February 25, 2013
A Beast in the South East: Caleb Williams
By Amanda Greaver

"My first WOD was Elizabeth ... I looked at that and thought, 'Cleans, that can't be that bad.' I was wrong."


What happens when a world champion powerlifter and national Olympic lifting champion starts CrossFit? You have some serious competition in the form of Caleb Williams from CrossFit Gwinnett in Buford, Ga.

At 5-foot-2 and 160 pounds, Williams back squats 722 lb., front squats 489 lb., benches 485 lb., and deadlifts 615 lb. His Olympic lifts are just as impressive with a snatch PR of 282 lb. and a clean and jerk PR of 366 lb. 

Williams was introduced to powerlifting when his eighth grade football coach suggested he compete. He had no idea what powerlifting was, but decided to give it a shot.

“I competed in my first meet when I was 11, won it, and was hooked,” Williams says.

Williams continued powerlifting for almost 12 years.

“I won 10 national titles, two world titles and held a bunch of records. But I had always followed Olympic lifting and always dreamed of having a chance to compete in the Olympic Games,” he says. “So in 2006 I made the transition to Olympic lifting.”

He welcomed the new challenge.

“(Olympic lifting) was a whole different sport, but really challenging and rewarding, as well. I also met my wife, Kelly, in the sport,” he says. “Now, we both hold records, have been on Team USA competing at the World Championships together, and also were the first husband-wife team to ever win National titles on the same day.”

Williams is also the owner of Peak Performance Weightlifting, where he and his staff train athletes ranging from youth to professional in a wide variety of sports. They also travel the country conducting clinics and seminars on the Olympic lifts.

He recently expanded Peak Performance Weightlifting to include a CrossFit affiliate. Williams had been doing Olympic lifting programming for CrossFit Gwinnett’s Steve Platek since early 2012, and the two decided to partner up.

“I knew (Platek) had a box that he ran out of his garage. At that point, I had been involved with CrossFit for several years,” he says. “We had considered affiliating for a couple of years, but never took the leap. After talking with Steve for a while, it seemed like a good match to relocate CrossFit Gwinnett into our facility and team up on it. It has been a great decision and the CrossFit community is awesome.”  

Williams began his own CrossFit career less than a year ago, in June.  

“My first WOD was Elizabeth. Since my background is in Olympic weightlifting, I looked at that and thought, ‘Cleans … that can't be that bad.’ I was wrong,” he recalls. “Those were the hardest cleans I have ever done with 135. I think it took me almost six minutes to finish.”

Seven months later, Williams boasts a 2:10 Fran, 2:00 Diane, 3:20 Elizabeth and 31 rounds of Cindy. And, he can “finally do stupid double-unders!”

Williams is currently training for the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Open under Rudy Nielsen, owner of Outlaw CrossFit.

“I follow The Outlaw Way programming and do extra work based on specific weaknesses that I have and need to improve upon,” Williams says. “I train every day but Sunday — that’s my family day.”

Nielsen says Williams’ development is significant.

“To say that Caleb's progress as a CrossFitter has been quick, is a fairly gigantic understatement,” he says. “The first time I coached him in person, back in September, I had him show me his handstand walks. He kicked up and went 50 feet on his first attempt. When I asked him how long he had been practicing he said, ‘About a week. I learned while I was in the pool with my kid.’”

Nielsen says Williams’ Olympic weightlifting background has a clear carryover into CrossFit.

“His first Fran was sub-three, his first Diane was sub-three, and he still regularly hits within 5kg of his American record clean and jerk and total,” he says. “Everything we do from now until Regionals will be focused on making sure Caleb can handle the volume, intensity and technical tests he'll need to handle to be able to test himself against the Fittest on Earth.”

Williams fuels his training with food … a lot of food.

“I eat! I don’t follow any specific nutrition plan, but I eat relatively clean. I do not follow strict paleo,” he explains. “It’s hard for me to get the amount of calories that I need to recover, and I find that I perform better with certain carbs and fats.”

Williams says his goals this year are to do well in the Open and qualify for Regionals. If he gets to the Games, he wants to “make some noise.”

“My background really helped transitioning to CrossFit. The biggest struggle was working on the skills that I hadn't even thought about for a long time, or ever, and getting used to a new style of training,” Williams says. “I have been really surprised by how CrossFit has helped my Olympic lifting, though. That’s probably my biggest surprise so far. When I began to train for the Open and CrossFit, I was prepared for a certain drop off in my Olympic lift numbers since I would not be specializing on them as much in my training and they would not be my sole focus.

“I have actually been able to maintain my strength levels in the lifts during all my CrossFit training. My conditioning has improved and I feel like I have a stronger mental game, which has definitely benefited my Olympic lifts.”