Cherie Chan: Lessons From a Veteran Coach
By Dr. Noah Dean
February 5, 2016
If you’ve never heard of Cherie Chan, you’ll be glad you have now. Chan was fully immersed in CrossFit before Rich Froning ever attempted a muscle-up.
“My first CrossFit workout was 30 muscle-ups for time in April of 2007. My husband [Matt Chan] introduced me to the program and we tried it at a local global gym. I scaled with 120 pull-ups and 120 assisted dips. We watched videos on CrossFit.com before going to the gym to try to learn the kipping pull-up, as 120 pull-ups seemed outrageous to both of us. My pull-ups were on a multi-grip pull-up bar and the dips were on a dip assist machine. I can only imagine the sight for the other gym goers. It probably looked like I was having a mini-seizure on the pull-up bar as I was trying to learn the kip. My hands were torn to shreds—and the shenanigans went on for forty-five minutes. Somehow that got me hooked. I’ve never looked back and now I cannot imagine training without CrossFit.”
Cherie has competed at the Games twice (2008, 2011) and now works for the CrossFit HQ Training Department as a “flow master”, a job that involves “doing anything needed”, as she puts it. She is a Level 4 coach and has led over one hundred L1 and Coaches Prep courses for CrossFit HQ, making her one of the most well-known and knowledgeable coaches in the community.
“Over the years I’ve been blessed to be a part of the community in many ways. I quit school and my job to open an affiliate out of a local park with my husband in 2008. I interned for the CrossFit HQ seminar staff in 2009 and taught my first Level 1 gig in January of 2010. I’ve competed in two CrossFit Games and have been on the Games media staff for the last three years. I’ve also been alongside [my husband] Matt while he trained for his six consecutive CrossFit Games appearances. But most importantly, I have trained and have been a part of countless athletes’ lives and transformations.”
Here Cherie reveals some basic, yet essential advice that can help us all become better athletes.
1. Pain is necessary.
I get it, pain sucks, but there is ‘good pain’ and it’s necessary for progress. If you want results, you have to take yourself to a very dark place and go there often. Getting better isn’t about the volume of training but the quality of that training and the level of intensity you are willing to reach.
2. Mechanics are essential.
If you’re not working towards achieving quality movement, you’re going to reach a plateau. I’ve seen this more often than I care to recount: an athlete has fast times but moves without virtuosity. It can suck to slow down and clean up your mechanics, but it is the only way to improve your performance and mitigate risk for the long haul. You can do this any way you choose, but try starting with ten minutes of mechanical/skill work three times a week. It will be 30 minutes a week well spent.
3. Don’t turn every workout into a competition.
I’m not saying not to train your hardest, but if every day is a competition, you’re going to burn out quickly (physically and mentally). No athlete competes five to six days a week for 52 weeks a year and neither should you. Your worth is not equal to whatever your Fran time is on any given day. Your fellow athletes will respect you much more for your work ethic and positive attitude than they will for your numbers. Know what you’re capable of and try to push those limits. Listen to your body and realize every action has a cumulative effect on your day-to-day performance.
4. CrossFit programming is equal parts weightlifting, gymnastics and monostructural movements.
Having a program that favors one aspect over another will bite you in the butt at some point. I see monostructural [cardio] movements overlooked the most, e.g. running, rowing, swimming, biking, etc. If you eliminate these in favor of say, weightlifting, your program will be biased and you are potentially decreasing your overall fitness. Many times this gets justified with “but strength is my weakness.” That might be the case, but unless you have a sub-six minute mile and ten-plus strict muscle-ups (only examples), maybe overall fitness is the weakness that needs to be addressed. You will progress in all three by doing all three.
5. Keep a logbook.
Keeping a logbook is important for training optimally with the right loads, reps and times, but it’s also amazing for motivation. When in doubt of your performance and gains, it’s wonderfully uplifting to look back at how far you’ve come. For example, in 2007, my 30 muscle-ups for time was 45:58 (120 pull-ups and assisted dips). In 2014, it was 9:11 Rx. Even if Joe CrossFit does it in five minutes, how can I be upset with my time when I compare it to my previous performance seven years ago?
6. Be realistic with what you can and should do.
If you keep a logbook this is exponentially easier to do. Develop at a pace that is appropriate for you, not the people next to you and certainly not the athletes at the Games. If an athlete wanted to train for the Leadville 100 (100 miles of running), would you have them run 100 miles on their first day? It seems silly when you put it like that, so why would you expect peak performance when you start a CrossFit program? So you’ve only ever done 20 pull-ups? Let’s progress to 40 for the next go, not 100 or more. Going from 0-60 without appropriately managing your capacity is a recipe for burning out and/or injury. Be realistic about what you can do and put your effort into improving your current capabilities. You’ll see gains quicker than those that take their ego onto the gym floor with them.
7. What happens in the kitchen affects your results.
Eating clean is hard and takes a lot of planning in the beginning. Depending on your eating habits, it can be miserable (but hang in there—it won’t always be). With that said, what you eat can have a far bigger effect on your performance than the workouts you perform during the week. Make nutrition a priority and you will experience superhero gains. Eat real food and figure out precisely how much you need to eat per day. Real foods are foods with no ingredients (no exceptions). What are the ingredients of an apple? An apple. Keep in mind the 80/20 rule. Eat real food 80% of the time and get 80% of the results. That’s not bad and will be enough to see improvements. Adjust that percentage to meet your goals.
8. Rest often and sleep more.
Not improving as you expected to? Feeling tired and run down? Create a rest and sleep schedule, put it on a calendar and set an alarm as a reminder. You will be pleasantly surprised at how much your fitness improves when you give yourself the rest and sleep you need to repair and grow.
9. Work out with somebody or as part of a group.
Nothing will suck the life out of your motivation more than spending hours upon hours training by yourself. After competing at the 2011 Games, I was determined to go back in 2012. I hired a coach to give me specific programming to address my weaknesses. While the programming was great, it drained the joy out of the process and, in turn, greatly affected my motivation. I’ve seen this happen to many athletes. The intensity and fun you get out of training with a group will far outweigh any training benefits you’ll get from a fancy program design.
10. Apply your fitness to activities outside the gym.
Get outside and use your fitness in other activities. Try something new or a hobby you once loved but fell away from over time. Variety is the spice of life. The CrossFit program and community are great—preserve them by not smothering yourself in them 24/7. Once a week vow to add a different activity to your day. You’ll see that it will translate into a happier spirit and bigger gains once you get back into the gym.
From the Feb/Mar 2015 issue of BoxLife Magazine