CrossFit is scalable to all fitness levels. From 3-year-olds to 70-year-olds, everyone can participate. So when Kenneth Leverich walked into Orange Coast CrossFit three years ago, he didn’t think it would be much of a challenge—in fact, he was actually a little bit skeptical, not to mention cocky. On day one, as he was walked through the basics of the squat, the pull-up and the snatch, Leverich told the coach he ‘had it’—he didn’t need a breakdown of the fundamentals. To give him a taste of what CrossFit is all about, the coach slapped two bumper plates on Leverich’s barbell and told him he was going to do a little workout called Fran. Leverich knew he could do it. He finished his first-ever Fran in 3 minutes, 11 seconds. The kicker? He finished his first Fran in 3 minutes, 11 seconds with 135-pounds on his barbell and strict pull-ups.
The coach at OC CrossFit thought he would show Leverich a thing or two about the intensity and depth of a CrossFit workout. Instead, Leverich actually revealed his own natural CrossFit abilities—which were unknown to him at the time.
“I just picked up the bar and went. I remember feeling very beat after that workout though. I went to bed early and didn’t wake up until later in the afternoon the next day. That’s when I knew there was something I liked about CrossFit. I was sold,” Leverich says.
Now, nearly four years later, ‘Kenneth Leverich’ and ‘CrossFit’ are near-synonyms. The Southern California surfer boy is more than just a pretty face—he’s got game and he’s ready to bring it this year.
During his first competitive year Leverich finished 3rd in the world during the Open and took 17th place at the 2012 Games. In 2013 he finished in 28th position at the Games.
It’s 2014 and Leverich says he is confident that his best is yet to come. “I am no longer a rookie. I’ve been to the Games. I am ready to do more than just be there. I want a top-10 finish and a podium spot. I was talking to Neal Maddox recently and he told me, ‘You’re in that sophomore season. Once you understand what it takes to be there—that’s half the battle.’ This year the season just feels more natural,” Leverich says.
Leverich is a natural CrossFitter in every since of the word—a specialist in nothing, but well rounded in many things. With a snatch of 280lbs, back squat of 450lbs, clean & jerk of 345lbs and current Fran time of 2:17, Leverich is able to hang with the elite of the elite, and he is no stranger to hard work.
“I played everything under the sun—from football and Olympic Weightlifting during high school, to rugby and skateboarding and surfing. I’ve done it all and I am always up for a challenge,” Leverich says.
Introduce Leverich to a challenging movement, a weight or a new skill to acquire and though he may not master it at the first attempt, he will through sheer perseverance become competent. It doesn’t matter if it’s surfing a 20-foot wave, a 135lb Fran or triple-unders.
At the Fittest Games in Austin, Texas this past January, triple-unders were programmed alongside bar muscle-ups. Having never attempted a triple-under before, Leverich spent a solid hour practicing his triples—and getting whipped multiple times by his speed rope. Nevertheless, he understood. Come competition time the next day, Leverich completed the workout (6-9-12 triples and muscle-ups) with one of the fastest times of the weekend in 3 minutes, 22 seconds.
“I had never done triple-unders before and I didn’t know how long it would take to get them. But I managed—one or two at a time—and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Leverich says.
Aside from his natural physical abilities, Leverich also possesses a hard-working mindset. He applies this to any challenge that may come his way.
Prior to the 2013 CrossFit Games, Leverich injured his hamstring in training, sparking an ongoing battle with the muscle which continued all the way to Carson. “I initially pulled my hamstring a couple weeks before the Games doing King Kong during training and not really warming up much before jumping into the workout,” Leverich says.
Leverich went on to completely tear the injured hamstring during the clean ladder at the Games that year—forcing him to sit out of training for several months after.
“I took about four months off from the gym. It was miserable. Initially, I couldn’t even sit down or get out of bed without excruciating pain from the injury,” Leverich says.
In fact, the only form of training Leverich did last fall was a training weekend at SEALFIT’s infamous military-style boot camp, where he learned to eat, sleep, think, train and breathe like a Navy SEAL. “It was the most gnarly weekend and training I’ve ever experienced. I didn’t sleep for 53-hours and they made my group train constantly—with limited breaks to eat. One of the most gruesome workouts was when they told us to pack a backpack with lots of sand—I don’t know how much it weighed, but that thing was heavy. Then they told us we would be completing ‘Murph’ with an hour time cap. Those who didn’t finish were sent home. I finished in 50-something minutes.”
Leverich says SEALFIT empowered him to heal from an injury that could have otherwise left him doubting if he would ever be able to compete again.
“No matter how strong you are, it’s the people around you that make you stronger. Community. I completed SEALFIT with a group of other athletes and we helped push each other to the end. The CrossFit community is the same way and my support system—my coaches, my friends—is what helped me believe in myself, believe that I could compete again,” Leverich says.
By January, Leverich was back to training at full capacity under the guidance of owner and coach of Dogtown CrossFit, Dusty Hyland.
“Dusty is really the first coach I’ve worked with. About a year ago he reached out to me about training and we’ve been working together ever since. He pushes me and sees potential that I may not necessarily see. His programming is tough, but it’s been just what I needed to get to my goals,” Leverich says.
Leverich is in the gym 6-8 hours, at least five-six days per week, striving after his goals by doing exactly what Hyland prescribes. This includes a 45-60 minute warm-up, skill work, strength and Olympic lifting, conditioning and engine work (such as rowing sprints or running).
Though Leverich is based in Costa Mesa, CA, he fights Los Angeles traffic to commute to Dogtown two days a week alongside Hyland’s other trainee, 2nd place 2013 Games finisher Lindsey Valenzuela.
“It’s great to train with Lindsey. We go back and forth—some days she beats me, other days I beat her.”
The day of this interview Leverich and Venezuela attacked a light pre-Open workout, comprised of handstand walks into inverted burpees, heavy clean and jerks and snatch work, and lastly, a ‘fun’ met-con. How fun? Well, how about a 30-meter handstand walk, 15 box jumps, 200-meter dumbbell farmer’s carry (70/55) with fat-axle grips, 20 clean and jerks at 205/125, 30 meter handstand walks, 15 box jumps, and another 200-meter farmer’s carry?
On top of his commitment to training, nutrition and recovery have played vital roles in Leverich’s ability to enter the season in good shape.
“I was having trouble with my body fat percentage—I was at something like 3% and didn’t feel like my all-round performance was sound—as if I lacked the engine for longer met-cons. So I consulted with a nutritionist who suggested augmenting fats and carbs. Every fourth day, I carb load—and it’s basically a free-for-all day—ice cream, pizza, pasta. It’s so rad,” Leverich says.
On the other days though, he sticks to a prominently Paleo diet with lots of quality proteins (bison, chicken, fish, lean brisket), avocados for fats and his favorite: sweet potatoes.
For recovery, Leverich’s favorite method of letting his body rest from training is surfing.
“I pretty much grew up surfing and used to be pretty hardcore into the surfing lifestyle. There’s nothing like the rush I get riding a wave—and I can get totally lost out there with me, the board and the water. I am out there as much as I can be—it’s always in the back of my mind.”
The diet, intense training and recovery schedule seem to have worked wonders for Leverich. Prior to the 2014 Open, Leverich participated in three back-to-back weekends of local fitness competitions in January and February, including the OC Throwdown, Wodapalooza Miami and The Fittest Games.
“It may sound like a lot of local events, especially right before the Open—but I really wanted to test my body this year leading up to the Games, to see how fast I could recover and to see how my hamstring would hold up. I feel great.”
During the Fittest Games in Austin, Leverich faced his nemesis—King Kong—something he was nervous to do. Attacking each rep of the workout with a vengeance, he completed the WOD (455-pound deadlift and all) in 3 minutes, 21 seconds.
“I don’t think I cared what time I got as much as I cared about finishing it. It felt like a huge accomplishment and that’s what this sport is all about—discovering that you are capable of more than you may think.
From the April/May 2014 Issue of BoxLife Magazine
Photo by Jorge Huerta