An Athletigen Analysis: Focus on Competition Results

In Part 1 of our CrossFit* Open Analysis we proposed that genetics play a role in determining performance outcomes between CrossFit athletes. Read on for the answers and evidence for our proposal. 

To analyze if genetics may have played a role in performances in the Open, the rankings of CrossFit’s top athletes were tracked across the five Open workouts. Specifically, we tracked the ranks of the top ten males and females from each Open workout across the five weeks to uncover performance trends. By looking at the results of top performers in one workout, it became evident that doing well in one workout didn’t necessarily mean doing well in the rest of the open (Figure 2).

Figure 2_Edit_2

Figure 2. Performance trends of the top-ten male athletes in each 2015 Open Workout. Performances of the top athletes were tracked during the Open to see where they excelled. We found that the top athletes in 15.1 did not do as well in 15.3, while the top athletes in 15.3 did not do as well in 15.1

When looking at specific differences between workouts, we found an interesting relationship between 15.1 and 15.3. Analysis of the male athlete data showed that 15.1 top finishers had a worse ranking in 15.3, by an average of 612 rankings. On the other hand, analysis of the top ten athletes of 15.3 performed worse on average by a difference of 155 rankings in 15.1.

Why did this inverse relationship occur only between 15.1 and 15.3? These two workouts appear to emphasize the greatest difference in physiological demand. The multi-faceted programming of 15.1 placed the highest emphasis on weightlifting ability according to our rankings of the modalities (The Genetics of a CrossFit Athlete: Part 1), while 15.3 stressed a greater need for metabolic conditioning ability.

Third place overall Ben Smith was victorious in 15.3 with a rep count of 630 in the workout of muscle ups, wall balls, and double unders. Despite an exceptionally high level of fitness, the CrossFit Krypton co-founder did not fare as well in workouts 15.1/15.1a, which fits with the trend outlined in Figure 2. If he had ranked higher in 15.1, Ben may have been on top of the Open leader board due to other strong performances.

General suggestions based on workout performance, genetics, and exercise physiology research to improve 15.1 Performance

The ACTN3 gene is an underlying genetic component of power performance, associated with fast-twitch muscle fibre contractility. Those with the favorable version of this marker may perform better in workouts similar to 15.1. Those that do not have this favorable marker and performed sub-optimally could leverage their environment by emphasizing the following:

  • Adding 10 to 50 m sprints to their training program could be beneficial since it was associated with improved performance during explosive movements, compared to plyometric-focused workouts (Markovic et al., 2007)
  • Grip strength is essential for success in weightlifting (Mohasin et al., 2012) and many gymnastic movements. Improving strength in the forearms can be helpful with this through adding exercises including – but not limited to – standing barbell wrist curls and towel pull-ups. Improving grip strength for weightlifting can be achieved by reducing the use of straps and hooks during lifting. Other ways to improve grip strength can include use of a grip trainer (aka gripper), and increased hanging exercise volume (e.g. hanging leg raises).
  • Of course, more heavy squatting and heavy clean power work to optimize technique and strength would also benefit those who performed poorly in 15.1a.

General suggestions based on workout performance, genetics, and exercise physiology research to improve 15.3 Performance

A marker in the PPARD gene is associated with higher improvements in lactate threshold in response to training.3 For those that performed the best in 15.3 (high emphasis on metabolic conditioning), they are likely to have the favorable version of this marker. Those that do not have the favorable version of this marker could emphasize the following in their training to improve their performance in workouts like 15.3:

  • Sipping slowly on baking soda (sodium bicarbonate, NaHCO3) in water at doses of 300-500 mg/kg acutely, 60-90 minutes before exercising, can increase your lactate threshold, allowing you to maintain your full power for longer (Carr et al., 2011). 
  • Supplementation with Beta-Alanine can result in an increased lactate threshold, allowing individuals to withstand greater levels of lactate in the blood (McArdle et al., 2014)
  • While genetics may predispose some athletes to success, individuals that lack the same predisposition can leverage their environment to maximize their potential.

The CrossFit Open has been referred to as “The Modern Day Pentathlon.” We know that this pentathlon embodies three modalities of fitness. Knowing your genetic predisposition as it relates to these modalities allows you to make informed choices so that you are able to leverage your strengths and redefine your weaknesses.

This will lead to better and more personal tactical design of training structures and ultimately a better performance outcome at the CrossFit Open next year.

    *CrossFit is a registered trademark ® of CrossFit, Inc.

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