For the blog this week I wanted to provide a recap of the Atlantic Regional. I am in a fairly unique position at an event like the CrossFit™ Regionals as I am both an individual athlete as well as a coach to three team athletes (Chasity Snowden w/ Crossfit Squad, Kyrie Weant w/ Crossfit North Lake, and Tyler Hopta w/ Peak360). While I would love to provide a personal account of each event, I am sure that digging into my own issues within each event would bore many of our regular readers - so instead I plan to provide some of the insights I’ve gained from a coaching perspective from the weekend.
One thing that is abundantly clear from the first week of Regional competition is that the new Super-Regional format is far more competitive and less forgiving than previous years. A hole in any individual’s preparation can make or break their weekend. Though CrossFit ™ has implemented a new scoring system to reward top finishes and soften the blow of a poor finish - the effect of combining two regions full of elite athletes is that 2 seconds can result in the difference in 10 places (and subsequently 30-40 points!). It is also clear that high-skill movements (like handstand walking) are rewarded and punished as much as strength or conditioning. Any athletes serious about making a push for a top Regional finish or a birth to the CrossFit ™ Games needs to ensure that they are very proficient in ALL modalities under the CrossFit training umbrella (including less common elements like GHD sit-ups and Sumo-Deadlift High Pull for example) as a lack of exposure to any element spell the end of their opportunity to qualify.
Building on this, the athletes at the top of our sport right now are more “professional” than they ever have been. I don’t mean this from a pay-for-play standpoint (though they arguably are the best paid athletes in our sports short history), but rather from the way they structure their training-day to their support systems (coaches, physical therapists, supplement sponsors, etc) to allow them to make the sport of CrossFit ™ their profession. I am confident that the field will continue to advance over the next 2-3 years and that any athlete who is truly serious about qualifying for the Super-Regionals or Games will have to figure out ways to dedicate more time to training (mostly in order to develop their skills/movement quality to the point that they are competitive in any workout), recovery (from nutrition to modalities), and rehabilitation/therapy work than ever before. I think your typical Games athlete profile will begin to shift from Affiliate owner + Athlete to just Athlete (with exceptions obviously). The athletes who are able to afford the best coaching, rehabilitative care, and the most training time will continue to distance themselves from athletes who have to be up at 5:00am to coach their morning shift.
Right now the difference in the physical preparation of the athletes at the top is marginal at best (i.e. the difference between #1 and #10). I believe that much of the finish order of the top-10 in each region is primarily influenced by #1 genetics and #2 luck of the draw (i.e. test selection). I don’t believe that the training protocols for the sport have been developed to the point where any one athlete can definitively say “I beat Person-A because my training program was better”. Rather I believe that for the top 10 to 15 athletes, the specific subset of tests that is chosen in any given year will dictate which athletes are going to the Games and which are left at home. This is not to say that coaching doesn’t matter, rather, I think right now that good coaching means developing long-term training programs that prevent injuries, stave off burnout, and create individual progression year-to-year allowing athletes to stay “in the game” longer. As time goes on and good coaches are able to track their athletes improvement and begin to see patterns in their results we may be able to develop protocols for preparing athletes for a CrossFit ™ Regional that will allow us to provide advantages and opportunities for athletes who are less genetically gifted to make a true run at the upper echelons of the sport.
Note: for athletes that are in the 40-150 range in their Regions good design principles are essential. These athletes tend to be less genetically gifted and therefore require training programs that are completely customized to their unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and adaptability. If athletes in this category want to make it to the next level (a qualifying spot for a Super-Regional) a tightly controlled progressive design is a must.
Another critical observation that I made throughout the weekend is that most athletes don’t really know how to warm-up effectively (or if they do, they didn’t implement their warm-ups effectively). Warming-up requires athletes to prepare the specific energy-systems, ranges of motion, and motor patterns that are going to be used during the event. What I witnessed this past weekend was that most athletes neglected to warm-up their energy-systems properly and spent a disproportionate amount of time focusing on static-flexibility. I think part of this stems from the fact that “coaches” in this sport are undervalued and underutilized, it was only this year that coaches were finally allowed full access to the athlete’s warm-up area. Good coaches this past weekend were in-tune with their athletes and were able to keep them on task while warming up (I think all of us individual athletes under Max would agree with this statement). Along these same lines, the post-event recovery habits of most athletes were relatively poor consisting of athletes milling about and chatting with other athletes rather than taking the time to perform a cyclical cool-down, replacing carbohydrates/ amino acids / liquids lost during the event, and implementing recovery modalities (soft tissue, E-stim, massage, etc). As a coach of Regional level athletes (and one myself) I recognized that this is a major area of opportunity for athlete education. As coaches are able to become more involved in the preparation of their athletes, I believe we will see this trend reversed.
All in all, this is an extremely exciting time in our sport. We are beginning to see people with a unique subset of physical characteristics that make them elite distance themselves from the rest of the field. At the same time we see people who have been in CrossFit for nearly a decade taking advantage of their sport specific volume vying for the small number of spots reserved for the games. The landscape in the past couple years has changed dramatically and we believe that over the course of the next 4 years you will see another dramatic change. Training methods will evolve to a more intelligent level, athletic talent will rise as more money comes into the sport, the sport itself and it's qualifying standards may change, as well the gap between CrossFit as a training methodology and a sport will continue to widen as visibility continues to grow. This weekend at the Atlantic Regional had a lot of ups and downs for me as both an athlete and a coach, but what is certain is that I will continue to find areas to improve and it has left me hungry to perfect the training protocols for my athletes and attack another year of training for myself.