"If it wasn't for CrossFit, my back would not have healed in the manner it did, and would not be as strong as it is today."
Chad Theron is one of the most recognized newcomers to this year’s CrossFit Games Open in Africa. Despite opening one of the first boxes in Pretoria and being an impressive athlete, Theron has been plagued by injuries. Stuck in what felt to him to be a never-ending cycle of injuries, he has been unable to advance in previous Opens and in local events.
Theron was an enthusiastic sportsman during his school years, competing in rugby and water polo. His involvement in these impact sports, however, resulted in injuries that have limited him in more recent years.
At the age of 10, Theron broke a kneecap in several places. The knee has especially suffered under the strain of heavy lifting. A back injury sustained while playing high school rugby was aggravated during the 2011 Open, and in December of the same year, he collapsed in low back pain during a lifting session. It was found that he had three herniated disks in his lower back. He was instructed by doctors to cease lifting, and since then has not competed in any events.
"Injuries halted my progress again and again," Theron says. "I felt completely hopeless and useless because I wanted to, but my body didn't.”
He used CrossFit to strengthen his back muscles in order to support the injured disks.
"I went back to basics, focused on correct technique with light weights and built (the loads) back up with a lot of patience,” he says. “If it wasn't for CrossFit, my back would not have healed in the manner it did, and would not be as strong as it is today."
This year, Theron is back with a purpose, and after months of careful rehabilitation, he's training harder than ever and is aiming for a top finish in the Open this year.
"Due to the growth of CrossFit in South Africa, the level of competition has stepped up compared to last year and people are taking the Open more seriously,” he observes. “My goal is obviously to finish as high as possible, but for now I'm not really focusing on where I place in the Open, but just to qualify for Regionals, and then the hard work starts."
A typical training week for Theron includes six days of three to five sessions with a combination of metabolic conditioning and weightlifting. His focus has been on improving running and gymnastics endurance weaknesses while training consistently and efficiently. Theron has also begun to follow a Zone/paleo diet, which includes abstaining from alcohol.
Since starting the Zone, he has shed 9 kg and has had a noticeable improvement with endurance and speed — despite occasionally giving into a craving for donuts.
Mental preparation is imperative to Theron.
“My goal has been to work on mental capacity,” he says. “Even though I have PB’d almost every day for the past two months — be it met-cons, lifting or skill — my focus has not been on time or scores but rather to not stop working physically or mentally during workouts. I believe that’s what separates athletes … the ability to not give up mentally when your body wants to. I figure the best way to prepare for competition is to beat your own mind.”
Co-owner of CrossFit Pretoria, Riaan Hofmeyr, adds: “If he stays injury free, he will be a serious contender. Chad’s training and preparation are all there.”