Since 2012, Dr. Justin Rabinowitz has been a trusted advisor to many people seeking answers concerning their physical health and wellEbeing, specifically in the CrossFit arena. He is a trusted member of the ‘Athlete Services’ team at the NorthEast CorssFit Regionals and has worked with many of the best competitive CrossFit athletes in the world.
He currently owns a private practice (Strive2Move) in Warren, New Jersey and treats many athletes in the local CrossFit community.
In this Special Report written to help “lift the lid on CrossFit training”, I share with you some of my most impactful observations that I have made while working with many of the top CrossFit athletes in the world.
What you will learn in this Special Report are the questions that I get most often about specific athletes that I work with year after year at the CrossFit Regional Games.
But before I get to the questions, let me tell you the real reason why I wrote this Special Report.
After working with top athletes for years, I started to understand that they had many of the same pains, aches, and dysfunctions as the ‘regular’ CrossFit athlete.
More, the CrossFit athletes that I work with in my private practice often ask about the ‘secrets’ that I could learn from the athletes at Regionals and I realized it was not much of secret. At the end of the day, good mechanics are good mechanics… and I will show you exactly what I mean by that below!
This is what I heard from one of the top athletes in the female division after event 5 (4 rounds of 400m run, 40 GHD sit ups, 7 deadlifts) at the 2016 Regionals.
It is statements like this that remind me just how similar the novice CrossFit athlete is as compared to the professionals.
When it comes to something so basic as ‘core’, you can see that it really doesn’t matter what level athlete you are because fundamentals are fundamentals. Basic core strength and stability are a requirement for every single level.
Realize what core stability really means though. I am not talking about your ability to hold a plank for 2 minutes straight. It’s cool, and a great feat of strength and muscular endurance, but tells me nothing about how you will function in an actual workout.
What I really need to know is that your core is ‘on’ when you need it most. Here are just a few examples:
E Does your core turn ‘on’ on the last set of 275 pound deadlift when you are near your max heart rate?
E Do you activate your core in the catch position at the bottom of a snatch?
E Is your core helping propel you up the rope during a legless rope climb? Or, is it like a dead fish and holding you back from that PR? This my friends, is the true definition of core ‘stability’.
Action Tip: Understand that fundamental core strength is a prerequisite to achieving a higher level of fitness. Have the awareness or coaching available to ensure that your core is turned ‘on’ during all lifts and not just ‘core’ training.
Before getting into the glutes specifically, let me give you a little preamble about how we got there. …
It is interesting to find out where the athletes felt sore after particular workouts. Obviously, it was a regional competition, so all athletes were doing the exact same events, yet didn’t ‘feel it’ in the exact same places. The real question you have is, “How is this possible?”
The answer however, is not so simple. I always question my own athletes about this exact topic to get a general idea of what is going on in their body.
As a clinician, I can palpate muscles and test joint ranges of motion, but I will never know what they are feeling. Gaining this insight can be very valuable to their care and performance.
Correct muscle firing is crucial to pain free and high level performance. Furthermore, understanding if the proper muscle sequence is firing gives me great information about that athlete’s nervous system.
The discussion on nervous system is well beyond the scope of this book but at least understand that every single thing that happens in our body is controlled by the brain and nervous system.
Ok, back to the glutes…
I am of the opinion (one that is not novel in the functional fitness/rehab community) that the glutes are the powerhouse of the body. So, after a deadlift workout, I hope that my athletes are more sore in their glutes than quads, which can tell me which muscle group is doing the majority of the work.
This is not a perfect test by any means, but it gives us a little sense of what is going on in the body, as I stated above. What I learned at Regionals was that the better athletes were more efficient. This meant they had less soreness in the WRONG places and if anything, felt most of the soreness in their glutes. Because of this nervous system and muscular firing pattern efficiency, they were able to lift more weight, longer. And subsequently, compete on a high level.
Action Tip: Be conscious and aware of exactly where you are getting sore after a workout. If you are squatting or deadlifting and only get sore in your quads, realize you may have a muscle firing pattern problem and won’t perform to the level that you want. Even worse, you are setting yourself up for injury.
It’s no secret that CrossFit WOD’s can be flat out brutal. It is a test of fitness that can push you to your physical limit.
However, what truly separates the good from the great is the mental game.
You would be hard pressed to find interviews with the top CrossFit athletes in the world who didn’t speak about the mental aspect of training and competing. It’s not hard to spot the athletes that thrive on the competition floor and the ones who struggle.
This is never more evident then on the final events of Regionals. I see it every year. Here, one event can mean the difference between a trip to the Games and a trip back to your box.
Year after year, certain athletes step up and thrive in this circumstance and certain athletes wilt under the pressure. Don’t believe me?
Simply go to ‘Google’ and type the following: “Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir Plays Mental Game To Win CrossFit Games” and read that article. It will tell you everything you need to know.
Action Tip: Spend time flexing your mind muscle. Developing mental toughness as winning on the competition floor goes well beyond just the physical aspect of training. Excelling at the highest level means you need to win the mental game.
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to CrossFit, functional fitness, and the human body.
The top athletes understand proper movement patterns. More specifically, they understand which joints need more range of motion and which muscles need more strength. They understand where their potential problems may lie and how to modify appropriately so they can compete the event with less pain and more efficiency.
This became very evident for me going into the final event of the weekend. This involved legless rope climbs and thrusters.
I had an athlete who came to me before the event who was having severe back spasms. Instead of thinking how much pain the event was going to cause her, she started to think about her positioning and how she could modify it so that she could make it through.
For her, this meant widening her stance a bit so that she could keep her torso more upright during the thruster.
Her plan worked perfectly, as it ended up being her strongest finish all weekend.
Action Tip: Become a student of movement and the human body. The more you understand, the greater your ability to modify and improve your movement patterns.
It’s no secret that the highest level athletes at Regionals traveled with a large ‘team’. This involved a coach, a therapist, and some even had an agent with them.
Obviously, most athletes don’t have the need for an agent (although you can see what excelling at CrossFit can do for you) but I believe that every athlete who is serious about CrossFit needs a minimum of two people in their corner.
First, you need a coach. With very few exceptions, the best athletes have a coach who writes their program and corrects their technique. He/she is an integral part of team. Even the best athletes need another set of eyes, another voice, and another brain to optimize their performance.
Second, you need a human movement and soft tissue specialist. This person could be a chiropractor, physical therapist, or massage therapist. They need to have excellent manual therapy skills and an excellent set of tools to perform movement screens and assessments. With the volume of exercise required in CrossFit, this is nonEnegotiable.
When you exercise, muscles break down in order to grow and get stronger and if not tended to, can develop trigger points, tightness, and pain that will prevent you from performing your best.
Action Tip: Find a coach and human movement specialist that you trust. These two team members are nonXnegotiable if you want to take your training to the next level!
A: There is an old saying, “The best ability is availability.” Ironically, within the group of 40 individual men and 40 individual women, the injuries were vast among a large portion of the athletes.
However, what became clear was that the elite of the elite (the ones that were in contention to qualify to make CrossFit Games) generally stayed healthy enough. By healthy enough, I mean that even if they were banged up a little, it did not get to the point where it interrupted their training for extended periods of time.
If you go and look back at the last few years of the CrossFit Games participants, we see a lot of familiar faces year after year. Yes, they are the more gifted athletes but just as important, they are the ones who are healthy enough to train day in and day out, multiple times per day allowing them to stay in the hunt.
I must stress the idea again of ‘healthy enough’. To think that with such levels of training some injury won’t occur would be naïve.
The distinction is key.
So, to swing back to the original question. Yes, these athletes suffer from chronic injury but in general, these injuries do not limit the training of the most successful ones.
A: While I can’t say exactly how many times each athlete went to a GP, I can share with you what my assumptions are based on conversation that I had. My assumption in short: Not many.
I am going to assume that most of these athletes are generally ‘healthy’ individuals. To that point, I would assume that many may use their GP or family doctor for a yearly checkEup and then go when they are sick with things like a cold, strep throat, sinus infection, etc.
What I know to be a fact, is that the vast majority of their time, money, and resources for health related expenses were used on services such as chiropractic, physical therapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, etc. These would all be considered ‘alternative’ type services in the traditional medical model, but in an athletic world, these are the primary forms of ‘medicine’ used.
In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for the higher level athletes to travel with a coach and someone who did manual therapy treatment.
Even blood work has moved beyond just the General Physician for these athletes. What we have found is that many of the traditional blood panels we get at the doctor simply are not detailed enough to meet a highElevel athletic population. Common tests like Vitamin D are not on a traditional blood panel unless specified. Some other tests that are key for athletes include Red Blood Cell Magnesium, and Ferratin. Another issue I have seen in traditional blood panel readings is the lack of detail during the reading.
Something like Vitamin D is a great example of this. Some literature would say that anywhere between 20 ng/ml and 70 ng/ml is ‘Normal’ and many doctors would just overlook this if a patient fell anywhere in this range. These details and examples are important when looking at the big picture. Our medical model has moved very deep into a specialization based system and with that, the general public and athletes alike are seeking out people that are very specialized in their field.
Due to the high amount of training, the highest level CrossFit athlete has much more of a need to seek out specialized, alternative avenues of treatment vs relying on a GP or Family doctor.
A: The main thing that all these athletes had in common was their ability to embrace the suck. Training day in and day out can get boring and be very frustrating. These athletes all had the ability to push through the mental side of training and come out the other end.
Something else all the athletes had in common was their attention to detail. As you get into talking about training, they were meticulous in their technique and preparation. They were truly students of the sport.
At that level, it’s not good enough to just be strong or have a big engine because everyone else you compete against has the exact same things.
A:The first thing about training methodology is that the vast majority followed very strict programming. It wasn’t so simple as wake up, look on CrossFit.com and do whatever workout was on the main site.
In fact, I would say traditional WOD’s are a smaller part of the training. Yes, they are still doing a WOD, but they are spending a ton of time on powerlifting, gymnastics, endurance, and Olympic lifting.
The better athletes take this to the extreme, as they employ a different coach for each area. It’s not uncommon to see the top athletes with an Olympic lifting coach, Endurance coach, gymnastics coach, and a ‘CrossFit’ coach.
So, there you have it:
My best observations and insight into CrossFit training. I hope this guide provides clarity around many of the most common questions and topics that I get around the CrossFit community. Let this guide is the beginning of a great, longEterm relationship where myself and colleagues become a source of cutting edge health advice for you and make a real difference to your life and your training.
You can contact me here: [email protected]
Dedicated to Getting You Back to Doing What You Love,
Dr. Justin Rabinowitz
However, examples of injuries and their prognosis are based on typical representations of those injuries that we commonly see in our physiotherapy clinics. The information given is not intended as representations of every individual’s potential injury. As with any injury, each person’s symptoms can vary widely and each person’s recovery from injury can also vary depending upon background, genetics, previous medical history, application of exercises, posture, motivation to follow medical advice and various other physical factors.
It is impossible to give a 100% complete accurate diagnosis and prognosis without a thorough physical examination and likewise the advice given for management of an injury cannot be deemed fully accurate in the absence of this examination from one of the Dr. Justin Rabinowitz or other doctors of Strive2Move.
We are able to offer you this service at a standard charge. Significant injury risk is possible if you do not follow due diligence and seek suitable professional advice about your injury. No guarantees of specific results are expressly made or implied in this report.