January 6, 2012
Bridges Balances Heaven and Earth
By CrossFit

It was hard enough just for Josh Bridges to reach the CrossFit Games. He started CrossFit in January 2005. His Navy career, however, prevented him from competing in the 2007-2010 CrossFit Games. Finally, in early 2011, it looked like competing in the Games would be a possibility for the first time.

It wasn’t easy. According to his coach CJ Martin, Josh had to move “heaven and earth to balance his responsibilities to his family and military career with his passion to be the best CrossFit athlete he could be.” 

The competition aspect was simpler.  After a 2nd place worldwide Open finish, including first-place finishes on two workouts, Josh was a Games favorite before he even qualified from Regionals.  

At the Southern California Regional, Josh’s weaknesses were exposed. While he set a world record time on the 100’s Event and smoked the Run/HSPU/Row Event, he only lifted 225 pounds on the thruster ladder and took 4:26 on the 315-pound deadlift/30-inch box jump couplet. 

While the thruster and couplet times were solid performances, they fell short of the numbers athletes such as Dan Bailey, the Open’s winner, put up.  Bailey, for example, hit a 255-pound thruster and sprinted through the couplet in 3:04. Josh’s performances on the two heavier events opened the door for an unknown to shine. Jonathan Pera seemingly came out of nowhere – 10th in SoCal and 132nd worldwide in the Open – to lead Josh for the first five events. It was only in the final event that Josh pulled ahead to win the Regional.

Leading up to the Games, some wondered if Josh had the absolute strength to compete with the world’s best at the Home Depot Center. His 420-pound deadlift was at least 80 pounds below most of the top contenders. With the 2011 Games events unknown, however, no one could write off Josh and his unreal work capacity.

The Games threw the athletes some curveballs. Some of them worked in Josh’s favor, and a few put him out of his element. Event 1’s ocean swim and beach run clearly fell in the first category. He won the Beach Event by more than a minute. He went on to win the Triplet Sprint andDog-Sled Event, a total of three wins across 10 events. Two out-of-bounds softball throws and the strength-intensive second skill event (max chest-to-bar pull-up, max snatch, max distance jug carry), however, cost him some points. 

The one event that his coach feels “he could have performed better” on was the Rope Climb/Clean and Jerk Event. Their home gym, CrossFit Invictus, didn’t have ropes to climb, so Josh didn’t perform to his full potential. He took 16th and his 6:12 time was 1:15 slower than Rich Froning Jr., the event’s winner. Next year, though, Josh will be ready. CJ promises that Invictus “will have ropes at the gym going into this competitive season.”

Looking back on his overall performance, Josh believes that his 2nd place finish was a validation of his training methods. Still, he’s not satisfied with the result. “I didn’t do what I went to the Games to do.” 

On the other hand, his coach says he “expect(s) only one thing from athletes – full effort.” CJ said he hopes Josh’s second-place showing will “keep him hungry” until next time. 

With nearly seven years of CrossFit, Josh has more experience than nearly any other Games athlete. This experience has given him “more time to try different techniques.” In competition, efficiency is one reason Josh is able to compete with larger and stronger athletes, such as Rich andJason Khalipa. According to Josh, “I don’t believe the strongest guy or the guy with the biggest engine is going to win the Games. I believe the most efficient competitor will win the Games.” 

Josh is known for his stoic demeanor and unreal mental toughness, but CJ still considers his job in training is to push him. He says this isn’t always easy to do. When you’re the second fittest man in the world, it’s hard to find competition. CJ solves this problem by creating scenarios for Josh in which he has to “chase” athletes who are fresh while he’s tired. When Josh does a task-priority workout, CJ assigns fresh athletes for him to chase in the later rounds. The goal is that “the fresh athlete would go 100 percent for one round and help Josh push pace.” 

 While pushing himself is a key part of Josh’s training, one thing both Josh and CJ talk about is the importance of “staying just below” the redline in competition. While many athletes have struggled with pacing, Josh understands how to pace himself intuitively. In competition, therefore, CJ makes sure not to “over coach” him with “set strategies and pacing.” Instead, he trusts Josh to make those decisions himself.

In other areas, however, CJ is a very detail-oriented coach. Josh’s training is planned out months in advance. CJ will assign priority to certain areas of training and assign other areas to maintenance mode. At certain phases, Josh gains weight. He’s currently 10 pounds heavier than his competition weight of 160 pounds. Josh does not focus on gaining bodyweight, though, but rather on meeting his strength goals. 

In 2011, both CrossFit Games champions, Rich and Annie Thorisdottir, took 2nd in 2010. As 2011’s 2nd place finisher, that sets a promising precedent for Josh. Still, finding a balance between all of his activities will be just as hard, if not harder, this year. His obligation to the Navy hasn’t gone anywhere, and succeeding at the CrossFit Games seems to require an ever-larger investment of energy and time. If anyone knows how to manage exertion, however, it’s Josh Bridges.