If you think that attending CrossFit classes 3-5 times a week is going to be the answer to all of your health concerns, you may have to re-think your ideas about health and this blog post can help you think about it in a broader sense.
It’s fact that exercise is only one aspect of our health, and as we’ve been posting and discussing for the past few weeks, nutrition and recovery are also key aspects. Another aspect of improving our health is understanding a few other ideas: the loads we encounter, the capacity we have to endure them, and how to remain pain and injury free. These will be briefly outlined in this post.
We wake up with previous injuries, a general response to our nutritional diet and sleep, adhesions in our muscles or joints, or limitations in range of motion, and life activities such as going to work, exercising and breathing. Some of these loads will not change (for example, previous injuries and going to work). However, by getting to know our limitations in range of motion, strength limitations and monitoring our training capacity, this can help us improve our health and fitness for the long run.
This is sort of a dynamic line that differs for each individual. This is our physical, mental and emotional capacity to endure the loads we do each day. Capacity can increase, but it does take time.
When our loads exceed our capacity, we may experience pain. This explains why you may feel a back strain, a pinch in your shoulder joint, or simply a headache after a stressful day of work. Pain can be reduced and treated just by examining our loads in alignment with our capacity and furthermore, increasing that capacity with training or accessory work. Or, you can take the hour of your day to hear from the doctor, “Tylenol for two weeks and rest from CrossFit.” (not).
The pyramid above outlines the “Athlete’s Hierarchy of Needs” (from Active Life Performance Care Brochure). This goes hand in hand with the concepts of loads, capacity, and pain.
The base of all athlete performance is going to be flexibility. That is–how much range of motion do you have with different joints and muscles without activating them? Once flexibility is established, we can begin to increase mobility–how much range of motion we can have by activating muscles or areas in our body.
With those two main foundations, that is when we can really start to improve our strength balance. Is your deadlift weaker than your back squat? Is your left shoulder pressing weight that is much less than your right? Do you feel a pinch in your lower back on the right side when squatting, but not on the left? Then you may have a few strength imbalances. There are a few assessments that Performance Care Rx prescribes to test these, but you may have a general idea of where your strength imbalances may be.
Next, we should be taking a close look at our work-to-recovery ratio. If you have a strength imbalance, one of our joints or muscles on one side may be working more than the other side, and thus, leaving it more fatigued and less recovered for your next session (this might not be caught until late, which is why it may take a long time for one side to “catch up”). In a more common scenario, do you feel like you’re not getting stronger or faster? That might be because you are training at high intensity too many days in a row or you haven’t taken a day off since … who knows how long (you know who you are). It may just be that other life stressors and loads are too high at the moment. An appropriate work to recovery ratio is different for everybody but necessary for advancing in performance.
Finally, skill is at the top. This is where we get to start to attempt the “sexy” part of our badass sport called “CrossFit”. However, can we consistently hit new snatch PRs if our ankles or shoulders are not mobile enough? Can we finally achieve our goal of completing a ring muscle up if we struggle to simply hold the wonderful positions we all know as “hollow body” or “arch hold”? Skill comes after all else, usually. This is why sometimes some athletes will hit PRs even after a week or two of “active recovery de-loading” or achieve a muscle up without ever even trying one just by strengthening the positions and working on progressions for months beforehand.
So you might be wondering “Wow, I have a lot of work to do to get better…” Sure, that is completely a valid thought! We all do. However, you don’t have to do it alone. First off, you’re already a thousand steps ahead of people who do not do any physical activity. Also, your coaches at CrossFit Des Plaines work together to provide mobility, strength training, and high-intensity exercises to help address these needs and help you increase your overall capacity so you can do more things like CrossFit, or simply pick up your kids and run around with them all Sunday afternoon without feeling pain! Some little extras we also provide are things like personal training, nutrition coaching, or accessory programming to help address your limitations. Several athletes who train at high-intensity several days a week for months at a time or those who have a previous injury sometimes choose to see a chiropractor to help address some of the foundations of mobility and flexibility.
This may not feel urgent at the moment, but don’t wait until you are feeling pain to address your needs. Communicate with your coach about previous injuries/muscular irritations and your health/performance goals, and they will be more than glad to help you address what you can do to prevent pain and injury so that you can do what you do best: living your life!