In the world of CrossFit, he’s a certified legend; the only athlete that has competed at each of the Games to date. At 33 years of age and under 155lbs, he’s older and lighter than most elite CrossFitters. Yet, with three top 10 finishes to his name, his performances speak for themselves. In 2012, we expect to see a different Chris Spealler at the Home Depot Center in Carson, CA; bigger, more confident and focused to perform better than ever.
On the heels of qualifying for his record-breaking 6th Games appearance, we met with Chris to discuss a wide range of topics, from his life outside of CrossFit to his expectations at this year’s Games. What surprised us most? In 2011, his greatest weakness may have been his mindset, the doubt that he didn’t deserve to be there. This year, it may his strongest attribute.
How did you find CrossFit?
CS: I was a Leader on a Young Life trip in CA and bumped into a friend who was in the Marines who told me about it. I forgot about it until a few weeks later. I was online, saw the website, tried a workout and never looked back.
It must mean a great deal for you to make it to the Games again this year. Last year though, you mentioned being ready physically but not having been ready mentally. Explain that.
CS: I think there was a little bit of doubt in me because I didn’t have to do the Regional workouts since I had the buy-in. There were some heavy elements in those Regional workouts, and I felt like I hadn’t proven myself or even proven it to myself. I think when I was at the Games, I knew I belonged there, but I felt as if I hadn’t earned it, where this year that’s definitely not the case.
Speaking of heavy loads, how important do you think body weight is in relation to strength?
CS: It depends on the athlete. I think most athletes don’t have to focus on weight gain, especially newer athletes or those who don’t have as much exposure to strength and conditioning programs prior to starting. I think a lot of athletes can focus just on getting strong and see really great results for a long time. Personally, I started to really stall out on some of my lifts. When I had to focus on heavy lifting more and more, I decided to gain weight. I don’t think it’s crucial for everyone, but if you do start to hit the wall, then I think weight gain is something that can be helpful.
How much weight have you gained?
CS: At my peak, I gained about 12lbs. It’s right around 8 or 9lbs now that I’ve had to do more two-a-days. I’ve settled into 151-152lbs, so I’m about 9lbs heavier than I was last year.
Has gaining the weight helped?
CS: Absolutely, especially given the programming at this year’s Regionals. Having my strength improve, because of gaining weight definitely helped me with the programming.
We know you tried the Westside Barbell program for a while. How did that work for you?
CS: It worked well. I saw some really good strength gains. I followed the program for two days a week, while I did CrossFit the other three days a week. I did see gains, but after about 6-8 weeks, I tried to do another cycle and didn’t see the same results, probably because my body got used to it. I think there’s a lot of value to that style of training, but you really need to know when to change up the movements, the loading or the rep schemes so you can really see results.
So, let’s talk about a lady named Diane. Did you expect to do as well as you did at Event 1 of this year’s Regionals?
CS: No, I wasn’t expecting to do that well but I also knew that I had to get 1st place in that event to offset what was headed down the road in the other workouts.
Do you find that a lot of people PR during competition?
CS: I think people that thrive on competition and don’t crack under pressure usually PR. But I also know people that really don’t like the pressure and don’t like the environment and those are the people that struggle during competition.
You are the only athlete that will have competed in all six of the CrossFit Games, placing 4th, 10th, 26th, 3rd, and 11th, respectively. What have you seen change as far as programming or the competition overall?
CS: I’d say the biggest change is the loading. In 2007, there was a workout with five rounds of 25 pullups and 7 push jerks at 135lbs. At that time everyone thought it was too heavy, and now there’s workouts that have 225lb hang power cleans for 30 reps, with 345lb deadlifts! No one would have been able to complete those workouts back then. I also think some of the skill components have also increased.
As far as the competition goes, it’s gone from a backyard barbecue to a full blown world wide sport, with huge sponsors and guys who are doing well and will make a substantial living. A few years ago, I want to say Games’ winners got $500, $100 if you won an event, or a $50 gift card to somewhere. The competition has increased a ton and the demands on the athletes are no where close to what they were in 2007.
Every year the workouts get tougher. What do you think will be thrown in this year to up the ante?
CS: Yeah, every year you wonder how will they ‘one-up’ that? In 2010, Amanda was such a cool opening. In 2011, it was swimming. I don’t know that we’re going to see anything too crazy like the swim, but I do think there could be different aspects within a workout, maybe bar muscle-ups, yoke carries, things different from what we’ve seen regularly programmed. I think maybe a 30lb wall ball for example. They may try to change things up that way.