Champions Club Chronicles Vol. 1: From Pose to the Podium

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In 2010, Brian Hassler and I were invited to help coach Track and Field at Bishop Foley High School in Madison Heights, MI. I was 20 years old and playing college basketball, while Brian served as the Athletic Trainer at the school (also my alma mater). While the numbers on the team were low, we knew that could be an advantage regarding how much attention we could give our athletes. This proved to be critical later in the year.

The Beginnings

Mike Rossman was a senior who finished 4th in the Division III state finals the previous year in the 400m dash. He knew me from our grade school days at St. Dennis and he trusted Brian, so when we asked him if we could change some things about his form he was about as open as anyone could be; which is kind of odd considering the lack of experience coming from Brian and myself.

I ran track in high school, but never took it as serious as basketball or football. I was good compared to local competition but not ready to compete at the state level. Brian, on the other hand, was a 215-lb. teddy bear who lifted heavy things while listening to Jack Johnson. His only track experience was 20 years earlier when he went out for one high school meet, mistakenly all-out sprinted the first 200 meters of a 400, died for a minute, then quit running forever. At the time we accepted the coaching job, we both had been doing CrossFit for four-and-a-half years. Our knowledge in running was limited to CFJ video clips, Dr. Romanov’s companion DVD of Pose Drills, and Brian Mackenzie’s CrossFit Endurance website. Those, it turned out, made all the difference.

When the season started we had a goal to progress slowly and simplify everything – so naturally I panicked and tried to correct every single detail at once. It lasted one practice.

Then we refined our methods. We broke our practices into two parts – technique and workout, with about twice as much time spent on technique relative to working out. While also serving as the warmup, our technique session would focus on only one element of the Pose-Fall-Pull continuum. If, for instance, falling was the point of emphasis on a certain day, we could turn a blind eye to pulling and the pose position; if they could feel the fall then we were happy. Then for the programming, Brian would use CrossFit Endurance’s principles to shape the day’s workout – such as sprint for 45 seconds, rest for 3 minutes, repeat 3-4 rounds depending on the quality. We tried to discourage people from hurdles and the two-mile because 1) they took forever and 2) it gave us more time to spend on the stuff we wanted. There were only like 15 kids on the team so they didn’t have much of a choice.

For Rossman, we showed a little more preferential treatment and got into more detail with his technique. The analysis of his races early in the year was simple: how long could he maintain Pose. It had nothing to do with time or place. At our first benchmark meet, he stayed close to the Pose frame up until the 200-meter mark, then he broke down. The next benchmark meet he stayed good up till the last straightaway then lost form.

Then he got suspended from the team for two weeks for drawing a wiener in the bus window.

The Turning Point

This was the turning point of the season and, as messed up as it sounds, was probably the single best thing to happen to us. The school told us we were not supposed to be in contact with him during the two weeks off. While we were pissed at him too, we didn’t think his adolescent prank merited isolation from the rest of the team. Plus we had our goal of winning states in mind. So Brian, myself, and Ross held individual practices during the day at remote locations. The “punishment” was an hour of technique work, then he got to be the test dummy for some workouts we had in mind. Brian’s workouts were on point, my technique training was more focused, and Ross, to his credit, was as good a student as possible. We tested out workouts like the Mile Sprint (sprint :15, rest :45, repeat till you finish a mile), and the 200, 400, 600 ladder (work up and down with a 2:1 rest to work ratio). Those ones got him pretty bad, but paled in comparison to what I think became our best training tool: The Hill.

The Hill

Lamphere High School is right around the corner from Foley and they have a giant hill on their grounds with a pathway leading up and around it. Seeing that Ross had trouble maintaining Pose in the final stretch of his race, we decided to try using the hill as a way to exaggerate his form. We did not ask him to grind up the hill or increase his speed; it’s a hill fergodsakes! It will punish you. Instead, we asked him to simply maintain Pose. Don’t leave the figure-4 frame. We adjusted the starting distance to 300 meters from the top of the hill so he would finish every sprint right around 50 seconds. Four sprints with full rest in between proved to be the single most exhausting thing either of us had ever done –seeing as I had to sprint with him. Meanwhile, Ross got back on the team just in time for Regionals and saw good form up to the 350-meter mark and tied his pr of 50.3 seconds. He was 1 of of our 9 athletes to qualify for states that day.

Between that time and states, we spent a week-and-half fine-tuning some technical aspects (pulling directly into Pose was the main one) and revisiting the Hill for another dose of death. And once June 5, 2010 arrived he felt as prepared as ever.

The Race Day

He started in lane 7 and was passed up as the staggers were made up. At the 200-meter mark where I was standing he was in the middle of the pack and looked solid in Pose. He rounded the final turn with his form still intact, though he sat in 6th place. And then what I saw in the proceeding 11 seconds blew me away: Mike Rossman maintained Pose. He didn’t press. He didn’t reach. He didn’t revert to old habit. He just stayed focused on falling while pulling his foot under his hips. It was one of the most effortless things I have ever witnessed on a track and when he crossed the finish line the rest of the field was behind him. He was the MHSAA Division III 400-meter State Champion with a time of 49.8.

Now here’s something to consider: it took Mike Rossman – an already talented runner with a quick learning curve and a natural build – three months straight of daily focused technique practice and short, intense workouts just to be able to keep Pose one time around a track. Perception takes time. If you are not as talented, athletic, and genetically gifted as Ross, it will take longer. If you run a mile, or 5k, or marathon, it will take longer still. But it all comes down to the student.

If you are willing to dedicate time early on to getting the technique down, the good things tend to be more permanent. If you rush to further progressions, you will always be missing the foundation of your skill. Luckily for Brian and me, Mike Rossman proved to be a model student and set our program up for success in the years to come.

About the Author: Chris Sinagoga is the owner of the Champions Club/CrossFit Athletic Group in Madison Heights, MI, whose obsession with coaching CrossFit is only surpassed by his obsession with the game of basketball. Chris is heavily influenced by MGoBlog and Hip Hop and writes for the Champions Club website. Among other prestigious credentials, he has achieved certified master status in both Pokémon Red and Gold versions. Contact Coach Chris Sinagoga for more information and training. 

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