"Ice cross downhill" may not be the most mainstream winter sport, but it's undoubtedly one of the most entertaining. Also known as Crashed Ice, the sport challenges skaters to race head-to-head down daunting ice tracks that feature drops, twists, and turns that would have even the most elite hockey player shaking in his skates.
In spite of that risk (or perhaps because of it), Crashed Ice has become more popular than ever—and this year, the athletes didn't mess around when it came to preparation. Many of them incorporate CrossFit into their training, so Red Bull hooked up some of the sport's best athletes with CrossFit veteran Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, who programmed a WOD that they definitely felt the next day. In a one-on-one interview with Leblanc-Bazinet ahead of Red Bull Crashed Ice: Saint Paul, Men's Fitness got the scoop on the WOD, functional training, and her strategy for dealing with the unexpected during any competition.
Leblanc-Bazinet, a Canada native, is no stranger to the demands that Crashed Ice places on the athletes. "I’m from Quebec, which is very hockey-oriented," she says. "They always held races in Quebec, so it was huge, and I’ve known about the sport pretty much since it started."
With her background in CrossFit training and her knowledge of ice cross downhill, she was the perfect candidate to program a workout ahead of the championships season. And she didn't go easy on them. The WOD was five rounds of a 500m rowing sprint, 15 overhead squats, and 15 toes-to-bar raises.
"The movements I use the most with athletes and for people in general who want to get really fit are movements that are replicable in life—movements that are foundational, like squatting, pulling, or pressing," Leblanc-Bazinet says. For the Crashed Ice athletes, she took into account the movements they're used to, and made sure to shake it up a bit. For example: The skaters have hockey backgrounds, so Leblanc-Bazinet had them doing overhead squats—basically, the opposite of what feels natural for them.
"They were definitely struggling with some of the overhead positions," Leblanc-Bazinet says. "Trying to find stability in the overhead squat was tough for most of them, and I think I helped with that. They’re great athletes, so they were definitely adapting fast."
One of the things she loves about working with elite athletes is the way they adapt, she says. Over the course of the session, she saw positive changes in all of them. But one of the most valuable pieces of advice, applicable to all athletes, was arguably the simplest: Approach the most difficult workouts with a more positive outlook.
"I was like, ‘Hey, you’ll lose your breath on the rower, but if you stay calm in the overhead squats, as much as it’s hard, you’ll be able to breathe. And then in the toes-to-bar, your legs are going to have a break.' I was trying to present the workout with the idea that if you just think of the positives, you’ll be fine, instead of thinking, 'I’m out of breath, my legs hurt,'" she says.
CrossFit acclimates athletes to pain, forcing them to develop a mental edge as important as any physical preparation, Leblanc-Bazinet says.
"I was pushing them to put their hands on the bar faster for everything, and I think they understand how important the mental component of performing is," she says. "When you do CrossFit, it brings that out so much because you’re pushed in a vulnerable space. You're always pushed to failure, and you always need to react to that. I think that translates to other sports even more than the exercises that they’re physically doing."
Another nugget of wisdom that the CrossFit star shared with the athletes may sound counterintuitive: don't set an exact plan.
When one of the athletes mentioned that things don't always go as planned, she says she laughed: “I said, 'Tell me a time when it did go to plan...because it never goes to plan!' I think that once you accept that, it’s the best thing. Stop making a plan in your head and thinking things will happen a certain way. Instead, get ready for everything that could go wrong in a situation. Now, your plan is so varied and wide that even when really bad things happen, it’s fine because you had a plan for it. Then, you can always say that things did go to plan.”
Especially in a sport like ice cross downhill, it's true that most elements aren't exactly predictable. From chips in the ice to the other skaters around you, it's never a straightforward ordeal. Anything other than your personal effort is out of control, so giving it your all no matter what is the best plan to have, Leblanc-Bazinet says.
And when it comes to CrossFit, she's got more advice than anyone could compile. But her main tip for nonCrossFitters is simple: Don't let misconceptions deter you from a sport that could provide serious fitness benefits in the long run. It's definitely great for elite athletes like the Crashed Ice competitors, but Leblanc-Bazinet says that average people shouldn't be discouraged by what they think CrossFit is.
"People misunderstand what it is, and I’d like more people to gain knowledge about what we do," she says. "We really pride ourselves on being educated about nutrition, recovery, and how to move well. We all dig deep, incorporating prehab, rehab, rehabilitative, and diagnostic work with both athletes and average people—like my mom, for example."
And it's important to remember that Leblanc-Bazinet and the rest of the athletes at the top of the CrossFit world aren't the average, she says. If you approach it thinking you won't be fit enough, remember that it's a sport in which anyone can get involved.
"We have CrossFit for kids, and adaptive CrossFit for people missing limbs—we can all do it. It’s a celebration of fitness and a community that has a goal of making everyone healthier and fitter. It’s really for everyone," she says.