It took three rhomboid tears for Christen Wagner to realize how important the small stuff is.
Wagner, a CrossFit Games veteran and National Pro GRID League Athlete, is both a Marine and a student. A member of the 12 Labours CrossFit Games team for three years and the captain of the Baltimore Anthem in 2015.
And over the past two years, the 29-year-old has made some minor adjustments that have made all the difference.
“I changed my mentality because I was getting really good at compensating and I knew I needed to make a change in order to keep myself healthy,” said Wagner, who is also a national qualifier in USA powerlifting and Olympic Weightlifting in her respective weight class.
“I was not an athlete that was going in there and getting 10 hours or sleep a night or eating the perfect, cleanest meals at the ideal times of day. So, in order to be able to do what I was doing, I needed to concentrate on the small things just to keep myself going. I think it kind of resonates with a lot of athletes that are balancing hectic lifestyles. Few and far between are athletes that do this full-time and are 100 percent devoted to it. People are trying to balance their life, their families, their hobbies and things going on. For me, it was about prioritizing the right things at the right time.”
That line of thinking, which includes plenty of posterior chain work and a healthy dose of scapular and rotator cuff strengthening, is how Wagner’s mantra —Consistency Over Everything— was born.
“I have a lot of long days, a lot of frustrating days,” Wagner said. “As an athlete I think you want every day in the gym to be a good day, to be a clean slate and you give everything you have to give. But when you have school, [or] a job to worry about, it often becomes a win [just] to get into the gym.”
It was on one of those particularly tough days that Wagner’s husband, Josh, mentioned to her that it wasn’t about having a great workout every day or PR’ing. Honestly, it was just enough for her to show up in the gym and be consistent.
It became a mindset for Wagner and one that she tags every social media post with as a reminder: #ConsistencyOverEverything.
Wagner, who can snatch 195 lb. at 140 lb. bodyweight, uses that same approach to attack her weaknesses. For a long time, any rowing-centric or hip-hinge workout was met with dread.
“Rowing was the most nauseating thing I could ever think of,” Wagner said. “It felt like I was doing a single rep 65 lb. power clean, dropping the rep and going over and over and over. It felt obnoxious. It was hard to concentrate for me.
It was really tough to put the power into it, I was using my back way too much. But rowing was just one aspect of it. It translated into hip extensions, any high volume there, deadlifting. Those hinge movements were just beyond my capacity.”
Since incorporating posterior work into her daily training, Wagner has made significant improvements —physically and mentally— by adding smaller things like single-leg deadlifts or banded hamstring curls.
She’s always tinkering with her programming, skipping things she’s good at in favor of what she needs to work on.
“I sincerely believe your ability to push through anything at any given moment is going to be adapted to how you view that specific movement,” she said.
“I could feel the exact same way, lungs burning, muscle fatigue doing a handstand push-up. And I can push through it and find new limits. But I apply the same thing to a deadlift and I would stop way before. It’s about pushing through that mentality and getting used to it in your daily routine.”
It’s a constant battle for Wagner, who also struggles with the pressures of being more aggressive in the spotlight of competitions versus her perfectionist ways of wanting to do everything technically sound. Nearly 10 years of dance and gymnastics taught Wagner the importance of making things look pretty and gave her a heightened awareness of movement patterns at a young age.
When she started CrossFit, Wagner wanted to be able to look like she was doing the movement properly before she got any real weight on it.
Even now, she takes pride in being an exceptional mover, meticulously scanning her lifting videos before analyzing whether they are good enough to be shared with her rapidly-growing Instagram following.
“It’s about the efficiency and being able to do things better —move more weight— and also not get hurt. I want to be prideful and look as good as possible in the movements because I know it’s going to get me further overall,” Wagner said.
“But also, because I personally as an athlete want to be able to be the example. At the end of the day I don’t want to be that Instagram video or the person someone points to in the gym and says, ‘Don’t do that.’ I want to be the proper example. At the end of the day, people are watching you and I just want to be the example that it can be done it just takes time and will.”
And the ability to embrace the little things.
“At some point that becomes the focus because you see it as a pathway to get to the heavy snatches and the PRs,” Wagner said. “Essentially, you tend to bottom out at some point and you can no longer move forward without concentrating on the little things. I just had to change my mentality about it.
It wasn’t some stupid thing I had to do in order to get what I wanted to do. It was what was going to get me better numbers, it was what was going to enable me to get to where I wanted to go. It was a mindset change more than anything.”
All photos courtesy of Diffracted Photos