After qualifying for his second straight CrossFit Games with a third-place finish at the 2013 Australia Regional in May, Brandon Swan is preparing for this year’s competition a lot differently than he did in 2012.
After finishing in 41st place at last year’s Games, the 22-year-old is doing everything possible to improve on that performance this July.
"That is something I learnt from guys like Rob (Forte) and Chad (Mackay)," Swan says. "They are so meticulous in their preparation and they do not leave anything to chance."
Training for the Games this year has taken a much more measured approach, with Swan planning to be at his absolute best for the finals.
"My plan was never to peak at Regionals, but rather at the Games," he says.
"Last year, qualifying for the Games took me by surprise. After Regionals, I just trained myself into the ground. I would spend the entire day in the gym, thinking the more I do, the better I get."
The excessive volume took its toll on Swan's body and a week out from the Games he fell sick.
"I woke up and couldn't see anything. I was tired and I was sick," Swan says.
"I went to the Games less than ready. Even after the Games, it took a couple of months before my body got right and my energy levels were up."
This year, with guidance from his coach, Rudy Nielsen of Outlaw CrossFit, Swan has focused on building his strength, developing his skill levels and working on his recovery.
"There is no question on the importance of strength in CrossFit these days," Swan says. "If you look through the top 48 guys in the world, you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't snatch over 110 kg and clean and jerk 140 kg."
But last year, it was skill that proved to be Swan’s weakness at the Games.
"Skill was a big difference in where you finished in an event," Swan says. “The bar muscle-ups in the Track Triplet and parallette handstand push-ups cost me at least 20 positions in those events."
"I know that I was strong enough and had the work capacity, but my lack of exposure and skill showed through. It's true what Greg (Glassman) says — you fail at the margins of your experience."
To overcome these weaknesses, Swan altered his training, employing a simple methodology — every minute on the minute, he would execute a set number of repetitions for a single movement.
"It is a great way to develop the skill capacity under fatigue and intensity," he says.
Swan also trains at different times to ensure he doesn’t just perform well when he’s comfortable.
"You have to know what it feels like to put the body under stress in different times, different temperatures … If I can lift most of my lifts between 80 to 90 percent in any conditions, it will serve me well at the Games," Swan says.
As well as preparing for the Games, Swan also has the responsibility of running his affiliate, CrossFit Western Front. He manages this with the help of his support crew led by Alex Raethke.
"I can trust Alex to run the box and coach my clients while I am training and away at the Games,” Swan says. “It was something that I was worried about last year.”
Client education and the establishment of clear boundaries have also helped Swan as he balances ambitions as an athlete and a box owner.
"Sometimes, the only time I have to train is the 20 minutes in between classes,” he says. “During the class, I am there as a coach, but my clients know that when I am training, I am there as an athlete. It can sound a little selfish, but my clients understand my goals as a CrossFit athlete."
Recovery has also been an area of focus for Swan this year.
"I pay much more attention to my body and rest appropriately, and never do more than what my body is capable of," he says.
"Rest days for me involve as little movement as possible. I do a lot of sitting, which (Kelly) Starrett probably won't like."
Swan also ensures that he fuels his body with enough calories to support the training volume. He has changed his diet since this time last year.
"Last year, I was strict paleo. This year, I have relaxed on that," Swan says. "I have added back dairy and supplements. Protein shakes make it convenient when I am too busy to sit down for a proper meal. I don't eat wheat and gluten to avoid inflammation."
At this year’s Games, Swan is preparing for the unexpected, and is well aware of the surprises that may come up.
"There will always be some form of long distance running and endurance event at the Games. It's been there every single year and it forms part of the test," Swan says.
"What is going to be interesting is what kind of implement is going to be brought out at the Games. Atlas stones? The yoke that the teams used last year? Maybe even a kayak?"