Tuesday, October 10th, 2017: World’s Fittest CrossFit FanOctober 9, 2017
10 pass throughs
10 figure 8’s
10 inch worms
5 goblet squats
10 good mornings
10 cleans (gain depth with each rep) (muscle clean -> squat clean)
Hang Squat Clean + Squat Clean + Jerk
(70-80% of clean and jerk)
10 RFT: 22min cap
1/2/3/4/5/6/7/8/9/10 Clean & Jerks 155/105
1 round of Cindy
(5 pullups, 10 pushups, 15 squats)
*1 C&J, 1 round of Cindy, 2 C&J, 1 round of Cindy, etc
I Tried to Become the World’s Fittest CrossFit Fan, and Here’s What Happened
My experience at the Fittest Fan competition was brutal and intense—and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world
BY SPENSER MESTEL September 26, 2017
“Are you here for the CrossFit?” my driver asks in a thick Russian accent as we go from my AirBNB to the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin.
“I am,” I say, still a little groggy from the flight in the night before.
“Are you competing?” he asks.
At first, I’m not sure how to respond to this question. Technically, I’m not a Games athlete — I’m a journalist. But for the next four days, I’ll be competing against 18,000 other spectators to become the Fittest Fan on Earth.
The CrossFit Fittest Fan Competition harnesses the fanatic energy of CrossFitters by giving them a new workout a day, usually one adapted from the teen competition. Anyone can participate, and the day’s best times are posted the following morning. After a year and a half of doing CrossFit at the same gym, I want to see how I compare to this broad cross-section of the CrossFit universe. If I get lucky and hit only the movements I’m best at, like pull-ups, handstands, and pistol squats, I think I can do fairly well. And even if I have to do Olympic lifts, I’m confident I can dig deep and power through. This is, after all, the ultimate test of athleticism.
I competed with some of the fittest CrossFit fans in the world, and here’s what I learned.
Related: Inside the Cult of CrossFit
1) Stay tighter on the pull-ups and squat during the burpees.
When I get to the Age Group Pavilion at the venue, people are queuing up to reserve a time slot. A metal fence separates us from nine weightlifting platforms and 20 lanes installed for the day’s workout, with Assault Bikes at one end. I look at the whiteboard: a bike ride, burpee box jumpovers, and cleans with a 150-lb sandbag.
At the front of the line, a volunteer tells me that all the slots are full, but something may open up around 5:30. So I head toward the booth for 5.11, the company that makes the weighted vests that competitors wear for certain workouts. I’m supposed to interview Willem Driessen, the company’s VP of marketing. Out front, there are two stations, each with a mat and a pull-up bar. Next to them is a whiteboard that says “As Many Reps As Possible [AMRAP] (3 minutes) — 3 burpees, 6 pull-ups, 9 air squats.” Willem has a cold and an injured foot, but he agrees to do the AMRAP with me anyway.
The time starts, and I blow through the first two rounds. When the third starts, though, I finally feel that extra 20 pounds. By that point, I can’t tell whether the vest I’m wearing is constricting my chest, or if I’ve been holding my breath during the burpees. Either way, I’m gasping when the rep calls out that we’re halfway done, and for the first time, I can’t do the pull-ups without stopping. As I hang, I see the three men, still standing in front of me, still with their arms folded. This is the CrossFit Games, I think. Get going.
I kip up, my chin barely getting over the bar, and as I drop into the squats, I stumble forward a bit. During each of the burpees, I rest for a half-second on the ground, and as I’m hanging from the bar panting, the rep calls time. At 5 rounds and 3 reps, I’ve beaten Willem. Ten minutes later, though, I’m still breathing heavily.
As I go over the workout in my head, I realize I needed to stay tighter on the pull-ups. Because the bar was hanging from the ceiling a dozen feet above, it swung when I kipped. If I had been engaging my core and glutes, I could’ve controlled the movement better and not wasted energy flopping back and forth. (For more exercises that engage your core, try Men’s Health Anarchy Abs workout.) Likewise, when I came up from the bottom of my burpees, I should’ve spread my feet wider, which would’ve made getting up easier and faster.
Related: Why Do People Love CrossFit So Much?
crossfits fittest fan
2) Don’t let the bar rest your shoulders during the clean-and-jerk.
The next day, I’m sore — not just from the three-minute workout, but also from standing and walking for eight hours. My thighs and shoulders ache as I head back to the Age Group Pavilion, and after reserving a time slot — 5:30, again — I walk to the opposite side, where the 16- and 17-year-old girls are about to do a workout called Bar Fight. The workout consists of 50 chest-to-bar pull-ups, 40 toes-to-bar, and 30 clean-and-jerks. At 145 pounds, the barbell weighs more than some of the athletes. (For more workouts that will help you burn fat and build muscle, check out MetaShred Extreme from Men’s Health.)
Most of the girls rip through the pull-ups and toes-to-bar in a few sets, but when they go to clean and jerk, it’s clear that the time spent hanging has blasted their grip strength. Still, I’m amazed by their consistency. After the clean, the strongest athletes immediately press the bar over their heads and jerk instead of letting it rest on their shoulders. This strategy best leverages the momentum from their legs, but it’s more difficult mentally and aerobically.
Watching them, I hope I’ll be able to use the same technique for today’s Fittest Fan Challenge workout: 24 clean and jerks (12 at the beginning, 12 at the end) and in between, two rounds of 15 toes-to-bar and 12 chest-to-bars. My bar will weigh 115, 30 pounds fewer than theirs.
Related: This CrossFit Games Contender Eats Up to 500 Grams of Carbs a Day
3) Butterfly the chest-to-bars and kick harder on the toes-to-bar.
I can feel myself start to red-line around the sixth clean and jerk. I want to put the barbell down and let my heart rate drop a bit, but the guys on either side of me aren’t stopping, so I don’t, either. I go until the tenth rep, break, finish the last two, and then more or less walk from the barbell to the pull-up rig 50 feet away. I’d planned on doing both the toes-to-bars and chest-to-bars in two sets, but I drop off after only a few reps.
As I try to take deeper breaths and slow my heartbeat, the volunteer monitoring us tries to encourage me. “Come on,” she says, pumping her fist. “It’ll be over all too soon.”
crossfits fittest fan
With 12 clean and jerks left, that feels impossible, but I smile and keep going anyway. The guy to my left has already finished when I get back to my barbell. I do six reps in sets of two, after which the guy on my right has finished, and I switch to singles. Every time I get the bar to my shoulders, I rest for seconds at a time and then struggle to press it overhead. It is not efficient. The last four reps take me as long as the first 12, and I finish in 6:37. The best in my heat is 5:20. The winning time for the day is a Regionals athlete who didn’t qualify for the Games. He does it in 3:18.
Leaving the venue, I’m disappointed by my clean-and-jerks, but I vow that after I get back to my home gym, I’ll finally spend the few hours to learn the butterfly technique for chest-to-bars, which will make them easier to cycle. I also realize that need to make my toes-to-bar more efficient. Instead of raising my legs straight, like an L-sit, I should keep them bent until the very end and then kick the bar, which will spare me some of the agony in my hip flexors.
Related: CrossFit Athletes Do Crazy Swolemate Workouts
Home Workout From Hell:
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4) Keep your ankles supple during pistol squats.
By day three, the soreness in my thighs and shoulders has spread to my lats, my feet, and my calves, but I’m fired up to tackle today’s challenge. I have a new strategy — ignore the other athletes, stick to my pacing — but before the Fittest Fan, I’m supposed to work out with the team from Second Skin.
My shining moment at my home gym, CrossFit Virtuosity, was when I did a pistol squat on top of kettlebell while holding a barbell overhead, so I grab the heaviest kettlebell they have. To learn how to do a pistol squat, I made sure I had enough mobility in my ankles and practiced holding the bottom position. Once I was confident doing pistols on the ground, I tried holding a kettlebell against my chest and then over my head. After that, I did one on the handle of the biggest kettlebell I could find.
I take a deep breath, put the middle of my foot on the handle, and stand up. After a few wobbles, I’m balanced and upright, and then I squat. The shakiest part is always halfway down, and once I pass that, I know I’m there. “Damn, man,” one of the athletes says. “Nice move.”
Related: The Surprising Way Mat Fraser Won the Reebok CrossFit Games
crossfits fittest fan
5) Set a reasonable pace and stick to it.
I’m still buzzing when I get to the Age Group Pavilion, especially when I see the workout: 100 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, and 100 air squats. Without a weighted vest, these movements are so familiar to me that pacing will be a breeze. Even estimating conservatively, I can finish each within four minutes, well under the 20-minute time cap.
I introduce myself to Erik, the guy sharing the pull-up rig with me, who really looks like a Games competitor, and it turns out he’s Slovakia’s number-two athlete. Remember, I think, do not try and keep up with Erik.
As soon as I see Erik butterflying his pull-ups, I try to teach myself to do the same. Not only do I fail, but the swinging and kipping and jerking on the bar exhausts me by the fourth set of ten. From there, I go to eights. Then fives.
I know I can hit sets of 20 push-ups, so I err on the side of caution and start with 15s. Soon, I’ve dropped down to 10s, and even then, I’m doing seven, rotating back into a downward dog position, and then finishing the last three. When I start the sit-ups, I plan to push hard.
I’ve never done 100 sit-ups in a row, but I’ve already burned 11 minutes and can’t stop if I hope to finish under the time cap. I go slowly but consistently, and by the time I move onto the air squats, I’ve finally caught my breath. I’ve underperformed every workout so far, and though I have no hope of hitting my original estimate of 16 minutes, I do not want to get timed out. Even if there’s no one watching me, I want to be the best I’ve been.
Related: How Many Calories Does CrossFit Really Burn?
6) The hardest workout isn’t always the one that leaves you feeling the worst
My thighs are sore after the first thirty, and my hip flexors start to feel overstretched around number 45. In some ways, this is the hardest workout I’ve done because, unlike the clean and jerks, I know I’m physically capable of finishing. I just can’t let myself stop. I focus on making it to 66, and then 75. When I hit 80, I pick up the pace. There’s a fire in my legs, but I’m going to finish this workout right.
After the hundredth squat, I take a seat and catch my breath. I don’t sprawl on the ground or writhe in pain or feel like I’m going to barf, but for the first time at the CrossFit Games, I feel like I’ve accomplished something meaningful. Ironically, it wasn’t during the workout with a weighted vest or an Olympic lift. It was the one with the two most rudimentary movements — sit-ups and air squats — that I achieved a goal I was actually capable of but had never hit before.
The Fittest Fan Challenge is a great way to feel physically inferior to the Games competitors. But the workouts also made me feel closer to the athletes, like we had something in common. For all but one of them, they’ll ultimately fail at their primary goal: to keep up with the guy next to them, the Fittest Man on Earth. The best they can hope for is to perform better than they ever have before. In my own very small, very limited, very unimpressive way, I got to share that feeling.