In today’s episode of the PT on ICE Daily Show, Fitness Athlete faculty member Kelly Benfey discusses her experience competing at the 2023 CrossFit Games, the role of rehabilitation providers in competitive sport, and the capacity of the human body for exercise as it ages.
Take a listen to the episode or read the episode transcription below.
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01:33 KELLY BENFEY
Good morning and welcome to the PT on ICE Daily Show. It’s Fitness Athlete Friday and my name is Kelly Benfey. I just wrapped up an amazing CrossFit season where I got to compete at the CrossFit Games. And so what we’re going to get to talk about this Fitness Athlete Friday is going to be a couple takeaways from the CrossFit Games that I think are relevant in the rehab space. Before we jump into that, though, within our Fitness Athlete crew, we have a couple of online courses coming up that I just want to bring to your attention. So we just wrapped up an awesome cohort with our clinical management of the Fitness Athlete Essential Foundations course online. And so our next course is going to be kicking off in a few weeks on September 11th. That course always fills up. So if you’re thinking about it, please jump in with us, grab your spot right now. And then if you’ve already taken that and you’re looking to continue developing your skill set, our Advanced Concepts course that’s only offered two times a year is also starting September 17th. So rarer opportunity to hop in on that one. So if you’ve been looking to take this course, that’s going to get started quite soon. And then we have a handful of live courses for the remainder of the year. So all of that information is going to be on PTice.com, PTonice.com. So we hope to catch you live on the road. I’d love to see you all. So we’ll be getting back on the road for the remainder of this year to finish strong. So let’s get into our topic. Of course, I could talk about this stuff all day if you know me. So we’re talking CrossFit Games takeaways. A couple of things that I experienced and found were relevant in the rehab space. This is Fitness Athlete Friday, so we get to geek out on all things, CrossFit Games, CrossFit competition, all that good stuff. So number one, I have five different things that we’ll kind of work through.
03:35 HUMAN CAPABILITY
So number one, I always leave the CrossFit Games feeling absolutely motivated and inspired by what the human is actually capable of doing. So I really it was it was just such an honor to be on the same field as some of these amazing, amazing athletes, be behind the scenes and all that good stuff. So a couple highlights that I saw now just to I competed in the team division. So it actually didn’t allow me to watch as much as the individual competition. I’m still working through catching up on that all the live the live coverage that they had. But I got to be within the team division. So one of the athletes in the team division, she clean and jerked 250 pounds and then a couple hours later ran a 5K, 4.5 ish K, 5K in under 20 minutes. So it just always impresses me that people can excel in things that I also excel in the strength events, yet also push their aerobic capacity and monostructural skills to an insane level as well. So it was just absolutely mind blowing to see athletes also just I know how hard we worked on my team and just having other athletes really push the boundaries. I find to be super inspiring as a competitive athlete. And then moving moving towards almost even debatably more inspiring.
04:11 OLDER ADULTS PUSHING BOUNDARIES
The age group divisions are always just such a blast to watch. I wish they had a little bit more coverage because arguably that’s more these are more the athletes that are relatable and even more inspiring. For example, the 60 plus division, I believe the 60 60 to 64 division, both men and women had bar muscle ups in their last event. So these are our older adults crushing it, doing high skill level at a very high competitive level. Just absolutely amazing. And like I had the opportunity, my mom came and watch. She’s going to watch me and have a blast, obviously, but she’s not necessarily going to see like watch me and think, oh, wow, that’s something I can do. She’s going to see something in her age division and then become inspired of, hey, maybe I’m going to start my barbell class in my gym, for example. So I just think the human capabilities, even in our older adult divisions, is just as important as what the individual and team athletes are doing. The professional athletes, if you will. And then we also have the adaptive visions that are starting to grow and the upper extremity adaptive athletes were performing rope climbs. Rope climbs are hard enough when you have two upper extremities to grip onto the rope with. They were doing it with one and we’re also sealing our lower adaptive lower extremity adaptive divisions, doing things like box jumps and maxing out their clean and jerk and snatch and really just taking no opportunity to have an excuse to not push their fitness forward and continue to be athletic and competitive in their sport. So I absolutely love seeing those. I wish I got to see a little bit more of it. I wish we got to view a little bit more of it on the broadcast, so hopefully we’ll be able to continue pushing that forward. I just saw a couple posts of highlighting those athletes, so keep keep those in the forefront of your mind. That’s what’s really inspiring to more people, I think, in this world, in our country. OK, so the next three points that I want to kind of work through all kind of build off of each other.
09:20 INJURY RATES & PROGRAMMING
So one thing that I thought was really relevant this year at the Games was the programming. And like I said, I have paid attention a lot to a lot more detail of our team division programming, but I just wanted to bring your attention as a rehab professional, as a movement specialist that’s working with athletes all the time. I think it was important to note this. So just a couple examples. So in our competition, we had four days of competition. On day one, we had overhead squats at 135 pounds and 95 pounds. Then day two, we had a one rep, one rep max snatch. And then on day three, we had more snatches at 185 pounds and 135 pounds with running. So that’s back to back days that we’re seeing a barbell shoulder stability type exercise that is very demanding on the shoulders. In general programming, we would probably look to spread the frequency out of when we’re doing things like overhead squat and snatching. Being able to do those back to back days can challenge the shoulder and challenges your ability to recover and perform repeatedly. Another thing that I noticed as on our day two, we had a strict ring muscle up to a front support hold. So going through that pole to deep press and hold at the top of the unstable rings is really challenging for the shoulders. And then right into day three, we had 30 synchro ring muscle ups on the long straps, which are tough. And then 63 more parallet bar dips. So that’s a lot of vertical pressing for the shoulder to get through back to back days. And so I’ve personally experienced issues with pressing with shoulder pain. I’ve worked with a handful of athletes that recently have been that’s a common theme in our clinic that I’m working with. So that is I remember if I was in the middle of having a flare up of that shoulder pain presentation, it would be really hard to be able to do that back to back days because you can always push through one workout. Adrenaline is a really strong drug, I would say that helps you get through it. But the next day when you wake up and things are a little bit inflamed, it’s really hard to be able to repeat those motions. So that was just one thing I noticed that was not necessarily what I would have expected in programming, just how frequently the same movement is tested. And it’s one thing to test the fitness of it, but it’s also one thing to test the tissue capacity. So those are things that the my rehab mind was kind of evaluating while I was going through it, which brings me kind of into that next point I want to bring up was injury rates this year. I’m not sure if I just noticed more injuries and pain happening. A lot of KT tape being thrown on our limbs because I was in the background. But there did seem to be a lot of withdrawals from individual and team, excuse me, team athletes this year. We know the injury rates in CrossFit, the highest injury rates that we’re seeing are in the shoulder joint. And based on that programming, it kind of makes sense. It makes sense that we’re seeing a lot of shoulder issues. And so just from an athlete’s perspective, it’s absolutely devastating. It’s so upsetting to have to withdraw from an injury, whether it’s yourself, whether it’s a teammate. We put so much time, money, effort and dedication to an entire long season. This started in February. So working day in and day out, making decisions based on that this specific weekend. It’s just an absolute shame to see an athlete have to pull out of competition because of shoulder pain or whatever issue they may have. So I know I got to talk to a couple of the teams that had to withdraw. And the common theme that they were telling me was like, oh, yeah, I had this lingering issue for a while. I just retweaked it about two weeks ago. So they weren’t necessarily the Roman Krenikov situation where they just, unfortunately, came down and rolled an ankle and had a new injury. This was a couple of these things were like lingering elbow issues that are really tested in the moment of competition with all the stress on board. Exposing to really deep positions of that dip position. If we have lingering shoulder stuff going on when you’re pushing to 150 percent of your capacity, it’s not likely that you’re going to come out OK sometimes. So as soon as some of the workouts were announced, these athletes were like, well, I’m not feeling too great about this. So I take it’s just such a shame because I think as rehab professionals, we need to have the skill set to be able to address these issues that our competitive athletes are experiencing and make sure that we’re not just getting them back to be able to do a ring muscle up and take an ibuprofen. That’s a whole other issue. We don’t want our athletes to be doing that, obviously, but we want to be able to get them back to baseline and then beyond baseline because that originally that shoulder with that skill set got injured. So it’s definitely up to us to be able to have the resources and provide rehab for these athletes that they find valuable. Not every single one of these athletes has a team of physical therapists that are top notch, that are traveling with them, that are on like on them 100 percent of the time. And so it is very likely that you may come across a CrossFit Games team athlete that’s going to need to go through four days of competition with repetitively dips and butterfly pull ups and pulling, pulling whatever it may be. All these really challenging things for our shoulder girl to be able to tolerate. So that just I walked away being thankful that I came out unscathed, essentially, because if you followed any of my CrossFit career, I’ve had issues with my shoulder before. And strength always is super protective against injury. And I feel really lucky, essentially, to have all the knowledge that I have to put myself in the best scenario. Even within my teammates, we had a shoulder issue that we had to train around a little bit where we couldn’t our best choice wasn’t to continuing to do 30 muscle ups the week before, for example. But we rehab the crap out of it and put ourselves in the best situation possible to be able to come away without withdrawing by any means and putting up a pretty good performance over the course of the weekend. So that just brings me to want to plug our courses just one more time. So I mentioned the beginning, we have a couple of online courses coming up. I would say 75% of the clinical decision, clinical decisions I’m making on a daily basis are all things that I learned from these courses. The other 25% is probably all the other stuff I learned from my ice courses. So I know I’m biased, but I promise I’m not lying. If you at any point would feel nervous, nervous if I came into your clinic saying I can’t do ring muscle ups, help. Please hop in one of our courses. It’s really a fun, fun way to spend your eight weeks online. And so the last point I wanted to make kind of along the same theme was the importance of stress and recovery. So if you are an ice in the ice world, I’m sure you have heard us talk about the importance of stress and stress that the body takes on and how it helps us or doesn’t help us recover well.
11:04 COMPETITIVE ATHLETES & REHAB
And competing in the CrossFit Games this past weekend really made this become like full picture for me. I prioritize sleep, I prioritize what I’m putting in my body, and I prioritize managing stress as well as I can with all of the training that we were doing. But at the CrossFit Games, I will say I was probably at a peak stress level in my life. I don’t live there on a daily basis, but the couple of weeks leading up to it, highly stressed and enduring also highly stressed. For example, day one, the volume wasn’t really high. We were coming off of two sessions a day, up to two hours per session. So training heaps, I would say. And day one, all I did was three leg assault climbs, 30 overhead squats and then four laps on the bike track, which was aerobically really challenging, but not high impact. And the next day when I woke up, my fitness tracker is showing me my heart, HRV is plummeting. I felt like I did probably triple that amount of volume at minimum. And I was really surprised because volume wise wasn’t crazy, wasn’t out of my realm. But I felt the I think what I was feeling was the high level of stress that competition brought on. So and just to circle back a little bit, if you’re having lingering shoulder pain, it’s probably not going to get better with how much we’re ramping up as far as volume in the eight weeks leading up to the CrossFit Games.
15:10 HIGH STRESS IN COMPETITION
And then in the high, high stress environment, it’s also going to be asking a lot to be able to recover and repeat these highly demanding movements like snatching, overhead squatting into ring muscle ups, to fatigue into dips where we’re highly fatigued and moving at 150 percent of our capacity, essentially. So it just really is that’s another way that I think bringing like stress and managing our recovery is just too important to ignore as the physical therapist, because we all know that person that’s chronically stressed, chronically in that sympathetic state that maybe they are going into the gym and adding more weight. More stress onto their body. It’s I absolutely can understand how they probably don’t feel well at the end of the day, day in and day out. And so you have the ability as their rehab pro to help change their foundation of what they feel on a daily basis, too. So don’t forget those things when you’re dealing with any type of person that comes into your clinic. Stress management can really hit hard on so many levels and prevent maybe just set them up to rehab even better with all the good rehab skills you’re doing with them in the clinic. And then lastly, I just wanted to share a couple of highlights because I feel like I had so many so much amazing support from our ice community. So just a quick couple personal highlights. Having been a spectator of the CrossFit Games for the five or six years or so has been in Madison. It was just such a cool opportunity to be able to push the Bob to do ring muscle ups with the long, long straps on the Zeus rig to use that four person axle bar for the deadlift. Those are things that you just never would see in a norm or any other CrossFit competition that’s really only going to be at the CrossFit Games. So I remember pushing the Bob to the finish line and just reflecting on North Park, like, how cool is this? I’ve always wondered how it felt. So that was a really cool personal highlight that was really motivating throughout the weekend. Another personal highlight was our one rep max snatch. I have had some issues with shoulder pain and snatching and tweaked my elbow before from kind of poor movement patterns. So all season I was in a bit of a snatch funk. I’m sure you can relate if you are an athlete that tries to snatch frequently. It’s sometimes good, it’s sometimes not good. And so just about two or three weeks before the CrossFit Games, everything kind of clicked and I was able to hit a PR and perform really well on stage. So as an athlete, it just felt really special to be able to showcase the hard work that I put into that movement all season. And then lastly, I just had the best time with so many friends and family that were there to support at the CrossFit Games. I had my gym community from Milwaukee, my gym community from Chicago when I lived there, my ice community was there, our onward community. We had such a large cheering section, essentially. And trust me, that helped us get through that whole weekend. So thank you so much for everybody that was there, that sent messages, that supported us. It was such an honor to be able to represent this crew and we had a blast doing it. So thank you, thank you, thank you. So those are my takeaways from the CrossFit Games. I would like, like I said, this is stuff I can talk about all day, every day. So if you have any thoughts on programming, injury rates, anything you noticed from your spectating view, I would love to chat about it. So feel free to comment and tag me on this post, send me a message. Other than that, have a wonderful weekend and we will see you next or on Monday with our PT on Ice Daily Show. Have a great weekend.
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