Interview with Andrea Nisler

In less than two years, Andrea Nisler has come onto the CrossFit scene in Minnesota with guns blazing and proven she is a fierce competitor, taking no less than second place in the Women’s Rx Division in the 2013 Granite Games. Hailing from White Bear Lake, she is a graduate of Drake University and currently works as marketing specialist at Nexen Group. As Andrea prepares to compete in both the Freeze Fest Team Challenge and the Battle in the Bluffs in the month of February, she talks with us about training, sandbag runs and Air Dynes.

MMG: Andrea thanks for taking the time to talk with us at Man Meets Goat. We actually crossed paths at the test run for Freeze Fest last weekend. But before we discuss that, I want to begin our conversation by talking about your relationship with sports growing up. I am guessing you were an athlete as a kid? What sports did you play and how did exercise fit into your life?

1377091_10151656619722337_487689051_nANDREA: Growing up, I dabbled in just about every sport. This continued even into college. In high school, I participated in softball, volleyball, cross country and swimming. I found great success in all, but just got burned out before going to college. I could have done any of those sports at some competitive level in college but chose to focus on academics and a social life instead. That is when I became an official treadmill runner. It was disgusting. I would run about seven miles a day, be bored to death and ended up with no muscle and constant aches and pains.

MMG: So you cast aside competitive sports in college, but it sounds like you were unhappy ditching them for the treadmill. How did you make the transition into CrossFit?

ANDREA: I was hurting from all the running and repetitive motion, so I decided to hire a personal trainer my senior year of college. Through that personal training experience I was introduced to the idea of CrossFit. I was so skeptical at first that I pushed the thought of it aside until I graduated.

One day I just drove to a CrossFit gym in Iowa and tried the WOD. It was 100% Olympic lifting, which I had never done, and I left feeling very frustrated. I don’t like feeling defeated, so I went back a few days later to show myself I was better than that, and I guess I just kept returning.

MMG: It sounds like that competitive streak in you didn’t go away. So how did you find yourself making the jump from CrossFit classes into CrossFit competitions?

ANDREA: At first, the CrossFit classes would make me nervous and I would get that competition anxiety and excitement every time I walked into the gym. I love that feeling. Then I started getting comfortable with classes after about three months. Then after being a regular at the box, I was craving the nervous/competitive feeling again.

I started CrossFit in August 2012 and competed in my first competition in October, so there was not much time between. The weeks leading up to that competition were filled with so much anxiety and fear. I had not even mastered all the movements required for the competition. The day of, I showed up, gave it my all and didn’t regret it at all, ending up in the top ten!

MMG: That’s amazing! So in one year’s time you go from finishing top ten in your first competition to taking second place in the 2013 Granite Games in the Women’s AsRx Division. Tell me about that experience?

ANDREA: The Granite Games was my first true competition. I had never participated in any CrossFit competition lasting more than a few hours. I did not realize the physical exhaustion and mental toughness required for three whole days of pure CrossFit! I loved it!

I learned so many things from that competition, but the biggest lesson was to try out and test everything that will be in the workouts before the actual event. Here I would be referring to the dreaded Air Dyne. I had never hopped on one of those buggers before that event. That was a HUGE mistake. It was nothing like I imagined it would be. That bike was pure hell.

MMG: So with any of these competitions you are doing, what does a typical week of training for you look like?

ANDREA: There really is not a typical week. Some weeks I will feel so energetic and train every day, some of the days twice. Other weeks I will train just a few days and take it easy. If I had the choice I would love to go hard every week. There is nothing better than the feeling of a good solid week of training!

MMG: You said you’d prefer to train hard every week, but, like many of us, you have a full-time job. How do those two worlds interact?

ANDREA: Some weeks it is my job that gets in the way of training. I might plan to work out in the morning, but accidently sleep in and work until late, not allowing me to get in a workout at all. My peak performance, I have found, is in the afternoon; but, I could never get off of work every day to train at that time, so I have to try and motivate myself to work out and go hard after a full day at the office.

MMG: With Freeze Fest quickly approaching, how have you been training any differently? Have you focused on any of the exercises or skills that will be involved in the announced workouts?

ANDREA: Other than try the workouts that have been announced, there is really nothing I have done to prepare for Freeze Fest. My hardest challenge will be to remember what order the sandbag workout goes in!

MMG: You are referring to how during the test run you accidentally ran almost fifty yards extra because you forgot you had to carry the sandbag? While it was only a test run, what do you do in the heat of competition when something like that goes wrong? How do you respond?

ANDREA: That’s a good question. I’m crossing my fingers that it wont happen. However, these competitions are all about fun in the end. It’s not a life or death issue we are dealing with. I would be annoyed at first at myself for having another blonde moment, but I would end up laughing about it a few minutes later.

1070057_10201504270186682_1383202686_nMMG: Walk us through what your routine will be the day of the competition. Do you eat anything special? Do you listen to music? How do you mentally prepare to compete that day?

This may sound bad, but I will probably treat it like any typical day of training. I will try to get at least seven hours of sleep the night before, eat whatever my fridge has to offer that morning, pack a few snacks, some extra clothes and be on my way. It is not until the clock starts to count down that I get in the zone. I don’t like to think about the workout or anything before because it will just end up stressing me out. I will cheer everyone else on until it is my turn to go. Once the workout starts my body will do its best and leave it all on the floor.

MMG: Not to get ahead of ourselves, but what’s next after Freeze Fest? Will you be competing in the CrossFit Open? Can you share with us any training goals for 2014?

ANDREA: After Freeze Fest, I have the Battle in the Bluffs a few weeks later, and then the CrossFit Open about a week after that. The Battle in the Bluffs is an individual competition in Omaha, Nebraska where I will be competing in the elite division.

In 2014, I would love to do better in the open than I did last year. I would also like to get over 200 pounds on my overhead squat, squat clean, and clean and jerk.

MMG: Well absolutely best of luck in all those endeavors. Before you go, we have to ask, what’s your goat?

ANDREA: The Snatch! For whatever reason, I cannot advance in this lift like the others. I am terrified of dropping under the bar. My goal for 2014 is to improve my snatch form and get up to 150 pounds.

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.

The Middle of the Beginning

I believe my journey began on March 21, 2010.  I was in grad school and living overseas in Rome.  I had organized a group of my fellow graduate students to participate in the Roma Fun Run 4K, which coincided with the Rome Marathon.  We gathered early that Sunday morning on campus and happily made our way to the starting line in front of the Coliseum. Thousands of people were there to watch and participate on this chilly but sunny spring day.

Up until that point, fitness was not a big part of my life.  It was something that was purely a secondary thought. My activity level fluctuated over the years and I had really stopped competing in any formal manner back in high school when I was on the swimming team.

But there on the cobbled streets of Rome as we waited for the starting gun, my friend Robin said “Let’s run!” Caught up in the energy and excitement of the day, I said “Yes!” And we did. I wasn’t very fast but I ran through the course, past old churches and ancient relics and brass bands and countless onlookers. When we got to the finish line, I was elated.

Something had changed. My inner-athlete was awakened.

Since then, I took up running and moved back to the United States to find a job and be near family in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I participated in some 5Ks and then, in July 2011, I was introduced to CrossFit.

Over the last 2+ years, I have been an active member at my CrossFit gym. I have done things that I never imagined I was capable of or would have pursued as my younger self. Push-ups, pull-ups, squats and sit-ups became the norm. Weight-lifting now was something I regularly discussed and took part in. And those 5Ks evolved into completing 10Ks and two half-marathons and three Tough Mudders.

Fitness is now a passion and it has changed my outlook on life. I am focused on what I eat, what I drink, how I move and how I sleep. I am constantly seeking out help and advice. And my free-time has gotten me off the couch and into indoor rock-climbing and stand-up paddle boarding and yoga and more.

But now I am at a precipice.

This weekend I watched a group of my coaches and fellow athletes compete in The Granite Games, a three-day CrossFit competition in St. Cloud. It was truly inspiring and amazing to see them put everything on the line and succeed. Secretly, I wanted to be out there with them.

One of my friends at the gym, Alice, was there competing in the women’s team division. Catching-up with her between her events, she told me about Freeze Fest, a one-day co-ed team competition in St. Paul in February. She said that I should participate and be on a team with her in the scaled division.  I said, “Yes!”

And so here I am at 31 years old beginning my training to truly compete. Not just to participate and cross the finish line, but to compete and win.

Over the past few years I have witnessed a complete overhaul in my daily routine and habits, all for the better.  Without hubris, I am in the best shape of my life. But I could be even better. I have lots more to learn and more goals to reach.

In CrossFit, the term “goat” is something you hate doing or suck at, or both. I have never truly put myself in the “ring” in life. I am not overly aggressive and I tend to avoid confrontation. Competing is my “goat” and it’s time to meet it head on.

Let’s begin.