Interview w/ Tony Christopherson

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. This week, I spoke with Coach Tony Christopherson.  We got super specific about his training regime and talk about how he is trying to master B-boys skills. 

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MMG: Tony, it’s good talking to you. While much of our conversation is going to be focused on you as an adult athlete and coach, I want to start at the beginning. Were you an athletic kid growing up?

CHRISTOPHERSON: As simply as possible, not at all. Not even remotely close. Growing up I was always a heavier child and I didn’t even really try sports. I spent more time being focused into music. I think it’d be safe to say that I’ve been obese for the majority of my life.

MMG: That probably would be surprising to most people who know you today and saw you killing these CrossFit Open workouts. What “switched” that led you to decide to start going to the gym?

CHRISTOPHERSON: My switch actually started when I graduated high school. It was actually a looking into the mirror moment. It was really the first time I realized where my weight was and, more or less, what I’ve let myself become. So I needed to make a change. Ever since it was gradually figuring out what worked for me and just keep on progressing.

MMG: You’ve eloquently talked on the CrossFit Kingfield blog about the importance of failure in your own personal life. How do you think athletes can better embrace failure in workouts and their daily lives?

CHRISTOPHERSON: The best athletes I’ve dealt with are able to deal with failure in not just a graceful manner but also in a way in which they don’t hold onto their failures. They allow a failure to be a lesson and nothing more. They learn from what happened in the situation but don’t spend time reliving it as a true failure.

MMG: When did you start doing CrossFit? 

CHRISTOPHERSON: I’ve been doing CrossFit for three or so years now. My first workout was “Murph” on Memorial Day. The largest thing that I believe keeps my interest is how there isn’t a limit in which I can practice. There are so many avenues I can travel down to figure out what is my personal limit and I’ve been able to constantly push forward into skills I never thought I’d be able to accomplish.

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MMG: What motivated you to become a coach?

CHRISTOPHERSON: I’ll be honest, I more or less fell into coaching. Growing up it was never a dream or aspiration. Actually I never even imagined I’d do anything in the health or fitness field. I’m very glad this is what I’m doing but this all started as one of my mentors telling me to talk to some guy named Danny at some CrossFit gym.

MMG: What has been a personal highlight for you as coach over the years?

CHRISTOPHERSON: Getting to work at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. I never imagined I’d work at an OTC, so that was a huge moment and very major highlight for me.

MMG: On the flip side, who do you look towards for coaching and mentorship?

CHRISTOPHERSON: I’ve had many mentors and even a few coaches of my own. The biggest thing I look for in a coach or a mentor is I need them to make me feel like I know absolutely nothing in this field. That is the moment I know I want to spend as much time with that person as they’ll let me.

MMG: You recently started teaching a skills class at CrossFit Kingfield. What essential skills should an athlete focus on to improve their overall strength and ability?

CHRISTOPHERSON: The most important skills that an athlete should focus on is simply a foundation in strict bodyweight movement. The largest portion of my classes are based around building up capacity in strict handstand push ups, strict pull ups and strict ring dips. These movements aren’t sexy and training them aren’t in particular that fun, but the end benefit is dramatic to all advanced skills.

MMG: Is there a particular skill that you are working on this year?

CHRISTOPHERSON: It’s very hard to narrow down to say that I’m working on a singular skill. Because I’m usually working on many skills every week. If I had to narrow down on things though, I’ve been spending a lot of time this year on B-boy fundamental skill development.

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

MMG: You competed as part of a team at the Granite Games up in St. Cloud back in September. How was that experience? Do you enjoy competing in these type of events?

CHRISTOPHERSON: It’s a good challenge, hard to say if enjoy is the best word for it. I mostly enjoy aspects of competition like this (and the Open) as ways to challenge myself to see how far I can push myself versus looking at it as a true competition against others.

MMG: What does a normal week of training look like? How many days on? How many days off? Break it down for us.

CHRISTOPHERSON: Oh boy, well you asked so you’ll get the answer. I train five days a week, and don’t miss a day unless I absolutely have to. Sunday’s and Thursday’s are my two off days in the week. 

Recently, all of my training was set to prep the CrossFit Open so I’ll give a daily rough breakdown day by day.

Monday – Full body joint warm up; Heavy snatch variation (find heavy power snatch); Hip stability and mobility drills; and Grip intensive Open style Amrap (i.e. 7-minute AMRAP: 7 power snatches (115 lbs), 7 deadlifts, 7 hang power cleans)

Tuesday – 2.5 hours of core work, movement practice and mobility

Wednesday – Full body joint warm up; Heavy jerk variation (find heavy single); Pressing complex, (strict press 5×5); Strict pull up complex (4 strict weighted pull ups to 10 strict pull ups x 4 sets); and Maximal anaerobic power capacity intervals (i.e. 14 seconds assault bike at 100% effort, rest till fully recovered repeat for 10 intervals)

Friday – Full body joint warm up; Gymnastic endurance development (muscle ups, 5 EMOM for 7 minutes); and Anaerobic endurance metcon (i.e. 3 rounds of 1 minute max calories Row, 1 minute max reps burpees, 1 minute max chest-to-bar, rest 1 minute, 1 minute max calories Airdyne, 1 minute toes-to-bar, 1 min kipping handstand push-ups, rest 2 minutes)

Saturday – Full body joint warm up; Core and gymnastic skill training (i.e. planks, Turkish get ups, handstand walks for time, ghdsu, etc.); and Anaerobic maximal power to anaerobic power endurance training (i.e. 2 rounds of Airdyne 40 Seconds @ 100%, rest 20 seconds, row 2,000 meters at 7:55 pace, rest 15 minutes)

MMG: That is amazing and overwhelming at the same time. Thanks for being so detailed with us. So to prod a bit more, how does diet and nutrition factor into all your training? 

CHRISTOPHERSON: These are overall fairly important factors to me, just for purposes of recovery and performance I think they are critical. For the most part I eat in a Paleo based style but with more carbs than most people would get eating Paleo. So typically this would be large servings of sweet potatoes. As for specifics, I’ve worked with people to dial in a range that seems to work very well for me. In the future I’ll be looking into blood work to actually determine where should I be. I don’t really follow any specific rules though but I do weigh and measure pretty much everything I eat regularly.

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MMG: Are there any other factors are important to you in your overall wellness?

CHRISTOPHERSON: I enjoy reading fairly often and also enjoy puzzles for simple mental pleasures. I once read that the Greeks believed that you had to spend time building strength in the body and mind to be able to conquer the passions of the heart. Those strengths can help you control the passions (music, art, love, etc.) of life and if you don’t facilitate strength then your passions will conquer you.

MMG: Speaking of being well read, in conversation you quickly reveal that you have a great depth of knowledge about the human body and movement and mobility. You are very much a scholar athlete. Why do you constantly like to read and learn?

CHRISTOPHERSON: I’ve learned more about the human body in reading about math, philosophy, art and classical literature than I have from any anatomy book.  Our intellect is one of the few things we have the chance to carry with us longer than most things. It’s one of the few things that we can innately find constant value in and constant use.

MMG: This is a loaded question but since it seems to be at the heart of the 60-day challenge at the gym, how do you define strong?

CHRISTOPHERSON: Strong is such a subjective word and completely relative to the subject matter. So I’ll just say that the strength I appreciate the most is the strength of duty. I’d personally define duty as having the capacity to do what you need to do when it needs to be done regardless of personal desire or concern of self.

MMG: What is your favorite lift, movement or WOD?

CHRISTOPHERSON: As my training has changed over time I’ve definitely found strength in movements that I wouldn’t have expected. Normally a deadlift workout usually goes well for me. Lately though thrusters and burpees have definitely become much more enjoyable and maintainable than they ever have before.

MMG: Finally, as is tradition, I ask everyone when I conclude an interview, what is your goat?

CHRISTOPHERSON: Any combination of high cycle time barbell movements with grip intensive gymnastic movements. I have a hang condition called dupuytren’s contracture, which makes these kind of tasks very difficult to do without eliciting fairly high amounts of pain.

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