April 3, 2012
Learning When to Let Go: David Millar
By Benji Rosen and Madeline Mosier
Everyone loves a winner but it's important to have balance in your life.
Everyone loves a winner but it's important to have balance in your life.

"Everyone loves a winner but it's important to have balance in your life."


Sometimes all that separates the good from the great is the willingness to hold on--to fight for a few more reps, make that deadlift PR, or continue training as others give up. Consequently the tenacious few often stand apart from the rest. Yet tenacity alone isn't enough. A top competitor must have the maturity and self-awareness to know when to hold on and when to let go.

The tenacity that brought David Millar to the top of the CrossFit Games Leaderboard in 2009 is the very quality that took him away from it the following year in 2010. Taking a note from the past, Millar has adjusted his training regimen and mental approach this year, and it shows.

Millar’s college strength and conditioning coaches first introduced him to CrossFit in early 2005. Playing Division 1 soccer at University of California, Irvine, he experienced CrossFit style workouts during the offseason. Upon graduating in 2008, his collegiate soccer career concluded, yet he felt he still had a desire to compete. It was when he then joined his father at CrossFit Marina in Huntington Beach, Calif., (where he is still a member along with his father and brother) that he found his answer.

With less than a year of consistent CrossFit training, Millar reached to the top of Southern California’s Leaderboard in 2009. Only 22 at the time, Millar finished the 2009 SoCal Qualifiers 1st overall.  He carried that momentum into 2009’s CrossFit Games with a 9th place performance above notable names like Graham Holmberg, Chris Spealler and Rob Orlando. He called the 2009 CrossFit season “one of the best experiences of my life. I had the opportunity to meet and compete with some of the best people in CrossFit,” he says. His teammate on the UC Irvine Soccer Team and friend, Greg Larson, attest to Millar’s uncanny athletic tenacity displayed at the Games. On Larson’s blog, “Everyday Strength Solutions,” he writes:

"I’d never seen David perform so well nor had I seen him endure so much pain. He pushed himself to the absolute limit in eight workouts over only two days beyond all common sense levels of pain. How did he do this? Simple. David is not normal. He’s gifted with tremendous athletic ability. And he has a kind of competitor’s tenacity that is rare."

But in 2010 something changed. Millar just missed advancing past Regionals despite a top place finish in one of the four workouts that weekend. While that competition season brought on a new format he may have not yet been in tune with, it was Millar’s same tenacity and fighting attitude that finally drained him. Going into that season’s competition, Millar was doing multiple workouts a day, everyday, and constantly going heavy in each one. “I made the mistake of being way too over trained,” he says. “I had developed multiple nagging injuries and for the first time in my life I was dreading the workouts. I simply didn't want to be in pain anymore.”

With his emotional and physical states fatigued along with a taxing shoulder injury, Millar chose to step away from CrossFit in 2011. “My heart wasn’t in it and I couldn’t commit the time and energy level to what it takes to be competitive,” he explains. “So I sat it out and took another six months off.”

He trained infrequently, and spent more time rock climbing and mountain biking.

However, in 2012, a different Millar decided to make a return. A more grown-up (he’s now 25) and tactful competitor, he entered this season with a new strategy in mind. Besides being stronger and bulkier (he has increased his weight from 175 pounds in 2009 to 188), he has prepared for this year by focusing on being smarter in his programming.  He is no longer doing multiple workouts a day and training no more than five days a week. “I recently started introducing more met-cons about two weeks prior to the Open,” he says. “I am slowly incorporating more volume with the aim to get better throughout the Games season. I am definitely not in top form yet, but I will be once Regionals come around.”

And even with his time away from CrossFit, Millar still managed to increase his lifts: his max clean-and-jerk to 305 pounds, his deadlift to 500 pounds and his snatch to 220 pounds.

His strategy is faring well as Millar finished the Open 8th overall in the region with three top 11 finishes. He is now concentrating on prepping his body for Regionals. “I feel that my current physically conditioned state is definitely good enough to get a Games qualifying spot. So my intent leading up to the Regionals is to hold on to what I have now, meanwhile get used to going 100 percent multiple times a day,” he says.

His training schedule, however, must be tailored around his day job. Millar is a controls system engineer currently in the midst of a large-scale project. Nonetheless, he continues his regimen until the final week before the Regional event where there will be “a huge taper: maybe a running/rowing sprint day and a WOD or two at 50 percent, but that’s about it,” he says.

With Regionals just down the road, Millar looks forward to the fire and fervor of the live competition, “The Open was fun but I missed the real pressure and spotlight that comes with a major CrossFit event,” he says.

It may have taken some time to regain and control his tenacity, but the lessons learned have made him a smarter and more methodical athlete. He looks back and says, “I wish someone would have grabbed me and told me that your life doesn’t totally have to revolve around CrossFit. Everyone loves a winner but it’s important to have balance in your life. My ultimate goal to do well and make it to the Games. I want to prove to myself that I can compete with the best in CrossFit once again.”