CrossFit’s Pat Sherwood: More is Not Better

File Aug 09, 1 54 35 PM

Pat Sherwood’s first CrossFit workout was in 2005 (after spending seven years as a Navy SEAL) and a lot has changed in the functional fitness landscape since then. The CrossFit Games have evolved from a backyard throw-down to this year’s $2.2 million prize purse. Individual —and sometimes team— athletes are becoming full-time CrossFitters and year-round competitor programs are all the rage.

Sherwood, a CrossFit Games Update Show host and analyst, runs the online-only affiliate CrossFit Linchpin and has earned a reputation for “brutally elegant” workouts and advocating that one hour a day is STILL all that most people need to be fit. 

Athlete Daily recently caught up with Sherwood to find out more about his programming emphasis, common athlete (and gym) mistakes and what he’s learned over a decade in CrossFit…

Athlete Daily: It seems the more popular the CrossFit Games become the more CrossFitters, particularly newcomers want to jump into competing or a lifting program. What’s the most common mistake you see?

Sherwood:  “I think it’s very easy for athletes to get caught up in what’s popular and not necessarily what’s effective. These days it’s very easy for people to think more is better and that’s not necessarily the case.

Quite frankly, it’s human nature. If you love to cook, it makes sense you might take look at what a great chef does and mimic their behavior. So, people that are into working out it makes sense from a psychological point [to think] that I want to be really good at this and check out the people that are.

And say, ‘They are phenomenal they do this. Makes sense that I should do it.’ While it makes sense to me, it’s not necessary for most people to do. And it’s probably not beneficial for most people. It’s far too much, too quickly.

What [last year’s Games champion] Ben Smith is doing is kind of what I’m doing, but his needs are wildly different than mine. And that might not be super obvious to somebody new to the sport.

I have a shooting background and there’s a difference between if you want to have a basic, safe capacity to operate a firearm and generally hit what you are shooting at. You probably need 30 minutes a day three times a week. If you want to be the best, most accurate, fastest shooter in the world, you are shooting five hours a day, seven days a week.

Both are shooters, but their needs are wildly different. Most people are following a path that is way, way, way more than what they need for the real world.”

Athlete Daily:  You posted something on Instagram about not being able to fit in both a strength component and a WOD into an hour class and it got a lot of buzz. Is that an accurate depiction of what you think?

Sherwood: “Unfortunately, people [on Instagram] will run with it as an absolute statement. I do believe that most of the time that’s not the best way to do business. Every now and then there are certainly occasions where somebody can pull it off and pull it off effectively, but the majority of the time, I’d tend to avoid it.

You can’t do everything great in a short period of time.

For example, one of the things potentially a new coach or new affiliate falls victim to is having to fill the hour. Say it’s squat clean Elizabeth. It’s probably on average going to take around 10 minutes and then people go, ‘Even if I warm up for 15 minutes that leaves me with 35 minutes. What am I going to do?’ It’s easy to just say, ‘Oh, let’s just go heavy beforehand.’

But you have that precious commodity of time and maybe for 15 of that 35 minutes we are doing a clean progression and I can walk around the class and give each person individual attention.

We can slowly put on plates and I can see if new errors pop up as the load increases. That can all get handled without the crazy stress of the clock. The people in that class not only leave fitter, they leave better athletes, moving better and with more virtuosity than when they walked in that day. That’s really what it’s about.”

Athlete Daily: There seems to also be a school of thought that you can focus on strength for a while and build back up an engine pretty quickly.

Sherwood: “It takes a long time to build strength, a long time to build an engine, and a long time to build fitness. And if you think any different you are fooling yourself.”

Macros delivered right to your door.

Athlete Daily: So you don’t think people should focus on strength in the offseason and add in more metabolic conditioning as the Open gets closer?

Sherwood: “That’s possible for the competitor. You are training for unknown events, but you are talking about the known in regards to the dates on the calendar. My parents, police, firefighters, they don’t have a season. If I’m intentionally saying, ‘Hey, for the next few months I’m going to let these areas slide.’ That’s doing them a disservice.

We are an affiliate program [at CrossFit HQ] and the wonderful thing is we don’t tell people how to do business. People can experiment and see what does or doesn’t work. The best practices slowly do emerge. And things that maybe caught on for a while, people find out maybe that’s not the best way to do business, word slowly starts to get out and things shift little-by-little. I think the pendulum swings one way, it swings the other way. And little-by-little it evens out to make sense.”

Athlete Daily:  Do you think people don’t realize that Games athletes and a lot of people they look up to are still training everything?

Sherwood: “The veterans understand the fundamentals. Nobody wants to do 95 lb. thrusters ’til you vomit. Nobody wants to go to the track and do 800 meter repeats. Nobody wants to work on their L sit. Those aren’t sexy things to do. The squat snatch is sexy, The back squat is sexy. Without a doubt, they have an incredible value in a training program. But you shouldn’t leave those others out of training program, just because they don’t make good Instagram photos.

Scott Panchik told me he finally realized intensity over volume is 100 percent the key. And this is a Games athlete that realizes more is not better. He has people that come into his gym saying they want to go to the CrossFit Games and the first thing they list is their clean and jerk and snatch. He’ll listen politely and ask them three questions: What’s your max press, how many strict pull-ups can you do and what’s your 5k run time? The overwhelming majority of the time people don’t have an answer to that. And [Panchik] says, ‘You don’t need to join our competitor program, you need to get better at CrossFit.’

This isn’t said with an ego or attitude or holier-than-thou view. I’d be happy, as I enter my 11th year, if I could save some people from the hundreds of hundreds of mistakes I’ve made and get them onto a better, more effective path. I’ve made every stupid mistake that you possible can. That’s the only way I can sit here and say, ‘OK, this is how to run a business’.

If I know someone doesn’t need to work out three hours a day, but if working out makes them happy, who am I to tell you not to do something that makes you happy? I just don’t want people to think they need to work out three hours a day to be fit. That’s my goal. I want people to make whatever decisions they are making well informed.”

Athlete Daily: Your Linchpin programing uses a lot of odd object carries and sometimes takes more than hour. What’s the reasoning behind that?

Sherwood: “The luxury I have is that Linchpin just exists online. I don’t have to worry that the 5 p.m. class is jammed and we can’t fit one more person in there. I don’t have to worry that I don’t have to program a workout because we don’t have 30 yokes. I just program what it think is super effective. If you have the gear, go knock it out. If not, just work around it. That’s what  No. 1 is, whether it’s fair or not, I just program.

Second, of all, I think everything we do personally should make human beings better outside of the gym. Competition is not the real world. Competition is by its nature a man-made contrived environment in which we will put challenges that are bizarre and incredible and over the top. That’s what the Games needs to be.

You don’t find that in your regular life. I want to make sure if you are a soccer mom or police officer or special ops person, those people who don’t have four hours a day to train because they work 40 hours, or because they’re in the military and need to work on their radios or land navigation skills. I want to cater to those people. And, in my experience, a lot of real world stuff isn’t a one-rep max squat snatch.

Now, you should do a one-rep max squat snatch because of the athleticism and power and movement. Everything in it, it’s wonderful to make you fitter and stronger. But most of the real world looks like a prolonged period of grunt work.  If it’s not getting you better over a prolonged period of grunt work, then you aren’t training for real life.”



All photos courtesy of Pat Sherwood.