by Lindsay Miller
with Ben Bergeron
While visiting Nashville to coach one of his athletes in the CrossFit Regional Games, I received the opportunity to sit down with Ben Bergeron and discuss a few of his infamous techniques and tools to training some of the most athletic men and women in the world.
If you read the article “Listen Up” in our first issue, you know a little bit about Bergeron’s podcast, Chasing Excellence. It includes leading resources and advice on health, performance, the mindset of an athlete, and of course, CrossFit.
As a successful CrossFit gym owner, businessman, coach, and athlete, Bergeron’s competitive coaching is one of the most highly sought after programs in the CrossFit community and is followed by gyms and athletes all over the globe. Bergeron coaches some of the most talked about athletes in the CrossFit Games, four of which have already qualified for 2017. He has also coached a championship team in the Games, along with a Masters male and female. His athletes Mat Fraser and Katrín Davíðsdóttir are two-time reigning champs and currently possess the titles, Fittest Man and Fittest Woman on Earth, respectively.
Bergeron’s background is in personal training and strength and conditioning coaching. After finding CrossFit, he immediately began practicing this style of workouts with his clients and now owns one of the most prevalent CrossFit boxes in the world, CrossFit New England. Bergeron has also competed in the Masters himself, using his first-hand experience to build athletes into elite competitors.
Sitting down to speak with Bergeron was like a first-year, high school football coach chatting with Vince Lombardi. Bergeron knows everything there is to know about CrossFit and he uses analytics to implant his teachings into his clients. Whatever he says, goes. Whatever he does, works. As a CrossFit coach myself, “Listen Up” was exactly what I was going to do.
Not long into our discussion, I came to understand that Bergeron’s technique was more than understanding an athlete’s perspective, but catering to each individual’s human spirit. He says, “How you train someone is based on their goals. Don’t limit them.” As coaches, our limits and our expectations should never stand in the way of a member wanting to achieve something. “If you seriously want to compete at this level, go to Regionals or go to the Games, then you need to realize the amount of work and lack of life balance it’s going to take to get there,” he says blatantly.
His point is that we need to encourage our members and believe in them as they might believe in themselves. This is what makes someone feel like they are on a team. As a mentor, Bergeron is his athletes’ biggest supporter. “A great coach can get inside their athletes’ heads. They know what motivates them, what pushes them, when they typically rest, their strengths and weaknesses. Do they respond better to whispering or yelling? A great coach knows how to push athletes to get the best possible performance from them,” he says. He also expressed a similar level of passion and intensity in coaching people who are focusing on their health versus coaching competitive athletes. The difference isn’t passion and intensity—the difference is in the numbers (scaling weight, reps, movement, etc.).
CrossFit requires an extreme amount of mental toughness, so it’s important to cater to the human psyche. Each workout is humbling because it is a personal enlightenment to how much you can and can’t endure. Every struggle, push, or agonizing accomplishment leads to a better understanding of one’s self.
“Besides ‘show up’, there are three things we say: Be hungry. Be humble. Be happy.” He elaborates, “Be hungry: come in everyday and work hard, because working hard will always get you results. Be humble: Be coachable. Be willing to learn. That’s how you grow. Be happy: Don’t complain and don’t wine. It doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Bergeron teaches his athletes more than how to shave seconds off their Fran time (a well-known CrossFit workout). He is also leading by example. “If my life isn’t disciplined, it seems unfair to expect the same of anyone else.” Bergeron has “gone 13 years without a sweet,” and still wakes up every day at 4 a.m. He trains just as hard as his athletes because that is what he is asking of them in return.
As the interview concludes, I look down at my phone and think aloud, “My phone almost died.” Bergeron points at my settings and instructs me to turn on my power saving mode under the battery notifications. “I’ve never taught anyone about technology!” he says to me, sounding thrilled.
As the day progressed, I thought more about this short interaction and then it hit me. How could someone get so excited about power saving mode?
The realization was that Bergeron loves to coach. Plain and simple. It genuinely brought him pleasure to see me learn a new trick. And isn’t that what we want in a coach? Someone that is happy for you and your accomplishments. Someone that appreciates and respects the sometimes-slow process of learning and improving—day-in and day-out. His enthusiasm is infectious. I can appreciate the small victories, even for a few more minutes of battery power.
After witnessing the almost colossal athletes competing in the Music City Center arena, I felt one thing was certain: I needed to get back into the gym. So, I asked how I could smartly and safely start back on this routine and manage to stay motivated. “That’s up to you,” he says. “Motivation comes from within. It depends on the individual’s will power and want. That’s all there is to it.” His advice surprised me, but I couldn’t deny his candor.
He does assure me, “Regional athletes are not CrossFitters though. They are professional athletes. And just like any sport, their body has a limit as to how long they can do this.”
“CrossFit is made for functionality and longevity and it is for the masses,” Bergeron explains. “Understand that the fitness we’re aiming for isn’t going to be found tomorrow and that CrossFitters don’t look like them (referring to The Games athletes walking by us). They look like CEO’s, nurses, real-estate agents, and teachers. These guys are professionals and CrossFit only intimates people because they are comparing themselves to an unrealistic metric system.”
So, what does he suggest in terms of CrossFit for the rest of us? Bergeron looks at me and shrugs his shoulders with a smile, “Just try it. See what happens.”