4 Lessons From a CrossFit Master

'The only way to get in shape for CrossFit is to do CrossFit,' says legendary CrossFitter Greg Amundson, who offers advice on how to excel at the sport.

Greg Amudson

Photo: CrossFit® via YouTube

Not even the fittest man alive could have kept up with Greg Amundson in his prime.

In September of 2007, before CrossFit took off in popularity, Amundson laid down a workout performance that remains unparalleled today. An original CrossFitter who started with the sport in December of 2001, Amundson can be seen demonstrating many exercises on CrossFit's official website. And he did something few athletes have ever done. He tamed Fran.

For those unfamiliar with CrossFit nomenclature, Fran is the name given to one of the sport's most notoriously tough workouts. Although it might call to mind an aged aunt who bakes delicious Bundt cakes, inside a CrossFit Box Fran is actually a beast that's made many men and women cry. Its a simple circuit, requiring only a 45-pound barbell, two 25-pound plates, a pull-up bar and a stopwatch. With that equipment, you perform the following moves as fast as possible:

  • Barbell Thrusters (A combination of a Front Squat and a Push-Press) x 21
  • Pull-Ups x 21
  • Barbell Thrusters x 15
  • Pull-Ups x 15
  • Barbell Thrusters x 9
  • Pull-Ups x 9

Note: The rep scheme for Fran is typically scrawled onto a whiteboard as "21-15-9."

The unofficial world record for Fran is 1:53, set in 2009 by Jason Kaplan. The video captures how an athlete attempting to speed through Fran gets walloped by a blast of anaerobic discomfort. One can only imagine how much tougher it is to take on "Heavy Fran." Rather than 21-15-9, Heavy Fran consists of a 15-12-9 rep scheme, but the thrusters are performed with a 135-pound barbell load, and a 45-pound load is added to the Pull-Ups.

In a video posted Oct. 27, three-time and reigning Reebok CrossFit Games champion Rich Froning, regarded as "the world's fittest man," completed Heavy Fran in 5:25, topping competitors Rory McKernan and Darren Hunsucker.

Compare that to Amundson's performance in September 2007, when he was filmed executing the Heavy Fran workout, which he performed barefoot. In the video, Amundson rips through the 135-pound thrusters and clips a kettlebell around his waist for the Pull-Ups. His time? 4:33.08—nearly a minute faster than Froning.

The workout offers a glimpse at how an early CrossFit star—the CrossFit games had just entered its first year, and had only a fraction of today's participants—would stack up against today's supposedly bigger, stronger and faster athletes. Amundson is legendary within CrossFit circles for performances like this. He's also known for his passion and consistency. From his warm-up routine to his diet, he applies steadfast discipline and competitive energy. He's carefully logged each of his workouts for more than 10 years and has the data to document his improvements in all areas of his strength from 2001 to 2011.

Today, Amundson owns and operates CrossFit Amundson in Santa Cruz, Calif. He is also organizes and speaks at CrossFit seminars, including a program for law enforcement agencies. He says the sport translates well to first-responders, who must be ready for the unknown and the unknowable.

"When I teach, I look at these guys and know that CrossFit can be crucial to doing their jobs and to their survival," Amundson says. His advice for them—and civilians interested in CrossFit:

  1. Just Do It. Amundson says don't wait until you think the moment is perfect or until you've achieved some preliminary level of fitness. Just get yourself to the door. "Someone will say, 'I want to get into CrossFit, but first I have to get in shape,'" Amundson says. "I tell them that the only way to get in shape for CrossFit is to do CrossFit. You have to trust in the beauty of the program. From the training at a local CrossFit gym to the Level 1 course. Just go. Just go and keep going."
  2. Demolish Your Fear of Hard Workouts. Amundson is a big believer in setting specific, challenging goals and chasing them relentlessly. A key to achievement, he says, is to not allow fear of a hard workout slow you down or stop you. "The hardest part of a workout can be a metaphor for other things in life," Amundson says. "It's always the moments leading up to it that are the worst. There's a saying in martial arts: 'Hell lies between two swords.' That means the most stressful moments are the moments before engaging. Don't let your imagination talk you out of it. The fear is natural. Just get over it and get into the gym."
  3. Commit to the Diet. Amundson follows the Zone Diet, the dietary protocol taught at CrossFit Trainer seminars, and he says it's helped accelerate his athletic and mental performance. "In just two weeks, I had noticeably improved my athletic performance, body proportions and mental clarity relative to the other athletes who had not yet started the diet," he says.
  4. Stay Balanced. Amundson is the author of the book, Your Wife is Not Your Sister, which offers an account of how his competitive drive seeped into his marriage, which eventually ended in divorce. "It's a book I never intended to write," Amundson says, adding that he never saw his divorce coming. "It hit me by surprise. When I set my mind to something in school, in my law enforcement career and as an athlete, I've been successful. But I failed in my marriage. And so I asked myself, 'What happened? How did I fail at what mattered most?'" Today, Amundson still sets goals and drives hard to achieve them, but he's cautious not to let them take priority over the things that really matter.

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