CrossFit is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world. From 13 boxes (CrossFit gyms) in 2005 to over 15,000 across 120 countries today, the high-intensity functional training program is booming.
But with such rapid growth in a sport that pushes fitness to its limit, how are athletes – and their coaches – developing training programs that simultaneously allow athletes to compete at the highest level and protect themselves? And how are they doing so in a year full of uncertainty and unorthodox training?
ONAIR, an Italian fitness company that specializes in working with CrossFit athletes, uses Firstbeat Sports to support and optimize their performance.
From general to specific
“The big advantage of Firstbeat Sports is it helps me individualize work load methodology for each athlete,” explains Andrea Barbotti, a CrossFit Games Meridian Regional competitor who now trains some of Italy’s top CrossFit competitors.
“We deploy it in the ONAIR program to help athletes individualize load based on their status – turning it from a ‘general’ to a ‘specific’ program.”
A typical day of training mixes strength and power work with sport-specific workouts. Assault bike, double dumbbell squats, and burpees are just some of the exercises regularly making up a session.
Lockdown training backed by data
Of course, 2020 has required even more innovative training and an emphasis on athletes being able to train alone effectively. Firstbeat Sports’ remote training capabilities have helped both coach and athlete.
“With boxes and gyms closed we had to do a lot of work with kettlebells or bodyweight exercises, which was a new experience for me,” says Barbotti who uses the solution to track his athletes regardless of where they train.
“Setting workout targets based on Firstbeat’s metrics like Training Effect allowed me to see if what I had prescribed was having the desired impact on physiological performance or we were only working on coordination and technique.”
Knowing how individuals are responding to intense demands in real-time and in post-analysis has helped Barbotti and ONAIR know when to push athletes further, and when to pull back and seek recovery.
Finding the balance
“From that moment we could know how balanced our schedule was. I can measure monotony, load, and strain – increasing work quality while decreasing chance of injury.”
“The real-time data in the Firstbeat Sports app is a big advantage because it makes it possible to individualize a session with a specific target, and track if that target is being met.”
Looking at the data following a session – in the form of automated Firstbeat reports delivered by email – also allows ONAIR coaches to track trends and adaptations over time.
“The Firstbeat PDF report shows me if an athlete’s training load trends are increasing or not, or if exercise repetition is causing training monotony.”
For example, ONAIR use Training Effect data (on a 0-5 scale) to see if sessions are maintaining or improving their athlete’s fitness. They can then adapt to make sure future sessions match the intended workload.
“The first thing I do is download the data”
The personalized data is shared with the athletes too – helping them understand their own body. One athlete Barbotti works closely with is Marta Ricottini who ranks inside the top 10 Italian women competing in her CrossFit discipline in 2020.
“Marta may not know the exact ins and outs of SDNN or RMSSD but the Firstbeat Sports Cloud provides a simple platform to read the data,” Barbotti explains.
And Firstbeat technology is involved in every aspect of Ricottini’s training and preparation.
“I do the Quick Recovery Test every morning,” she reveals. “Based on the results and how I feel I decide how much to push in training. After each workout, the first thing I do is download the Sensor data and check the results on my pc.
“Since the team has adopted Firstbeat’s monitoring system I’ve noticed the sessions are more balanced.”
The Italian athlete has access to the Firstbeat Sports Cloud where she can read her data and see with her own eyes how workouts have gone, even when she is training away from her coach. This is important given many of ONAIR’s athletes train in different facilities.
“I pay particular attention to the Training Effect, Training Status and Training Load. This way I know if the session has been profitable and if, during the next few days of active recovery, I can afford to push a little more or allow more recovery.”
Protecting the athletes through data
Involving the athletes in the data analysis process also wards off a trend that is unfortunately quite common among CrossFit athletes.
“In CrossFit, some athletes suffer a kind of bigorexia where they think what they have done is not enough and want to train more and more,” says Barbotti. “This is dangerous. But by monitoring their reaction to training themselves via Firstbeat Sports, and checking their results, they can see if everything is as it should be or there may be some problems.”
“CrossFit athletes can get in an emotional loop where they feel they’re not training enough,”Ricottini agrees. “Being able to know much I am training by looking at my personal data, and train it in a balanced way, was an important step forward for me.”
The difference between winning and losing
CrossFit is still a relatively young sport. But as competition and stakes grow, training programs are looking for wherever they can find that slim advantage.
“CrossFit is like a black box that deserves the attention of the scientific community,” Barbotti concludes. “Studying physiology and monitoring through tools like Firstbeat Sports will mark the difference between winning and losing.”
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