May 21, 2013
Anyone's Game: Graham Holmberg
By Lauryn Lax

"In the sport of CrossFit, I really think it’s anyone’s game. You can throw every stat out the window when you go to the battlefield in competition."

 Photos by: Andy Eggert

In 2010, Graham Holmberg won the CrossFit Games, becoming the only man to beat two-time Games champion, Rich Froning Jr.

As this year’s Central East Regional approaches, Holmberg is training to do it again.

“In the sport of CrossFit, I really think it’s anyone’s game,” Holmberg says. “You can throw every stat out the window when you go to the battlefield in competition. It’s zero-to-zero every time you start a new (workout). I absolutely believe I can beat him again. Anyone who doesn’t have that mindset — that they can win — they shouldn’t be competing.”

During the Open, the world watched Holmberg and Chris Spealler go head-to-head on Open Workout 13.4. Spealler beat Holmberg on the clean and jerk, toes-to-bars couplet by 10 reps. The loss only fired Holmberg up more.

“In this sport, of course you want that other person to do their best, but in the end, you want to be the one who is on the top. In those moments, it’s me versus you, and I hate to lose,” Holmberg says.

Holmberg’s return to the Games in 2011 left him in fourth place. This was the best finish ever by a returning male Games champion prior to Froning winning the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games.

At last year’s Games, Holmberg continued to slip down the Leaderboard with a 10th-place finish, resulting from a poor Pendleton 1 performance of 34th place. But in true Holmberg form, he came back for a third-place finish on the Track Triplet, and took ninth on the Clean Ladder.

Currently sitting in sixth place in the Central East behind fellow Games competitors Froning, Scott Panchik, Marcus Hendren, Dan Bailey and Nick Uranker, Holmberg is not to be underestimated.

“This is my time in the season that I am really getting ready … it’s going to be a throwdown,” he says.

In order to prepare for Regionals, Holmberg is back in “Games mode,” upping his intensity and hitting three to four workouts each day most days of the week.

He wakes up around 6 a.m. for his first workout — typically running, jumping rope or riding the Airdyne to “wake his body up.”

“Nothing too much. It’s more of just a warm-up workout,” he says.

Then, he fuels his body with eggs and oatmeal or a protein fruit smoothie. He hits his box, CrossFit Grandview, around 10 a.m. for Olympic lifting and strength work. After focusing on various clean and snatch complexes, he transitions to lifts such as bench press, overhead presses and squats.

At noon, he usually joins his class for a met-con, followed by a post-workout lunch of lean protein, veggies and carbs like brown rice, quinoa or a multi-grain wrap.

And, as you can see, he doesn’t follow strict paleo. Holmberg says in order to maintain his weight and size, paleo is not the answer for him.

“I think that you have to do what works best for you,” he says. “I tried paleo right after I got my Level 1, and I totally agree with it — meats, veggies, watch your starches. But I found I didn’t have good energy in my workouts. My body does well with carbs, my body feels well. I can lose weight quickly, and I found when I was eating strict paleo, I leaned out in only a few weeks. I’m always trying to keep more muscle mass on.”

Holmberg usually trains one more time before calling it a day and eating dinner at home with his wife, Savanna. His day is capped by eight to nine hours of quality sleep, something he doesn’t take for granted.

“My hats off to the guys who train to be ready to go to the Games at any moment,” he says. “I’m not against that at all … I am just not one of those guys. Yes, I workout most everyday throughout the year, but to do three to four (workouts) everyday, year round, I think I would just break my body down. I really used the time after the Games this past year to re-charge and train smart, not overdo it. Now is my time to get ready for another go. I am trying to push hard so I can be ready for Regionals.”

Holmberg’s game plan seems to be working. Recently, he stepped up to the bar and hit his old back squat PR of 415 lb. — for more than five reps.

“I’ve been back squatting more than I generally do, really trying to work on getting my squat up,” he says. “I have bad knees, so I do box squats most of the time, but just the other day, I decided to try a deep squat without it. Well, I ended up doing about five to six reps at my old one-rep max. It felt good, and I can’t believe that used to be intimidating for me.”

He adds: “I don’t max out a lot, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am never going to be the guy who wins the max-out contest. But I have definitely gotten stronger this year, and I think a lot of that has to do with my focus on things like my technique and grip strength on my lifts.”

Holmberg also re-tested his Fran time just before the Open. He knocked off 13 seconds for a personal best of 2:04.

He’s also focusing on some of the things he thinks hold him back when the clock is ticking, particularly, his shoulder endurance.

“I have a bum shoulder from years of football and baseball, and in CrossFit, it really gets a beating — push-ups, jerks, handstands, snatches and overhead squats,” he says. “My shoulders get taxed, so I’ve really been working a lot with these movements. Higher reps, along with my mobility.”

And since a nagging knee injury, and subsequent surgery for a torn meniscus following the 2011 Games, stalled his progress about a year-and-a-half ago, mobility and recovery have become big parts of his training. Today, he makes sure to incorporate plenty of time for a dynamic stretch and warm-up before each of his workouts, and cool down and stretch afterwards, as well.

“I look at guys like Matt Chan at age 34 standing in second place on the podium, and know I still want my body to be able to take a beating for years to come,” he says. “Ultimately, I am trying to be healthy and live a nice, long life.”

In less than six weeks, Holmberg will compete in his fifth Regional. Over the years, the event has grown from the parking lot of Rogue Fitness, to a field in Logan, Ohio, to the Expo Center in Columbus. The champion has grown right along with it.

“The Central East Regional, more or less, are the Games,” he says. “I mean, you’ve got Rich Froning, Dan Bailey, Marcus Hendren, Scott Panchik — all guys in the top-10 spots at the Games last year. It’s very competitive. Last year, I was fighting for one of the top-three spots, and even though they say if you’ve won the Games before, that you may be invited back to the Games for the following years, I want to earn my spot. I don’t want someone else to invite me to the Games, I want to invite myself.”