March 4, 2013
Lisa Shiu Returns
By Josh Bunch

“I have had to overcome my own demons as I train for the rapidly approaching season. I feel like injury is a physical manifestation of a disconnect between mind and body.”


Arnold Schwarzenegger counted down her last few reps as she pulled through the final workout of the 2010 Ohio Sectional at the Arnold Classic. As she collapsed on the floor regaining her breath, Schwarzenegger came over to shake her hand.

Lisa Shiu claimed first overall, just ahead of CrossFit Games competitor, Julie Foucher.

Winning the final workout catapulted Shiu into the public eye in 2010. Over the next two years, she would be mired by small misfortunes.

In 2010, the trail run at the Central East Regional exposed her weakness in distance running and left her in sixth overall with no ticket to the Games.

In 2011, she returned more determined and qualified for the Games. There, she appeared to be weighted down by high expectations and frustration, and placed 18th overall.

In 2012, while warming up for Open Workout 12.2, her season was brought abruptly to a halt when she felt her back pop.

“Right when it happened, everything tightened up,” Shiu says. “I thought it was a sign from God telling me to stop.”

After a year of recovery, she’s eager to return for the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games season.

“This year, I’m back, ready to go and training really hard,” she says.

She is physically and mentally up for the challenges of the season, she says.

“I have had to overcome my own demons as I train for the rapidly approaching season. I feel like injury is a physical manifestation of a disconnect between mind and body.”

She keeps this in mind as she prepares for 2013. Since her back gave out, a large portion of her training has been rehabilitative. Since she never received an official diagnosis, she has listened to her body, and primed the area for training with a combination of physical therapy and massage.

Despite the slow journey through rehab, she never gave up hope of one day returning to the Games.

“After I was injured, I just wanted to rehab and get healthy,” she says. “But I never considered not competing again. I knew I would be back in the game.”

Better than before

For a few months after her injury, she cautiously returned to training.

“Starting prematurely would only delay the recovery process and ultimately do more harm than good,” she says.

By the fall, she returned to her initial capacity. Since then, she has been working on her weaknesses.

“Running still isn’t my strong suit,” she admits.

To prepare for the Games season, Shiu adds regular interval sessions to her training. She may run sprints, do a barbell complex with a set work-to-rest ratio or do an every-minute-on-the-minute workout.

For two months, she experimented with Outlaw programming. She heard about athletes getting stronger while adhering to Rudy Nielsen’s program, but once the experiment was up, she decided to return to Charlie Dunifer’s programming. Dunifer is her coach and fiancé.

“No one knows my strengths and weaknesses better (Dunifer),” she says. “There is no one I'd trust more to get me ready for the upcoming season.”

Dunifer prescribes five training days per week with multiple sessions per day. In the morning, Shiu does Olympic lifting and other strength work. In the afternoon, she does a workout and skill work such as handstand walking and toes-to-bars.  

“I've dedicated much more time to my Olympic lifting to try and catch up with all these crazy strong girls,” she says.

To make sure she doesn’t suffer another injury, she’s adjusting her nutrition, rest and mobility.

“It's so important to take care of your body with proper nutrition, adequate rest and mobility work to avoid unnecessary injury and stay as pain-free as possible,” she says.

The work inside and outside of the gym has paid off. Her one-rep max clean and jerk has increased to 200 lb., and her snatch has increased to 152 lb. She recently set a new Fran PR of 2:11.

“I just gotta be good at the things I’m good at, and better at the things that I’m not,” she says.

Dealing with a year off

Watching her fellow competitors get fitter as she worked through rehabilitation wasn’t easy.

“I'd be lying if I said that it was easy for me to take time off,” she says. “If you remember to be grateful for what you have, it makes it easier to avoid getting caught up in the depression that so often accompanies injury.”  

She took solace in her family and learned to see the CrossFit Games through new eyes. In July, she streamed the live feed of the Games. Watching from her living room, she was able to appreciate the skill of the competitors in a way she wasn’t able to before.

She saw athletes with incredible abilities who have fine-tuned their bodies to “withstand such taxing and challenging events,” she says.

She sees 2012 as a year of growth. She gained a deeper awareness of her body’s limitations and total capacity.

“Every day, every lifting session, every WOD brings a new challenge and with it, a chance to grow.”