Podcast: Alexandra LaChance Goes from the CrossFit Games to Weightlifting National Champion

Alexandra LaChance has been an elite collegiate gymnast, CrossFit Games athlete, and — most recently — a National Champion weightlifter, winning that title in May 2019. Her progression through sports has fantastic lessons for athletes of all types, particularly when it comes to the demands of strength training.

In this podcast, Alexandra opens up about the highs and lows of success, especially in CrossFit during a time when that sport was absolutely exploding in popularity. How did her gymnastics background help and hurt her? Why did she make the switch to weightlifting full time, and what are her ultimate goals in that sport?

We also talk about overtraining, working through and around injury, and what Alex wishes she’d known about nutrition all along.

I love CrossFit. I still love CrossFit. I still love doing CrossFit for fun. Training at the level where you’re trying to make the games, your training with other games athletes, training together as a group, I think is the most fun thing I’ve ever done.

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, guest Alexandra LaChance and host David Thomas Tao discuss:

  • Alexandra’s athletics background and gymnastics career (2:35)
  • Discovering CrossFit and how strength sports helped changed Alexandra’s perspective on food and nutrition (4:00)
  • Learning new movements in an earlier age of CrossFit (6:22)
  • What she LOVED about competing in CrossFit at a high level — including the most fun part of her entire athletic career — along with the lows of maintaining that level of fitness (9:15)
  • Experiencing the “rocket ship” growth of the CrossFit Games, and the celebrity that came with it (12:15)
  • Why weightlifting is so appealing to Alexandra, especially when it comes to measurable progress (16:50)
  • The appeal of technique-focused training, and how that stems from Alexandra’s time in gymnastics (19:20)
  • Her goals in the sport of weightlifting (23:45)
  • Alexandra’s advice for her younger self (hint: it’s largely focused on nutrition!) (28:00)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I just focused on getting through the workout the best way that I could. It doesn’t matter what person in the next lane is doing. That doesn’t affect my fitness. As a weightlifter, every time I go into a competition I have a goal of this is the weight I need to lift for snatch. This is what I need to lift for clean and jerk.

The top girls in my weight class are lifting a lot higher, so their strength doesn’t affect what I can do.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to top athletes, coaches, influencers, and minds from around the world of strength sports. Presented by barbend.com.

Today I am talking to multi-sport athlete Alexandra LaChance. She was an All-American gymnast in her college days at the University of Arkansas. Since then she’s had a truly interesting fitness journey. She qualified for the CrossFit Games in 2014, after just over a year of training in that sport.

She later transitioned to weightlifting as her full time athletic pursuit, and won her first national championship in that sport in May of 2019. Alex is someone who has dealt with the ups and downs of three distinct sports, and she’s intimately familiar with what it takes to reach elite status in each.

Our conversation covered a pretty wide range of topics, but ultimately kept coming back to a few themes. What do you sacrifice when you specialize? Where do athletes need to compromise to build strength? How do athletes deal with mental and physical burnout when competing at high levels?

Just a quick reminder, if you’re enjoying the BarBend podcast, make sure to leave a rating and review in your podcast app of choice. This helps us stay on track in bringing you the best content possible week after week. If there’s someone you’d absolutely love to hear on a future BarBend podcast episode, let us know in your podcast review.

I personally read each and every review, so your suggestions will be seen. Today on the BarBend podcast, I have weightlifter former CrossFit Games athlete and former gymnast Alexandra LaChance. Alex, thanks so much for joining us today.

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

 Hey.

David TaoDavid Tao

Folks know you’ve had a very varied strength career and athletic career. Give us a little background on when you first got into elite athletics. I believe it was through gymnastics and then how you found strength sports a little bit after that.

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

Sure. I started doing gymnastics as soon as I could walk. My mom was a gymnastics coach. My parents owned a gymnastics school. I pretty much started doing gymnastics from the very, very beginning. The whole goal of that was to get college paid for. I got a scholarship to University of Arkansas. I ended up being an all-American, my senior year.

That was really cool. I was used to training five to six hours a day. That was just normal. I graduated college, I was like, “Oh my gosh! What do I do with all this extra time?” Like, I’ve no idea what to do with myself. I kept working out for five to six hours a day. I didn’t really have like a purpose for it. I knew that I really liked it. It was where I wanted to be.

I love being in the gym. I was like, “Maybe I’ll start doing like bodybuilding because that’s what everyone kind of works.” That’s kind of the thing. If you go to a Global gym, people are doing bodybuilding. I was like, “Maybe I’ll do a show.” I was training five to six hours a day doing all this crazy stuff.

My diet was like the same diet as the little bikini model. I was starving. I hated it. Shows are not for me. I don’t like to be hungry. I found out about CrossFit. I jumped right in, first training five to six hours a day. Right off the bat, and I loved it. It was really cool because it was like the first time where as a gymnast, you’re supposed to be tiny, naturally bigger and more muscular.

Food was always something I had to stay away from, and CrossFit, you’ve got to eat. I was encouraged to eat. I was really excited to get into CrossFit and eat and train. I got pretty good pretty fast. From there, I’ve switched over to weightlifting. It’s been I like to train. I need to train for a purpose though. I found different ways to compete and find different purposes for the training that I was doing.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Awesome. That was a pretty quick turnaround from finding CrossFit and then qualifying for the CrossFit Games. I think was your first every year regionals. You ended up qualifying for the games. Is that correct?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I started CrossFit in 2013. Like a couple weeks before they opened. I had no idea the difference between a snatch and clean and jerk. I gotten my muscle-ups. I qualified for regionals in 2013 as an individual. I went team, the team I was in with Arkansas. That was fun, I just didn’t really know what was going on. The next year, I moved to St. Louis Missouri to try to make it to the games and then I qualified for the games the next year. So, it was like a year and a half into CrossFit.

David TaoDavid Tao

Coming from an elite gymnastics background, we all expect you, we all expect those athletes to excel at the body weight movements. Was there anything that maybe surprised you that you picked up pretty quickly when you started doing CrossFit and anything that you maybe assumed you’d pick up pretty quickly but proved a little bit more challenging given that background?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

Gymnastics and CrossFit is not real gymnastics. None of those movements are movements you would do in gymnastics. Girls don’t do muscle-ups in gymnastics. We don’t really do, honestly, handstand push-ups.

Handstand walks we do sometimes. I was surprised, and even back then we didn’t really understand the technique as much. Everything was learned by like watching YouTube videos, so learning the muscle-up was actually pretty challenging. I mean it took me two weeks, but it was like I worked on it for two hours a day for two weeks.

That was really challenging. It made no sense to me, because it was such a foreign movement. Then the snatch was just mind boggling to me. I worked on that at least an hour every day after training and just watching YouTube videos. It just didn’t make any sense how to bring the bar into your hip. Now the snatch is my favorite movement, which is funny. But yeah, the snatch and the muscle-ups were so confusing to me. They just made no sense.

David TaoDavid Tao

Was there anything you picked up? I’m sorry for those tough two weeks learning muscle-ups for many people. [laughs]

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I know, I know. I ripped my hands open so much though. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

For many people I know, they’ll hear this and go, “Two weeks? I’ve been working on it for two years.” But to be fair, everyone has their challenges and I know muscle-up technique is something that you’ve worked with a lot of clients in your coaching career. Worked with a lot of people on really honing and actually bringing some technique to that, so, that’s clearly paid off long term for a lot of people.

What if some movements, and I remember the first year I ever saw you competing at regional as an individual in 2014, there were some interesting movements that they introduced that year. They introduced dips where they had a new movement standard. There was a lot of, they were really like trying to vary it up and add some variety pretty clearly. Were there any movements that you thought might give you a challenge, but you just immediately excelled at?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

That was such a fun regional because it was so gymnastics, so heavy in gymnastics, but the legless rope climb. I hadn’t done a strict handstand push-up before that regional, so I was nervous. I got it in the warm up room. Of course there was like, it was like 21, it was so many reps of strict handstand push-ups. That was really nerve racking but I ended up figuring it out for the competition.

The legless rope climb I had tried once before in training. I didn’t know how to use the kip in training, but that clicks in the competition. That actually was so easy, it felt so good. I think I got second in that workout. But I was really nervous that I wasn’t going to get any rope climbs and that I was just going to keep falling off the rope. It ended up fine. Yeah, I would say probably the legless rope climb was the most daunting.

David TaoDavid Tao

Spoiler alert for later in the podcast, I mean you’re a weightlifter now, you’re a successful weightlifter. That is your thing. But is there anything in particular looking back on your time as a CrossFit athlete that you miss? About training in that sport and training full time in that sport? Then I’m going to follow up with a question. Is there anything that you absolutely do not miss about [laughs] training full time in CrossFit?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I love CrossFit. I still love CrossFit. I still love doing CrossFit for fun. Training at the level where you’re trying to make the games, your training with other games athletes, training together as a group, I think is the most fun thing I’ve ever done.

As a gymnast, I did a lot of training by myself in an empty gym for hours and hours. As a weightlifter now, I do a lot of training for hours and hours by myself as well. That was probably one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in my life was just training as group. Everyone trying really, really hard and having each other’s back and pushing each other through. That was really cool. I probably miss that the most.

I don’t miss hurting so bad. My back hurt so bad as a CrossFitter. My left leg was numb for the last year and a half of CrossFit. I had a lot of back issues. I could barely put my socks on. I couldn’t bend over. I could not roll over.

It took me an hour and a half to warm up every day. In combinations of movements, like a deadlift and a run or a deadlift and a jump, or pulling and kipping would shut me down for a couple of days. I’d barely be able to stand up afterwards.

The beginning of CrossFit was awesome because I was younger and new and fresh, and nothing hurt. I didn’t have the information. I didn’t have the knowledge back then of how to take care of my body. It was a new sport. I went super gung-ho into it off the bat.

I just wracked my body [laughs] leading up into the games, and then after the games. I didn’t have the support system, or the knowledge of how to take care of a back injury. If I knew now what I knew then, I’d be feeling good.

I know so much more now. I know how to handle my injuries now. I don’t miss that pain, and I don’t miss having to warm up for like an hour and a half and just hurting so bad afterwards, not being able to move.

David TaoDavid Tao

These days, you just get to do a rapper, or two reps, if it’s a cardio day, and just sit down between reps. It’s great.

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

 [laughs] Everything is about perfection. For weightlifting, you don’t really hurt as much because you are moving so perfectly at every single moment. In CrossFit, not every movement’s going to be perfect if you’re really going full speed.

I always tried to move as good as I could, but weightlifting has a different kind of impact on your body compared to CrossFit, where you’re just mixing and matching all these different types of movements together.

David TaoDavid Tao

When you were a CrossFit games athlete, that was as steep as the climb could go for popularity of the sport. It seemed like every month the sport was doubling in popularity, and CrossFit games athletes were blowing up on social media.

Suddenly, you saw it on TV. It was suddenly everywhere, from like 2012 to 2015. It went from…You might know someone who went as a spectator to like, “Oh, you’re not going to the games this year?” Like, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you like this?”

What was it like experiencing that rocket ship? We saw it from the outside, and on the media side. We saw the growth, we saw just the numbers of viewers, and things like that. I didn’t have the athlete’s perspective as to what that was like.

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

It was very fun. To be honest, it was like that when I was in college. Being on a sports team in Arkansas, where there is no professional teams. The teams at the U of A are like the professional athletes. Everyone knows you, and everyone is really supportive, and it’s a really cool.

You have the whole state behind you. It feels like, as a CrossFitter at that time, it felt like you had so many people who had your back, and you just had so many…Comments and social media was a lot nicer back then. Everything was really positive.

There’s always like an influx of positive vibes from everywhere when you travel. Everyone was super nice and everyone was really supportive, and that was really cool. It was cool to get to meet and interact with so many people. That was a cool time.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Did you get starstruck at the games by any athlete you were meeting and competing against that first time?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I had no idea what was going on when I was at the games. I was there by myself. I was sick, so sick the whole time. I threw up the first two days non-stop. I knew everyone was really good. I hadn’t honestly watched the games before that, so I didn’t know what it was going to be like.

I remember, I think it was Dan Bailey, who walked in the elevator, and he knew my name. I was like, “Oh, my gosh!” He’s famous. He knows my name. That’s so crazy. Other than that, I was just trying to survive because I was so sick.

I didn’t get to enjoy that experience as much as I would have liked just because of the circumstances. It was still very cool to be there. That was overwhelming to be in the very bottom, and looking up to see all those people. That was overwhelming, but I didn’t get to enjoy it as much as I would have liked to.

David TaoDavid Tao

When did you decide to make the transition to weightlifting full-time? I know that weightlifting is something that when you were competing in CrossFit, when you were training in CrossFit, you developed an interest for, and you dipped your toe into the water on competing.

Was there a particular moment where you just made the decision? You were like, “This is a sport for me. I’m gonna give it everything.” Or, was it more of a gradual heating up to that?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

There was a competition that I did, trying to think of what year it was, maybe 2017. It’s either 2016 or 2017, the last competition I did. I did it as a team.

David TaoDavid Tao

This is a CrossFit competition?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

Yeah, CrossFit competition. I trained so hard to get back in top shape. My goal that year was to make it back to regionals, try to make it back to the games. I trained so hard to get so fit for this competition, and the competition was so poorly run. It was a really big competition.

It just turned me off, the judging. It was very chaotic, and no one really knew what was going on, so poorly run. I was like, “Man, I trained so hard for this.” It was just not a great experience.

After that, I want to make sure that I’m training for exactly what I’m going to be tested on, and that was something that I really liked about weightlifting. You know exactly what you’re going to get in competition. You have expectations. If you hit a certain weight, you know exactly where that ranks amongst the country, amongst the world’s.

In CrossFit, it’s so much harder for me to…I don’t know if I’d be satisfied with myself. You get a certain time in a workout, and you do not know what that means. You try hard, but you don’t know what that means, ranking against other people, or could you have done better, could you have not broken up this set of snatches.

It’s so much more like wishy-washy. I knew that I got a lot more satisfaction from hitting a certain weight as opposed to trying to get a certain time in a workout and competition. After this one competition, I want to know what I’m getting into in a competition, and attack exactly what it is that’s going to be tested. If that makes sense, I know that’s a weird explanation.

David TaoDavid Tao

No, I think it’s the correct explanation. Even if it did take a circuitous route, whatever your motivation is, it’s what got you into weightlifting full-time.

When you switched over to that weightlifting training, full-time, what was the toughest part about that transition period as someone who went from five to six hours a day, training for CrossFit, being [laughs] out of breath, working on metabolic condition, working on everything like, just the snatch and the clean jerk, and obviously the accessory movements.

Was that a bit of a shock to your system mentally and physically or was it a transition that you look back on fondly?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

My CNS was fried all the time because I love technique, the technical aspect of gymnastics, of weightlifting. That’s what I love the most about it, but I was so surprised. I thought that as a weightlifter, you just were always going to be good at snatch and clean and jerk because you work on it all the time.

I think getting into training and realizing like sometimes you don’t make your 80 percent snatches. Sometimes the technique isn’t there. That was really tough because at CrossFit, you just have to try hard. You try hard, and then you can do good in a workout. It’s kind of more about the effort. In weightlifting, you can try really hard and still not make the lift because of a technical error.

Coming to terms with that, that not every day is going to be perfect lifting, even though you’re trying really hard, that was hard for me to except probably the first two years. Maybe first year and a half. Now I understand, it’s part of the process. I’ve gone into competitions now and not been able to hit above 85 percent, and then PR by three kilos on the platform.

It’s just the training is so different. I love training technique. I love that technique is a focus of my training for weightlifting. That makes me really happy. As a gymnast, the technique was the focus of training all the time so it’s nice to be able to focus on that instead of just how hard can I suffer today?

David TaoDavid Tao

What weight class are you competing in, in weightlifting currently? Is it different than the weight class you came into weightlifting at? Obviously, we had the body weight. The body weight class was restructured and everything. That can get a little bit confusing.

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I came in weighing as a CrossFitter…the pound kilo conversion, I’m still super…I’m not good at the conversions. I came in as a CrossFitter 155 pounds. When I started weightlifting, it was the 75-kilo weight class, and then 69. The top girls were lifting pretty much the same in both. So there’s no point in me going lighter there. You might as well just eat, get heavier, try to get stronger because you’ll rank the same regardless of which weight class you go to. So I ate myself up to 75.

Got a lot stronger and now since they’ve changed the weight classes down, going back down to…Now I’ve competed at 71 which is closer to my CrossFit weight, which I’m a little bit more comfortable at that weight. I just feel a little bit better. I feel like I move a little bit faster. But yeah, it was fun getting to eat a lot to bulk up a weight class. That was a good time. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

What does your training schedule as a weightlifter look like now as far as general sessions per week? Has that changed or evolved over the past two to three years that you’ve been doing weightlifting full-time?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

Yeah. I still pretty much just do single sessions a day. As a CrossFitter, I did two-a-days, just because there’s so much stuff you have to cover and be good at.

But as a weightlifter, since I’m still pretty new, I’m still PRing, I’ve PRed at every single competition I’ve been to, which is obviously not going to go on forever. But, there hasn’t been a need to up the training, so I train probably three and a half, four hours tops including accessory, one session five times a week. And then I do some kind of aerobic work a couple of times a week and on my rest day.

We just haven’t gotten into the need of needing to do two-a-days yet because I keep improving. If I do two days, it’s really just because I need more accessory or rehab step to stay on top of it because I’m old. My body’s been through a lot. So to stay healthy, it takes a lot of a lot of stuff.

David TaoDavid Tao

Who’s your coach right now and have they been your coach over the past few years through your weightlifting career?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

Max Aita is my coach. I’m with Juggernaut. I train at Max’s gym in Oakland. I’ve been with him for two years now. This next year will be the third year. I started off weightlifting with Dave Fleming for the first year and then I just really wanted to be on a team.

I knew Q, and I got to train with her when I lived in Reno and she was with Max at the time and I just really wanted to be a part of what they had going on. That’s when I switched over. I think I’ve been weightlifting for three. And then the last two have been with Max.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’ve accomplished quite a bit in the sport, in a relatively short period of time. As someone…I do cover commentary at a lot of national events for USA Weightlifting. It’s been a lot of fun to watch your progression over the last few years — really be a force on the national stage.

What are ultimately your good goals in the sport, especially someone who came to the sport having a background in strength sports? Having already done the CrossFit thing. Having the gymnastics thing before that. You’ve had a taste of that elite level competition in other sports. How does that impact your goals, your sights, what you’re working toward in weightlifting?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

My goal was to became a national champion. I thought that was going to be my end goal. I did that a couple of weeks ago. Now I want to try to make the International team. The next competition we have coming up is in December. The American Open Finals. If I’m healthy, and I can get some PRs, my goal would be to try to make the PanAm’s team or start moving up into qualifying for teams. I have to be healthy for that. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s a little bit of an interesting time because so many people in weightlifting, who were in the sport full time, coming off the last quad, you came into it a little bit after that. So many people are focus on this fight for Olympic spots. What I like about what you’ve been doing is that you have your head down, eyes forward, doing your own thing. Have your first National Championship this year, one of several to come if I were to predict.

Your goals are not…You’re not necessarily fighting for that Olympic qualification. You’re able to work on your own progression and work more at your own pace. Do you think that gives you a mental edge over some of the other women competing in your body weight class right now?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I’ve never had the goals of beating this person, or doing this as a CrossFitter. Any time I’d competed, I never tried to compete against the person next to me. I’d focus on getting through the workout the best way that I could, because it doesn’t matter what the person in the next lane is doing, that doesn’t affect my fitness.

As a weightlifter, every time I go into a competition I have a goal of, this is the weight I need to lift for snatch. This is what I need to lift for clean and jerk. The top girls in my weight class are lifting a lot higher, their strength doesn’t affect what I can do. Any time I go and lift, Max says “This is the goal. This is what’s on the bar.” My job is to lift whatever’s on the bar, and sometimes that will get me the result that we want, sometimes I can’t lift it. Sometimes it’s not enough.

It has always helped me in competition to just focus on — what is my job, and then just focusing on getting that done. Not having any idea what’s going on with anybody else throughout the competition. I never know what’s going on. All I know is what’s on my bar, and what I have to lift in the next two minutes.

David TaoDavid Tao

That means your coach is doing his job. That means Max is doing his job. [laughs]

 

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

He’s the best coach. Max is the best. He’s awesome.

David TaoDavid Tao

What do you like about being a weightlifter compared to being an athlete in the other sports you’ve competed in, and maybe what you don’t like so much about being a full-time weightlifter?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I’m a perfectionist. I want to be perfect all the time. I love that weightlifting rewards perfection. The better you lift, the better ripped you are. The better your technique is, the better you’re going to be. That is super rewarding to me.

What stresses me out is you can train so hard for so many months, we don’t have a ton of competitions a year, maybe three. You have three attempts to show your clean and jerk, three attempts to show your snatch. A lot goes into that one lift that you have, then it’s “Oh my gosh.” You can do all this training and bomb out.

Obviously we don’t think that way. That’s one thing in a competition for CrossFit or gymnastics. You have different events you can mess up and you can still do well, because you can make up for it in other ways.

It’s pretty hard to make up for it if you miss. Each lift is so important in a competition for weightlifting. You don’t have a lot of room for error. That’s stressful.

David TaoDavid Tao

What advice would you give if — the time machine question — If you could go back in time and give your younger self as a gymnast, as a CrossFitter, and as a beginning weightlifter some advice, what would that sound like?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

Oh, man. I would have figured out nutrition a long time ago. I would have figured out nutrition and fueling yourself properly would have changed my careers in both of those sports a ton. Then I would never push through injury again.

David TaoDavid Tao

Got you. Are there any strength sports that you haven’t competed in that have piqued your interest? Obviously, weightlifting is your full-time passion now and your full-time training focus now, but have you ever been tempted to try out powerlifting, or strongwoman, or anything like that?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I’m really not that strong. Having a sport where it’s just about shear strength, I don’t know if I would excel in just pulling a heavy deadlift or squatting really heavy.

I’ve always been interested in pole vaulting. My sisters were both gymnasts, and they got into pole-vaulting after high school. My younger sister pole vaulted for the University of Arkansas.

David TaoDavid Tao

Look, we like to keep these fairly tight and what I would say is you’re someone who puts out a lot of great content now on weightlifting but you definitely borrow from your experience across those other sports that we talked about. Where can people follow along with what you’re doing? What’s the best outlet to do that on?

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

My Instagram handle is nopantslachance. I try to post training and accessory. If you need to reach me, my email is [email protected] I don’t have a YouTube, I don’t see myself getting one. I don’t have the time for that.

David TaoDavid Tao

You have to make that decision. You’re the only person in the fitness industry who’ve said no to YouTube so far.

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

I know. I also just don’t like being on camera.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’ve been great over the mic. We appreciate you taking the time to join us. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you. Thanks so much, Alex.

Alexandra LachanceAlexandra Lachance

Thanks for having me.