3 Things to Make You a Better Athlete

Date Posted - March 7, 2017
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As crossfitters we are always looking to improve, whether that is more weight on the bar or faster times, we put the work in and expect a  return for our efforts , however there are things outside of our daily training we can work on in order to get the most out of the time we invest in the gym

1. Control your stress levels

Stress is a word thrown around a lot, and it is normally associated with a negative outcome, this is only the case when it gets out of hand. The body is used to dealing with short term / high stress situation (danger) but is not so good at dealing with chronic low level stress (deadlines / relationship issues / financial concerns / modern living). This can affect our ability to recover and adapt from training

For example: 2 athletes could have equal PB times and lifting numbers and follow exactly the same programme and perform at an equal level, athlete A may be sleeping and eating well, have no work deadlines or financial worries and be in a stable relationship and have a good support network around them from friends and family, its short, life’s pretty sweet and they are able to balance the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS: fight and flight) with the Para-sympathetic nervous system (PNS: Rest and digest) enabling for them to train hard, recover and repeat

Athlete B maybe in a different situation they are a new parent, their sleep and diet is poor and they are dealing with massive changes in lifestyle that they are getting used to and generally have a lot going on that can cause worry and concern, there SNS is working overtime and the PNS isn’t getting a chance to do its job to help the body calm down

Although both athletes are getting identical stimulus from the training programme, their abilities to adapt to the programme are very different, athlete A maybe thriving and making great progress while athlete B maybe struggling to keep up with the intensity or volume and at some point will plateau or burnout

Stress management can come in many forms, and is going to be unique to the individual, but below or some common stress management strategies

* Having a meaningful conversation with significant others

* Laughing

* Leisure walking, particularly in green environments (parks / fields / forest etc)

* Writing down things that may be needed to be done prior to going to bed:  5 Minute Journal

* Meditation / yoga / tai chi / RomWod , listening to music a person enjoys

* Any activity that a person enjoys

* Cutting down on caffeine

* Managing training volume and intensity – Morning Heart Rate Variability score (HRV)


2. Sit Down Less

Exercise is well known to have a positive effect on health, wellbeing and reduction of lifestyle related health conditions, however it is important to understand 1 – 3 hours of exercise per week is not enough to correct hours of poor posture from sitting or standing in poor positions we accumulate every day.

Sitting facts

  • Every 8 hours of T.V we watch after the age of 25 reduces life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.
  • The World Health Organisation (WHO) ranks physical inactivity / sitting as the fourth biggest preventable killer globally causing 3.2 million deaths annually.
  • The average person sits for 13 hours per day.
  • Sitting for extended periods of time can over-ride the potential benefits of an exercise session
  • Sitting for extended periods of time can lead to an increase in blood sugar and cholesterol levels and a reduction in resting metabolic rate

Effects of sitting on performance

  • Our spines may start to curve forward, stressing the disks in our lower backs – Effecting overhead position, upright torso positioning and increasing the risk of lower back pain.
  • Our hips get tight leading to restricted movement, placing excessive stress on our backs – Effecting ability to squat to depth
  • Our glutes become less efficient at stabilizing the pelvis, placing more stress on the lower back – Muted hip and lack of posterior chain activation for squats / oly lifts, heavy pulls
  • This all increase the amount of time and effort it takes to warm up and mobilise to be able to comfortably be able to get into the key positions required for athlete performance.


What to do about it

Step 1: Be aware of how much time you spend sat down or sedentary each day:  Follow this linkwww.standupkids.org/calculators – to a sitting calculator, the website is run by Kelly and Juliet Starrett and is a great resource to give you an idea how sitting may be effecting your health and performance , this will highlight how sedentary you may be and how many additional calories you could burn from changing from a seated to a standing position

Step 2: Minimise the amount optional sitting you do each day:  What things can you do standing up? i.e. Standing workstations, talk to people standing while on the phone, stretching at your desk

Step 3: For Every 30 minutes of sitting you do per day: Aim to move or be active for 2 minute out of every 30: Government guidelines state we should aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical per week (walking / gentle movement or exercise). This can be achieved by simply moving around as much as possible, people are designed to be sedentary for long periods of time:  Just get up and move.


3. Track your macros and calorie intake

Its sounds clique, but food is fuel. If we were to go on a long car journey we would check how much fuel is in the tank before set of. The same idea holds true for nutrition, we need to know some sort of baseline information about how many calories we are eating on a regular basis and where those calories are coming from in order to know if their meeting out requirements based on the volume and intensity of training we are doing.

With apps such as myfitnesspal it’s has become easier to track our calorie intake, and although it can be a tedious task it does provided useful information. This isn’t to say we need to keep track of every calorie we consume every day, but regularly tracking what we eat can make the difference between progress on plateauing.

The bigger the engine: The more fuel you need

The number of calories you need will vary depending on training volume, people following competitor focused programmes tend to train with high volumes, and as a result often need more calories than they think, add to this the fact that the guys and girls with the greatest work capacity have the ability to expend significantly more energy in a set period of time compared to someone with lower fitness levels, using 17.2 as an example, games and regional athletes will be constantly moving for 12 minutes and can rack up and lot of reps within the 12 minutes, those with lower fitness and skill levels will move slower, rest more and potentially hit a road block with a movement they can’t do, hence the calorie expenditure will be much lower.

From working with athletes that follow competitor programmes, I see a tread that they often under eat, despite eating a lot of food. This is more common in the athlete that eats a really ‘clean’ diets, although nutritional their diets are on point because of the quality of food, the fact they are eating food that make they feel full and satiated and as a result make it difficult to eat enough total calories to meet their training volume, these athlete would benefit from adding powdered oats or carb powders to shakes, a teaspoon of olive or coconut to meals, adding an additional snack between meals to help them meet their calorific requirements.

In order to know if you’re an athlete that fits into this category, tracking food intake for a week will give you an indication of how many calories you’re eating, calorie counting can become tedious when done for long periods of time and people often start to under report or experience reporting fatigue (getting sloppy with the accuracy of tracking). So for this reason I recommend be as accurate as you can for a week in the following situations and use this as a visual baseline to what portion size and food intake should look like.

  • Change in goal (ie weight loss  / weight gain / performance)
  • Transitions in training programme or season (Off season à Open season àOff season)
  • If your training plan progressively increases volume (communicate with your coach)
  • Change in training type or focus (i.e changing from crossfit to training for a marathon)
  • Change in lifestyle (new job, routine, becoming a parent, moving in with a partner)
  • If you are constantly feeling beaten up by training or results start to plateau.
  • Un-intentional drop or gain in bodyweight.



In isolation these three things don’t look like significant game changers with regard to improving performance, but when they accumulate and allow training and recovery to become be effective and efficient, the positive effect not only on general health and wellbeing start to add up.

Small consistent changes to each area and focusing on the one which is most significant to yourself will likely lead to the greatest over effect on training and performance. Communicating with your coach and having a strategy in place to help implement some of the changes is the first step to long term progress.

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