March 4, 2013
Wired for Competition: Alyssa Ritchey
By Brittney Saline

"If I can’t do a skill, I will come in every day before class until it’s perfected.”


Alyssa Ritchey got two muscle-ups in a row in her first week of CrossFit.

Three weeks later, she did Diane in 2:20 on her first attempt. Now, after six months, the 23-year-old has a 140-lb. snatch, a 3:07 Fran, a 1:48 Grace and is training seriously for the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games.

“It’d be awesome to get the Games and say I’m one of the fittest girls in the world,” Ritchey says.

A former gymnast, track athlete and high school record-breaking weightlifter, Ritchey craved competition since she turned down her weightlifting coach’s offer to train for the Olympics. She chose college instead.

When she drove her motorcycle by the open garage doors of 8th Day Gym in Grand Rapids, the choice was easy.

“All the sudden, I saw these boys with their shirts off, all sweaty, and I thought, ‘Oh Lord, what is this place?’” she says. “It reminded me of my weightlifting gym back home. I got off my motorcycle and I could not stop smiling and thinking, ‘This is it, this is it!’”

Box owner, Joe Cebulski, was in the middle of a deadlift when Ritchey marched in and exclaimed, “What the heck is this place?”

He had a gut feeling she had potential.

“You could tell right away that she was athletic,” he says.

After a short introduction, he told Ritchey to research CrossFit before committing. When she turned up again three days later, Cebulski was discussing ring handstand push-ups with another coach.

“Can I try one?” she asked.

She did 13, strict and unbroken, and Cebulski knew his hunch was right. Ritchey knew it when she did Fight Gone Bad later that week and scored 396.

“I did it and it was like I died,” she says. “I felt that (way) in gymnastics, and that feeling was what I’d been waiting for, for years.”

After testing Ritchey’s squat and overhead technique, Cebulski placed her in regular classes immediately. After a month, she joined Cebulski’s program for aspiring Games competitors. The group trains for three hours per day, six days per week in addition to the normal workouts, following special auxiliary programming designed for the Games season.

Cebulski divides the program into three stages:

  • Pre-Season Strength Development: Emphasis on range of motion and skill development while fresh.
  • Mid-Season Conversion Power/Velocity: Emphasis on completion of range of motion at high velocity over medium timeframes.
  • Pre-Competition Season Endurance: Emphasis on repetitive range of motion at high velocity over longer timeframes. Almost all skill development done while under significant fatigue.

Now in the third stage, a typical day’s competitive Games training might look like eight rounds of a 30-second row followed by 30 seconds of toes-to-bars, handstand push-ups or double-unders, alternating every round. Or athletes may be required to complete six rounds of five hang cleans, three snatch balances and as many push presses as possible in one minute.

After completing her Games training, Ritchey will rest for five minutes before joining the regular class for the day’s workout.  

The training is paying off, as evidenced in a recent test of the fourth 2012 Regional workout:

50 Back squats (135/95 lb.)
40 Pull-ups
30 Shoulder-to-overhead (135/95 lb.)
50 Front squats (85/65 lb.)
40 Pull-ups
30 Shoulder-to-overhead (85/65 lb.)
50 Overhead squats (65/45 lb.)
40 Pull-ups
30 Shoulder-to-overhead (65/45 lb.)

Ritchey completed the workout in 17:30, which would have put her second to Julie Foucher (14:44) at the 2012 Central East Regional (ahead of Michelle Kinney, who took second, with a time of 20:03).  

“The funny thing is that she didn't realize she was supposed to take weight off and she did all her front squats at 95 lb. instead of the 65 lb. prescribed,” Cebulski says. “I walked over and said ‘Alyssa, you’re supposed to be at 65 and she just kept squatting and said, ‘Oh really? Oh well!’”

Still a CrossFit newbie, Ritchey’s greatest disadvantage is her lack of experience. She researches and practices diligently, studying videos of CrossFit athletes like Julie Foucher and 2012 repeat CrossFit Games Champion, Annie Thorisdottir.

“I noticed that the girls who did the butterfly (kip) were way faster than the girls just doing (standard) kipping,” she says. “So I was like, ‘I gotta get this before the Open.’ I worked on it for a week and then started doing 20 in a row. If I can’t do a skill, I will come in every day before class until it’s perfected.”

At only 4-foot-11, she also struggles with rowing. But if the erg were to be thrown in the mix, she says she’ll make up for lost time with efficiency elsewhere.

“I don’t think that’s gonna stop me from doing well,” she says. “I might be the last off the rower, but I won’t be the last off the pull-up bar.”

Two weeks before this year’s Open, Ritchey took another stab at Diane. This time, she completed it in 1:58 — just four seconds slower than the 1:54 set at last year’s Regionals by Annie Thorisdottir and Kristan Clever.

Even though she is about as CrossFit green as a competitor can get, Cebulski is confident Ritchey is ready to hold her own among the fittest of the Central East.

“She’s like a little pit bull,” he says. “She’s wired for competition.”