Most athletes look for either a decrease in injury or an increase in performance when heading to the gym.
CrossFit programs start with an intensive series of sessions that teach you how to do basic movements like the squat, deadlift, press, jump/land, and Olympic lift effectively. These movements are all very technical and, while there is a learning curve, they challenge the athlete’s coordination and motor control.
With feedback from the coach, these technical movements teach athletes how to move better and improve shoulder, hip, and knee mechanics.
If you struggle with basic swim, bike, and run mechanics chances are you also struggle to maintain good posture in CrossFit’s basic movements: the squat, the deadlift, and the pushup. A knowledgeable coach can watch the movements you perform and use them as a screening tools to assess your strength, muscle flexibility and joint mobility.
For example, if your knees collapse forward and inward during a squat you probably lack good mobility in the hips and ankles, along with the motor control to protect your knees. This can lead to poor knee tracking and potentially to knee injury. It also demonstrates inflexibility in the calves, the groin, and the hamstrings, which can limit performance.
If your elbows flare out in the push-up or you have difficulty maintaining a strong neutral plank position, the coach knows you lack mid line stability (core strength) and shoulder stability.
Potential injury aside, racing down the road with your wheels out of alignment, is not the most efficient way to move. By identifying and addressing these weaknesses at the root, you have the opportunity to turn yourself into a better athlete from the ground up and reach higher levels of performance. Without meeting these basic demands, you will struggle to reach your full potential.
Mobility and flexibility are not the only limiters. Endurance athletes often lack top-end speed, strength and power output. Marathoners and Ironman-distance athletes come to mind here. Too much time spent going long and slow at sub-maximal intensities leads to an athlete that can only go one speed: long and slow. At the professional and elite amateur level though, athletes enjoying the most success at the marathon and Ironman spend years developing strength and speed.
Many strength programs promote sport-specific and functional strength movements for endurance athletes. While these movements sound great, many of them involve overly complicated exercises that ironically lack in true substance.
To be functional, an exercise should be natural, develop full range of motion, and promote core-to-extremity movement and mid-line stability.
Functional strength does not need to be sport specific. It should focus on building your general physical capacity with multi-joint movements that you already do day to day. With an improved ability to pull, push, squat, dead lift, jump and even throw, you will approach your sport with greater levels of strength, power, body awareness and confidence.
Too often endurance athletes are disconnected between the brain and the body. You do sit-ups and crunches but stand hunched over or over-extended in the low back. You probably even run and swim with poor posture.
At CrossFit, functional exercises can and should contribute to better swimming, biking and running. With a good CrossFit coach and program, your understanding of hip and knee mechanics will translate to better run and pedaling mechanics. Your understanding of shoulder mechanics will enhance your swim pull and power.
Find a qualified gym, with a good coach, and discover first hand how CrossFit can intelligently elevate your game as an endurance athlete.