Picture the start of your next triathlon. The sun just crests the horizon, beaming across the water and onto your goggled and swim capped face. Your wetsuit clings tight, already slick with sweat, body glide and water. You stand shoulder to shoulder, leaned ever closer upon by other athletes as the countdown continues. Then: "10 seconds athletes?5 seconds?3, 2, 1?GO!"
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Adrenaline surging, you sprint, leap, dolphin dive and begin swimming around, on top of, and under other triathletes as if your life depended on it. But what will your swimming look like? Will it be the flawless execution of your fluid catch and pull diligently honed through hours of practice? Or will it morph into a stress-induced clawing at the water? While we want the former, too often it's the latter that rears its ugly head. This description is but one example of how the performance killers—fatigue, stress or distraction—trumps our swim, bike and run technique on race day.
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Now let's contrast that with baseball. It seems before every swing, each batter has his own practiced routine before swinging at a pitch. He may shuffle back and forth, tap his cleats with his bat, and then takes a few half swings before settling in for the pitch. Irrespective of the crowd noise, inning or importance of the pitch, the batter practices this routine to mentally and physically focus for an optimal swing. He squares his hips, sets his shoulders, creates ideal tension in the body and gets ready. Without consistently performing this setup, the player's resulting swing would suffer similarly to the triathlete's swim stroke. In this case, he would be too distracted by crowd noise, the pressure of the inning, or by the fear of striking out. Without routine, the baseball player's swing would fall prey to fatigue, stress and distraction.
In CrossFit, triathletes learn to perform the Olympic lifts—the clean, jerk, and the snatch—quite regularly. To execute these lifts with good technique, they must set up with square shoulders, a straight back and tensioned hips. This setup keeps the athlete mentally focused and in a movement ritual that battles these performance killers. I also want to discuss the concept of technique endurance, its importance for performance in triathlon and strategies to build greater technique endurance for competition. When Olympic lifting, CrossFitters learn to use setup as a ritual performed during every lift. Setup keeps the CrossFitter mentally and physically focused for good mechanics and superior performance. The ritual of setup builds greater technique endurance: so that the tenth lift or the twentieth lift looks as good as the first lift.