Richard Bohlken’s life has changed a lot since last year’s Open.
Eight months into CrossFit, the former collegiate and professional baseball player tackled 13.1 three times before he was happy with his score. He did the second workout twice. Repeating the workouts didn’t hurt his placement on the Leaderboard—he finished eighth in the region—but he discovered it affected his overall training.
At regionals, Bohlken struggled with Event 2: a three-rep-max overhead squat. He finished tied for 30th, his weakest event by far. In fact, Bohlken believes the performance may have cost him a trip to the CrossFit Games. In the overall standings, he finished in sixth, 14 points off the podium.
Since then, he’s gone from working as an assistant trainer to working as a paramedic. It’s had a huge impact on his training.
“When I began CrossFit I was an assistant trainer at Lubbock Christian University and I was able to just work out all day long,” he said. “That was what I did from the time I woke to the time I went home to sleep.”
“I got a job with UMC EMS and began paramedic school,” he continued. “Training became difficult. I am lucky to get one workout in on a day I work. Workdays are 12-hour shifts and I work at night. So life became a prioritizing game. On days I work, I try to get at least one workout session at the gym, strength with a (workout). Days I am off I try to go to the gym twice a day.”
Though his schedule has tightened up, his approach seems to be working. In January, Bohlken finished second at Austin, Texas’ The Fittest Games. The field was stacked with 20 regional competitors and seven former Games competitors.
“I was proud I got the opportunity to compete and finish second,” he said.
Bohlken’s mental strength was cultivated by the trials and tribulations of a baseball career. Drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in 2007, he played but struggled in his rookie season. The following year, he made strides in spring training but broke his wrist. After the wrist healed, he made his way back to the playing field but admits he “didn’t do what I needed to do.” The Angels released him.
“I ended up playing at LCU for four years and had a terrific career. But baseball ended and CrossFit was my solution,” he said.
Bohlken believes baseball prepared him for the mental rigors of CrossFit competition.
“Baseball is a mental game. Baseball is a game that when you fail 70 percent of the time you are considered an all-star,” he said. “CrossFit is a mental challenge. When you get into competitions and go against these great athletes, everybody can do the workout. Everybody can do the weight. It boils down to the ‘it’ factor: the mind, the people who are willing to go places that hurt, to push past the places where their body says ‘no more.’”
“In relation to baseball,” he continued, “if you strike out the first three at-bats, guess what? Bottom of the ninth you are going to be up for the potential winning run. Do you have the mind to push past the failed moments and succeed?”
To help him succeed in 2014, Bohlken enlisted the help of Zack Barnard, owner of Maxout CrossFit in Lubbock, Texas. Barnard was also Bohlken’s strength and conditioning coach at LCU.
Barnard’s intense programming involves six days of training a week. Every day begins with a strength focus, with multiple variations: every-minute-on-the-minute, 5-3-1, supersets or just straight sets. They rotate between the Olympic lifts and static lifts. The subsequent workout is usually related to the strength movement to avoid over training a body part involved in the next day’s programming.
“I used a lot of strongman training long before we found CrossFit, so I like to incorporate that whenever I can,” Barnard said. “I realize that Rich needs to be pushed to the next level, so sometimes I get carried away with the programming and often come up with workouts that are near impossible.”
Barnard is a firm believer that any athlete, with the right programming and dedication, can steadily improve in any aspect of CrossFit. But he admits Bohlken possesses the “it” factor.
“The drive, athleticism, natural strength and coordination, are all attributes that Rich had from the beginning as a baseball player,” Barnard said. “I was the strength coach at Lubbock Christian University for six years and no one else in any sport even came close to possessing all of those gifts. I mean there aren’t a lot of second baseman in any level of baseball that can bench 360 lb.”
“As I mentioned earlier I did a ton of strongman and pure gut check workouts with our athletic teams at LCU,” he added. “I would have an offseason finale every fall with the baseball team and Richard won three out of the four years he was there. And I'm sure he will tell you I sabotaged him in his runner-up year.”
Barnard knew he had a confirmed beast on his hands when his gym hosted an area-wide competition. Only a couple of months into CrossFit, Bohlken was the runaway winner.
Overhead strength has long been a goat for Bohlken. Barnard ensures his athlete is always putting in time “under the bar.” The problem hasn’t been shoulder strength but establishing a comfortable and effective hand position. They’ve also been working on his leg strength, which should translate to an improved overhead squat.
In contrast to last year, Bohlken plans to attack each Open workout only once, hoping his score will put him where he wants to be: in a place for regional qualification.
“If I bomb an Open workout, I will assess the problem and try again; however, I want to keep my focus on my training for regionals and hopefully beyond,” he said.
As the Open approaches, Bohlken isn’t underestimating anyone. He respects each stage of the competition. No longer a rookie, he understands that given the unknowns there are no guarantees. Still, he’s aiming for Carson, Calif., and has faith in his abilities.
“My CrossFit goals are pretty much the same as last year: make it to the Games,” he said. “However, I will take each step at a time: Open, regionals and then see where I land. I will not look ahead or underestimate anyone or any workout. I am not guaranteed anything in the CrossFit world. I will work hard every day in every workout to improve my position. I will continue to work hard and earn what I get.”