If you’ve watched the CrossFit Games over the last three years, it’s hard to have missed Lucas Parker. The 24-year-old Canadian has one of the largest fan bases of any top level CrossFit athlete. Maybe it’s his lumberjackesque image—one that stands out amongst his more clean-cut competitors. Of course, it might be the beard, a symbol of his commitment to the sport and the appreciation he has for his fans. It could also be that at 5’7” 185lbs, the 3-time Games competitor, known for his impeccable technique, has the ability to outlift (he tied for first in the Clean & Jerk ladder event at the 2013 Games with a successful lift at 355lbs) and outperform any athlete on any given day. In our interview, Lucas talks about his training regimen, his choice of nutrition (in the past he’s joked about switching from McDonalds to Wendy’s) and what lies ahead for him in
It’s been a few months since the 2013 Games. Did you, at any point, analyze your performance to adjust your training going forward?
LP: I think reflection is important not only after every big competition but also after every training cycle or even every workout. I look back at how I strategized workouts, how I ate, how I slept, how I thought about things and visualized them, was I being positive or negative, and then of course in hindsight how I trained all year or in monthly countenance. I’m definitely making some changes moving forward, but am still recovering a bit from the Games.
You’re known for keeping solid technique and form even if it means letting someone else get ahead of you. Tell us about that philosophy.
LP: I think when people use the words ‘good technique’ they think it’s simple, safe, slow and controlled and it’s just there to make sure you don’t get hurt. I think that’s a big part of it, but ‘good technique’ is also the technique that’s best for getting through the task quickly, powerfully and efficiently. If you ask me what good technique is on a clean and jerk, I’ll tell you to watch footage from the Olympics and see how the people who lift the most weight in the world accomplish that. By definition, that’s the best technique for lifting the most weight in the world. If you ask what’s good technique for sprinting, look at the fastest sprinters in the world and by definition the technique they use is the best technique for sprinting. I feel that by making sure I have a very good foundation of technique and moving efficiency and by maintaining that every workout, the only thing that will ever hold me back is my stamina and fitness level, not whether I’m able to perform a movement properly.
You coach yourself and though it may add some pressure, you like it. You also appreciate good coaches like CJ Martin, Cam Birtwell and Dusty Hyland. Do you think you’ll ever take on a coach?
LP: I enjoy coaching myself and take pride in it, but not because I’m doing it all myself, because that’s not true. I have a huge support system. My family came to the Games to cheer me on from the stands. My girlfriend got my coach’s pass. She carried my bags, fed and dressed me. This season, I will be working closer with the coaches I help. Cam Birtwell, a strength and conditioning coach at Sports Center works with Olympic athletes all day and does a little CrossFit. I consider him a good friend and my consultant. I run ideas by him and ask for his thoughts on the programming I put together. I’m humbly learning that to take my performance to the next level, I need to put more trust in the experts.
What’s your training volume like?
LP: My volume changes quite a bit throughout the year. But if I’m really hammering it hard and prepping for Regionals, I’ll do 2-3 sessions a day, five days a week. I usually take Wednesdays and Saturdays off. In the off-season, I train less to make sure that I’m recovering due to my injuries. I always make sure I go into my next block of training at 100% but it’s still less than how I’d train for the Games.
When prepping for Regionals, how long are your training sessions?
LP: I take quite a long time warming up and preparing my joints, muscles and movement patterns for the type of training that I’m going to do. I’m usually in the gym for 2-3 hours for a lifting session. If I’m doing something more aerobic—like say a rowing workout, or aerodyne workout—hopefully under an hour: about ten minutes to warm up, 20-30 minutes of hard training, whether that’s intervals or steady state, then a cool down. Skill sessions are a bit shorter. It all depends on how much energy I have. If I feel like there’s nothing in the tank, I know I have to pull the plug because I’m not using my time effectively.
How did school play into your training?
LP: Last year, I was a full-time student, in class from September to April. This year marks a big transition for me where, for the first time in my life, I am no longer a full-time student. I first thought that I would have so much more time to train. But I’ve found the main benefit of not being in school anymore is that instead of sitting in a classroom getting my hips and back tight for 2-3 hours a day, I am now able to spend a lot more time stretching, mobilizing and recovering. In that sense being done with school has definitely been good for my training.
What’s your recovery routine between workouts and during the season?
LP: I like being treated by a professional [chiropractor] at times. I think someone who’s gone to school for four years to learn this stuff has a better understanding and ability to work on my body than I do just sitting at home with a foam roller and my lacrosse ball. Though, I do believe in doing my own mobility work and finding out what works for my body. VooDoo flossing has helped me a lot with my shoulder and ankle injuries.
I’m also into relaxation. I find having an Epsom salt bath after a training session is one of the best things to release the tension from your body, let your mind slow down, relax and make sure that you get a good night’s sleep.
Let’s talk nutrition. We’ve read about you enjoying Wendy’s and gaining some weight before the 2013 Games. What’s the story?
LP: Yes, I definitely gained some weight before Regionals and held it until the Games, which may not have been a good idea. I noticed a great increase in my strength and power, but being as that was already one of my better areas I may have had a more well-rounded performance if I was 5-10lbs lighter and able to get through the running, rowing and bar weight movements more efficiently.
People may think I don’t care about what I eat because of other nutritional supplements, but I do care, just in a different way. I focus on getting enough fuel to match my level of physical activity. In the off-season, I do cut out a lot of the bagels and pasta, but if you’re training for athletic performance in a high intensity sport, sometimes you need to let yourself slide a bit to get all the energy you need. And that’s just my opinion. I may adjust my diet throughout the year and see how it affects me. But when I’m getting ready for a competition I don’t want to experiment with different diets, not knowing what effect they’ll have on my performance.
So you were about 10lbs heavier at the Games?
LP: Yeah, I probably weighed about 195lbs. Walking around all year, I usually weigh under 185lbs, between 182-185lbs. Then during the summer, during Games season, I was definitely closer to 195 or 197. I did tack on a couple pounds there—most of it I think was muscle, probably a bit of water weight as well.
We know you love sprinting. Do you incorporate sprinting and other explosive movements into your workouts?
LP: I do. I think it’s really important no matter what your goals are. Sprinting is the purest, most powerful exercise a human can do. You don’t need a barbell, or special shoes or a gym. You just need a straight shot on a level plane and you can really get an awesome workout.
Though it’s very simple, it is somewhat technical, but just watching a few videos or finding a decent and knowledgeable coach can be wondrous for the sprint form. When you have good technique, you can really get an awesome workout. You can go all out and make yourself feel like puking in under 15 seconds, which is pretty hard to do in any other training.
When people use the word ‘sprint’ in reference to CrossFit, it’s usually thrown in with other movements, so you end up jogging and using the sprint as the rest because the workout as a whole is much longer. A true sprint is to run a short distance—100m, 200m, 400m and go all out.
My sprint workouts are at the track or on the field with some cleats. My warm-up is a lot longer than the workout itself, because you need to prepare your muscles, your hamstrings and calves, for the extreme velocity and force of the sprint. There’s lots of essential drills like butt kicks and high knees, skipping and bounding. I may start with a few sets of simple acceleration, practicing my start position, and go no more than 4-6, maybe 8 reps, working up to distances of 20, 40, 60, 80 meters, to work on my all out speed form. I rest for about 2-3 minutes, making sure that I’m fresh and ready to attack the next rep. If it’s a longer sprint session, I do reps of 200m or 400m, thinking about lengthening my stride, being consistent and tall in my posture and trying to keep a pretty high pace throughout.
For those who don’t know the story, tell us about your beard.
LP: I grew the beard in 2011 in preparation for a competition. I told myself I wasn’t going to shave until my season was over, that I was going to use it as a reminder of every rep, every workout I did throughout the year. I didn’t really think anything about people’s reaction to it at the time. Then, at the 2012 CrossFit Games, I definitely got a favorable reaction from the crowd and some fans. I decided to let it grow out again for 2013, not so much as a training beard but more to show the community that I appreciate their support, attention and encouragement.
You’ve definitely become a fan favorite. How does it feel to be in that position?
LP: Yeah, I always find it hard to see it that way simply because everyone at the Games is a fan favorite. In our sport, I don’t think there’s a bad guy. Everyone on the field is really friendly, welcoming and encouraging and I think the crowd picks up on that. I do recognize that I stand out a bit because I don’t look like a typical CrossFit athlete, so I can see how that would grab some attention. But I just hope that if I do gain any more popularity as this sport grows it’s because my performance is exceptional out on the field.
How long do you think an athlete can remain elite in this sport?
LP: From personal experience I’ll say that participating at the CrossFit Games for several years in a row, it does take a toll on the body. I think I’m in a pretty good position where I’m still relatively young. I’m 24 right now so I believe I have another good 3-5 years to be in my athletic prime. It’s just a matter of staying healthy as long as I can, making sure I’m recovering and not doing too many competitions in the off-season. Hopefully, over the course of those years I’ll be able to outlast the field and prove myself as a top competitor.
Did you know you wanted to compete right from the time you started CrossFit?
LP: Yeah, I did right off the bat. Some of the first videos and pictures I saw of CrossFit were from the early days of the 2008, 2009 Games. Those images were always in the back of my mind while I just trained away, thinking about getting into CrossFit and some other stuff. When 2010 came around, I got a chance to start apprentice coaching at a CrossFit box here in Victoria, and through that got introduced to being able to sign up for Regionals. I guess it was Sectionals back then, and that was my first competition. At that point all of Canada was one region, and I came in tenth. I looked at my results and had some shortcomings here and there, but I said, “I think I can come back next year and win this thing.” And that’s what I did.
You’re a coach at CrossFit Zone. What’s it like to transition from athlete to coach?
LP: I think being a coach helps me as an athlete and being an athlete helps me as a coach. There’s definitely a lot of interplay between the two. Coming at it with an athletic perspective, I know what it takes to perform movements quickly and effectively with good form and how to strategize a workout. I bring that perspective to my clients. One of the advantages of coaching is observing how people move and catching the mistakes they make. Coming up with coaching cues and communicating those cues helps me hardwire those same cues in my mind.
What advice would you give a newcomer looking to become a top level CrossFit athlete?
LP: For someone who is just coming into the sport, I really think the key is to take your time. CrossFit is pretty big now and the idea that you could throw yourself into the mix every year is really enticing. A lot of newer athletes want to go 100% every workout, but may blow their knees and end up out of the picture for two years.
Slow and steady wins the race. You have to ask yourself, how am I different from that guy at the Games? Is it my technique, endurance, strength, my power? Where am I not as good? You have to be honest with yourself. Once you put it down on paper, you can really get into the science of getting better. Look at athletes going to the Games and compare their lifts and workout times to yours. Make the changes it takes to live like an elite athlete and stay positive. It’s a long journey.
Where do you see yourself in 2014?
LP: That is still on the drawing board. I think I’ve talked a lot in the past about the plans and the goals that I have for performance and placement, but what I’m trying—the deal I made with myself right now, is that I’m not really going to think about rankings or placements, or the Games or even Regionals until January. I’m really just going to focus on being as healthy as I can get before the New Year and based on that, where I feel I’ll be able to land in the pack. Based on last year’s Regionals performance, I definitely feel that I have worked my way into the top crew. I wasn’t able to do a lot at the Games this year, however I did have a handful of top ten performances which tells me that if I can maintain muscle in my training, work on what’s slowing me down and get my health on track that I will be ready to compete again in 2014.
Follow Lucas on Twitter & Instagram @ToqueLuc