The first workout of his first CrossFit Open, and Huntsman’s Matt Eardley simply could not decide whether to go Rx’d or Scaled.
So he did both.
That kind of sums up Matt’s approach to the last five weeks: give it a go, learn, grow, enjoy, help others and keep smiling. He might not have made it to the top of the leader board, but he definitely took the spirt of the Open award at Huntsman.
Not bad for someone who 12 months ago thought that CrossFit looked way too hard for someone like him.
“I hadn’t done any kind of fitness in my life,” says Matt, proudly showing me a picture taken three years ago at his sister’s wedding. It looks like someone with Matt’s faced stretched over a much larger surface area. He desperately needed to shed some lumber, so he got a Fitbit and started counting the steps. It was start and gradually a few pounds came off. He even decided to train for a half marathon at the beginning of last year, but that backfired when he put on weight – too many recovery doughnuts. Luckily his wife Lauren knew the solution: Crossfit. Matt had a look at the website and watched the games on Netflix and was not convinced. “It just looked too difficult,” he says. “What didn’t come through was the scale-ability of CrossFit and that’s what has made a huge difference to me. It’s something the coaches at Huntsman are really good at.”
Matt discovered this when he finally signed up for Huntsman’s On Ramp last April. But it wasn’t those introductory sessions that convinced him to stay. Matt explains: “I’d done a couple of On Ramps and I was still a little bothered about the accessibility of it all and then I turned up one Saturday and I was the only newbie. I ended up doing one of the pairs workouts and it was unbelievably hard!”
Post-traumatic amnesia has made him forget the movements programmed that day, but he hasn’t forgotten how his Fitbit nearly blew a fuse as it tried to keep up with his heartrate. “It was the fact that I managed to get through it. That really helped me. After that I just knew that I could do it.”
CrossFit has a habit of doing that – showing people what they are capable of.
Fast-forward a few months and Matt was one of the first box members to sign up for the Open.
Ever keen, he got up at 3am to check out 18.1. Toes to bar, dumbbell cleans and a C2 row for calories. His first thoughts were whether he should do it Rx’d or scaled. He knew the rowing would be ok. At 6’2” that suited him, and he also had a bench mark from the last testing week: 7.28 for 2000m.
He recalls what happened: “I don’t respond that well to being shouted at, that military fitness kind of thing. But here you get much more positive encouragement. Still when we did the 2k row, Chris was screaming at me to keep it under 7.30. For the row, when you are in a world of pain you need to be shouted at. That row hurt, but it made a massive difference to me.”
So as he lay in bed analysing his 18.1 options, he ticked off the row. The dumbbell cleans were just about manageable, tick that as well, but then there were those toes to bar…
“I came in on the Friday night and tried to do 10 reps in the warm up and managed to do one toes to bar and I thought there is just no point trying. If I’m only hitting one in ten, I’ll spend 20 minutes doing eight toes to bar.”
That settled it. He did it scaled and naturally smashed it.
“The worst bit was the volume. I did a lot of volume that night. Hanging knee raises are dead easy really, I just hammered them out, and I was trying to give it all on the row, to get more reps. The 15kg cleans were fine. I do a lot of things at that weight. My general approach is to try and do the women’s weight when I can, it doesn’t bother me. When I started I was doing less than the women’s weight, I’m far more bothered about getting my form right.”
In spite of all that volume, Matt was back in the box on Saturday morning.
“I had no plans to do 18.1 again, but I came in and did the Saturday WOD. Afterwards I was chatting to Chris about toes to bar and he showed me the hollow position and how you can jump through them and use your momentum. As long as your arms are extended at the bottom and your heels are behind the bar, then you are hitting the movement standard. I kept hitting them.”
And so there and then Matt did 18.1 again, except this time he did it Rx’d and with a big smile on his face. He clocked up 187 reps including 48 toes to bar. “I was very happy with that,” says Matt still wearing the smile two weeks later. “One of the things I really wanted to do was one of the Open workouts Rx’d. It was one of the most enjoyable things I have done in here, being able to do that workout Rxd.” It was the first time he’d ever done toes to bar in a workout.
He couldn’t wait to find out what the Open would throw at him next.
“Everyone was expecting something really bad for 18.2. I Checked it when I woke up, and I think my first thought was that’s do-able and so I tried to do it Rx’d first time.”
Dumbbell squats and burpees over the bar.
“There were no movements I couldn’t do,” says Matt “And no point I would be just stood there.”
But he didn’t appreciate how heavy the step up to two dumbbells would be. “I’ve only one set of legs! And it was just so cold that I proper burnt my throat, desperately trying to get air in.” When things are that unpleasant in a WOD, most people would put it in the books and move on. Not Matt. As many had discovered the hard way, the biggest problem had been holding onto the dumbbells. On Sunday morning he came in and spent half an hour figuring out how to get them on and off his shoulders. Sean helped me and then Jo gave me one of her jumpers as padding. Getting them onto my shoulders really shifted a lot of the weight backward. It was so much better.” So he redid it. “I wanted to push myself and I really wanted to finish the squats and burpees and have a go at the clean. I didn’t but I went from 72 reps to 90 reps.”
It was a huge amount of progress and he’s still got the bruises on his shoulders to prove it.
Matt confesses to having a very analytical mind. It comes of being an accountant. He likes to analyse the problem, weigh up the evidence, observe what others are doing, refine his technique and find an elegant solution. His biggest test was yet to come. 18.3 was beyond an analytical solution. Endless double-unders, heavy overhead squats, ring muscle-ups, dumbbell snatches and bar muscle-ups. When he first saw the workout he was pissed off, not only because it had so many movements he hasn’t mastered yet and an overhead squat heavier than his 1RM, but because the scaled option was pull-ups. The scaled option! “Pull ups seemed like a very hard scale – toes-to-bar to hanging knees raises was a much much easier scale. Pull-ups!”
But instead of staying cross, Matt realised that he just needed to make it all about those pull-ups. He just had to get better at them, very fast. He also took a good look around him and realised that some really talented athletes were scaling the work out and that helped a lot.
“I could do a few double-unders and I could have insisted on doing it Rx’d and practised them for 14 minutes, but not only would that have been a waste of 14 minutes for me I’d have had a very bored judge.”
He did 18.3 scaled, scored 578 reps and got a lot better at pull-ups, which would prove to be a huge benefit later in the Open.
A week later and that Rx’d tag gave Matt a moment of temptation again. He couldn’t do hand-stand press-ups for 18.4, but he could do some deadlifts at that weight. Not many, but some.
“I could have done it Rx’d and placed higher than those doing it scaled, but that seemed like cheating. There were a lot of good people doing the scaled version. I can get into the handstand push up position but can’t get my fucking arms to move!”
Scaled it was and easy it wasn’t! Especially those bear crawls. He came away with 149 reps to add to his 2018 tally.
Roll on the grand finale. Matt was prepared for 18.5 when it came round because a few weeks before he’d done 17.5 and discovered that he couldn’t yet do thrusters at the Rx’d weight. Alright, calm down now! Going scaled was an easy decision and being from Warrington playing the scouser for the fancy dress Friday night lights was an even easier call. Although working out in a huge wig and shell suit was probably the hardest moment of the Open. Hmmm, what could he achieve without fancy dress? On Saturday he spent hours with Ryan, Paul and James working on his chest to bar pull ups and figured out that he could do them if he changed his grip to a chin-up. “I finally got one rep!”
He was back on the Sunday. Maybe he would have another crack at those thruster he thought he couldn’t do. Seven minutes later and Matt had yet another Rx’d score in the bag of 31 reps – every single one of them hard-earned and 13 of them were chest to bar pull ups. None, to one, to 13 in two days of hard work.
One of the secrets to Matt’s success was taking the decision to do the CrossFit judges course. Not only did it mean he could help others, it helped with his movements. “I found it really interesting and really helpful,” says Matt. “It helped me a lot with my movements. Just knowing what the requirements for the move are, because there is obviously a big difference to everyday WODs in the box. From day to day it is about safety but in a competition you have to go for it and you have to hit the movement standard.”
It’s been a pretty good first CrossFit season to say the least for someone who this time last year thought it looked way too hard for him. What’s more, his benchmarks are in the bag.
“The biggest thing I wanted from my first Open was a benchmark. Chris talks a lot about the measurability of CrossFit all the time and I wanted to measure myself. If I can finish on, say, the 20th percentile this year, then in 12 months after a year’s work I can do even better.”
Spoken like a true accountant.
Watch out 19.1