CrossFit: Factors for Top Performance
CrossFit athletes are famous for their conditioning, and overall fitness program consisting of aerobic exercise, calisthenics, and Olympic weightlifting. The training program incorporates strength and conditioning with varied functional movements usually executed at high intensity. Most training programs for CrossFit have many merits and potential benefits, if executed correctly. Unfortunately many have viewed CrossFit as an inferior training system pushing athletes beyond their recovery abilities. In this article we will discuss some issues that may arise for CrossFit athletes and how to avoid them.
Overtraining occurs when athletes exceed their body’s ability to recover from training. There are many levels or phases to overtraining. The state most athletes are concerned with is chronic or prolonged overtraining. Eventually there is a point where an athlete will have a decrease in performance or even worse, chronic fatigue, burnout and injury.
Symptoms of Overtraining:
- Altered resting heart rate
- Extended muscle soreness
- Frequent sickness
- Loss of concentration
- Increased injury
- Decreased motivation
- Stalled progress
Avoiding overtraining for CrossFit athletes is a difficult balance. The various movements and exercises that need to be performed make for a very high volume program. One of the mistakes that is made is athletes do not generally have an official ‘off-season’. Breaks from high intensity and volumes are important in all sporting activities. Athletes must make sure to always periodize their training in micro as well as macro cycles.
If you feel like you are overtraining use these simple steps first:
Take rest days. This means no training. These periods are essential both mentally and physically. Typically 10-14 days off every 6-12 months. The central nervous system can often take a few weeks to recover from extreme training or competition.
Reduced Training Intensity and Frequency
Use active recovery such as walking or very low intensity cycling, swimming, and yoga for lower intensity days.
Increase Your Sleep Time
Sleep is one of the most important recovery tools. Get as much sleep as you can.
Use deep tissue massage, ice baths and other modalities to speed up your recovery.
Assess Your Nutrition
Be sure you are taking in the appropriate amount of calories to rebuild tissue. CrossFit athletes are notorious for undereating. With high volume training one must consume a large amount of calories in the appropriate ratios spread across 5-7 meals per day. Also consider micronutrients are just as important as macronutrients for your health and exercise recovery. These needs will be dependent on the individual athlete.
Do not Ignore the Signs of Overtraining
It is much easier to recover from a slight over trained state if you recognize the symptoms early. Many CrossFit athletes ignore the signs and often overcompensate from their poor performances by training even harder. This results in a perpetual cycle that can have catastrophic effects on health and performance. The worst case is being diagnosed with exertional rhabdomyolysis.
This is an extreme and potentially deadly form of overtraining that leads to a breakdown of skeletal muscle which eventually makes its way into the bloodstream. Molecules such as creatine kinase (CK) become highly elevated resulting in a serious condition that can have a long term impact on your kidney health and may even result in death. Early detection of the syndrome is essential in full recovery. At Waterloo Anti Aging our CrossFit athletes are always advised to perform routine blood work to test CK levels along with other markers to ensure the athlete is in homeostasis.
Optimized CrossFit Training
Elite athletes must all have a customized and systematic approach in training to reach the best possible performance for the most important competitions each year. Too often, CrossFit athletes follow poorly designed gym programs to help them improve their fitness. Many of these programs have no purpose or direction besides “training hard”. Every repetition, exercise, set and session should have a purpose. It must be emphasized that this is highly individualized and must be a well thought out approach.
Juggling the training intensity, volume and frequency is going to be the hardest part for any CrossFit competitor. To compete in the sport of CrossFit, you eventually have to get to a point where you can handle the intensity that is required for CrossFit. Slowly building over weeks and months on these parameters will ensure that you achieve your best results. Using benchmarks for strength and conditioning is also a tool that can be assessed along the training cycle. It is important to remember as well that all athletes have different physiological needs and there is no one size fits all approach to training. An intelligent athlete uses what is beneficial and discards what they have learned is not working.
You Can Only Manage What You Can Measure (Cortisol/Testosterone/HGH)
At Waterloo Anti Aging we feel CrossFit athletes need to use measurable parameters to ensure progress in their training. This can only be done through frequent blood work addressing important markers such as Cortisol, Testosterone and Growth Hormone levels (IGF-1).
Cortisol is a complex and often misunderstood hormone. It is often referred to as a “fight or flight” hormone as its levels spike when the body is put under stress. Cortisol often has a bad reputation but it is needed in the proper ratios in the bloodstream to initiate (gluconeogenesis) or blunt certain processes (inflammation). Cortisol levels will rise along with training volumes and intensity so it is important to keep it within normal physiological range. High cortisol levels will lead to a catabolic state, insulin resistance and reduced growth hormone output. Waterloo Anti Aging has developed protocols for CrossFit competitors to keep their cortisol levels in check.
Testosterone is the main hormone used to help suppress high cortisol levels. The two hormones share an inverse relationship. Estrogen promotes cortisol production, but it is important to have estrogen at normal levels similar to cortisol. Both hormones are essential for high performance and health. Growth hormone output can be blunted by high cortisol as well, but again small amounts are necessary to stimulate its secretion.
Waterloo Anti Aging aims to perfect a CrossFit athletes hormone profile so that they can perform at the highest level and maintain the healthiest state possible. This can only be done by a trained professional that has experience in hormone replacement such as testosterone (TRT), human growth hormone (HGH), cortisol and thyroid hormone levels.