In the functional fitness world of CrossFit®, Kari Pearce is an elite athlete. A six-time CrossFit Games competitor with three top-five finishes — including a bronze medal in 2020 to end a five-year drought of American women on the CrossFit Games podium— the Ann Arbor, Michigan native was also the highest-ranking American woman in the 2020 CrossFit Open (sixth place).
Pearce provided one of the most memorable moments at the 2020 CrossFit Games in the final event Atalanta — noted by CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro as the toughest event ever at the Games. Consisting of two one-mile runs, 100 handstand push-ups, 200 pistol squats, and 300 pull-ups while wearing a 14-pound weighted vest, Pearce needed to best CrossFit phenom Haley Adams by two ranks in order to secure a spot on the podium. Her first-place time of 47:56.68 was over a minute faster than runner-up Katrín Davíðsdóttir and three ranks above Adams.
BarBend had the opportunity to chat with Pearce about her weekly training. She shared insights about her programming, how it holds steady in the off-season, and what she considers most difficult and most rewarding during her time in the gym.
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Programming and Coaching
Pearce is coached by a three-person team. There’s Justin Colter, who programs for her. Rob Carson guides her endurance and conditioning-specific training. Finally, Danny Casey acts as her lifting coach. Together, Pearce and her coaches build the best program possible for her needs.
Although some athletes might know what their training looks like a week or more ahead of time, Pearce learns of her training each day when she first wakes up.
I like this because then I don’t overthink what I have the next day.
Not knowing what to expect in training “until the last minute” also parallels what it is like for athletes competing in the CrossFit Games. Events are often not announced until the very last minute (see Atalanta). Or sometimes they change in the middle of the event. The prime example of this being the Ranch Loop event at the 2020 CrossFit Games where the now-retired five-time Fittest Man on Earth® Mat Fraser actually flipped Dave Castro off, thinking the additional loop around the ranch, effectively doubling the length of the event, was a joke.
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Training For Major Events
When it comes to the larger events of the year on the CrossFit calendar such as Sanctionals™, Pearce’s training will remain unchanged, for the most part. She might add a bit more volume or more metcons but continues to lift heavy even in the lead-up to an event.
That is not the case, however, with the CrossFit Games. When prepping for the Games, both the intensity of Pearce’s workouts as well as the volume in them is increased. She incorporates more cardio for heart-rate based events — think Swim-n-Stuff from the 2020 Games. This includes “running, swimming, road biking and more odd object things since we tend to see those.”
The other major shift is the major deload she and her coaches incorporate a week before the Games to allow for enough rest and recovery.
For Pearce, training strength is the most difficult.
For whatever reason, my legs are super stubborn.
Many a squat program has Pearce endured to help build up her legs, “but they don’t want to listen.” The squat PRs come infrequently, but Pearce maintains the squat programming in her training regardless.
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As a former gymnast before getting into CrossFit, she enjoys the gymnastics training in her CrossFit programming. “I did it for 18 years growing up and although the movements we do in CrossFit are very different from the ones I did growing up, I still really enjoy that.”
An additional rewarding aspect of Pearce’s training is not going at it alone. Alongside her coaches, she trains with a group of athletes that help her stay motivated in the gym.
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[Related: Kari Pearce: America’s Fittest Woman Discusses The CrossFit Games (Podcast)]
Moving Up The CrossFit Ranks
According to Pearce, there isn’t anything she does in her training that’s helped her move up the CrossFit leaderboard in particular. The biggest feature of her training that helped her achieve success is consistency.
As she has become a more experienced elite-level CrossFitter, she pays closer attention to her recovery. Her training programs of old did not have any room for rest days. Currently, Sundays are rest days to help her recover both physically and mentally for the training week ahead.
Value of Experience
When she first came into CrossFit, Pearce was always looking to train harder and find more to do. Nowadays, she spends more time focused on the quality of the work rather than the quantity of work.
Atalanta Performance and Mental Training
When it comes down to a difficult high-stakes challenge like the Atalanta event, Pearce’s tough training program put her in the position of being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
The bigger mental obstacle during the toughest event in CrossFit Games history was knowing that it was a do or die event to reach the podium for the first time in her CrossFit career. Her training prepared her to be excited for the event, thinking it would be a “good workout for [her]” rather than intimidated by its volume.
Preparation For The 2021 CrossFit Open
Pearce suffered a “minor hip injury during the  Games” and took the time to heal and recover. With the 2021 CrossFit Open scheduled to begin on March 11, 2021, Pearce’s training has resumed to the full effort.
She balances two-a-days — two training sessions per day — while managing her business, PowerAbs. She stays flexible and will perform up to three training sessions per day or just a single session depending on the needs of her schedule, but the training always gets done. Training with “a solid workout crew here in Las Vegas,” including Nicolas Bidarte of Argentina, pushes her on a daily basis.
Whether her training sessions take place at the gym or in the setup she has in her garage, Pearce will have put in the work come the 2021 Open. We’re excited to see if she can make her way even further up the Games podium and challenge for the title of Fittest on Earth®.