Thursday, February 1st, 2018: TWENTY-FOUR HOURS WITH RICH FRONINGJanuary 31, 2018
10 ghd situps
10 pass throughs
10 figure 8’s
1K row for time
1min double unders
** 2 scores, row time and DU reps
“Say Cheese and Die”
For time: 35 min cap
100 Burpees Box Jump Overs 24/20
100 Power Snatches 75/55
100 Wall Balls 20/14
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A person only ever visits Cookeville, Tenn.—about an hour east of Nashville—for one of three reasons: 1. Check out Tennessee Tech 2. Eat a glazed cruller at Ralph’s Donuts on South Cedar 3. Do CrossFit. It was the sport’s four-time Fittest Man on Earth, Rich Froning, that brought me there in early December. (The donuts were a nice bonus.) Pulling into the quarter-mile-or-so driveway, I was in instant awe of both his two-story straight-out-of-a-magazine home and the 70-acre property. As I put my rental car in park, it was impossible to overlook the massive barn off to the right of his front door.
This isn’t your typical barn. Slide one of the towering doors to the side, walk in, and there aren’t any horses, farm equipment, or animal feed. Instead, there’s a massive black Rogue rig with Froning banners draped from two different pull-up bars. Side-by-side assault bikes. A glute ham developer. A sea of barbells, weight plates, kettlebells, and Rogue sandbags. A couple of ATVs. A Harley. A fridge, loaded with chocolate milk.
Anyone who follows the sport will tell you that Rich is a legend. The father of two has a 570-pound deadlift and can do 75 pull-ups unbroken. Before his surgery for a torn meniscus after the 2017 CrossFit Games, the now 30-year-old could crush a 475-pound back squat and snatch more than 300 pounds. In short: Rich is to CrossFit what Shaun White is to snowboarding—essential.
8 a.m. / Breakfast
For the last two-ish months, the Michigan native has been on a very specific breakfast kick: A piece of toast spread with smooth-with-a-little-bit-of-crunch peanut butter (it’s a Southern thing) and jelly, topped with two eggs over easy. He loads up the toaster then simultaneously cooks the eggs on his towering gas range, as not to waste time. I like his style.
Instead of coffee, he reaches for milk. I’d come to learn over the next couple days that Rich drinks an astronomical amount of milk, at least seven servings throughout a 24-hour period. In the mornings with breakfast. Post-workout. Just because. At one point, he reveals to me that he went to a lab nearby, had some tests done, and learned that his bone density is about 15 percent higher than the normal elite athlete. Although doctors couldn’t exactly attribute it to how much milk he drinks, he tells us that’s his assumption.
9:30 a.m. / Workout No. 1
One by one, members of the CrossFit Mayhem Freedom teams (there are two, consisting of four people each) walk into the barn. I immediately recognize newcomer Tasia Percevecz, who placed 15th in her first-ever games appearance in 2016. She moved to Cookeville three days prior to claim her spot on the team, and is currently sleeping on a friend’s couch—all the while, working remotely as a sales rep for her day job.
Percevecz isn’t the only one uprooting their life for rural Tennessee: Something interesting’s happening in Cookeville, as it slowly becomes a hub for elites of the sport. Most notably, current Fittest Man on Earth Matthew Fraser relocated to the area from Vermont within the last few months, training with Rich and the Mayhem Freedom team on the regular. Rich’s cousin (one of 25 male cousins, actually) Darren Hunsucker, another Mayhem Freedom teammate, moved to the area back in 2009 from Chicago. Rich tells us about a few more guys, including Josh Bridges, who are looking at property in the area. And then there’s Kristin Miller, filling the final Mayhem Freedom spot for the 2018 team, uprooting her life from Houston.
The group congregates around a large whiteboard at the front of the barn as Rich writes out the warm-up. The Fronings’ two dogs, Gilligan and Gipper, join Bowser—Hunsucker’s bulldog—for a game of tag near a stack of Rogue wooden plyo boxes as the team crushes 36 minutes of cardio-intensive fitness total. This burner’s the first of three workouts Rich will do that day. Typically, the team works out two or three sessions—which could include multiple workouts—per day. Sundays are their off-day, although I get the feeling an “off day” is working out only once.
“Usually in the morning we do something like this just to get out of breath, and often that includes intervals,” says Rich, who tells me that swimming is on the agenda for the following day. He likes to mix it up. Also: Swimming is much less impact on his knees.
By the fourth round of the workout, the clothes are at a minimum. Abs everywhere. Biceps everywhere. Tattoos everywhere (Rich has a total of three). Sweat, everywhere. Mission accomplished for Rich, who says breaking a sweat daily is essential to his being. After this workout (and each subsequent one throughout the day) he heads to the back of the barn and reaches in the fridge for his post-workout drink of choice: chocolate milk.
“Fitness is a big part of what I do and it’s kind of who I am,” he says. “I have to move. Sweat. Do it everyday if I can. Because then I’m a more pleasant person to be around.”
10:30 a.m. / Prehab
After the “warmup,” Rich grabs a resistance band and a few plates and brings them into a corner. For the next 30-or-so minutes, he proceeds to do mobility exercises—including BOSU eccentric lunges, banded single-leg swings, and single-leg deadlifts—as a part of his his meniscus rehab from an August 17 surgery.
Outside of these movements he does on his own, he’s also meeting with a physical therapist at least once weekly at the gym. Each week, she gives him a new set of exercises that he does at least once daily.
“You think surgery’s going to fix the pain, but literally every step that I’ve taken in the past six or seven months, it feels like someone’s stabbing me with an ice pick,” he says. “It’s starting to get to where it’s not like that anymore. It’s been so frustrating. There was a point where I didn’t even want to squat. I just wanted to be able to walk. To run.”
As Rich tells me that he’s finally getting the full extension on his squat back, his daughter Lakelyn runs over to us wearing a pink princess dress. Equal parts bashful about our crew being around and excited to see her dad, she starts to do some gymnastics-type movements around the barn. Rich lowers a Rogue Infinity Kid’s Pull-Up Bar to her desired height, and she starts to do some somersaults.
“As long as my kids live here, they will do some type of something active,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be Crossfit [although Lakelyn does do CrossFit Kids classes at Mayhem]. I just want them to do some sort of physical activity. It’s about the life lessons.”
11:30 a.m. / Workout No. 2
If Rich was in pain at any point during the time I spent with him, I’d have had no idea except for a few small grimaces during his prehab exercises. The man shaved time off of his 2-minute row during the morning interval work, and would finish the upcoming workout well before his teammates.
We circled back around the whiteboard, and the conception of the day’s workout became a team effort. If you thought there was some carefully crafted plan of what muscle group a team of this caliber trains on each day, well, you’d be wrong. I’m told most days go a little something like this: Someone throws out an exercise. For our purposes, it’s Persevecz with the muscle-up. Then someone else says something about a sandbag. And a bench press. My mind drifts as I find myself staring at Mayhem teammate Lindy Barber’s abs, only to come back to life with a “So, are you in?” from Hunsucker.
Turns out Angelo Dicicco, the 2017 Fittest Teen on Earth (yes, that’s a thing) and newest male member of the Mayhem team for 2018, has a full-time job. So that means they need an alternate for the workout designed to be done in pairs, and that alternate is me.
As we set up, I realize quickly I’m pretty much in CrossFit kindergarten, and the rest of the Mayhem squad’s graduated with their college masters on the dean’s list. While Hunsucker did muscle-ups, I modified and did burpee pull-ups. While he benched over 100 pounds, I stripped the bar and stared down a casual 55. Paired up, Rich and Persevecz finished well before we did. But the congratulatory high fives after the fact made me feel like maybe I didn’t suck that much. No wonder why people are up and moving across the country to train to get in with this crew.
MAIN PARTNER WORKOUT
3:00 p.m. / Haircut
We arrive at The Finery Salon and Day Spa. Rich goes straight to get his hair washed before sitting down in a white barber’s chair.
Rich tells me he met his wife Hillary while getting his haircut early one Saturday morning before he ever started doing CrossFit in 2009. Back then, he was a firefighter. They dated for about a year before getting engaged, and were married soon after that in June 2011. Having yet to meet her in our day together, I can’t help but smile looking at how he lights up talking about her. (She’s also the only person he follows on Instagram. Likely to the dismay of some of his million-plus followers.)
That smile grows even bigger at the mere mention of his kids, Lakelyn, now 3, and Trice, just under a year old. The Fronings went through a semi-public struggle when it came to having their children (Hillary blogged about this in 2015), and were over-the-moon when they were able to adopt their first in 2015.
“When I competed as an individual, I woke up every single day to win the CrossFit Games. I went to bed every single night to win the CrossFit Games. That’s what got to me where I am,” he says. “But after having Lakelyn, that’s kind of why I stepped away. Everyone’s like why would you step away when you just won four times in a row, you probably could’ve won another time or two. But, as soon as she was born, my shift went from winning the CrossFit Games to being a real father. That’s my number one goal. It’s surpassed the things on the fitness side. Fitness is still on there, it’s good. But that’s not why I wake up in the morning. I wake up to be a father. I wake up to be a husband.”
“I have to move. Sweat. Do it everyday if I can. Because then I’m a more pleasant person to be around.”
4:30 p.m. / Physical Therapy
With his fresh cut, we head on over to CrossFit Mayhem—the gym Rich owns and where Hunsucker is head coach. Upon first step inside, it would be safe to say that the box is easily the size of your local Costco. Two floors. Three different rigs. A dozen TrueForm Runners lining the left wall. Also of note: A playpen in the middle where one member set up shop for her toddler while she cruises through assault bike a few feet away. The box is welcoming, with members spread out all over the place doing their own programming.
Rich meets up with his physical therapist, who runs him through a new set of exercises to do for the upcoming week of rehab. He does about an hour’s worth of work while I get more acquainted with Mayhem. A Michelin Man look-alike walks by me. A group of athletes are taking a LIFE (Longevity In Functional Efficiency) class about 100 yards away—Mayhem’s offering geared at an older crowd, or anyone who says “I could never do CrossFit.” It’s one of five different classes offered at the gym.
5:30 p.m. / Workout No. 3
I look up from my position on the foam roller and Rich is dragging a Big Ass Fan over toward a Assault AirRunner. He tells me he sweats more than anyone he knows, as he laces up his Reebok Harmony racers. I look down and wince. The shoes are pretty beat up, which makes my knees hurt for his knees. He doesn’t seem to mind, and says that even though they’re a little narrow for him —they’re his favorite running sneakers. I wonder how in the world an athlete like Rich doesn’t have a pair that fit his feet the right.
Steadfast on training despite the advice not to put extra stress on his knees, Froning is gearing up for a Ragnar Relay that would take place the following weekend. Different than your typical Ragnar, the race occurs on a few different trails and the teammates get to sleep in tents. Their team, “the 36 Run Club,” lead by CrossFit frontman Dave Castro, would ultimately finish in 22:20:13.
7:00 p.m. / Dinner at the Fronings
There are to-go containers of fajitas from a Mexican spot down the street on the marble countertop that he picked up on his way home from Mayhem. I finally meet his wife Hillary, who’s sitting down at the kitchen island holding Trice next to Mayhem Freedom team member Lindy Barber. Charlie Brown Christmas is on the TV, and Lakelyn is running around like she just drank a Red Bull (she didn’t). Rich is drinking milk.
The Fronings aren’t the kind of family to sit down and have a formal meal. But they are the kind of family that does everything together—including sleep. Rich tells me that the family ends up in the same bed most days, but he often crawls into a twin mattress they have on the floor that’s supposed to be for Lakelyn. There, he’ll sleep from around 10:30 p.m.—after reading from the bible on his iPad—to 8 a.m. That’s right: Rich typically gets 9 to 10 hours of sleep.
I ask Hillary about how she feels about that. Also: how it feels that her husband went from being Rich, a firefighter, to the Rich Froning.
“I can’t complain because it’s our life. It’s his job,” she says. “People that don’t know what CrossFit is, they’ll say to me so your husband works out, and I’m like technically, yes. When someone comes to stay with us they’re like he’s at the gym all day. But anybody that knows him, they know that he’s so busy. If he wasn’t there, he wouldn’t be sitting down here. He would be doing something. Somewhere.”
Rich agrees but also acknowledges that things have changed so much for him in the past three years. Now, he admits, he’s finally found his groove both in the sport and at home. Now, he admits he’s happy.
“I’m finally at a point where it’s a lot more fun and less stressful,” he says, as he takes another sip of milk and reaches to pick at one of the to-go containers. “I was so tired of just grinding by myself. Now it’s like, you get to share that load with other people. I still get to compete. But I’m not as much of a stress ball as I used to be. I can hang out with my kids until 9 o’clock at night. I can be here. And that’s what’s important.”