"If there is one thing I know about the Games, it is expect nothing."
Graham Holmberg has qualified for the CrossFit Games five times. In 2010, he became a champion.
This year, Holmberg’s returning to the Games arena with the same four competitors from the Central East Region as last year: Rich Froning, Scott Panchik, Marcus Hendren and Dan Bailey. He says without a doubt, he still has what it takes to feel the winner’s delight once more.
“I got fourth this year, not third like last,” he says. “I was one event, one point away from third place this year. But I’m not upset with how things shook out. At the end of the day, it’s about making it to the Games. In 2010, I took third at Regionals and went on to win the Games.”
Holmberg’s CrossFit Games victory was like taking the chain off rabid dogs. Since then, he says his competition has drastically improved. Two-time Games champion, Rich Froning is proof enough. In 2010, Froning stood beneath Holmberg on the podium in second place. Holmberg still remains the only man to beat Froning. Back then the champ wasn’t able to ascend the rope climbs in the final event, leaving him three points behind the blond bomber.
Things have changed. Now the competition isn’t worried about climbing ropes, but how fast can you climb them. For Holmberg, this is exciting. It’s made him a better athlete, it’s made him work for every event placing, every rep, every cheer.
This year’s Regionals reflect that very sentiment.
“I ended up PRing on every one of the (events) that I had practiced prior to the Regional,” he says. “In competition I just move faster and better. And, particularly in the Central East, there really is no excuse not to do well or any room for error after seeing the other regions go beforehand and having time to run through them. But it was also, physically, a pretty nasty weekend on my body.”
Holmberg holds his ninth-place Event 2 finish as a gentle reminder to play it smart — not safe mind you — but strategy is often awarded over stubbornness.
“My left elbow hyper extended on the third rep of 275 lbs.,” he says. “I lost the weight, and I was nervous to attempt it again, but I told myself, ‘Lets just try it, at least jerk it up’ and I handled it. But I failed on the second rep. I think I could’ve cleared 285 lbs. for three reps. I overhead squat 300 lbs. consistently, but I didn’t want to risk hurting myself — it was only the second (event) of the weekend.”
The former Capital University baseball player’s maturity shows in his ability to know when to push his limits, and exactly where those limits lie.
“I train smart,” he says. “I’ve had tweaks in my shoulder and my left knee from my torn meniscus at the Games two years ago. I do a lot of mobility work, and really try to make sure I don’t bang myself up too much. I do CrossFit to be healthy and add to my life, not take away from it.”
Despite Event 2 issues, Holmberg immediately went into 30 burpee muscle-ups unfazed. He finished in 4:29, good enough for second place, 19 seconds behind Froning.
Over the next four events, Holmberg maintained the competitive nature he’s known for — being reliable and consistent as an old bloodhound with a nose for triumph. He landed fourth in the 100s, seventh in the deadlift/box jump couplet and fourth in Events 6 and 7.
He left the three-day slugfest satisfied.
“Overall, I don’t really have any regrets or think I could have done anything differently at the Regional,” he says. “I laid everything I could have on every one of those (events) and there is nothing I looked back on and felt I could’ve been faster on or done differently.”
Wasting no time, Holmberg continued preparing for the Games the day after Regionals.
“I didn’t take any time off training and was in the gym on Monday morning,” he says. “I have five more weeks to continue to get better. I feel like I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in at this Regional, but I wouldn’t say I’ve peaked to my fullest potential. I know I can still squat more weight or reach more max potential in weightlifting. That’s what keeps me excited about CrossFit — getting better.”
Holmberg’s typical Monday, or any other day for that matter, begins at 7 or 8 a.m. after at least eight hours of shut-eye.
After breakfast, which is typically eggs and oatmeal, he begins working mobility and loosening up for the day. And of course, helping his wife Savanna with their new 2-month old baby boy, Storm.
“It’s been a little bit of an adjustment with a new baby,” he says. “I don’t think anything really prepares you for a baby until you just experience him. Sure, it’s cut some into my sleep and I’ve had to run a few more errands than before, but now in my time away from the gym, all I want to do is spend it with him. It’s been fun … and I am excited he’s finally here.”
After some much needed daddy time, Holmberg heads to his affiliate, CrossFit Grandview, around 10:30 a.m., for work and his self-programmed workout of the day.
His one and only training session begins with strength work like back squats or deadlifts for sets of five to 10 reps. However, if it begins with something faster, say power snatches, he may perform three reps every-minute-on-the-minute for 10 minutes. Next, Holmberg hits intervals like two 135-lb. thrusters every 15 seconds for 16 rounds, followed by a 50 burpees for time, leaving handstand walking as a gymnastic finisher.
“I am just going to keep on doing what I’ve been doing,” he says. “Every year, if there is one thing I know about the Games, it is expect nothing. That is what helps me the most in my training. I have no expectations so there is really no stress.”
Before coaching CrossFit Grandview’s evening classes, he’ll answer emails and handle various box initiatives, eagerly awaiting the bell that allows him to return to Storm and Savanna.
“I really look forward to being home with them after work,” he says.
Mr. Consistency may not live exotically, but ordinary is the root of extraordinary.
“I’ve prepared all year,” he says. “I am ready for the unknowable.”