January 9, 2012
The Man Behind the 325-Pound Thruster
By CrossFit

As soon as the Regional events were announced, fans started speculating about who would thruster the most weight. Would Dave Lipson or Rob Orlando push each other past 295 pounds?In the individual competition, it was Jason Khalipa, Nate Schrader, and Aja Barto who tied for the highest thruster with 285 pounds. 

But the highest thruster of any Regional competition came from a surprising source – a team competitor, named Danny Nichols of TJ’s Gym San Rafael. At the Northern California Regional, Nichols brought fans to their feet with an incredible 325-pound thruster, 20 pounds more than anyone else in any region.

At the 2011 CrossFit Games, Danny wowed the crowds again by pulling a massive 365-pound clean after two minutes of rope climbs. It was a disappointing result for Nichols, as he planned to get 395. The former Minnesota State University fullback switched to CrossFit in January after some time competing in semi-pro football.

Aside from your seven months of CrossFit, what's your history with strength and conditioning?

I first started working out with an Olympic Weightlifting coach during my senior year of high school. He approached me while I was running at a track and doing some football drills. He asked me if I lifted and I said no. He told me to try some squats at the platforms he had at the school. I did and I couldn’t walk for a few days. I did some weightlifting with him and another coach through junior college, but nothing really formal or all that consistent until I transferred from one junior college to another, and the second junior college – Pasadena City College – had a strength and conditioning coach. He had me doing lots of weightlifting … some Olympic lifting, squatting, bench press, all related to football. 

At Minnesota, I lifted some to maintain my strength, but I didn’t get really serious about it until I came back home and was preparing for the NFL combine in 2006 and 2007. Long story short, I went to the free-agent combine and actually did really well, but it didn’t work out in the end, partly because I had no good connections.  

What does your programming look like now? Do you focus on lifting, or do you follow a general program? 

My training for the first few months of doing CrossFit was primarily taking classes at TJ’s Gym and supplementing with Olympic lifting sessions with my old coach. I did a local team throwdown at (CrossFit) East Sac in February, which my team won, and then I connected with one of my teammates, who is also a coach at TJ’s, and we started training together. 

Since the Games, I’ve had a renewed focus on Olympic lifting and strength, but I plan to continue CrossFitting and competing at CrossFit year round. As it gets closer to January, I’ll add in more running, sprinting, and met con work. I have done a bunch of OPT’s programming in recent months. My training partner is into that style, so I follow along sometimes. It has worked well for me. 

As a former football player, what attracted you to CrossFit?

I was attracted to CrossFit because of my love for competing. At first, nothing really attracted me, to be honest, because it was so hard. I started doing jumping pull-ups! I could do about five strict, but I didn’t know how to kip. But I knew that what I had to offer to a team with my Oly lifting and strength was something different, and I was excited to be on a team again. 

I also really liked the idea that in CrossFit, if you do well, you do well, and people notice you and give you a chance. In football, it was so much about politics and who you knew. I was playing semi-pro football when I found CrossFit, and I quickly saw that there were more opportunities in CrossFit than in football, and the playing field was more even. I liked that.  

Since starting CrossFit, what changes have you seen in your performance? What can you do now that you couldn't before?

Since starting CrossFit, I have learned to do so many skills I couldn’t before. Mostly anything having to do with gymnastics. The last time I had heard of a muscle up was at the Spring Spectacular in middle school. Now I can bust them out. 

I’ve become far more well rounded as an athlete. In the past, I’ve been faster, stronger, faster and stronger together, but I couldn’t do half of what I can do now. I’m in the best shape of my life, overall. I am planning on getting stronger and faster now, though. I haven’t really ever had an off-season in this sport, since my first season really started with Regionals in the spring.

Describe the experience of competing for TJ's Gym at the CrossFit Games. What did it feel like?

Competing for TJ’s Gym at the Games was, as far as competing goes, the best, most exciting time of my life. The high was such a high that the come down was no good! We had our sights on top six for the final event, and when it didn’t happen, it was disappointing. If you’re not first, you’re last. It gave me a lot of motivation coming into this next season. I know I have a lot of work to do to become what I want to be, and help TJ’s Gym get to the next level next year.  

Being part of TJ’s Gym during the competition season has been awesome.  I’ve made a lot of really close friends, have been supported by our huge and great community, and have had the privilege of feeling like I’m known for something good and for doing the hard work I’ve done. 

It’s been a great ride so far. I feel lucky to be a part of it all and know there is so much more to come. TJ is a great coach and mentor, and he has brought me into this thing with open arms, during a time in my life when I really benefited from the structure, connections, and goals that were all a part of being on TJ’s team and coaching at the gym.