The Australian Crossfit Regional Games - where the top athletes from the Crossfit Open come together and compete to see which 3 men, 3 women and 3 teams go on to represent Australia and New Zealand in the Crossfit Games competing for a prize pool of over USD$1,000,000. Are you excited? I certainly was and still am! I had the privilege of being a physiotherapist at the "Regionals" with John Daher (Kogarah Physiotherapy and Sports Clinic), Mark Collins (Canton Beach Physiotherapy), Jess Ackad (Peak Health Services), and David Berg (Move Happy). There were also massage therapists and a chiropractor there as well.
I thought I would put my thoughts down to highlight some of the lessons I learned from dealing with some very elite athletes.
1. The Crossfit community has a great, encouraging atmosphere.
I love being a part of Crossfit. I have met some great people, the people at my "box" (gym) are great and everyone is encouraging and helpful. The atmosphere during the regionals was fantastic and watching the crowd cheering and riding every rep was fantastic. As this sport moves towards professionalism, lets hope we don't get any prima donnas or divas or spoilt brats ruin what is such a great community! Everyone I met was humble, grateful and thankful for the services we had on offer for them.
Lesson: Remain humble, encouraging and thankful...especially for the volunteers who sacrificed their time and income to volunteer to help!
2. Elite Crossfit athletes have the same problems that I see as those of us who have to scale our WODs.
This surprised me. I expected there to be issues but I didn't expect to see such an extensive amount of athletes carrying the simplest of technique faults, mobility problems and a distinct lack of true "core stability".
The difference between my "usual" patients and these elite athletes were they had better cardio capacity, a lot less fat and a lot more muscles! The main areas I noticed were:
a. Feet/Ankles - too many have trouble keeping their 1st metatarsalphalangeal joint (basically their big toe) on the ground during a squat - this basically looks like you are rolling to the outside of your foot. Practice your deep squats with good foot placement. They all had fairly good knee positioning
b. Hips - My goodness! Far too many had hip tightness which resulted in lumbar flexion at the bottom of their squat. If your hips are too tight, then you will bend your back to lift a weight and your back muscles will be sore and tired. The amount of athletes wanting (and getting) their back massaged was enormous...I wonder how many of them had tight hips... While I am on the subject of hips, everyone had good hip external rotation (knees out over or past the feet in a squat)...but most had atrocious internal rotation of the hips. Internal rotation is needed to help you twist across your body - not something we train often in Crossfit but something you need in everyday life.
c. Lower back - Too many athletes flex in their spines during a squat. They need to be able to set up at a weight and start lifting without bending in the back. A lot used weight lifting belts but I don't like them as I would prefer you had the strength to cope with the weight - if you need an aid like a belt, it would suggest to me that you aren't ready to lift that heavy... please learn how to keep your back straight and bend from your hips.
d. Thoracic spine - Not too bad in general. Some have a tendency to extend too much in this region instead of keeping a nice kyphosis there. Rotational mobility in thorax is vitally important for everyday life and is not trained enough in Crossfit
e. Necks - I saw a few sore necks over the weekend. I suspect this is because they land their heads on the mat during handstand pushups. Please take care of your necks!
f. Shoulders - Another joint like the hip - tightness in the back of the shoulders and hips will force the ball joints to move forwards. When this happens, the front muscles get sore from trying to counter this push from the back of the joint. That means sore bicep tendons and sore hip flexors. Solution? Sort out the posterior mobility of your shoulder. Other shoulder issues I saw were to do with how to set the scapula and move your shoulder. This is a big topic that needs a whole blog post on its own!
g. Elbows, Wrists and Hands - There are 27 bones in each hand with many more joints than that. Each needs proper mobility, flexibility and strength to perform optimally. The wrist joint has 6 bones as a part of it and the elbow joint has 3 bones. Don't just strap these joints. Work out what is sore, what is wrong and deal with them. To just strap and support these joints are not a good long term solution.
Lesson: The same principles of mobility, stability, strength and flexibility apply to all the joints. Work on your weaknesses!
3. Lifting weights successfully starts in the set up.
One of the most surprising things I discovered when watching the Snatch Ladder event with the other physios was that I/we could pick the athletes that would fail that lift just from watching their set up and whether the back flexed during the initial movement off the ground. The Snatch lift is an Olympic Games event in its own right. It is very technical and to do it requires a great deal of strength, coordination and awareness. There is a great article written by Chad Vaughn about Snatch technique. Read it here...
Lessons: Keep you back straight during the lift and squat-snatch each lift!
4. Physios are legal performance enhancers
One of the most gratifying things was being able to help athletes compete. I was able to get athletes from being unable to do a movement to competing and completing the upcoming WOD in less that 15mins. One athlete could barely 1/2 squat - I was able to get him squatting enough to complete 2 lifts in the snatch ladder which helped them qualify for the final WOD. Being able to work with an athlete to help achieve their goals is extremely gratifying and I was thankful for the experience.
Lesson: Use a physio if you have trouble progressing in your performance.
There were lots of highlights at these games. Have a look for yourself at the media section at www.games.crossfit.com.
I am looking forward to next year already!