Every year for 5 weeks in Feb/March every person who trains at a CrossFit box or at home has the opportunity to participate in a worldwide competition known as the CrossFit Open. During ‘The Open’ you will be judged, scored and ranked against all the other participants around the world. For me it’s fun, exciting, nerve wracking and a little nauseating.
The end result for most people is that the competition component of CrossFit ends there. For other more dedicated and talented athletes some will qualify for the next tier of competition known as ‘The Regionals.’
The Regionals are held over 3 days. Each athlete needs to complete several physically challenging events per day. Most make it, some don’t.
In our part of the world The Pacific Regionals comprises athletes from Asia, Aus/NZ and Russia who all compete for a place at the CrossFit Games (held in the USA) where they’ll compete for the title of ‘World’s Fittest.’
Of course you already knew that.
I was invited to work as a Chiropractor with the Lou Ferguson Recovery Bar, the team in charge of optimising the athletes recovery between events. My job was to to improve function/recovery of the athletes I met.
One of my goals is to improve the health of my local community. I want Manly to be the example of how a suburb in a thriving city can be exceptionally healthy by helping as many people as I can through community events, interaction in my practice, on my podcast and right here on my blog. I am always trying to be a better practitioner and working with people at the pinnacle of their chosen field helps me learn from them to better serve my community and practice members. In other words I asked the athletes a bucket load of questions so we can benefit. I think a lot of what i discovered will be helpful to everyone not just those of us doing CrossFit.
We have to assume that the athletes at this event are already extremely successful in this sport to even qualify for the competition. The following is a comprehensive list of my observation of the athletes competing at this event.
- Focus. It was very clear to me that everyone competing had been focussed on this event for the whole year. In his TED talk Dandani explains that focus is a learnt skill. Other than a handful of the international teams that were looking forward to visiting Sydney for a few days before they flew home, there was a sense that the athletes hadn’t considered what was going to happen the day after the event finished. A single minded focus helps make decisions. A mentor of mine said that to decide is to choose a path and exclude all others. So if faced with a choice that would lead you to or away from CrossFit Regional success, the athlete who focussed on success had a simple choice to make.
- Confidence. Confidence is king when you’re competing. it comes from a rock solid belief that you belong in the arena and that you’ve done whats required to succeed. I noticed that while some of the athletes lacked confidence and felt that they’d possibly jagged a spot at the regionals and were never going to be in the running to compete at the games, others oozed confidence. Walking around like a Silverback in the jungles of Africa totally at home in that environment as if nothing or no-one was a threat.
- Sacrifice. I was not surprised to hear that there were many sacrifices, family, friends, and career opportunities. All put on hold or passed altogether in order to chase the dream. Getting to the games has come at a great cost to all of the athletes. I realised just how important it is to them and is a great lesson in determination. The decision to make it to the regionals and eventually the games comes at an enormous life cost. Many more sacrifice as much and achieve less. I have realised that this ‘cost’ is essential, without the victory would be hollow. We discuss this topic in the Good Dad Great Dad podcast when it comes to building resilience in kids.
- Coach. Everyone has a coach that tracks their every move, motivates them, counsels them, yells at them and cares about them immensely. Without one there is no way they would be making it to the regionals level of competition. In my experience everyone needs a guide if they want to successfully navigate the path less travelled, for some that means success in sport, for others it may be exceptional health
- Supporters. On several occasions the athletes competing at the regional games mentioned the importance of the support they received from the fellow box members. It’s something they think about when they’re out there competing and I know what it’s like to have an athlete training with me who ends up at the games. It’s so cool to see them out there representing your box.
- Freakish genetics. If you’ve been to ‘the games’ you’ll know what I’m talking about. Most of the athletes at that level are of a similar construction. Not too tall or short, built shoulders, chest backs, abs and legs. There are some outliers who are extra small or tall in comparison but for the most part size does matter. That said the athletes involved in the teams competition appear like the rest of us mortals when compared to the athletes competing as individuals.
- Well run organisation/structure. The CrossFit product is an extremely well run machine. There are literally armies of volunteers that allow this production to take place all over the world simultaneously. People want to volunteer to be part of something they feel strongly about. This doesn’t happen by accident.
- Goals. A goal is a dream with a plan. Hitting a PR squat or snatch, getting your dubs or the first muscle up all require effort. The effort won’t be there if the goal doesn’t feel real. So set achievable goals and stick to a plan in trying to achieve them. So much is learnt in the pursuit of mastery that eventually achieving the movement is just the icing on the cake.
- Have Fun. Without fun being part of the experience you wouldn’t be able to keep going. The gruelling day in day out lifestyle of a cross-fitter would be unsustainable without the fun. Fun can come in the form of mini goal challenges, cracking jokes with your training buddies, inventing ridiculous challenges and uploading them to youtube (inset link to burpee wall ball vid) and so on. So if you’re not having fun remember it’s one of the requirements for success and make it happen. Despite the gruelling workouts, the athletes were always chatting, smiling and laughing.
- Health vs Fitness. I have to also comment about the difference between fitness and health. For many people their fitness is at an unhealthy level and that any improvement in fitness will result in greater levels of health BUT for some elite athletes the pursuit of greater and greater levels of fitness moves them away from what we would consider healthy. There are compromises in many other areas of life from social, emotional and physical to financial and family. Their sacrifice is great and some consider if it’s worth it. That is a question that only the individual can answer and is based entirely on their values. I don’t believe the world’s fittest person is necessarily the healthiest person.
- Health care team. Every athlete I spoke with has on their health care team a chiropractor and massage therapist. Most of them have a nutrition consultant and all of them are acutely aware of self care (foam rollers, lacrosse balls, bands etc). Some would use the services of their health care provider sporadically as a way of managing acute flare ups while others had a strict regimen of appointments in order to stay ahead of any breakdowns. One athlete remarked how she saw me last year in the recovery area many times throughout the regional event just ‘keeping her together’ and that she’d taken my advice and connected with a chiropractor who had created a 12 month plan for her wellbeing and she hadn’t ‘needed’ our services on the weekend because she was ‘doing so well.’ It’s vitally important if you want to stay in the game for a long time that you do the ‘behind the scenes’ work. It’s not reasonable to ask your body to work hard without preparing it to do so and without giving it the chance to recover sufficiently. Working with a Chiropractor who understands your health and performance goals will give you the expertise needed to stay well and perform at your best.