CrossFit – Survival of the Fittest

August 4, 2022

What does it take to be crowned the fittest person in the world? 

Mathew ‘Mat’ Fraser, five-time CrossFit Games champion, knows exactly what it takes. He coined a simple phrase that has caught on within the community: “Hard work pays off” (#HWPO). It’s the epitome of Fraser’s athletic career. 

CrossFit athletes know the path to success is a combination of focus, hard work, and long hours in the gym. There are no easy shortcuts if you want to participate in the ultra-competitive world of CrossFit.

CrossFit is a way of life. You eat well, you train hard, you push yourself. It teaches you so much about yourself.”

Ben Smith

CrossFitters aim to develop peak condition in what the company deems to be the ten components of physical fitness:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Respiratory
  • Endurance
  • Stamina
  • Strength
  • Flexibility
  • Power
  • Speed
  • Coordination
  • Agility
  • Balance
  • Accuracy.

Competing becomes second nature, with the CrossFit WOD often scored and/or ranked to encourage competition and to track individual progress. Some affiliates offer additional classes, such as Olympic weightlifting, which are not centered on a WOD.

In most CrossFit gyms, athletes will use equipment from multiple disciplines, including barbells, dumbbells, gymnastics rings, rope climbs, pull-up bars, jump ropes, kettlebells, medicine balls, plyo boxes, resistance bands, rowing machines, and various mats. 

Respiratory training – train hard, breathe smart

Training the respiratory system is sometimes neglected by beginners in their rush to focus on the other components of strength and fitness. But, long term, neglecting good breathing techniques and respiratory muscle training will hamper any athlete’s progress. 

These are some of the key techniques all CrossFitters should get to know.

Valsalva maneuver

Anyone who’s done any weightlifting will probably be familiar with the Valsalva maneuver. It involves taking a deep breath, bracing the abdominals and making a forceful attempt of exhalation against a closed airway.

The Valsalva maneuver is commonly believed to be the optimal breathing pattern for producing maximal force and is frequently used in powerlifting to stabilize the trunk during exercises such as the squat, deadlift, and bench press, and in both lifts of Olympic weightlifting.

The technique should be reserved for big lifts only, as it is considered inefficient for regular CrossFit workouts.

Some trainers recommend a modified version of the Valsalva maneuver, where some air is allowed to escape in a controlled fashion. 

As with swimming, the key to good breathing during training is to find consistent breathing patterns that suit the activity you are engaged in. Which brings us to the Systema system.

The Systema Technique

The Systema technique is all about adapting your breathing style to the workout, so you breathe optimally at all times.

The main principles are:

  • Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth
  • Breathing leads to physical movements
  • Breathe with the frequency demanded by the activity in the given moment
  • Do not hold your breath, with the exception of special breath-holding techniques (see Valsalva maneuver above)
  • Every breath starts and ends following the pendulum principle
  • Develop the ability to perform an action on inhalation and on an exhalation, regardless of the intensity of the effort and the position of the body
  • The skill to remain relaxed while breathing.

Box breathing

Unrelated to the CrossFit box, Box breathing, also known as four-square breathing, is a relatively new technique that is popular with everyone from breathwork coaches to Navy Seals.

How to do box breathing:

  • Breathe in counting to four slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.
  • Hold your breath for 4 seconds. 
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  • Repeat steps 1 to 3 

A few minutes of box breathing is an effective way of calming the mind and winding down after a hard workout. It’s also great for reducing stress and increasing focus.

CrossFit for fitness and strength – but what about the muscles you can’t see?

As a system aimed at achieving a fantastic level of physical strength and fitness, CrossFit seems to have it covered. But even this comprehensive approach has one missing ingredient – targeting the breathing muscles! 

With a wide range of exercises designed to target every part of the body, the challenging training sessions push the body to the limit. So, it makes sense that any serious athlete will look for any weak link in the chain, and work hard to ensure it doesn’t hold them back.

Breathing is one of the most overlooked areas in sports.”

Frederik Aegidius, CrossFit Games competitor & coach

As cardiovascular/respiratory fitness is one of the core ten components of CrossFit, it’s not surprising that some elite athletes, like Frederik Aegidius, turned to respiratory muscle training (RMT). 

RMT enables athletes to improve respiratory muscle strength and increase accessible lung capacity, as well as improve recovery times. Crucially, it also helps to reduce the impact of the metaboreflex, where the breathing muscles get priority during times of maximum demand. 

This can negatively impact the performance of the limb muscles, making it a training goal for clued-up athletes looking for the marginal gains that often separate the winners from the runners-up.

With a degree in bioengineering, Frederik Aegidius knew all too well how science could give him a vital edge.

Airofit means I will be able to wake up tomorrow and ready to perform even faster, stronger and better than yesterday.”

CrossFit Games – the Fittest on Earth

The CrossFit Games, created by Dave Castro and Greg Glassman, have been held every summer since 2007. 

Billed as “ultimate proving grounds for the Fittest Man and Fittest Woman on Earth” it gives the world’s CrossFit athletes a chance to compete across several categories – men, women, team, masters, teens and adaptive, for those with a physical impairment.

For many CrossFitters and fans it’s a great opportunity to compete against the world’s best, or just watch some awesome competitors showcase their hard-won fitness, strength and pure grit.

Nobody else can take you to the place you want to end up. You have to get there yourself.”

Tia-Clair Toomey

This year, the annual CrossFit games take place in Madison, Wisconsin, from Aug. 3rd -7th. 

Athletes will once again battle for a coveted place on the podium. The competition will be fierce, and a handful of the fittest, most determined people on Earth will finally see all that hard work pay off.