In 2011, he gained notoriety with a 2nd place worldwide finish in the Open. He became a fan favorite when he later won the beach event, the first event to air on ESPN2 as part of the 2011 CrossFit Games. Considered an underdog by some, that weekend he earned a podium spot with a 2nd place finish. Military obligations forced him to miss the 2012 season and a catastrophic knee injury while overseas would almost bring his entire career to an end. Now, after reconstructive surgery, extensive rehab and a dominating first place finish at the 2013 SoCal Regionals, Josh Bridges is back and aiming for CrossFit’s highest honor: Fittest Man on Earth.
How did you find CrossFit or did CrossFit find you?
JB: I found CrossFit in January 2005. I was working at a mortgage company as a loan officer…the worst job I’ve ever had (laughs) and a friend told me about CrossFit. I did one workout and said ‘I’m in!’ Like everyone says, I got hooked on the Kool-Aid and never looked back. I think the ideology behind CrossFit is incomparable. There’s nothing like it out there and I don’t think there will be ever be something better.
Did you have any previous athletic experience that helped you become an elite athlete?
JB: I don’t think any specific experience helped me, though I did wrestle and I think that has a good transfer into CrossFit. The time domain of six minutes constantly pushing and performing different movements helped, but off the bat this wasn’t something I thought I would be good at. I had the competitive drive. I had the endurance, plus I’m short. When CrossFit started, the weights were really light. Now as weights get heavier, you just have to be strong.
You’ve been in CrossFit for 8 years now. How else has it changed since you started?
JB: It’s changed drastically…the weight is getting heavier, there are gyms in every state and continent. I remember I used to post my times on the main website and just do the main website workouts. I think it’s only going to get bigger. There’s not another program that will get you in better shape than CrossFit.
Weights were pretty heavy in 2011, when you placed 2nd. As weights get heavier, are smaller athletes at a disadvantage?
JB: I’m not really sure. I think it shows the true balance of CrossFit. My weakness is strength, yet I was able to place 2nd that year. That shows how balanced CrossFit truly is. I know for sure I’m not the strongest guy out there, but it’s the balancing act of CrossFit. I do have an advantage on the gymnastics, calisthenics-style movements, and I think that’s why I was able to still take second, in spite of the weight.
Does heavy weight force you approach a workout differently?
JB: I don’t think so. I take a workout at a time. I never try to over-analyze workouts. At the end of the day, I’m just working out. At the end of a workout I might tell myself I could have done something faster, something better, and I’ll try that when if I do another similar workout, but I just like to have fun with it.
Did you ever have that ‘aha-moment’ when you realized you wanted to get good at this sport and compete?
JB: 2011 was my first year competing, I’d never done any other CrossFit competition. It was Games season. I did the Open, then Regionals and made it to the Games. In late 2010, I realized that my work schedule would allow me to have a shot at participating, so in January 2011, I started taking competing seriously. I always worked out just as hard as I did getting ready for competition, but before that time it was just for fun.
Whether you know it or not, you’re one of the more popular athletes yet you’ve only competed once at the Games. Why do you think that is?
JB: I think getting on the podium gave me some of that recognition. But I also think because I’m a smaller guy, I don’t think people had a lot of faith in me. They might have thought, ‘this guy’s small, he’s probably not going to do that well.’ I could have been considered an underdog, and I did well.
When did you know that you would not be able to compete in 2012?
JB: I knew at the 2011 Games that I wouldn’t be able to compete in 2012. I knew I was going to be working. Then I injured myself in April of 2012, so that just solidified it.
How did it feel not being able to compete in 2012?
JB: It was tough. I was told attending as a spectator would be difficult, but I went anyway. I was bitter, chomping at the bit to get out there and it was only two months after surgery. So though I could train, there wasn’t too much I could do. It’s tough when you know you have a shot to do well and it’s kind of ripped away from you. When you realize there’s nothing you can do about it, you have to move on.
What was recovery like after your injury?
JB: I tore five ligaments in my left knee. It was sitting at about a 45 degree angle to the left. It was nasty; it was one of those freak accidents you don’t want to see, one that makes you cringe. It was devastating. Right off the bat I thought to myself, ‘That really sucks.’ It was hard at first to accept the fact that I went from doing anything I wanted to not being able to do a lot of what I wanted to do.
I immediately started training. Three days later I was in the hospital gym, doing the workout I wanted to. I did pull-ups and push-presses leaning up against something. I was heavily medicated at that point. I remember my heart racing and I thought my blood was a little thin and that I shouldn’t go too hard. I was just trying to do what I could do to stay active and not lose my mind.
I did a lot of pull-ups, bench press, one-legged rowing on a skateboard. I built a lot of crappy habits by using my one leg and still trying to get something in.
The weekend I had surgery was the last Regional weekend, and I watched it on my phone from the hospital. Every day since, I’ve tried to stay positive, knowing that one day I would be able to get back to where I was and surpass it. Interestingly enough, the first two things I did surpass post surgery were my back squat and front squat PRs. It blew my mind. Physical therapy was great, and learning to move correctly really helped a lot.
You finished first in your region in the Open and in the SoCal Regionals this year. How would you compare yourself pre-injury to where you are now?
JB: I’d say I’m there. There are a few areas where I’m not quite there yet. I’ve gotten really close to hitting my pre-injury PR on my Olympic lifting, specifically the Clean & Jerk, Everything else is right back up there. Right before my injury, I was in the best shape ever. I was hitting PRs on something every week so it was pretty frustrating when I injured myself and had to start over.
You started working with a coach, CJ Martin right before the 2011 Games season. How important do you think it is for someone at your level to have a coach?
JB: I think it depends on the person, but it’s pretty imperative for me. Coaches keep you in check. There are a lot of people who want to be coaches and put together different workouts. However, it’s hard to come by a guy who knows how to combine strength and skills for optimal gains. I got really lucky to find CJ. At the very least, I think it would be really difficult to train without having a workout partner.