How CrossFit Makes Me A Better Snowboarder
CrossFit gets a bad rap.
I can’t even remember the amount of times I’ve been given that wide-eyed look of horror and told not to do CrossFit because I’ll get injured. But here’s the thing, I know far more people who have been injured through playing footy, netball and tennis then I have ever heard of through CrossFit. And yet those activities don’t come with the same warning which I receive constantly.
CrossFit has been a big part of my exercise routine for a couple of years now and without a doubt, it has had a huge and positive impact upon my snowboarding, both leading up to the season and on the slopes. The best training for snowboarding is always going to be snowboarding, but if that isn’t possible then CrossFit is probably the next best thing.
What is CrossFit all about?
"CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that anyone, recreational athlete to professional athlete, can benefit from" explains Head Coach Taryn, from CrossFit Burleigh. "It develops a strong base of general physical preparedness such that we are prepared to take on any sport or any task in life. CrossFit focuses on functional movement patterns that rely on contractions from ones core to extremity (eg: squat, deadlift, press).
Snowboarding requires movement patterns that rely on this midline/core stability and control along with agility, balance and coordination. The gymnastics movements and olympic lifting done in CrossFit help work on these elements required to snowboard."
Let me put it into context for you. Some time ago, I was told that I would never run again and if I wanted to go on snowboarding trips, I would have to take copious amounts of prescription anti-inflammatory drugs the entire time. That was by a sports doctor and I decided that I didn’t like his answer.
I won’t bore you with all the details but let’s say that the first time I walked into a CrossFit box (as they are referred to), I had a limp and the entire left side of my lower body was extremely weak. Within a few months, I noticed a massive improvement in a number of areas:
Yes, I know it is an obvious one but here’s what surprised me. I found that the style of strength training gave me strength in areas which I wasn’t focused on. For example, I attempted to do the toes to bar movement (this is where you hang from a chin up bar, and lift your feet up so your toes touch the bar). I totally failed. The best I could do was get my knees up to waist level. A couple of months later of consistent training (and no toes to bar attempts), I tried again. No problem. Strength is so important on the mountain for pretty much everything but especially on powder days, mogul runs and hikes.
Totally unexpected. Touching my toes used to be a challenge and my previous weight training programs left me stiff and inflexible. I was totally stoked when I realised that I was becoming more and more flexible. I believe that flexibility allows for a good range of motion and reduces the risk of injury. I know that if my muscles are tight, I will start to experience knee pain after a few hours on the mountain snowboarding.
I've noticed a vast improvement in my cardiovascular performance. In CrossFit workouts, there is usually always a conditioning component which can generally range from 10 minutes to 40 minutes. Just like the strength component above, I was so surprised at what I was able to do despite not training specifically for it. The first time I was faced with a 3km run, I almost passed out. I’m not a runner by any means and prior to starting CrossFit, a 200m run would have been an achievement. But I ran 3km that day! It was mind blowing for me, considering that I hadn’t been running at all, aside from a few short warm up jogs. I always had it in my mind that to run distance, you had to keep on practicing, building up the distance as you went along. I’m sure that is the case for the marathon runners and Iron Man competitors and I’m certainly not putting myself in that category, but from zero to 3km, I’m pretty damn chuffed. Conditioning has improved my time on the mountain immensely. I don’t have to stop for breaks as much, my endurance has improved and I adjust to high altitude a lot quicker.
Box jumps, burpees, split jerks, snatches, wall balls! The list of movements is endless but they all help with what skiers and snowboarders like to call ’pop’. Having ’pop’ makes you a better rider on the mountain. You become more responsive, your turns are sharper and quicker, you tackle bumps and moguls better and as the freestylers out there know, you can never have too much ‘pop’!
This is a big one. There are a lot of CrossFit WOD’s (Workout Of the Day) which are gruelling and have a huge mental component in them. They are often referred to as chippers. These are the workouts that are physically challenging, but mainly mentally challenging. These are the ones where your mind wants to give up before your body does. It is during these times where my inside voice will say to me at least once throughout the workout, “do I seriously pay to do this?”. But at the end of it all, when you realise that you didn’t die, you feel a massive sense of achievement. This part has probably had the most impact on my general life and snowboarding. It has given me a level of confidence to tackle things that I previously would never have. It has given me the mindset to attempt and try and to see things through. When you’re trying new things on the mountain or faced with challenges, having mental strength goes a long way.
As Coach Taryn will tell you, "Snowboarding is a sport or hobby that people usually do for hours at a time which requires the stamina and endurance to last the whole day. CrossFit works all three energy systems that help you build up the endurance and produce the power and speed you need to make it down the run.
There are injuries in any sport and when you throw yourself down a hill on a board it is inevitable that you will have an injury at some stage. CrossFit will help strengthen your ligaments, tendons and create healthy joints through squats, deadlifts, pressing, pull-ups and single leg movements."
Damn right. You said it Coach T!
What You Need To Know
Before you run off and sign up at the closest CrossFit box, I do have a few important tips for you.
Find the right coach
Not all coaches are created equal. It’s really important to find a good coach when you are beginning as this is what will progress you or hinder you. I first began CrossFit at CrossFit Burleigh with coach and owner Taryn, who is amazing! I gave her the long spiel on all my ailments and weirdness. Taryn worked with me on slowly building up strength, and was super strict on technique. She noticed that one leg was visibly weaker than the other and we worked on balancing that out. If I started getting tired or lazy and my technique dropped, she’d be all over it like a cat on a mouse. Within a couple of months, I was the strongest I had ever been. If a movement didn’t feel right, it would get modified. Years later when I drop in for a session, Taryn still picks me up if my technique gets a little lazy, if I’m not positioning my knees and hips correctly or if my lazy leg makes a comeback when I go for a jog.
Another extremely important attribute of a good coach is one that has the ability to push you just that little bit further without compromising technique or safety. This is a big one because it will be that coach that will take you to the next level and that is an awesome feeling!
Work on technique before weight
I know that most of you will feel that you have to lift heavy. But if you’ve not lifted weights in this way before, it’s super important that you focus on your technique first. Without proper technique, you won’t progress with weight and you’ll more than likely cause yourself injury. For example, a clean isn’t about just getting the bar up to your chest. Alignment and balance is important before you even start the movement, and then hips, shoulders and elbows come into play. Technique first!
I talk about how important a good coach is above but at the end of the day, you are responsible for your progress. Injuries can happen but often there are warning signs. Listen to your body and don’t keep pushing yourself on a movement if it is causing physical aggravation. Every movement can be modified to keep you pain-free. Don’t lift heavier if you don’t feel comfortable or your mindset isn’t right. Don’t run if you have a sore knee or ankle. Have a day or two or seven off. It sounds simple enough but it’s amazing how many people attempt to exercise through pain. I am super conservative, like seriously conservative. And I’m ok with that. I still get a great workout, I’m seeing results and I’m constantly improving.
It's also worth mentioning that it's a lot of fun. CrossFit has a very fun and supportive team culture which I've experienced at every place that I have been to on my travels. It goes a long way and keeps me coming back.
I hope that if you’ve been wondering about trying CrossFit out, that this has helped and you’ll give it a go. Most places will give you a trial class so you can check it out obligation free. It’s not for everyone, just like cycling or ballet isn’t for everyone, and that’s totally cool. But if you’re looking for something that will increase your fitness and strength tremendously then I suggest checking out CrossFit. I haven't been skiing so I can't speak specifically about CrossFit for skiing, but I really think the benefits would be the same. It’s the best off-season training that I’ve found to get me snowboard ready for winter!
What do you think? Have you tried CrossFit? Would you? What do you do to keep ski and snowboard fit? Do you have any questions for me? Let me know in the comments below! (Make sure you click on 'subscribe via e-mail' to be notified when we write back).
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