March 3, 2013
Reignited: Emily Bridgers
By Devin Webb

"What separates Em from her competition, is she is very solid in her foundation movements, and with solid movement foundation, she is blessed with the ability to pick up new skills quickly."  ~Ben Benson

Emily Bridgers lost more than just a trip to the 2012 Reebok CrossFit Games last year. She lost her passion for CrossFit.  

After finishing the South East Regional just four points shy of third place and the chance to compete in the Games, Bridgers tried to put the disappointment behind her.

“Being in the gym was difficult at first,” Bridgers says. “I went and worked out at a few different gyms just to try to get out and have some fun. My mindset was just about moving forward, getting healthy and figuring out what changes needed to be made for next year.”

A few weeks after Regionals, Bridgers flew to Scottsdale, Ariz., to train with Max El-Hag and James FitzGerald of Optimum Performance Training. While there, she learned a great deal about her strengths and weaknesses. She also realized she needed to make some major changes to her programming.

Once she returned to Georgia, Bridgers decided to continue training with El-Hag remotely. She left her job at CrossFit Decatur and her coach, Ben Benson, and began training at CrossFit RX.

“In late June, I left CrossFit Decatur, quit my job and left the coach I’ve had since day one and moved over to CrossFit RX,” Bridgers says. “For about three months, I worked with Max and saw improvements in strength numbers and trained differently than I had in the past.”

Although her numbers were improving, her passion for the sport began to dwindle.

“I really enjoyed my time learning from Max and following his program, but I started losing my passion for CrossFit, and it was difficult for me to have a coach so far away,” Bridgers says. “I began hating going into the gym and feeling like it was just a job that I didn’t want to do.”

Around the same time, Bridgers and her former coach, Benson, began dating. That relationship was what reignited her passion for CrossFit.

“Seeing as he was the one who taught me the basics of CrossFit and developed me into the athlete I am today, I realized he was a huge part of my passion for the sport,” Bridgers says. “Some people may think it’s crazy to have your boyfriend as your coach, but it works really well, and I’m thankful for him everyday, as sometimes I think he knows me better than I know myself, and he always has my best interests in mind.”

Benson, who now coaches Bridgers a few days a week at CrossFit RX, has focused on making Bridgers a well-rounded athlete.  

“Our focus this year was to make her a more complete athlete so when it comes to Regionals, there won’t be any doubt with any workout that comes up,” Benson says.

He has developed a competitor’s program called Squat Mafia that he built around Bridgers and another CrossFit RX athlete, Amber Goppert.

“Seeing that they both needed to continue similar work, I built a new program around them, which addresses both of their strengths and weaknesses,” Benson said. “Part of the program addresses Em’s weaknesses, and part of the program addresses Amber’s weaknesses, and the program has grown from there with many of the competitors at their gym following it.”

Bridgers’ strengths were highlighted during last year’s Open in which she finished fourth in the world. Her weaknesses, however, were glaringly obvious during Regionals. The 135-lb. hang cleans in Workout 2 and the 70-lb. single-arm dumbbell snatches in Workout 3 set her back in the standings enough to keep her from qualifying for the Games.

“There has been a definite focus on the heavier weights,” Bridgers says. “It has paid off though because my clean has gone up significantly, and I can snatch 22 lb. more than I did on the Snatch Ladder at Regionals last year.”

She says she has worked on becoming more efficient and more comfortable with certain movements such as the hook grip, kipping handstand push-ups and ring dips, as well as her technique on rope climbs.

“What separates Em from her competition, is she is very solid in her foundation movements, and with solid movement foundation, she is blessed with the ability to pick up new skills quickly,” Benson says. “She has years of gymnastics experience, so she has great body awareness. She is also very coachable, not to mention she has a high pain threshold and never backs down from a challenge.”

As her coach, Benson makes sure Bridgers makes training a priority and remains focused. As her boyfriend, however, he has her best interests at heart.

“I have to make sure that she continues to have fun and enjoys the process,” Benson says. “No matter what happens, I do not want her to view this as a full-time job and ruin her passion for CrossFit.”