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How CrossFit Can Benefit Triathletes

Our guest post today comes from Nate Helming, a CrossFit and USA Triathlon coach based in San Francisco. This post is reproduced from active.com.

These days CrossFit has gained national attention with its explosive growth of affiliate gyms, their members, and the recent exposure of the CrossFit games on ESPN. But, with this attention come both the enthusiasts and the skeptics.

When done correctly, CrossFit can be a fun, invigorating, and intelligent program that can help  athletes get over a frustrating plateau of persistent injury and stale performance, and onto a new upward athletic trajectory.

Here are five things a good CrossFit program can add to your triathlon training to help make you a stronger, faster and healthier athlete.

1. CrossFit teaches proper body mechanics.

Most endurance 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.

2. Crossfit identifies athletic weakness and imbalance, and provides tools to address them.

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 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.

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.

3. CrossFit builds greater strength, power, agility and speed.

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, the most successful Ironman and marathon athletes spend years developing strength and speed.

At CrossFit, athletes learn to incorporate strength and gymnastic skills into their workouts. They jump, sprint and develop power they previously thought impossible. Time and  again, we have seen these new abilities translate to increased athletic performance.

Concerned with potential injury? Start slowly and learn the proper mechanics first under a coach, then work to maintain these mechanics when fatigue hits and you are on your own

Think of this crucial step as developing technique endurance. Only then can you safely add intensity.

4. CrossFit develops and builds true functional strength.

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. With an improved ability to pull, push, squat, dead lift, jump and  throw, you will approach your sport with greater levels of strength, power, body awareness and confidence.

5. CrossFit develops skills that transfer to specific sports.

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 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.

Find a qualified gym, with a good coach, and discover firsthand how CrossFit can elevate your game as an endurance athlete.

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.