The 2016 CrossFit Games wrapped up this past weekend, and in my opinion, this was the most enthralling Games to date. Not because the freedom to network and catch up with my fitness pals, the strategic flowing from vendor village into the competition setting, or even @Luke’s craftsmanship Snapchatting our experience to the interwebs. I enjoyed myself because an athlete I was fortunate work with all CrossFit season was in the hunt for the Fittest on Earth.
Congrats, Christy! Speed is KING!
Going from typical spectator of years past to critical analyzer of movement and energy systems made limiting factors abound appear across the men, women, and teams competing. If you did not watch the events, check out the Individual and Team workouts here for reference as we view them from a Power Athlete coach's perspective.
Overall, I commend the efforts of CrossFit HQ for piecing together a very elaborate, well executed competition to find fitness and truly tested the athlete’s competency in CrossFit’s ten general physical skills (with a taste of Power Athlete field work and Praxis!).
What is a Limiting Factor?
The CrossFit Games takes simplified sabermetric approach to find the Fittest on this planet measuring in-competition activity and assigning rankings follow each event. Checking the leaderboard from event to event genuinely tells the tale of an athlete’s wheelhouse and performance inhibitors, something we refer to as limiting factor.
Weaknesses are for the weak, these athletes are the best of the best. Does that mean they do not have skills they cannot improve? Absolutely not, but the approach is different than “weakness training”. The term ‘limiting’ provides coaches the opportunity to identify, measure, and improve. More importantly, this approach directs the coach to take an honest, complete look at their athlete, an honesty they’ll inevitably face in competition.
In observing the Games, I refused to look at these athlete’s performance as a general checklist or score. I was searching for what prevented them from reaching their full performance potential at the highest level of competition.
This article will identify several limiting factors identified during the 2016 CrossFit Games competition that every athlete and coach should apply to empower their athlete’s fitness performance.
Master the Mundane
The commonality between the Sport of Fitness and all other sports is something called the Economy of Movement. Athletes whom are able to turn on and off efficiently and repeatedly are often the most successful in competition. We see this across the board where athletes like Steph Curry and Rich Froning make a complex skill “look easy”. The difference between Fitness athletes and athletes of field/court sports are the number of movements they must execute. Fitness has a small subset of mundane movements compared to the infinite combinations that exist on the field/court. This makes preparing an athlete for the “unknown and unknowable” a matter of mastering the mundane.
No ELITE athlete wants to hear it, but movement is an athlete’s currency and fundamentals are checks they cash come competition time. Luke and I observed consistent disconnects and inefficiencies in basic movements patterns that cost powerful people precious seconds. I’m not referring to the fundamentals of specific movements like the positions of the Clean, but the fundamental execution of all human movement called Primal Movements.
Power Athlete focuses on 7 primal movement patterns that are combined for sport:
- Vertical Push
- Horizontal Push
- Vertical Pull
- Horizontal Pull
Vertical Pull Fail
One Primal we noticed that was a screaming limiting factor for a surprising amount of athletes was the Vertical Pull during the final event’s peg board climb. These athletes were capable of weighted kipping pull ups (Event 5) at high volumes with ease. Yet the limited isometric demands at various joint angles and unilateral eccentric loading crushed the souls of the higher ranked girls and lower ranked men during Event 14!
The peg board coming back was no secret to anyone after last year’s disaster. Hopefully we learned something, coaches: simply doing the peg board will not make you better at the Peg Board, especially under fatigue. (Side note: I’m calling an Event at the 2017 Games: Pig Board. A peg board and Pig flippin’ couplet! Heard it here first folks.)
The ability to vertical pull needs to be developed from proximal to distal and isometric to eccentric. Once competency in isometric and eccentric action at the shoulder girdle and vertical pull, then concentric and dynamic movements like the kipping pull up are given to the athlete. The demands of the peg board are effectively trained with strict pulls, varying grips, and identifying the optimal joint angle for each athlete to execute similar tasks.
The simple fix of mastering the vertical pull is incorporating strict pull ups and constantly varying the stress through external resistance, variance in hanging modalities, arrangement of hands and angles (grips and unilateral), and muscle actions.
Huge fan of the Slug! Used at many D1 football programs, a welcome addition to competition. New implement = test of training and leads to unmistakable limiting factors. In order to effectively move this fat bastard, athletes must have a few things in line: Step Up, Dorsiflexion, and a trunk as strong as an oak tree.
Many were riding taking the struggle bus when they failed the force production test. This was caused by a lack of tensile trunk strength which lead to inefficient transfer in drive from legs and force bleed away from the load. The athletes that attacked the Slug with a rigid trunk moved the object with consistency. For others, there was an excessive amount of trunk rotation and/or lateral sway in each step. Without rigid posture it becomes impossible for the athlete to use the force energy generated during each foot contact to propel the Slug forward, wasting energy and effort to go nowhere. This is poor economy of movement.
@John defines tensile strength as, “that inherent strength athletes build from time under load. The longer an athlete has effectively trained, the greater the tensile strength.” The Games athletes are no novices to a maximal load, but many are novices to training the Step Up under load. This isn’t the first time a lack of truck stability during a Step Up has appeared in the Games…
As with the peg board, more Slug is not how you accelerate returns. Load up all Primal movements through all planes of motion. For countless examples of how to program this effectively, head to Field Strong.
The Day Dorsiflexion Died
My chili was hot during Climbing Snail, 100%, and Suicide Sprint, and would have paid money to check the Ranch Trail Run. What I missed in the Run, I caught in the injury report. Plantar-flexion paired with weak trunk cost some powerful athletes the Slug and caused major injuries on the trail and box jump. Here’s the deal, there is a direct relationship between foot position and performance, plus potential injury. If your athlete is continuously leading with the toes down sprinting, jumping, or navigating space, it’s only a matter of time before their workouts go from training to rehab. Seriously, fix that shit, coach, or be prepared to take responsibility for when they go down on the biggest stage of their athletic career.
Fortunately, Power Athlete invests heavily in Power Ankles. Dorsiflexion is the strongest, stablest position for the foot to be in to allow the ankle girdle to not only dampen force, but to allow athletes to use the equal and opposite reaction to their advantage. Train stability through all planes of motion and actions of the ankle girdle. Learn more about building Power Ankles and program application here.
Dorsiflexion carries over into running technique corrections, especially when change of direction and acceleration are involved. Foot position is not the only speed limiting factor needed to be addressed. We witnessed some horrendous Arm Swing and Knee Position.
Athletes with previous field sport experience and/or sprint training took on the field events with an unambiguous swagger. The athletes with the best technique finished fronts, not with max effort, but cashing the check of optimal technique. Approaching the dummies, they dropped their hips, led with their shoulders into the turns, and accelerated into their top-end faster! These were natural instincts, developed long ago during these athletes sporting youth. Can it be trained? Absolutely!
Before mastering coordinative abilities and athleticism on display during change of direction, all basic errors must first be eradicated from straight ahead sprinting technique. Power Athlete has a Speed Program in place that guides coaches through correcting fundamental mistakes and expanding body awareness to the point of dialing in the optimal sprinting technique for the length and build of each individual.
The sprint events are becoming more and more prevalent as either a primary or subsidiary component of CrossFit Games Events. Even the fittest in the world must be prepared to go fucking fast...against a cameraman.
Empower Your Performance - The Bank is Open
Last year, I stated the best movers we’re the best CrossFitters at the Games. This year, I take it back. Checking out every final heat, I noticed how much breakdown and inefficiency the elite were leaving on the table!
In the Sport of Fitness, movement is an athlete’s currency, and they need to be rich as fuck to win the CrossFit Games. It takes money to make money, baby. If efficient movement is your currency, it takes a consistent investment of quality of movement in your training to achieve greatness.
With that said, while the leaderboard only serves as a nice summary of performance. A coach must look beyond the scores and identify the limiting factors affecting movement. Doing more of inefficient movement will produce inefficient results, and leave you dead broke.
It is impossible to replicate the demands of the Games in training, so it is difficult to identify where these inefficiencies and movement limiting factors lie. For this reason, we look to master the mundane Primal Movements by applying prudent overload and moving through through all planes of motion. Identifying inefficiency is the first step to effectively dialing in components limiting an athlete’s development, mastery, or expression of their ability to the fullest potential, no matter their level of Fitness.
What we learned from the Games this year is that no general physical skill stands alone, and even the best of the best had room in expand their bank account. To effectively attack inefficiency and become rich, breakdown movements and abilities to fundamental components like we during our warm ups and skill practice. If something is preventing an athlete from displaying their capabilities in their peak competition to the capacity they’ve demonstrated and replicated in training, then there is a limiting factor standing in the way.
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Former collegiate lacrosse defensive midfielder, 4-year letter winner and 3-year team captain. Coached strength and conditioning collegiately with Georgetown University football, Men's and Women's lacrosse and Women's Crew, as well with the University of Texas at Austin's football program. Apprenticed under Raphael Ruiz of 1-FortyFour-1 studying proper implementation of science based, performance driven training systems. Head coached CrossFit Dupont's program for two years in Washington D.C. Received a Master's in Health Promotion Management from Marymount University in 2010, and has been a coach for Power Athlete since October, 2012.
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