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Who was the most successful coach at the 2018 CrossFit Games? The answer might surprise you. It was Michele Letendre. Michele is a six-times CrossFit Games veteran who finished fourth in 2014. She’s also a former collegiate swimmer and national-level water polo player. She retired from competition in 2016, and I met Michele back in 2012 while I was covering media for the CrossFit media team. What makes Michele so amazing is not just her skill as an athlete, it’s not just her skill as a coach. It’s not just her skill as a programmer. It’s her incredible personality even when under extreme pressure. One of my favorite memories from working the media team at the 2013, 2014 Regionals was grabbing two little girls out of the audience and having them put on CrossFit media T-shirts, hold the microphone and interview Michele.
They got to ask her all kinds of questions about what it was like to be a female professional athlete, and Michele was amazing with them. She still communicates with these two girls years later through email, and so when Michele came up to me at my book signing at the CrossFit Games and just said hello, I was flattered. She was right in the middle of competition. She had athletes who were shooting for podium spots and there’s a lot of names that you’re going to recognize in this interview. Michele was gracious enough to make some time in her schedule to chat with me for an hour about the CrossFit Games, what’s going to happen in the future of the CrossFit Games as far as she believes, anyway, some of the top-level athletes she trains and how they train and what makes them different, and also who to look out for in the future. Michele is an amazing person. She has a lot of great stories to share. I know you’re going to love this interview.
Michele Letendre, welcome to Two-Brain Radio.
Good. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
Oh, it’s really my pleasure. So Michele, you know, you’re reaching the pinnacle of success in CrossFit and you decide that’s it for me for competition. What did it take to reach that decision?
I think a lot of that has to do with just my personality. I’m not a very obsessive person. I wouldn’t call myself a competitor through and through. I wasn’t at the Games to win the Games. I was there to compete and I really love to compete and I wanted to win, but it wasn’t my end-all be-all. I found CrossFit when I was a little bit older than certain people and I knew that having lived about three years of competing in CrossFit, I knew that it wouldn’t be something that I would enjoy doing for a very long time. And my body is just like I was—I guess today’s athletes are so well kind of surrounded and they have such a big team of people looking after them. I think my body kind of took on a little bit more wear and tear a little bit early on being one of the smaller athletes and also naturally strong.
I was able to live a lot of heavy loads, but I don’t know if I was well prepared to do it. So reaching like 2015 I knew I reaching the end of my life, you know, psychological tolerance of that kind of training, and having experienced the 2015 Games and the way things kind of panned out, I just decided that year that I wasn’t going to do this for very much longer. I saw where the Games were going and I didn’t think that I would be the kind of athlete to kind of work through that kind of training, so I knew I was going to be done. I thought 2015 was going to be my last year after the Games and I gave myself about a month to kind of think it through, and I decided to do one more year in 2016 with a different kind of mindset and understanding that it wasn’t going to be a year that I was going to go win the Games, but rather a year then I’m going to try and absorb everything that being at the Games is about, just kind of like going there and enjoying the crowd, enjoying the events, understanding who I am and what this whole process was for me and I was in a much better place to stop. But for the most part it really was my personality type.
OK, so, you decided in 2015 that 2016 would be your last year. Obviously you didn’t share that with too many people. When you told people this is going to be my last year, what was their reaction?
I didn’t get that much reaction. I guess a lot of the people were kind of curious as to why. And my answer is quite simple. I was kinda not enjoying training all that much anymore and it was just that I wanted to do other things. Most people assumed it was for, you know, because I’m a woman, most people are like oh, you want to have kids, want to have a family, blah, blah. I mean, yes and no, but I just wanted to do different things and the reactions were always that of understanding, no one was upset, or no one was—I wasn’t scared to tell any of my sponsors. I wasn’t scared to tell any of my supporters that I wanted to finish this because I wasn’t doing this for anybody else than myself.
So what happens? You finished up at the 2016 Games and then what? What did you do next?
I kind of enjoyed the time off. It was a real—honestly, it was so nice to kind of finish 2016 in a good mindset, uninjured, so to speak, and just kind of relax and go on vacation. In my last year, I had already thought of some problems that I wanted to solve for competitive athletes, which kind of led me to create my online programming. But I knew that for me personally, I needed a buffer between like the Games and just regular training and life and work. So I decided to go into weightlifting. I started competing in weightlifting, which is something that I saw as not as much training and if I just sustained the strength level that I had, even let myself go a little bit, I can get some good numbers to compete at a pretty high level. So that’s what I did, and it was a perfect taper because it was just like it was something else to focus on for myself.
It was something to kind of transition to for my own personal goals. But it’s also something that kind of didn’t make me fall into work full time right away, because I needed to kind of settle in and sit down at a computer for X amount of hours because I hadn’t done that in six years. You know, when I started competing in CrossFit, I was finishing university, so I went from full-time school to full-time athlete and to me I needed some, I needed a part-time style work to get me into working full time so that it didn’t kind of like go crazy and I could kind of get organized at that point.
So at that point, were people asking you for advice on training? I
I had already had some people ask me to help them, and my answer was always—I mean I did work with a couple of athletes that I felt like were independent enough for me to work with, but my goal was more to work with many people and not just certain people. In 2016, when I was training, I didn’t have the same goals as someone who wanted to win the Games. I wanted to be a high-level competitor, but I also wanted to be part of my community and that’s something that I felt was really lacking in our competitive environment, at least our area here in Montreal. So I was already thinking about ways to kind of consolidate that, to consolidate high-level athletes, not necessarily Games athletes, but just Regional athletes, high-level Open-style athletes. I was trying to get them to do class.
I was trying to get them to do class for two reasons: so that they can train and be more motivated because that’s what I felt I needed. I mean most of my training sessions, especially my second sessions, were in class and I’m like, if I need this, there’s other people that need this. So I kind of wanted to kind of consolidate that competitor and for the reason of the competitor staying motivated, but also for the coaches to get better, to have higher-level athletes in their class and to kind of use them as an example and use them as to study like where the members potentially will go, not for level of competition but for quality of movement and intensity. So to me it was something that was already kind of picking at me in my last year and that’s where I wanted to go. So without having people actually ask me to coach them, I felt there was a need for athletes of that level of that didn’t necessarily want to ask for help or didn’t think that they needed that kind of help.
So your philosophy, then, is that people who want to compete at a high level in CrossFit should still be working out with the regular classes, right?
Of course. Yeah. I really feel like Coach’s, you know, Greg Glassman’s, you know “our needs differ by degree, not kind,” I think that’s 100 percent true. And especially if you’re t CrossFit affiliates that aims to be more like a club, where you’ll have competitors being a huge part of your community. Those competitors need to be held kind of accountable for how they move and what they do. And by having them be in the class, I feel like it raises everyone’s level, but the coaches need to keep up with that level. There needs to be kind of, how do you say, I guess an ambition on the coaches to want to help those athletes as well as their regular members. You know, we’ve done this at Deka for a couple of years now, and it’s proven to be really effective for our members.
I feel like in the last couple of years our members have become a lot fitter. They’ve kind of seen firsthand what the high-level athletes are doing. And I think sometimes it discourages them because they think, you know, ah, there’s no way I can do that. But I think having them in the group, every time there’s a high-level athlete in my classes, the level of intensity is up. But the coaches are still as, you know, on point about the technique. It’s the same coaches as if they weren’t there, those competitors. So I definitely think that having that in a group class raises the level for everybody, the coach, the client and the athlete.
So I’m gonna, just put a pin in the next question for a minute. When we started the interview you said you saw where the Games are going. What you mean by that?
Well, the Games are going in a direction that like—the Games are going for athletes that are very gutsy, that are very strong and that are endurance, you know. I think part of my personality stops me from being very gutsy. I’m afraid of a lot of things. Like I don’t have the guts to go hard on like the Crit for example. You need a lot of guts and you need to be really, really—you can’t be scared of breaking your neck. You need to be really all in. And oftentimes the ones who are a little bit more scared of crashes or you know, or falling or anything like that, they’re the ones kind of keeping the level down. But also they’re the ones creating the accidents. So I find that the athletes are changing towards this like nonchalant kind of just all-in style athlete, people who are not afraid of getting hurt, people who are not afraid of going hard and people who are really confident in their capacities even if they’ve never done something before.
And that’s just not in my personality. I’m scared of heights. I’m scared of like scared of falling. I’m scared of doing something wrong. Like I have a lot of fear in me that I’m working on, but to be a top-level Games competitor, I just couldn’t put two and two together. But that’s where I see it going. I see a lot of the top-level athletes are the ones who are just fearless, you know?
So when you saw Vellner fall off the top of that obstacle, you must have cringed.
OK, so when I was watching that event, I was in the stadium and we were all watching it on the big screen in the stadium and the big screen went black in the middle of the screen. For some reason that we couldn’t see, I don’t know, about half the screen right in the middle, almost like as if it was being like censored.
So I didn’t actually see Vellner fall. I saw him fall because I noticed that his foot went up and his head wasn’t there. So I’m OK, his head is down, and I saw the impact at the bottom, but I didn’t see from how high he fell. So that was, I guess, a good thing. And then when I saw him get up and be fourth on the field, I’m like, OK, he’s fine. It’s only after the event when I went to join them in the warm-up area, I saw all the guys come back. And that Pat wasn’t coming back and then one of the guys came up to me he told me that he was being held with medical team because he was spitting blood. Then I was like, holy crap. So he fell really hard. So my initial thought was like, oh my God, he punctured his lung. But lucky for us, that didn’t happen. A yeah, so I had like, you know—I didn’t actually see the fall, but yes, I mean, and the fact that he got right back up just goes to show that your mind goes to another place when you compete and you realize that you’ve fallen, but you don’t realize what the impact was, you know?
OK. So I guess that leads me back to the question, you know, how do you respond to people who say, I want to be a Games athlete. I can’t just do the workouts that the rest of the gym is doing. I have to do all these extra things. I have to climb these obstacles and have this extra skill set that is required for general fitness. Like how do you respond to that?
I agree with them. My Games athlete don’t only do class and they don’t only—they don’t have low-volume training. One of the things that Pat used to do really well was pretty much stick to the class and a little bit of extra work before and after, but the reality is for the goals that he has, it’s simply just not enough. Your body will adapt and then what do you do? You can change training to a certain extent, but then at one point you just need to do more. You need to play around with volume and there are certain years that that you can play around with volume more than others. Like all years aren’t lost. We had a really high-volume year for Pat this year and this next coming year there’s only so much volume I can give him. So what I’m going to have to do this year is be really creative with what he’s doing.
And so to answer your question, I agree with those athletes, but I don’t agree with them completely avoiding class. I think that at one point you’re going to need some kind of motivation, and that motivation can very well come with class. And you know, gym owners can play around with what kind of class they do. We give a competitive class that’s available three times a week. So those are high-level comp athletes. They have their one and a half hours where I’m 100 percent all about them and anyone who wants to train more is welcome. But my goal with those classes is so that those athletes can get the coaching they deserve because you know, they’re maybe not all paying members, but some of them are paying members. I think there needs to be some kind of—I understand that Games athletes and high-level athletes don’t bring in a whole bunch of bucks, but they create a whole lot of community value, you know, so we need to give them some attention, too.
And that’s why you’d like them in the class, too, because that’s when they’re of value to the gym.
So we, at the moment in our gym, we don’t have any Games athletes, except Carol-Ann just recently moved to our gym, Carol-Ann Reason-Thibault, and she’s going to be jumping in our Deka comp classes. So hopefully she’ll be jumping into our regular classes as well. But I think for any Regional/Open-level athletes, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be doing the class, because those guys are competing in CrossFit. CrossFit Games is more or less CrossFit, but Open and Regionals is really CrossFit; there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be doing the class.
OK. So let’s lift the veil here. It gives me a list of the athletes that you coached at the Games this year. I think this is going to shock some people.
Yeah. So I had six athletes at the Games this year. I had two masters. First one is Michael Laverriere. He competed in the 35 to 39. And then we had Mike Eberts, he competed in the 40 to 44. After that we had Willy Georges that—we didn’t work together all that long. He reached out to me after Regionals. But I worked with him. I had Carol-Ann Reason-Thibault, Laura Horvath is an athlete that we took on last year. And Patrick Vellner, also.
Yeah. So there’s a few podium finishes in there. Amazing. Congratulations.
Thank you. Thank you.
And when I messaged you on Facebook, you said that this was more rewarding than appearing at the Games yourself.
Yeah, I really feel like I had limits. I mean, as much as I aim towards the podium, I have sincere limits that I don’t think in any lifetime I would surmount it. But getting athletes onto the podium, I can’t take all the credit. I mean like obviously they put in the work, I can give them everything I feel they need to succeed, but there needs to be a nice kind of effort—it needs to be like, how do you say like a perfect storm. You know, I need to have the athlete that listens and that works hard and I need them to do what I give them. It was super rewarding because it’s one thing controlling your competition, but it’s another thing having someone trust you, and they really trusted me and I felt like this year was just, you know, it was just like I couldn’t believe it.
Like I still have trouble kind of wrapping my head around it. I’m so proud of them and they’ve worked so hard and there’s so many times where they would message me and I knew how they felt, they were just like fed up; it’s hard. You know, they all love what they do, but at one point to do what they do at the level they do it, it’s hard. So they kept going and they trusted the process and they trusted me and it was just like, you know, seeing them happy like that just makes me super happy.
Yeah. So you know, Horvath especially, nobody really was talking about her before the Games. Even after Saturday night, they were thinking this is really remarkable, but you know, it’s her first year. She’s not going to finish on the podium, you know. What were you telling her as the weekend went on?
To be honest with you, Laura is mature, like she is wise beyond her years. I think it’s the Eastern European in her, she doesn’t express a lot of angst to me. I can see it, I can see when she’s really distraught and other times I can’t. So there wasn’t that much comforting because I felt like she had everything under control. So that could have played to her advantage in the sense that I wasn’t overdoing the kind of like, don’t worry, you know, stay focused. This and that. I really like to keep it simple. You know, that these guys are mature adults. I don’t need to do very much for them to stay focused. You know, I think my job with the athletes that I have, and it differs from athlete to athlete. I have, you know, Pat and Laura and Carol and Willy were all people who are very mature and they all understood that it was going to be a lot of highs and a lot of lows.
And you know, lucky for us, we had a team with a lot of experience, like Pat and Carol had a lot of experience and Willy and Laura were rookies. So the beauty about rookies is that when you don’t know what you’re getting into, you kind of like go with the flow, sometimes, depending on the personality. But the biggest thing with Laura was after the clean and jerk event, she was kind of hurt by that event simply because she really loves to lift and it’s hard for her to lift fast. She’s more of a slower athlete and she was really excited about that event, and I guess she was really shocked that she didn’t make the top 20, and it was kind of like oh man, I thought I was really good at this.
And that’s where my job was to kind of be like, you know what, you are really good at this but you’re not good at going fast. And we have to acknowledge the fact that it was a failure, you know, it was a poor event. And then after acknowledging that, we have to move on. So it was very simple. It was like, yeah, OK, we just need to get you faster for next year. Remember that you have two more events coming up and then she’s mature enough to be like, OK, yeah, you’re right. You know, so there wasn’t that much work on my end. And every athlete is very different, you know, but I think what works the best for myself and for the athletes is to really keep things simple and not overdo the whole like, don’t worry, it’s gonna be OK, you’re fine and not try to find excuses and things like that.
So what do you say to Laura about training for next year? Because I mean obviously she was a sensation. She was a lot of fun to watch, you know, but she’s obviously going to try and win next year. How do you prepare her for a year of hard training without letting her get distracted by that?
So one of the first things I told her after everything was done and she was confirmed that she was second place was kind of like, you know, this is going to be a very difficult year because there’s going to be a lot of hype, there’s going to be a lot of amazing things happening this year because of what you did. But you’re gonna have to kind of pretend like nothing ever happened. You’re going to have to use that—you’re going to have to take what is positive and reject what could be potentially negative. Meaning you need to realize that you got to second place, not because you were lucky, but because you’re that level. Because that’s who you are and that’s where you’ve come. But you have to also remember that CrossFit is different every year.
So next year’s test is not a continuation on this year’s test. We need to look at the Games the same way we look at the Open and the Regionals from 2017 and pick out the holes and work from those holes onward. Cause we know that everything else is actually pretty good. You know, we don’t need to waste too much time on your conditioning. You don’t need to waste too much time on your running, you need to keep it up so that you can keep winning those events. But it’s like not so much of a priority, you know, for next year. And it’s going to be more, I guess from a more emotional standpoint, more mental standpoint, my job is going to be to check in with her regularly to make sure that she’s still focused and that she’s OK, and that whatever sponsor is not asking too much, she’s not being pulled from one end to another.
And there’s gonna be some kind of rules on, you know, you can travel from this date to this date, but these months are going to be priority for you. And you know, your sponsors are gonna need to understand that. So we haven’t even begun next year’s training yet because I’m a firm believer that for at least three weeks they need to be doing what they want, they need to have a mental kind of break of what they’re about to go into. Because I mean, they’re going to do class and they’re going to go hard. I don’t need to tell them to go hard, but I need to give them a break on what to do.
That’s very interesting. And you know, I was a Horvath fan after Saturday. But I’ve been a Vellner fan for years. What do you say to a guy like that? I mean he’s climbing every year. He’s getting better and better. And Mathew Fraser, just looks so solid at the top of the leaderboard. Vellner, there’s only one place to go. So how do you approach that with him?
Vellner is a lot of fun, but he’s extremely challenging to work with. And I don’t want to take anything away from him. He’s challenging because he’s very smart and he’s very intelligent. He has a lot to say about what he’s doing. And I love that because that’s the way I was. There’s a lot of my—especially in my last years I had a lot of input in my own training. Vellner is, you know, he’s so good and there’s so much talent in this guy. Last year I told him straight up, and we had this conversation, I said, “You’re going to have to do to get better. You know, you are super good at being intense. You’re super good at being skilled. We need to get you super—we just need to get you there. And the only way to do it right now is to give you more.” This is going to be really hard because there’s not that much room to grow and I’m going to have to be really creative with processes, combinations, timings and stuff like that.
One thing that I haven’t really tapped into with him is having him go work with specialists on his weightlifting. So that’s something that I think that he can see a lot of progress for next year. Mentally, that that barrier, that Mat Fraser barrier, I just hope that this year he realized how close he is to Mat and that it’s really all how he thinks about things. You know, people always talk about Mat when they talk about Pat, and you can see that it’s getting to him a little bit. And he just needs to realize that, you know, although Mat is Mat, Mat is just as strong as Brent, is just as strong as Lukas in this situation or any other athlete that’s gunning for the top. So if we keep telling him to go get Mat, he might get blindsided by someone else. So he just needs to focus just like everyone else, like he’s competing against everyone, not just Mat.
And I think we saw a lot of weakness from Mat that this year. Not that—I mean, I like Mat a lot, him and I get along, but I think this year we saw that when Mat has pressure, he doesn’t do as well as when he’s, you know, really far ahead. Pat needs to clean up a couple of things that he does in competition. There’s not much to do in training for that. He just needs to stop kind of like falling and he needs to stop kind of throwing weights around and getting them lost, you know, he needs to tighten up his competition. So that’s going to be something that he’s going to need to focus on in competition. There’s nothing I can do for training, but I think we have a good idea of where we’re going. But the beauty of Pat is that I can have a real discussion with him and he’s going to be always a hundred percent honest with how he feels things are going.
OK. That’s really great. And you know, something that you brought up a couple of times is that the sport changes every year. You just don’t get progressively better. It’s not like hockey where somebody could go from being a great hockey player to a good coach because the game is exactly the same. How did you learn how to be a coach? I mean, we know your athletic story, but being a great athlete in CrossFit is not the same skill set as being a great coach or a great programmer. So how do you develop those skills?
I guess my programming is successful mainly because I’m very creative. I studied in fine arts, so I really like to have fun with that. In my whole life I’ve had two kind of outlets. I’ve had a creative side of me and I had a really athletic side of me. And right now I get to consolidate both. In my programming. So I get to understand, OK, what will get my athletes better and what will kind of get them stronger and target specific upper body, lower body specific modalities and systems. But also I get to really play around with what can be fun. So I think that’s a big reason why my programming is enjoyable. And I think that’s why Pat wants to keep working with me. I think that’s why Laura likes to work with me.
I think that’s why a lot of athletes like working with me is because I try to make things fun. Now, how I got to that, I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about this and one of the things that happened to me when I was really young, I was on a water polo team and that’s my background, it was mainly water polo, and there was one season, one of my first competitive seasons, I was probably the worst teammate ever. I was a really sore loser and I just looked at everyone, and I kept thinking to myself like, no one wants this as bad as I do. Like I didn’t understand why anyone didn’t want to win. And to me it just felt like everyone was kind of like doing it for fun but not to win. So I remember kind of yelling at my teammates that year and just being really overall just not fun.
And that year my coach met me in his office and he told me, “Michele, if you don’t change your attitude, we don’t want you back at this club.” And this is like a after-school kind of extracurricular, like people pay to be on the team and I’m acting as if it’s like a professional sport. And so that kind of really, at a very young age, I think I was like 12 or 13 or something that that, I was pretty young, maybe 14. And I remember thinking to myself like, OK, I really need to change because if they don’t want me on the team—I’m pretty good—if they don’t want to be on the team because of my attitude, then something is wrong. And the next year I kind of told myself that I was going to be a better leader. And since then I have been team captain on teams.
I’ve always tried to help my teammates. And my attitude changed towards competition. So when I started CrossFitting I’ve always wanted to be better and I’ve always looked at other athletes trying to learn from them, but also trying to see what are they doing wrong and what’s happening in the movement? Why does it look awkward? Why does this movement look good? So I was kinda trying to develop my eye a little bit to better understand. And then when I was competing more professionally, I started going to see specialists. So I was going to see weightlifting coaches. I was working with agility coach, running coach and endurance coach, all kinds of coaches. And their approaches really made me better. And then I realized that if I want to make other athletes better, I need to be just as pointy on technique as I need to be on their effort and their mental and their programming and stuff like that.
So I guess part of my personality that made me not such a great athlete because I was always over analyzing and scared of this and that, made me a good coach because I can kind of understand why certain athletes wouldn’t want to jump into things and why certain athletes do jump into things. I can kind of gauge that. But the specialist coaches are the ones that really kind of molded me into what I am. What they said to me really, really stayed with me. And how they said things really kind of helped me develop who I was as a coach.
This is really interesting and I don’t think anybody who knows you now would have ever thought that you were going to get kicked off of a team for a bad attitude.
I know. He is probably the one coach that has set me straight.
Nice. A lot of the athletes that you coach at the Games now, they seem to have that fun, upbeat attitude. Vellner is a great example. Willy Georges was a lot of fun to watch. And Horvath, too. I mean you never saw her seem frustrated or angry or anything like that. Is it that these people—they find you because that’s how they are or is that something that you’re teaching them?
I think one of the things that I always tell my athletes before they go and compete is to have fun. And I know that this sounds really funny, but it kind of takes away some pressure because really the reason they’re doing this is because they love it. One of important parts of the athletic process is that it always starts because you love what you do, and when you’re doing a more professional level, I think it’s really easy to forget about that and it needs to be an anchor that keeps you going. So I don’t know if people know that about me as a coach, but I think that Laura, it was a great example because she loves to compete. You know, Laura is one of the very few athletes that genuinely, that I know, that genuinely loves to compete.
She does get nervous because she does care about what she’s doing, but she just loves going out there and pushing. And it also helps, I mean like the more trained you are and the more the workouts are in your wheelhouse, the easier it is to have fun and to compete hard. So you know, the people on top always look upbeat cause really they’re enjoying what they’re doing because they’re good at it, you know. When I did an event I wasn’t good at, I wasn’t upbeat, simply because it’s like you go into an event understanding and knowing that you know, this is probably not gonna be good for my ranking. Especially at the end of my career, you forget about the ranking, you still compete. But it still kind of hurts your ego going into something and not be in the top.
But genuinely, I think the love of the game or the love of competition needs to be constantly reminded in the athletes for them to be a upbeat. And Pat, I mean when you get to know Pat, really, Pat is not a super upbeat person. Pat is optimistic in competition because he’s just so—he’s just stubborn. He just going to get knocked down and get back up because he wants to go there and no one else is going to tell them not go there. He wants to go there. He’s extremely stubborn and he’s extremely serious about what he does. After the fact, like after every event he feels much better and he’s way more fun and easy going and everything. But Pat is more serious than people may think. You know.
My favorite story about Pat from the Games this year was the day after the Games was over, Monday, he showed up at CrossFit Recursive and jumped in a class.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. He likes that.
Yeah. No, I love it. And you know, I think it must be tough for top athletes, because they’re training so much, it must be mentally tough to keep going and keep pushing. So do you think that your element of creativity and fun makes them do better because they train harder?
I think so. I’m not a very scientific-style coach. I don’t look at numbers all that much. You know, I try to—I guess I have a more philosophical approach. The fun part to me it’s like, hey, did you have fun doing this? Did you give it your all and how did you feel during this training session? Did you feel like something in your fitness stopped you from going harder or did you just feel like you had technical issues? Those to me are really good feedback because numbers say one thing like, you know, Pat could have a really good day and have a really good number on the paper, like a really good time, but maybe he missed five snatches and compensated for running faster in that particular workout.
But if he gives me the feedback, like my snatches were way off today and I felt like maybe my strength level wasn’t where it should have been today or I felt like something in my shoulder wasn’t stable, that to me is better feedback than numbers. Yes, so to speak, I think that also the fact that I don’t always retest benchmarks, I think that kind of keeps things new and even sometimes I’ll program them in their sheet. I’ll say, OK, you’re going to do this, this, this, this, and that and then after the class, you’re going to do this and that. But I actually program them. I’m like, you’re going to jump into class today because part of the class is that you don’t do things on your own time. The coach says, you have five minutes to get ready for this part and you have only five minutes.
To me, that’s a really important part of competing too. When you’re competing, you’re not on your timeline. You are told what to do, when to do it. So you need to get used to that. And too often I see high-level athletes take their sweet time warming up for certain certain sections. They have to change their shoes for certain things that, you know, they’re not on the bal, on getting things done in a specific amount of time. And I think that’s really, really important for the competitors. Especially, you know, at the Games, one of the hardest things as a coach is you’re like, OK, you’re looking at the clock, you know that your athlete is going to be called at this time and you need to get things rolling for their warm-up. And athletes who are often kind of lazy and do things on their own time, I’m always like, OK, like hurry up. You need to get all your things together before you start warming up. Cause I can’t have you warm up and then say, oh shit, I forgot my stuff in the back. I have to go in the back. That cuts into warm-up time. So having your athletes being used to, you know, told what to do, when to do it is gonna be important.
OK. I think that’s a great point too. And you know, another reason that the athletes should be in the class is letting somebody else call the shots.
OK. So there’s a lot of fans listening to this podcast who, they really, they really geek out on the Games. And even though it’s mostly business focused, we’re all CrossFitters. Who should we be watching for next year?
I think that Laura, I mean obviously she’s proven that she’s really up there. I think she’s one to watch for sure all season. As for women, I mean I saw really good progress for certain women. I think Cassidy Lance really upped her game a lot, especially for the Games. I mean like it’s the Games and Open and Regionals are different competitions. On the female side, I have to say that I was kind of surprised at how the pack stayed relatively the same. One athlete that did surprise me though was Madeline Sturt from Australia. She surprised me a lot with her first couple of days of competition and had of her best finish this year. I think she finished 20th this year. So I think if she pulls together a couple of things—I mean she’s still really young, so her age and hopefully that’ll help her keep on progressing.
I think she’s going to be one to watch. She’ll maybe crack the top 10 for next year. As for men, Willy Georges, I mean I’m biased, he’s one of my guys, but I think being at the Games and being in the top 10 of the Games the entire competition has really kind of shown him what he can do, and I think he’s going to train things with a little bit more intent this year. Other than that, I mean I haven’t really—it’s hard for me to say because I was so focused on my people that I didn’t really take a look at the rest of the competition. But I really feel like the way things are going, we’re going to be looking at slightly bigger athletes this year. Slightly bigger athletes are going to be making their way to the top.
That’s interesting. So, you know, the Games is really inspirational and I love to sit with people who’ve never been there before. Most of them are just blown away and they suddenly say, OK, I am just happy to win a WOD once at my box. Other people are so inspired that they’re like, yeah man, let’s do it. I’m getting there in two years, you know, if somebody walked up to you and said, I’m a relatively new CrossFitter, I want to get to the Games within three years, what’s your first response?
I guess my first response to that is, OK. It’s hard for me—I’ve been there, I know what it takes. I never ever want anyone to feel like they can’t do something. There’s nothing I hate more than hearing this whole, like, you know, I’ll show you I can do it. Like there’s this whole feeling that there’s a lot of people out there saying that, no, you can’t do something. And I never want to be part of that movement. Anyone can do anything. I think that my job is to show them what really it takes besides the motivation, because really numbers don’t lie. So it happens to me quite a bit and I had a masters come up to me and tell me like I really want to make masters and this and that. And to be 100% honest, with his reality, there’s very little chance that he can make his way up there.
But my job was to show him, hey, OK so you want to make it there? Go on the Games website and you’re going to look at those guys that you’re competing and you’re going to look at what those numbers are. And the best thing is if they’ve already done an Open. If they’ve already done an Open, they know exactly where they stand and you say, OK, so you know where you stand, what hurt you the most? Was it your engine? Was your strength? Was it this or that? So we’ll focus on that. Then it’s like, OK, I have to make them realize that at the Games now, even some masters athletes are doing this pretty much full time. So how much time do you have to invest in training? As much as I believe in them doing the class, outside of the class you’re going to need to prepare for that because going to the Games is not just, you know, you can have the talent to get to the Games but you need care.
You need to make sure that your shoulder bones are strong enough to sustain that kind of training. You need to make sure that your back is strong enough to sustain that kind of loading. You need to make sure that your nutrition is going to help you recover as much as you can. Those are all things that are part of the job that someone may not see. One of my favorite memes on the Internet right now is a picture of a ballet dancer’s feet, where she’s wearing her points on one foot and not on the other, and you see how banged up her toe is. This is not to deter anyone, but it really puts into perspective what it really takes to be at the top. Being at the Games is not—it’s not a for-fun-thing anymore.
And if you want to compete for fun versus if you want to compete to go to the Games, I’m sorry, but there’s a difference in investment. So my job is to make sure that they understand that and I also have to believe them when they tell me that yes, I’m 100% willing. Because if I tell them, you know, I don’t know if you can do that, then they might not ever realize their potential. And maybe their potential isn’t the Games, but their potential could be making it to top 200 in the Open. And then after that they realize like, yeah, you know what? I don’t know if I have what it takes to continue or you know what? I have a lot of juice left in the tank. I’m going to continue to go this route. You know, the important thing is that you don’t laugh in their face and you don’t tell them like, you think so? Holy shit, it’s so much work. You don’t understand. You can’t because who knows, maybe they are the next, you know, X athlete. I can’t say no to anyone like that.
OK. You and I remember when there were Sectionals and even before that, you know, you could walk on the floor and be at Regionals and you could compete. But nowadays just being in the top 200 in the Open is a pretty big accomplishment. Right?
Do you have anybody coming to you saying Michele, my goal is just I want to be at in the top 10% worldwide in the Open.
Yeah. 100%. I have some people telling me that I want to be in the top 100. I have people tell me ah, I was 250th last year. I’d really like to make it to Regionals in three years. Like most people are pretty reasonable with their goals and their expectations. And if they aren’t when they start, then they are after a year, you know? I think that there’s a couple of die-hard, you know, romantics out there that no matter what I tell them, they’re still going to have these kinds of unrealistic goals. But yes, I do have people that reach out to me that tell me, you know, I really just want to make it to the top hundred in my region, what should I do? And most of the time my answer to them is you know what? You need to do class, you need to do class and you need to ask your coaches what extra work you can do to get your level of fitness up.
And if you don’t have access to that, then sign up in my programming. Actually, there are more and more people like that reaching out to me. So just recently I decided to kind of separate my programming to a Regionals program and an Open program. They’re the same. They’re the same program. But my Open program is what I feel is a priority in someone’s day to focus on, whoever wants to compete in the Open. So obviously members of Deka comp who have a little bit more time one day and they’re like, oh well I really want to train really hard. So they’ll do the original style programming on the one day. But for the most part I kind of prioritize what those goals are and classify that as Open goals and they can follow that.
So if somebody did come to you with that question and said, well, how much time do I need in the average day to train if I’m going to be a Games athlete?
I really think that—it’s such a hard answer because I would say you need to have anywhere between three and six hours. But like I’m an example of if I did more volume, I got more injured and lucky for me in my last year, I had built up such a base of fitness through my entire career that I forward training only once in my last year and get away with it. But I think someone who’s beginning, there are stages. Someone who’s beginning to compete, someone who tells me like, I’ve never made it to Regionals but I’ve been close, you know, maybe 30th in my region, then my answer to them is, OK, well we’ll just up the volume. And I think that would be where your level is at. But if someone’s telling you like, OK, I’m a hundred in my region, I think there are more very qualitative things that we need to address before talking about volume and times of training.
Maybe it’s skill, maybe it’s technique or maybe it’s just strength. You know? I think that the volume of training really depends on the quality of your systems or your modalities. So if you’re a very endurance athlete, but the quality of your strength isn’t there, then that’s what we need to spend time on, and quality doesn’t need to be quantity. You don’t need to work on quality for a lot. We just need to work on one specific thing, you know. So first the question you should ask yourself is, am I a complete athlete? Do I have the level of quality in every domain? Am I a good gymnast? Am I a good weightlifter? Am I a good CrossFitter, and am I a good endurance athlete? And if those answers are all yes, then I think then the volume needs to start to go up. Until that is a yes, then volume should not so much a concern, but more like the time you spend on certain things should be more a concern. Does that make sense?
Yeah, it does. That’s very interesting because I think the misconception is that as you progress from Open athlete to Regionals to Games, that there’s almost a linear relationship with the amount of volume that you have to do. It always comes back to quality.
Yeah, there’s quality and then volume and then there’s a reset quality and then there’s a reset volume. There’s always different levels based on where the athlete is. You know, Pat right now I don’t think is at a level where more volume would help him. I think that we’re going to spend more time on the things he needs to work on. So we’re kind of at a reset period where, OK, we got him overall fitter, I really need to focus on his swimming. I really need to focus on his weightlifting, and then we’ll keep the volume as is or maybe even a little lower so that next year I can pump up volume and kind of adapt him for 2020. And that’s where I think a coach is going to be really important to follow your progress. Obviously not everyone has a coach like that, but hopefully with a little bit of experience you’ll kind of get to understand and really target where you need to be.
OK, that’s very interesting. So how does your program work, Michele? There’s going to be a lot of people listening to this who want to sign up.
Deka Comp is, I want to call it a one-stop-shop for really anybody. Anyone who’s looking to compete either at Regionals or Open. I work really hard so that the program includes all of the variables that are in those competitions. With my experience and with what I felt has helped me. So I’ll include some plyometrics and some agility because I feel it helped me in my weightlifting. So even though it’s not in Open, I include that in my program. And a owner can adhere to Deka Comp Box, which is basically the program that I write in for athletes, but they get it in events and the programming is written out on a sheet, I outline which sections I think is good for the group class. So if they have competitors in their gym, those competitors will do all those extra components outside of the class and then they’ll jump in the class where it’s written in red.
So that’s my way of consolidating the competitor and the group class. So gym owners have everything they need to kind of provide a competitor to progress and they have everything they need for their classes to work alongside the competitors. And I give them coaching cues that I feel are important to keep classes cohesive so that all the coaches understand, OK, these are the priories for today’s class. OK, we’re looking at this in the weightlifting section. We’re looking at these elements in the workout, etc. But those are really the two options. It’s the athlete who is kind of working on their own and also the box, but it’s the same program. I don’t feel like I need to program something else for a box because I offer modifications. Like if they don’t have sleds, then you know, I’ll offer other kinds of modifications.
But usually what I’ll do is in the group class I keep things pretty CrossFitty, so that they don’t go—I don’t use over-the-top equipment for those guys. So that’s pretty much how it works. And that’s how we’ve been working for two years and it’s been extremely successful.
That’s awesome. How do people find you?
You can find me personally on Instagram and my tag is mich_letendre. You can find Deka Comp at @dekacomp. We have a website also. It’s www.dekacomp.com, and you can email us through the website or if you want to email me personally you can DM me on Instagram and usually I’m pretty good at answering for that.
That’s awesome. And you guarantee a podium finish at the Games, right? It seems like.
If you don’t, I’ll reimburse.
No. So you know Michele, like people want to see this video, so she’s doing the—
OK. Well it’s been fantastic to know you from the first minute that I did all the way up until now. And I’m really glad this is so successful for you. I think that you’re a gifted athlete, you’re very good at hard work, but your real gift to the universe is really taking fitness to the next level. So thank you for all you do, Michele. And all the best.
Thank you so much for having me, Chris. It’s been a pleasure.
Hey Kaleda, how are you?
Good. How are you?
Good. Am I pronouncing your name correctly?
All right. Cool. So welcome to Two-Brain Stories. Kaleda, if you want to go into a little bit of background of who you are and then we’ll jump into your story.
Sure. So I’m Kaleda. I’m from Ontario, Canada. We’re located in a little town. I actually pulled up the 2016 census just before I got on here because I don’t want to lie to anyone. Our town is 2,680 people. So it’s pretty small, but it’s awesome. We really like it here. Farming community, you know, we’re near the lake and it’s beautiful. So I opened my gym, I think like will be three years in December, but prior to that I was out of my garage. So we did run out of the garage for about a year, I think.
Yeah. We opened, day one, I think we opened with like 80 members, but I started mentorship with Chris Cooper before I even opened. So like, I think it was even before I bought my building, I just jumped on board. I met him in Park City. I had someone who was encouraging me to go. So I went and here we are today with—just hired another employee yesterday. So we’re, including myself, we’re up to I think nine or 10 people now, like employees, including like coaches and admin and event staff and stuff like that. So, yeah.
Very nice. That’s very cool. So, let’s get into your story. I know we actually have a few different topics that we want to talk about. I want to say, let’s jump into the first portion and then I really want to dive into that second portion that we talked about a little bit earlier.
Sure. You’re gonna have to remind me what the first portion is.
Taking action with mentorship.
Oh yeah. OK. So, I don’t know, like ever since I started with Chris and listening to Chris and even when I’ve jumped around with mentors and stuff like that, I always like to every so often get a call in with somebody else just to get a different perspective on things from somebody that’s got no context on what we’re doing here. But, I think no matter what Chris told me to do, even if I thought it was batshit crazy, I did it. I was like, he would give me all this stuff, like you’ve probably been on a call with him and he’s just like, do this, do this, do this, do this. And I’m like, OK, let’s just do it all. So I would just, I’d like put all this stuff out there and see what worked in and keep the stuff that worked and keep the other stuff in my back pocket.
But Jay Williams kind of brought this to light for me ’cause he’s like, well, what do you think your biggest contributor to success is? And I’m like, well, I dunno. Probably mentorship. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it hadn’t been for mentorship. And he’s like, OK, well lots of people get mentorship. And so it’s been just like taking action on this stuff. Even if you think that like the advice maybe doesn’t apply to you or I know a big thing like going through the Incubator and a lot of the times you’ll think like, oh, this isn’t going to work in my gym. It’s not gonna work in my town or my city or whatever. Well, I can tell you that it does. And you need everything that’s in there and everything that your mentor tells you, you know.
When I first started, it was really easy to be like, well, I don’t need like contracts or I don’t need you know, rules around this, or I don’t need—like, I don’t need Mailchimp. Like we’re a town of 2, 000 people. I know everybody in it. Right? But you do need all that stuff. And you know, when someone smarter and more experienced than you tells you to do something, do it.
Very true. Very true. See what happens. Even when, like what you said, even if you don’t feel like it applies to you, test it out, prove that it doesn’t work, then, instead of just assuming that it doesn’t. So yeah. All right, let’s dive into the second portion, because you really got me going when you said that you fired every single person in your gym at one point.
Yeah, it was a pretty rough time. And even when I look back on it I think like, oh like that sucked so much and just thinking about that some days and thinking about how far I’ve come from that is pretty crazy. But when we opened, there was a few people that I hired on right away that came from the garage and into that gym. They went and got their Level 1 and I hired them on cause like I was like—I opened with 80 members and personal-training clients. I was like working, you guys all know this, you guys all know what it’s like to work 18-hour days and like still not make any money and stress about like literally every little thing. And I just hired these people on because I was like, I need them. And they were actually my friends, and it came to a point where, you know, there was just like differences of opinion and you know, someone wanted more money and like just catty stuff going on to the point where my employees actually stopped talking to me because they were mad at me for some reason.
I don’t know, I think I’m a pretty easy person to talk to, but they stopped talking to me. So, I was about to bring one more person on and I thought, I gotta start with a clean slate so everyone was gone. I just was like, hey, this isn’t working. I think I’ve seen—because it is a small town, I’ve seen those people once since. They won’t talk to me. It’s still very, very difficult for me because they do have a lot of like close friends in this town, but it was something that needed to be done and we’re in a really good spot right now, the employees that we do have, we just couldn’t have done that with what was going on at the time. So, I know some people have joked about like, you know, some days I come in and and I just want to fire everyone in the gym. And I’m like, well, I know. So it was like three or four people all at once.
So you had three or four people that you walked in. How did the events go down? Did you just walk in and say, hey, you’re all canned, get out of here, or like what was the actual—what happened?
Yeah, no, it was individual. Like I met with each of the people individually for the most part. I think one just never showed back up. So I was like, OK, well see ya, I’ll give you a refund for whatever it is they need a refund for and I’ll just plan on never seeing you again. But yeah, there was conversations around it. One in particular, one person wanted more money, she was running our kids program. This doesn’t go public, right? Nope. Just on Facebook Live.
And our Two-Brain group.
She was running our kids program and she had a lot of kids in the program, it was a really successful program and she was making a lot of money. Like it was hundreds of dollars an hour and she wanted more. And I was like, I can’t, like, this is how we run it. If you feel like this isn’t fair for you, I’d be happy to, you know, still have you as a member but like assist on other things or just coach CrossFit classes. And she wasn’t happy with that. And so I asked for my keys back and she was in tears and yeah. At the time, Chris was my mentor and he like called me right before and like, I’m almost in tears because I have to like fire my friend and yeah, so it was bad. Like gingers do have feelings too, so it was a tough time. We lost a lot of members through it, too, because, and like this happens to everybody, but they opened like a different facility, like out of her garage and, and it’s you know, Black Sheep Fitness cause they don’t fit in or whatever. Right. But they’re still out there at the garage and they still do their thing. And from what I know of anyways, I don’t really pay attention, but as far as I know, that’s what they do. And so it was just tough time, but we made it through.
Tell me how you made it through. What happened? You guys fired everyone. What was the next steps to get you to the staff of nine to 10 that you do now?
Yeah. So like fired everyone like on a Tuesday and then had my spectacular head coach Kelly hired by Wednesday, and she’s one of those people that just gets it. She’s like one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and she just gets it. So it was a cool process actually through that because when I hired her, like I did have some systems in place, but I didn’t have—basically didn’t have what she needed because she actually was not, like she wasn’t doing CrossFit. She really didn’t know what CrossFit was until I basically had to beg her to come because I liked her so much. I knew she was such a good person. And I begged her to come try the gym. She did. Had her in our Advanced Theory Course like within months, and then immediately after that hired her.
So it was a cool process to actually have someone start from scratch. And her just ask me all these questions about like, you know, how should this go and all those things. And I was like, wow, OK. So we can really start fresh and build all these systems based on fairness and caring of our members instead of what it felt like before. I’ve heard a saying before, I can’t remember exactly how it goes. I know Dan Sullivan says it, but it’s not what’s going to get you to the next place, it’s who’s going to help you get to the next place. So whether that’s an employee, a team member or a mentor who is going to help you and and like grow your gym or grow your business or grow yourself into something new to get you to that next place. So it was her just kind of being on me being like this isn’t right or how do I do this and I’m like crap. Like I need to get this ready for you. Getting those systems in place and really like starting fresh.
Yeah. It sounds like you basically shifted the culture, you took out the bad negativity culture that was currently in there. And were able to bring in the new one, which I think too many people assume that changing the culture means just changing your coaches. But it can be changing the members. I mean when you make stuff fair, if you change pricing or remove discounts or whatever it is, and you have somebody new come into the gym, they’ve never been part of that culture and now they see that as the norm and you’re slowly changing that culture. It sounded like. Well you did it very quickly.
Yeah, we did it quite quickly. We also, like when I got rid of the coaches, like we also lost 20 members and that’s a big hit when you’re only at 80. I mean like our rates weren’t where they should have been either because I just like copied somebody else’s. I did all that stuff. Even though I had Chris, there was some stuff that I missed and even though I had mentorship, there was stuff that I missed. But like our—like expenses and fixed costs, like they’re pretty low so we can sustain a little bit lower membership rates, but even still, losing 20 members is a big hit to the income. So we got rid of all those people and you know, people don’t join unless they’re the right fit. And I don’t know if that’s just word travels fast in a small town. So the people that are like the people that left, they don’t come in, because of whatever reason, but at least we attract the right people and it’s really refreshing when Kelly will email me saying, hey, we got this new member and you should meet her. She’s awesome. She wants to pay like twice what, you know, everyone else wants to pay right off the bat. It’s like, wow, it’s really different.
Yeah. Those are the right culture fit for you then. So I have one side question and this is more my side question, but I guess really does pertain to what you’re currently doing and building the systems. How do you produce so many, SO-OPs in a week or a month. I mean you are like the SO-OP queen. What do you do to be able to actually knock out as many as you do?
I set aside time. Like I have like Tuesday mornings are usually my time that I have compiled a bunch of questions from my staff that I’ll then go and answer, I enjoy doing it. It’s fun for me. I like doing that stuff, which is super nerdy and boring to say. But I do like building the process. I like seeing like if this happens, then what? Or if this then that, and I like thinking that way. I think it just provides so much freedom for my employees. I want them to feel like they’re empowered to find the answers and do things on their own without having to contact me. I don’t mind being contacted, but I like them feeling like, yeah, I got this. You know, I can do this. But yeah, no, I set aside time and I have a huge list, a huge one of stuff that I want to write and need to write. Listen time.
Excellent, perfect. I think that’s a perfect place to wrap it up because like what you said from the beginning, actually taking what your mentor says or getting mentorship from somebody that’s been there, done that and actually applying it and whether you believe it’s for you or not, actually applying it, and you’ve seen through the process, even when it got to a hard time where you had a fire everybody and start over, you were able to do it and change the culture to something that’s much more the way you want it to be and what you were looking for and keeping that consistent through those SO-OPs and helping the staff grow and grow the gym. So I think that’s a perfect place to wrap it up. So thank you so much for jumping on Two-Brain Stories. Again, anyone else out there that has a story, either struggle or success and they want to share it with the community, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. But if not, Kaleda, thank you again for jumping on and we appreciate it and we’ll see you later.