“What do you train for?”
“What CrossFit box do you compete out of?”
“What’s your story?”
These are questions that I was frequently asked as I competed in the realFIT Score competition, a 9 event, 3-day competition held at Paleo f(x)™ 2016.
My answers were always the same. I train for health, I’ve never stepped foot into a CrossFit box, and my story is simple: I’m a health coach based in Sydney Australia and I made a last minute decision to attend Paleo f(x)™.
The questions – from officials and fellow competitors alike – were justifiable. Here I was, this unknown 28-year-old male who was jet-lagged, had no CrossFit experience, had never ran a 40 yard in his life, was wearing pants, and was not only putting up respectable Real Fit scores, but went on to win the whole competition!
I would have been asking someone in my situation the same questions. Now, I’d like to say that I’ve found some magical ketone supplement, or have bio-hacked my way to enhanced performance, but this isn’t the case. My secret is pretty simple and I’m going to share it with you shortly. But first, what exactly is this “realFIT Score”?
What Is the realFIT Score?
The realFIT Score website puts it best: “realFIT was designed to provide a common definition and standard approach to fitness assessments across all programs”
The team at realFIT have developed a common standard for fitness; a standard that covers all modalities: strength, agility, power, endurance, and beyond. This standard is calculated by performing a variety of tests:
- 40 yard dash
- 8lb medicine ball throw for distance
- 20 yard agility drill
- Bodyweight deadlifts: AMRAP in 2 minutes
- Vertical Leap
- Chest Strength test on ARX machine
- Leg Strength test on ARX machine
- Pullups for AMRAP in 2 minutes
- 500m Row Repeats
Anyone that has done any sort of specialized training will know that this is a diverse range of tests – short bursts of explosive power for the vertical jump, glycolytic endurance for the 2-minute tests, and everything in between. Throw in the agility drill and you have a fitness assessment that rewards a well-rounded athlete.
I guess it’s now fair to say that I am a well-rounded athlete! This despite the fact that I have never performed many of these tests prior to the competition. I grew up in New Zealand where a 40-yard dash is unheard of (plus we measure in metres!) I had never performed a medicine ball throw, and I think I did a vertical jump at high school as a fitness assessment…once.
Even though I have a background in powerlifting, I haven’t done a set of deadlifts in over 7 months. Yet I hit the record for most deadlifts in 2 minutes, which you can see below:
And finally, I had only seen videos of people using the ARX strength machine prior to my strength test…by the way, if you haven’t used an ARX machine before, hunt one down and give it a go. This thing is intense!
Now, I’m not saying all this to brag and stroke my ego. I am giving you this context to show what is possible with the right diet, smart yet intense training, adequate recovery and some cutting edge bio-hacks. That is what powered me to the top spot in this competition.
I haven’t always made these lifestyle and training choices! In fact, it was by doing everything wrong that I ended up doing everything right.
From the Top, To Rock Bottom and Back Again
I have a background in competitive sports, I used to row, powerlift and even got up on stage in teeny tiny trunks as a natural Bodybuilder. Unfortunately, my thirst for success pushed me over the edge. Months after winning an All Natural Australian Bodybuilding title I noticed for the first time that something seriously wasn’t right.
I was a 25-year-old male bodybuilding champ with rock bottom libido. I couldn’t work for more than 3 hours without needing coffee or a lie-down, I constantly craved sleep and I literally couldn’t walk more than a mile without having to sit and “recharge.”
I was a wreck and my 6 (or more) 90 minute training sessions each week, combined with far too many pre workout stimulants and poor recovery strategies had broken me.
“Necessity is the Mother of Invention”
Though I don’t claim to have invented anything, this famous proverb rings true in my story. I was down and out and had nowhere to go but up.
My path to recovery involved following not only a Paleo-based diet, but also a Paleo-based lifestyle. A lifestyle that emphasized the importance of rest, play, sleep, sunshine, quality movement and lots of reading and learning! These things had been foreign to me in the year’s prior as I burnt myself out putting the the pedal to the metal. But today they form the bedrock of not only my healthy lifestyle, but those of my clients as well.
If a Paleo diet and lifestyle was the simple answer to coming out on top of the realFIT competition, then surely the Paleo guys eating the same diet but training CrossFit or Spartan racing would have come out on top right? Clearly this wasn’t the case. Sure, my diet was on point (cyclical low carb, with lots of low-inflammatory foods), but I believe it was my unconventional training combined with my emphasis on healing & health that put me on top.
In fact,I wasn’t planning on competing at this year’s Paleo f(x)™ because of my “alternative” training methods,
My training over the past 6 months has been minimalist at best. At most, I would train for 60 minutes each week…and that’s in a good week! Often, I’d cap my training at 30 minutes each week.
A lot of people would consider my training load to be lazy, or even unhealthy – especially for a health coach like myself. I train to maximize health. The by-product is looking good and knowing I can lift something heavy and sprint away from a dangerous situation if need. Optimal health is my primary driver.
The training method I follow is commonly known as Super Slow Training. In particular, I follow the book Body By Science by Dr Doug McGuff. McGuff’s book is a great read for any fitness coach or gym goer, but it’s the science that he draws upon that really hits home.
In a nutshell, the Body By Science method involves maximum time under tension on a muscle using slow tempo lifts – 5-10 second concentric’s with 5-10 seconds eccentrics. One set to failure, one lift per body part, one session per week. That’s all. You are in and out of the gym in 20minutes max. Sidenote: the aforementioned ARX machine is perfect for this kind of training!
Sessions are brutal, but that intensity is the secret ingredient to the program’s success. Training like this creates an intense stimulus on the muscle, bone, central nervous system and even the mind. Due to the intensity, and the stress created on the CNS, you only do this training session once per week, sometimes less.
So what do I do with the rest of the week in regards to training? Simple: I recover. I become as healthy as I possibly can be. I sleep, I prepare and eat nutrient dense meals, I get plenty of sunshine, I use bio-hacks like cold thermogenesis and breathing exercises, I adhere to my environments light cycles and block blue light. Occasionally I will do some high-intensity interval training, but not every week.
I should also point out that I did make the most of the supplements and equipment available at Paleo f(x)™ in between event!. I was popping liquid ketones by Pruvit, Unfair advantage PQQ shots by Bulletproof, drinking raw camel’s milk, and getting in as many sessions as possible in the Normatec Recovery boots.
A photo posted by Alex Fergus (@af_coaching) on
I’m certain that these things helped me take out the title, but the foundation is the smart, intense, combined with the quality diet and enhanced recovery that lead me to success.
Less Really Is More
Everyone thought I had to be a serious CrossFitter, or had been training for months in the build-up to the RealFit competition. This is so far from the truth it’s not funny. Like I said, I train 15-60minutes per week, total. But I train smart and extremely hard.
It is really fascinating because I come from a powerlifting and bodybuilding background where volume is key, a background that ruined my body and my health. Due to how little training I’ve done this year, I didn’t even consider entering the competition. I thought I’d do a vertical jump as a laugh, ended up with a solid number and next thing you know…
My takeaway here is simple – you really don’t need to slave away in the gym day after day to simply look and feel great. In fact, you may not even have to slave away in the gym day after day to PERFORM great. Just because conventional wisdom says that you must doesn’t mean it’s true. Remember what conventional wisdom said about consuming fat and grains.
So, Are you training more than you need to? Take some time to reconsider what you truly want out of your training, and if you’re making the most of your body. I hope I’ve given you something to think about!