Double-unders are nothing new for Laura Brannen.
“I first learned a double-under in third grade when I did the jump rope team in elementary school,” Brannen said. “Double-unders have never been much of a challenge for me in this sport.”
Brannen, 26, a full-time coach at CrossFit Boro in Statesboro, Ga., scored 395 reps on Open Workout 14.1. That’s 270 double-unders in one workout. She ends Week 1 of the Open in third place in the South East, and 77th in the world.
“One thing James FitzGerald said that stuck out to me is that in order to be competitive in this sport, you have to be so proficient at double-unders that they become like rest,” Brannen said. “That’s exactly how 270 felt in this workout.”
A former collegiate cross-country and track star at Georgia Southern University, Brannen’s aerobic capacity is high. The 10-minute AMRAP of double-unders and light power snatches played perfectly to her strengths.
“When the (workout) is fast and light, not many people can hang with her,” said Ryan Brack, coach and owner of CrossFit Boro. “Throughout the Open, we will continue increasing her strength training while staying consistent with aerobic and skill work in preparation and hopes for a spot at regionals.”
The Open certainly plays to Brannen’s strengths. She has the mental capacity as well as the physical endurance to push through the workouts. However, it is just the first step on the road to the South East Regional, which is exactly where Brannen hopes to go this year.
“Regardless how the rest of the Open unfolds, if I am able to finish in the top 48 at the end of the five weeks, I will be more than pleased with my performance,” she said. “Last year, I was 68th in the (South East) Region so I was so close, but yet so far.”
At the end of the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Open, Brannen had been doing CrossFit for less than a year. At the time her max snatch was 98 lb., and she couldn't string together two muscle-ups which hurt her on 13.1 and 13.3. Now, she can snatch 138 lb. and string six muscle-ups together.
After her first workout at CrossFit Boro in July 2012, Brack knew he had found someone special.
“Her first workout consisted of clean and jerks,” Brack said. “During the workout, she busted her chin during a jerk and started bleeding. Instead of stopping to tend to her injury, she brushed it off and kept going.”
Brannen recalls that first workout somewhat differently.
“The first workout I did was Grace at 95 lb.,” she said. “It was my second day at CrossFit, and I actually busted my lip on the way up on the jerk but was too embarrassed to actually say anything to any of the coaches until about three days later.”
Now, almost two years and several months of strength cycles later, Brannen has a clean and jerk of 178 lb. at a body weight of only 125 lb. She stands at just 5-foot-2.
“She is tiny, and it’s taken awhile, but we feel now that she can hang with most anyone when the loading is moderate to heavy,” Brack said.
Along with strict strength cycles, Brack has also been programming rowing and Airdyne sprints to work on her breathing and pace management. As for running, her college years haven’t quite left her yet.
“She was a very talented runner when she first started CrossFit,” Brack said. “She ran a 6:05 mile with a 20-lb. med ball in her first competition and has found she can remain a competitive runner even after adding a couple of pounds of muscle.”
It’s that very drive to stay competitive that motivates Brannen day in and day out.
“She is very dedicated, rain or shine, bumped and bruised,” Brack said. “She trains twice a day, everyday—three on, one off—and typically works out alone. She hardly ever deviates from her program, but if she does, it’s because she wants to do some of the gym programming to see how she stacks up against our CrossFit Boro members and competition team.”
One of those CrossFit Boro members happens to be her husband, Jeb, who coaches part time with Brannen.
“I am not sure I would be able to be as committed to my CrossFit training as I am if I didn't have such a supportive husband,” Brannen said. “It would be hard to spend as much time as I do at the box if my husband didn't do CrossFit.”
Although Saturdays are their only days at the gym together, they make the most of it hosting specialty seminars for members of CrossFit Boro. Most recently, they held a seminar specifically for double-unders.
Despite her skills and abilities with double-unders and lightweight, high-rep movements, Brannen was still anxious that her score would not hold up.
“She was comparing herself to top girls that were ahead of her and was worried,” Jeb said. “I told her to stop worrying. Look who you are comparing your scores to. These are top Games athletes that are only a few reps ahead of you.”
He couldn’t be happier with his wife’s 14.1 performance.
“To say the least, I am proud of her, and I hope she can keep it up,” he said. “I am thrilled to be able to call her my wife.”
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