From Wednesday to Saturday, Jan. 18-21, 2023, I participated in an athlete camp hosted at CrossFit Mayhem in Cookeville, Tennessee. About two dozen athletes who have competed at the Semifinal level or higher in the past couple of seasons were in attendance. My purpose was twofold: survive the week and learn about the athletes and coaches at CrossFit Mayhem.
“If you need to modify or scale, please do so. This is a training camp; by nature, we’ll push each other, but we’re not competing. Each session has a specific purpose which we will explain. We encourage each of you to do your best to adhere to those intentions and not get caught up in a race. If you’re unsure or need affirmation on how to scale or what we’re looking for, do not hesitate to talk to one of the coaches; we are here for you.”
Needless to say, that message is important. It set the tone for the week and put some responsibility on each athlete to make the right decisions session by session and workout by workout. With little else on my mind, I got a good night’s sleep and headed out for day one.
Editor’s Note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein and in the video are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.
Day One — Morning Session
Takeaway: the coaches were complimentary of and impressed by my ability to choose and hold an appropriate pace for each directive given. All the years of writing, performing, and tinkering with aerobic-specific conditioning pieces seem to have paid off in this regard. A good start to the camp.
Takeaway: I received my first real coaching cue. What I noticed, and what I’d continue to notice, is amongst one of the most critical components of coaching, and one I am inspired to improve upon after this week) is finding the critical cue and communicating it to the athlete clearly and succinctly. Also, I PRed my hang squat snatch.
Day One — Afternoon Session:
- Three sets — Toes-to-Bar and Deadlift; work:rest with a partner (lots of volume)
- Shoulder and Posterior Chain Accessory Work
Takeaway: The age-old saying of “low trajectory to distant horizon” can be applied to many different time domains. In this case, four days. I wanted to make it through all four days of training without injury or running myself into the ground. I did fewer reps and less weight than I could have, but I had the big picture of the week in mind and wanted to execute the directive of the session as communicated by the coach. I did 60 percent of the volume relative to the elite athletes but was able to maintain their pace with my choices. This is the first of many times I did that.
Day Two — Morning Session
Excellent warm-up (long but appropriate). Intentional sprinting work on the Assault Runners (weather prevented us from going to the track). The cooldown was needed.
- Get comfortable with this relatively new machine.
- Don’t blow a hamstring.
- Don’t go so hard that I can’t walk or squat the following day.
I had to abandon the intended stimulus to achieve those things and scale the number of sets to avoid being devastatingly sore. In the past, this would have felt like a failure, but setting my ego aside and making those choices was paramount to the overall success of the week. I’m grateful I had the presence of mind to know that as it was happening.
Day Two — Afternoon Session
- Optional skill work — gymnastics focus
It was 65 degrees and sunny in Cookeville that afternoon, and I hadn’t played disc golf in over a week. I didn’t bring the discs with me for nothing. There’s a decent course at Cane Creek Park, which I went to play. Sam Demeester was the only one brave enough to join me, and I’m glad he did. When we finished, we went to the skill session. I did not participate, but I observed as Etchecolatz worked his magic with subtle gymnastics cues for the athletes who had taken him up on this optional skill session.
Takeaway: I really liked this session’s timing in the camp’s overall structure. Most of the athletes took advantage of the opportunity provided, but it was productive while still giving a chance for recovery before a challenging two days ahead.
Day Three — Morning Session
- Five sets — GHDs, Rope Climbs, Wall Balls (work:rest with a partner)
- Tempo Front Squats (7-8 RPE)
- Jerk Complex (build, then drop sets)
I knew immediately the volume of GHDs and rope climbs was beyond what I usually train for. Again I listened to Etchecolatz and Lockert explain the intent of the session and modified it in pursuit of that directive. Roman Khrennikov and Agustin Richelme partnered up for this workout. While I was impressed with many things throughout the week, their speed on this triplet stands out even amongst those great feats.
Takeaway: The Masters Legend workout back in December 2022 featured these three movements, which compound each other in a unique way. I appreciated the simplicity and challenge, and although I overestimated my abilities going in, I felt good about what I was able to accomplish overall.
During the lifting portion, I received the best coaching cue to help with my jerk from Etchecolatz since I took my L1 back in 2017. He pinpointed one thing, which probably solved several problems all at once.
Mayhem Mindset Training with Jim Hensel
This was a truly great addition to the camp. Regardless of your religion or thoughts about religion, Hensel has something. He used to be a regular on the Mayhem podcast and has become a fixture at Mayhem since.
He did not need much time to make a significant difference. I was impressed with the attentiveness of the athletes. I have seen many talented athletes in sports who don’t have the mental acuity to focus when the topic is not directly related to their sport. Hensel’s ability to connect with the athletes early in his delivery made the difference. If you don’t have your affairs in order in your life, you’re less likely to successfully deal with the challenges set before you during competition. The more and more I spend time with elite CrossFitters, the more and more I believe this to be true.
Day Three — Afternoon Session
- Five sets — Sled Push and Hand Over Hand Sled Pull (work:rest with a partner)
- Five sets — Strict Handstand Push-Ups, Echo Bike, Handstand Walking, Ski Erg (work:rest with a partner)
Another big session that I had to cleverly manage my way through. Generally, I’m decent with sled work, but the turf section at Mayhem is twice as long as the gym I coach at. A hand-over-hand sled pull across that much distance is a different animal. As was customary, I went with the women’s weights. By the third set, I had learned how to manage these intervals with repeatability.
Upper body pressing is my biggest weakness, so humility was drawn upon. While the rest of the athletes did 100 strict handstand pushups and five hundred feet of handstand walking, I did strict pike push-ups on a box and wall walks. There are many other options I could have chosen, but my intention was to choose options that have the biggest impact for improvment.
Takeaway: The coaches have my back. I had meaningful conversations with Lockert to establish options that would keep me in the workout. Because of those conversations and his support, I completed all five rounds of both sessions. Although they were greatly modified, they were adequately challenging at the same time.
Day Four — Morning Session
- Part One of Three — 12 sets: Rowing and Double Unders (work:rest with a partner)
My body was not feeling great before this, but rowing and double unders are my strengths. This was a brilliantly designed workout to kick things off on the final morning. By the time it was over, I felt much better about my chances of finishing the final day of training.
- Part Two of Three: “Barbara” (work:rest with a partner)
I have terrifying memories of Barbara. The one time previously that I’d performed it, I went too hard too early, never recovered, and it ruined my entire day. I did not want to repeat that. Given the overall state of things on the fourth day of training, I opted for a scaled version.
My partner was the 2023 teenage Games champion, Ty Jenkins. With the scaled option I chose, we could finish in the same time frame as the other pairs. The last round of push-ups was still challenging, but I had made it through.
- Part Three of Three: Sandbag Cleans, Burpee Box Jump Overs, Sandbag Cleans (work:rest with a partner)
Upon finishing Barbara, I thought I was ready for this. However, there was about a 20-minute period of downtime before starting, and my body stiffened up. It was the most difficult decision yet, but I decided to trust myself and sit this one out. While the rest of the group went back to work, I cooled down on the echo bike and hydrated.
Takeaway: A small part of me felt as though I had failed. I came close but did not complete the task. However, Rich Froning approved of the decision and affirmed that with me later. I was reminded of a lesson Brent Fikowski spoke: at the end of the day, if skipping a portion of the workout allows you to avoid injury or another similar setback in training, it’s almost always the right choice. Stringing together long periods of uninterrupted training is better than forcing it in situations like this. Whether it was Etchecolatz, Lockert, or Froning, each was supportive when doubt crept in.
To manage the training volume (which was 2-3 times what I’d usually do in a day), I prioritized recovery. Each night I spent about two hours stretching, foam rolling on lacrosse balls, using a Theragun, heating pads, and self-massage to get my body ready for another day. The bodywork required to train day to day was one of several nuances required to be elite in this sport. That was all amplified during this trip.
Seeing top-level coaches in an environment other than competition was new for me. This is the arena where the trust is built to lean on a coach in a moment of need, crisis, or uncertainty during a competition weekend. Receiving those coaching cues and applying the instruction was as rewarding as the lessons I learned doing my L1 several years ago.
Featured image via Patrick Clark.