What Julie Foucher's Training Says About Her Achilles Injury
“We don't rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.” - Archilochus
If you followed the CrossFit Super Regional competitions, you're probably aware that Julie Foucher sustained an injury to her Achilles tendon. And no doubt, you've heard (or read) a lot of opinions on what caused the injury. I find myself at odds with most of these narratives.
Julie Foucher fights through emotion during an interview while describing her recent injury.
The Statistics of Foucher's Training
If you're unfamiliar with Sabermetrics, it's the unholy application of statistical mathematics to baseball (itself perhaps slightly less boring than statistical mathematics). While this is intolerable to all but the most ardent fans of both, the guys at Beyond the Whiteboard have applied this formula to (primarily) CrossFit training, with far less boring results. So, in this case, we can go back and examine Julie Foucher's training and see the information compiled for the sessions that led up to Super Regionals.
If we (and by "we," I mean the guys at Beyond the Whiteboard) examine Foucher’s training in preparation for Super Regionals, we walk away with some interesting statistics:
- Since January 1st, 2015, she has performed 815 workouts.
- For the past three months, 29% of her training has been dedicated to gymnastics-type movements, with box jumps being the least practiced of the group (being included in a mere ten training sessions).
- Very few of her sessions had much carryover onto building the type of structural integrity that we could logically assume would have helped prevent her injury. She actually did more bench pressing than box jumping.
"I'm not surprised when an athlete gets injured doing one of the things they were least prepared to do. You shouldn't be either."
This isn't an indictment of Foucher’s programming, but some further examination is necessary. She placed third at last year's CrossFit Games, so we can reasonably expect she would breeze through this year’s Open without issue. The statisticians over at CFG Analysis set her odds at 76% to qualify for the 2015 Games. Therefore, smart programming would have been geared toward maximum results at the big show, not during either of the qualifying rounds.
It Isn't About the Box Jumps
We know that box jumps have been included at the Regional level consistently for the past three years (2012-2014), but only once over the three days and never for greater than fifty reps. Each time, a wrinkle was added, so we didn't have straight box jumps more than once in those three years, with the other years showcasing burpee box jumps and box jump overs. At the Games level, no form of box jumps has been used since 2012, and even then we saw them as part of a chipper for two sets of ten.
Therefore, a lack of concentration on this movement, which Foucher could reasonably assume would appear one or two times at most, and certainly for less than fifty reps, doesn't seem particularly unreasonable.
The Difference With CrossFit
I'm sure that by this time, the usual suspects have been dusted off (Zatsiorsky, Siff, Verkhoshansky, etc.) in support of various arguments for or against the box jump as a safe training or competition modality (and here, I'm talking about the discussions happening online).
What often gets lost during debates about injured CrossFit competitors - they are not your average athletes.
The problem with citing these authors is that "box jumps" aren't generally a high-rep movement in the literature, and the variations (burpee box jumps, etc.) used by CrossFit are certainly not addressed often, if at all. Equally problematic is the fact that the different evolutions of box jumps each require a different technique, and within that spectrum we find that individual competitors have varying techniques: some step down, some jump down, some do a rebound back up (making it more like a depth jump).
Therefore, the collision with the ground can vary from either being elastic (conserving both momentum, as well as kinetic energy) or inelastic (not preserving kinetic energy). And throughout a set of box jumps, we'll often see competitors vary their technique under fatigue - perhaps starting with jumps and falls, using the elastic energy of the stretch shortening cycle, but switching to jumps and step downs, thereby changing the movement to inelastic.
"In the end, we are left with the statistical fact that Julie Foucher was injured performing the gymnastics movement she spent the least time practicing."
Without getting into the merits of the box jump, or having to defend an entrenched position, I'll simply say that as a modality for increasing explosive strength, all of the research agrees on efficacy, if not specifics. Unfortunately, data on its use under extreme fatigue is lacking, as is the data on the various permutations we see being used competitively by CrossFit. And of what one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent (Wittgenstein, yo).
The Source of Foucher's Injury
In the end, we are left with the statistical fact that Julie Foucher was injured performing the gymnastics movement she spent the least time practicing. This is not surprising.
But as previously discussed, her lack of focus on this exercise made good statistical sense, and for this reason, I'm not convinced her programming was faulty. Neither am I convinced there is inherent danger in high-rep box jumps, as the data is lacking, and her injury represents a very small percent compared to the athletes who completed the event without similar consequences.
I'm not surprised when an athlete gets injured doing one of the things they were least prepared to do. You shouldn't be either.
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