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21.1 CrossFit Open Recap from a Trauma-Informed Lens

21.1 has the potential for experiencing triggers... Read more about the workout from a trauma-informed lens and how to navigate these moments in the future.

When the 21.1 CrossFit Open was announced we started getting tons of messages from women who were experiencing fear, anxiety & dread. My first question was always, "What makes this worse than other workouts?"...

Some of the answers I got were:

- I can't hide in it

- It's literally my body that has to support me, if it fails, I fall

- I don't know if I will stay calm enough to breath through the double unders

- Going upside down is triggering

- Hitting myself with the jump rope is triggering and can ruin everything

- I won't be as good as the other athletes

- I can't even do the scaled version

- It's back and fourth between two movements I hate- there is no escape

- I don't know how to approach this at all

- We haven't even done wall walks in programming since Covid

This workout was spicy, fast moving.. and they were right.. You absolutely CANNOT hide in a workout like this. Slow your jump roping down too much, you'll get off rhythm and fail your reps. Slow down the wall walk too much, your arms will likely give out or else you'll just waste a ton of energy.

Moving from a high intensity cardio exercise into an inverted strength exercise with gymnastics skills = Changing blood pressure, decreased lung capacity, increased muscle tension in the neck, increased heart rate, Core bracing, potentially hitting ourselves with the jump rope if we fell, potentially falling off the wall...

Guess what!? All of these are triggering AF for anyone in the recovery process. Innately we know this just by looking at the workout and so.. the fear response starts as we read the words off the CrossFit Games website the night of the announcement. Unfortunately fear is self-fulfilling. The more we dread and worry about a workout, the more stressed out we go into it, the less enjoyable and worse the performance will be.

Paralysis by Analysis

Dave Castro announced the workout and everyone just sighed. The first Open wod was one that wasn't that exciting and produced more dread than anticipation. When we look at the workout, our brains instantly begin performing risk analysis. For those in a good state of mental health, this is a healthy and objective part of human nature. For those who have experienced trauma or who are under stress, it becomes a defense mechanism to look for threats and danger.

Window of Tolerance

Every person has their own individual window of tolerance. This is a term used to describe the zone of arousal in which a person is able to function most effectively or without consequence. When we experience stress and trauma our window of tolerance becomes much much smaller. We have a hard time moving in and out of stress... We get stuck in alert mode and small things become big threats.

Emotions that Provoke Threat Response

- Fear of failure

- Fear of the unknown

- Fear of embarrassment

- Fear of being last

- Fear of injury

- Fear of discomfort

- Fear of inadequacy

- Fear of failing to meet expectations

When we look at this list.. we've all felt these emotions when it comes to competition. When we have a small window of tolerance, we can't use logic or calm ourselves down.. the inner critic takes over... and the fear becomes overwhelming enough to cause alarm.

The Nervous System Response to Fear

Fight- Flight- Freeze- Fawn

These 4 responses create physiological responses counterproductive to performance.

They increase our chance of injury, they decrease our ability to enjoy the workout and we end up having a crummy performance.

FIGHT- The fight response comes in--- it is typically accompanied by anger, frustration, outburst... this might show up in the WOD with:

- Going out too hard too soon

- Destroying yourself in order to prove something

- Throwing your jump rope angrily when you miss a double under

- Storming off and walking away or grunting in frustration at a failed rep

- Beating yourself up for your performance

- Being Hyper-vigilant about other athletes performances

- Being a poor sport

- Trying to highlight other athletes faults or make them look like they didn't deserve to get the score or achievement that they did.

FLIGHT- The flight response comes in--- it is typically accompanied by social anxiety, performance anxiety, skipping the workouts, backing out of the competition... it might show up in the actual WOD with:

- Rapid heart rate that prevents you from moving fast... you're out of breath before you begin

- Panic

- Quitting mid-wod

- Leaving quickly after to avoid what just happened

- Peeing yourself

- Dry throat

- Extreme neck and muscle tension

- Tension headaches

FREEZE- This response comes in--- it is typically accompanied with the deer caught in headlights look, people are cheering you on with encouragement which only makes it worse... it can show up in the actual WOD with:

- Taking unnecessary or premature rest

- Forgetting how to do a movement

- Failing at a skill you know you usually excel at

- Fumbling/clumsiness

- Getting really quiet or experiencing a personality change

- Not wanting anyone to watch you

- Hiding

- Avoiding performing in public

- Sand bagging or trying to go scaled when you can RX etc.

FAWN- This response comes in--- rarely understood or recognized... we see it often with athletes that are always there for the others performing... They may sabotage their own performance to help someone else... or they simply sand bag and put the focus on everyone else around them. This shows up in the WOD with:

- Only trying when certain Coaches or members walk by

- Using weight or trying options that you shouldn't to impress others

- Being overly concerned of your reputation

- Trying to fit in

- Trying to impress others

- Proving yourself to others

- Comparing yourself to others

- Putting yourself down to others

- Not taking compliments or encouragement

- Talking and socializing as a distraction

The Double Under- Stunner

The double under is a skilled movement. It requires agility, coordination and cardio endurance. We also need stability in the core and shoulders. Here's the thing though... miss the rep and you're liking going to get hit somewhere by that swinging rope. The lash, the pain, the surprise--- it's extremely triggering, especially for those who have experienced sexual or domestic violence.

When we anticipate that this could be a possibility- we almost gaurantee that it will happen. Once it does- we end up not focused. We lose our breath. Our heart rate increases ... we then miss more and more... it becomes a terrible situation.

The Empowered RX Solution?

- Take 5 deep breaths before you initiate the double under

- Once you miss a rep, put the rope down and take 5 deep breaths.. focus on where the tension in your body is

- Shrug your shoulders up and down a few times and actually shake it off

- If you get stung bad and it creates a response- practice the Empowered Labeling Method

- Empowering Label Method

- List 5 things around you

- What do you see, hear, smell, taste, what temperature is the equipment in your hand? This helps us to orient and bring our thoughts back to the present moment.

Wall Walks and Memory Mocks

Many women who have experienced trauma, particularly sexual assault or car accidents, seem to have a total panic or fear response when they go upside down. Especially if they get stuck. The wall walk sets us up to be put in an uncomfortable situation. Once you fatigue, there will be sticky points in the movement that you have to work through. The fear of falling off the wall is there. It's possible you will fall too. If body positioning triggers a flashback try the Empowered RX Body Scan and Labeling exercise further down.

The Empowered RX Solution- BUILD IN YOUR REST EARLY

- Yup, build in that rest early. Do one rep... take a break.. Then your next. When we rush from rep to rep... we end up less aware of our body. We end up holding our breath and bracing weird. We end up letting our anxiety rule our movement.

- BODY SCAN- At the end of every rep when you are lying on the floor remind yourself that YOU are in control. Move from your head down to your toes and focus on what muscles should be engaged. Shoulders active, core strong, glutes squeezed... we want to avoid that hyperextension, we want to avoid a strained neck.


Once a WOD is over and the anxiety resides, we may feel even more exhausted than normal.. this will impact our recovery. You will need extra sleep, extra electrolytes, extra water, extra carbs, and extra mobility.

FOCUS ON YOUR NECK --- this is an area that houses the vagus nerve... a healthy vagus nerve promotes relaxation and rest. A tight neck is counterproductive to this.

- Massage your hands- This promotes a parasympathetic response

- Massage your temples- This promotes a parasympathetic response.

TAKE A COLD SHOWER- This promotes muscle recovery and promotes a parasympathetic and calming response. We recommend 3 minutes.

EAT- EAT- EAT- Caloric restriction and decreased carbs keeps the body in a stress state. FEED YOUR MIND- BODY & SOUL to get the most out of the workout and to return to relaxation.

When you're done with the workout. SHARE YOUR PERFORMANCE and experiences with what was in the article. Head on over to Facebook and join our trauma-informed fitness community.. @Empowered RX Community .

ONTO WOD #2....

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