Ask a CrossFitter to describe their CrossFit box (in the odd instance they aren’t already talking about it), and you’re sure to leave the conversation knowing the name of at least one of their coaches.
Why? Because they’re that impactful.
Unlike so many – if not all – other sports, in CrossFit, the last person to finish is the one cheered on the loudest. The person who fails rep after rep is greeted with the same high-five as the person who cycles through Rx’d movements with ease.
It’s these unique characteristics that separate and define CrossFit, and it’s the coaches we owe thanks to for putting them into practice day in and day out.
While day after day, they’re reminding us to keep our elbows up in a front rack and break parallel in a squat, CrossFit coaches serve a deeper purpose.
They create an environment where one can scale movements without being overcome by embarrassment, where neither the number on the scale nor the barbell define worth, where confidence is built rather than broken.
They transform a class into a community.
Where does your passion for fitness and a healthy lifestyle come from?
I was always active growing up. Soccer was my sport of choice. Mostly because it was cheap for my parents, but I did enjoy it and played for about 15 years before giving it up in my early 20s. I loved lifting weights too. Picked up my first barbell at the ripe old age of 14. I remember asking for the plastic weights with cement filling from the Sears catalog for Christmas that year (sounds cheezy I know, but it's true). I think a lot of kids did at that time, but the difference was that I actually used them. I was self taught (no internet back then) and pretty dedicated. I would lift at least 4 times a week, eventually moving on to the YMCA and later the gym at school. At that point it had nothing to do with a healthy lifestyle though and I really didn't give any deep thought to my health until I was in my early 30s.
When Cindy and I started having kids, I let myself go. After being in pretty good shape my whole life, I got busy at work, busy at home and had no time for working out (or so I convinced myself). The reality was that I just didn't understand how important it was to be healthy and fit at that point in my life. I also think that I just assumed that I would always be healthy and fit, since I always had been. After a couple years of very sedentary living, I was having back pain, not sleeping well and although it took me awhile, I eventually realized that I was no longer proud of the way that I looked in the mirror. I was overweight and I was sick and I was embarrassed.
Luckily for me, I also received my degree in Chemistry in 1994 (managed to squeeze it in between sets of bench press and curls) and I decided that I would put it to use and learn all that I could about the science behind exercise: what works, what doesn't and why. I was still busy at work and had four small kids, so if I was going to get back in shape I had to be sure that I was training the most efficient way possible. It was this quest that took me away from the bodybuilding style of training and led me to CrossFit.
The truth is that the passion started when I learned about CrossFit. But I don't think it would have been the same had I found it in my 20s. I think it was directly due to the fact that I once was in great shape, then lost it all, and it was CrossFit that helped me get it back. There's something about losing an important part of your life, accepting that it was gone forever and then, against the odds, discovering a way to get it back. It was like a light bulb switched on when I found CrossFit. That's when I really started to understand how the body works (in relation to exercise) and more importantly perhaps, I started to get how important of a roll nutrition plays. Although, I think that lifting weights and exercising for the better part of 30 years qualifies as somewhat passionate, my passion for health and fitness was really stoked by reading a one page magazine article about CrossFit in 2004.
Why do you coach, what motivates you to teach?
Throughout this process of educating myself about fitness, I was still regularly working out at the Adelaide Club downtown or at my home gym. As I got more fit, I was also getting every and any question you can imagine about fitness from the people around me. There is so much misinformation out there that you really have to take the time to dig through the crap to get to what is really useful. Most people aren't wired that way and aren't interested in digging, they just want to know what works. I realized that I could help steer people in the right direction. I also realized that I enjoyed helping. It felt good to use what I had learnt to help others (still does).
This kind of ties in with the first answer too as I realize that it's not just a passion for health and fitness, but also a passion to teach people about health and fitness. The realization that I can help people change their lives simply by doing something that I enjoy anyway, was pretty cool. If I didn't own a CrossFit gym, I would still be looking up Stuart McGill videos online (if you have never heard of him...look him up) and reading books like the Perfect Health Diet. I have seen the change that it has made in me and how it can positively affect others. So I do what I enjoy doing and get a lot of satisfaction by teaching it to others.
What do you think separates a great coach from a good coach, and a good coach from a poor coach?
I think different sports require different attributes in a coach, so I am answering this in relation to 'what makes a great CrossFit coach'.
A poor coach is not engaged with the class. They go through the motions. (Warm up, check, Skill, check....) People will get a workout in, but nothing more and it may not always be safe as the poor coach isn't always paying attention to whether you were doing the lifts correctly or not. A poor coach will always have an answer when people ask questions, unfortunately it's not usually the right one.
A good coach is more engaged and their classes can quite often be fun. They do their best to keep people safe and try to make sure they enjoy themselves. But they don't (or aren't able to) think about things on a personal level. Not what does the class need, but what does John need to get out of today's class. Even when they do see errors that are possibly dangerous, they don't always point them out (lack of confidence or knowledge).
A great coach is engaged and personable. Classes are fun, but fun isn't the only thing the great coach is after. All lifts are done safely, but safety isn't the only thing a great coach is after. A great coach will remember that when John deadlifted last week he tried to do too much and that he needs to be reigned in. She will remember that Sally looked great lifting 75lbs and that it's time to encourage her to push her limits. If she doesn't remember, the great coach will engage Sally and discuss weights that she has done in the past. I think a great coach builds a relationship with the people in their class and learns when to push the individual, but also when to limit them as well. In general, people leave this class having learned something, having had fun and having pushed themselves more than they would have with other less qualified coaches. A great coach also isn't afraid to say, 'I'm not sure. Let me look that and I will send you something on it'. You don't always have to have every answer right away.
What is a typical day in the life for Coach Sean?
I wish I could say that I was perfect and practiced what I preach at all times, but that would be a lie. So here goes...
I am lucky to have a bit more free time than others, so I rarely set an alarm. I usually get up naturally around 7am after 7-8 hrs of sleep. I workout Mon, Wed and Fri most weeks. If it is a workout day, I don't usually eat right away. I will have a couple coffees before heading to the gym later that morning. I like to fast before I work out, but I am a firm believer that fasting before working out should be easy. If you are hungry, or don't feel well, it is a sign of some nutrient deficiency and you should eat. If you are eating correctly the day before, you should find the morning fast easy. I do find it easy and I will usually just have some BCAAs before I work out.
The first thing I do in the morning is check the overnight currency markets, see if any orders were filled and analyze what went on overnight to see if any opportunities are available. Most mornings I find time to put on my weighted vest and take the dog for a 20 min walk. I try to spend the rest of the morning trading or researching trading strategies. Usually by noon at the latest I will wrap up my 'trading day' and head to the gym.
My workouts lately have been supersets of compound lifts (bench, squat, deads or press) with accessory lifts as well as a lot of core work. The core work that I do is 90% isometric and focuses on not just the anterior core (abz), but also lats and glutes. And when I say core, I am talking about isometric stability work (anti-rotation, anti-flexion, anti-extension and anti-lateral flexion). I am convinced that a strong mid section as well as strong glutes are essential to lifting safely for years to come. I usually finish with a wod or partial wod of something that I am working on programming for the gym. I like to try them out before I make everyone else suffer through them. But admittedly, I don't always do 'all 5 rounds' or the full '20 min amrap'. After my wod I usually have a protein shake in water.
Then I head home for a big meal (usually something like a salad with chicken or leftovers from the night before) and I will take my morning supplements (fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D and zinc). After lunch its time to start work on gym stuff (research, programming, strategy etc.). Mondays and Wednesdays I teach classes. I usually finish 'working' around 6:30pm or so when the family sits down for supper. Cindy is the cook at our house, so our meals are always very tasty and usually very healthy. Most meals are gluten free and based around meat and veggies. I also take more vitamin C and fish oil with dinner. Evenings aren't as busy as they used to be (now that I have two kids with their own license), but we still stay pretty busy with the kids, walking the dog and discussing business. When you live with your business partner, it's hard not to always be talking about it.
The night usually finishes with an hour of TV and more often than not a glass or two of wine, before heading to bed. I shouldn't say that because it's not a good idea right before bed, but I too have a few vices. Then I take my magnesium supplement and off to bed for my 7.5 hours of sleep....
What is the most rewarding part of coaching?
I like just hanging around the gym, watching people and talking to our members. Over the course of months or years, I see the changes that occur and that's fun. And not just in their body, but in their confidence and the way they carry themselves. I really do think that Cindy and I and the rest of the coaches at Crux are changing lives. That in itself is pretty rewarding. Having said that, I do realize that even if Cindy and I had never opened up the Crux, a lot of our members would still be working out or even be members at another CrossFit. However, I think that Cindy and I have made CrossFit more accessible than it is in many towns. People seem to be able to relate to us and I honestly believe that a number of our members would never have tried CrossFit (or any other fitness program) if not for us. Those members that no one would have ever expected to stick with it. Helping convince them that it was the right thing for them and turning them from skeptics into believers. It's those success stories that I find most rewarding.
What is your favourite movement/benchmark workout and why?
Favourite lift is the clean and the favourite benchmark is King Kong. I like the clean because it's fast and heavy and not everyone can just step up and do it. It takes a certain amount of skill and training. King Kong is just a good wod for me...right in my wheelhouse. Low reps, heavy weight with a bit of skill. King Kong plays to my strengths.
What is your most hated movement/benchmark workout and why?
I've always disliked long distance running, find it boring and I don't have the lungs for it. So any long runs (5km+) I hate. As far as benchmark wods that I hate...anything that is light weight and all about engine. I'm not built for workouts like Murph. But the one I hate the most is filthy fifty. Which reminds me. I haven't programmed that for the gym in a long time....hmmmm.
What did you do before running a gym?
After my chemistry degree, I went on to get my MBA and got a job out of university with TD Securities. I ended up trading currency for them and ran their global spot foreign exchange trading desk until 2008. At that point I ended up with an option to leave, so I jumped at it. I thought it would be temporary and that I would end up back in the industry, but it suited me better to be home more with my family. About a year after that, my lovely wife came up with the idea to open up a CrossFit gym. I thought she was nuts. She said it would be a hit and I said that there was no way that there were that many people 'crazy' enough to do CrossFit in Stouffville. Turns out she was right.
What is something most people don’t know about you or something interesting?
I was instrumental in reformulating the McLean Deluxe for the Canadian market (Check out who is #1!). On a less exciting note, I also helped to create the Canadian recipe for Miller Genuine Draft. The Canadian govt. is pretty strict on what is allowed to be used as a food additive and I had a knack for finding something that worked.
What type of music do you like to work out to?
I like harder, aggressive music, but it's got to have a good beat for working out... Rammstein, Rob Zombie, Disturbed, Korn...but also artists like Eminem, Lyrics Born and of course the best workout song ever.... LL Cool J's Mama Said Knock You Out
What is one highlight from your athletic career?
Getting old scares the crap out of me, so I guess it was when I lifted the most total weight and came in second overall (body weight adjusted) at a power lifting competition when I was 40 years old. Competing against some pretty good lifters that were a lot younger than I was.
Where do you spend your time when you aren’t at the gym?
I like to go to concerts of new and upcoming artists. Mostly indie or alternative, but has to be a small venue. I have no interest in going to the ACC or Rogers Centre for a show...couldn't pay me enough. But Arctic Monkeys or Black Keys at the Kool Haus...I'm in! I am going to see Jamie T at Cliffs Pavillion just outside of London in October.