April 19, 2013
Growing Organically: CrossFit Active
By Siobhan Kent

“From day one, we aspired to produce good quality athletes through their quality of movement and it has now grown into a whole new program for competitive athletes.”

Photos by: Brette Blakely

“We didn’t set out to do it, but it just organically grew into what it is today.”

CrossFit Active in Sydney, Australia, was the stand out affiliate in the Australia Region during the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games Open.

Owned by Adam Pirri, Chad Mackay (2012 Australia Regional winner and ninth-place finisher at last year’s Games), Luke Starr, Ben Perrin and Patrick Fitzsimons, CrossFit Active won three of the five events to finish the Open in first place in the region.

Starr, who along with Pirri is the head programmer at CrossFit Active, finished the Open in 27th place, qualifying for an individual spot at Regionals.

But rather than aim for individual glory, Starr will be joining his teammates on the Active team, decked out in their orange shirts at next month’s Regional event in Wollongong.

“Last year, I repeated a few of the Open workouts in an effort to better my performance individually. But this year, it’s all about the team qualifying,” Starr says. “In 2012, we made the top 10 at Regionals and had good individual performances, but in 2013 we want to do even better.”

He adds: “Active also qualified seven individuals for Regionals, two Masters for the Games as well as two teams. It’s amazing and we’re very happy.”

Of the seven who qualified, four will compete individually and the others (Brooke Surtees, Courtney Fitzharris and Starr) will join the Active team rosters.

Starr is confident the team is a lot stronger this year thanks to the growth of the affiliate.

“New athletes have joined and we’re positioned well,” he says. “We’ve introduced a different structure that includes competition programming — higher volume, higher skills, specifically programmed towards the season and separate classes, and that’s had an impact,” Starr says.

Active team members mainly follow the competition or “Level 2” programming.

“Our top females and males all follow Level 2 programs, which are the same as what other members of the box are doing in their Level 2 classes. But they do extra skill sessions and work on their weaknesses,” Starr says.

“In Level 2, the athletes are more self-sufficient as they have a sound understanding of the movements. When needed, the coach can spend more one-on-one time with athletes to work on targeted elements while the rest of the class continues to work through the programmed 90-minute session.”

“In Level 1, we guide the group through every little step of the 60-minute class and spend time breaking down and explaining the movements with group drills and progressions that are suitable for someone who is not necessarily experienced.”

Starr and Pirri work hard on the box’s programming, saying it works well sharing the workload.

“We spend a fair few hours each week on it. The Level 2 class programming takes at least five hours per week itself,” Pirri says. “Luke (Starr) does the strength components while I do the conditioning. But we do merge ideas.”

“We’re lucky to have elite-level athletes that we can coach, but we put the same amount of effort into the Level 1’s and beginners, too. Level 2 is more technical, Level 1 is more coachable.”

Active’s programming incorporates strength and met-cons in one session, looking closely at quality of movement.

“It’s what’s suited for CrossFit, especially to make sure you are resting muscle groups appropriately,” Pirri says.

Starr says their program is changing with Regionals just around the corner.

“We increase the conditioning closer to competition, but always include lifts and met-cons in each class,” he says. “In the lead up to Regionals, we’re obviously doing more workouts and heavy lifts, particularly heavy, short met-cons to get our athletes used to working fast with heavy loads.”

At this stage, Active’s team roster includes Starr, Deian Cousins, David Turner, Luke Kane, Surtees, Fitzharris, Harriet Roberts and Claire Champine. They will decide their top six closer to Regionals.

With a background as an exercise physiologist, Starr is aware each athlete differs in what kind of diet gets the best results.

“We try to keep it simple and focus on clean and plentiful eating. Our athletes are generally knowledgeable about their own nutrition and all we need to do is touch base with them here and there. We do not have a blanket prescription for everyone because each athlete has different needs. If we see that an athlete is struggling to recover from training we will step in and assess their diet more closely,” Starr says.

“Many CrossFitters try to go super-strict paleo and in the process can accidentally fall into the trap of not getting enough food in their system to support the training they are doing. They will typically fall short on carbohydrates. I think it goes without saying that we encourage our guys to avoid things like highly-processed foods, gluten and excess sugar.”

After finishing sixth in the region in 2011, and fourth in 2012, Pirri and Starr agree that this year’s Open was CrossFit Active’s best to date.

“The programming was good and it meant people were able to participate really well. The make up of the workouts made for fair scoring, and they were good from an ability to judge standpoint,” Starr says.

“With 120 to 130 athletes to judge every week, that certainly made our life easier.”

With the Australia Regional taking place next month, they see their main competition in CrossFit Frankston, CrossFit Athletic, Southern CrossFit, Schwartz’s CrossFit Melbourne and Tropic Thunder, as they’ve been the top performers in the last few years.

“We didn’t set out to create this. We just organically grew into a force, because of the likes of Chad (Mackay), Luke (Starr) and Ben (Perrin) who were placing competitively on local games days,” Pirri says.

“From day one, we aspired to produce good quality athletes through their quality of movement and it has now grown into a whole new program for competitive athletes.”