This weekend an estimated 25,000 CrossFit athletes, fans, and supporters will descend upon the StubHub Center in California for the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games. Winners of this competition are awarded the title, "The Fittest on Earth." Now those are some serious bragging rights.
But while only two competitors can be named "The Fittest on Earth," elite CrossFit coach Carl Paoli wants you to know that everyone -- yes, even you -- can move and feel like a champion CrossFitter. According to Paoli, "even the highest level athletes, what they need is not to perform the highest level movements, but the most basic movements." He believes the same is true for casual exercisers as well.
Paoli knows what he's talking about. This ex-gymnast has coached CrossFit Games Champion and "Fittest Woman on Earth", Annie Thorisdottir, to success not one, but two years in a row.
His secret recipe is based around the simplest bodyweight movements that can be scaled up through easy, step-by-step progressions to achieve incredibly difficult feats of strength.
"Annie is actually a huge part of developing those progressions," he says of the movement tutorials found in his new book, Free+Style. "One of the things that makes Annie Thorisdottir special is that she has the highest ability to problem-solve with her body, more than I have ever seen in any athlete."
You may be glad to hear that Paoli's coaching style is, in some ways, the anti-CrossFit. In a sport that takes harder, faster, stronger to a whole new level with their unofficial mascots "Pukie the Clown" and "Uncle Rhabdo" (trust me, you don't even want to know), you would think high-level CrossFit coaches are intense hurricanes of motivational fury.
Paoli is not.
With a relaxed demeanor and easy smile, he's someone you would expect to find teaching surf lessons in SoCal. Instead, you can find Paoli quietly making his mark at the prestigious San Francisco CrossFit training facility, and online with Gymnastics WOD. His book, Free+Style, and accompanying video series, Freestyle MoveStrong, essentially gives away all of his knowledge and trade secrets. And that's the way he likes it. "I knew I wanted to leave a legacy," he declared, people "deserve to understand how their bodies operate."
Right now, most of us are not doing such a good job listening to our bodies. "People live in flexion, " says Tony Gentilcore, co-founder of Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, MA. "They sit in their car or on the commuter train to work, they sit for 8-10 hours per day in front of a computer, and then they sit some more when they get home at night." When we do get our butts to gym, "many people will gravitate towards exercises where they're seated or lying down the entire time."
Paoli wants you to get back to basic human movements: Pushing, pulling, sitting down, standing up, carrying, and walking. This is where his coaching style is revolutionary. "The progressions I teach are designed to challenge the most advanced of people, but at the same time, ramp up the most novice," he likes to repeat.
He gives us an example: "Think about the handstand push-up. It sounds like a crazy, Cirque-de-Soleil trick, but in reality all it is, is the ability to push with your upper body... it comes from something as basic as pushing a door open." Can you do a push-up? Or even just a wall push-up? Then Paoli knows how to scale you up to a handstand push up too.
Gentilcore agrees, "It's always about making the appropriate progressions based off someone's current state." Progressions are key, and a niche that Paoli has come to dominate with his simple instructions and easy drills that individuals of every age and fitness level feel are accessible to them.
"We've all seen the person at the gym who does the same routine, with the same exercises, done in the same order... for months (if not years) on end," says Gentilcore, "Not surprisingly, they look the same now as they did then." Does this sounds like you? Maybe what you need to start doing is some progressions.
For Paoli, it doesn't matter if you're a cyclist, a yogi, or even a couch potato that makes frequent trips to the fridge. His mission is to "simply help people see that there is always more potential."
This weekend, tune in to ESPN to watch the incredible Reebok CrossFit Games, and know this: Yes, you can train like "Fittest Woman on Earth" Annie Thorisdottir, and no, it is not as impossible as it looks.
Follow Sophia Herbst on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SophiaTripp