The Road to Gym Jones – Part 3

By Christopher Hadley

THIS IS THE THIRD OF A MULTI-PART SERIES on Chris Hine’s trip to Utah for his Level 3 Gym Jones Certification. In episode two, we flashed back to when Chris first felt the lure of Gym Jones and left him eager to take up his place on the first ever UK Level 1. In part three, we catch up with him some weeks later in a spit and sawdust gym in Lewisham preparing to move a heavy barbell using only the power of his mind…

…Okay, to be fair he was also using his glutes and hamstrings, and maybe his lats as well, but there’s no need to quibble, the point is that Chris was learning that he could have all the strength and power endurance in the world, but they would count for little if he didn’t develop his mental strength. It’s a lesson he’s still eager to teach everyone at Huntsman — preferably the hard way. Your one rep max deadlift will only get you so far in a WOD, and you can bleed and bitch and sweat as much as you like, but if you’re playing yourself, Chris or Rob or Ivana will give you that look. You know the one.

To succeed: embrace the power of the mind, you must.

The setting for Chris’s lessons in grit could not have been grittier. B J Rule’s Optimal Life Fitness was in an old fire station in Lewisham. Ripped out and open to the rafters. Pearl Jam played on a constant loop from an old ghetto blaster. In one corner was a parkour area, in another a boxing platform. The rig was made of scaffolding so it was like doing pull-ups on a fat bar. You entered through the sealed up fire engine doors into a cloud of weed, because the gym shared the space with a music studio. Chris trained kettlebells there with B J Rule, who made his own bells back then using kits ordered from Russia. This was before kettlebells took off as a fitness activity in the UK and back then they were exclusively hardcore — all about strength and power and endurance. Some of the gym-rats were pretty intense. Chris remembers one girl, who would come in and cycle the kettlebell snatch and clean and jerk for hours at a time.

Such was the backdrop for Mark Twight and Rob MacDonald’s first UK cert. Chris was nervous about meeting them, their online personas were not warm and cuddly. “I had expectations of a certain kind of person,” admits Chris. “A their-way-or-the-highway kind of person, a little harsh, a little unforgiving. In reality they were nothing like that. They were probably more open minded than anyone I’ve ever met.”

The course was mostly practical and they taught their methodologies, philosophies and skills through workouts. Some themes stood out which would have a big influence on Chris’s personal programming. One was the importance they gave to recovery. Even today on the Gym Jones blog, Rob MacDonald argues that few athletes over-train, they just under-recover. It seems trite but the distinction is an important one. If you’re in the gym for 7 or 8 hours a week (and most people aren’t), you’re nowhere near over-training, but if you don’t get enough sleep and eat badly and neglect your mobility then you can certainly under-recover.

“They put a huge emphasis on recovery,” says Chris “But recovery doesn’t mean doing nothing or taking it easy. You’ve got to keep the body moving.” Turkish get-ups were a favourite recovery tool.

Try 5×6 TGUs at 16kg with a 1 minute FLR between sets. Just get it done. Keep the heart rate low.

“You’re still using muscle fibres,” explains Chris “You’re getting the blood flowing, but you’re not taxing the central nervous system.”

It was on the Level 1 that Chris first heard of the classic 100 TGUs for time. It is still his favourite recovery day. “It feels amazing!” he claims improbably – convincing no-one. “On a recovery day you want to work hard, but don’t want to feel as if you’ve been run over by a car!” (Most of us don’t want to feel like we’ve been run over by a car on a training day either, Chris!)

Mastery was another major theme of Gym Jones programming. “Mark Twight wants people to learn how to do things properly, if you’re going to bother rowing, then learn how to row properly, or don’t do it.” And he lived out his philosophy. “You’d never catch Mark picking up a weight off the floor with his back rounded,” says Chris. Twight did not like workouts like Isabel (30 Snatches for time at 60kg). “Do that amount of volume without the strength and without the mastery and you’re just ingraining bad habits and you’re going to get injured. It’s the same with rowing. If you row badly but you row really hard, are you going to go sub-7. No way.”

But it was the mental side of things, the power of mind games, that had the biggest impact on Chris. It’s something he can’t programme enough of at Huntsman. “I’d like there to be a bit more mental suffering,” he says deadpan, because he’s not joking.

“I’ll always remember there was this guy who did Jones Crawl and Rob Macdonald was silent as this guy went at a suicide pace — every now and again he’d just say the time. The guy PB’d by a minute. Afterwards we found out that first thing that morning Rob had told him he had to PB or give back his Gym Jones t-shirt. It was amazing to watch. That guy had had that hanging over him all day.”

Greg Glassman famously said about CrossFit that the biggest adaptation which takes place is not to the body but between the ears. Gym Jones is the same, but maybe more so. Despite all the workouts, Chris didn’t come away from Level 1 feeling physically drained, but mentally exhausted: “My head was on fire for the entire three days. They broke down every training philosophy I had and basically rebuilt my brain.” They got in his head a lot. “They make sure you know where you should be, what you should do, what you should give and if you fall short, you feel as if you’ve let them down.” They got in his head…and they are still there.

They were still in his head three years later when Chris failed to go sub-7 on the rower on his Level 3 (See Part 1). That’s why he now thinks that eventually mental strength is even more important than mastery. “Improving my pacing and technique are not going to help me go below 7 mins. I think with 2k the mental is more important than the fitness.” Chris goes silent for a moment, thinking about it. “Maybe that’s just me. For me the mental side is more of a barrier than the fitness.”

How about you? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

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