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  • Writer's pictureLeah

CrossFit Open Wod 21.2- From a Trauma Informed Lens- Blog Series

At first sight 21.2 might seem pretty basic. Jump up and down and throw some weight over your head. While it's always normal to have a little performance anxiety prior to a competition or community event, mixing in a history of trauma can lead to negative experiences that decrease retention in the sport and at the box we belong to.

"You initiate the burpee and get down to the floor... all around you are the sounds of peoples feet beating against the boxes. Thump Thump... Thump Thump...For those with a history of trauma this noise can be excruciating and debilitating."

Read more about the workout from a trauma-informed lens and how to help yourself or your athletes navigate potentially triggering moments so it can be the BEST OPEN YET!

If you missed our analysis of 21.1 head here after reading this!


It's Thursday evening and Dave Castro is about to announce 21.2... For us veteran CrossFitters this is exciting, maybe daunting. For those with a history of trauma or pre-existing anxiety issues, it can be a rapid decline in mood and confidence as soon as the words "21.2 is..." come out of Dave Castro's mouth.

We start performing risk analysis. We think about our capabilities and start to doubt ourselves. We had two very anxiety provoking movements last week, the double under and the handstand. Inversions and jump rope are particularly triggering for those with a history of car accident and sexual violence.

This week we enter... THE BOX JUMP BURPEE & SINGLE ARM SNATCH. These are a bit less obvious but equally as triggering.

The Empowered RX community consists of women who have endured adverse life experiences and trauma.

When I asked the ladies of EmpoweredRX what their thoughts about the workout were I got some of these answers:

- "Why do the reps have to increase. Thats such a mindF*&%! - "What if I hit my face with the dumbbell." - "I F*%$ing hate how loud the gym gets with box jumps." - "Every time I do burpee box jumps I get fed up and just want to lay there." - "If I scale it's a wimpy weight. If I RX I'll be injured. It's not fair."


- "I always forget to breath."

- "20 minutes is too long. I'm going to crash and burn."

- "My arms always feel like they will fall off when I get fatigued and am snatching."

- "I hurt myself on a box jump and am always hesitant now."

- "F&%K 21.2! "

These real life responses to WOD 21.2 hint at signs of ANGER & FRUSTRATION compared to last week's WOD that revealed many women were feeling frightened and stuck.

This workout was a burner. It was a slow marathon of a WOD that if not paced or scaled appropriately would most likely lead to back pain or even worse... injury. Form is of utmost importance as is muscle coordination and neuromuscular control. Fail a box jump? It won't be pretty. Fail a single arm snatch? You risk some serious shoulder strain. When we go into a workout angry or with resentment we waste energy, increase stress response and diminish our bodies ability to propriocept and be present.

Paralysis by Analysis Dave Castro announced the workout and everyone began talking about nightmares from 2017 when we performed 17.1. I remember constantly looking at the clock and thinking:

"when the hell is this over!?"

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 a stress state.

We get stuck in alert mode and small things become big threats. If we have a history of failed box jump attempts... we hesitate.. and make it more likely that it will happen again. We become stressed and the more we dread, the more we get anxious and the smaller our window of tolerance becomes.

Watch the athletes around you next time to see which remain calm, cool and collected and which start swearing and throwing the equipment around when they get no-repped. This is the "Window of tolerance" theory in action.

Emotions that Provoke Threat Response in 21.2 - Fear of pain (missed box jumps, thrown out backs) - Fear of repeating past mistakes (Missed box jumps, not scaling appropriately) - Fear of embarrassment - Anger - Resentment towards those who can RX - Misjudgment of our abilities

- Lack of self-trust When we look at this list.. they are emotions universal to the human experience. When we have a small window of tolerance though, we can't use logic or calm ourselves down.. anger and frustration can take over. The well-meaning Coach or Judge counting our reps might start to irritate us or make us feel like we suck, just by encouraging us. We start to let a negative record player create the playlist to our workout and in turn it can alter our entire experience.

The Nervous System Response to Anger & Frustration/Memories 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. They increase stress hormone release such as Cortisol, Adrenaline, Norepinephrine. This all creates quicker fatiguability.

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 - Dropping the dumbbell from overhead - Storming off and walking away or grunting in frustration at a failed rep - Beating yourself up for your performance - Being Hyper-vigilant about no-reps - Skipping the workout

- Going RX because the scaled options make you feel weak

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 - 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 (Heart Shaped) Burpee Box-Jump This movement is a heart string puller. One of the most abrasive movements in the game. You initiate the burpee and get down to the floor... all around you are the sounds of peoples feet beating against the boxes. Thump Thump... Thump Thump...

For those with a history of trauma this noise can be excruciating and debilitating.
It can cause us to disconnect/disassociate and lose attention to form and technique. If we allow ourselves to focus on the noise around us, anxiety will rise... and so we have to tune inwards.. but if we are doubting ourselves and feeling crappy about our abilities.. this won't be a pleasant place to be because our inner critic will take center stage.

Essentially the box jump will rule your emotions if you don't prepare ahead of time. We tend to find ourselves in a balancing act: noise vs. form breakdown. If we get lost in the sound and zone out, we lose the ability to keep our form intact. This leads to a higher risk of a failed box jump. If we focus too much on form we can overthink the WOD and end up altering our speed and pace to be much slower than we need to. People who have survived assault, acts of terrorism, natural disasters, war and car accidents are most likely to find the noise of box jumps triggering.

Traditional "Hard Work Pays Off" mentality is not going to work here. Going HAM and getting angry is going to waste energy and make it a miserable experience. Ignoring form breakdown will lead to higher rates of injury. Being surrounding by the sound of box jumps will likely trigger you. We HAVE TO PREPARE AHEAD OF TIME.

The Empowered RX Solution?


Take some time the night before to look at the workout and think about these angles. If we know that the noise bothers us we can:

  • Use ear plugs

  • Set ourselves up at the back or the front so we aren't surrounded by box jumpers

  • Go after the first heat so you can acclimate to the sound

  • Focus on the beat of the music

  • Listen to head phones

  • Perform it on off hours with a few people so you aren't surrounding by the masses

The Snatch Scare Many women who have experienced trauma, particularly physical and domestic violence, seem to have a total panic or fear response when they snatch a dumbbell. If you've ever been hit by anything before... the fear of being hit by a dumbbell will carry deeper fear and emotion. In order to perform the snatch with good technique you have to keep the dumbbell close to your body and pull it up the midline, right past your face... this can be terrifying! It can cause us to delay or slow down the pull too much which leads to overuse of the lower back.

If body positioning triggers a flashback try this:

The Empowered RX Solution- BUILD IN YOUR REST EARLY Do one rep... take a break.. Then do the next. When we rush from rep to rep... we end up less aware of our body. We end up holding our breath and losing neuromuscular control. We end up letting our anxiety rule our movement.


After each Rep take notice of what the:

- Texture of the dumbbell feels like

- The temperature of your hand

- The way your joints feel


Create predictable cues that expose your anxious clients to the idea of the dumbbell passing their face. Work it into your language and normalize it.

"Keep the chest up and start to extend... Hips and shoulders rise together with the dumbbell at midline as if you're zipping up a jacket. As the dumbbell passes your face pull yourself under the weight and lock out."

Explain why it's important to keep the dumbbell close and how it will actually protect them MORE. This flipping of the script not only puts the athlete at ease but may also allow them to trust themselves and objects in motion again.

The AFTERMATH: 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 AND BACK--- this is an area that houses the vagus nerve... a healthy vagus nerve promotes relaxation and rest. A tight neck is counterproductive to this. - Perform Neck and SPINE ROM

- 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 #3....

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