February 15, 2012
Michelle Kinney's Elephant in the Box
By Jessica Sieff


“Strength isn’t an overnight type thing.” ~Michelle Kinney



It’s the 155-pound elephant in the box. But Michelle Kinney isn’t afraid to approach the subject head on.

On Day 2 of the 2011 CrossFit Games, Kinney struggled with front squats at 155 pounds, which also happened to be her one-rep max at the time. She finished that workout in 17th place.

Kinney was disappointed to say the least.

Finishing 10th in 2010, her first run at the Games had left Kinney hungry for more. When 2011 came around, she didn’t want 17th. What she wanted was the podium. “I was pretty disappointed in where I finished and knew I could have done a lot better,” she says. “I knew that strength was a really big weakness.”

To say she’s focused on her performance leading up to the Open, Regionals, and ultimately, the Games, is a given. And when it comes to Kinney’s mindset, one thing is very clear. There is simply no room for weakness. Where she finds it, she works to correct it.

So on that Saturday night in July last year, when all was said and done, it was very clear to Kinney that she must take a good, hard look at her programming. “Not that I wasn’t to blame at all, but my programming was such that I wasn’t getting any stronger from 2010 to 2011,” she says. “It was pretty clear that I just needed a different outlook. A different plan of action.”

That plan of action included making tough choices. Kinney left the box she’d been training, CrossFit Bartlett, as well as her coaches. Until then, Kinney said she’d been following the gym’s programming, adding extra workouts on the side. But things didn’t really change.

“I needed a bit more tailored approach,” she says. So she gave her coaches the news and began training with C.J. Martin of CrossFit Invictus in San Diego, Calif.

The relationship is unique. Communication and programming is done remotely. Kinney receives her programming from Martin via email and though she’s in the process of opening up her own box, she currently works out at CrossFit Memphis. Though she admits it may not be “the ideal situation,” Kinney said she’s well aware of her tendencies. Martin’s extra set of eyes, and her training partner at CrossFit Memphis helps keep her focused.

Making significant changes to her programming and leaving her first CrossFit gym, was not the first challenge for Kinney this year.

She started training with Martin in early December, but around the same time, a half-marathon left her wiped out for a couple of weeks. Then came sickness. She couldn’t figure out what was leaving her laid up and sick on the couch. But then Kinney discovered she’d developed an allergy to eggs – something that made adjusting her nutrition a necessity.

Still, she says her training is starting off strong.

“It’s going awesome,” she says. “I can kind of see where things are going. I can see the progressions unfolding each week and each task asked of me, I’m doing. I feel like I’m definitely getting stronger.

“Strength isn’t an overnight type thing,” she adds.

It may not be an overnight progression, but Kinney is determined about being consistent. And come competition time, she feels she’ll be ready. “I definitely feel I can be where I need to be come mid-May,” she says. “That’s four months away. That’s a ton of time to get better, really honing in on different skill work. The skills are getting a lot more fine-tuned and I definitely feel the strength coming.”

And about that front squat?

“I just know there is going to be heavy weight,” Kinney says. “I just want to be able to handle it.”

Her one-rep max is now 198 pounds and she’s back squatting a max of 235. Still, she’s not resting on her new laurels. She’s not waiting to find out what her weaknesses are. And she admits she still can feel last year’s sting.

“Getting cut really sucks,” she says. “I guess I won’t be happy or satisfied until I live up to the challenge given at Regionals or whatever they throw out at the Games. It’s kind of that nightmare that won’t go away.”

Throughout her training, Kinney says she’ll feel the improvement coming and she’ll feel something else entirely.

“I go through different thought processes,” she says. “One day I’m feeling stronger and the next day it’s like, this isn’t enough. I’m not getting strong enough.”

But it’s not the bar that Kinney is ultimately up against. “I know without a doubt there is not a single individual or collective individuals who can put any more pressure on me than I do,” she says. “I don’t really feel the pressure outside my own silly head.”

Even in competition with CrossFit athletes from across the country, one might imagine Kinney knows the challenge, after all, lies in pushing beyond one’s own limitations – and redefining them.

What keeps Kinney pushing? “Just being better than I was yesterday.”