Coach Jacob CrossFits for all the right reasons

CrossFit allows me to be healthy & happy. - Coach Jacob Watts

Arsenal Coach Jacob Watts got engaged at a CrossFit gym in Lafayette. That fact alone would make you think that Jacob is one of those CrossFit junkies who thinks all things are possible through CrossFit.

You know the type. Suffering from erectile dysfunction, irritable bowel syndrome, black hairy tongue (it’s a thing…don’t Google it!) or carpal tunnel syndrome? You can be healed through CrossFit! As if happiness and contentment are simply a few sets of back squats away.

But when I sat down to chat with Jacob, I found that his experiences as an athlete and as a coach have brought balance to his life.

Tall kids play basketball

Jacob was a coach’s kid growing up in Demotte, Indiana, that’s in that weird part of the state that thinks it’s Chicago. Jacob wasn’t like the other kids.

“I was easy to pick on. I was goofy,” Jacob said. “Ever since I’ve been in elementary, I have always been tall with big feet, big hands and head; I have big ears. I thought flat-tops were cool when I was young. My flat-top made my ears stick out even more. I think that has shaped how I am as a person. A lot of people have probably noticed I am super laid back. Part of that could easily be innate for me, but a lot of it likely has to do with getting made fun of quite a bit. I was embarrassed a lot, but I was like, ‘I can just deal with it and move on or let it ruin my day.’”

Until high school, Jacob’s dad was his baseball coach.

“As a kid, I loved baseball. My dad was always a coach, so I was pretty good. He always had me outside practicing on the weekends . . . and I hated it.”

But it was basketball the tall kid excelled at. He played varsity as a sophomore. In fact, most of his teammates were sophomores as well, thrust onto the varsity level after following the senior-laden team ahead of them.

“We got annihilated my sophomore year. We had 100 points scored on us a couple times.”

He was the tallest player on a short team, which meant he always guarded the opposing team’s best post player. Once he even “guarded”  Luke Harangody, the future Notre Dame standout who would ultimately play in the NBA.

Jacob’s defensive strategy against him: “I stood there and he did what he wanted; I didn’t really guard him. They were up by 30 points at halftime.”

Part of Jacob didn’t want to continue to play basketball. He felt it was expected of him to play.

“I knew I’d let a lot of people down if I quit. I liked basketball, but I spent thousands of hours practicing and shooting, summer camps, fall open gyms. I got kind of burnt out on it.”

Jacob’s senior year, his team won the sectionals for the first time in nearly twenty years.

“We went to regionals and lost, but it was only by five points. We actually hung in there, but I remember thinking after the game, I wasn’t that upset. I think I just stopped taking it so seriously.”

Here’s the thing about sports, once you step off the competitive stage of organized sports, the game changes. There are no more crowds or coaches or off-seasons. You can choose to play recreationally or you can choose not to play. No one is paying attention to records or newspaper reports; you play to have fun. Fun–that’s what recreational means. And it turns out Jacob loves sports.

Love & CrossFit

Jacob went to Purdue to study exercise science. At Purdue he played recreational basketball and tried several different workouts.

“I was doing P90X and Insanity. There’s a spot on Purdue’s campus that has a hill, I’d run there from my apartment and do sprints and stuff. I would kind of do a weight lifting routine, but I wasn’t real consistent, and I didn’t really have any structure.”

A friend invited Jacob to work out with him in the ROTC drill room.

“They had a bunch of bar bells and plyo-boxes, kettlebells, pull up rig, and they would do CrossFit workouts. It was the constant varying of movement that really drew me to it. At that point, I wasn’t necessarily concerned with getting stronger, I just wanted to stay in shape and keep it interesting.”

The coach at the drill room opened his own CrossFit box. Jacob was interested, but thought it was too expensive on a student’s budget, so he patched together his own workouts.

“I found a website that would generate different crossfit workouts I could do at the Purdue Rec Center. At a certain point, Leasa [his then-girlfriend, now-wife] and I decided that we wanted to commit the money towards CrossFit. We both stuck with it for two years before I had to go to grad school. We just went consistently, became good friends with a lot of people there.”

CrossFit became such a part of his life and social life that he decided to stage his proposal to Leasa at the gym. Of course, this was after the Purdue Glee Club and Mackey arena turned down his separate requests to participate in the proposal. He even had one idea that might have been illegal.

“My next idea was to have my uncle, who’s a Lafayette police officer, pull her over with me in the car, but he said he couldn’t. I’m really glad it ended up at the CrossFit gym because all our friends were there. Leasa’s sister and some of her friends happened to be in town that weekend, too. It was on a Saturday so there were tons of people there. The owner set up a workout so it ended with a 400m run. Everyone left for the run, and I stayed back with a few people. When Leasa got back, our song was playing [You and Me by the Dave Matthews Band]. She was all out of breath, and I was kind of worried that she was going to pass out. She walks up to me, and I start to kneel down and grab her hand. I pulled the ring out and she just lost it. She started bawling like crazy when she realized what I was doing. It went just how I hoped it would.”

Coming to Muncie

CrossFit fueled Jacob’s interest in exercise and nutrition, which led him to grad school at IU. After graduation his path led to Muncie.

(A brief moment to acknowledge how awesome Leasa, Jacob’s wife, is:

Leasa rescued Poco, not in the “she went to a shelter” sense of rescue, but in the hero sense of the word. She heard about a house in Richmond where puppies had been abandoned so she went there and rescued them. She kept Poco, and now Poco is “her big baby” and, of course, one of our dogs at The Arsenal.)

So when Awesome Leasa got a job in Muncie, Jacob followed her here, and got a job at The Arsenal.

“Coming to The Arsenal…I really just got lucky, honestly. I wanted to find a gym close to where we live.”

Jacob was pleasantly surprised that not only did The Arsenal need another coach, but that they paid coaches. Many gyms don’t have professional, paid coaches. Jacob could do what he loved and get paid to do it.

“My favorite part of coaching is when people do things they previously thought impossible.”

Like the day he saw Sarah Cook heading to the rings instead of the rig, and he suggested she try a pull up. She got her first pullup. They celebrated.

“The olympic lifts are my favorite things to coach, and when you get people who are trying, but they just keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and if I can help them change one little thing, and you just see them get it in their head, that’s pretty exciting.”

“For me I’ve carried with me that mindset I adopted after high school: sports aren’t that serious. I will never train instead of hanging out with Leasa. I’ll never miss a birthday to do a competition, if it’s someone I really care about. You have to find that line, ‘Am I taking this too seriously?’  But you have to take it somewhat seriously because if you don’t, you won’t push yourself and get as much out of it as you can. CrossFit allows me to be healthy and happy.”

Jacob has come a long way since his days practicing baseball and basketball. Training has a completely different goal and reward now. Jacob recounted his first run as a kid back when running meant training to compete and perform in a sport.

“My dad took me for a one-mile run. I remember crying. I was gasping, telling him I couldn’t breathe. At that point, it was just to get in shape. I remember my dad saying, ‘You are just skinny because you are naturally skinny. We need to get you doing something to actually get you in shape.’ But now,  I’m ready for almost any physical challenge that might come my way. I push myself to see what my body is capable of, and I want to help others do the same.’”

Jacob doesn’t CrossFit for someone else. Jacob CrossFits for himself.

The Arsenal has an enemy

I’ve been pondering what moves people to failure, to quitting, to making excuses and to becoming sheep rather than sheep dogs.  Looking at the performance data we have at The Arsenal, namely attendance, I found the enemy:  Resistance.

“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work.  It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole.  Resistance is protean.  It will assume any form, if that’s what it takes to deceive you.  It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.  Resistance has no conscience.  It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned.  If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get.  Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”

–Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

The enemy is within each of us, and for many of the athletes on our team the enemy is indeed winning.  How do we fight something that is invisible and living inside us?  An enemy that makes us believe it is our friend and has our best interests in mind?  I don’t have a clear cut answer, but I have some ideas worthy to experiment with:

  1. Commit with your whole self
    • Invest meaningful money and more importantly consistent time, every week, no matter what. Don’t half ass commitment and give yourself built in escape routes for when Resistance comes.
  2. Don’t go it alone
    • Find someone who is ready to battle Resistance in her/his life. Accountability is a powerful weapon that saves us from the worst versions of ourselves.
  3. Align your commitment with your values
    • If getting more fit physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally is important to living out your personal values, then you will have the inner resolve to fist fight with Resistance everyday (that is how often she comes calling). If you are doing something for superficial reasons, outside of your own personal growth, then Resistance is going to own you.
  4. Build a strategy for the worst version of you
    • If you don’t have a schedule or plan that is built for you at your worst, I can promise it is loaded with a thousand holes where Resistance will enter. Assume you will be busy as hell, tired, make mistakes and lose motivation.  That we can count on.  Don’t assume you will be the energetic, motivated and bulletproof you every day.

This is a small list of ideas, just a starter.  This battle against our number one enemy, Resistance, is something The Arsenal team is dead serious about fighting.  We have a litany of stories on our blog about your teammates who are winning this daily battle, so learn from them.  Your coaching staff and teammates are fully committed to ensure you are not ‘going at it alone’ with Resistance in your life.

Recommit yourself to fighting that Resistance inside you.  It only cares about things that matter, so if you are not fighting any Resistance right now, odds are you missing your highest calling.  You are made for so much more, now prove it.  Today and everyday forward.

Meet Isabel Serrano, Phd. a new type of coach at The Arsenal

Isabel Serrano, Phd.

I do my best to get out of The Arsenal to learn from the best in the business when it comes to health, wellness and fitness to ensure that we are becoming the best resource we can be for our member community.  Recently, I’ve had the honor of spending time with Dr. Jane Ellery, Coordinator of Wellness Management and Assistant Professor of Wellness Management, at Ball State University.  She was able to provide me a view of the world of wellness from a broader perspective.  We discussed the importance of ‘place making’, psychological health, emotional health, financial health and an assortment of other vital areas that we often do not attribute to the term ‘wellness.’  After learning from Dr. Ellery and sharing my work, she invited me to visit with her Critical Issues masters class.  During my visit a talented young lady approached me, after I had shared what we are working to build at The Arsenal, put out her hand and said: “I want to work with you.”

That was how I met Isabel Serrano, Phd.  As of this month she has joined our team as our Engagement Manager and Certified Holistic Health Coach.  Her role will be to provide deeper knowledge, insight and action in areas that our current coaching staff does not focus.  Here are a sample of areas Isabel will be leading for us:  

  • Food & nutrition
  • Lifestyle
  • Weight loss
  • Self image/Self esteem
  • Stress management
  • Mindfulness practice

She will be engaging our community with these critical elements of health, wellness and fitness through 1:1 coaching, group training/seminar, writing (blog) and in managing events.  If you see her at the box, please take a few moments to introduce yourself and share a bit of your story.  You’ll find quickly that she brings a different vibe than our current coaching staff, one that the staff agrees we can use more of.

To learn what you can gain from Isabel, best to start with her first official blog post for The Arsenal: Food for Thought.

Then, keep your eye out for her first official class (hint: it will be on food and energy).

We are honored to have Isabel on our staff and hope you will soon experience the value of her insight as I have.  Isabel, Welcome to The A Team!

Ball State Student Proves Strong is Beautiful

The whole 'strong is beautiful' movement is so encouraging. - Erica Coulter

This morning Ball State student Erica Coulter was walking on her hands in downtown Muncie. She never expected to end up in Muncie or Ball State, nor did she ever think about attempting to walk on her hands before she tried CrossFit.

After walking a few yards, she fell back to her feet, stood, and roundhouse kicked the nearby rope. Of course she did all this with a smile, which is her default face-setting.

Erica the softball player

Erica grew up in southern Indiana playing softball. Softball was who she was.

“I’ve played softball basically my entire life,” Erica said.

So when she graduated from her small high school and tried to walk on at University of Southern Indiana, the coach’s news was devastating.

“The coach was like, ‘I really love your attitude . . . trying to soften the blow really. The coach asked, ‘Would you like to be our manager?’  I was like, ‘Uhhh, no,’ and then the next day, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’  I basically did everything the players were doing except for I just watched the games and took the scores. I didn’t get to play, and that kinda sucked.”

Often in high school, we define ourselves in these very narrow categories–she’s a softball player, he’s in band, he’s into Dungeons & Dragons. As if a person is simply an activity.

Erica was a softball player and then she wasn’t. That realization was a painful one.

“Ever since I was really little, that is all I wanted to do–softball, softball, softball.  So working really hard and then not achieving your dream . . .  like what am I working for?  I just was really confused, and it was definitely a difficult time.”

Erica needed a change, so she transferred from USI to Ball State.

Strong is beautiful

“When I switched to Ball State, I still tried to hang on to softball a little bit. I was like maybe I can try out, but deep down I knew that just isn’t going to happen, and as all this was going on, I was kind of losing my passion for the sport. That was really scaring me because I was like, what am I going to do? I don’t know anything else.”

“I came to Ball State and found the most incredible community ever.  From the second I walked onto campus, people were so nice, and it was just such a different experience.  I got really involved in the church I go to, and they have an incredible community there . . . Still I just didn’t have that one thing anymore. It was really a wake up call that helped me to develop my identity.  That’s when I really started pursuing the Lord, which has become so important to me.”

Erica also started to pursue CrossFit.

Becca Steele invited her to try a workout at the Arsenal.

“We all just had a regular 45-pound bar. Adam was coaching and he was like, ‘We’re going to do a power snatch.’ The very first try, I threw the bar up and it landed behind me. I fell straight on my butt. I had the biggest bruise ever. I was so embarrassed, I just kind of sat there and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

Despite all of this, she decided to take the Arsenal class at the Ball State rec center along with future Arsenal members Caroline Conley, Samantha Eckrich, Leah Fox, and Emily Martin. But she still had one major reservation about CrossFit.

“We lifted weights for softball conditioning, but I always didn’t want to lift very heavy because I already had ginormous shoulders. Every time during conditioning, I would be so uncomfortable because I’d see, ‘Oh, I’m getting bigger . . . I don’t like it.’  I was already bigger than a lot of girls because that’s just how my body is, and I was really self-conscious about my legs, so I didn’t want to do more than what I had to in order to stay strong but not look like I lift weights.”

“People will sometimes make remarks like, ‘Oh your legs are so big!’ that type of thing. That would really, really bother me, especially in high school when I couldn’t fit into the same things other girls could fit into.”

Erica started to see the amazing things she was capable of. At one point in our chat I asked her about her lift PRs. She once dreaded the question, and if a guy asked, she would lie about her weights, saying that she lifted less than she actually could.

Now she tells me proudly about her PRs: clean 205; jerk 220; snatch 160; deadlift 385; back squat 235.

(She knows her back squat should be more. She’s working on it. The next day after we chatted she hit a new record.)

“I stopped caring what people thought. I just enjoyed the things that my body was able to do. I just really appreciated myself. I think the whole ‘strong is beautiful’ movement is so encouraging.”

“I know everybody who does CrossFit wants to go to the games.  I would love to get there or at least to regionals so I’m working really hard at that. As for my body . . . I love it. I think it’s so cool now. I can find clothes to fit me. I think it’s used for good things.”  

Erica the CrossFit Coach & Athlete

Someday Erica hopes to have her own gym in which she teaches others to love their bodies and use scripture to encourage them.

“I want to be an inspiration for younger girls, so they don’t have to feel the way I did.”

To help prepare her for this future she is pursuing a degree in exercise science from Ball State. She teaches the Silver Sneakers at the Yorktown YMCA, and she’s worked her way into a role as a coach at the Arsenal.

“I like to get people really excited about fitness. Even if it’s going to be a terrible workout, I’m like, ‘It’s going to be so much fun you guys!’ I really, really love people, and I love helping people, and I just didn’t really know how I was going to do that. Just through my personal journey and just hearing everyone else’s journey through CrossFit, all the things it has done in their lives, it is just such an honor to be a part of that, to help people reach their goals. I can do something that I am super passionate about and still help people and reach them. It’s a win win.”

Both competing as an athlete and working as a coach have changed Erica.

“Pushing past my limits has given me confidence that I never had before. Like now I am able to approach people and talk to them, where I was really reserved before, and I just didn’t feel like people wanted to talk to me.”

“I feel like I’ve developed strong friendships at the Arsenal. You’re competing with these people all the time, you are in pain together, you’re lifting them up, you’re on a team. So I think that’s something that I was really, really wanting. Having people cheer for me and being able to cheer for them grew my confidence.”

“I love CrossFit, and if anybody approaches me and wants to talk about it, I am fine with that, but I don’t just ever go talk about it.  People at the Y ask me all the time what I do, why my arms are like “that.” I’m like, ‘Yeah I do CrossFit.’ Not like I’m downplaying it or anything, but I want my life to be more than just about CrossFit.”

Erica’s hashtag is #GigglezAndGainz. When she gets a big lift she’ll throw the bar down and start giggling and dancing.

She admits to despising gymnastic workouts and rope climbs. Each is an emotional experience that can bring her to tears.

But even when Erica’s crying, she faces her weaknesses with a smile.

Introducing Youth Sport Performance Training

Coach Mark and Sports Performance Athletes

How do I know that I am receiving proper training for my sport?  What am I doing to increase strength and prevent injuries?  Am I working on the ‘right’ things in my training?  What else could I do to gain an edge in ALL of my sports?  If these questions are on your mind, or the mind of your teenage or pre-teen athlete, you should consider Sport Performance training at The Arsenal.

Sport Performance is a program designed around developing and enhancing an athlete’s ability to perform at her or his sport.  Each sport has unique skills that are required of the athlete and are coached by practicing safe dynamic functional movements starting with body weight movements and ascending to complex barbell lifts.


The format of the Arsenal Sport Performance consists of classes on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 4:30 P to 5:30 P with training specific to each athlete for $60 per month.  Each class begins with a warm-up followed by training through agility-based sets; next we engage in a slow rep strength lift and finally end with a metabolic conditioning (cardio) workout.  Each session is programmed with a base lift that will be altered to fit each athlete’s need for his or her sport. For an example an athlete who is required to be on their hands more such as a wrestler or gymnast will have more hand agility focused training when compared to a dancer whose training will be focused on footwork.

Why Performance?

The main benefit of this class will be building a solid strength and mobility base and nurturing sport specific skills with safe technique. The benefits of Sport Performance include:

  • Sport specific skills
  • Game day preparation techniques
  • Safe lifting form taught EVERY session
  • Overall health and building effective training habits
  • Prevention of knee, hip, ankle, and shoulder joint injury

Game day preparation techniques will include proper mobility exercises and warm ups. Recovery techniques will help the athlete fight that irritating soreness that limits performance. Safe lifting methods will be established and practiced EVERY session to ensure optimal form.  The health benefits gained from this class include decreased muscle fatigue, a lower heart rate, more energy, and healthier sleep cycles. Along with the health benefits comes in the decreased risk for knee injuries. Knee injuries continue to rise in teenagers with A.C.L.s’ (anterior cruciate ligament) being the sole contributor. This class incorporates bodyweight movements that directly build strength to prevent these types of injuries from happening.

If interested in joining in and reaping the benefits of Sport Performance you can sign up below and try a free class to invest in your future as a young athlete.


I was really utilizing the Arsenal to not go crazy. - Coach Josh Winger

CrossFit Helps Soldier Through Life’s Challenges

I was really utilizing the Arsenal to not go crazy. - Coach Josh Winger

Was Coach Josh Winger born with that thing? You know, that thing, that desire to push through the pain, to stand up and keep going–is that something in his DNA or is that something life instills?

I had the honor of sitting down with Josh for nearly two hours (that might be a conversation PR for Josh) to talk about life and CrossFit. Josh told me that he’s been asked about “that thing” before from an Arsenal athlete.

“He came in the locker room one time and he’s like, ‘Coach you just have that thing. That thing that BJ has, that Brooke has. How do I get that?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know that you can. People just have it. I’m going to yell at you to get back on the bar when you feel like throwing up and you are going to do it or you’re not.’”


Josh, a Staff Sergeant in the Army, has been at The Arsenal from the beginning.

“The Army came to me in March of 2013 and said, ‘We think CrossFit is the way to go in the future, we want you to get [L1] certified.” My buddy Paul had told me in 2011 or 2012, I needed to do it, ‘You have to try this,’ [Paul said,] ‘this sport is Josh Winger! It’s running, it’s lifting weights, it’s being fast, it’s endurance, it’s everything!’

There are few things I enjoy more in doing these interviews than learning how much the people who kick my butt on a regular basis struggled in the beginning. Josh was no different.

“I decided to try it and asked Paul what I should do. It was when the Open was going on and 13.1 had just been released. It was a hundred million burpees and a hundred million snatches. I got to 20 burpees and literally had my hands on my knees wondering why anyone would want to do this; I couldn’t even breathe and I still had 20 more burpees to do. I did some of the other workouts and still wasn’t sure about it. But after the L1 certification, I was hooked.”

The military wasn’t sure how or if they were going to put Josh’s new-found understanding of CrossFit to use, but one of his Soldiers told him about The Arsenal opening in Muncie. The building was still being outfitted but a group was meeting at DC Barbell. Josh joined them.

“So I started coming, I was working out with Joe Ciuffo, Pam Peters, Jennifer Stanley, Aly Williams, Matt Carder, and [Coach] Adam. We were all a bunch of nerds trying to figure this thing out. I worked out for a week or two and got the feel for how it worked, and then I coached a little bit. I was fine with everything, but Olympic lifting was what intimidated me. I had done bench press and curls, I had never done a snatch, had never done a clean and jerk. I’d Google “clean and jerk” and watch every video that it linked to. A lot of my time the first few months of the Arsenal I would see the workouts and then go in there at 5:30 AM and try things. I did my due diligence in the evenings, too, trying to get myself up to speed.”

Josh was no stranger to training. He earned a black belt in Jazzercising before the age of 25 for instance. Just kidding, although he did get into jiu-jitsu for a bit. He started as a runner in junior high, and then became a protein-swilling, arm-curling gym rat, and eventually a personal trainer.

“In track, we did stuff in the weight room. I kind of liked it then so after high school I got a gym membership, just learning on my own. I’ve always been kind of obsessive compulsive, so I don’t really just go to the gym and lift weights. I buy all the magazines, the protein, and totally nerd out.”

“I have always been training for something. Spring and summer I’d run 5ks, 10ks, and I did a couple half marathons, too. In the summer, I’d always get down to 175-180 pounds, and in the winter I’d get up to 200 lbs from lifting weights.”

“After I graduated from high school in Lafayette, I didn’t really do anything my first year. I took a couple of classes at Purdue and a few at Ivy Tech, and my second year after high school is when I went to Ball State. I did a year at Ball State and got into a little bit of debt from school. I wasn’t really doing all the right things. I was at school, but I wasn’t really focusing on school. Partying too much. I had a couple buddies who joined the National Guard. They told me it would pay for my school, and I could get away. So I took the next year off and went to basic training.

And, boy, did Josh get away

Three weeks after Josh joined the Army, September 11th happened.

“I was pretty certain I was going to go to WWIII when I was watching that news. After basic, I went back to Ball State in August, and in November of 2002 my unit was put on alert . . . On January 4th, we landed in Kuwait. For two months, we were basically the security force for Shuwaikh Port, the only deep sea port in Kuwait.”

“During this time, we didn’t really watch the news or anything, but I’d call home and talk to my dad every few weeks. President Bush was like, ‘Just tell us you’ll surrender your weapons, and we will not invade your country.’  I was a roving patrol on this port, and I was watching gigantic aircraft carriers unload 2000 humvees and 2000 tanks one after the other so I knew in my mind we were going to be kicking somebody’s ass. I did that for two months.”

“The Iraq war started March 20th–my birthday. I had signed up to get my life straightened up and get my school paid for, and one year later, I was crossing into Iraq.”

“After I came back from Iraq, I didn’t want to go back to Ball State because the guys I had gone to school with had graduated. I went back home to Lafayette and got a job at a pharmaceutical company and did that for 4 or 5 years. I was single and my weeks pretty much consisted of go to work, work out, and then Thursday through Sunday I’d get really drunk with all my friends. I knew I was kind of spinning my wheels. My parents had some alcohol issues–in and out of rehab a couple of times. I didn’t want to get on that path.”

“In 2008, the gym I was working out at said they were opening a gym in Westfield. They hired me as a personal trainer there. It was a change of scenery, doing something I liked. That lasted for about six months until the owners came to me and said the gym was going under and we needed to try to find something else to do. By a stroke of luck, literally that week, one of the lieutenants from my platoon in Iraq said that he had got put on some orders to work active duty in Indianapolis. He needed a team to sort through medical records. My original set of orders were three months long, and since June of 2008, I’ve been on active duty ever since. They haven’t been able to get rid of me.”

“It’s a good life. The Army has definitely been good to me. July will be nine years of active duty and 14 years total in the Army.”

“Spend a year in Iraq in your 20’s . . . you can’t go through those things and not come back different. It definitely changed me. It forced me to grow up.”

Forced to grow up

That’s happened to Josh a lot.

“I lost my mom when I was 15. I draw a lot of my strength from that. I’m 34 now and I still think about her every day. I lost her when I was a sophomore in high school. My dad was always the worker bee and my mom was the admin at home, so it forced me to be a grown up as a 15-year-old. I had a younger brother and sister I had to help with. Whether that or Iraq, I’ve always had to live a few years ahead.”

Josh never knew his biological father, but he credits his dad Larry, who adopted Josh when he was one, for teaching him a lot about overcoming adversity. He worked 40 years as a laborer for Norfolk Southern railroad, battled an alcohol addiction, and lost his second wife just a few days before Josh shipped off for Iraq.

“I’ve tried to emulate him. I love and respect him so much.”

While in Indianapolis, Josh met a girl who became his wife and they had a baby boy together–Layten.

“Having Layten was awesome. It’s still awesome. Being his dad is my favorite thing about being me now. I take it 100% seriously. It’s a whole different ballgame when you have someone else to take care of. Your needs start to go by the wayside.”

But his relationship with Layten’s mom was a struggle.

“It was kind of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We separated a few different times and tried to make it work, but finally I decided that I wasn’t happy. . . Leaving my wife was the hardest decision I ever made.”

He knew that separating from his wife would mean that he wouldn’t see Layten every day.

“I’m not the same person when he’s not with me. I’m a little more at peace when he’s around me. I enjoy putting him to bed, waking him up, the little things.”

After his separation, the Arsenal and CrossFit became his refuge. He started to notice “that thing” in a fellow athlete–Brooke Bailey.

“One of the things that drew me to Brooke was how tough she is. She’s not afraid. She gets after it.”

Brooke and Josh started to chat about more than just squat form. Their backgrounds were really similar. They both lost their mothers when they were very young.

[Read Brooke’s story]

“Brooke and the community at the Arsenal is really what pulled me through that time. Brooke was always there to guide me and make sure I was going in the right direction. I had the Arsenal to go to, just to work out and clear my mind, take out some of the aggression. Going to see the coaches there, who I now consider to be some of my best friends, and all the people there really pulled me through. And now I’m glad that a year and a half later, I’m at a place where there’s a sense of normalcy. I can look back and just be really appreciative. At the time, you’re just going through the motions. I was really utilizing the Arsenal to not go crazy.”  

“It’s a little bit surprising how I bought into the community of the Arsenal because I was always kind of the lone wolf. I had friends, but I never had a gym buddy, never a running group; I did all that on my own. It’s been nice to listen to advice from other people and be coached by my fellow coaches. I’ve really grown as a coach at the Arsenal, it’s helped me to open up and help other people and use the knowledge I have. I was kind of in my shell in the beginning and wasn’t too good at it. Now I’m more comfortable with public speaking and seeing a deficiency in an athlete and communicating how they can fix it.”

“I remember doing wall balls with Pam Peters outside DC Barbell, and I had to make her stop because I thought her knees were going to snap. And now she does a perfect overhead squat. I’m really proud of everyone there and what I’ve been able to do there. I’ve never been a huge relationship person, but I kind of got some best friends out of the Arsenal and kind of got a future wife. It has given me a lot.”

I’m not sure there is any individual at the Arsenal who works as hard as Josh to improve. But during our chat, he wasn’t talking about personal PRs. He seems to have gained more from the growth of others than himself. And personally I’ve enjoyed watching Josh grow, and especially watching Josh’s and Brooke’s families grow together.

Josh and Brooke recently moved to Hamilton county for Brooke’s job. Josh will continue to work out of Muncie, and he’ll still be at the Arsenal on a regular basis, but Brooke will be settling into a new CrossFit community.

“BJ always tells us to coach every WOD like it’s our last because you never know who got a flat tire on the way to work, and they get to work and their boss gives them a demotion, and they left their lunch in the refrigerator at home and they had to go home because their kid was sick. So those four or five things you can say to them about their technique or encouraging them or telling them about the difference you see in them over a few months could be the make or break of a shitty day. We often don’t realize how much we can affect people by what we tell them. I need to remember and the coaches need to remember how seriously people take this. And I only need to look at my own story to see how seriously people take it.”

“The Arsenal is everything to me. Start to finish I’m really proud to be at the roots of something and be in that building [before it was done] and see what it was and what it is now.”

That Thing

Most of the time I don’t have “that thing” that Josh has. Although Coach Josh has pushed me to that place before. I remember a WOD early on where Josh told me to get back on the bar and I did every time. Afterwards, Josh told me he appreciated how I responded to his encouragement to push onward. Of course, part of me was hoping he’d go the hell away so I could bend over and sob quietly to myself. But I haven’t forgotten what Josh told me. Deep down I filed it as: “Josh thinks I’m tough.” So now I’ll be in the middle of a hard WOD trying to catch my breath, hearing the bars bang all around me, and I’ll tell myself: ‘Kelsey! Get back on that bar. Josh thinks you’re tough, remember?’”

That thing is in Josh’s DNA and it has been shaped and expressed by losing his mom when he was a teenager, by Iraq, by people, by places, and by life. You and I may never have “that thing,” that toughness, but we do have people in our lives with that toughness.

Josh’s toughness is contagious. He’s like a badass Jiminy Cricket with tattoos and washboard abs telling you to get back on that bar and be stronger than you thought you could be.

People forget what it's like to be rooted for - Mark Munchel

For Coach Mark Munchel CrossFit is Like Going to Church

People forget what it's like to be rooted for. - Mark Munchel

Arsenal Coach Mark Munchel learned to hunt and fish before he could read. Mark has always been a doer and a mover, learning from experience.

As an exercise science major at Ball State, Mark had to complete 90 hours of volunteering at fitness facilities in the community. Mark worked at the Y for 30 hours, shadowed a personal trainer at a private facility for 30 hours, and in August of 2013, he started hanging around the Arsenal.

“I did my hours there,” Mark told me, “and asked if I could stay on because I loved it and I was learning so much. I was learning more there than I was in the classroom.”

His 30 hours turned into an internship and more than 1,000 hours of being a gym rat at The Arsenal. He’s just always sort of there tweaking an athlete’s lift, or mopping, or holding a sleeping baby in the playroom, or all three at the same time.

But it wasn’t the Arsenal that introduced him to CrossFit.

“I have kind of the classic CrossFit story of doing Fran at the YMCA one day and vomiting in the trash can.  Then it was all about pumping out my chest and drinking protein shakes with a bunch of milk in it.  And I was like, “Hey, I’ll just try Fran!”  I did Fran and the very next day I did Grace with clean and jerks, and after that, I was out for about a week. I was just so sore, and I was like, ‘This is the best workout I’ve ever gotten, including soccer. I’m going to do this more.’  It was more dynamic, I liked the gymnastic movements because I was good at them.”

Nerd Mark defends CrossFit

Mark’s studies informed his CrossFit coaching, and CrossFit informed his studies.

“I see your skeleton moving. I see your bones, I see your posture, I see your sitting.  It just all translates to me very well. I try to hold it back, but if someone starts asking me about it then Nerd Mark comes out. Honestly, I’ve probably learned more through CrossFit than my whole four years at Ball State. Just because it’s hands on, and it’s applied.  Knowing the bones is one thing, but knowing why the bones are shaped the way they are and feeling the muscle on someone and how it translates is a whole different ball game. I’m more of a hands on guy.”

Sometimes Nerd Mark is in the position of explaining CrossFit to his classmates.

“I have to defend CrossFit a lot.”

“In my resistance training class, which covers basic lifts, I get looked down on in class for being a CrossFit coach. One day we were watching a video of movement standards being done wrong. Sure enough a guy pulls up a video of kipping pullups. I gave my professor props, he told everyone not to judge.

I broke it down. ‘They are training for a different result. He’s not doing it to build muscle but for speed. It’s metabolic conditioning.’”

If you’ve been doing CrossFit for any length of time, you’ve been in the exact same position. It’s just that Mark has more arrows in his quiver than my go-to, “Nuh-uh! CrossFit is awesome! You’re ugly!”

Mark and I chatted a bit about one of CrossFit’s biggest controversies: CrossFit vs. the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The NSCA released a study that praised CrossFit’s benefits but also criticized its risk to athletes. Of course CrossFit refutes this and explains their side of things in this painfully boring video. This argument is being played out in court, and I’m not bringing it up for any reason other than to underline the fact that it can be challenging to be a CrossFitter studying exercise science.

People forget what it’s like to be rooted for

Mark isn’t the first CrossFit member to come out of exercise science. Exercise scientist, Aly Williams has been an Arsenal member from the beginning and praised the benefits of CrossFit when I sat down with her.

Aly along with, Jules Carter, and Teresa Calvert have been key community connections for Mark.

“[The CrossFit community] is like nothing I’ve ever experienced, bringing people together. I think it is because of the pain.  I’ve talked to past athletes and asked what’s that one thing you miss about sports?  It’s not the friends, it’s not the practice, the looking good, it’s hearing the crowd rooting for you on that Friday night. You know your mom and dad are cheering for you from the stands, that motivation.  And people lose that, they forget what it feels like to be rooted for.”

“I remember one time I came back from having a nasal reconstructive surgery, and I was the last person doing the WOD, and even though I was the last person, I still got cheered on. I’ll see workouts where people are expressing themselves in the gym, breaking down in tears because it’s been a bad day or a rough week.  When you finally break that wall and get to somebody, it brings you so much closer together.”

Teresa, a veterinarian, and Jules, a massage therapist, have helped guide Mark. They accompanied him to Chicago where Teresa introduced Mark to one of her mentors, and now Mark is considering becoming a chiropractor. Mark graduates in July and is considering starting school in 2016.

The one thing all athletes need to work on (it’s not what you think)

Since Mark spends so much time in the gym he sees the best of us and the worst of us. And there is one thing he’d like to see us try harder at: the warmup.

“I would encourage people to go harder during the warmup.  If you don’t warm up and prepare the body enough, and then you apply a lot of resistance, yeah, you might get away with it for a day, a week, a month, but years and years of that? It’s not good. One of the coolest things I saw on a video, because I watch a LOT of videos, was of a film crew interviewing Rich Froning. They watched him all day and the one thing they took away was that Froning spent ten minutes each day to work on his air squats. Not worrying about anything else, not a 500lb squat. He spent ten minutes doing the air squat.  That just resonated with me. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you need to practice everything.”

Work until the work is done

Mark grew up in Southeast Indiana, the grandson of a farmer. His grandfather passed on that farmer work ethic to him.

“You don’t work until the sun is down, you work until you are done. I remember my grandfather would come down for dinner and harass all of us. We’d do the dishes, and we’d do it too quick – he’d tell us to do it the right way.”

Mark’s grandfather was a medic in Vietnam and was one of only two of 52 soldiers in his company to survive. Mark believes his grandfather’s faith played a part and that God had plans for him. His grandfather’s first born son, Mark’s uncle, became a priest, and faith has always been a source of strength in their family. Mark told me that his own faith was stronger than he would ever be physically.

“Religion is one of my biggest motivators. My energy, my nutrition, my adrenaline will wear out, my faith will not. I work out in complete silence or country music. It’s home, it’s religion for me, it’s my motivation over anything. That internal strength keeps pushing me forward.”

“CrossFit is like going to church.”

I need CrossFit...for mental health. - Coach Adam James

Coach Adam James Needs CrossFit More Than You Think

I need CrossFit...for mental health. - Coach Adam James

When CrossFit coach Adam James first started coaching classes at The Arsenal, I thought he was a bit of a jerk. He seemed to be moody and a little aloof. He wasn’t someone I tried to chat with or talk to on a regular basis.

That was two years ago.

Recently, Adam let me squeeze one of his thighs. I was trying to figure out why Adam could squat 3,000 lbs. more than me. I don’t go around regularly asking men if I can touch their thighs, this was for scientific purposes. It was like squeezing a spandex-clad tree trunk.

“Oh,” I said. “That makes sense.”

Adam remembers those first classes too.

“I was shitting my pants,” he told me. “I don’t like talking in front of big groups of people. So my first class there were 10-15 people staring at me saying, ‘Ok, what do we do?’ And I was just like uhhhhhh…..”

Mark Twain has a quote that may apply here: “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

It’s not that Adam didn’t know what he was talking about. He had an exercise science degree from Ball State, years of training as a swimmer, cyclist, body builder, a Level 1 CrossFit coaching certification, and, as a founding member of The Arsenal, he had been doing CrossFit workouts for months. Adam had the chops, but he also had a nice side of self-doubt as any of us do starting a new job. And more importantly, he had a history of being rejected.

Which makes me feel even worse for thinking he was bit of a jerk. His aloofness wasn’t a character flaw but a defense mechanism.

Adam was bullied

Adam lived in South Bend, Notre Dame country, but his dad graduated from Purdue.

“I wore a Purdue jacket to school one day, and that was the end of it. Then after that, it was just whatever reason they could find to pick on me. I’d come home from school crying, and it was rough, very rough. I got punched in the stomach a few times. Grade school wasn’t as bad as high school. In high school, everything just kind of escalated. I never got physically beat up in high school, just more mentally and emotionally. I never had a lot of friends, and I was always just ‘that kid.’ Even to this day, I could never figure out why it was me.”

“It put me in a really, really dark spot for like four or five years where I was depressed. That continued into college because when you get beat up and bullied all the time, it really destroys your confidence . . . For a really long time it was very challenging for me to talk to people and trust people and create relationships because I thought it was going to be one of those things where this is going to be the same thing as last time.”

“When it got super bad, I was talking to one friend, and I was on the edge, like “[Screw] it! Why am I here?’ I was ready to check out, see you later.”

Adam had thought it through. He had a plan of how he was going to kill himself. Imagine a world without Adam James. That was the world Adam imagined.

His friend did the world a favor and talked him out of it.

Adam Finds CrossFit

He still suffered bouts of depression throughout college and transitioned into his quarter-life crisis post graduation as he worked at several different gyms before meeting Jennifer Stanley. She told him about the CrossFit gym her friend, BJ McKay, was starting. Adam was the 6th member to sign on with The Arsenal.

“Then when I started working out at The Arsenal, I guess I used it as an outlet. Those thoughts would still creep in every once in a while. And now, they don’t, because through CrossFit and through our community, there are people actually out there who give a shit and care about me. [I learned that] not everyone is going to stab me in the back or try to destroy my life for no reason.”

“I need CrossFit. I don’t do it because I like it and I like to be in shape. That’s just kind of an added bonus. I need it for mental health. If I didn’t have our community, if I didn’t have the family I have at the gym, I’d be a wreck.”  

“So from a confidence level, I can get up in front of a class and say, ‘Hey this is what we’re doing,’ and it doesn’t bother me. And I [went] from zero confidence from how my childhood was to now having a lot of confidence . . . and being able to get up in front of a big group of people. And it doesn’t matter if it’s in CrossFit or outside of CrossFit.”

“By nature, I’m very much introverted, but if you see me at the gym, you wouldn’t think so. Now get me to a bar, and then you’re like, ‘Ok, yeah, he’s introverted.’  When I know what I’m talking about and I know what’s going on, it doesn’t bother me at all. So just from that aspect, I’ve changed and grown a lot. And also how I approach relationships. I think I’m a lot more trusting and don’t have to worry about people screwing me over. I’m sure it’s going to happen again, but I’m at the point where if that’s what they want to do, that’s on them, not something I did.”

Adam met his girlfriend Laura Howard through The Arsenal and started to go with her to church at Commonway where Arsenal member Matt Carder is the pastor.

“I lead a small group at Commonway [church]. It was just one of those things I would have never done before. And after our second meeting, I was just kind of the leader  [I was] the one that talked the most and made the decisions. It comes natural for me now, which is really nice.”

“I’m still in the military [National Guard] and got promoted to sergeant and moved into a leadership role. Two years ago I would have never thought of doing that. So it’s helped me a lot to develop into a leader. BJ has done a really good job at developing [the coaches at The Arsenal] and challenging us as leaders and how to be a valuable part of a team instead of being individuals. So that has helped a lot. He’s given us books to read, stuff like that, and kind of changed the way I do things and think about the world.”

Added Bonus

Adam does every workout almost every day. He was a little disappointed with his finish in the CrossFit Open even though he placed a few thousand places higher than last year. Ultimately his goal is Regionals.

“Bodyweight workouts . . . that’s my stuff. Heavy squats and bodyweight stuff, except for handstand pushups. . . The thing with handstand push-ups, once they’re gone, they’re gone. I would kind of pick and choose before what workouts I do, and I often avoided ones with handstand push-ups because I knew I was bad at them.”

CrossFit coaches: they are just like us! Except Adam changed. Now he makes sure he doesn’t miss the workouts he’s not good at.

“So now, every time there is a workout with handstand push-ups, I do it. Do the ones you are not good at.”

I reminded Adam of his struggle with double-unders.

“They were terrible. That was another thing I would avoid. I hated them. I hated getting whipped by the rope. I hated missing. I’d throw my jump rope across the room. It was frustrating. So I started practicing [double-unders] ten minutes a day. At first I hated it, and I didn’t get any better, and it was frustrating. Even back in October, which was less than six months ago, I still was not good at them. One day, it clicked. I bought a new expensive rope, and it fit. I could do 50-60 in a row, where before I was struggling to get ten or twenty. It was a year and a half of struggling. Erica McKay sent me a video a few months ago of me trying to do double-unders, and it was awful. She said one day you will look back at this and laugh at how bad they were. Now when double-unders show up in a workout, I’m like alright, let’s do this. That was a long journey. It helped me with coaching. I can be like, I was in your shoes, for like a year and a half.”

On Coaching  

“People need to focus more on doing a movement correctly than trying to get more weight. If you’re not hitting full depth on a squat, it doesn’t really count. I don’t care how much weight you have on the bar, if you’re not going all the way down, what’s the point?  So practicing form over adding weight, which is partly my job, and partly your job, too. You know your abilities so don’t get a big head and try to put up a bigger number. Second thing is just listening to what your coach tells you. If you’re unsure about something, ask the coach. Don’t be afraid to approach us. We’re there to help you.”

I asked Adam about some of the coaching moments that stand out, secretly hoping he would talk about my overhead squat or something, but he didn’t.

“When Brooke Shrieve got her first pull-up, that was a big deal. She jumped like a koala bear into my arms. It scared the crap out of me. But I had worked with Brooke for so long on just being able to do strict pull ups . . . that was a really big coaching moment for me. Now there are moments where it is just second nature as a coach to say, “No do this…” and boom, they get it. With Courtney yesterday, I helped her fix her kip with handstand push-ups, and now she’s doing handstand push-ups. Jenn Stanley walking on her hands and getting down and saying, “I’m amazing!”  That was a cool moment, too. Little things everyday that you don’t really think that much about because it happens multiple times a day, but to them, that’s huge.”

“I guess as coaches we don’t realize that we make that much of an impact and when you have that much impact on someone’s day, you always have to make sure you bring your A game whether it’s your first class you coach or your last class you coach.”

“I always tell people, if you want to get good at this stuff, you have to come consistently, just come in and work hard and everything else will take care of itself. You are going to have bad days, but come in the next day, and I guarantee it is going to be better.”

Through CrossFit Adam found a girlfriend, a church, a mentor, confidence, and a family. In CrossFit as in life, results may vary. Although we may never squat more than Adam nor complete 28 rounds of Cindy, we all can show up each day a little better and a little more determined than the day before.

High-fives and fist bumps, laughs and smiles, and perhaps the occasional thigh squeeze are how we celebrate, but it’s the struggle that connects us all.

It's not always about winning; it's about you individually getting better. - Coach Skyler Finnerty

Coach Skyler Fails at CrossFit Just Like You Fail at CrossFit

It's not always about winning; it's about you individually getting better. - Coach Skyler Finnerty

In 2015 Arsenal Coach Skyler Finnerty finished 107th in the Central-East region in the CrossFit Open. He placed higher than any other Arsenal athlete.

This has motivated me to get busy on that time machine I’ve been working on since I was 8.

Let me explain.

Just two years ago Coach Skyler, who can clean and jerk more than I can deadlift, tried Fran in his home gym for the first time alongside Arsenal athlete Dakota Steed.

“We’re just like let’s go out to the weight room and do it,” Skyler told me. “When I first looked at it I was like, ‘We’re supposed to do 21-15-9 of thrusters and pullups and that’s all my workout for the day?’”

“Halfway through the round of 21 I started dying. I think that’s when I started falling in love with CrossFit.”

“My mom [Arsenal athlete Kristi Trissel] came home and I was laying inside on the kitchen floor and she was like, ‘Did you know that Dakota is inside his car unresponsive in the driveway?’ We had been done for 30 minutes, and I couldn’t believe he was still there. He said that he was in and out of consciousness and that his legs didn’t work. One leg was in the car and the other was hanging out. We weren’t leg guys. The thrusters smoked us.”

“I think it took us between 15 to 20 minutes to do it.”

Fifteen to twenty minutes! That means when I finish my time machine and Present-Day-Kelsey challenges 2-years-ago-Skyler to a Fran competition, I would complete the WOD almost twice as fast.

Let that sink in.

I don’t mean to brag, but I dominate the bottom fifth of the Leaderboard at the Arsenal, and I would’ve smoked Skyler. Before stepping back in my time machine to return to 2015 (and reality), I would’ve looked at him and said, “Remember this day!”

I guess I assumed that Skyler’s momma gave birth to a tatted-up baby boy with washboard abs and a viking beard. I assumed that he was born doing CrossFit. But while chatting with Skyler I found many aspects of his journey to becoming the “Fittest Man in Randolph County” and one of the fittest men in our 5-state region unexpected.

145-lb High School Skyler

“I played basketball in 6th and 7th grade. I came in for tryouts during 8th grade, and I had real long hair. The coach told me to cut my hair so . . .  I quit and joined the wrestling team. I didn’t win a match my entire first year. After that year, I don’t know why I stuck it out. I just got murdered all the time.”

“Wrestling really taught me how to train and work toward a goal.”

“I see why people stick with CrossFit even if they can’t do an air squat when they come in.  I had that same experience in wrestling.”

After a winless season, Shane Trissel, an Arsenal athlete and Skyler’s step-dad, talked Skyler into training at an elite wrestling academy in Indianapolis that worked with many of the state champions — Central Indiana Academy of Wrestling.

“To take this kid who never won a match and throw them into the shark tank . . . I’m not sure what they were thinking. I just got beat on for the entire summer. And the first half of my freshman year I still didn’t win a match. Finally, I won and hard work started to pay off. The summer after my freshman year, I kept going to CIA and kept doing judo and I made varsity as a sophomore and moved onto Team Indiana as a junior.”

Skyler learned that hard work doesn’t negate failure, but goals aren’t reached without failures.

He also learned how to eat and how not to eat.

“I wrestled at 135 lbs in 8th grade and wrestled at 145 lbs as a senior. I would come in on Monday at 160 and have to cut down to 145 by Saturday morning. It was terrible. My mom hated me for five years. I would come home and just lay on the couch. I had no energy. I would watch the Food Network and for some reason just seeing it kind of satisfied some cravings. I would open the fridge or the cabinets and go make lists of what I was going to eat after wrestling season was over.”

“After my senior year I went off the rails. I vividly remember one of the meals I had planned out was two Milky Ways and a Mountain Dew. I took that to an extreme and I got up to 205 lbs right after my senior year.”

“I always said I’m going to get fat after wrestling and that’s what I did. But then I would drive and I could feel my gut shaking . . . that’s when I knew I had to do something. I just started doing normal 3 sets of 10 bench presses in the gym and some bicep curls. That dropped me down to 170. I wasn’t so much for the legs in the beginning. I did situps and the ab wheel. I really liked the curls though! I didn’t do hardly any squats. I didn’t do that until I started coming to the Arsenal.”

Arsenal Skyler

After a few months of doing CrossFit in his home gym with Dakota, Skyler heard about the Grand Opening of the Arsenal in 2013.

At the time he was on summer break from college (he has a degree in agriculture from Ivy Tech) and was working at the glass factory in Dunkirk, which he says was like working inside a volcano. He got one weekend a month off and by luck the grand opening happened to fall on the right weekend. He came to the event with his then-girlfriend and they won a one-month couple’s membership.

Skyler remembers watching Coach Greg clean and jerk 315.

“At the time I was blown away a human could do that. But I just clean and jerked 315 and snatched 240 a few weeks ago.”

“Once I won that membership, I came every day for a month. I’d come after 12-hour days at work. I couldn’t overhead squat. I couldn’t do a lot of the basics. It was a journey.”

“After 4 months I started to help some. I got my L1 [CrossFit Coaching cert] all on my own so if the opportunity arose to be a coach, I’d be ready. I went to Rogue in Columbus. Three weeks later, I covered a class. I kept sticking around. They couldn’t get rid of me.”

And since they couldn’t get rid of him, they hired him.

“When I have to wake up at 4:50 AM to coach the 5:30 AM animals, I always think that I could be waking up to go do 8 hours in the glass factory where it is 130-degrees and there is just glass flying all around you. I worked there and saved my money until I found what I really wanted to do and that was CrossFit.”

“This is what I want to do. Ten years from now I want to coach athletes to the CrossFit games. Right now I am slightly concerned about myself as an athlete. But the real goal is to coach athletes. As an athlete, when I get better I think I’m a much better coach for other people.”

“Honestly, coaching people helps me, too. I’m forced to talk through something so I see it different than if I’m just in the gym throwing around a barbell.”

“When someone is having a problem and I can’t help them get past it. That’s the most frustrating. But the best part is seeing people have those breakthroughs or seeing how far people have come from the beginning like Pam Peters.”

Skyler talked about helping me get my first strict handstand pushup.

“I remember things like that.”

“On Saturday, we had a foundations class that just started and this kid couldn’t squat to save his life. He was all up on his toes like a baby deer fresh out of the womb and yesterday — two days later — I worked with him on some squat progressions. He was just smashing them. He told me he went home on Sunday and did hip stretches and ankle mobility. One day! One day increased how efficiently he could move!”

“Nat Carpenter. When he came in he couldn’t squat to save his life. He couldn’t maintain an overhead position. And now he’s clean and jerking 225.”

“When do you see a group of people celebrating accomplishments daily? At the Arsenal individuals are celebrated every day.”

“Very rarely do people push themselves to maximum exertion or try to learn a new skill — a rope climb or a muscle up. It takes people back to the days of being kids and trying and failing and trying and succeeding.”

Tips from the Coach

“You have to break through the ego. At first, I had a little distorted perception of what was success. I think ego gets in the way of getting better, of setting and reaching your training goals.”

“In the beginning I felt like I had something to prove to all the guys. But now I don’t feel that way, and I think that has made me a better athlete and a better coach.”

“I’m learning that it’s not always about winning, it’s about you individually getting better.”

I asked Skyler to share three tips to make us all better:

  1. Master technique. If you don’t master form and fundamentals, everything is going to be harder.
  2. Make sure that you have all the mobility to reach full range of motion in all of these positions we do. If you don’t over time it will take a lot of wear and tear on your body.
  3. Get a coach. Listen to your coach. There is a reason we program certain things on certain days and how we lay out the weeks.  Having a good coach will definitely push you toward your goals faster than you could achieve on your own.

Inspired by Failure

I’ve had the pleasure of learning from Skyler. Small little tweaks here and there have helped me with my overhead squats and my handstand pushups. We started CrossFit at about the same time, which could be depressing, if I think about it. But what I find inspiring about Skyler’s story is that he wasn’t born a Viking-bearded, muscle-chiseled CrossFit beast. He worked at it and continues to work at it.

Skyler sucked at overhead squats. Just like me. Just like you.

He cursed thrusters. Just like me. Just like you.

He didn’t just learn from failure, he let it shape his ego. He let failure inspire him to succeed.

And that, in my opinion, is one of the most important skills we all can learn from CrossFit.

MuscleDriver USA Olympic Lifting Seminar!

I’m pleased to announce that The Arsenal home of will be hosting an MDUSA Olympic Lifting seminar on Saturday November 22nd.  The event will run from 9 AM – 5 PM with a 45 minute lunch break.  The Coach/Athlete who will be leading this seminar is MDUSA Athlete Matt Bergeron:


Matt Bergeron
Matt was invited to join Team MDUSA in April 2013. Matt grew up swimming competitively for 13 years. While obtaining his undergrad degree in Applied Exercise Science, Matt started cheerleading for Ball State. He continued to cheer while earning his Masters degree in Sports Performance. The strength and conditioning program for cheerleading introduced Matt to Olympic weightlifting.Matt follows Team MDUSA’s training program, which consists of 9 training sessions a week. Matt focuses on the two main Olympic lifts and their different variations as well as a lot of squatting and pressing. His favorite lift is the snatch while his least favorite lift is the press from the split position.

This clinic is designed to take your lifts and technique to the next level.  The whole day clinic will focus on the following:

  • Snatch, clean and jerk
  • Important aspects of weightlifting training
  • Teaching a whole year worth of programming at MuscleDriverUSA
  • Auxiliary work
  • And tips to improve weightlifting performance with programs designed by Glenn Pendlay, Don McCauley and Travis Mash

Anyone who signs up by Friday November 7th will receive 2 months free video analysis by Matt!  This is a $50 per month service!  

We will be limiting this opportunity to 20 athletes (this includes Arsenal staff) so be quick on the trigger getting signed up.  If this event is as well attended as we expect, be ready for many more in-house seminars in the upcoming year.   Attendance will be exclusive to members through Saturday of this week, and then open to the general public if we have not sold out.  Consider this a massive accelerator to those of our athletes looking to get significantly more efficient and improve your mechanics in these difficult lifts.