CrossFit’s missing a vital component of fitness, especially if you want to achieve peak athletic performance.
I’ve been doing it for a little over a year and I love it. They have identified exactly what fitness should be for long-term health and functional movement. I’ve even got CrossFit Level 1 Certified.
During Level 1 training, they cover the basic movements, nutrition, and the entire method to their madness — interesting stuff for a fitness nerd like me.
But I was surprised that there was almost no talk about recovery, especially with the intensity of workouts that come with Crossfit.
As I dug into what a great fitness routine should have, I found four essential components. They are:
- Workout of the Day (WOD)
- Recovery (more important than the WOD itself)
If you want to get the most out of your body and your workout while achieving the highest level of athletic performance and reducing the possibility of injury, all four components are crucial.
I’ll run through each of these briefly, describing what it is, the amount of time you should send on each, its purpose, and some examples of what to include.
Visualization or Imagery (2 to 5 min)
This is seeing success before it happens. Imagery is typically multisensory, which would include the sounds and even smells of the environment you’re about to compete in. Visualization is used to develop the proper mindset for the upcoming challenge, build confidence, improve mental concentration and prime the nervous system for the stimulus.
Visualization can go beyond a mental run-through of an upcoming workout; it can help you focus on your strengths and proper technique. You can also incorporate some breathing techniques that can transfer to the workout to improve performance.
Many elite athletes are known to use visualization as a competitive advantage. And there’s science to support it. A study from 2005 showed that mental imagery combined with physical practice greatly improves performance, especially with beginning athletes. According to research, simply imagining exercise can trick the muscles into getting stronger. That’s how powerful the mind is!
Warm-up (5 to 20 min)
This component primes and activates the body (muscles, joints, connective tissue and mind) for the upcoming stimulus and reduces risk of injury by elevating core temperature, facilitating blood flow to muscles, loosening joints and increasing range of motion.
The warm-up should be intentional and methodically, directly related to the upcoming WOD — not a random “Do what you want” movement practice. Go through upcoming movements to develop muscle memory and alert neural pathways of what’s to come. Over exaggerate these movements in a controlled fashion to develop full range of motion.
A good warm-up should include dynamic continuous movements such as jumping jacks, jump rope, jogging, leg swings, Frankenstein walk/toe touches, deep bodyweight squats, walking lunges, bent torso twists, Vinyasa yoga, tai chi, jog, and hanging moves. It can also include a functional movement screen.
Studies have shown that dynamic stretching can improve power, strength, and performance during a subsequent exercise session. Avoid static stretches pre-workout as they do the opposite and have no affect on reducing injury (more on this in a later post.)
WOD (2 to 60 min)
This is the intensity zone with a goal to achieve a desired stimulus. The WOD is usually a functional conditioning period made up of a mix mode of strength and conditioning (metabolic conditioning, strength, endurance, stamina, durability, etc)
Recovery (up to 72 hrs)
The opportunity for muscle growth and performance gains begins the moment you stop exercising, and that growth can’t happen without a proper recovery protocol. The goal of recovery is to reduce muscle pain and likelihood of injury and allow the body to become stronger so that you can hit it hard again and get more out of your body during the next session.
As I mentioned, CrossFit does not emphasize this component enough. Yes, there’s MobilityWOD, which offers a ton of great info but it’s more about mobility and improving range of motion.
Recovery is multifaceted, beginning immediately following the WOD. Here’s the breakdown…
- Cool down (5 to 10 min) – The cool down is often overlooked but critical for proper repair. First, the cool down will help you get over the immediate cause of fatigue by reducing your core temperature and decreasing blood glucose and lactate. Second, it will enhance blood (oxygen and other nutrients) and lymph flow in order to nourish muscles and cells and remove waste products. It will also draw energy into the body, restore balance to the joints, integrity to the spine, calm your nervous system, and build durability. The best type of cool down is light, low-intensity cardio or some rebounding. Ideally, you’ll want to keep your body open and eliminate any type of compression to allow proper flow of blood and lymph.
- Autopsy (5 min) – This is a when you or your coach reviews your WOD performance — identify what went well, what your limiting factor(s) were, what you could’ve done better (one thing to work on), and one recovery technique for the day.
- Active Recovery (5 to 30 min) – My definition of active recovery is light or easy movement practices that engage the muscles and body parts that were previously worked to increase blood flow and reduce inflammation. This can include stretching, yoga, walking, and mobility/myofascial release.
- Passive Recovery – My definition of passive recover is anything that doesn’t involve intentional movement practices such as proper nutrition, hydration, resting, stress management, professional manual therapies (massaging, rolfing, etc), magnesium salt baths, and sleep (although sleep is so important I’ve made it a separate “pillar” of Recovery.)
- Sleep – This is the secret sauce for getting the results you want. During sleep, your body repairs itself. Degraded cells are eliminated, new cells are created and toxins are flushed from your brain. Rebuilding growth hormones like HGH are produced and protein synthesis occurs, building up the damaged muscles. If your sleep is interrupted or compromised, you’ll never receive full repair on your body.
If you want to dig deeper into recovery and other aspect to reaching your full athletic potential, check out my free course, 10X Your Potential here.