Pat Barber grew up with CrossFit. Director of Media Tony Budding introduced the sport to him in 2004 when he was an English teacher at Mt. Madonna High School. Soon after, Barber started training at the original CrossFit Santa Cruz.
Barber competed at the CrossFit Games for the first time in 2008, finishing in 4th place. In 2009, as the competition expanded to include a wider variety of loads and time domains, he fell to 36th. At the 2010 Regional, Barber took 15th overall and missed a chance to compete at the Games.
Over the next year, Barber’s life changed dramatically. He moved to New Zealand to be near to his girlfriend Tamaryn Venter and amped up his training with his focus on the Games. His goal was to qualify and finish in the top 10 in 2011. After earning the 1st place spot at the Australia Regional, Barber returned for his third CrossFit Games.
In Carson, Calif., Pat proved his move to the Australia Region wasn't the reason he made it back to the Games. He finished in the top 10 in six of 10 workouts, won Event 10, and finished 8th overall, achieving his goal.
At 25, Barber has returned to the pinnacle of CrossFit competition, and he plans to stay here for years to come. Barber discusses his 2011 Games performances, and the seven years of CrossFit that preceded it.
Why did you choose to pace Events 8 and 9 and then smash Event 10 at the Games? What was your motive?
Events 8, 9, 10 – I had the plan of going in and winning Event 8, resting Event 9, and going balls out on Event 10. Things kind of went as planned and kind of didn't. I didn't realize how much of an advantage a bigger dude had in the first two exercises of those workouts. I simply cannot row as fast, or wall ball as fast as guys like Jason Khalipa. In three minutes, there was simply not enough time to catch those guys in toes-to-bar and box jumps.
When I hit Event 9, it was super hard to look like dick in front of that many people. I was very close to canning the idea about halfway into it. I will say that I did, however, have the support of my awesome judge, and that helped. Going into Event 10, I had a significant advantage not being as gassed as the other guys in my heat.
Looking back on it, I would say that while the strategy made for an incredibly fun finish for me – which includes a 1st place at a CrossFit Games event – in the future I will do things differently. This year, I didn't have the mental strength to do Events 8, 9, and 10 at full capacity. Next year I want all three.
Comparing your 2009 and 2011 Games profiles, you've achieved some dramatic improvements in strength. Did you make a conscious effort to get stronger on the slow lifts, or did it just happen through your normal programming? Have you made improvements across the board?
I did put on a lot of strength over the last few years and a few things happened to cause this. One, I moved to New Zealand where I started eating more food, and specifically, more fat. The meat and food in general seem to have a much higher fat content there.
I also learned how to correctly approach heavy days. Changing from a 7x1 day, looking like: 100-120-130-140-150-160-170, to it looking more like: 168-168-168-168-168-168-168. This made me spend more time under load and the result made me stronger.
The programming I did, however, was normal CrossFit stuff. From 2009 to 2010 I only made large improvements in my strength, not in other areas, but from 2010 to 2011, I have had large improvements across the board.
How do you program? Do you take things day-to-day, or do you have a long-term plan?
My program is day-to-day for the most part. There have been times where I have used programming from Matt Swift from CrossFit Brisbane. Other times where I have gotten a few months from Ben Bergeron of CrossFit New England.
In my opinion, the magic is not in the programming. While it does help tons to have someone at the reins who knows what they are doing and where you are weak, I feel that as long as things are truly varied and you are hitting things hard, you should see improvement.
Also, consistency. Too often I see people start a program or a journey and only do it for a few weeks or days even. You could have the most amazing program in the world, but if you were inconsistent and kept jumping on different things, you will never really improve how you want. I don't pretend to be good at programming, but luckily my girlfriend, Taz Venter is and sets up what I do on a daily basis.
How has your approach to CrossFit changed over the past seven years?
My approach has changed a bit over the last seven years. When I first started, I would hit every WOD so hard, that I would puke after each workout. I would train for maybe two weeks straight, then take four months off because my body could just not take it.
When I started working for CrossFit, I had to find a way to keep my consistency of training better so I would not push my limits as hard, and that led to a much easier time training day in and day out. The only problem was that I didn't really enjoy training … just competing. It meant that I would consistently show up to competitions with a lack of fitness, but a super strong desire to compete. This made competitions super painful as I tried to push my physical and mental limits, while not having much capacity. This made me resent training more and more, because I knew it led to pain. It wasn't until I got hosed at the 2010 Regionals, placing 50th in the first workout, that I realized what I was doing was lame.
Going to the Games that year and not being able to be on the floor with my friends lit a fire under my ass. Immediately after the Games, I began training with a goal of top 10 in 2011.Mikko Salo was in town for the first few days after the Games and we trained together. I asked him if he hurt during workouts – if he felt the same pain that I did, and how did he keep pushing? His basic answer was he accepted it and didn't see it as pain. Anu Puonti, a person who is part of his support crew, also talked with me about simply not using the words “pain,” “hurts,” or anything in that line of thought. From there I started trying to eliminate those things from my CrossFit vocabulary. Training after that started getting better and better.
What got me to where I am now was doing the Greg Amundson Mindset and Mentality seminar at the Again Faster Summit. From that point on, I have enjoyed training and CrossFit so much more. Don't get me wrong, I still have days where I don't want to train and feel like crap, but those are few compared to the times where training is super easy and enjoyable.
You finished 4th in 2008, and then fell off in performance in 2009 and 2010, only to come roaring back this year. What has that experience been like?
To be straight about it … it feels friggin' amazing. Having the support that I do and being where I have now been, has been one of the best experiences of my life. I hope to keep pushing for more.
What lessons have you learned in 2011? Will you change anything in your preparation or outlook going forward?
In the 2011 Games, I learned that I can hang, and I do deserve to be here. I will continue training all year with a much better mind state than I ever have. I will continue to work my weaknesses, while trying to improve across the board.
As someone who started at the original CrossFit HQ, did you ever think CrossFit or the Games would reach this point?
I knew CrossFit would grow as a fitness program, but who could have guessed the sport would have gone where it has?