This past weekend, Kris and I had the opportunity to go to the CrossFit Strongman Trainer Course held at Rainier CrossFit in Sumner, Washington. (A big thanks to Trainer Chris and Ed for holding down the fort while we were gone!) When we signed up for this course, we were looking forward to learning new skills to bring back to the gym–we know how much many of you love our strongman/strongwoman days. What we came back with were more than just techniques for tossing a keg overhead, lifting atlas stones, and flipping tires. In between the lessons on the various ways to move really heavy shit, Rob opened up discussions on any and all topics people wanted to discuss. Here are some of my bigger takeaways from spending a day with the inspiring and very down to earth Rob Orlando:

(If you aren’t familiar with who Rob Orlando is, check out a brief bio about him from at the bottom of this page.)

1) The CrossFit Games and the fitness program CrossFit are not the same. This one is easy to forget–especially with the Games appearing on ESPN and the amount of participants in the Open increasing each year. The fact is, most of us got into CrossFit to become healthier, fitter people. We didn’t get into this to be crowned the “fittest” in the world. We heard about this CrossFit thing, we tried it, it was fun, and we saw our bodies and minds become stronger as a result of showing up, doing the WOD, and socializing with other like-minded folks. It was simple. Somewhere along the way, many of us have lost that simplicity that makes CrossFit (the fitness program) so addicting. In our efforts to compete with others or to feel like worthy athletes, we started adding in extra work for ourselves, letting our egos guide our workouts, following programs requiring hours and hours of training (usually by ourselves), over-analyzing every detail of our lifestyle, and taking ourselves way too seriously, sometimes pushing ourselves to the point of injury. And most importantly, we lost the fun.

For those who really want to compete (locally or for the Games), that is an admirable goal and a great motivator. It requires endless dedication, passion, and discipline. We are happy to help you prepare for competition if that’s your thing. But if that’s not you–don’t stress about it. Relax, don’t take yourself and your workouts too seriously, and remember why you got into this in the first place. Have some fun!

2) You have to have the knowledge and the discipline to listen to your own body. Rob likes to respond to questions honestly, and a lot of times the answer he gives is, “How the #&%* should I know?” Should you add more volume to your training? Should you be eating more? Should you rest more? Sometimes, the only answer to your questions can be found in learning to know and understand your own body and to have the discipline to follow through with what it needs. What works well for one person may not work for another. Rob explained that he programs for both his gym and for himself the night before (based on feeling), and then in the morning he reassesses and sometimes changes the plan based, again, on feeling. He doesn’t like following strictly laid out programs because he can’t know what he’s going to feel like in two days, let alone in two weeks.

Rob also doesn’t offer prescribed weights for his gym’s workouts. His coaches and athletes work together to choose appropriate weights to challenge each person in each WOD. He says if all athletes are scaled appropriately, they’ll all finish the workout with a similar score or time and they’ll all feel a similar way by the end. We are leaning toward trying out this method, which would really force all of us to pay more attention to our own needs and goals.

If we focus less on what we think we should be doing and more on what our bodies are telling us they need, we can make wiser decisions. We scale or substitute movements based on our needs on a given day. We take a day or two off when we are feeling exhausted. We push ourselves when we are feeling great.

3) CrossFit is “constantly varied, functional movement done at high intensity.” We knew this one already; we had this drilled into us in our CrossFit Level One Trainer Course. But in hearing this again from a new perspective, I was reminded that there are always more ways to add in variety, and in life, we are not surrounded by barbells. That is the beauty of the strongman movements. They had variety, fun, and challenge. Just try not gassing yourself in an atlas stone tabata or feeling completely destroyed by a 30 second yoke walk. These movements require us to apply skills we have to different objects and to learn new techniques. They teach us that in life we will encounter objects of all shapes and sizes. We’ll have to learn to move through positions that aren’t always optimal, and we’ll need to train ourselves to do so if we are to be successful. And of course, the strongman movements leave us all feeling a little more badass; now who doesn’t want that?

(From Rob Orlando has been an amateur strongman competitor since 2005. Over the last six years he has participated in more than 15 contests and set North American records in multiple lifts. He began CrossFitting in 2008, just a few months prior to the CrossFit Games regional qualifier in Albany, NY, where he took fifth place. He competed in the CrossFit Games in 2009 and 2010 and finished 22d and 15th, respectively. Over the past three years, he has launched Hybrid Athletics, a CrossFit affiliate in Stamford, CT, started, and created a line of strongman products including yokes, axles, atlas-stone molds, farmer’s handles, and logs.)

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