Kari Pearce: America’s Fittest Woman Discusses The CrossFit Games

Kari Pearce is a 5-time CrossFit Games athlete and earned the title of “America’s Fittest Woman” in 2016, 2018, and 2019. She’s a former Division 1 gymnast who’s well known for her incredible capacity on bodyweight movements. We talk to Kari about training around injury, attacking weaknesses, and what most CrossFitters get wrong about core strength. 

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

  • What a CrossFit Games athlete’s “offseason” looks like (2:05)
  • Battling injuries this year (3:20)
  • Passing CrossFit Open standards and waiting on CrossFit HQ to give out qualifying spots (7:00)
  • Attacking athletic weaknesses and building leg strength (8:44)
  • Transitioning from gymnastics to CrossFit, and the most challenging movements to learn (12:25)
  • Hitting a wall in the “Double Ringer” CrossFit Games event (14:55)
  • What happens when even top CrossFit athletes go to complete exhaustion (18:25)
  • The feeling after the final CrossFit Games workout (21:50)
  • Kari’s emphasis on core-specific training above and beyond what most CrossFit athletes do (26:45)
  • Kari’s thoughts on the current CrossFit Games qualification system (31:20)
  • Predictions for the 2020 CrossFit Games (33:32)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 …They basically said, you have one minute reset to go to the next. I was standing there and my judge is like, “Kari we have to go over there.” I was like, “I can’t.” She’s like, “Kari we have to go over there.” I was like, “I can’t.” She goes, “You have to move. We have to go. It’s going to start in…” Now the time was 30 seconds.

 

I literally had to walk 10 steps. I was like, “I don’t know if I can.” Then I got right over there and then three, two, one go. That second part of the ringer, I felt like I had never done a day of CrossFit in my life. We went to go do the burpees and jump up to the first rep I missed and I was like, “This is going to be a long workout.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host David Thomas Tao and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Today I’m talking to five-time CrossFit Games competitor, Kari Pearce. Kari found CrossFit after a standout gymnastics career at the University of Michigan. Since her Games debut in 2015, she’s established herself as the most consistent American woman in that competition, finishing the Games as the fittest American woman in 2016, 2018, and most recently, 2019.

 

I first met Kari way back at her first-ever regionals competition, and it’s been an amazing experience to see her evolution from CrossFit rookie to one of the sport’s absolute best. In our conversation today, we talk about training around injuries, getting the most out of an off-season, and what happens when Games-level athletes hit a wall in tough workouts.

 

Also, I want to take a second to say we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend podcast in your app of choice.

 

Kari, thank you so much for joining us. I have to ask. It’s January 2020 when we’re recording this. We’re a few months removed from, I guess, the second Open of 2019. It gets confusing.

 

How are you feeling right now? What’s training like right now? Are you ramping anything up as we head into sanctional season? The Games are still months away.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

It’s crazy that the Games are still months away, but I actually just received my official invite a few days ago.

David TaoDavid Tao

Congrats.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Thank you. Now that’s officially checked off the list. I’m like “OK, well, it’s the beginning of January and I’ve already qualified for the Games,” which is a nice sense of relief.

 

They watched all five videos through the weeks of the Open. It’s just waiting for the official invite, but it finally came. It’s definitely a nice relief, but I’m still planning on doing a couple of sanctionals.

 

Wodapalooza is going to be the first one up, which is the end of February. That one’s always so much fun. Miami, can’t go wrong. It’s definitely going to have some good competition there. I’m looking forward to that after having a little bit of an off-season. Still not very long of one because I took a couple weeks off after the Games.

 

Then I had to get back into training because the Open was right around the corner. Then took a little bit of downtime after the Open but not really. Just because I wanted to keep training and work on my strength and my coach is like, let’s continue to go through. I was planning on doing Dubai, but I hurt my Achilles in the Open.

 

I was battling that and the doctor said I couldn’t run. He didn’t want me doing double-unders, box jumps, anything like that for a couple weeks. Then he’s like, “Well, basically you’re going to have to choose Dubai or Wodapalooza.” I would rather just let my Achilles get well, right from the get-go than going to Dubai messing it up.

 

Who knows if I’d be able to finish the competition too. I’m like, let’s just get it better and go to Wodapalooza. Then after that, I’m planning on doing the West Coast Classics, which is in California in March. Then I’ll also do the Rogue Invitational, which is in May. Then after that will be the Games in August. That’s my plan for the Sanctionals season.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

For someone who’s already qualified, that seems like a pretty busy competition calendar. Do you worry about burnout mentally?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Not really. After having a little bit of time away from competing after the Open, kind of let me reset if I would have done…The plan like I said, was to go to Dubai and then Wodapalooza and then Rogue. I’m actually glad that I did it because it gave me basically from the beginning of November now till February that I didn’t I have to compete.

 

I could mentally be just by myself and not worry about competing with people. That was kind of an off-season mentally for me. I still had to work on so my weaknesses and I really enjoy training. I enjoy competing as well. I think it’ll just be fun to go to different places. I’m always excited about Miami and then I think California should be a lot of fun.

 

I’ve been out to Cali in a couple years. That’s always nice. Then Rogue is such an easy trip and that’s about the time that Regionals were so that’s always a good test as well.

David TaoDavid Tao

If you don’t mind me asking, let’s talk a little bit about that Achilles injury. Was it during the Open workout that you hurt it? Or was it during training in-between those workouts?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

It was during 20.4 with the box jumps. It was the rebounding that I shouldn’t have done. Me and my coach before the workout, we’re like, “Should we rebound them? Should we not?” Because I actually hurt my other Achilles couple years ago at the Games during a box jump over workout.

 

This one was just the plain box jumps. We’re like, “It’ll be fine. We do plenty of running, plenty of double-unders like, “Your Achilles will be OK. It should handle 90 box jumps.” During the middle of it, it felt a little weird.

 

Then, after, I actually felt more like the back of my knee, which my doctor said was my Popliteus. He was like, “Yeah, that’s understandable.” Then, as that subsided, then I started to feel the Achilles a little bit more. Since you have 20 points for actually just ran for the first time last Friday since the Open.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, I’m glad you’re getting back up to full speed. Running is certainly something we’ve seen in a lot of the sanctional events. I mean, in my mind, from covering regionals for so long and going to regionals for so long, I still have this mindset like, “Regional workouts for you like indoor.”

 

You might have one like true form workout, but these sanctionals, I mean, there’s some big endurance events. We saw it in Dubai. We’re going to see it, I’m sure, later on this year too.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Definitely. You know that there’s always going to be running in like Wodapalooza last year had running in and out of the sand like into the water. The year before was like a 5 or 7K run. I don’t remember the exact distance, but you know there’s always going to be some sort of running just because it is such a good fitness test.

David TaoDavid Tao

One thing I do want to ask about is you mentioned you just — as of this recording just a few days ago — got official confirmation that you’re going back to the CrossFit Games.

 

It must have been pretty nerve-wracking because CrossFit HQ had said they were going to have those final results by a certain date. That date came and went. A lot of people, yourself included, didn’t have those results yet.

 

I mean, were you pretty confident you were still going to make it? Were you pretty confident in the video review? How did you deal with that mentally?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Luckily for me each week if you’re in the top 40, then they ask for your video. From 20.1, they asked for my video, 20.2. Every week of the Open through 20.5, they asked for my videos. I knew that I had submitted all five videos. They went through the penalties each week.

 

It was just like a waiting game but still in the back of your mind, you’re like, “OK, like come on.” Because they didn’t come out with any penalties for me per se. They had other athletes that had penalties. You are still like, “OK, did they actually watch them and review them.”

 

I saw on my YouTube that there was a certain number of videos or numbers at times they watched it like the calories on the rower like no normal person is going to go just watch my calorie row video.

 

At least I knew after watching like there were four views on that I’m like, “OK, I know they’ve watched it.” You are just kind of like waiting around. It’s nice when you officially get that invite. Then, you see like congrats you’re going to the Games.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It’s like waiting for a read receipt on a text. Like you know they’ve read or you know they’ve read your Instagram message. You’re like, “Come on guys.”

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Come on, I’m waiting. I’m waiting.

 

Send it now. You’ve already watched all five of them. What are you waiting for?

David TaoDavid Tao

 It’s nice to know that elite athletes feel the same thing that everyone else feels like when you’re waiting for like you know that you’re crushed to text back or something like that.

 

Or when you’re sliding into someone’s DM. It’s good to know that’s a universal feeling.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

 [laughs] It’s definitely is, definitely.

David TaoDavid Tao

You talked about working on some weaknesses and working on your strength in particular. I assume that has to do with things like squats strength, probably a lot of powerlifting movements or style training this offseason. Talk a little bit about that.

 

Was there anything in particular — this is a leading question by the way — was there anything in particular after the Games you and your coach were like, “OK. We have to attack this and it’s going to be a new, like a new you for the next season.”

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah, so Cleans, Cleans, Cleans, and it has just been something that I’ve been working on my whole time through CrossFit just because it has been that weakest link kind of thing.

 

Recently, I started working with a new weightlifting coach just because my coach is like, “I don’t get what is going on.” I’m like my upper body I don’t do jerks for months. I end up coming back and PR my jerk. I squat three or four times a week. It’s like heavy a lot of volume, like all sorts of things.

 

My squat go up minimally, and that’s my back squat. My front squat is just like the most stubborn thing ever. He’s like, “I don’t get it.” I actually just started talking to a new weightlifting coach. He saw a few squats and he goes, “How many times have you sprained your ankles in gymnastics?” I was like, “A lot.” He goes, “I can tell that. Your ankle mobility is not good.”

Yeah, you can compensate if you don’t have that ankle flexion.

Because of that, whenever you do back squats, you’re hinging forward.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, you can compensate if you don’t have that ankle flexion.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Exactly, but not in front squats. When I do front squats, I always lean forward because I can’t keep that upright posture. He is like, “Yeah, your back and your hamstrings are super strong, but your quads are really weak.”

 

That’s something that we recently started doing just a lot more positioning front squats and just loading up my legs with box squats and things like that. I just needed to get these quads stronger because after the Clean event at Games. Granted your legs were tired after the other events that you’ve done, but it was like, “I should be able to clean that 215.”

 

Each year, it’s probably just going to get heavier so that’s the thing that we just need to keep practicing is cleans and front squats.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s kind of breaking a little bit of stereotype I have in my mind. When I think of former gymnasts, you always think, “Oh, those are the most mobile athletes. Those athletes have perfect positions and ranges of motion. That’s not always the case. No matter what you’re sporting background is, everyone has those little aches and pains and tweaks.

 

I think that we think gymnasts have this superior mobility in all planes. Your mobility in a lot of ways is really great, but it seems like that is one thing that might have been holding you back. Was there anything else coming out of gymnastics that you think might have actually held you back in your development as a CrossFit athlete?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Yeah. Part of the ankle mobility and then also the thoracic spine. Anything overhead, you’re so used to being in the hollow body position so you’re upper back, you’re always hunched forward. Similar to people in the daily world now that you’re on your computer and your phone and everything. Nowadays, you’re always hunched forward. Your upper back just gets super tight and…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I got to sit up during this recording here because Kari’s watching.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

[laughs] Fix that posture. I’ve recently done the same thing more and more often. Just sitting up taller because in gymnastics, you’re always in that hunched back position. That’s also part of the front squat problem is that my upper back is so tight that’s I’m always leaning forward. Between the tight ankles and the tight upper back, then the front squat, my elbows just want to come down.

 

I just want to fall forward with the weight. Those two things are definitely the negatives that came from gymnastics, though there were a lot of other positives.

David TaoDavid Tao

There certainly are. I remember the first time I met you. I think it was regionals 2015. I had a friend who was working one of the booths, one of the vendor booths, and he said, “Hey, there’s a woman competitor here who says she can do 200 handstand pushups.” I was like,” What are you talking about, man? That’s impossible.” I remember I met you a little later on in the weekend.

 

You were real nice. You walked away and my friend came up and he goes, “That’s her. That’s the one.” I just couldn’t believe it. For you, that movement, you just had that for days and days and days when you started CrossFit. What were some movements that maybe felt a little foreign? You mentioned that overhead positioning.

 

Were there any other movements where even as a former gymnast you were like, “I just can’t get this. I don’t get it.”?

 

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah. As far as movements, I just keep my arms close to my ears when my arms are overhead, and the also that front rack position is just so hard for me. It still is. Even just holding the bottom of the squat is still more difficult because of tight ankles. Anything on the pull-up bar feels great. Like you said, gymnasts have very select flexibility.

 

The splits and everything are great. It’s just the front rack position, the bottom of the squat, things like that, you never go into so it’s just different. Anything like running… [laughs]

..and swimming. Those things are not particular movements, but something you have to CrossFit. Those definitely foreign and rowing was horrendous when I started CrossFit. That’s what makes it fun is that you have so many new things to learn that you’re never bored.

David TaoDavid Tao

I should clarify. We mentioned that your front squats and cleans is a weakness you’re attacking. The word weakness is relative. You’re one of the best CrossFit athletes in the world. You talk about missing a 215 pound clean. For a lot of people, that’s something they could maybe aspire to hit once in their life when they’re perfectly fresh.

 

Not at the end of five days of competition so it is all relative when we talk about weaknesses here. You got to be pretty good at everything, including running and swimming and things like that. I don’t think anyone brings a weak game to the Games anymore.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

No, you can’t because all of the athletes are so good. Everybody has certain, like you said, what we call weaknesses. Maybe somebody can only snatch 180 pounds whereas other people can snatch 220. It’s like, nobody’s weak. You can only run a six-minute mile where other girls can run a five-fifteen or whatever. You’re not slow and you’re not weak. It’s just compared to the top athletes…

 

For me, my clean, especially when compared to Tia, who hit 265…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Who’s literally an Olympian in weightlifting…

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

 … [laughs] is what you’re comparing yourself to.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

She’s who you’re competing against. She’s an Olympian in weightlifting, but then she’s also phenomenal at running and swimming and the gymnastic stuff. The girls that you’re competing against are so tough all around that you can’t have any weaknesses if you’re going to make that top 10 at the Games.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I do have to ask, not to harp on moments that maybe are not so memorable, or not so fun to rethink from the Games, I do have to talk about the ring…

…the toes-to-rings event. Was it called the double ringer? Was that what it was called?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

The double ringer event, two workouts back-to-back with a very brief rest period in between. You cam blistering out of the gate. We can link to this in the show notes. It’s because BarBend, we livestreamed the CrossFit Games. There was a moment where the movement got the best of you. Talk about that and what was going through your mind.

 

Was there a moment where you were like, “Oh. Oh, no. Uh-oh, it’s about to happen. I’m about to fall off?”

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Before the event, I knew just with the point standing and everything that I had to go ham in this event if I even wanted a potential spot on the podium. That’s what you’re there to do. You’re there to give your best and have no regrets. I know assault bike isn’t exactly my strength so I knew that I had to push that more than I wanted.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Just for context, that workout was assault bike, toes-to-rings, and…

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Yep. That’s it.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That was it. That was it for that one.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

It was 30-20-10 of each. On the first sight of toes-to-ring, I was like, “OK, just make the kip really short. Move really fast. OK. Perfect.”

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I remember doing commentary. We were just like, “Wow. She is just blister…” You were doing two for every one other competitors were doing. It was insane.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

 Yeah, that was the first round. The second round, I was like, “Oh, hold on.” Near the end of the second round of toes-to-ring, like you said it was 20 reps, you’re like 18, 19. I was like, “OK, these are getting hard.” I was like, “You get to bite 10 more calories then it’s only 10 toes-to-ring. You’ll be fine.”

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Anyone can hold on for that, right?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Well, you would think. [laughs] Except Kari Pearce. I get going on the last set, and I hit four toes-to-ring and I was going. I was like, “Oh, man. These are getting really hard.” I tried to kick bigger just so I can get a little more momentum.

 

My core was just getting really fatigued so that rep eight, I went up and my toes did not hit the ring so I was planning on taking a second and then coming down. I was just really fatigued. My timing was off and then I ended up just peeling right off the rings and landing flat on my stomach.

 

Like you said, it was kind if a, “Ah. Oh. Oh, no. This is going to happen. OK, there’s the mat.” Now, you’re looking up at the rings because it knocked the wind out me when I landed flat on the box. Luckily, the box is there because otherwise it could have been really bad. I could have landed on my head. You never know.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

I was nice that they had the…I was basically a crash pad. It was a soft-ish, kind of pad there. That was fortunate. You came away with no lasting effects from that, right?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah, no. No it was more just the wind knocked out of me. When I stood up and looked up at the rings, it was like the world was spinning. I was like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be, able to jump up and catch those things.” I was like, “Three, two, one, go.”

 

Then, finished the event, but then crossed the finish line, and I had never felt like that before in a workout. Because it knocked the wind out of you, and the assault bike is tough. You can’t breathe anyways. They basically said it like, “You have one minute. Reset to go to the next.” I was standing there. My judge is like, “Kari, we have to go over.” I was like, “I can’t.”

 

She’s like, “Kari, we have to go over there.” I was, “I can’t.”

 

She goes, “You have to move. We have to go. It’s going to start in…” Now the time was like 30 seconds. I literally had to walk 10 steps and I was just like, “I don’t know if I can.”

 

Then I got right over there and then three, two, one go. That second part of the ringer, I felt like I had never done a day of CrossFit in my life. We went to go do the burpees and jump up to the first rep. I missed, and I was, “This is going to be a long workout.”

David TaoDavid Tao

I heard the exact same thing. I’ve heard more about this workout from the athletes who did it than probably any other workout in CrossFit Games this year. I was talking to James Newbury about it, and he came out blisteringly fast on the men’s side. He was able to hold onto the rings, but he just completely blistered through it. Then on the ringer part two, it’s like watching someone drive off a cliff in slow motion. How he described it.

 

At one point, you could see him struggling on the burpees. Everyone knows that feeling. We’re not used to seeing it for the Games athletes because you all are really pushing it. There’s a moment where he’s literally stepping down and stepping up the burpees.

 

He was like, my worst memory from the Games, is my judge asking me if I was OK. It was like taking a CrossFit intro class. We all know that feeling. If you’ve done a day of CrossFit, you know that feeling. It’s always hiding somewhere, but it has to be a special workout to bring it out for athletes of your level. Apparently, it did for a few of you.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Yeah. That’s one of those workouts that you had to make up your mind somewhat if you wanted ham on the first part or reserve yourself to do well on the second. Katrin, I think won both parts, which is just amazing.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

She’s great at just riding that line.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Just right before you get too insane on it.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Yeah. Like I said, I had to go for it. I knew if I wanted to move up and get a spot on the podium, then I had to go. No regrets.

David TaoDavid Tao

You did extraordinary well at the Games. You had some fantastic performances. One I want to talk about is Mary. Which is a workout that I…even before that I was like, yeah, Kari’s going to do pretty well on this.

 

When they announced Mary as an event, which is pull-ups, pistols — handstand push-ups — for those of you might not know it off the top of your head at home. Was that one that you were like, oh yeah, this is my wheelhouse?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah. I knew it was going to be a great event, but still all the other girls are so phenomenal. There’s a lot of body weight specialist there. It’s one workout that you know, you’re going to do well. Me and my coach we’re like, “OK, top three, for sure,” but still, you can never guarantee that it is going to be an event, when you have to go out there you have to perform.

 

Going into it, my coach, he goes, “Let’s do like the first couple rounds strict and then we can go to kipping a little later on.” I was like, “Do you think that’s a good idea?” He’s like, “Yeah, let’s move fast.”

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That was your speed thing, because your strict movements are faster than your kipping move?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah. He just wanted to get ahead at the beginning and then I did four rounds strict and then I went to kipping. I got a no wrap on one of the kits and I was like, “Well the strict was just a lot easier, so I’m just going to stick with that.” I was able to luckily stick with it the whole time and the handstand, push-ups are my jam.

 

One of the benefits being a gymnast and being upside down for many, many years of your life, you have those strong shoulders and triceps. That was a great workout.

David TaoDavid Tao

What does it feel like, the Games was a different format this year and the volume was still pretty high. It’s maybe not as high as it’s been in some previous years, but the volume of the Games is always high. What does it feel like after that final workout? The athletes do you have to stay on the field of competition while they’re doing awards.

 

I got to imagine, you just want to go get like some pizza and go to bed. How do you feel right after that final workout?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

At least after the final workout, you’re like, it’s a little bit of like a sigh of relief because you’re like, “I am done.” It’s almost before the final workout that you’re like, “I don’t know how much I have left,” the warm up before the final workout.

 

This year, I was clean and jerks and muscle ups and snatches, and so you’re like, “OK, I’ll do a few cleaning jerks at the prescribed way, a few muscle ups, a few snatches, I’m good.” Your warm up, it’s just very simple, very quick, because your body is so fatigued at that point.

 

When you finish, it’s almost a little bit of a relief just because you’re like, “OK, well, I am dying and my body is really tired because it has been through a lot.” I’m pretty sure by that point, every year, every muscle in my body is sore. You’re like quads, hamstrings, shoulders, you name it, like everything.

 

Certain body parts are a little more than others. This year was my legs just from that rock run, but then it’s always cool. Celebrating a little bit with the other athletes right after it’s all said and done. Soaking in the moment, especially getting fit. You’re like, “I’m fifth place in the world, this is really cool.”

 

It’s nice just getting to take a second and look up at the crowd, and look up over at your fellow competitors and admire everybody and admire the situation. Take it in because this will be my sixth CrossFit Games this year, but still, it’s six seems like a lot, but it’s like it’s only six. You just want to soak up every year, every moment that you get.

David TaoDavid Tao

Right. It only happens once a year, that’s it. Speaking of celebrating after you’re done with the CrossFit Games. Who is the most fun CrossFit Games competitor to go out with or hang out with? You can pick one person for a great night on the town. Who is it?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

My other favorite athlete is Sara Sigmundsdottir. She’s always in a good mood. Such a good time, such a fun person, so optimistic, so lively. She’s awesome in every sort of way.

 

She’ll go out of her way to help you or just to say hi, or whatever it is. She loves to have a good time and laugh. Obviously if we’re training, that’s serious. When you’re outside of the gym, just relaxing, chilling, she’s so much fun to be around.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s talk about that period after the Games. You mentioned you had a bit of an off season. I felt like we had to go almost right into the Open after the Games.

 

You had a few weeks where you could tone down the volume, get some rest. What does that period look like for you? Are you taking time completely off, or are you just dialing back volume and intensity?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah. I took two weeks completely off of training. Right after the Games, I went back to Michigan. Which is where my family’s from. I also went down to Miami to do some of the Wodapalooza qualifiers with some of the other athletes.

 

It was fun filming, and doing snippets of the workouts…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

So you’re doing…

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

…not the compete ones.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Yeah. I was going to say, if you’re taking time completely off, you’ll do a couple movements for the camera. You’re not doing the full intense workout. You’re like, I’m resting right now.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah. One of the workouts, I demoed it with Alec Smith. We’re like, OK we’re just going to do five pull-ups, five dumbbell snatches, five chest-to-bar. We’re not doing anything too intense. My coach, when I went down there, he’s like, do not do a workout.

 

I don’t care what anybody else does, you are not going to do it, you need to rest. I was like, I can do that. The house we were at had a pool as stuff. It was nice relaxing a bit. After the two weeks, we did start the volume back up, it wasn’t quite as intense as normal.

 

I also did a little bit of traveling, which was fun. I went to Zurich, Switzerland at a couple gymnastic seminars there for CrossFitters. Then I was in Berlin and did a charity event for Battle for Cancer. I also had a seminar there.

 

I got to do a little bit of traveling, and the volume was a little bit less too. Which is always nice when you’re traveling, so you can actually explore. That was good. It was probably two to three weeks of lighter volume. Then after that, I more or less got somewhat back into the swing of things.

 

It was actually funny. It was the week of the US Open for tennis. Mat Fraser actually came into our gym in New York. He was back swaying 225, bench pressing 135. I had a deadlift workout and I was going to 90 percent. He’s like, “Wait you’re going to 90 percent of your one rep max?”

 

It was five or six weeks after the Games. I was like, yeah. He goes, “You’re crazy.” He was just doing hardly anything. I was like, well everyone’s different. What you do works for you. I have a coach to tell me what to do, because he knows me better than I know myself. Everybody’s different.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

One thing I know that you kind of prioritize year around. This is just having spent some time with you and being local to New York. I see you talking about it a lot. Actually, walking the walk in training. You do prioritize core-specific training, maybe a bit more than a lot of athletes. Talk about some of the reason for that. Is that something you picked up from your days in gymnastics?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah. It definitely is. Just in gymnastics, we always did 10 minutes of specific core stuff every day, five to six days a week. Whether it was at the beginning of our session or the end, it was always in there along with, probably five minutes during each event. There was probably 20 or 30 minutes of core-specific stuff. Whether it’s a warm-up that 10 minutes, or your cool down.

 

I sometimes have back problems. Whenever I slack on that, I can feel my back starting to act up. I think that helps me stay healthy. I just feel better in everything in…there’s the weightlifting, or the gymnastics stems from having a strong core.

David TaoDavid Tao

 know that you actually have a power abs program. When I first heard about this, the thing that went off in my head, which is incorrect. Was like the old eight-minute abs commercials or something like that.

 

I know this is a program that you developed. It’s really taking a lot of the practice that you’ve taken from your gymnastics days and evolved as a CrossFit athlete. What is your goal when you tell other people about the program, or you’re coaching someone through improving their core strength?

 

How do you like to teach that? How do you like to focus in on that? What do you like to prioritize for the general level, say like amateur CrossFit or when it comes to core strength?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

I think that one thing a lot of people look past is the basics for core strength like hollow body hold. It’s one of the most simple things you can do but so many people do it incorrectly.

 

If you have the hollow body hold right, you’re keeping pull-ups, your muscle-ups, your handstands are all going to be a lot better just because you have that basic foundation. In addition to that, all of your weightlifting, having a strong core is so important.

 

Like I said, I have back pain. I know a lot of people do. It helps alleviate your back pain if you know how to properly engage your core and not only the back pain, your numbers are going to go up.

 

Starting at the basics, learning how to hollow body hold and progressing everything from there. People are trying to get too fancy, jumping on the GHDs, doing all sorts of crazy stuff when they haven’t built the foundation.

 

Some are like, “You should have your strict toes-to-bar before you start keeping toes-to-bar similar to pull-ups and everything.” Setting that basic foundation, like learning how to do an empty bar snatch before you add weight.

 

The same thing like you need to learn to properly activate your abs and do the hollow body hold before you end up jumping on the bar and doing your keeping muscle-ups, pull-ups, whatever it may be. Even handstand positioning.

David TaoDavid Tao

There’s no one who knows core training in CrossFit better than Kari Pearce. I’m going to need to take some of these tips into my own training into my own practice. What are some other things? You’re an active coach and it’s a big part of your schedule each and every day.

 

What are some other things that you’d like to…I’m going to use the term harp on as a coach that you’ll point out pretty immediately if you have a new athlete or if you’re working with someone for the first time?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

A lot of the CrossFit movements are hip hinging movements and so people love to round their backs. That’s the main thing punching forward. That’s the main thing just teaching them properly how to keep that back straight.

 

If they’re doing snatches, if they’re doing cleans, deadlifts you name the weightlifting movements, even squats and everything. If their back is in a solid position then they will end up hurting themselves which is the goal especially right as you start.

 

Working on the basics you can never go wrong with mastering the basics. I remember in gymnastics I repeated one of the levels because I didn’t have the basics correct and some of the other girls passed me.

 

I ended up passing them a little later because I had stayed longer with doing the boring basics but then everything else came easier. If you master the basic movements for the CrossFit, the pull-ups, handstand, push-ups, the strict stuff, nothing fancy then eventually once the technique and the skill comes, everything will be a lot easier.

David TaoDavid Tao

This is changing course a little bit but I am curious. I originally met you at regionals competition. For me on the media side, it was almost like a sacred time. Regionals every year was where you get a lot of face to face time with the athletes.

 

You could really connect with the athletes who kind of live and train close to where you are. They could connect with the fans. I personally miss regionals. Not to lead this question too clearly, [laughs] is that something you miss?

 

It’s been over a year since they announced the sanctionals obviously, and we’re in our second year of qualification in that method for the CrossFit Games. Do you miss regionals? What was your initial reaction when you first heard about the new qualification system?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

It’s kind of like a bittersweet. When I first heard about the new qualification system I was very sad because I did also really enjoy regionals. Having that system set for the few years that I did it, really set the tone of how the season was going to be.

 

You do the Open, you do the regionals, you qualify the Games, you have the Games then you have this offseason. You can still go to other competitions like Dubai had other competitions and Wodapalooza and Grad Games.

 

There were some other competitions but there weren’t nearly as many or that were as well known around the world. It was really sad. We were like, “Oh, regionals.” It was fun competition.

 

A lot of people in New York could go because it was in Albany. [indecipherable 32:03] wherever you’re at in the States or overseas, it was easy to go watch your fellow CrossFitters. This year, after looking at the sanctional season, number one, I’ve already qualified to the Games this January so that’s nice.

 

Also having opened right off the Games was not ideal because I guess I didn’t feel like I got much of an offseason mainly mentally. Physically was OK but it was mentally right into the Open which was nice to have through end of February until I compete again in Wodapalooza.

 

Also being basically, a full-time athlete, I coach some as well but the sanctional season allows CrossFit athletes to make a lot more money. I know two years ago at Wodapalooza, the price for first place was 15,000. Last year was 25. This year is 50.

 

That is just one prime example of, there’s more money to be made at certain sanctionals. They said Madrid has a $100,000 for the first place team. As far as being an athlete, there’s a lot more potential to make money.

 

Regionals, we made a little bit of money from that but it was still 5,000 for first place, four for second, three for third, two and then one. Overall, I like the fact that you can make more money and you can travel around the world a little bit more to make some money.

David TaoDavid Tao

What do you think we’re going to see at the CrossFit Games this year as far as programming? We are seven months out. This is way too early to predict but what do you think we’re going to see?

 

What are some things that you might like to see at the Games that we maybe haven’t seen in the past or haven’t seen this much of?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Having the gymnastics background that I do, I would love to see more strict gymnastics stuff. I’m surprised that we haven’t just because they program so much online.

David TaoDavid Tao

Isn’t that a little difficult to set a standard for strict gymnastics? I know it’s not impossible, I know they’ve done things of have standards for dips and for strict handstand push-ups before but…

 

Strict movements by their nature, it’s kind of hard to judge. Does someone have a little kip, a little extra movement in there? Isn’t that a complicating factor?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah, it definitely is. If you have a muscle-up or even pull-ups, you can make a standard. It might not be completely strict but just keep your feet in front of you the whole time.

 

Even if people can use their hips a little bit, as long as your feet are in front of you, you’re not doing the full swing, you still can get a little bit momentum from your legs and your hips. It does force you to use your upper body a lot more.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

It’s just narrowing those bumper lanes a little bit basically.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Yeah, forces you to have more structuring. That would be cool and I also think doing some freestanding handstand push-ups would be cool whether they’re strict or whether they’re kipping. Throwing something different that is a little bit higher-skilled out there would be really cool.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m actually shocked we haven’t seen freestanding handstand push-ups at the Games’ level before. We’ve seen all sorts of handstand walk. Obstacles go up, ramps go upstairs. It seems like that’s a much simpler thing to measure, I don’t know.

 

I’m surprised we haven’t seen that I’m shocked.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah, I am too. Last year when we had that event, Chaos, and we didn’t know what we were doing. They told us we were going to go out there, there was a 12-minute time cap.

 

Whenever we were going to go to a station we’ll do however many the judge…stop when the judge tells us to stop. Move to the next station. They had little pads out there and I was like, “Oh, we’re going to get to do freestanding handstand push-ups.”

 

We go there and then they were like, “Pistols.” I was like, “Come on, I’m probably the only athlete on the floor right now that thinks we’re doing freestanding handstand push-ups. I don’t know what everybody else thinks that we’re doing.” That was the first thing that came to my mind.

 

Then we got there pistols and I was like, “I mean, I like pistols too,” but I really thought we were going to do handstand pushups.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re attending your sixth CrossFit Games this year, and it doesn’t feel like that many. There are athletes who have been in the game longer than you have, certainly, but six is an impressive number.

 

It certainly makes you, I don’t want to say seasoned veteran, because you’re certainly not old. You have experience and you have a lot of good games under your belt, and you’ve shown consistent improvement.

 

What ultimately do you want to get out of your CrossFit career? How long do you think you can maintain performance at this level?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Ultimately, I want to make it to the podium. That is the ultimate goal. I’ve been a top American the last three out of four years. So obviously, just continuing to do that. I remember the first year that I go top American. I actually started crying with my coach. I’m like, that’s so cool. It’s a feeling that nothing else can match.

 

As far as competing, I want to ballpark three more years. I think it’s just taking each year at a time. Making sure that I am mentally and physically ready to go, and that I feel good. If it stops becoming fun. Certain days are more fun than others obviously, it’s not fun every day. Overall, I really enjoy what I do.

 

If down the road something comes that I’m not having fun, or not enjoying it, or just don’t have the same drive. I would step to the side. Whether I would do team for a year, and then re-evaluate and see what’s going on. For now, I plan on doing individual, two to three more years.

David TaoDavid Tao

I think you’re very much in your prime. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. We certainly have seen some athletes move over to the team for a year or two and come back on the individual side and have some more success.

 

It’s interesting, it seems to me like training for a team at that level is still very intense. I guess for a lot of folks, it is a way to potentially dial back the volume and intensity a little bit for a year.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah. That’s what a lot of people that have switched over to doing team say. Obviously, you’re training with other people and it is a different type of training. It’s more of sprint, rest, sprint, rest. You really have to know what your body is capable of.

 

You can be a specialist more or less in certain areas. For me, I could have a lady on the team, who was a strong barbell lady, and then I could do a lot of gymnastics. I feel like I could specialize. Like you said, you could dial back the volume.

 

If you’re having a little ache and pain, like your knee, then maybe you don’t do as much squatting or whatever for some events.

 

Obviously, you can’t predict the programming, but you can scale back the training a little bit. Everyone has said that it’s so much fun, too. I think it would just throw something different just to change it up a little bit than the monotony of training by yourself.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

 What is your ideal team look like? One other woman, two guys. You can pick anyone. It doesn’t matter if they’re going individual or team or how they’re competing these days. What’s your ideal team?

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

The female would definitely…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Captain Kari Pearce, and then…

Kari PearceKari Pearce

Yeah, there you go. Of course, Captain Kari Pearce. I think Sara Sigmundsdóttir would be the girl. She’s so solid all around. She’s super strong. She’s great at the gymnastics, but I think we would complement each other very well there. For the guys, I was on a team with Noah Ohlsen at the Invitational a couple years ago. He was just so much fun to be with so he would be a lot of fun.

 

You have to take Rich Froning, right?

He’s the king of team athletes. Especially if you said that I’m the Captain, done. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

 

You get to tell Rich Froning what to do for a season. You can’t pass up that opportunity.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

No, not at all.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Kari, what’s the best place for folks to keep up to date with what you’re doing? Both as an athlete, and also as a coach, and things like that.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

My Instagram is the best place to find me. That’s karipearcecrossfit.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That’s P-E-A-R-C-E.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Correct.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Not P-I-E-R-C-E.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Yeah. Correct. The first name is K-A-R-I.

Which is becoming more common nowadays. It used to be C-A-R-R-I-E. I feel like nowadays there are more Kari’s that are K-A-R-I so…

 

 …That’s good.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Well, Kari, thanks so much for joining us. We’re absolutely huge fans at BarBend and we really appreciate you taking the time.

Kari PearceKari Pearce

 

Of course. It was my pleasure.

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