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Interview with Greg Everett: Life & Death Training and More
Jerry Hill  |  General Training  |  July 31 2008

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Jerry Hill:  Hey, this is Jerry Hill owner of CrossFit Challenge in Oldtown Alexandria Virginia. I am here with Greg Everett, the owner of Catalyst Athletics and publisher of the "Performance Menu Journal". Greg, thanks for being on 'The Call'. Do you want to give us a little bit more about you, a little bio?

Greg Everett:  You pretty much covered it there. I guess I can add that I formerly owned one of the very first CrossFit affiliates way back when there were about five of us. I owned CrossFit NorCal with Robb Wolf and Nicki Violetti, who brought me on as a partner shortly after starting the business. So, I am now down in Southern California with a new company training with the infamous Mike Burgener. 

Jerry:  What is your main focus now? I know you personally are training as a competitive weightlifter, but beyond the competitor weightlifters who are you working with. I know you work with some Mixed Martial Artists too, Greg?

Greg:  Well, I have one right now. I’ve cut my training practice down quite a bit. I’ve gotten rid of most of my regular clients. I primarily do individual private sessions, often for travelers. But, I have one Muay Thai fighter right now. So I work with a lot of CrossFitters who want to improve their weightlifting. And then, of course, actual competitive weightlifters.

Jerry:  And, you are doing a lot of seminars and clinics these days, also?

Greg:  Yeah, I do clinics through Catalyst Athletics, and I bring along Aimee Anaya, who’s the current national champ. She helps coach and does all the demos for me. I’m too fat to talk and demo at the same time these days, so it makes my life much easier. And, I also help coach at all of Mike Burgener's CrossFit weightlifting certs. So I’ll be at the one this coming weekend in Union City.

Jerry:  Nice. Well, we met in D.C. and I enjoyed your coaching and was excited to get you on the call. Because I know about your background as a CrossFit coach but also the work you are doing over at Catalyst Athletics.

So, the question I am asking you, Greg, is: If your athlete's life depended on getting in top shape, in record time. What would be the most important one or two things you would do?

Greg:  Well, I think the most important thing, which is one that gets overlooked to a large degree, unfortunately, is really coming up with an accurate assessment of what the needs are for the athlete. I think a lot of times, coaches and athletes and trainers get really excited about the training itself, because there is so much great stuff out there. It is a lot of fun. It is a lot more interesting than sitting down and trying to figure out exactly what you need to train for.

And, I think a lot of times, with the CrossFit background, people are very hung up on covering all the bases. And, what happens is, a lot of times they neglect the fact that some of those bases don't need to be covered.

So, what you are talking about with anyone who is training for survival… you’re essentially training for unpredictability. But, that said, there is still a lot of specificity that you can get. For example, if I’m training a cop, we’re talking about primarily arrest and control situations. Relatively brief periods that are really demanding of power, strength, speed, and fairly short-term stamina. There aren’t going to be too many 45-minute foot chases. That’s what Motorola is for.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, if we’re talking about, say, a mountaineer, we’re talking about maybe 15 18 hour sustained efforts. Fairly slow, steady pacing, a lot of weight on the back, kind of punctuated with these relatively brief more technical climbing efforts.

So right there you have two people whose lives essentially depend on their training, but you cannot train them the same way. You'd be foolish to. Granted, there's going to be a lot of overlap between the two, but I think as you reach the margins of each one's needs, you're going to see a lot more difference. So really the efforts in the gym need to accurately reflect what we're preparing the athlete for.

The greatest thing you can do, I think, is get that very accurate evaluation, be honest about what you're preparing for, get over whatever ego things you have about going for certain things. You know, like, "I'm going to go run a 10k in record time." Well, you know what, if you're a cop, you don't need to run a 10k, pretty much ever. So really looking past that and trying to get as specific as possible without neglecting any of the things you actually need.

So there are realms of activity, duration, movement, and intensity that you can focus on, even if you're preparing for the unknown, and the more accurate your evaluation of the circumstances is, the better prepared you're going to be through training.

Jerry:  Nice. So when you say assessment, you're assessing the individual output of their specific task, not necessarily an individual's strength or weaknesses.

Greg:  Well, you're looking at both, and that's the deal. Your very first assessment needs to be the assessment of the situation, the job, what it is this person's going to be expected to deal with. From routine scenario to worst case scenario, you've got to cover that spectrum. Most of the time, that worst case scenario is going to be the one where life and death is an issue. You want to be prepared for the routine, but you can't weight it too heavily in that direction and say, "There's one possibility in five years that this is going to happen, so we're not going to spend much time working on that." That's that one time, you know… All it takes is once to get killed.

Once you have that situational assessment down, then you can move on and assess your individual and you can find the gaps there. So basically you're coming up with this template here of what you need, and then comparing your athlete to it, and then trying to determine how through training you can get that athlete to match those demands.

Jerry:  Nice. So within that assessment that you made, say, with the cop, needing the power, strength, some speed... Would you stay within those parameters in their training and almost apply more of a traditional strength and conditioning approach like in a college setting, with the basic core exercises but change the focus and periodize? Would you still do CrossFit circuits within that, but keep it in shorter duration with the speed and power in mind, then?

Greg:  Yeah, I would absolutely rely on CrossFit style training for a large part of it. I think most likely I would have some dedicated strength and power work, you know, squat, press, dead, clean, maybe jerk, snatch, but yes, the primary deal is that you can't have too much of a gap between your strength and that metabolic conditioning because, again, in real life those things typically have to work together to at least some degree.

That said, you can develop strength much better without the metabolic component, and with the higher strength base, you can get a much higher level of conditioning. So I think at times, you definitely need to be developing those things separately, but you also need to be working them in an integrated fashion.

So with the cop, one of the things I really love doing with the fighter guys that I worked with—and this is something I think John Hackleman does too—is, for example, as my guy is getting close to a fight, I'll run him through a brief CrossFit style workout. Then, say he's fighting two minute rounds, we go two minutes on the Thai pads or whatever we're working on that day immediately after he finishes that circuit.

So, we've got a three to five minute CrossFit circuit, get him really exhausted, and then get him into a sport specific condition where he's got to fight while fatigued. Give him his one minute break between rounds, and we come back and do that for a few rounds.

I think with a police officer or something like that, you can set up something very similar, where you can have your CrossFit style training—that's going to do a lot of that metabolic work—but you can throw them onto the mat now. So many of these BJJ guys and guys like Tony Blauer have just such great training and such great drills very specifically for these LEO guys. When you combine those two things, I think it's hard to get better results than that.

Jerry:  That's great.

Greg:  Quite honestly, I like to see those guys in there in full uniforms, boots and belts and everything. Having to roll with these guys and protect their weapons, things like that. You can't take a guy and put him in a gi, put him in a pair of board shorts and a rash guard and say, "OK, you're great on the mat, you can handle this big guy." In the real world, they're going to be very uncomfortable in this restrictive gear, and you've got a gun that someone's going to be trying to take from you. It's a very different situation. This is why I think especially in those cases you really have to have that specific training. You've got to have that strength, you've got to have that conditioning, but you've got to have it integrated into the most realistic circumstances you can reproduce.

Jerry:  Put them in the environment under fatigued conditions, because that's how they're going to have to perform when the real stuff hits the fan.

Greg:  Absolutely. That's what I like so much about Tony Blauer's stuff. He's really tapped into these natural instincts and found a way to bridge these gaps where people get into trouble. The whole point with that, though, is making these things absolutely second nature.

The same thing with protecting your weapon. It's got to be second nature. You've got to be always aware of that stuff, because it doesn't matter how well you can grapple if someone's pointing your own gun at you. It's pretty much game over at that point.

I think that there are a number of different components that can each be worked individually, and then they can often be worked in concert. Without those two parts there, you're not going to get the complete package that you need.

Jerry:  Nice. Some great takeaways, Greg. I don't want to lose sight of that, but I'd be remiss if I had you on the line and didn't ask you another question that I've had. Obviously, long term development of an athlete, you've got to look at efficiency of movement. I've seen some of the work in the weightlifting community, especially with you, starting to dial in on some of that efficiency of movement.

So, long term we know that's definitely something we need to continue to work on in the CrossFit community. How about short term, three months? Where would you place that? Where would you place efficiency of movement versus some of this conditioning that you're talking about, some of these other elements?

Greg:  Well, this is where it gets tricky, because in order to get these really ridiculous metabolic demands, you've got to use relatively complex movements like the snatch and clean & jerk. What I'd like to do as much as possible, is keep that metabolic conditioning movement pool as simple as I can, while working the more complex skills in isolation.

In other words, I would rather see someone relying on squats and thrusters and dumbbell cleans, pull ups and things of that nature that still have a huge metabolic demand but have a relatively low skill demand. In the meantime, giving them isolated technique sessions in the barbell O lifts or gymnastic skills or whatever they need.

Then once they reach a certain level of proficiency with which I’m comfortable, I can start throwing that stuff into the metabolic conditioning. I find it really interesting that with a lot of new CrossFitters, there seems to be this theme of people setting aside time to focus on gymnastic skills outside of the metabolic work, but refusing to do the same thing with the snatch and clean and jerk, although I’ve seen this getting better lately.

What ends up happening is you get people whose first and only exposure to, say, the snatch, which is an extremely complex movement, is 30 snatches for time or ten snatches within this other workout in which they’re very fatigued and they don't have these movement patterns down yet.

Not only is it not teaching them the movements correctly, but it’s making it worse because they’re now laying down movement patterns that are similar but not correct, which then compete with the correct one that they are trying to learn later. So I think putting those things aside, yeah you are going to lose a couple movements temporarily, but there are so many movements to draw from that I think it is going to be negligible in that short term. Besides, for example, a heavy thruster, a simple movement but with a long range of motion, will be a lot more damaging metabolically than a really light snatch that’s limited by technique rather than strength and power.

Even if you had someone who dedicated the time for four weeks learning the snatch and clean and jerk and had a qualified coach helping him, they are going to make far greater progress than someone who spends six months on the lifts, doing them only within these metabolic workouts.
So I think ultimately they do have a place in those metabolic workouts. I've said it a million times, I have no objection to high rep O lifting or anything like that but I think, like you've said, there does need to be a wise progression and development of those skills prior to that. There needs to be technical proficiency first.

Jerry:  When you speak of that Greg, working the snatch and the clean and jerk, you would work that sub maximally?

Greg:  For a long time, yes. You know, initially there’s no point in taking a movement like that to a max. You're not going to get anything from it. The way I look at it is this. You've got basically these four components here and the very first one is position. Then you’ve got movement, then you have speed and then you have load.

Load is the very last thing you get to. You cannot perform a correct movement from an incorrect position. It’s not possible. You can't really add speed until you have a correct movement. You can't add a real load until you have a correct movement at the correct speed from the correct position.

I think it is really important to lay the foundation and all the layers of that foundation in order and to make sure each one is dry before you start moving on to the next. It's like people trying to hang curtains while the cement is still drying. It doesn't make sense. It's not going to work. With the O-lifts, prior to some degree of technical proficiency, your maxes are limited by technique, not power, so a max is not really going to elicit much of an adaptation, and it’s most likely going to cause an unnecessary technique breakdown, which will then make establishing that technical proficiency more difficult.

I realize people are impatient, I am just as impatient as the next person, but you've still got to think long term. Ultimately it's going to be a shorter process because otherwise you are going to be, OK yeah I'm snatching and clean jerking, I'm maxing out all the time, but you know what? You're still very limited by your technique because you're not proficient, you're inconsistent and you're lifting far less than you could be if you had spent that extra month maybe or so really knuckling down on that technique work.

Jerry:  Awesome Greg. I could dive into more layered questions on that topic but that right there is enough for people to sink their teeth in and get rolling.


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Jerry Hill is the owner of Crossfit Oldtown in Alexandria, Virginia. He is a former United States Marine and has over twenty years of coaching experience with athletes of all levels. As a coach he constantly strives to put good people in the best environment to succeed.
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5 Comments
Steven Low 1 | 2008-08-01
Yep, stuff that needs to be said. Hopefully everyone will read it now...
Greg Battaglia 2 | 2008-08-02
Excellent interview. Very insightful. I'll certainly use this info to my advantage in the future.
A-Rob 3 | 2008-08-09
Greg is one BAMF....got to get that video now.
adb 4 | 2009-05-02
You mentioned a "LEO" whatis that|?
Greg Everett 5 | 2009-10-20
adb -LEO = Law Enforcement Officer
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