Redefining the fitness of performance With Joel Jamieson

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CrossFit Champion vs. MMA Conditioning

Welcome to the first episode of 8WeeksOut TV! Discover how the first ever CrossFit Games Champion James Fitzgerald does when he takes on a brutal mma conditioning test that I’ve used to gauge the conditioning of top fighters and other athletes for the last five years. James also gives his thoughts on the politics of CrossFit, how he trains himself and the clients he works with, and more. Stay tuned for a new episode of 8WeeksOut TV coming every week…

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Joel: Hi there. Welcome to 8 Weeks Out TV. This is the very first episode of a brand new format and with me is a good friend and colleague Howie Clark, and Howie is an athlete that I worked with for a couple years off and on. He played professional baseball. I'll let Howie tell you a little bit more about his background.

Howie: Yeah, well I played professional baseball for 18 years, spent parts of six seasons in the major leagues with Baltimore, Toronto, and Minnesota and met Joel, like he said, a couple of years ago and have a good relationship so far.

Joel: That's right, so the idea behind the show is really to bring the top experts, to bring different people from training and nutrition worlds and scientists, really just all areas of fitness together to discuss what's going on in the world of training, to give you different training tools, training methods, exercises, theory, to really just make something that you will want to watch and something that you will get a lot out of. And so Howie and I, in the next several weeks, months, hopefully years, will be bringing a lot of top experts to do exactly that, and maybe Howie can tell you about this first expert we have on. He's somebody who I've known for a couple of years and I think you'll like the challenge we threw down before him.

Howie: Yeah, we got James Fitzgerald, who was the first CrossFit games winner in 2007, has a wealth of knowledge and we're going to put him through the course, and maybe you can talk a little bit more about the course that is definitely going to be challenging for him.

Joel: So the course is really a conditioning test that I put together, I want to say five or six years ago for different MMA athletes and really we've had everybody from Rich Franklin to Bibiano Fernandes, Sakurai, Tim Boetsch...

Howie: DJ.

Joel: Demetrious Johnson, the current flyweight champion in the world, and really it's a brutal conditioning test, and it gives me an idea of what kind of shape they're in, and helps me make sure the other guys are ready to fight, and so we use it as a benchmark. We've had literally about 200 different athletes run through the course so Howie actually is number two... don't want to pump his ego up too much, but he's done very well in the course and James, being the former CrossFit champion, the first CrossFit champion, heard about the course and we talked a little about it and he wanted to come see what he was made of and see what he could do. So I'm personally curious to see if he can top Howie's second place or if the course is going to beat him. What do you think is going to happen, Howie?

Howie: He is super fit. Man, if anyone can put a show-- the first time you do the course, it's just brutal, like you said, so... I may have an unfair advantage after the first time I did it to doing it a few more times--

Joel: Right, and the fact that I trained you for it.

Howie: That's what I was getting to, is you trained me for it, and it's an unfair advantage but, no, I learned how to do it properly and definitely saw my level of fitness go up, but I'm excited to see James attack it and he's... man, he's awesome.

Joel: So you're going to see what the course is. It's six pieces of cardio equipment and each piece you have to get done as fast as possible with a one minute break, and really it's just a measure of how much power you can maintain for a 20 to 25 minute span, which is, of course, very important for a fight which can be anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes, and it's a brutal test, what uses literally every muscle in your body, and you can't fake it. You're either in shape and you do well or you're not and you're going to get crushed and we've had several people give up and not finish it, so...

Howie: It'll be interesting. It's--with the CrossFit and we--I think your feelings on CrossFit have been documented, but the people who have claimed that their level of fitness is the greatest who happen to be CrossFit people, we've seen them want to quit on the course--

Joel: We have.

Howie: But no, this will be an interesting test, I'm excited to see him and... he's in for a surprise, I think.

Joel: I think so as well, so, with that said, let's get James Fitzgerald, the first CrossFit Games champion from 2007, and we're going to show you how he does going through the course.
Hey, I'm here with special guest James Fitzgerald, and if you're not familiar with James, James was the first CrossFit games champion in 2007. How're you doing?

James: I'm good.

Joel: Good.

James: I'm good, I'm ready to go.

Joel: Sweet, we flew James in to take on this conditioning course, it's a course that we've used to test the conditioning of a lot of different world champion fighters and really just kind of gives me an idea of what condition they're in, make sure they're ready to fight, so I know you've been doing a little bit of training to get ready for it?

James: Yeah, well, I love the fact that you have tests to kind of determine what that is, we have our own test too so I want to man up and see if I'm capable of doing what you have to offer for your fighters.

Joel: Yeah, well, honestly, I'm curious to see it too and I know all the viewers are as well, we're going to see how well a former CrossFit games champion stacks up to the best fighters in the world.
All right, so we're going to get started with the first piece and that's the Concept2 Rower. The distance, James, you're going to have to go is 1000 meters and a good time is generally in the low 3 minutes, so let's see what James can do. And, whenever you're ready.
And time. 3:21. Good start for James. Now he gets a 60 second break and we'll pick him up on the next piece.
All right, we're here with the second piece, this is the Woodway Force, you've got to go 500 yards.
Two minutes, you got about 170 to go.
Stop. 3:17. Now that's three minutes and 17 seconds, we're onto the rope.
All right, next piece is the endless rope, you've got to go 1320 feet.
Time. Four minutes and 58 seconds.
And we're here with piece number four and that's the Jacob's Ladder. This is one where we'll really see what he's made of because his legs will be on fire by the time he's done with this one.
Last 100 feet. ... Time. Five minutes even.
All right, piece number five is the bike and he's got to go two miles with a resistance of 10.
Time. 3:27.
The last piece here is the VersaClimber.
All right, so, total time we added up is 22 minutes and 49 seconds, which puts James 11th. How'd you feel about your performance in the course overall?

James: That was pretty good. Couple pieces I could learn from, for sure, but not doing it is a good test, so...

Joel: Absolutely.

James: Coming in the first time I was... disappointed, but that's the way I'm supposed to feel.

Joel: I'm sure you'll be back for more.

James: That was good, it was a good test.

Joel: We'll definitely have James back and give him another shot but thanks, we really appreciate you coming out here--

James: Yeah, no problem, it's good to be here--

Joel: --and giving it a shot and we'll see you again soon.
And welcome back with the studio we have Howie as always and our guest, of course, James Fitzgerald who just ran himself through the conditioning gauntlet. How're you feeling after that?

James: I'm feeling pretty good.

Joel: Feeling pretty good?

James: It's not bad.

Howie: That was a tough one, man.

James: It was good, it was good, it's a couple hours.

Joel: What'd you think of the... the rope and the ladder definitely took their toll on you.

James: Yeah, I had thought that coming in I'd had enough breathing and ability to be able to go through them and, as I told you, I think the most important piece was just seeing how fast you can adapt to it, and the adaptation to the Endless Rope just didn't happen as quick enough so, you just fight through it. And then from the rope leading into the ladder it just became "just hang on until it was over", so...

Howie: For you first time it's a really good time, seriously, no it is.

James: Yeah, seeing you beat it, then of course you can say that--

Joel: Howie does still have the second best--

Howie: Second. Number two.

James: You should be impressed.

Howie: But it wasn't under the bright lights, and there was no pressure, you know what I mean, so..

James: Oh that's nice, thanks.

Howie: I wasn't saying that... You preformed under pressure, man, it's not like that.

James: Yeah, no, it was good, yeah, I learned lots from it.

Joel: Tell us a little about what're you doing for training these days, personally?

James: Well, I've been training to prepare for this, pretty much. I think that my balance in training from CrossFit background and just in fitness in general, I always have that idea that I can pretty much prepare for anything in, just slightly off the mold,, probably never win at any of them but be well prepared for it and I think that we have some of the principles involved within mixtures of training and balancing fitness that allows people to do anything they want if it's all put together correctly which is why we resonate in terms of the things we talk about.
So for my training, I'll participate again within CrossFit, I train a lot of CrossFit athletes now and it's infectious, it's kind of being in a gym with a bunch of real good fighters or good baseball players, and you still have a little ability, so I still have the ability to still do it so I'll be training for CrossFit in various different events and my own event, too, the OPTathalon, our own test of fitness and so, it just keeps me balanced.

Joel: One thing I think was really interesting about your background is, obviously you won the first CrossFit games and you trained a ton of athletes for the CrossFit games, but you've been a bit outspoken in terms of the shortcomings of just doing the CrossFit work of the day and the actually training methodology of CrossFit and you obviously don't subscribe to the "run everybody through the same program" and your programs are very individualized so could you talk a little bit...

James: Yeah, it's lengthy so keep me on track, based upon that--

Joel: Sure.

James: So, I got into it because I fell in love with it. I thought it was unique and I thought there was something special inside of the design of it and I think because we went from bodybuilding and cardiovascular work or just strength conditioning principles and I was always curious, so I wanted more so we started doing these workouts and it just basically opens your eyes to a piece of fitness that, whether it's more fit or not, it really makes you re-think prescription of fitness, and that's, to me as a coach, too, I was fascinated by it.
And so based upon how it started, I was good enough. I was good enough where I could adapt, I had a good engine, mechanically not the best but I could do a lot of the workouts and be okay, and then based upon the numbers and the years and all of us coming together I won the first one. I still did subsequently pretty well for the next couple of years.
But I just believe that, over time, I've developed-- everything that I learned prior to CrossFit because people forget that I was a strength conditioning coach, successful strength conditioning coach, I would consider, for ten years prior to even starting CrossFit, and so I had thought I'd knew everything within strength conditioning by practicing it with elite athletes, to mom and dads, to kids, and putting my time in and now CrossFit just kind of shakes up the pitcher.
I basically then changed my prescription because I saw some pieces within that magic that could make a prescription for fitness a whole lot better. So I just believe that it can be done better than what most people see as the prescription for CrossFit. Now, the interesting thing is that, when people do CrossFit, you got to remember what their starting point is and what their ability is at the point because there are some people that can do it that the dose response of the variation in the systems and the variation in the training is actually CP work, it's actually strength training, and it's aerobic work. So it can be very beneficial for a crap load of people because it's written as high intensity protocols but the dose response of the people doing it makes it very muscle/endurance based and aerobic so it's actually not in the middle pathway of what everyone thinks it is.
Now, the problem is that when people become more and more developed and their ability levels rise, they start being able to go into that middle piece a lot harder, does that make sense? So they can devise power and then go at high intensity principles consistently and generally the ones that are most resilient ended up doing it as a sport because at that time they saw, "Okay now I need to do some intervals, now I need to switch things up, and now," and so that's where we come in because we believe that after 12-18 months of all that high intensity stuff, the, I don't know what the old saying is, but the cat's up, you got to, there's something--

Joel: Do something else.

James: You got to do something different in order to make progressions based upon that. So it's very interesting because, I'm not going to say it's not good for anyone or everyone because there is a whole lot of people that it could be beneficial for but done too often and in the "wrong way", which is still complicated, and what is the right way?, I think that it can be detrimental.

Joel: What do you think as far as the, I guess one of the criticisms or something that I would say is just the fact that there's no real progression, like you're saying, if somebody comes in out of the street to the highest level, I mean, if you're going to treat it as a CrossFit gym they're going to do the same things whereas, like you're saying, the guys at top level, they've been prepared, they've trained... you can't necessarily throw somebody off the street into the same level or same everything that you throw at the top guys, I mean, I think that's the missing component, the progression.

James: Yeah, there's so much to that, so much to that, because I'm also empathetic, too, because I also help business owners who truly want to help people, right, they truly do, and so the prescription that they believe is going to get people to that is based upon a principle of a sport. And so you see that, the breaking point has to happen. When people come in you have to say, "You're doing this for fitness or you're doing it for sport and if you do this for fitness, here's the prescription."
And it's going to look nothing like the way that you're going to do it for sport, whereas if you decide to sign up for a sport then you have to pay the price of admission which means that mechanically, physically, all of those things need to be in place for you to participate in that. So you can see that, if it's bled and marketed to be flashy and be sport driven, that everyone can do it, well, I mean, that will pull people in. And then if you are signing up on the door saying, "This is what you should do," then you're going to get that expectation from those folks that that's what they should be doing.
So you can see where the problem lies, is that the coach and the owner is like, "Well, you know, I don't know how to do it," and that's what our job is, though. I mean, that's what I want to do is teach those people, "It can be done and it can be fun." Fitness can be fun if it's mixed with a bunch of things and done correctly, but it has to be through fitness and not sport. And if you're going to choose one then sign up and make the decision.

Joel: One thing I think that you're doing differently and better, I would say, that the other CrossFit gyms aren't doing is progressively learning and trying to refine your training and get the answers to these questions whereas I feel like a lot of the reasons that I've criticized CrossFit, other people probably have is, they seem very stuck on this. Their way that they have now is the right way, the only way, anyone who questions that or doesn't agree with it is wrong and just--they want to get rid of them. I mean, I want to say maybe yourself included in that, and to me that's such a detrimental thing to the group as a whole.
I mean why would you not want to use the group to build knowledge and to answer questions and to get better? Why would you want to segment everybody else and say, "You're wrong and this is the only right way," to me, that's one of my biggest personal complaints against Cross as a whole, is just... it's such an exclusive, or exclusitory, I should say, mentality of just, get rid of everybody else who doesn't agree with us.

James: There are people within there that are still friends of mine and also coaches that I coach with in it that really are trying to make a difference for it. So, the name on the door says that, but it's a piece to allow them to express what they want to do within the system. There are some guidelines in terms of what you can and cannot do, and just to clarify, I'm not a CrossFit gym. We are a private training facility; we just coach a lot of CrossFitters.
But the piece that you said as far as exclusivity I totally agree with, I put my heart and soul into coaching CrossFit athletes and improving people who coach people within CrossFit, and the return on that is seeing all those people do it a different way and get some results. And I think all those people who do that will have long-term success and the ones who don't allow an open- minded piece, because you still can, so it's actually not just the system saying, "You can't do that," it's the people within that can make the change. They can say, "You know what? I can do things slightly differently, it doesn't have to be like that," and the thing is that time will tell. I mean, as I said, there's a 12 and 18 month which, we see it everywhere. I mean, you won't hear about it, of course, but I see it. I see all of it.

Howie: And even visiting your site and, you can see all of the different tools that you bring to the table, it's extremely individualized which you do with, each client is different, a different prescriptions which makes it a lot of work for you but in the end it makes it so much better for the person who's going through the training.

James: Yeah, and then there's things that arise, of course, with individualized training when you sell a group conditioning model, and we've had a lot of trials and errors on basically how to make that work. I still do believe that, I'll go blue in my face to say that individual conditioning is the magic formula for improving people long-term. So everyone who says, "Well, there's a community involvement and high fives and all that," well, you know, I understand that, but let's go right down to the nitty-gritty of long-term development and self- responsibility for fitness. I believe that an individual model is going to be best suited.
So we try to teach people, still, who do group conditioning, to be the best individual coach, and I think if you're the best individual coach, the best you can be, you can coach a group of people in fitness, and still make it upgraded and slightly better as opposed to taking that "one fits all approach" and not knowing the dose response of what everyone gets out of the training session, so that's the tough time that we have. So I can't coach everyone individually, I try my best, and I still love doing that, so we try to coach coaches to become the best individual coaches using universal principles of training.

Joel: And I know you've been using the BioForce ProTrainer, we've been playing around with and I don't know if you have any tools like that make it easier to not to sell my own self but certainly having the ability to--

James: Sell it.

Howie: Sell it.

James: Sell it

Joel: --to look at the individuals within a group--

James: Yeah, just buy it. There we go.

Joel: Go ahead, go buy it.

Howie: Take a couple.

Joel: I think having the ability to monitor and look at that stuff on a large scale makes it easier for yourself and other coaches with large groups, can you tell us a little about...

James: Yeah! So, we probably have about 50+ individuals we look at on a daily basis that are doing either as a, doing it mainly as a sport, let's say, a high percent of them do it as a sport, and it's been about... maybe four months, I guess, total, where we've got the data for the four months base plan, so it's going to take more time to basically see some more on it. But the effectiveness of it is the powerful thing because it creates a responsibility in the client to see what else is happening that allows them to stay accountable to the training program so you're not guessing anymore.
So we could argue, I'm sure those people out there argue, "Ugh! You know, some days I had this score and I PR'd, and, you know" but when you look at the trends over time you can't negate the fact that, when people listen to it, you're able to train, without the right words, longer and more effective. And so if everyone had that piece of a readiness piece, which HRV measures just really well, I think that it could change the whole paradigm in terms of people coming in.
Because the group training model, not just in CrossFit but anywhere, all those people come in to get energy from their workout, which is the complete wrong system. If you're coming in to get your ass handed to you so you can work up your adrenaline for the day, that's a broken system so if you have HRV as a starting point where people wake up for 20 days in a row after they start their baseline and they're amber or red, that's an indicator, you've got to fix some stuff, better eating or fix your training or whatever the case may be, because I think that.. so... it's a good and bad thing because if people started doing it I think that--

Joel: They'd see what was actually going on.

James: Yeah, it's like what I say when I teach coaches how to teach people how to assess, there's a little, "Well, I'm not sure if I want to show them that my program doesn't work." You know, that's... because they start assessing, they're like, "Well you know what, I'm not improving." So that's little... so you can see where the pain may come from that, but reality sucks sometimes.

Joel: Honestly, I think you want the truth, you want to be a better coach--

James: Yeah, exactly!

Joel: --or you want to fake it.

James: Yeah, that's it, but I mean, that's what I'm here for, that's my passion, I wake up every day to try to help coaches an athletes realize that because I don't like bullshit training and people that call themselves professionals and coaches and don't follow through with that kind of stuff.

Joel: Absolutely, why don't you tell everybody, as we wrap things up here, where they can find more about your training systems, I know you and I were just talking about a little online coaching stuff you've been working on so where can they find more about that?

James: You can visit, OPT then "experience", the word comes right after dot com.

Joel: Well I think we'll definitely have to have you back next year, Howie still holds the number two spot, and I think you're in number 11.

James: Yes, I'm coming back to do that.

Howie: That's what you'll be training for.

James: Yeah, because I've met you in person so now, right, so now I have to take that.

Joel: Right and if you've got any other guys you want to come out and run the course--

James: For sure.

Joel: We'll see--

James: We'll do it.

Joel: We'll see what we can do. So thanks again for coming.

James: Yeah, it was great to be here.

Joel: Howie, and make sure to stay in tune to next week, more 8 Weeks Out TV. We're going to have more special guests, more great interviews, and go ahead and enter your name and email in to get on the newsletter list so we can let you know when that's going to happen. You can find us at,, and you can find more information, more videos coming your way next week on 8 Weeks Out TV.

7 Responses to CrossFit Champion vs. MMA Conditioning

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