April 5, 2013
Joy Bruening: Better Than Yesterday
By Robin Runyan

"As the Games evolve and more Masters athletes compete, I think we're going to be amazed at what these athletes can do. The best is yet to come."

Photo Credit: Jesse Udom

“I love being better today than I was yesterday,” Joy Bruening says. “I got my first muscle-up (this year) at 51, (and) I can lift more now than I could as a collegiate basketball player.”

After taking fourth place at the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games Masters Competition (50-54 Division), Bruening has been training for a podium finish in 2013. With a new box, new coach and long list of new PRs, she’s confident this could be her year.

Four weeks into the Open, she held second overall in the 50-54 Division. With just 23 points, she was four points behind the leader, Colleen Fahey, and 97 points ahead of the 20th-ranked woman, Danene Tushar.

Over the last few months, her coaches, Shawn Wilson, Jesse Udom and Erick Echeveria, have worked on making her movements more efficient and improving her technical lifts. They’ve also changed her programming so she’ll be better prepared for the demands of the CrossFit Games.

“The three together are keeping this old war horse moving forward,” she laughs.

The changes came in response to her experience at the Games, which she describes in two words: incredible and exhausting. Between meeting the top dogs in the sport and taking on multiple workouts per day, she spent every bit of energy she had in her.

“I learned so much at the Games,” she says. “It was my first serious CrossFit competition, and frankly I was somewhat overwhelmed. I made several mental mistakes, and learned that doing two to three (workouts) a day is very different than doing one (workout) a day.”

“My husband jokes that every picture of me has this giant ear-to-ear grin. I was so happy to be there, and it was such a kick actually being next to and warming up around the big names in our sport.”

Exhausted, in a good way, she returned to Beaverton, Ore., motivated to get better. The first step was to work on her Olympic lifting. Partially due to her height, she wasn’t a fan of the snatch or clean and jerk.

“After the Games last year, we have focused on Joy’s Olympics lifts with emphasis on her snatch,” coach Jesse Udom says. “We have done tons of mobility work in order for her to receive the snatch and clean in the bottom position. Her Olympic lifts have improved dramatically this year.”

In addition to mobility and technique, she has worked on developing her strength with back squats, deadlifts and other slow lifts.

But it’s not all strength and nothing else for Bruening. She has improved her skill in gymnastics movements and even got her first muscle-up.

Throughout the Open, she has tried to keep her training on track by spending the two days after the announcement working on skills, mobility and conditioning. Once she and her coaches have formed a plan of attack, she does the Open workout.

Knowing that it will be her one and only attempt, she gives her best and leaves it at that. It appears to be working for her. She has stayed in the top 10 in the first four Open Workouts with second (166 reps), fifth (296 reps), seventh (241 reps) and ninth (79 reps).

She’s confident she’ll earn another trip to the CrossFit Games this summer, and she’s already starting to train for July.

"The Open is fun, but I'm not letting it get to my head. The Games are a completely different beast, and we're already training for what we're expecting in July,” she says.

She has been following other competitors on the Leaderboard and Facebook.

“It's so exciting to see how everyone is upping their game. Many of the women I competed against last year are posting better numbers all around,” she says. “As I look at the Leaderboard, there are so many gals who are very, very close. The Games should be a great competition with a lot of strong and accomplished athletes going head-to-head. As the Games evolve and more Masters athletes compete, I think we're going to be amazed at what these athletes can do. The best is yet to come."

Each year, the Masters field has expanded and become more competitive. While she’s happy with her new training, she believes competitors need more than raw fitness to succeed in the Games; they need experience.

“As for the Games, I am hoping to leverage my experience from last year and make the podium,” she says.

As a second-year competitor, she’s starting to feel the weight of her high expectations. At times, she has to remind herself of her priorities, and why she got into CrossFit in the first place.

“I have to remember that I'm a wife and mother first, a teacher second and a CrossFit athlete third. I love CrossFit, but I need to remember I do it for fun and healthy living. Having said that, I'm a competitor at heart and will do my best to win.”