What’s the Best Background for CrossFit? (w/Lucy Campbell)

Today I’m talking to Lucy Campbell, a CrossFit athlete who just became the second British Woman in history to qualify as an Elite Individual for the CrossFit Games after an impressive finish at the Lowlands Throwdown. A former gymnast and swimmer, Lucy rose to the highest level of CrossFit competition after barely five years in the sport. What about that athletic background helped her progress so quickly? And as a former gymnast, why were things like handstand push-ups still so challenging? I hope you enjoy my conversation with a rising star in the sport of fitness.

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Lucy Campbell BarBend Podcast

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao and Lucy Campbell discuss: 

  • Lucy’s athletic background and meteoric rise in CrossFit (2:00)
  • What’s the best sport to prepare you for competitive CrossFit? (4:20)
  • The movements that Lucy struggled with early on in her CrossFit career (8:50)
  • Lucy’s remarkable performance from one season to the next (12:00)
  • A typical week of Lucy’s training (15:00)
  • Favorite and least favorite workouts (they both contain deadlifts!) (16:00)
  • Who Lucy is looking forward to competing against (19:00)

Relevant links and further reading


 I knew, coming into Lowlands, I am not the same athlete as I was this time last year. I’m a significantly better athlete than I was this time last year. I was just looking forward to being able to see what that meant, knowing that this time last year, I came ninth and the improvement is vast compared to that.

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 Lucy Campbell, a CrossFit athlete who just became the second British woman in history to qualify as an elite individual for the CrossFit Games. Second behind 2013 CrossFit Games Champion, Sam Briggs, that is.


A former gymnast and swimmer, Lucy rose to the highest level of CrossFit competition after barely five years in the sport. What about that athletic background helped her progress so quickly. As a former gymnast, why were things like handstand push-ups still so challenging?


I hope you enjoy my conversation with a rising star in the sport of fitness. Before we get to that, do you struggle finding a T-shirt that fits as well? As that one tee you loved until it wore out? Do you wish a standard medium was a little bit longer, or maybe a large wasn’t so baggy for you?


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Check out Coulter Dylan, and also check out the link in the show notes where you can learn more about them.


Now, let’s get on with the show.


 Lucy, thanks so much for joining me today and congrats on qualifying for the CrossFit Games. That’s a big deal. We’ll get to that more in a second and what that took. It wasn’t easy. Let me say that.


For those who don’t know you and maybe haven’t been following the season as closely, give us a little background on your athletic career thus far pre-CrossFit, CrossFit, all that good stuff?

I started with gymnastic. Don’t even remember starting, I was that young. I realized that I wouldn’t necessarily get to the level that I wanted to in that. When I was 12, I moved onto swimming, which I had been doing whilst I was doing gymnastic as well, but gymnastics was the focus before all that.


I had a much more successful swimming career, and less than a year, a few months of taking swimming a bit more seriously, I got my first national time. It just started the ball rolling. A couple of years later, I got my first GB from Open Water, and I had a really successful swimming career in that respect.


Again, just missed out on where I would have wanted to get to. Stopped enjoying the sport, and didn’t feel like I was getting out the same results as the effort that I was putting in. It just got a bit much, given the time that I was spending doing it.


After the second year of Uni, when I was 20, I decided to call it a day on swimming. Then, when I returned the third year, one of my friends talked me into going to the hockey trials. Again, played hockey in the background but it was once a week if that and I did not take it massively seriously.


I got into one of the hockey teams at Loughborough, and played hockey for two years, before I then found CrossFit and ditched everything else, and didn’t look back.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s a fairly common story, finding CrossFit and going all in. How long was it between when you first discovered CrossFit and…Let’s see, how long have you been doing CrossFit is my question?

Four years.

David TaoDavid Tao


Almost four years to the month.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re someone who has a really diverse athletic background and in talking to a lot of elite CrossFitters, I hear a lot of different opinions as far as which sport makes the transition to CrossFit easiest.


Obviously, swimming is really impactful. We see that more at the games in the elite level. We don’t necessarily see it every competition. We’re not going to see it at CrossFit Open, but having that background can make a difference at the games level.


I’ve heard many times folks say that gymnastics background makes CrossFit a little bit more accessible because you come in knowing things like handstand. Some of these gymnastics and body weight movements that we see.


In your opinion, which sport prepares you the most for CrossFit?

To be honest, I would agree with the majority there. Gymnastics is massive. There’s more skill transfer for men than there is for women. In terms of the fact that the women don’t use the rings in gymnastics, whereas the men do so, in terms of bringing muscle ups and that kind of thing.


Those are skills that I did not come into with, but I had some walking. I was very comfortable with, and it’s like one thing from gymnastics I never lost. [laughs] That was there normally, I guess.


What I would say with gymnastics, is it just gives me such an awareness of your body in terms of how it’s moving, the way your body isn’t facing that kind of thing. I don’t think many other sports could be. I also would say that the discipline and the work ethic that I got from gymnastics has carried through massively.


No one walks into a gymnastics center able to do a backflip, you have to work for it. The harder you work, the faster the movements will come and the faster you’ll get there and so really is like that work the results ratio or that work to result relationship is so clear in gymnastics more than any other sport.


Even if you are super talented as a gymnast, you’ll still have to work those movements, like you still can’t naturally do them off the bat. I think that’s the thing that I’ve carried over from gymnastics. It has helped me the most, but the thing I would say with swimming for me specifically, because I was an endurance swimmer.


I was doing the long distance in the pool like 400 upwards to 1,500, but then open water is 5 and 10k events so that takes one to two hours. That in terms of an endurance background, endurance base that is massive in terms of the events that you’re doing CrossFit.


It’s not about the actual capacity, but it’s actually like I know based on feel, based on how I feel in terms of heart rate, how I’m breathing and all that kind of thing whether or not the pace that I’m going is sustainable. Whereas, I feel like a lot of other people have to go off different things, whether they’re going off numbers or whatever.


I feel like I’ve got a better, not better than a lot of other people, but because of swimming I’ve got a good understanding of how my body feels, and whether or not I feel like that is sustainable. When you’re in the water, you’ve got no idea what time it is in terms of the 50-meter splits that you’re swimming or whatever.


When you race or even when you’re swimming, you don’t have a lap watch, like, at the end of the lane. You have to know what the pace that you want to go feels like. That’s the massive for me in terms of crossover for swimming as well.

David TaoDavid Tao

No, it makes a lot of sense. I’m curious, have you competed in a CrossFit event or a function fitness competition — maybe it’s not branded with CrossFit — that included the swimming element?

Yes, Waterpalooza. I won both the swim and run event. It was only 250 meters, but it was enough to do some damage I guess. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s just say at the CrossFit Games this year, when swimming comes up — it’s always when not if — you’re probably going to be looking forward to those events. That’s my guess.

 Definitely. I look forward to it, but I also know that when people know this, the eyes are on me. I thought that’s not going to be fun at all.

David TaoDavid Tao

Pressure’s on. With your athletic background, when you first started CrossFit almost four years exactly, what were some of the movements that you initially struggled with? We’ve talked about you were strong with handstands, obviously your endurance you have a fantastic base. Were there some movements that gave you more trouble than the average?


 I was strong with handstands, but not handstand push up. The other thing is that like strict work took a long time for me to get. Although I’d done a decent amount of gym work, with swimming, for me it was mainly straight-arm lat-pulldowns and that kind of thing. Very swimming-specific things, rather than anything that was purely sync focus.


It’s no secret that my worst event traditions are usually in the strength event. At the moment, fingers crossed, that will change at some point down the line. Because I didn’t do any of that, I wasn’t with the sprinters who were very much focused on learning to power clean and doing air squats and whatever like that.


The pure strength side of things has definitely taken a while to come up to the level of the rest of them.

David TaoDavid Tao

Got it. Let’s talk a little bit more about this season and heading into the season. You’re no stranger to competition, but this season it’s your first that you’ve qualified as an individual. You’re only the second woman from the UK to do that. Congratulations…

Thank you.

David TaoDavid Tao

 …making a bit of history there. Talk about the process. How did you feel coming into the season? Was your goal specifically to qualify for the games? How did that timeline sync up with your long-term plans for the sport?

I wouldn’t say that I was focused on qualifying this year. It was very much like, “Take it step by step.” If I execute it on the day, then I earn a spot. As everyone says, the European field is so strong that there’s no guarantee. I could have executed my plans on the day, and it could have just not been good enough because that is the depth of the field.


Coming into the season, I was looking forward to it because I felt like it was the first…I started with my coach in September or October 2020. Up until December, he was basically just rehabbing me back to being able to train because I had a back injury at the time. That was what brought me to Red Pill.


I was looking forward to this season with like a full year of training under my belt, knowing that this time last year, I got to the last chance qualifiers. Actually, I’ve only had four months of real training.


That made me quite excited for this to see how things can go. Training-wise, it had been going really well. It has been going really well. My numbers were all going up, my capacity on gymnastics movements and that kind of thing.


My ability on legless rope climbs, I posted after the first day of lowland that this time last year, I couldn’t do a 10-minute Eemaan doing one legless rope climb a minute. I did 10 reps with the run in between and 428. That’s a huge improvement.


I knew coming into lowland that I am not the same athlete as I was this time last year. I’m a significantly better athlete than I was this time last year. I was just looking forward to being able to see what that meant, knowing that this time last year, I came ninth. The improvement is vast compared to that.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll get back to that in just a second, but first, a quick shout-out from our episode sponsor, Colter Dillon. You’ve got to check out Colter Dillon for custom-cut and sewn T-shirts that perfect fit every time. Every t-shirt becomes your favorite because they’re made individually for you.


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What is your training schedule like? Look, injuries can derail even the best athletes and even the most dedicated athletes. There’s a huge mental component to bouncing back from those. At full capacity, you’re healed up. You’re ready to train. What is a training week look like for you a couple of months out from competition?

Honestly… [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I always love when anyone says that. They respond like that, they’re like, “Well, how long do you have, because it’s a lot.”

Yeah. [laughs] It’s like, I’ll go to the gym at 9:00 or 10:00, between that time. Then I start work at 5:00, and hopefully evenings. I will do the work. I’ll be there until I start coaching. I usually have like an hour, an hour and a half lunch break in between.


Other than that, it’s pretty much like I get in at 9:30. By the time I’ve written up my session and everything, that is 10 o’clock. Then I’ll go like 10 to 1:00 and then start 2:00 and go until 4:35. It’s pretty much almost six hours a day most days or maybe Sunday, which sometimes is a bit of a lighter day, but it depends on the cycle that we’re at the moment.

David TaoDavid Tao

How many of those hours, how much of the time is spent doing long-form conditioning and maybe monostructural versus metcon, traditional CrossFit stuff versus strength work versus skill work?


I know it can vary a lot, I think when folks hear that CrossFit athletes are in the gym for six hours, it’s not like they’re doing three-minute friends every four minutes for six hours or something like that.

Some of that will be, as you say, it depends on the time of year and everything like that. Quite a heavy focus for me is strength work, like clean squats. It’ll be some variation of lifting. I’ll tend to start with some cardio.


Whether that’s like a 20-minute Zone-2 piece or something a little bit more intense, but usually like a focus, so on the bikes, or the rarer or whatever. Then there tends to be movement mechanics work, working on positions and things.


For me, it tends to be about being able to generate strength in certain positions. Coming from gymnastics, I was quite mobile, which isn’t always the best thing. Trying to stop being so bendy, I guess. Then there’ll be some cool work or some gymnastics.


Yeah, when it gets closer to competition, that’s when it turns into the more classic CrossFit metcon stuff that up until that point, it’s all very separate.

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you have a favorite kind of classic CrossFit workout?

Yeah, like DT, like double DT.

David TaoDavid Tao

For those who don’t know…I know a DT. A double duty is pretty brutal. What is that for folks who don’t know it off the top of their heads?

One round of DT is 12 deadlifts, nine hanging plains, six shoulder to overhead. Normally, DT is five rounds of that. Double DT would be 10 rounds. That’s my favorite.

David TaoDavid Tao

What weight is that? What’s the RX weight, I should say?

The RX weight in kilos is 47 and a half.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s about 95 pounds. There’s also heavy DT, which we’ve seen at the games. We saw that a few years ago. It’s notorious because at least one athlete broke their collarbone on it.

Oh my god!

David TaoDavid Tao

 It was one of the last events. It was heavy duty. It was crazy. DT, I will say, as someone who has done DT, as someone who’s done in quotations, “double DT,” it is brutal.


Good job on being fantastic at barbell cycling. What is a famous CrossFit workout or a well-known CrossFit workout that you dislike, you especially don’t want to do it or see it come up in a competition?

Probably Diane.

David TaoDavid Tao

Handstand, push-ups, and deadlifts.

Yeah, 21-15-9, handstand, push-ups, and deadlifts. I don’t love it.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s interesting because those workouts contain…They both contain high-rep deadlifts. Normally, you would see like…It’s interesting that that’s in a favorite workout and in a least favorite workout. They share.


That’s also like a shoulder-to-overhead movement. I mean, handstand push-ups or just inverted version of shoulder overhead. Interesting. I wouldn’t have put those on the two ends of the spectrum

Well, now that you’ve pointed that out, it does seem kind of ironic. To be honest, I haven’t done Diane for a couple of years. I don’t love deadlift, but in DT, the deadlift are almost irrelevant. That’s why I like it in DT, [laughs] but I don’t like it in Diane.


David TaoDavid Tao

Hey, you know what? There’s no wrong answer here. I asked you for your opinion, so I’m not trying to back you into a corner. Let’s talk about elite-level CrossFit competition. It’s your first time. It will be your first time at the Games as an individual.


Are there any athletes who you haven’t competed against or maybe even met before, who you’re excited to throw down with and be on the same competition floor as?

 I don’t even know what to say to that question. As much as I’m looking forward to being on the WOD floor with the Australian girls, Tia and Kara, I’m also trying not to think too much about who’s going to be there.


A lot of the girls that are going to qualify, I’ve watched them in the fitness documentaries and all these kinds of things. That was what got me interested in CrossFit.


I’m trying not to think about those things because it just means that I idolize them. They can’t be idols. Yeah, what Tia’s done is incredible, but ultimately now she’s still going to be a competitor.


One person I would love to be on a comp floor with though, is Briggs because, fellow Brit. She’s a total legend of the sport. We’ll see if she qualifies out of Syd, but she would be one that would definitely be on my list.

David TaoDavid Tao

One of my favorite experiences — and I won’t say too much more — is attending a CrossFit Open announcement when they used to do the big announcements at an after-party with Sam Briggs. One of my favorite experiences, because not only is she one of the fittest people in history, she can party. She’s just a lot of fun as a person.


Anytime someone mentions that, I’m like, “If Sam Briggs is going to the after-party, show up because she is a ton of fun and a really cool person.” Is she someone that you know very well or have had the opportunity to train with before?

No, to be honest, she messaged me after Lowland just to say well done, which was really cool, but I’ve never properly met her. That was really nice of her. She’s also on “RedPill.” She’s with Jowsey. I’ve never been to an event, really. She was at Wodapalooza coaching Emma. She was in coach mode, and I was in competitor mode. No, our paths haven’t crossed.

David TaoDavid Tao

Correct me if I’m wrong here, she’s by far the most successful Brit in individual CrossFit Games history. Would that be fair to say?

Yeah, by a mile.

David TaoDavid Tao

I don’t even think it’s actually close. By a kilometer, we’re talking Britain here.

 [laughs] Yeah, the number of times that she’s been there. She obviously won it in 2013?

David TaoDavid Tao

Yup, 2013.

There’s no other Brit that has had the outcome that she’s had in that respect.

David TaoDavid Tao

Look, I’m not coming from your perspective as a UK athlete. But I assume that she’s pretty revered and universally respected for that in that community, correct?

Oh, yeah. She is a legend.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I am very excited. I want to see you two thrill in lanes next to each other, specifically in an endurance event.

I was going to say that would be interesting.

David TaoDavid Tao

You both have those backgrounds. Oh, that’d be the battle of Britain. I’m trying to brand this. Is there anything specifically at the Games, besides swimming, besides the endurance events, or maybe specific to those that you really want to see?

To be honest, I’d love there to be a snatch event on the individual side as well. We haven’t really had a heavy snatch yet. The barbell in the quarter-finals for the snatches was 61. It was fairly heavy for the volume of reps that it was. It wasn’t pretty much past worries. Whereas on the clean side, we had the other titles for the Lawnmower Kettle Clean or the MAX Clean.


Then we’ve had the barbell complex in the semis that’s all cleans obviously. I prefer snatches to cleans, so I’d like to see that come up. I do like anything overhead to be honest, overhead squats, jerks, shoulder-to-overhead.

David TaoDavid Tao

Sounds like someone with a gymnast’s mobility.

Yeah, and for my shoulders.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, Lucy, where’s the best place for people to follow along with your journey this season and beyond? Is it on social media, YouTube?

Mainly on social media, so Instagram, @lucycampbell5. I’m pretty honest with my posts. Hopefully, people enjoy that. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Folks, when I asked Lucy before this call “Are there any touchy subjects?” which is sometimes something I ask folks who I don’t know super well, her answer was, “No, I’m good. Whatever you want to talk about, go for it.”


I should have asked juicier questions.


Maybe if you come back on the podcast, we’ll have to do that, but we’re just getting to know each other. Lucy, I super appreciate the time, best of luck over the course of the season, and really, really excited to see you compete at the games later this year.

Thank you.