Interview w/ Chris Yang

As part of the 60 Day Challenge, I decided to interview the coaches at CrossFit Kingfield. They each play a key role in providing the help and support I need to achieve my goals, not only during this process but throughout the year.  I wanted to get to know them better, learn  some of their best practices when it comes to training and nutrition, and see what makes them tick. First up is Coach Chris Yang, who spoke to me about his experience competing in the American Open and why he likes teaching the Olympic lifts.

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MMG: Chris, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. While I usually see you a few times a week at class, I realize I don’t know much of your story.  How did you get into CrossFit?

YANG: I have been doing CrossFit since December 2012 and have been weightlifting for the past year and a half now. I kind of just stumbled upon CrossFit. I was taking an online nutrition course and one of our assignments was to look up three different “diets” and talk about them. I found the Paleo diet and that lead to me watching a bunch of CrossFit videos on YouTube that night. The next day, Samantha (my girlfriend) and I performed “Cindy.”

MMG: How did that lead to you getting into Olympic lifting and competing?

YANG: As I did more CrossFit, I knew that I really enjoyed the snatch and clean and jerk. I began coaching at CrossFit Kingfield and kind of ended up having the Olympic lifts be my focus. The movements look so graceful and teaching it to others seem to be a little more of a challenge and I wanted to become better at that. I attended a weightlifting seminar and the coach there suggested I start competing because I wasn’t too bad. So I did.

MMG: You seem to have a tireless energy for doing drills and working on technique. What motivates you to keep working on the lifts?

YANG: I really enjoy watching really good technique. That’s probably what keeps me motivated. I really want to lift like these awesome weightlifters.

MMG: You also seem to really enjoy teaching Olympic lifts. What do you find so appealing?

YANG: I love the challenge of getting athletes to lift more efficiently. It is not an easy job, especially when the variety of people that come to the gym do not have too much of an athletic background, or weightlifting experience at all. And when I can get these people to learn to lift efficiently, it is very rewarding.

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Chris coaching the teen weightlifting class at CrossFit Kingfield.

MMG: You mention the wide range of athletes that you get to work with. How do you think learning and practicing the Olympic lifts benefits athletes, young and old, outside of the gym?

YANG:  I believe weightlifting is very beneficial to all. I think if anyone could learn to snatch and clean and jerk, they could probably learn to do anything. I love that the movements are so complex and technical, and require a lot of power, coordination, flexibility, strength, and mental toughness. All of this in two movements. How can any of these qualities not help a person in sport or life?

MMG: Good question. And as you say, both of the lifts are very complex.  Is there one common mistake that you notice all your athletes make?

YANG: Since I work with a lot of CrossFit athletes, the most common thing I see is the use of the hips too much. So I spend a lot of time teaching people how to use their legs versus their hips.

MMG: You recently competed in the USAW American Open in Reno, Nevada. Can you tell us a bit about that experience? What were some of the highs and lows?

YANG: The American Open was awesome! A really well ran event and I was glad to be a part of it. Being around almost 1,000 other athletes who love weightlifting was pretty cool. The best part of the American Open was the few minutes that I spent on the platform and being in the warm-up area. When you step onto that platform it’s just you. Nothing else. Once I get set up for my lift everything clears out and then a few moments pass by and I’m done. It’s crazy how I train for months for just a few minutes. But I think that’s what makes it more rewarding.

And then in the backroom, where the athletes warm-up, is also a very cool place. There are platforms everywhere and every athlete and coach is just trying to game plan and have the best day they can. Another cool thing is that you get treated very nice as an athlete. Almost like royalty, ha-ha. I just lift and sit. My coaches load the plates for me and tell me when to go. It’s awesome, ha-ha.

The only “low” about the American Open for me would be that there needs to be more space for almost 1,000 athletes. The training room was crammed and in the warm-up area, there were about 2-3 athletes sharing a platform.

Chris talking with Amanda at the 2015 American Open.
Chris talking with Amanda at the 2015 American Open.

MMG: Besides attending the American Open as a competitior, you were also there as a coach. What was that like for you?

YANG: I got to coach one of my athletes, Amanda Sullivan. Coaching was a whole other story from being an athlete. Coaching is much more rewarding to me.

Amanda trained hard for months for this competition and then she only gets 6 lifts to do that day. As you walk out with your athlete to the platform and watch them from behind, it gets really nerve wrecking, but in a good way. As a coach, you want the best from your athlete and everything to go right because we have trained so hard. So it gets pretty tough out there. Amanda did well at her first national meet and only second weightlifting meet ever. We posted a good total and hungry for more. We had a couple bad calls out there, but we had fun and learned a lot about competing at a national competition.

MMG: So who are some of your coaches and mentors?

YANG: Some of the people I look up to would be our coaches at Kingfield. Everybody knows their stuff and there can be a lot to be learned from them.

Outside of Kingfield, I work with Zach Greenwald from Strength Ratio, and Kirksman Teo from Lifthard. Zach’s specialty is muscular and strength imbalances and Kirksman is a weightlifting fanatic and technician. I have learned a great deal from all these people.

MMG: You recently trained with Diane Fu,  a well respected Olympic-style weightlifting specialist. What motivates you to seek out these experiences? Were there any “a-ha” moments from the seminar?

YANG: I seek out these experiences because as a human being, I’m just curious in what others are thinking, especially these big name people. I want to see how they teach, what’s their philosophy, and is there anything I can learn from them. Surprisingly, I did not have any “a-ha” moments at the Diane Fu seminar. We teach very similar and focus on the same concept, which as a new, young coach makes me feel good. I thought I was the only one teaching this way, ha-ha. But it was a good confirmation/clarification for me as a coach.

MMG: So what’s next for you in terms of your lifting? 

YANG:  This year, I don’t have any big goals as for my own lifting. Yes, a PR here and there would be nice but I’m not too focused on that. A goal for my own lifting would be to understand my body more and lift more smoothly and consistently. And then qualify and compete at the American Open again. This year, I am going to dedicate to more coaching and developing lifters and getting better as a coach.

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Chris competing at the 2015 Granite Games in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

MMG: What does a normal week of training look like?

YANG: I normally workout 5 times a week with 1 active recovery day and 1 full rest day. So day 1 is usually a snatch and squat focus day, day 2 is clean and jerk focus, day 3 is snatch focus, day 4 is active recovery, day 5 is clean and jerk and squat, day 6 is usually a heavier day in both the lifts, and then day 7 is rest. My workouts consist of mainly weightlifting and after my lifting sessions I will perform accessory movements to either build more muscle or working on imbalances in my body. I also do my best to stretch before and after my sessions. But for the most part, my training is pretty simple.

Chris stretching at the airport on the way to the American Open.
Chris stretching at the airport on the way to the American Open.

MMG: How does diet and nutrition factor into all of your training?

YANG: I don’t follow any particular diets, but I occasionally count my macronutrients. I’m usually more strict with counting macronutrients when I get closer to competitions where I need to make weight. But for the most part, I have a good idea of how much I should eat and what not. I would say I eat decently clean. All my meals consist of some type of meat, rice, and/or vegetables, but mainly meat and rice. And when I crave sweets, which is often, I eat them to keep me sane and I’m only 23 years old, ha-ha.

MMG: What other factors are important to you in your overall physical and mental wellness?

YANG: Learning how to balance out my life with lifting and coaching is very important. If during my lifting or coaching I’m thinking about other life stuff, I’m not going to enjoy my time. At the end of the day I won’t be happy and I will hate my life. So I do my best to set times for lifting and when to be done, put my all into coaching when I do, and then spend time with family and friends as much as possible.

MMG: Speaking of family, your brother is a much welcome fixture at CrossFit Kingfield. Why is it important to you that he attends classes at the gym and participate with everyone?

YANG: Obviously being active and working out will be a benefit for anyone, but having him doing it with others is the most beneficial part. I know that if he just works out with me, he will not have a good time. And it’s not because he doesn’t like me, it’s because I’m his older brother and he hears things differently from me. So if another coach could watch him or if he is with others, he will have a much more enjoyable time and get fit and healthy at the same time. And I know that if he is around these people, he will grow up to be just fine.11143169_763956450382223_7500715900372525059_o

MMG: As part of the 60 Day Challenge we have been talking about “creating your strong”. How do you define strong?

YANG: Tough question. But I’d say strong is just getting up after you’ve been beat up or lost and coming back to do it all over again. A good example would be going to the gym. We go to the gym to get our workouts in. Some days are really good, some days are really bad, like REALLY bad, and you might want to quit or not show up the next day, but if you just trust and show up again, that is being strong.

MMG: Everyone can probably already guess the answer, but what is your favorite lift, movement or WOD?

YANG: My favorite lift is the snatch and back squat.

MMG: Last question, since it is the namesake of my blog I have to ask like I do with all my interviews, what’s your goat?

YANG: Strict press.

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