Interview with Kyle Spears

Kyle Spears grabbed the attention of many this fall when he won the Men’s Rx division at the 2013 Granite Games in St. Cloud. A truly stellar athlete, he is a coach at Timberwolf CrossFit in St. Paul, Minnesota and currently studying Exercise Science at the University of St. Thomas. In our interview, Kyle discusses some of his experiences competing and shares his outlook on training:

MMG: Kyle, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us at Man Meets Goat. To help our readers get to know you better, let’s start at the beginning. You are clearly an elite athlete today, but were you always an athlete growing up? 

kyle spears 1KYLE: I always played sports growing up – baseball, basketball, and football for a little bit. In high school, I mostly played baseball and basketball on intramural leagues. I was pretty big into “fitness” and I have always been fascinated by athletics and movement. This, along with a desire to join the Marine Corps, lead me to run Cross Country my senior year. I lettered but was nothing special. I was doing it mostly to get in shape for the Marine Corps. I continued lifting throughout my senior year, typical gym routine – chest and back, bi’s and tri’s, and running about 20 miles per week.

MMG: So after high school you entered the Marine Corps, which is obviously very physically demanding. How did you get into CrossFit? And how did you go from being a student to now a coach at Timberwolf CrossFit?

KYLE: I was first introduced to CrossFit inside the Reconnaissance community in the Marine Corps. I sucked at it, and therefore I hated it. It wasn’t until after I got done with a MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) that a couple of my buddies in my platoon really got hooked on CrossFit, which lead me to getting hooked on CrossFit as well. Eventually I ended up at 2nd Force Recon in North Carolina, and helped a platoon train for a while there, this lead to a lot of down time.

With encouragement from Robert Gerdes over at CrossFit South Metro, I was able to get my Level 1 Certification in July of 2011. This was about six months into my CrossFitting career and I pretty much had no idea what I was doing coaching. I came home for Christmas leave and shadowed for two weeks with Rob at South Metro and learned a ton. I went back to North Carlolina with a much better idea of what I was doing, but still went to Rob with any questions I had. Four months later, when I got out of the Marine Corps, I coached at CrossFit Mendota for a while and got a ton of experience there, but eventually I needed to pursue my athletic goals and that brought me over to CrossFit Timberwolf to train more with Tony, John, Jake, Megan Kelly, Andrea, and Shanyn. Tony also offered me a job coaching, which I am very happy to have since I enjoy it so much.

MMG: So what was your first CrossFit competition? Tell us about that experience.

KYLE: I think my first CrossFit competition was an online competition in October of 2011. It was through the Optimum Performance Training (OPT) website. There were four workouts to be done on top of every hour, so I think it ended up being a three-hour ordeal. The first workout was 5-4-3-2-1 clean and jerks at 205 pounds and muscle ups.  There was a 10 minute time cap and I finished with seven seconds to spare, ha-ha. 205 was really heavy for me, and I think the most muscle ups I had ever done in a workout was like ten at the time, but somehow I finished in 9:53 though!

The second workout was a 10 minute AMRAP with a 2,000 meter row buy-in then double-unders with the remaining time. I got like 6:46 on the row and I think that placed me like fourth overall in that portion of the workout. And I got, I think, like 150-something double-unders, which was middle of the pack.

The next one I had to drive to a different gym for to use a 70 pound kettle-bell, ha ha. It was 21-15-9 of kettlebell snatches (right and left arm) and burpees. I got five-something on this one and that was one of the top scores by far. I think I was in the top ten for that one.

The last one was a toes-to-bar and wall-ball combo. It was also an AMRAP, but I can’t remember the rep scheme. I think I finished middle of the pack on this one too. I ended up 23rd out of 80-something, so not bad for eight months of CrossFit and my first competition! I learned a lot from it and saw big areas where I needed to make gains.

MMG: What was one of those “big areas” that you realized you needed to work on after the competition was over?

My main area of focus needed to be in the strength portion of my training. In January [2012], I decided to follow the OPT blog full time, but in May, after the [CrossFit] Open, I didn’t feel like I was seeing big enough gains in my strength. I had heard about this blog that was a strength bias blog called The Outlaw Way. I followed that to till the end of 2012 season. I had seen some good strength gains off the blog, but I felt that other areas had suffered greatly, like my gymnastics abilities and my conditioning a little bit.

I decided to get my own coach after this, and found Max El-Hag, who has been solely working on my weaknesses. I feel very strongly that he is going to help me achieve my goals of going to Regionals this next year!

MMG: This past fall you won the Men’s Rx division at the Granite Games in St. Cloud. Having witnessed it first-hand, we can attest that it was a really rigorous three-day event. What was your experience like? How did it compare to past competitions? 

1379408_525935847494706_1824189806_nKYLE: It was a lot of fun! You are always stressed going into events, but it is always fun getting to work out with other people! I like to think of myself as a performer when I go out to do workouts in front of people. Singers can sing, I can exercise fast, ha-ha, so it’s always nice to have people watching me. I perform better with a crowd. This was definitely the biggest event I had been to. I have done a few small one day events, but nothing of this size! It was nice to be able to have three days of working out versus six workouts packed into one day.

MMG: What do you attribute to your success this time around?

I always aim to be top three at any event, but I think the biggest part of my success this year was my Coach Max El-Hag. He was able to give me a good de-load week prior to the event, and has been programming for me since June and has really started to develop me into a much more well-rounded athlete.

MMG: Can you provide an overview of your training? How often are you working out? What does a typical training day look like?

KYLE: I work out five days a week. Doubles on Saturday and Sunday, rest days on Monday and Thursday. Lately I have been working a lot on muscular endurance especially in my posterior chain, and my gymnastics movements. Being 6’1”, 215 pounds with orangutan arms makes handstand pushups difficult. I have also been working on my aerobic power – so a lot of interval work at set percentages on the row machine, and running. Also some interval work with specific movements that tax my posterior chain. It’s starting to get closer to Open season, so my coach Max has started to work in more workouts for time and AMRAP’s, to get me prepped for that also. With school, I kind of have to juggle my schedule everyday depending on how much homework I have, so usually I work out in the afternoons around 1pm, but sometimes it’s in the evening closer to 5pm.

MMG: That’s a very intense schedule. Do you doing anything outside of the gym to complement your training? Do you follow a particular diet or have any daily habits you try to keep?

KYLE: I don’t do much outside of the gym, I enjoy going out to eat with people, a movie every once in a while. I really just like to stay active, so if it’s a sport then I’m down to play. I don’t follow a diet. I pretty much eat whatever I want. With that being said I try not to eat pizza and candy…everyday, ha-ha.

MMG: Clearly you are a busy guy with school, coaching and your own training. How do you find balance?

KYLE: Last year it was really hard to find balance and I think I ended up over trained and under rested for the Open last year. So I don’t think last year’s was a good reflection of where I truly stand as an athlete. This year I have a lot less hours working at Timberwolf and I’ve tried to use this to my advantage to recover better from my workouts and stay on top of my school work.

MMG: As someone who has been training heavily for the last few years and become a truly fierce competitor, what is your best piece of advice to others looking to compete?

KYLE: Have fun. I know a lot of the time I get stressed about what others are doing and what other athletes are getting on workouts, but that just lead to me getting stressed and workouts no longer becoming fun and becoming more of a job. Stay positive and take the gains as they come. Every athlete in CrossFit works hard; it’s the mental piece that really separates the Elite from the Advanced.

MMG: Finally, since it is the name of our site, what is your “goat”? 

KYLE: Coming into this Open season, I’m really trying to keep a positive mind set and not let the little things get to me. I know I have the ability to achieve my goals, I just have to trust myself and my coaches’ programming, and not worry about what others are doing. Other than that, my pulling ability SUCKS  but I’m working on that with Max’s programming.