Ben Bergeron is the owner of CrossFit New England, mastermind of CompTrain and CompTrain Masters, father of two, and husband to his wife Heather Bergeron, but more notably, he is the coach to CrossFit Games Fittest on Earth Katrin Davidsdottir (2015 & 2016) and Mat Fraser (2016 & 2017). He has also coached perennial Games athletes such as Michelle Letendre, Chris Spealer, Becca Voigt, the CFNE Team (2011 Champions), and currently works with Brooke Wells and Cole Sager in addition to Katrin and Mat. His success as a coach is undeniable but it goes deeper than fine programming, simple nutrition, and physical cues. Ben's athletes are always most noted for the mental aspect of their performance. In his recently published best seller Chasing Excellence, Ben outlines the mindset and methodology he uses to train his athletes.
In this series, my intention is to go chapter by chapter in the book and pull out a few key points. I want to show they relate to us at CrossFit Eta who are not professional athletes, not just summarize the book. If you want to read along and go more in depth, I would highly encourage you to read Ben Bergeron’s book Chasing Excellence as well as listen to his podcasts on Chasing Excellence which can be found on iTunes or YouTube. This first week, I wanted to touch on some small quotes from the Foreword (by Katrain Davidsdottir) and Introduction of the book and how they are foundational to everything Bergeron talks about in his book.
The foreword starts with Katrin’s recollection of the 2014 Meridian Regional. Although she qualified for the Games the previous two years, Katrin failed to qualify this year after an epic failure to climb a rope during one of the events. It wasn’t her physical capability but her mental capacity that kept her from qualifying. The following week, Ben Bergeron, who was only a friend at the time, texted her the following: “I know you might not see this now, but this could be the best thing that’s ever happened you.”
Sometimes we get short-sighted over an obstacle, whether it be an injury, loss of a job, financial troubles, or just something not going according to plan. We get stuck in the rut of feeling sorry for ourselves. We would rather complain to the world so we can be shown empathy rather than try to find a solution. Brent Fikowski missed making it to the Games in 2014 & 2015 by a TOTAL of 3 points at the regional level. He came back in 2016 and dominated the field with a 1st place at Regionals, won 4th place overall at the Games, and then continued to do the same in 2017 with a silver medal at the Games. When asked what changed from 2015 to 2016, he said, “I got injured.” Looking at his 2014 & 2015 performances, you can see he lacked some upper body strength which especially showed on events with strict handstand push-ups. He tells the story to show how because he dealt with some foot pain, causing him to stay off his feet thus limiting his lower body movements. He was forced to work a lot of strict upper body movements and pure strength which eventually led to his overall success. He was better because of his injury. In the same way, it was because Katrin failed so miserably on the legless rope climbs in 2014 that she came back to not only make it to the Games, but win back to back Fittest Woman on Earth titles in 2015 & 2016.
In our own lives we may stumble across an obstacle that seems detrimental now, but if we refocus our mindset, or redefine our adversity, we can see how this will help make us into a better person. Use adversity to your advantage rather than letting it tear you down. Losing a job could be the ticket you needed to pursue your true dreams rather than being stuck at the job that you thought was good for you long-term. Maybe being on the short end of things financially helps you learn how to better manage your money so that later in life when you become more blessed, you are even more efficient with your savings. Redefine your adversity as an opportunity. Challenge yourself to see how “this could be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.”
Be the Best You
If you watched the documentary Fittest on Earth: Decade of Fitness or have spent any time following Katrin Davidsdottir, you’ll know that this is her mantra. Ultimately it stems back from Bergeron’s teachings to maximize every minute of every day to its highest potential. What are you doing right now to make this minute the best it can possibly be? On page 15, Katrin states, “Ben never expects me, or any other athlete, to do more than we are capable of, but always expects us to give everything we have.” She also comments on how she and Ben never talk about winning the CrossFit Games but instead talk about “giving full effort in every single moment of every single day, and becoming the best we could possibly be.”
If we work to be the best we can be in every single moment, then when we go to bed at night we are not only satisfied with the work we’ve put in for the day, but all those little moments add up throughout the day. Our goal should not be to do “Fran” in under 3 minutes; our goal should be to become 1% better today during THIS training session so that slowly over time, we become a better athlete. The PRs and performance-based metrics will come in due time. It’s true, of course, that hard work in the gym will pay off, but if all you work on is your physical prowess, what happens when you have a bad training session? Do you get mad and throw your belt across the gym while muttering expletives? Do you get frustrated that you now won’t meet your long term fitness goals because you didn’t PR today? Do you let the external factors like the person next to you affect your performance in a workout? These cause huge setbacks but more detrimentally, they cause us to not enjoy the process. If we can enjoy the process we are going through and celebrate the little victories throughout the training session, then we leave the gym feeling accomplished. Something I try to ask our members all the time when they felt like they had a bad day is “Did you get 1% better at ______ today?” And the answer is unanimously yes. Don’t get so caught up in the big picture that you sabotage today because ultimately the future is made of a bunch of “todays” all added up together. If we can maximize this current minute times 60, then we just created a full hour of maximal productivity.
Give your full effort to be the best you. Don’t get caught up in the pace of the person next to you or the weights he or she is throwing around. Be patient and remind yourself that by maximizing the quality of your current training session, that 5, 10, or 20, years from now, you will have created the best “you.” Just like Ben, all I can ask from our members is to give their “full effort in every single moment of every single day, and becoming the best we could possibly be.” Even in the grocery store…
So all of that sounds good on paper, but what’s the practical application? How can I shift my mindset to redefine my adversity and to curb each minute into being the best me? By putting character first. Ben has a pyramid he put together where the top is Strategy (Game Plan), then Ability (Strength & Conditioning Practice), then Process (Maximizing Minutes), and Person (Characteristics of a Champion) at the base. He explains it in this way: “It starts with the development of the person, of the character traits necessary to achieve at a high level. These character traits enable my athletes to follow a rigorous process designed to utilize every minute of every day toward improvement and progress. The process allows us to maximize every ounce of their abilities, which in turn shape our strategy."
Most people focus on the top two, Strategy & Ability. In your typical CrossFit Eta group class, that’s what we work on for most of our hour. We train the squat, deadlift, press, snatch, and clean. We run, row, jump, swing, pull, and push. We add in some gymnastics and some strongman work and then vary the time domains and order of movements. Our coaches are there to help you improve your physical abilities as well as strategize the workout for you to get the best score. But what gets left out so much is the trust in the Process. As I write the programming, I am constantly thinking about how in this one hour can I maximize our members' potential and get them to be better than when they walked in. A lot of my job as the programmer is to ensure that the Process is in place and available to our members. Eta Performance is a great example of this as well. Its design is for you to add in more exercise for you to become better more quickly by utilizing time outside of the class setting. It's designed to help you maximize your minutes. But I can’t control what you do once you leave CrossFit Eta. You go home, go out to eat, go to the grocery store, or out to a bar on a Friday night and I’m not there to help remind you of the process. I’m not in your living room reminding you that you should be foam rolling or stretching while you watch TV, or even better that you should be reading a book or researching movements that are in tomorrow’s WOD instead of watching TV. Or best, I’m not there ensuring you go to bed on time and get a full 7-8 hours of sleep every night. So much of the Process block on the pyramid is controlled by the user and it takes a special kind of person to be able to be that dedicated to the process in order to achieve maximal success. It takes a person of the utmost character.
“Better people make better athletes.” Ben talks all the time about how making someone a better person makes that person a better athlete. It takes someone with a dedicated character to do all these things I’ve already talked about in the previous sections. It takes character to wake up early to train everyday. It takes character to only eat real food and not order the large nachos as an appetizer. It takes character to say "no" to certain things that will limit your capabilities. Let’s say I wanted to improve my “Fran” time like I mentioned earlier. We can practice all the thrusters and pull-ups we want and go super “hard” all the time, but if we still eat fake, processed food, have an odd sleep schedule, and miss class all the time, it doesn’t matter how much we work on thrusters and pull-ups. Our “Fran” time won’t improve. But more importantly, at the highest level when you’ve already strategized and trained and come up with the best score for you, how do you get better? There’s a point where the only way to get better is to work on your air squat. At first it may sound drastic or like a step backwards, but at a certain point, a lot of people can do 21-15-9 thrusters and pull-ups unbroken. A lot of people have the raw capacity to run a 6:00 mile, but do you have the character of humility to allow yourself to be coachable down to the minutia of the basics with you? Are you willing to spend the first 10 minutes of class with only a PVC pipe holding proper positioning? Or are you too prideful of your 500 lb. Deadlift to allow a coach to correct the basic movement of the hip hinge to thus better your other movements like the KB Swing, Box Jump, Clean, or Snatch? Or do you happen to be "busy" every time there's running in the WOD? Ben firmly believes that by making someone a better person, he can improve their 1 mile time.
And that’s my challenge to you as I close this out: put your character first. If you can’t establish your own personal character, the one that only you can see in the mirror of your mind, then you aren’t going to be able to give your maximum effort in every minute of every day. You won’t be able to take an injured shoulder and redefine this adversity to be an opportunity to work on your leg strength. Above all, we want to be a better person so that we are coachable and can trust the process when we come to class, so that we can give our best effort once we do get to class to maximize those 60 minutes and become 1% better, which then can allow us to have more tools in the toolbox when it comes to strategizing on game day. Without the wide base of the pyramid (character), your pyramid can only go so high. Whether that’s in your training or your job or your family, put your character first on a daily basis so that in 5 years, you have the culmination of 1,826.25 days (thanks Leap Year) of getting 1% better. Don't waste a single one!