Sean: 00:05 – Hi everybody. Welcome to another edition of Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland. On today’s episode, I talk with five-time individual CrossFit Games athlete, Emily Bridgers. First, over the last month, I’ve interviewed some truly amazing guests like Stacie Tovar, Tanya Wagner, Adrian Bozman, Chris Hinshaw, Rory Mckernan, Julie Foucher and more, so if you’ve missed out on this stuff, check out our archives for the best stories from the fitness community and to avoid FOMO, please subscribe to Two-Brain Radio. I’ve got a great guest coming every single week. Emily Bridgers has competed at the Games five times as an individual and once on a team. She made her individual debut in 2014 when she finished a career-best sixth overall in Carson. Her final year competing was in 2018. Emily and I talk about her gymnastics career, how that led her to CrossFit and what fitness looks like now for her now that she’s the mother of a three-month-old girl. Thanks for listening, everybody. Emily, thank you so much for being here. How you doing today?
Emily: 01:14 – Doing well, thanks for having me.
Sean: 01:16 – You started gymnastics at three years old. What do you remember about being involved in that sport at that young age?
Emily: 01:27 – I remember a good bit. I remember starting in this little mommy and me class at a rec center nearby. I have a few memories of it. I remember quite a bit from when I was four and I was put in a class with two other girls that I ended up like growing up in the gym with.
Sean: 01:50 – You said your competitive career, I read this, started at seven years old. How did that experience influence your early career as an athlete?
Emily: 02:03 – I mean I remember being seven years old and like nervous to compete but like nervous in a good way that, you know, fuels adrenaline and like I already cared about what I was doing. I wasn’t just like flopping around like some little kids are, I like wanted to do well. And I mean I think a lot of what you do under age 12 determines a lot of just like athletic development and mental toughness and things like that.
Sean: 02:34 – Gymnastics is such a unique sport because of how grueling it can be at such a young age. How did you deal with that as a kid?
Emily: 02:42 – Yeah, I mean the hours tend to ramp up really quick as you start going, you know, three times a week and then that goes to five times a week and then sometimes that goes to six times a week. So yeah, the demand is high. I never even went to the elite level, which is, you know, what you do to compete internationally and try to qualify the Olympics, but I still trained 25 hours a week. So yeah, the training age on your body adds up pretty quickly by the time you’re 18 years old or you know, if you go to college with it, it takes a big toll on your body. I remember one year in college, I think 11 of my teammates got surgery during the summer. So I mean it says a lot to what you have to deal with in order to be really good.
Sean: 03:31 – You mentioned the physical toll it can take. What kind of mental toll does that sort of regimen take on you?
Emily: 03:38 – I mean, honestly, gymnastics takes an enormous amount of discipline and you know, growing up you have to make a lot of sacrifices with friends and I mean your best friends end up being your friends in the gym. But honestly I would say CrossFit takes much more of a mental toll because it’s so much more suffering. Whereas gymnastics was more like fun. Like learning new skills was thrilling. The competition aspect was, you know, high pressure, you only get one chance if you fall, that kind of ruins your entire meet. But mentally I think I was still pretty sane.
Sean: 04:17 – You were obviously pretty good. You got to go to the university of Georgia and be part of their gymnastics team. But what ended your career?
Emily: 04:25 – Yeah, so, basically I was recruited. I had a few options and I ended up walking on at Georgia to be close to home and just, I really meshed with the team the most there. I went through my freshman year, we were undefeated that season. I didn’t get to compete a whole lot because I was on the team with like a bunch of former Olympians and only six people compete on every event. So oftentimes I would be that seventh person that was trying to make their way in. But I was also dealing with a lot of back pain that I hadn’t identified exactly what it was at the time. Doctors told me I had degenerative discs, but I sort of dismissed that as like, oh, well that’s going to get worse whether I stay in gymnastics or not. So I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to that. But I ended up retiring after my freshman year and then found out I had a compression fracture. So I dealt with that after the fact.
Sean: 05:29 – What did that then do to your competitive fire?
Emily: 05:36 – So when I was done with gymnastics, I had been doing it for about 16 years or essentially most of my life. And I went through a phase where I did not want to be inside of a gym at all. I was kind of just like turned off by the idea of being inside and like kind of like I wasted my whole life being inside these four walls. But so I took up running and you know, just started running a whole lot. That’s actually when I noticed my back was getting worse and determined the compression fracture. So during the time of dealing with the fracture, I went into a pool and like did all my workouts as swimming workouts. So this is all kind of like leading up to helping my CrossFit career, which I had no idea what was going to happen.
Emily: 06:24 – But eventually I, you know, went back to just regular gym workouts. And one of my former teammate’s brothers introduced us to CrossFit. And so we started following CrossFit.com. I had really had no idea what I was doing cause we were doing it on our own, but we would pick the body-weight workouts and do those and post our score. And then after I left Athens, which was the college town, was when I officially was like, oh, well maybe I should go to a CrossFit gym and figure out what I’m doing.
Sean: 06:56 – What was it about CrossFit that hooked you?
Emily: 07:01 – Well, I think I had a little bit of like anger and resentment about my gymnastics career being done not on my own terms, so when I found it, I mean I had gained a little bit of weight from college. I, you know, I had still been working out throughout those, I guess four years that I had off. But I started just to get back in shape. But then I realized like I was able to like let out that anger and when I started being the best one in class, that kind of fueled me as like, oh, I’m the best at something again. And then I just wanted to be better and better and better. And we had like somewhat of an older gym population. So I didn’t know if I was actually good at CrossFit in comparison to others my age. So that the first year of the Open rolled around in 2011 and that was kind of like the first competitive thing that I did. I think I got about 50th in the world that year, so I determined that I might actually be decent at CrossFit.
Sean: 08:05 – What was it like then? Not only finding out that, OK, I’m good at this, but then setting the goal of getting to the CrossFit Games and actually achieving it?
Emily: 08:16 – Yeah, so I guess 2011 was when I found out that there was a CrossFit Games and I remember a group of us from our gym sitting down and watching the live stream. I had competed at Regionals, so I knew what it was. Yeah. That was 2011. But I didn’t necessarily set a goal of making the Games until the next year. So I got ninth at Regionals in 2011 and like, essentially that was my first competition. I didn’t have weightlifting shoes. I didn’t have a belt. I didn’t really even have like the same clothes that everybody else had. So I was like, OK, I should probably get serious about this. Like at that point, I wasn’t even ever going into the gym on the weekends. So I decided to start going to the gym on Saturdays, which was a big deal. And then going into 2011 I was like, well maybe I should do some stuff outside of class. And then I really wanted to make the Games in 2012. Cause I was like, if I can get ninth in my first competition, I can for sure get top three the next year, which didn’t happen.
Sean: 09:26 – How did what you have been through with gymnastics and the way that is regimented, how did that help you amp your training up for CrossFit?
Emily: 09:35 – Well I guess it sort of felt like the same, you know, going to gymnastics practice every day was like a routine. You would go to school, you would go to practice four or five, six days a week. So that’s kinda what CrossFit training felt like for me. Just with the opposite schedule. So I’d go in every morning, get my training in, and then at that time I was coaching gymnastics in the afternoons. So it just kind of became my daily routine. Wake up, workout, do the class workout, maybe do a little bit of extra and then eat and then go coach the little kids I was coaching.
Sean: 10:12 – You finally make it to the Games in 2014. What was it like showing up to Carson, California, for your very first CrossFit Games?
Emily: 10:21 – It was awesome. I mean, so 2012, I missed it by one spot and I ended up going as a spectator. Seeing that in person really fueled the fire. The next year I got fifth at Regionals and I was able to go on a team in 2013. I didn’t have a whole lot of fun, but I did get to compete in the tennis stadium. After I competed as a team, every day I would just sit up in the stands and watch the individuals and, you know, kind of take notes and see what there was to do. Cause I kind of knew in the back of my head like this is where I’m going to be next year. Even though I had already missed it twice. So yeah, 2014, I was prepared. I, you know, I was used to the crowd because of gymnastics. So it wasn’t one of those moments where I was like necessarily like star struck or like feared the crowd or anything like that. I definitely was fueled by it. The first event in the tennis stadium was the one-rep-max overhead squat. And I just remember like feeling the nerves, but knowing that the nerves were a good thing.
Sean: 11:34 – You take sixth overall that year and you finished second in Midline March. I mean, that’s a heck of a performance. What stands out to you about those four days that you had as your first individual competition at the CrossFit Games?
Emily: 11:47 – So I had a really good first day. I was proud of myself for swimming in the ocean for the first time and I did pretty well. I think I left the first day, like in 10th or 11, so I was like really excited. Like, oh cool. Like I’m in there with the rest of the girls. And then I remember Friday and Saturday being kind of just like very frustrating for me because you know, at Regionals you can take a lot of first place or top three finishes. And then at the Games I would get mad when I would get 10th place. But as the years went on, I realized that like 10th place at the Games, like you should probably be excited about that. But I was pissed. It’s like I remember Saturday I was like crying to Ben and he’s like, you don’t have to do this. And then I went into Sunday and had like an amazing Sunday and was like, OK, never mind, forget about what happened on Saturday. That was me being dramatic. So yeah, I would say that I definitely wanted to win. And I think that’s, you know, almost good being naive as a rookie. And I mean, you see that happen. We’ve seen that happen quite a few times in CrossFit where a rookie goes in and almost has like too high of expectations, but it helps them.
Sean: 13:06 – How did that performance motivate you then moving forward?
Emily: 13:14 – It opened up a lot of opportunities. That’s kind of when I started signing sponsorships and things that, I mean I hadn’t made a dollar in four years of doing CrossFit. I had only spent a lot of money trying to get to competitions and things. So it made it easier in that aspect. And then it was just like I wanted to continue to compete. I think two or three weeks after the Games I went to Granite Games that year and then it was just like one of those where you keep getting invited to things and I kept wanting to say yes to every opportunity. And then, you know, you get to train with people who are the same or better than you, which just, it made it a really enjoyable process. So I continued to get better and better those next few years.
Sean: 14:02 – The 2015 Games started off pretty well for you. You finished eighth in Murph, but not everything was well with you at that point. What happened after that event?
Emily: 14:16 – Yeah, so the 2015 to 2016 Games are probably like my biggest disappointments of my entire career. Because I was no doubt the fittest that I’ve ever been. But I, you know, hindsight’s 20/20, but you know, leading into the Games at that point we didn’t know many of the events, but what we did know is that we had that sandbag over the wall event that was really not good as a short athlete. But you know, I made it through, I think I got 30th place out of 40, so I was pretty happy with that. And then the only other thing we knew at that point was that there was a snatch ladder and a max clean and jerk. And so going into Murph, I was like, well I guess I gotta you know, give it my all in Murph cause I mean my goal was to win the Games that year.
Emily: 15:03 – So I’m like, all right, if I’m going to start out with a 30th place finish, like I’ve got a bust ass in the ones that I know I can do well. So Murph, I took eighth place, I was really happy, I felt fine. But I didn’t realize the toll that it was going to take that night in Heavy DT. I realized something might be wrong with my arms, like jerks are one of my best movements. And I was like failing to lock them out. And then the next day I woke up and was just completely wrecked and it just continued to get worse and worse as the weekend went on. So honestly that year, I think it was an accomplishment to even finish the Games. But I was pretty mad. I got 24th place that year and it just, I felt like it didn’t represent where I was at, but it also exposed a big weakness, which was recovering between days of competition. So I worked on that in the coming years. But 2016 didn’t prove to be much better.
Sean: 16:09 – That event, you know, Murph and that Games in particular, you know, wrecked a lot of people after that point, why did you decide, even though you knew you weren’t 100%, why did you decide to keep competing?
Emily: 16:24 – Because I’m a competitor and I mean, I felt like it was like giving up to back out at that point. I mean it was tough. Like I think Saturday it started out with like, maybe like sprints on the field. So I was like, well, I don’t need my arms for that one. Oh yeah, it was like the hurdle event. So I kind of was like, OK, well at least do that. And then the next one was like the Pig and legless rope climbs and handstand walks and I was able to do that in the warm-up area. So, you know, it was basically like I took it one at a time and then, I mean the hardest part was going into the final and realizing that it could have been a really good event for me. That was the first year we saw the pegboard, but at that point I had very little function of my arms.
Emily: 17:14 – So just like, I don’t know, knowing that I was going to go out there and give it my best shot. And obviously at that point I think like two or three people even made the pegboard once. So it wasn’t like I stood out that much. But in the warm-up area, it was the first time in my life that it was questionable whether I could even do a handstand or not. So you know, I went out and it was, we had parallette handstand push-ups. I think I got five total. But honestly that was a victory at that point. Versus just going home and saying I didn’t make it through.
Sean: 17:51 – Hey guys, before we go any further with Emily Bridgers, I wanted to ask you a question. Remember when pictures of bloody hands and vomit attracted clients to your gym? Well that stopped working in about 2011 or so. It’s also not enough to be a great coach or programmer. The key to success in 2020 is building a personal relationship with each client, then helping that client’s friends and family. Total ad spend on that? $0. The average gym owner can also add $45,000 a year in revenue just by keeping each client a few months longer. Two-Brain’s new Affinity Marketing and Retention guides will give you everything you need to know. You can get both and 13 other guides and books for free. Visit TwoBrainbusiness.com/free-tools. And now more with Emily Bridgers. You have this experience in 2014 where you leave the Games and you’re really happy with what happened and then you fast forward a year and now you’re disappointed. How did you deal with the off season then in 2015 that was so much different than what you had just been through?
Emily: 19:01 – Yeah. I mean, I did a lot of—like in the month after that, it was a lot of recovery and I dwelled a lot on the leaderboard. I went back and, you know, I would look at who placed better than me in certain events and like was pretty bitter just cause I knew that I was better than some of these people. But you know, you can say that all that all day long but it’s kind of like when you compete against them in other events and the Open was always really good for me. So anyway, I had to let that go and just move on to the next year and just have fun with it again. Like things like the team series and the liftoff really kind of like, were very fun times for me. Getting to travel around, make friends, go different places with different sponsors, like it fuels you to keep wanting to do the sport. So I guess just learning like it wasn’t just about that one event every year. There’s a whole season that you start making a lifestyle out of it. And I mean that’s what kept me going.
Sean: 20:13 – Your final appearance as an individual at the Games was in 2018 and I know it ended earlier and much differently than you wanted it to. So first off, what happened to you that year in Madison?
Emily: 20:24 – Yeah, so going into the 2018 Games, well really 2017, I was debating on that being my last Games just because I had just turned 30. We knew we wanted to have kids. I was kind of over winning the CrossFit Games, but at that point I was still making a career out of it. I was able to, you know, manage owning a gym and still competing. But I had a pretty good year in 2017. We had a lot of fun going to Madison the first time. So Ben and I kind of looked at each other on the last day of the Games and we’re like, all right, we’re going to do this one more time. So I committed to doing it one more time that day. And there was a lot of times that fall trying, I just, I was kinda just tired of suffering all the time, like knowing what it took to get continue to get better at that point after like seven years of training and you know, it just, it hurt.
Emily: 21:21 – But you know, you would still have days where you’re like, dang, I’m still getting better. Like, guess I got to keep going. So I got through that year of training and we had a few different things happen during the open. Our dog died who was 17. My grandpa died, Ben got in a car accident. So it was just like a rough series of few weeks getting through the 2018 open. So Regionals, I just tried to like take the expectations down a little bit. I even bet Ben going into Regionals that if I won I could get a puppy.
Sean: 21:58 – I remember that, that was great.
Emily: 21:58 – And I came pretty close. But that was like, that was the most fun Regionals I’ve ever had. Like the people that came from Terminus, we got to hang out at the hotel every night. Like they were all there cheering me on.
Emily: 22:10 – I set a couple of records for the first time. So yeah, it was just a really fun year leading into the Games. And to answer your question, we get to the 2018 Games and I mean, I knew it was my last one. I was kinda sad about it, but kind of excited. You know, I had been preparing all year that this was it. You know, a lot of competitors I think stay quiet because they don’t know whether it’s going to be their last year. We’re all pretty psycho, so you never know if you’re gonna like get the urge to just do it again. Like Sam Briggs I think has retired about seven times, but I was certain so I wanted to make it known. You know, I didn’t care if like sponsors chose to keep me around or not due to that decision.
Emily: 23:03 – So I made it through the first day or two. I made it through the marathon row and then the next day was, what was that? It was called Battlefield. First event on Friday. That was when I went over the wall and I landed and my ankle was facing the wrong way and I immediately knew, I mean I pretty much immediately knew that my Games were over. Medical came running over and I was like, is my foot facing the wrong way? Is my foot facing the wrong way? And they’re like, yes, it’s going to be OK. We’re going to get you a brace. And you know, they laid me down on my back, taking my pulse because I guess dislocations can be a big deal. But at that moment my foot popped back into place. So I like stood up and was like, is it OK if I keep going?
Emily: 23:57 – Like the huge cargo net was next. So in the back of my head. I’m like, there’s no way I’m making it up that cargo net. So anyway, that ended my Games because there was a certain time cap I was going to have to put back on my shoe and I went to medical and my foot dislocated again. So that actually like was terrible, but it gave me peace of mind that like, OK, this is actually really bad and I needed to come off the field. So yeah, that was disappointing, especially because I missed all the fun events that year. I missed the first handstand obstacle course. I don’t remember the other events, but I mean I had a good time watching and still trying to be as much of a part of it as I could. The ankle was just, you know, at that point everybody’s like one more year. I’m like, no, no, no.
Sean: 24:47 – Well, so why wasn’t there one more year?
Emily: 24:52 – I mean, I was already mentally prepared to be done. So in my head I was going to be done in two days anyway. So the commitment to do a whole other year is like a huge commitment. And then that was at the time where there was all those changes to the season. And honestly, it took a long time, I mean, my ankle is still not recovered, so it ended up being actually worse than I thought it was. I mean, granted, I probably would have rehabbed a little better knowing that I was still competing, but yeah, we were ready to have kids, I guess. I mean, I wanted a little bit, I wanted about, you know, I wanted a little bit of time to just relax and enjoy life. So we didn’t like leave the Games like, oh, we’re going to have a kid tomorrow. But I mean, it did happen pretty quickly. So by January I found out I was pregnant and there was no turning back after that. But like at that point, you know, people would ask like, are you ever going to compete again? And I was like, no, I’ve competed for however many years now since I was seven years old. I think I’m done competing. But now I’m like, you know, I don’t want to say never, but like there’s definitely no thought of competing in the immediate future.
Sean: 26:16 – You mentioned that you became a mother late last year. What is life like now for you as a parent?
Emily: 26:25 – Yes. So it’s just really like balancing everything. I mean number-one priority is taking care of Riley, and then, you know, managing the gym. But then I realized pretty quickly, you know, in pregnancy I worked out the whole time, but those workouts were different and I missed doing lot of things and you know, things that you hated for a long time. For instance, like running for me, I’m like, man, I would do anything to go for a run right now. So, you know, as soon as I was able to work out again, I’m like, all right, I want to take advantage of every day, no matter what, I’m going to get something done. So just figuring that out. Also during pregnancy we moved a little further away from the gym, so we used to live one mile away from Terminus, which is easy and convenient, but we decided to move closer to my parents and Ben’s parents and our babysitters, that is.
Emily: 27:22 – So now we’re about 25 minutes on a good day, 45 minutes on a bad day away from the gym, which, you know, makes a big difference when you have a baby. So I actually, I kind of keep this on the down low to our Terminus members, but I joined another CrossFit gym. So that’s like, you know, three minutes away so I can just go in, get it done, get in, get out and I have no responsibility. So I try to do that gym about two days a week and I get to Terminus about three to four days a week. An, luckily we developed a good staff while I was pregnant, so they kind of hold down the fort on the times where I’m not able to be there.
Sean: 28:02 – What does your training look like now?
Emily: 28:07 – It just looks like an hour of class workouts a day. And you know, I went to like a postpartum PT and I tried to do the homework that she gave me. I told her my ankle was still bothering me, so she gave me some PT for that. So basically I just try to get there a few minutes early to warm up, do some PT exercises, do the class and then, I don’t know, the last few days I’m like, well maybe I should play around with a few other things. I tried muscle-ups for the first time. But yeah, just, I don’t know, not putting any pressure on it and just getting something in. Whether it’s, you know, hopping on a rower for 20 minutes or taking a class just, it doesn’t look anything like it looked before, put it that way.
Sean: 28:51 – Do you find that you are enjoying yourself more in the gym now?
Emily: 28:57 – Yeah, I mean I’ve always loved working out and like, I’ll always love the suffering aspect, but like there’s a difference between pushing yourself through one 10-minute workout as hard as you can and doing that four times a day, you know, seven days, six days a week or whatever it was. And just like planning your whole day around training versus like, all right, I just have to plan this one hour we’re getting in, we’re getting out. So I mean like there’s some days where I would like to do more than I’m doing right now, but I definitely am loving it again. I think anytime you have a setback where you can’t work out, it kind of just, I dunno, it makes you appreciate it lot more in the future. So like anytime I do something new or lift a heavy weight again, it’s kind of like a new accomplishment again.
Sean: 29:52 – One day your daughter is going to be old enough to understand what you did as a competitor during your career. What do you want her to take from knowing about that?
Emily: 30:05 – I mean really I want her to develop like the mental toughness side more than anything. And kind of like that never-quit mentality. Like always following through with a task and obviously just living a healthy lifestyle. I mean, I loved growing up in a gym. I feel like it helped shaped me to the person that I am. So I think, you know, in the next few years we’ll start her in gymnastics. If she likes it, I’ll let her keep going. If she hates it, she doesn’t have to do it. But, I mean, hopefully we can ingrain the fact that fitness is a lifelong thing that’s not something to dread. It’s not punishment; it’s what makes you a better person.
Sean: 30:52 – How do you turn off the competitive side of yourself when you do walk into the gym?
Emily: 31:00 – It’s really difficult. Right now in my gym, we have a couple people that are pretty good, pretty good. One girl I coached as a gymnast starting when she was 16 and she actually ended up going to University of Michigan and became a college rower. So she has like the gymnastics background, the endurance background, and now she’s going on about two years of CrossFit. Right before I got pregnant, we were going head to head in like every workout. So I was still like being kind of competitive with her. And throughout my pregnancy she got really strong and really fit. And the idea of me beating her again is pretty like pretty far off. And it actually bothers me a lot. So we still text about our workouts quite often and you know, I still, for whatever reason, I still want to get better or like, you know, I know that I might never get as good as I was before, but there’s always that I want to get better than I was the day before mentality.
Emily: 32:04 – So I don’t know if you can shut it off. In order for me to watch the Games this year or in 2019, I like set up a betting pool on it and like, so I dunno, it kept it interesting. I was like, I don’t want to have any like personal biases. It was fun, but yeah, I don’t think you ever turn off the competitive mentality. I don’t want to be like the crazy gym mom with Riley if she does end up being good at something. But I can see how it does happen because at some point you got to turn off that the competitive mentality a little bit if you don’t want to focus on yourself all the time.
Sean: 32:47 – You mentioned that never say never about maybe coming back to the competitive side of things, what would it take to get you back into the competition side of CrossFit?
Emily: 32:55 – Yeah, so like, one of the most fun things that I did in my CrossFit career was the three years, the team series with Scott and Stacie. One of those years with Paul Tremblay. And so there was always a team at CrossFit Terminus that like wanted me to go team. But you know, this sounds bad, but I was like, I don’t want to go team unless I know that we can have a chance of winning the CrossFit Games. And so I was like, if we ever were able to form super teams, I would go team because it was just so fun. It was part, you know, I was part of a team in college. I would do it again, you know, but that wasn’t an option until like probably three weeks after I retired, they announced there was going to be super teams and I’m like, dang, of course they did this now. So I guess if I did it again, it might be in that aspect. But I don’t know.
Sean: 33:53 – So you’re saying there’s a chance.
Emily: 33:53 – It would take me having to get much stronger than I am right now.
Sean: 34:01 – Final question. What’s your message now for the new generation of CrossFit athletes who are starting to take over the spotlight at this point?
Emily: 34:12 – Oh, that’s tough. I think I said the other day, like if you’re a coach, fall in love with the people first. Like if you can’t relate to people, do not even try to make a living off of being a coach because you can love fitness all day long, but if you don’t love helping people, it’s just not going to work out. And kind of the same thing goes for competition. Like you know, people are inspired by watching it and motivated by seeing their progress. But there’s something, a little psycho about all the people that continue to make the Games year after year and it’s that they really love the pain and the suffering and all the like brutal stuff that goes behind it. You know, it’s not just doing a 20-minute workout, it’s doing a 20-minute workout to the point where you feel like you are going to pass out and that happens every single day.
Emily: 35:01 – So, I guess just like making sure that you truly love it. Like you love it when you work out with your best training partners, you love it when you’re doing it in your garage gym alone. You love it if you have music blasting, you love it if you’re doing it in silence. You know, like make sure that you can’t go a few days without it. And then like as things have gone on, social media has become so big. The gym was always like my sacred place where like I could put my phone away and you know, I think that’s part of why I don’t have as many training videos as other people, but now it’s even escalated to like a whole new level where there’s like, you got to have a vlog, you gotta have like a media team. And I guess I would just like say that you know that’s great and like you can make a living by doing that, but like don’t feel like you have to do that because the main thing is like, are you getting better? Are you getting stronger? Are you getting faster? It’s not like, did you make sure to post that workout on your Instagram today? Because there’s a lot of things that I’ve done that never made the Instagram highlight reel.
Sean: 36:11 – I know. Did a CrossFit workout happen if you don’t post it on Instagram?
Emily: 36:14 – Right. No, I still like to use that platform and like it’s been so helpful in some ways, but like it’s still—if working out is your happy place, like put your phone away sometimes because it’s only getting worse. Like that’s the only time of the day where I can get away from it. So I guess those are my two takeaways for the upcoming generation.
Sean: 36:40 – Emily, listen, thank you so much for taking the time to do this. Best of luck with your family and, you know, fingers crossed that maybe we see you back out there on the competition floor again sometime.
Emily: 36:50 – Thank you. I appreciate it. Thanks for being in touch.
Sean: 36:53 – Big thanks to Emily Bridgers for taking the time to talk with me today. If you want to follow her on Instagram, you can find her @EmilyBridgers, all one word. Thanks for listening to Two-Brain Radio. Please remember to subscribe and leave us a review. I’m Sean Woodland and I’ll be back with more great stories from the fitness community every week. Be sure to check out our archives for interviews with your favorite athletes, coaches, and personalities. Thanks again for listening everybody, and we’ll see you next time.
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Sean: 00:00 – Hi everybody. Welcome to another edition of Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland. On this episode I talk with six-time CrossFit Games, athlete and fittest woman in the United States, Kari Pearce. Over the years, I’ve covered dozens of fitness events all around the world and I’ve seen the best of the best work with coaches to find success. Yet many business owners don’t think coaches can help them. If you want to hit a revenue PR, visit TwoBrainbusiness.com to book a free call and find out how a business coach can help you. Kari Pearce debut to the CrossFit Games in 2015 after having done CrossFit–get this—for just eight months. She has returned to the Games every year since then and she has never finished outside the top 10. Kari will be returning to the CrossFit Games in August for the sixth time in her career. We talk about her time competing in gymnastics and how it led her to the University of Michigan, how she found CrossFit and why she thinks she can become the first American woman to stand on the Games podium since 2014. Thanks for listening everyone. Kari, thanks so much for doing this. How are you doing?
Kari: 01:13 – I’m doing very well. How are you Sean?
Sean: 01:15 – I’m doing great. Your athletic career started at three years old with gymnastics. What, if anything, do you remember about starting that sport at that young age?
Kari: 01:26 – Yeah, I don’t remember a whole lot, but I do remember like a few days, like just rolling around basically with my sister in the class. It was basically in a school gymnasium and that’s where we kind of started like the very basics of gymnastics. Just, you know, walking around on a little beam, doing some rolls, kind of cartwheels, but more or less just having fun with my sister when I was three and she was five. Little that I know I would be doing it for 18 years after that. And then, I mean continuing to do some parts of it even till I was 30 years old.
Sean: 01:55 – When did it become something that you took seriously?
Kari: 02:00 – So actually right around the age of five, you’re still pretty young. But I remember my mom saying that I started doing 20 hours a week of gymnastics at five years old.
Sean: 02:09 – Wow.
Kari: 02:09 – Yeah. They introduced me to some other sports, like swimming, I did some T-ball, IO did a little bit of soccer, but every time I was just like gymnastics, gymnastics, and then I did a little bit of dance with it as well. But yeah, it was 20 hours a week from age of five. So I’d say that was pretty serious.
Sean: 02:27 – And that illustrates that gymnastics is notorious for being extremely difficult and grueling from a very young age. How did you deal with that as a kid?
Kari: 02:36 – I just loved it so much that I guess I didn’t really think too much about it. Like, I remember coaches sitting on us so that we could get all the way into splits. And I remember crying, but it wasn’t something I ever liked second guessed, it just kind of like, this is what I want to do and this is part of the process. And I just put all my belief in my coaches that they were doing what was best even though, you know, sometimes it created tears and there were a lot of days where it was hard. And I remember getting kicked out of practice sometimes for having a bad day. They kick you out and I mean you go home crying to your parents and I mean they’re like, well you know it’s part of life and then send you back the next day. So it was just part of what I thought the sport was.
Sean: 03:16 – What kind of work ethic did that instill in you as a child?
Kari: 03:21 – Oh, it just, I mean perfection for everything. And I mean, when I was in school, I was work, work, work. When I would go to gymnastics, it was work, work, work. And I feel like I’m still similar. Whereas whenever I’m not working, like sometimes I’ll even go on vacation, I’ve had friends be like, just relax. It’s hard to relax though. Like cause I’ve just been at it like my whole life and I enjoy working and especially when I’m like gymnastics you just have to perfect everything. So it’s just repetition after repetition, you spend hours and hours and hours doing the same things over just to make them perfect. Not once, not twice, but so you can basically just do it in your sleep, do it whenever you have to. So obviously a lot of work comes with all that.
Sean: 04:02 – Being from Ann Arbor, what was it like for you to be able to go on and be part of the University of Michigan gymnastics team?
Kari: 04:08 – Oh, it was incredible. At the age of eight, a lot of girls, you know, want to go the Olympics and I did have a little bit of an Olympic dream, but I did a little training for it and I was like, that’s not for me. That’s even more extreme than what I just did, which was, I mean 25 hours a week, for many years. But they took that to another level. But for University of Michigan, when I was eight years old, my coach asked me what I wanted to do with my career and I said go to the University of Michigan cause my parents had taken me to a lot of the gymnastics meets and so I got to see all of the girls in action and it just looked like so much fun and they were all enjoying each other and they were just phenomenal gymnasts and I was like, yep, that’s what I want to do.
Sean: 04:50 – You were a three-time academic, All Big 10 selection. How did you manage competing at that high a level with your studies?
Kari: 05:00 – Yeah, so three times. Cause my first year, my freshman year I slacked a little bit. I didn’t realize like that it was such a going to be such a difficult jump. I mean, University of Michigan is very tough academically and in high school I was one of those kids, like I did a lot of studying and I did my homework and everything, but I still didn’t study nearly as much as I needed to in college. So I remember the first semester was just such an eye opener to the difference between college and high school and especially like a, you know, institution that’s very academically successful. But it was just like, I mean, in training when I was in high school, I trained 20 to 25 hours a week and I drove an hour each way to and from practice. So I had to be very efficient with my time.
Kari: 05:43 – And I feel like, honestly when I went to college, I didn’t have that extra two hours in my day that I was commuting. And then, I mean, we were training anywhere from 15 to 20 hours a week so like in gymnastics you actually scale back a little bit going to college just because your body is so beat up from the years prior to it. Most gymnasts peak around 16 to 17 years old, so by the time you get to college you’re basically just trying to keep what you have and your building a little bit on it, but for the most part it’s just maintaining. So the time that I had freed up a little bit, I just used my studies and like I said, I was very, I’m a very hard worker and a perfectionist so I just spent a lot of time studying and all the other girls on the team were very into their studies as well. So I think that made it a lot easier when you have teammates that are studying a lot and you end up just studying together and not goofing around a whole lot.
Sean: 06:36 – What are your best memories from being a college athlete?
Kari: 06:41 – The things that stick out the most, I mean my team was a four-time Big 10 championship or we are four-time Big 10 champions and each one of them was just special in a different way. But especially my senior year one just because that’s the last thing that you’re going to go through before you’re done with this sport that you’ve done for so long. And then my senior year we also finished the best. We ended up making it to the super six, which in gymnastics is kind of like the national championship. There’s 12 teams that go and then the top six make it to the final day. So that was the only year when I was in college that my team made it to the super six was my senior year. So that was definitely a highlight and I got to end my career on a strong note.
Sean: 07:25 – What did you turn to after gymnastics was behind you?
Kari: 07:31 – So after I graduated college, I knew my gymnastics career was over cause it was kinda like, OK now you’re done with college. And that’s when a lot of girls stop. Like you don’t continue to train just because your body is so beat up. So after that I actually approached our strength-and-conditioning coach and I was like, I don’t know what to do workout wise. I still want to work out because I loved gymnastics, but I loved the fitness aspect of it. I loved doing the pull-ups and the press-to-handstands and handstand push-ups and all that kind of stuff. But I was like, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do now. Like I don’t know how to write a program or anything. So he actually suggested that I do weightlifting cause he’s like, you know, you have very short levers.
Kari: 08:12 – You’re perfectly built for weightlifting. And I had been to the strength-and-conditioning room a little bit and started, I actually started back squats between my junior and senior year of college was the first time that I did back squats. And now I see kids like doing them, I don’t know when they’re like 12 years old and maybe even younger. It’s insane. But so after college I asked him and I’m like, what do I do? And so he got me started into some weightlifting and he’s like, well, you might as well do an internship with Michigan working with a bunch of the different athletic teams. I worked with some softball, some baseball, lacrosse, swimming, diving. So a lot of just different sports while I was doing weightlifting. So it was a cool way to learn it myself and then also help others learn it as well.
Sean: 08:57 – How did that lead you to CrossFit?
Kari: 09:00 – So I did that, and so I had a teammate, actually her name was, well Lindsey Borden in college. Now it’s Lindsey Monterey cause she has since got married and had some kids, and she’s been to the Games. She went three or four years on a team. And when I finished gymnastics, she’s like, Kari, you should try CrossFit. And I had heard about it a little bit, but I knew that had gymnastic elements. And I’m like, no gymnastics. I’m over gymnastics. I did 18 years, I don’t want anything to do with it. And she’s like, Kari, it’s not the gymnastics that you use. So it’s like handstands—I was like, no. And so right after I did the weightlifting, I actually found out I had bulged disc in my back, I had a little carpal tunnel. So then I did a little bit of physique competing.
Kari: 09:42 – And with that I just didn’t like somebody to tell me how I should look. I liked the performance aspect of gymnastics and so I was kinda still searching for that. So after I did physique, I ended up doing a powerlifting competition just because I lifted weights and one of the trainers in the gym was like, have you ever thought about doing powerlifting? You’re pretty strong. And I was like, no, I haven’t. This was about three years after I stopped gymnastics and Lindsey was still just this little birdie in my ear, Kari, CrossFit, Kari, CrossFit. And I was like, no, no, no. Then finally one day at the gym that I was training at, I saw the Games on ESPN. And so after I finished my training session, I laid a yoga mat down on the ground and I just started watching it and then I was like, this is actually really cool.
Kari: 10:26 – And I was like, I do think I could be really good at this. Lindsey might be on to something. So the owner of the gym that I currently coach at reached out to me just via email, gymnastics coach. And I was like, no, I don’t want to coach gymnastics. He goes, it’s not like kids gymnastics. And he’s like, just meet with me. I promise I can offer you something good. And I was like, OK fine. So I met with him and then he started talking about CrossFit and me coaching like the gymnastics part of CrossFit. So I had signed up for that powerlifting meet in November, 2014, I was like, OK, after the powerlifting meet is over, I’ll start coaching for you and I’ll start CrossFit. So it’s kinda like this little like little birdie in my ear kept saying CrossFit, CrossFit, and then finally when the owner of the gym of the CrossFit that I currently coach at reached out, and I’d seen the Games on ESPN and it all just kind of came together. I was like, OK, I should give this a try.
Sean: 11:20 – When did you think that you were pretty good at it?
Kari: 11:25 – So I started to realize I was pretty good at it in my first Open in 2015. I just signed up for the Open, you know, cause it’s what everybody does that does CrossFit. And I had no expectations. I was like, well this will be fun. Cause we had a competition team that I kind of trained with and a lot of the other athletes had been doing it two, three, four years. And they’re like, Oh, you have a gymnastics background? Like yeah, you’ll be pretty good at this. I was like, OK cool. Let’s do the Open. And the first went by, I did. OK. The second week was where I kind of like all of the other athletes, it was the chest-to-bar and overhead squat workout and all the other athletes were just like, where did you learn to do that?
Kari: 12:07 – And I’m like, I don’t know. I just kept going. And they’re like OK. And then that’s when I was like, OK, maybe I am better at this thing than I thought I would be. But then the third week came and that had double-unders and I could not do double-unders to save my life. So it was a bunch of wall or muscle-ups, wall balls and double-unders. Muscle-ups, fine, wall balls, yeah, they suck. But the double-unders, I forget if it was like a hundred or 150 and I would do like 10 and then trip and have to stop and then maybe 10 and I redid that workout the day after or like two days in a row just because I was like, well, it didn’t make me tired. I just couldn’t do my. And my judge was like, I just felt so bad for you. So after that one I was like, well I dunno, maybe I’m not as good as I thought.
Kari: 12:54 – And then the next week came and it was cleans and handstand push-ups. And then I remember the first time I did it I was just like, I think two reps behind Annie Thorisdottir and I was like, that’s amazing. And then like for the fifth week I was around 16th place in my region and basically everyone on my team was like, if you do well this final week, you’re going to make it to Regionals, and I was like, OK, cool. I kind of knew what it meant but really like not really. I was like, well that sounds cool. Like sure, why not? And they’re like, you’re not nearly as excited as we are. I was like, no, cause I didn’t realize what it meant. It was the second year that I actually realized how cool that it—well, a little bit past that, but basically the second year that I realized how cool it was and just how rare it was to make Regionals when you didn’t know you were going to be that good and it was your first Open.
Sean: 13:44 – Then you end up in the Games with less than a year’s experience. What were your expectations going into 2015?
Kari: 13:51 – I honestly had no expectations like going into Regionals I was like, Whoa, this is really cool. I get to compete with some other athletes and I was just like looking around and I saw like Dani Horan and I was like, Oh, I remember she’s like the best one in our region and Michelle Letendre. And I was like, Oh, like I saw them in the warm-up area and I was like fan-girling and me and my coach were like, Oh wait, we know her and we see her. Like it was really cool just getting to compete side-by-side with them. And I mean there was two handstand workouts at Regionals and I knew I had to do well and I ended up winning both of those. The snatch workout was not so good and there was like some OK workouts in there, but at least like the gymnastics stuff is what really excelled me and allowed me to qualify for the Games. I was good enough at other things and I think just, you know, the mental aspect of it, just from all the years of gymnastics and competing, I think I’m just mentally tough. So at my first Regional I was game and just did my best when I went out there and it was enough to make the Games the first that I was doing CrossFit, which was even more unheard of than just making Regionals.
Sean: 14:55 – What’d you think when you got the Carson that year?
Kari: 14:58 – I was just so overwhelmed with everything. I mean you get there and I was watching all the athletes on TV and I remember walking into the warm-up area and I see like Sam Briggs and I see Camille and then I see Margaux and Margaux actually like came over and introduced herself. She was like such a sweetheart cause I was just like probably looked like a kid like in a candy shop just like staring all around and I’m like to be a hundred percent fair, I like was almost intimidated to work out cause I’m like do I really belong here with all these other like phenomenal athletes and after I talked to Margaux I like went over to the corner and like kinda like tried to get myself like back in the corner so that nobody could see me. Cause like I said it was like I was still rather new to CrossFit and just trying to show people that I belonged. But in my head I still questioned if I actually belonged there or not.
Kari: 15:48 – If you’re enjoying my conversation with Kari Pearce, you should know that Two-Brain Radio is full of amazing interviews. We’ve posted more than 300 episodes and we air three shows a week. On Wednesday, I interview top athletes, great coaches and colorful characters to get the best stories from the fitness world. On Thursdays, Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper is on the air with actionable advice as well as business experts who can solve your problems. On Mondays, we talk about marketing and share our client success stories to inspire you to grow your business. To make sure you don’t miss a thing, please subscribe Two-Brain Radio, and we’d love to hear your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Now back to Kari Pearce. What did you learn from your rookie year?
Kari: 16:35 – Well I learned first of all that I definitely did belong there and that it was just like, I feel like CrossFit was a sport that was just kind of meant for me. I mean, you know, there’s a lot of phenomenal athletes, but especially after the gymnastics background and I just found that I really loved it and that it was something that I would do long term just cause it sparked a fire. I got 21st place my first year and from there everyone was like, Oh that’s great. And I’m like 21st is not great. I mean, OK. Yeah, like it was my first year, whatever. But it just like you want to do better, you want more. And then I also just learned how hard and stressful and like tough on your body and mind and everything that the Games are like you see the athletes competing on TV and you’re like, OK, you did a workout.
Kari: 17:21 – Then you go and you rest and then you do another workout. And it is not that way at all. Like you start off, you have briefings all day long, you have to sit around in the sun. Like it’s not as glamorous as it looks on TV, but obviously all the girls go back year after year for a reason just because it’s such an incredible experience and it doesn’t match anything that I’ve done before in my life. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. And then I think each year you just learn a little bit more about what is in store, like, how to recover from the workouts and like how important nutrition and hydration and just, I mean, once you’re done competing, you go home and you rest and you take it easy. Like I remember my first year, I like would go to vendor village and just want to see everybody there. And see all the stands and the sponsors and everything. And then the second year I was kind of like, Oh, let’s stop by there once. And now I’m like, you won’t see me there, just because you’re there to compete. But the first year everything is just so new and so exciting that you just try and soak it all in. Now this’ll be my sixth time. So it’s like, OK well each year like, I mean it’s just as special every year, but you just know what to expect each time.
Sean: 18:29 – You go back to the Games in 2016 and you take fifth. How were you able to get so much better in just one year?
Kari: 18:38 – Personally I think a lot of it was just knowing the sport. Like I said in 2015 it was kinda like I was walking in to the Games just, I mean we had done, you know, a lot of hard training, but I hadn’t touched a yoke, I hadn’t touched a sandbag. I hadn’t done a lot of the like odd things like I had done like, like parallette handstand push-ups and more muscle-ups. And just, I mean things that maybe you won’t see at Regionals, but me and my coach, it was both of our first year in 2015 so it was just a big, big learning experience of how different the events and the workouts and everything are from, I mean the Open or Regional, just the higher skills. So I was able to just practice a lot of like the odd objects and I was able to just get a lot stronger, too, which was something that coming from the gymnastic background still that I struggle with is the leg strength.
Kari: 19:28 – So it was something like I just worked on my weightlifting and snatches because those were two things that were just so unfamiliar. I’m still working on them. I mean I feel like every athlete is, but those were just a few things that I was able to pick up rather quickly. And then also just working on a lot more endurance stuff. Going from 2015 to 2016 a lot more running, a lot more swimming. I think just smarter about my training from the get-go and I had a full year to train for it unlike 2015, you know I started CrossFit in November and then the Games were the end of July, so it wasn’t even a year full year of training under my belt, so I had basically like doubled the amount of training going from my first year to the second and just like I said, just learning what I was actually in for.
Sean: 20:14 – Since your rookie year, you’ve never finished lower than 10th at the Games. What has been the key to that sustained success?
Kari: 20:22 – I think it’s just consistent, hard work all year round. I take a little bit of time off after the Games, but then after that I get back into it and just every day when I’m in the gym I just focus on doing my best and just take it day by day and focus on a lot of the little things that I know I need to improve and keeping the gymnastics strong. Just I know the gymnastic stuff, the handstand push-ups, the muscle-ups, me my coach agree that those are the things that I have to keep—I have to stay on top of my game because you win an event, you get a hundred points, like you have to win events if you’re going to do well and be in that top 10 and eventually get to the podium. Obviously you have to bring your weaknesses up as well.
Kari: 21:03 – You can’t have 30th whatever place finishes and still expect to do well. So trying to balance all of it, but I think it’s just, you know, being smart about the training. And I love my coach. He does a lot of that for me. And then like I said, just day-to-day hard work, grinding, you know, there’s little aches and pains and stuff here and there, but just training consistently. And I mean I love what I do and I think that’s part of it as well, just because I enjoy going to the gym and I enjoy what I’m doing. So that makes it a lot easier than it being like a chore and something that you just dread. I get excited to go to the gym 90, 95% of the time. Obviously there’s those days where you’re just like, Oh, I don’t want to go, but you show up and then you see everyone at the gym and it puts you in a better mood and makes you want to work hard.
Sean: 21:53 – The next step has for you, it has to be getting yourself onto the podium. What needs to happen for you to make that a reality?
Kari: 21:59 – So I actually just started working with a new weightlifting coach because that’s the biggest weakness that I have right now is squat cleans and more or less just my leg strength just needs to go up and by legs, I mainly mean quads. My hamstrings are pretty strong, but it’s just my quads that are just so stubborn from, I don’t know if it’s because of the years of gymnastics and the upper body. Then my upper body, like we strict press once a week and I just PR’d my strict press, and we squat three, sometimes four times a week. And my legs just like, might get a pound here and there. So it’s just the weightlifting that is the biggest thing right now. The cleans more than snatches obviously like if you could improve both, perfect. But like at the Games when I couldn’t hit the 215-pound clean, my coach is like, soon that’s going to be 225. Like you have to be able to hit 225 at a minimum whenever you’re called on, like that’s going to be at the Games.
Kari: 22:57 – And so we’ve been doing a lot of cleans, like I said, just started working with a weightlifting coach and he kind of switched around my technique and my positioning. So cause he said from all the gymnastics, my ankle mobility isn’t where it should be. And he’s like, how many times have you sprained your ankles in gymnastics? So I was like, well if it’s any correlation, I had basically a walking cast on my ankles when I was a senior in high school, like my athletic trainer actually called the ankle tape that I had the stretch limousines because it went from the bottom of my toe to three quarters of the way up my shin. Just because you were needed on a team, just tape up your ankles together and you’re out on the floor. So it was, it’s definitely something that I’ve been working on and now I realize like how bad it is and that it is really affecting my cleans from getting better. So it’s five, six, seven times a day, I’m stretching out these angles just to try and get them looser cause that’s the main culprit of what he thinks is the problem in my front squats and cleans and stuff. So project clean.
Sean: 24:00 – You had one of the more memorable and I think one of the more impressive performances at the Games last year in Mary. What stands out to you about how you handled that event?
Kari: 24:10 – Yeah, so right when it was announced, obviously I got really excited. It’s well, handstand push-ups are one of my favorite moments along with handstand walking. And I know I’m good at pull-ups, I’m good at pistols as well. But when it came out and my coach is like, yeah, let’s do a couple of rounds strict and then we can go to kipping. And I was like, are you sure we shouldn’t like kip? And he’s like, let’s just do a few strict to get ahead or to like start out fast. You’d like might not be ahead but you’ll at least be like, you know a little bit faster than whoever decides to go kipping in the beginning. And I was like, OK, I think that’s a good idea. So I started to go strict the first three or four rounds and then I think it was the fifth round that I did a kipping handstand push-up and the judge no-repped me and she’s like, your hips didn’t extend.
Kari: 24:50 – I was like, this just seems like a lot more work than doing strict. I was like, I’m going back to strict and I was like, I’m going to try and stick with this the whole way through. And I was like, well if they start to get hard, I can always switch to kipping. It’s not like that big of a change. And then the pull-ups, I actually was getting a little bit nervous on because my calf, I think it was from the rough run, my calf was starting to cramp. So the first couple rounds I did them unbroken. Then I started breaking them up a little bit, but every time I would jump up to the bar, my calf would cramp. So I was like, well I guess I should just try and go unbroken here cause it reduces one time that I have to jump up and like in my head it just like made sense.
Kari: 25:25 – And then now I go back and I think about it. I’m like, yeah, you’re just like, you know, you just don’t break it up. It makes it so much easier. You’re like, OK Kari. But yeah, I just had so much fun in that whole workout just because I don’t want to say that it wasn’t hard. It was just like more of a muscle-failure hard than like a breathing heavy hard. And it was near the end of the workout. I mean even like the last five minutes, it was kinda just like smooth and steady. Like I knew Tia and Kristin and Jamie were all like pretty close to me, but I felt like I’m like, I have some extra reps in my bag if I need to like speed it up at the end. So kind of like the last five minutes I was just more or less like soaking up every minute and like listening to the crowd.
Kari: 26:05 – And it was just amazing just being in the Coliseum. And then I remember like finish my pull-ups, and I’m like, well, I don’t need to go do the handstand push-ups. But everybody was screaming. There was so much energy that I was like, well, I might as well run back and get a few more reps just because I can. And then I realized that I’d beaten the guys after I did that. So I’m like, well, good thing. So that will definitely always stick out in my mind, it seems like yesterday, I can remember like the whole setup and then even moving after the 15 rounds. It was just such a cool experience.
Sean: 26:35 – It was awesome to watch. It was really, really incredible. The Games last year, they were a completely kind of new experience for everyone given the new structure. What did you learn about what it takes to be successful in this new format?
Kari: 26:47 – You just have to go hard in every workout. You can’t take anything for granted. And I know like some people are like, well this workout won’t be my best, so maybe I won’t give 100%. Whereas now like it doesn’t matter if it’s gonna be your best workout, if it’s gonna be your worst workout, you have to give your absolute best because every single point is going to make a difference. And I think we saw that, especially when they cut from 20 to 10. It’s like there’s a lot of phenomenal athletes that were kind of left out of that top 10, but you know, everybody can’t make it. And if you had one bad event, chances are you’re not going to make that top 10. So it’s just with every workout that you have just going out there and giving it your best because you never know. It might end up being your last workout or it could be what costs you from being in that top 20 and going to that top 10.
Sean: 27:38 – You’re coming off an open performance that saw you take six in the world. Once again, you’re fittest in the US, where is your fitness at this point of the season?
Kari: 27:47 – I feel pretty good about my fitness. Like I said, we took two weeks. Oh, I took two weeks off after the Games and then kind of slowly got back into it just because the Open was, you know, right around the corner from the Games. Usually my coach would be like, you get a month off, but this year he’s like two weeks. If you need a little bit longer, let me know. And, you know, we can, I can give you a little bit longer, but I would rather let’s just get started and be ready for the open when it comes because we don’t want to have to go through the Open and then you don’t qualify and then like stress yourself out about Sanctionals and everything. Obviously I’m still going to do some Sanctionals for fun, but it’s nice like having like the Games qualified everything check.
Kari: 28:29 – But unfortunately I did have, I did get a little Achilles injury from 20.4, from the rebounding box jumps, so I haven’t been able to actually just start running two weeks ago I had my third running session today, just because it’s just, it’s not torn, it’s just like aggravated. And the doctor was like, well, if you run on it, you’re just gonna make it worse. Cause I was gonna compete in Dubai, but they always have running and a lot of times it’s in the sand. And my doctor’s like, OK, that’s probably not a good idea if you’re going to do that or you’re going to go to Wodapalooza. He’s like, you go to Dubai, you mess it up enough, then you got to let it get well or you let it get well and then go to Wodapalooza.
Kari: 29:10 – I was like, let’s do that. So I am battling a little Achilles thing. But the good thing about it is it’s forced me to do a lot more squats and work on my weightlifting and get my legs stronger because I basically just had to take out running, double-unders and rebounding box jumps, everything else he’s like, it’s fine for the most part. So, and he’s like just when you come down off the rope, like be careful and don’t do anything stupid. But so that’s given me a reason to squat and I’ve been on the Assault bike a lot more, which is also, yeah, I know, it’s three times a week. I was like, I’d rather run. But my coach is like, well you need to work on the Assault bike. So it’s, you know, there’s other things you can do even if you do have a little injury. And we’ve just been swimming twice a week as well. So just working on a few things that you know, can always use work and stay away from your Achilles. But I feel good, and I mean, Wodapalooza in just about a month. So that’ll be a fun test to go and compete against some other girls.
Sean: 30:08 – Other than that sanction event, what are your competitive plans between now and when you get to Madison for the Games?
Kari: 30:15 – Yeah. So I’m going to do that. And then I also plan on doing the West Coast classic, which is in California in March, and then the Rogue Invitational and then the Games. So end of February, end-ish of March. And then middle of May and then August.
Sean: 30:31 – How do you make sure under this new format that you are peaking at the right time?
Kari: 30:37 – Ah, so I actually leave that to my coach. And that’s why he’s great just because he has been in the sport like 10 plus years. His name is Justin Cotler, and he’s in charge of all of that. He basically like does my programming and obviously like if there’s things that feel off or if I’m like I’m just exhausted, like it’s too much, not enough kind of thing, like he’ll adjust it. But for the most part he’s in charge of that and he’s like, we’re going to kind of like, we’ll take a little bit of time off after Wodapalooza and after all the competitions, but he’s like, it’s not going to be anything nearly like the Games. And so the Games are the primary peak, even if we’re doing the other competitions, we’re not peaking for any of those. He’s like, we’re kind of just training right through it. Yeah, we’ll take like a little bit of time off right before and right after, but we’re not doing any sort of major peak for any of those competitions. It’s saving it up for the Games, which is, you know, the big one.
Sean: 31:32 – You obviously have plenty of your competitive career left, but what are you most proud of so far in your CrossFit Games career?
Kari: 31:41 – So the main thing that sticks out is winning Murph. That’s definitely like a highlight that I’ll never forget. Just that also just feels like yesterday when I was like racing Katrin for that final lap and then also running down the stairs and running across the field. And I’m like getting goose bumps talking about it. That and then also so far just being the fittest American three out of the last four years, just because it’s such a, you know, highly competitive country and just being the top American like I remember at the Games the first year that I did it when I saw my coach and I just like started crying. So I was like, I like looked up at the leaderboard and I was like the American flag, like the top one had my name and I got goose bumps again. My name is just right next to it and I was like, is this real?
Kari: 32:29 – I was like, is that the final results? And I was like that’s just so cool. And then do it again the second year. And then I think, and then this year was also just really special, just coming, I think I was in eighth place going into the final and then I was able to pop up into the top American just like the way the point system and everything worked out. Like Haley, I had to be her by like two events and same with like Amanda and then Bethany couldn’t beat me or just something about the way the points were and everything. Like I think I ended up beating Haley by like, I mean the place was like perfect, like maybe three points and each separation was like 10 points. So if there had been anything different than I wouldn’t have been. So it’s definitely just cool to be able to say that I’m the fittest American woman.
Sean: 33:12 – Along those lines. No American woman has been on the podium since 2014. Why can you be the one who breaks that streak?
Kari: 33:22 – I can be the one that breaks that streak just because, like you said, the last three out of four years I’ve been the top American and this year me and my coach, we know that the clean is what needs work and that’s just what we’re working on and I need some work on running as well. And that’s, you know, gonna be there. And just my coach, I’ve seen a lot of improvement. I actually just switched coaches a little bit over a year ago and I’ve seen a lot of big improvements over the last year and I think we’re moving in the right direction. I’m feeling better and better, fitter than ever. So it’s just continuing to put in the hard work and knowing exactly what it takes to get on the podium. And last year I made a couple mistakes, which happened, but you know, you live and you learn, and I feel really good about this year.
Sean: 34:07 – Well, Kari, thank you so much for joining me. Really look forward to watching you compete at the Games again and as an American, I hope to see you on the podium soon.
Kari: 34:14 – Yes, thank you so much, Sean. I appreciate it.
Sean: 34:16 – Big thanks to Kari Pearce for taking the time to speak with me. If you want to, you can follow her on Instagram. She is @karipearcecrossfit and that’s Kari spelled K A R I. If you’re a gym owner and you need some help growing your business, Two-Brain mentors can show you the exact steps to add $5,000 in monthly recurring revenue. Book a free call now on TwoBrainbusiness.com to find out more. Thanks for listening, everyone. I’m Sean Woodland and I’ll see you next time.