Sometimes, the most effective impact you can have on your workouts come from the simplest changes you make. We all know the value of consistent practice, proper mobility and active recovery as it relates to our development as CrossFitters. But there are things that you can do throughout the day that can translate to a successful WOD when you finally get off work and head to the box. Some of these actions may seem obvious to a lot of you, but as humans we tend to be forgetful—especially given the hustle and bustle of everyday life. So think of the list below as a mental checklist that you should try to tick off every day to ensure you are as prepared as you can be when you arrive at the box for a workout. Do them enough, and they’ll become good habits!
1. Hydrate throughout the day
Every organism on this planet needs water in order to survive. Without water, we would all eventually die. Simple as that. Moving away from such a depressing thought, let’s look at why staying hydrated is so important to your athletic performance.
Firstly, your body is 60% water. More specifically, water composes 75% of all muscle tissue and about 10% of fatty tissue. As legendary strength coach Charles Poliquin says, “Hydration is the greatest determinant of strength. A drop of 1.5% in water levels translates in a drop of 10% of your maximal strength.” Furthermore, staying properly hydrated with water can reduce joint and muscle pain and help to increase your flexibility—seeing as cartilage in the joint is 65 – 80% water. Staying properly hydrated also serves to boost your mental game in advance of a workout because it will help keep a positive electrolyte balance in your body, which in turn will allow for electrical signals to be sent to your brain quickly and efficiently—resulting in shorter reaction times and greater mental performance. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, staying hydrated staves off dehydration, which can cost you a 30% drop in performance.
Curious as to how much you should drink to stay hydrated on a day-to-day basis? The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day.
2. Eat a good meal(s) during the day before you work out
Obviously this doesn’t apply if you prefer to workout early in the morning before you’ve even thought about breakfast. A lot of people actually prefer to workout on an ‘empty stomach’. But working out on an empty stomach doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t eat anything at all during the day—it could simply mean that you’ve given your body enough time to properly digest your food before you head to the gym. According to Karen Borsari, a general rule of thumb is to eat a meal two to three hours before exercising to give time for your food to digest and be absorbed from your GI tract into your blood. “Therefore, you can eat a more complex meal containing protein, fat and fiber, which take longer to break down,” says Borsari. However, as you get closer to your workout, you should shorten your portions accordingly and eat something that can be digested easily—like some fruit.
So what should (and shouldn’t) you eat? As Borsari states, try to get a good amount of protein, (good) fats and fiber into your body. It helps to prepare your food the night before, but think about getting things like lean meats (chicken, beef, etc.), fish, avocado, peppers and sweet potato (to provide some energy) into your meals. Try to stay away from sugar as much as you can, but don’t feel bad about getting your regular cup (or two) of coffee, as caffeine has been proven to have a few athletic benefits. And of course eat bacon—EAT ALL THE BACON.
3. Put any negative thoughts on paper—and leave them there
Every athlete goes through personal issues outside of the box. I remember speaking to a good friend of mine who works for an NBA team, and he told me that there was usually a direct correlation between a player going through a slump in their performance and them dealing with something stressful away from the court. Your mental state plays an enormous role in the quality of your training—not to mention your experience of the workout itself. You should never come away from the box feeling worse than you did entering it.
Naturally, that’s easier said than done—how can you put all the stresses and annoyances of everyday life to the side and focus on the WOD ahead of you? One method is to simply write down all of the things that are bothering you on a piece of paper—and leave it (or throw it in the trash) before you head to the box. In 2012, a study from the University of Ohio found that when people wrote down their thoughts on a piece of paper and then threw the paper away, they mentally discarded the thoughts as well. Now this mental ploy might not work for everyone, but by simply taking the time to list down the things that are troubling you, and then put it to one side or throw it away, the theory is that you can disengage from those problems, at least for that hour when you’re at the box—out of sight, out of mind.
4. Visualize what you want to achieve in the day’s WOD
If you know the workout ahead of time, then you’re in an advantageous position. You can work out your plan of attack for the WOD—how you’re going to break up your rep sequence, what weight you’re going to hit in the strength portion of the workout, what time you want to hit for the metcon, and so on. Knowing what the WOD entails gives you an opportunity to visualize success, which will have a positive impact when it comes time to actually performing the workout itself. Of course, you can still visualize success even if you don’t know what the WOD will be. In fact, not knowing gives you an opportunity to build up your self-confidence. By repeatedly telling yourself that you are going to dominate whatever your coach throws at you in the WOD to come, you can step into the box with the mindset of a lion about to rip its prey in half. In fact, just have that image in your head all day. Should solve a lot of problems and get some pretty good results in the WOD too.
5. Find your motivation
Be it a song, a YouTube clip, an inspirational quote, a picture, whatever it may be, it’s crucial to find something that motivates you and gets you fired up before heading to class. I mentioned having the image of a lion ripping its prey in half, which is a little extreme I admit, but the point is you should have a go-to source of motivation that ignites a spark within you. Something that reminds you why you love CrossFit or why you started the sport in the first place. Perhaps it can help to show you how far you’ve come since you started your CrossFitting career, or how close you are to achieving your goal. Whatever it may be, just make sure it makes you passionate about working out not just today, but EVERY DAY.
Photo courtesy of Janeen Chang Photography