This past weekend I hopped a flight over to Boston to show off my fitness at the National Professional Fitness League (NPFL) Combine. It was an exciting and humbling experience to say the least.
First off, a little intro into what the NPFL is. Now that CrossFit has grown to a point where most people know about it, it only makes sense that it would inspire incredible new programs. It inspired clothing companies, food and drink companies, travel and vacation companies, and so much more. And now it has inspired an actual new sport. While the CrossFit Games is a damn successful individual and team competition, the NPFL is a full blown spectator sport. Teams, coaches, owners, TV, home stadiums, travel, sponsorships, marketing, etc. Here is how it works:
Teams from around the country (as of now there are 8, and next year there will be more, and more the year after that) recruit and sign professional athletes to compete against each other in what I am calling "Grid Races". The matches take place on what is called "the grid" and each team gets one side of it during a match. A match consists of 11 fitness races. These consist of different combinations of athletes from each team racing against members of the other team in pre-designed workouts. One workout may consist of each member racing against the clock to hit 1 snatch at stations along the grid, each bar is a heavier weight. When time expires whichever team lifts the most total weight wins that match. Another might be two women on the grid at a time racing though a specific number of reps of overhead squats, handstand push ups, pull ups, muscle ups, box jumps, and power snatches. They can sub out at any time, and when they are done, two men do the same race (these are just examples by the way). Races will include heavy weights, light weights, body weight movements, and so on. The best part is that the teams must work together, even using substitutions during a race to win. And of course, the team who wins the most races wins the match, easy as that!
So far, the NPFL has generated quite a bit of attention thanks to their impressive professionalism and organization. The man behind it all is one time CrossFit HQ big name Tony Budding. He has put a lot of thought into this thing and it really shows with how well things are run, and the attention to detail all around. And it all got kicked off with the Combines.
I flew out to the 4th and final combine to throw some weights around and hopefully impress the coaches and owners of teams enough to move on to the next step in recruiting. Day one of these combines I've been describing as kind of like the Hunger Games testing. You basically get to pick and choose to showcase yourself at things you feel you are best at. Can't handstand push up? Then just don't do them. Have a good front squat? Throw some weights in the bar and front squat the hell out of it!
You show off what you want and then at dinner the coaches and owners pick out the ones they want to invite to day two. Day two consists of team testing. The coaches and owners put the chosen athletes together to run through races; they work on strategy, communication, and everyone gets to show off how they work with the team. And at the end of day two, the coaches and owners invite another, even smaller group back out to the official Draft event in June. There, athletes will run through three days of racing before only a select few are drafted and sign with teams for the first ever Grid Race season!
OK, so now you know about the NPFL Grid Races, and the combines. Now I get to talk about me... Oh boy! Well, not all that exciting actually. Probably just talking more about what to do in the face of under-performing; because that's exactly what I did.
So, in prepping for this event I had chosen the tasks I wanted to show off and trained accordingly. I had trained well and felt very confident in my goal numbers:
Clean and jerk - 320
Clean - 325
Front squat - 415
Strict press - 210
Deadlift - 510
Handstand walk - 80'
Double unders - 180
5 rounds of 12 power cleans and 6 push press at 165 - sub 8 minutes
Well, I showed up tired, tight as hell, and feeling all sorts of messed up from travel. But I brushed it off as best I could and headed into warm ups. I had 8 hours to get these tests in and I did everything in my power to fuel and recover properly for it all. I've dealt with performance under fatigue many times before and have done rather well. So I got my mind as much in the zone as I could. Well, long story short, it didn't work out this time around. Here's how I did:
Clean and jerk - 285
Clean - 315
Front squat - 355
Strict press - 195
Deadlift - 495
Overhead squat - 295
Handstand walk - 67' or something around there
Double unders - 157
Power clean and push press workout - 6:45
Needless to say I was very, very disappointed in my performance. I tore up the metcon (power clean and push press workout) and actually put up one of the better times on the day. But I knew in my head that my sub-par performance on all my other tests would not get me an invite to day two. I kept a glimmer of hope given my background, and I took the time to meet some cool new people (there were three people there who pulled me aside and said they read my blog, so cool!), talk it up with the owners and coaches, and just soak it all in. And when my name wasn't called after dinner, well, even though I wasn't surprised, it still hurt. I really hate not being good enough. I spent the rest of the night looking back at my training and where I could have tweaked and changed things to have performed better. I hate making excuses, but I did have so much going on in my life that I honestly never factored in as serious stressors. And over the next couple days after the combine I felt all that stress overwhelm me now that I was all of a sudden made aware of it. I was happy to get back to watch day two for a few hours, cheer on some of my new friends who made it through, and reconnect with a few of the owners and coaches.
I was brought back to that lonely feeling of walking into a baseball game right after I hung up my spikes to see people I had played with not a year before. The feeling of "I should totally be there!" But also knowing that I held back just enough to not allow myself that gratification. I learn, I grow, I am put in my place and left to assess my goals, my training, and my life. It's tough. But it's something I need in my life to keep becoming the man I want to be. It makes me a better coach, makes me a better soon-to-be husband and father. And I know I'll be in the same situation many times throughout my life. And I'll be successful, win, and "make it" probably more in my life. And that's cool to me.
So in the end, what are my thoughts on Grid Racing? Well, I honestly think they will be wildly successful. I see this thing growing to levels way beyond what CrossFit has become, and grow to become a sport that is followed not just in this country, but probably a bit around the world. Budding is starting this thing ten steps ahead rather than totally grass-roots. And while I'm sure there will be mistakes here and there, just watching how a match goes down I could visualize it all coming together. I could see filled stands of excited fans, camera crews, beast athletes in their team uniforms bouncing around with nervous energy before the first race. I could see cities rallying around their favorite athletes, ads and marketing and social media littered with Grid Race athletes faces and stories. I could see heated revelries and down-the-wire finishes to secure celebrated victories. But most of all I could see people young and old getting their friends together to head to the gym for their own Grid Race. Local groups setting up "beer league" Grid Racing at their nearby gym, or even make-shifting equipment and meeting up at a park, marking off the grid, and getting after it. This part of Grid Racing is what excites me the most. And I am proud to have been able to share in even the smallest bit of the very beginning.
And no, Grid Racing is not the official name of this sport, but I am coining it here and now (actually came up with it Saturday night, May 3rd, 2014, just to be sure). You hear me NPFL? You hear me Tony Budding? The name of your sport should be GRID RACING, and I am taking full credit for that here and now!! Alight, deep breath...
Never Stop, GET FIT.
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