Updated: Apr 21
Hylie Thompson Several years back longtime Diablo associate and Crossfit coach Luca Zanet asked me to coach a Crossfit competitor who was a friend of his. Anyone who knows me or anything about Diablo history would probably guess that I would have taken a pass on this one. To say that, especially back then, I was not a Crossfit fan would be putting it mildly. Luca keeps pressuring me and finally I decide to do a consult. That consult led to perhaps the most involved I've been in coaching any athlete in my entire career.
So what made me change my mind? Before going there one of the things that I don't like about Crossfit as an entity is the level of identity crisis they suffer from. "They" in this context being the organization. For example, I think the days of being able to go to a Crossfit gym and train in a traditional Crossfit style and the compete in the Games (their version of a World Championship) or even Regionals is several years removed. Maybe even several generations of Crossfit depending on how you want to define their history. It would be analogous to playing college football not prepping you to play in the NFL. To go and win you have to have quite a bit of specialized training outside of traditional "Crossfit." You also have no idea what you are training for. Which to me takes a large part of strategy out of a competitive training cycle and puts a fair amount on blind chance. Which seems non nonsensical and arbitrary. You hope that you get to do the things that you don't suck at. And with the polar opposites of some of the disciplines you are going to at least relatively suck at something. So at this stage I don't like the swagger of the typical Crossfitter who thinks they are strong because they can do what I remember as "Recess" in grade school and I don't like their competitive format even though I'd say many of those athletes (more so the women) are impressive.
So, I decide to meet with Hylie Thompson. What drew me in is she said that she wanted to become someone different. She wanted to win this time. In essence, a transformation was in order and transformation is a skill set in my wheelhouse. So here we go. Step one, explain to the Powerlifting Team that I will be training a Crossfitter. This actually goes over easily as Hylie is eminently likeable and after a brief period of time understands what I expect of her in terms of effort. Step two, increase base strength by close to 50% while also improving cardio, getting better at certain Crossfit specific moves, maintaining skill set in certain Crossfit specific moves without giving said moves training priority, making sure restoration is optimal, fine tuning the nutrition, finding the sweet spot for bodyweight and getting our sport psychology right. Got it. Onwards.
I use those last sentences a bit tongue in cheek as what we had to do was a total overhaul mentally and physically. It was a tall order and a mountain and a half to climb. It wasn't always easy, there were plenty of ups and downs. I was taking this 100% seriously and expected the same. We had to sync that part up. As time went on we found a good groove but we were always working against the clock. As for most pro level athletes there was plenty of grown up life stuff to get in the way. Unlike most pro level athletes there is no money coming in to offset the tribulations of the process. I didn't give any slack anywhere and there was only one acceptable outcome. Winning.
How we prepared for this event could be, and probably should have been an entire book. The training was on point. Hylie transformed from about 132 lbs if I remember correctly to a top weight of 145ish lbs. while somehow getting leaner. Without doing any real roadwork her time in the mile improved as did her distance running. She added almost 100lbs to her squat and deadlift. She was able to consistently do muscle ups. Her work capacity was tremendous and she was developing a high level mental game. She did what she had to do at the Regional and Open level and qualified for the Games. Out of a field of about 6000 to start she was one of the last 20 standing.
So on to the Crossfit Games and I feel that unequivocally she is at least one of the 3 best conditioned athletes there, but in my opinion the most well rounded. So lets kick ass, take the check and get out of Dodge. Starting out the first event (a brutal 20 min "chipper" comprised of about 6 or 7 different disciplines) Hylie comes roaring out of the gate and is in first and looks to be creating some distance. For those who haven't been watching one of these events you have all 20 competitors going at this at the same time. My wife leans in to me (coaches have to be in the stands with the audience for this which was something else I was not happy with) and says "she's killing it, she's going to finish this in first!" I hadn't really considered any other option up to that point so my reply was something like, "well, yeah." At the World level in any sport outcomes can change in the blink of an eye. A moment of hesitation, a matter of inches, one move in the wrong direction can thwart even the best preparation. About the midway point Hylie experiences a series of these and ends up finishing the first event in 12th.
Many more ups and downs during occurred throughout the grueling 3 day competition. In the end Hylie finished 13th out of the final field of 20. Not what we had gone in to do but still an outstanding achievement. Hylie is a free spirit and ultimately felt the hell bent for 1st wasn't a match for her. I am happy to say that she reports to me that much of the training we did and the preparation she endured in the end did in fact create the transformation she originally requested. It just didn't come in the form of winning the Crossfit Games.
Since I previously aired my grievances about Crossfit I do want to make a point in saying they put on a truly World Class event for their athletes. From that standpoint everything was absolutely top notch. Underground sports should take notice as Crossfit is still relatively new and is light years ahead of anything that I have witnessed, at say, a high level powerlifting meet.