"I think in the last year I've also gotten better at managing stress--my own stress, and other people's stress. I've learned to not let the stress of the gym get to me at home, and I had to learn that the hard way."
Last year, Mike Cahill was stressed out.
He had cruised to a 17th-place finish at the 2012 Southern California Regional after his affiliate’s owner, Alec Hanson of CrossFit Costa Mesa, encouraged him to sign up.
The surprise finish in the upper third of the field felt great at first. But then he had to deal with heightened expectations. He started training for 2013, determined to be better than he was in 2012.
Not long before the season got underway, life tossed him a few challenges.
“I had trained all year for it, was working hard and all of my numbers were going up. But I was also in the middle of a job transition and then started working to open a new gym,” the 27-year-old said.
He often awoke at 2 a.m. and couldn’t fall back asleep. The stress-induced insomnia quickly wore him down, and noticeably affected his athletic performance.
Despite all his training in the offseason, his CrossFit Games season finishes didn’t improve. He took 22nd place in the region in the 2013 Open, and 25th at the regional.
Soon after regionals, he decided he had to change his life around to alleviate stress. He tried a few new affiliates, and eventually settled in at CrossFit TSAC.
At his new affiliate, he trains casual CrossFit athletes, as well as competitive lacrosse and soccer players. When not coaching, he does remote coaching for regional qualifiers Austin Stack and Mike Ferraro.
While being a trainer may seem like the ideal occupation for a regional athlete, Cahill points out that it doesn’t make regional preparation much easier. Like any other job, it’s exhausting.
“It’s a challenge for me to try and speak their language, and it just comes with time in figuring out how they perceive movement,” Cahill said of his job. “And it’s very energy intensive for me.”
“You have to be their friend sometimes, sometimes their mentor, and sometimes you just gotta listen to them … (in) coaching you are also dealing with other people’s lives. Maybe someone shows up to class after sitting in an hour of traffic, or they had a bad day with their boss. Or you get told by someone they just lost their house. Me, as a 27-year-old kid, I can’t even match those feelings that they go through. Sometimes the goal of the day is to focus on the positives for others, and simply get them in a better mood.”
When it comes to stress, he can sympathize.
“I think in the last year I’ve also gotten better at managing stress—my own stress, and other people’s stress,” he said. “I’ve learned to not let the stress of the gym get to me at home, and I had to learn that the hard way.”
In addition to finding the positives in even the lousiest of days, Cahill has made his life less stressful by reducing the volume of his training.
“I can’t train three to five times a day like some athletes. Physically, hormonally, emotionally … I just can’t do it. But I do carve out enough time to do what works for me,” he said.
A typical day for Cahill is a morning of strength, followed by metabolic conditioning. In the afternoon, he does more metabolic conditioning. Cahill strictly follows this model for five days a week.
“My days off are Thursday and Sunday,” he said. “Thursdays, I might go for a jog or run some sprints. And on Sundays, I just plain rest.”
So far, the new approach to life and training appears to have paid off for Cahill. Stress isn’t waking him up anymore, and his rested body was able to earn a fifteenth-place finish in SoCal in the 2014 Open.
He’s confident he will do better than last year at the SoCal Regional this weekend.
“I think that me not being so stressed out has done wonders,” he said. “Will I make top three? Well, I’m not sure about that. It seems that the top two spots are pretty well decided. But I’m going to give it my all and see what happens.”