What does it take to go to the Crossfit Games?
This week on Barbell Shrugged we talk training and proper goal setting with champion powerlifter turned bodybuilder and business man, AJ Roberts.
AJ had a great 10-year run in the sport of powerlifting, which culminated with a world record 1,205 pound equipped back squat. Yes, that’s extraordinary. But he’d be the first to tell you that this sort of extreme achievement comes at a steep cost.
A bigger AJ in action
The easiest way to get stronger is to gain weight. That might be the very first lesson young powerlifters ever learn, actually. The more tissue you pack around every joint, the better your leverages and performance.
I’m not talking about putting on a few pounds of muscle, no, not even close. It’s more like bumping up your bodyweight by 100 pounds or more! We’re talking total transformation.
To do that, many lifters simply eat huge portions of fast-food around the clock. It’s cheaper, and it’s far easier to consume in surplus servings. But of course this sort of thing comes with side-effects. AJ might have been a world record setting athlete, but he also had sleep apnea, a puffy, inflamed face, high blood pressure, all that. The writing was on the wall.
Getting as big as possible will make you very strong, but that’s obviously not good for quality of life. Once you reach your goals, you have to be prepared to stop and move on.
Crossfit attracts countless athletes with stories very similar to AJ’s.
Competitive people often struggle to find meaning in fitness and exercise if there’s no clear goal or objective in sight. There must be some kind of pressure, an upcoming event, to drive the training. The local Box provides just that.
Every training session is a chance to compete again, an opportunity to win and set records. In time, many of these athletes start competing for real, maybe with the ultimate goal of going to regionals or the Games. That’s certainly what AJ wanted. But he also made a mistake that’s super common with high-level athletes…He jumped into Crossfit head first, taking it all on at once.
That’s a big mistake.
One thing is for certain – To be great at Crossfit you have to be very strong. Just look at the current list of top competitors. They are ALL surprisingly muscular and very, very strong. In fact, many top Crossfitters are now competitive at the national-level in weightlifting, which really is impressive.
For that reason AJ thought he could do well quickly. He figured he had the barbell mastered and was already plenty strong, but that wasn’t so. In hindsight it is obvious, of course. Powerlifting and Weightlifting are very different sports. AJ might have squatted and pressed small motor vehicles back in the XXXL days, but that did nothing to prepare him for overhead squats and snatches, for example.
Today’s top athletes all began their careers years ago, maybe around 2008-2009. During those years you actually didn’t see many large, muscular and strong competitors, which is easy to explain – They hadn’t done the work yet.
It takes time to develop as an athlete, especially in Crossfit. For a minimum of 5 years these already accomplished, strong athletes have been grinding away, putting in endless work with mobility movement drills, gymnastics training, weightlifting, brutal and frequent conditioning sessions, you name it. Some progress faster than others, but you cannot skip the work. It has to be done. Many young athletes forget that in their hurrying.
You CAN compete in Crossfit and do very well. Hell, you might actually make it to Regionals, maybe even the Games one day. That happens to new athlete’s every year, right? But here’s the thing – You cannot get there without making a radical commitment. To be your best you have to build your life around this pursuit. It must be your career, your recreation, your everything. There’s just not enough time to master all those skills otherwise.
It took AJ over 10 years of hard training and dedication to set his world record squat. At a minimum, he realized it would take at least another decade to reach his ultimate goals in Crossfit. Only this time around, the road would obviously be much more challenging. In the end the challenge was too big, and it came on too quickly.
You can do better, just keep something in mind. Think about all of the top competitors that you admire. Appreciate what they can do and learn all you can from them, but never try and emulate their current programming and training schedule, you wont’t be able to keep up. No, you’d be much better off finding out how they trained back at the beginning of their career.
Start there and begin your work. Remain patient and focused. Who know’s, maybe you’ll find YOUR path and go all the way.
If you have any questions about the Open, your training, or anything else, just leave a comment below. We’d be happy to help out.
Enjoy the show!