST you can be?  Well, it takes more than just training for your specific sport.  Understanding the triangle above will help you excel as an athlete in your favorite sport.

Starting from the bottom up, nutrition gives us a stable platform to build off of.  It only makes sense that what you fuel your body with determines how well the machine will run.  Think of yourself as a high performance race car.  You can put lower octane fuel in the car and it will still run.  It gets from point “a” to point “b”, but the potential it has is never really seen.  If we put the best fuel, the high octane stuff that no one wants to buy since it’s too expensive, imagine how well the car will run.  We can take it a step further by measuring out the right amounts of fuel or “mix” the car will need to finely tune it and have it run in the best possible condition.  You work the same way.  The better you eat the better fuel you give your body.  This increases performance, recovery, and aids in any goals we are trying to meet, weather losing body fat or gaining lean muscle mass.  It’s impossible to reach your full potential without fueling yourself properly.  So first thing is first, fuel the body right to get the most out of your performance in whichever sport you participate in.

Second is metabolic conditioning.  Think of this as “cardio”.  It’s basically the engine that is running inside of you.  Typical workouts that we see providing primarily metabolic conditioning would be running, rowing, swimming, biking, nordic skiing, and speed skating.  It would be impossible to compete at any level, even a weekend warrior like 99% of us in the gym if we didn’t have capacity in this level.  There are two basic approaches to this kind of training.  Aerobic, and anaerobic.  The first (aerobic) would be longer duration exercises or intervals.  Let’s think of our mtn biking for this example.  Anything lower in power output and less effort will be in the aerobic pathway.  This is really anything outside of a 2 min sprint on the bike or so.  So your 2 or 3 hour Saturday ride would be training in aerobically.  There are some positives to this: increased cardiovascular strength, endurance, and stamina in that specific modality, and loss of body fat.

The second type of training would be anaerobic.  This would be something like the hill sprints that you do on your road bike, or a bump run on your skis.  It’s shorter in duration and has a higher power output and effort.  The benefits we see with this type of training are: increased power, speed, strength, and stamina.  But we can also utilize the cardiovascular strength and endurance if we make use of interval training.  We are all familiar with this and how difficult it can be… which makes me think it’s pretty effective.  At any rate, the importance of your “engine” to run at optimal speed and keep going is pretty dang important.

Third is Gymnastics.  In short this is you moving your body through space without an external load.  It’s the ability to have body awareness (where your body is in space), incredible amounts of core strength, flexibility, accuracy, and balance.  Think of the 13 yr old boy out on the basketball court that hasn’t grown into his feet yet.  If you don’t know how to move your body well and control it in space how can you make an efficient turn on skis, or better yet correct your movement when you start to get out of control.  What about the mtn bike.  How much more benefit will you see on the bike with the ability to maintain tension throughout your core while riding downhill and avoiding obstacles, or going up hill and standing on those pedals to really crank.  We see basic movements like pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups, squats, ring work, and rope climbs to help us achieve some basic capacity in the gymnastics domain.  Think about a gymnast and the amount of strength they have to have to complete some of the most basic movements in their routines, let alone the more complicated ones.  There are accounts of gymnasts that don’t weight train and have deadlfits upwards of 400lbs because of their core strength. This is unparalleled compared to any other athlete and a portion of it is imperative to your success as an athlete in your specific sport.

Fourth is Weightlifting and Throwing.  This is now your ability to move your body through space with an external load.  It could be a barbell, dumbell, kettlebell, medicine ball, sandbag, person, whatever you can think of.  Now that we have established the ability to control ourselves we need to think about doing it with some external object.  This will most definitely provide us with more gains in strength, speed, power, etc.  Not to mention the coordination, accuracy, agility, and balance things like Olympic Lifting require when doing the snatch or clean and jerk.  There is another added benefit to weightlifting.  It is what is called the neurodendocrine response.  A quick blurb from the CrossFit Jornal Article “What is Fitness?” might help you understand a bit better.
“Why the deadlift, clean, squat, and jerk? Because these movements elicit a profound
neurodendocrine response. That is, they alter you hormonally and neurologically. The
changes that occur through these movements are essential to athletic development. Most of the development that occurs as a result of exercise is systemic and a direct result of hormonal and neurological changes.
Proper weightlifting can provide that “systemic” response which means it effects your entire body.  Take the squat or deadlift for example and think about how much stronger it makes your entire body and not just one targeted muscle group.

So what though, how does it apply to skiing or mtn biking or my sport?  Think about you pedaling your bike uphill.  If your deadlift is 200lbs, which plenty of cyclists would have, how much force can you produce each pedal stroke?  My bet is that it’s not as much as if you had a 400lb deadlift, which I bet lots of cyclists don’t have.  This may not apply directly over a 4 or 5 hour ride, but what about the short sprint up the hill, trying to beat your competitor to the finish line, or just riding for longer duration in a higher gear so you can have a faster speed.  Skiing would be tremendously difficult if I didn’t have strength in my legs and torso.  The demands you are putting on your body with just the force of gravity, inconsistency in the snow and terrain, and speed changes demand isometric, concentric, and eccentric loading of the muscle.  Your increased strength will help with all of these.

Finally comes Sport.  Without the solid foundation that you have built for yourself with Crossfit do you think you can compete at your true potential?  When we look at the list of 10 General Physical Skills that CrossFit uses:
1. Cardiovascular Endurance
2. Stamina
3. Strength
4. Flexibilty
5. Speed
6. Power
7. Coordination
8. Accuracy
9. Agility
10. Balance

What don’t you need for skiing or mountain biking?  Take out Balance… your in trouble, ditch the Flexibilty, you might blow out a knee or have low back pain in the saddle, Strength, now you can’t be as productive overall, Power, I’m only good at long and slow without the ability to sprint or complete the run.  You get the idea.  If you take any one of these out, if you pull any of the components out of the pyramid, you are not reaching your potential.  It does not mean we specialize in those categories, but it does mean that we chase our weaknesses.  That we attack our sport from all angles and make sure that we can provide our bodies with the best possible state of preparedness.  The better foundation I have in fitness the better I can become at my specific sport or goals.

So, go out there and WIN!  Now you know how.

Crossfit Mt Adams

*  Information for this article was take from "Crossfit Park City" website, "The Importance of GPP Training Plays in Your Sport" - http://crossfitpc.com

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