Champions Club Chronicles vol. 2: The Track and Field Experiment
Coaching track in high school might be the simplest job in all of sports – despite what “track people” make it out to be. There are no plays. There are no defenders standing in your lane. There are no pre-snap reads. There are no curveballs. And there is no contact.
Track is literally just Pose, Fall, Pull. Then practice at your race-speed to get a desired stimulus; unless you need to slow it down to focus on one particular area of the Pose, Fall, Pull continuum. And if possible, do CrossFit to support the foundation.
With this formula, Brian Hassler and I conducted an experiment over the course of four seasons: can lacrosse, softball, and CrossFit athletes be molded into good track runners? It soon became our job to find the best athletes in the school from other sports and bribe the hell out of them to run for us. We talked to parents, coaches, teachers, and students offering a Nike track bag, spikes, and three months of sunshine and daisies for anyone good who wanted to come out. This, as it turned out, was a horrible idea. Not only did the best athletes decline, but the ones who ended up joining carried a lovely aura of entitlement with them. Ugh, it’s not their fault though; I was desperate.
However there was another crowd we went after. And these kids were special. They were known around school as the Champions Club.
During our first season coaching in the spring of 2010, Brian and I had been asked by a few random students to run a CrossFit program during the summer. They saw us hitting WODs at school, started tagging along, and wanted to continue. After sending out some feelers to athletes from a few different sports, we wound up with a group of 22 kids that began training with us on June 14, 2010. Since we were not affiliated at the time, Brian took to calling our group the Champions Club. For nine months we had athletes coming to us anywhere from 2-6 days per week doing deadlifts, pull-ups, handstand push-ups, cleans, and box jumps. But Brian and I always kept our eyes open for standouts in the running workouts like “Kelly,” “Helen,” and “Michael.” Luckily, we found some. Among others, Renee Shelton, Nicole Murley, Sydni Golfin, Jake Cory, and Abby Lama all showed an ability to run reasonably well. By the time March rolled around we managed to convince all of them to run track for us. (Funny story about Renee: on the first day of spring sports she actually left her house thinking she was going to Soccer practice only to have Abby and her friend kidnap her and drag her to track.)
But what impressed me the most about these kids was none of them even wanted to run track in the first place; they were all doing CrossFit to help them at other sports. Yet they routinely beat local competition that considered track their primary sport, and managed to hold their own on a regional and sometimes state level. And nobody personified this model more than Emma Wonsil.
Emma Wonsil (Photo credit: Chris Sinagoga)
Emma is one of the original Summer 2010 kids still with us today. From 2010-2013 she was the best CrossFitter in our ranks. She played volleyball, basketball, and softball before adding track to her routine in 2011. As a sophomore she won regional championships in the individual 400m dash and the 4×1 relay, as well as a 2nd place 4×4 team. The next year, she repeated as 400m champion and also added the 4×4 relay to the 1st place list, while her 4×1 relay team took 2nd. Up to that point her success was more due to her hard work ethic than a technical prowess in Pose. This was about to change.
I thought I knew Pose because I watched video clips. But in September 2011, Brian and I attended a CrossFit Running seminar with Dr. Romanov, Severin, and Peter in Akron, OH. Watching the mad doctor operate in person was humbling to say the least, but I took a new understanding back to the Champions Club where I worked with Nicole Murley, who joined the Cross Country team during her swim season, and eventually saw her qualify for states. But there still seemed to be a disconnect with running and the rest of the movements in CrossFit – at least from a teaching perspective. It wasn’t until I began to study Kelly Starrett and Carl Paoli that I could make connections between the shapes in the gym and on the track. Carl showed me that things like kipping pull-ups, burpees, and pistols can exaggerate important shapes runners will go through, while Kelly gave me a method to optimize our position. Then the final piece of the puzzle was revealed to me on October 15, 2012 in the form of Dr. Romanov’s CFJ video on unweighting. It was a tease, but it gave me a springboard to connect the missing piece: bodyweight perception. Now the thing is, all of this knowledge is worthless without a subject to test it on. Thank God I had Emma.
Kelly Starrett (Photo credit: Chris Sinagoga)
Because so much perception is required to maintain Pose throughout all of the reps, we don’t talk about feet-straight or belly-tight. Instead, we rely on using other exercises in CrossFit (box jumps, pistols, kipping pull-ups, and handstands) as skill-transfer movements to help the positions in running. Carl Paoli helped us see that if you do them to fit your purpose in the gym, the principles will eventually translate to the track. In addition, we can also use some movements to help develop bodyweight perception. Take a rope climb for instance. If our purpose for doing it was to simply build upper-body strength, the kids would just grab on and climb for their lives. But if we want to teach bodyweight perception, we use the traditional Spanish-wrap, only in Pose language. Start with bodyweight on your feet and hands. Bring your hips to the rope and do a sit-up. When you feel bodyweight leave the hands, release them and reach higher up the rope. Working with gravity has a much different feel than working against gravity, and is something that needs to be continually reinforced.
Carl Paoli’s framework of Position-Movement-Purpose has been incredibly valuable in our gym’s success making CrossFit relevant for running, or any other sport. This, of course, requires a lot of trial and error. Thankfully, I have a group like the Champions Club to be patient enough to let me experiment.
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.