You’ve heard of Shark Week, right? Well, it’s FRONING WEEK here at Barbell Shrugged. We’ll be bringing you some of our favorite moments spent hanging out, talking and training with The Champ over the past four years, and it all starts with this story.
We had the pleasure of lifting barbells and eating donuts (Yes, donuts!) with Rich just before his 3-peat performance at the 2014 Crossfit Games. During these sessions I had the chance to watch him program, warm-up, do work, flow and recover with relative ease. It was enlightening, to say the least.
Overall, if I had to sum it all up with just one word, it would actually be PLAY. I hope you enjoy the story.
I never pictured myself in such an unflattering situation.
There I was, shirtless, staring down and mean-mugging another shirtless man. The situation itself wasn’t all that unusual. After all, I’ve been in a few fights in my time. Whether they’ve occurred on the street, or on a playing field, apparel is usually one of the first casualties. I should also add that this wasn’t really a fight at all. I was in front of a video camera filming a spoof intro for TV show. So, no, this wasn’t much of a fight or flight moment.
I should also add that the other shirtless man wasn’t just your average dude. He happened to be, quite literally, the fittest man in the world. Rich Froning, Crossfit Games legend.
Mano a Mano…With donuts.
If I could go back in time and share this bit of news with my teenage chubby self, he would be absolutely mortified by my actions and poor decision making. I can easily imagine a fiery response along the lines of, “You did what? But, why? He’s gotta a six-pack!? Great.” To which my current form would respond, “Young Chris, trust me, people are going to love this!”
We arrived at Rich’s garage gym at about ten o‘clock or so in the morning. His hometown, Cookeville, is about four and a half hours east of Memphis. You could feel the whole garage buzzing and humming with motion upon approach. Walking inside, there was Rich, hustling through what might have already been his second tough training session of the day.
The workout was a combination of push presses and fast meters on the standing ski-erg machine. I must have seen him go five or six rounds without a break, but there’s no telling how much work was done before we arrived. He welcomed us between ski strokes. “Hey, ‘sup guys? Come on in.”
What was far more memorable than that WOD was his recovery from it. I turned away from a huffing, completely sweat drenched Rich to chat briefly with one of the other guys training that day. We couldn’t have shared more than a few lines, really. Just as I turn back around a few minutes later, I notice a completely calm, dry, at ease Rich casually walking across the gym, stacking plates and cleaning up his mess. In just a few minutes, he seemed to have completely recovered.
Rich, immediately following a WOD 🙂
This incredible capacity is what allows the guy to then go for a quick run, which could easily be a few miles, then he completes a few more workouts after that! The schedule seemed punishing. That actually was the topic of one of my questions to Rich later on in our interview.
“Do you ever get tired of training? It’s not even noon, and you’ve probably surpassed what most people do in an entire day, a few times over even.”
“Oh, it’s definitely tough. I just don’t think people realize what kind of challenge it is.”
“Oh yeah? What do folks say?”
“Well, there are a lot of people who think they would be great too if all they had to do during the day was train. But they don’t realize that I’m out here all day, from eight or nine in the morning, all the way to five or six o’clock at night. It’s not easy. It’s a full-time job.”
Hey, I will be completely honest. Having never met Rich prior, I was guilty of some assumptions. First, the line about training full-time has crossed my mind a time or two. But I will say, that’s completely out of jealousy.
There it is, I’m a jealous man.
Second, I might have been a bit skeptical of his good guy persona. It’s hard not to do so when someone has had so much success so quickly. But I must say I was completely impressed with Rich’s presence and his attitude towards the people in the room. It was evident that he had a very clear vision of where he needed to go, and what he needed to do to get there.
He knew when his work would increase, and when it should decrease. He understood exactly what he needed to lift. Still, he trains as he wishes. He lifts when he wants to. He runs and swims when he wants to. And more impressively, he seems to remain completely present in the moment – Confident, focused, yet at peace and seemingly unaffected by his success. He didn’t feel the need to reach out for anything. With time, incredible talent, and untold hours of brutal training under his belt, he was now in a position to take things at will as they ran toward him.
On land, in water. It doesn’t matter. Rich is Rich.
My assumptions remind me of a very old Indian proverb about a few blind men who were sent to examine an elephant, all to the King’s amusement. One man grabbed the tusks, one each took the trunk and tail, and the last guy rubbed his hands against the animal’s side. The men were then asked by the King, “Well then, what sort of animal is an elephant?”
The men replied that the elephant was, “Like a plow, or a granary, or a brush, or perhaps a mortar.” The men then did as men do when they can’t let themselves agree on anything…they fight over silly shit that doesn’t really matter. But I can at least understand the assumptions they were making after experiencing just one side of the elephant. It’s the kind of thing you believe after looking at a person only through a few dozen sponsorship and endorsement filters. You’re just not seeing the whole picture. You’ll never quite appreciate it fully.
We’re all guilty of this shit. Many are struggling right where they stand. What do you do when you have some weight to lose, or some strength to gain? Well, you look towards someone whose got what you want. You seek to do as they do. You naturally start to reach out for it before you’ve really earned anything. It’s easy to go too far and rush your development in order to take your premature shot. But what you don’t realize is that this is the all too common decision that’s jeopardizing your success. Yeah, we must make better decisions.
Listen, you can fight all you want, but nothing’s ever going to run towards you until you unclench the fists and let go of that urge. You have to be OK with what you are, where you stand. In the face of everything that’s challenging you, judging you, holding you back, or whispering in your ear about how you’re really not good enough. You have to remain as you are. You have to remain appreciative of how far you’ve come in order to get to where you’d like to go.
I won’t bullshit you. Even if you do manage to remain present and patient as your capabilities improve, there’s no guarantee that you will ever be half as fit as the champ. But fortunately, for all of us, that’s of little consequence. You’ll still be aware, happy, balanced, and more successful. That’s not a bad deal.
This story first appeared in Way Past Strong. Read more…
Take this with you – Do your very best to maintain balance in life. You should have well defined aspirations, but you shouldn’t try and grab what’s not yet within your reach. You are fine right here. Start walking. When the time is right things will begin to flow towards you, usually just before they start running. Don’t entertain the idea of quitting while you’re so close! Grind, grind away. Put in the work and be happy about it. When things get tough, remember that there’s nothing wrong with being uncomfortable for a while, doubtful and a bit scared at times. You just have to believe in what you’re doing and the direction you’re heading.
Maybe you first have to be willing to grab every part of the elephant, so to speak, before you can move along. Take the time.
In the end, the highlight of the day came as Rich and I were wrapping up that intro video shoot. Just at the peak of the scene we each dramatically raised a giant butterscotch glazed donut and took a giant bite, not unlike something you would see in a professional wrestling match. We finished our pastry, chasing it down with a carton of whole milk. And there it is – The Champ, less than a week away from defending his title yet again, taking the time for a goofy moment and to enjoy a donut after yet another workout.
Call it Ying and Yang in action.
[…] Barbell Shrugged: The Tao of Rich Froning […]
Your point about “play” at the beginning of the article really touched home with me. If I’m doing something that I enjoy, even if almost anybody else would call it work, it’s play. That isn’t to say I’m not serious and focused. I am. I’m just serious and focused about the game.
Beautifully written, Chris
[…] The Tao of Rich Froning. […]
Hey Chris for some reason I couldn’t comment on the podcast I listened to about strength and endurance and was hoping for some direction. I am a crossfit athlete for about 9 months but have went all In and would to one day compete. And I’m trying to obviously work on the gymnastic movements( I.e muscles ups butter fly ups etc) but how do you become overall better with strength and build that high anaerobic threshold to do metcons at that 80% pacing but still kill it like rich froning . do you do tabatas? Intervals metcons? Could you please point me in some direction of understanding to help with programming to be better with all this.