“(CrossFit) was a natural transition from gymnastics. But I needed more strength. I had to learn to be a good weightlifter. I had to really learn to be strong.”
Igor Zaripov’s résumé is a bit unconventional.
He’s a fourth-generation circus performer, specializing in aerial acrobatics.
He holds three Guinness World Records—the first for pulling a car 100 feet in 15.7 seconds with his teeth. The second is for the longest aerial suspension also by teeth, which he set in two minutes, 32 seconds. And the third is for pulling the heaviest road vehicle—a 13-ton double-decker bus, again with his teeth.
He can squat 425 lb. and deadlift 510 lb.
And despite not doing a CrossFit workout in the seven months prior to the 2014 Open, Zaripov placed 129th in the South West Region during Open Workout 14.4—completing the 60-calorie row, 50 toes-to-bars, 40 wall-ball shots, 30 cleans and 16 muscle-ups in 14 minutes.
“I like everything about CrossFit,” Zaripov said. “I always dreamed to compete in a sport. This allows me to compete.”
From a young age, Zaripov, a Russian native, began training in gymnastics. Together with his sister, a contortionist, he is carrying on the legacy of the “Dynasty of Zaripovs,” who have been performing in Russian circus acts since 1893.
“It’s a lifestyle more than a business,” said Zaripov, who has toured with Cirque Du Soleil as a featured aerial performer since moving to Las Vegas, Nev., in 2003.
Zaripov was first introduced to CrossFit while on tour in England when he saw videos on YouTube.
“It was a natural transition from gymnastics,” he said. “But I needed more strength. I had to learn to be a good weightlifter. I had to really learn to be strong.”
Zaripov reached out to Russian weightlifter and Olympic silver medalist Dmitry Klokov for advice.
“Five months ago, Igor contacted me and asked if I can help him to fix his technique … and get stronger overall for CrossFit,” Klokov said. “He has a good athletic background for being a good Olympic lifter.”
Last year, a shoulder injury forced Zaripov to focus on his strength and, with tips from Klokov, he began putting up huge numbers.
“I was really happy when Igor and I decided to get ready for the 2015 CrossFit Games,” Klokov said, adding that he believes Zaripov has a chance at finishing in the top 10 next year.
For now, Zaripov said he’s using the 2014 Open to set a baseline as he travels with the Cirque Du Soleil’s Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour. Throughout the Open, he said he’s found a lot of areas to improve.
“The first workout, I was overwhelmed,” Zaripov said. “I took it so seriously. I burned out. Physically, I’m strong, but my mental strength needed to improve. I’m getting better with every workout.”
With each Open workout, though, he’s moved up in the rankings.
“When 14.4 came in, I paced myself,” he said. “I was cool in my head and I got better scores.”
Finding time and gyms to complete the Open workouts while on tour hasn’t been easy. Zaripov has completed Open workouts in Rochester, N.Y., Amherst, Mass., Las Vegas and Baltimore, Md., on his days off from performing.
“I’ll complete 14.5 wherever we are next,” he said, laughing. He did so at CrossFit Mercer, located in Hamilton, N.J., finishing the thruster/burpee couplet in 14:35.
Zaripov said while he does exert energy during his performances, he enjoys the rigorous workouts CrossFit demands.
“Cirque, it’s my lifestyle. It’s the way I’m living. It’s doing what I know,” he said. “My costars are surprised how I can train so much … We travel so much and we put on a show in a new town every two days, but I use the show as recovery.”
He said he plans to train for next year’s Games. Supporters think he will be a force to contend with.
“He has a ton of potential and could do very well in the sport,” said Zach Forrest, owner of CrossFit Max Effort where Zaripov trains when he’s at home. “If he trains consistently, I expect to see him at regionals next year. At some point, a ticket to the Games is definitely within reason.”
Forrest said Zaripov’s body awareness and strength-to-body weight ratio are definite bonuses.
“I once saw him do 50 strict muscle-ups in under five minutes,” Forrest said. “The next day he snatched 245 lb. … His strict gymnastics capacity is incredible, making things that some elite CrossFitters can’t do look easy.”
Even with his impressive athletic ability, Forrest said Zaripov has to work on his endurance.
“Once he consistently starts training higher-rep sets and met-cons, he will become extremely well rounded and a force to be reckoned with,” Forrest said.
Although he will not advance this year—he unofficially finished in the South West Region in 448th place—Zaripov said he is thrilled to participate.
“I’ve never really been in a competition before,” he said. “I’m more excited I’m part of this experience.”