It’s the CrossFit paradox. For such an individual-focused sport, the atmosphere at most CrossFit boxes is supportive and encouraging — almost like a team.
CrossFit Pacific Beach (CFPB) is a perfect example of this push and pull between competition and camaraderie. The affiliate is ranked 7th in the Southern Califonia region after the 2012 CrossFit Games Open, and in addition to the team, four CFPB individual athletes qualified for the Southern California Regional. The athletes — Matt Lodin, Greg Pitts, Anders Varner and Lindsay Renteria — may be competing against each other, but their friendship comes first.
“I don't really know the difference between friends and training partners,” Varner says. “Your training partners are your friends. Your friends are your training partners. It is really important because you need to have friends that don't have ideas like, ‘Hey let’s go get a couple beers and a pizza.’ Our happy hours consist of workouts.”
Beating Up on Your Buddies
The friendship between these athletes runs so deep that when approached about a profile on him for the CrossFit Games site, Pitts asked if the story could be about his training partners, not just him. Pitts, a 25-year-old software engineer, started CrossFit in the summer of 2010. “I was doing P90X at a globo gym and some guy asked me if I was doing CrossFit,” Pitts says. “I had no idea what it was. I checked it out that night and the WOD was Sevens, which is 7 rounds for time of 7 reps of the following movements: handstand push-ups, 135-pound thrusters, knees-to-elbows, 245-pound deadlift, burpees, two pood kettlebell swings and pull-ups. It took me about 90 minutes. I just remember thinking, ‘Who the hell does this shit for time? What idiots.’”
Soon after, Pitts moved to California. “The first day I was there I saw those assholes flipping tires down the sidewalk with their shirts off on a summer day,” Pitts said about his first experience with CFPB.
Pitts played football through high school and at Carnegie Mellon University. His first CrossFit competition was the 2011 Southern California Regional. Pitts placed 121st in the region after the 2011 Open and competed on the CFPB team. This year, after competing in a number of local competitions, Pitts placed 25th in the Southern California region after the Open.
“Bryan [Boorstein, the co-owner of CFPB with Varner], Anders, Matt and Dave [Rice] are my best friends in San Diego. We all want to see each other do well and are motivated to help each other do so. No one has an agenda, no one is holding back advice because they think it might put that person ahead of them. But at the same time, there's nothing better than just beating up on your buddies and coming out victorious for the day. With our group, it’s an accomplishment.”
The athletes at CFPB all have their strengths and weaknesses, but they spend much of their time chasing—and good-naturedly teasing—Lodin. In 2011, Lodin placed 5th at the Southern California Regional, just barely missing a spot at the Games. Lodin had knee surgery in the middle of the 2011 Open, but still managed an impressive performance.
“[Our workouts] usually end with Lodin tearing us apart in a met-con. The met-cons are intense, no one wants to lose,” Pitts says. “Losing, even if [the workout includes] a weakness of mine, even to an elite guy like Matt Lodin, literally ruins my entire day. My weekends get ruined a lot.”
This year, Lodin placed 11th in the region in the Open. His training was going according to plan, and he was exactly where he wanted to be when the Open ended. On March 30th, the Friday after the Open ended, Lodin lost control on a heavy snatch balance and pinned his right thumb between the bar and the J-hook on the squat rack. He broke his thumb and sliced it open down to the bone. The doctor, who said Lodin came very close to losing his thumb, didn’t have to perform an x-ray to know Lodin’s thumb was broken. The cut was so deep he could see straight through to the bone.
Lodin is training as best he can, and hopes to be completely healed by this year’s Regional. A seasoned athlete, Lodin is not wasting any time feeling sorry for himself. He focused on squats while he still had stitches in his hand, and now that they’re out he’s starting to use his hand again. Lodin is counting on being completely healed by May 11th.
The Secret Weapon
If the team at CFPB has a secret weapon, it’s the programming of Bryan Boorstein, co-owner of the affiliate and an athlete on the CFPB affiliate team.
“I think it is a testament to [Boorstein’s] brain and ability to read athletes that I was able to qualify in back-to-back years,” Varner says. “His biggest strengths come from his background in strength training and in his analysis of movement. We have built from absolute scratch a gym that has qualified four people at Regionals in back-to-back years, and two top 10 team finishes before our gym has even turned two years old. The kid is a master of his craft and the numbers are hard to argue with. And he finished in the top 100, which means he isn't afraid to throw his hat in the mix and throw down with the best of them.”
Pitts credits his remarkable progress over the past year to Boorstein. “I basically follow the gym programming with some extra lifting and skill work,” Pitts says. “[Boorstein’s] programming has gotten me this far, no reason to change.”
Also new to the individual competition this year is 22-year-old Renteria, who competed on the CFPB team last year. A gymnast since age 4, Renteria participated in high school and competitive cheer-leading, as well as track and field.
Renteria, who finished 33rd in Southern California after the Open, credits the atmosphere at CFPB as a big part of her success. “It’s a strong, motivating environment to be in,” Renteria says. “We are all so competitive, it's a challenge. It feels weird training alone. I feel like I won't push myself as hard so I try to always make the training sessions with the guys.”
Loud, Aggressive and Fun
A typical training session at the gym, is “basically a meat-head fest,” Renteria says. “No shirts. It’s really aggressive, with lots and lots of weight moving around. However, we make it fun. There are always laughs as well as support, and coaching of one another.”
The CFPB team embodies the friendly competition that is so central to CrossFit. When the top competitors at the gym are throwing down it’s very loud and very competitive. These athletes are serious about competing, and serious about beating each other every day. Then, the workout ends, and the teasing and laughing begins.
“You can’t beat competition amongst friends,” Varner says. “Nothing makes me happier than beating Lodin when he gives me everything he’s got. He beats me a lot, but when I get him he gets so pissed at himself and I will just talk shit all day. It kills him but that's what fuels his fire.”
“We always have a lot of shit-talking flying back and forth, half joking and half serious,” Pitts says. “If I am going to beat someone on a WOD, I'll tell them to their face before I do it. And after. But it motivates. Every single day is a competition for pride and we take it very seriously. If you don't want someone talking smack to you, then you have to win. And at the end of the day, it never causes issues in the friendships. It makes everyone better. We all realize that.”