Becoming Bergeron

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It sounds simple enough. Get on an assault bike holding as fast a pace as possible for four minutes and rest for a minute. Now, repeat that until you’ve done four rounds and take the average wattage divided by your body weight in kilograms.

The goal is to get a number over four. The workout is one used by Tour de France riders —who average in the sixes— and has become an engine test for CrossFit New England owner Ben Bergeron, who draws inspiration and ideas from all levels of sport when it comes to programming. If it’s good enough for Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s personal coach, it’s good enough for Bergeron’s athletes to see where they’re at when it comes to leg strength and endurance.

Bergeron, a former IronMan who found CrossFit online in 2007, has also had his athletes take a “Learning Quotient” test —borrowed from Daniel Coyle’s book “The Talent Code” to assess work ethic, character and willingness to learn. Like the engine test, it was repeated several months later to gage progress. Bergeron evaluates himself as a coach on a similar scale.

“Two years ago I would have said that what I’m prescribing now would have caused everyone to be overtrained,” said Bergeron, who programs five days a week, including several two-a-days, for his competitors. “But CrossFit and these athletes are re-writing the rules as to what these guys can handle.”

Bergeron currently trains four CrossFit Games competitors outside of CFNE, Michele Letendre, Mat Fraser, reigning Games champion Katrin Davidsdottir and Cole Sager, and has gained quite a worldwide following on CompetitorsTraining.com, where he posts the regular competitor programming free for anyone who wants to follow along.

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“A lot of people have come to him and ask, ‘Why don’t you charge for your programing? People would pay for it’,” said Bergeron’s wife, Heather. “He doesn’t feel good about that. He doesn’t want to send the wrong message. He’s happy doing it for the community.”

“I think people like trying the different things [Ben programs]. He does the research and we all reap the benefits of it, which is nice.”

It was Bergeron’s inquisitive nature that saw him stumble on CrossFit in the first place as the then-personal trainer would scour the Internet at night looking for the latest and greatest in fitness trends. He would watch demo videos on CrossFit.com and tried it on a few of his clients. When Bergeron left the gym to be strength coach for The Noble and Greenough School, a private prep school in Dedham, Mass., the weight room would be empty in the mornings during class. So he brought people in, mostly stay-at-home moms, to try CrossFit.

“Literally, every day I wrote out a workout, I thought to myself, ‘Would Greg Glassman approve of this? Is it in line with what he’s teaching?,” Bergeron said. “I did that for every decision. Like [the saying] What would Jesus Do? It was ‘What Would Greg Do’?”’

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Eventually, Bergeron found a recreational center in nearby Dover that would let him rent out the gymnasium. So, after running an 8 a.m. class at the school, he and Heather —who also taught at Greenough—would load Ben’s car up with barbells and weights and drive it over for another class before re-loading things up for afternoon conditioning at the school.

“He really believed in himself. He had a plan and he was like, This is going to work’,” Heather said. “I thought he was crazy because when he first started out there were plenty of classes where there were one or two people in the class, and for months he just believed people would show up.  And all of a sudden they did, he would have 20 or 30 people at a class in another town.”

In 2009 Ben Bergeron opened up CFNE at the same location where it is today. He was so excited to get things started that the first workout was shut down by the building owner because Bergeron hadn’t gotten his fire inspection yet. Things took off from there, with the CFNE team winning the Affiliate Cup in 2011 and Games veteran Chris Spealler enlisting Bergeron to program for him starting with the 2012 season. Marc Pro code

“Ben’s just kind of evolved and I think that’s part of what makes him so valuable,” said Spealler, who has retired from high-level competition and now has his own Icon Athlete programming. “He doesn’t have a narrow minded vision. He changes as CrossFit does and the needs of athletes do, whereas other coaches get stuck in specific theories and thoughts. He always struck me as someone who really enjoys educating himself for programming and coaching. He cares down to the small detail, ways to stay positive, mentality, all of that stuff is part of it. He’s not one-dimensional.”

Bergeron has a decorated list of certifications and is a former member of the CrossFit HQ Seminar Staff, which teaches and trains Level 1 seminars across the world. He also created the Business of Excellence seminars, to assist new box owners in the business side of owning an affiliate, and still coaches the daily 8:30 a.m. class at CFNE. While athletes like Spealler and Davidsdottir has elevated his status as an elite programmer, Bergeron has purposely kept the number of Games athletes he works with very small to not take away from CFNE.

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“He’s always saying ‘think like a bumblebee, train like a racehorse’,” Heather said of her husband, who borrowed the phrase from world-class endurance coach Joe Friel. “I actually own bumblebee earrings. Whatever he tells me to do, I do. I think him caring for his athletes so much is what makes him such a great coach. He’s easy to trust.”

That trust was on full display when Spealler missed the Games in 2013, ending up in fourth place after the last workout at regionals. When he finished, Spealler didn’t know what his fate was, but Ben did.

“I remember looking at him and shrugging and he let me be in the moment for a bit,” Spealler said. “When I found out I didn’t make it I never sensed any level of disappointment from him at all.”

That night, Bergeron and Spealler went out to blow off some steam over pizza and ice cream.

“He had put a ton of work into coaching me, flew out for the regional and it was over in that one moment,” Spealler said. “But he was still there with me as a coach, but more importantly, as a friend and I don’t think you see that with very many people.”

“That role of a CrossFit coach continues to be defined and change,” Bergeron said. “I don’t feel like I need to become an expert in something. I feel like if I’m an expert in something it means I’m probably not good at something else.”

Like a CrossFit athlete?

“I think it’s exactly like that,” Bergeron said.  “A perfect parallel.”