The Times West Virginian

January 2, 2014

East Fairmont wrestlers utilize CrossFit principles to prepare for matches

By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian

PLEASANT VALLEY — Inside East Fairmont’s wrestling facility, dozens of athletes are tossing themselves recklessly onto the mat.

From a pushup position they propel themselves up to their feet, jump into the air and clap at the top, all in one swift movement. As soon their toes touch down onto the mat, they again flop their muscular frames to the ground, ready for another repetition.

This, um, thing — think of it like the “up-downs” your high school football coach made you do — it’s called a burpee. And no it’s not a new wrestling move invented by the Bees.

Instead, it’s just one of many moves common to CrossFit, an exercise regime that incorporates weight lifting, bodyweight exercise and cardiovascular training all in one.

Founded by Greg Glassman in the early 2000s, the company’s website defines CrossFit as “constantly varied, function movements performed at high intensity.” It pulls from everywhere from Olympic-style weight lifting to rowing to gymnastics to achieve a broad measure of fitness.

As a testament to this, many of the top athletes at the CrossFit Games, a yearly competition that began in 2007 to crown the “Fittest on Earth,” can squat 500 pounds and run a 5-minute mile. Plenty of 300-plus-pound power lifters can move that much iron, and probably more 125-pound string-bean runners can endure four laps at that pace. Few can do both.

Five years ago, this article would have needed much more than a few short paragraphs to explain CrossFit. But in recent years the self-proclaimed “Sport of Fitness” has boomed, reaching about 7,000 affiliate gyms worldwide. It has been embraced by grandmas, members of the armed forces and the New Orleans Saints football team — just to name a few. Heck, you might have even tried it yourself.

East Fairmont assistant wrestling coach Scott Hage first stumbled upon it three years ago. He was driving through White Hall when he was distracted by a blaze yellow sign with “CROSSFIT” written in black block letters.

A few days later, he did his first workout at CrossFit Intense, an affiliate on Moran Circle in Fairmont that boasts the motto “Making you harder to kill!” While Hage doesn’t remember all of the specifics of the circuit-style workout, he remembers what happened afterward.

“I got back to my house and fell flat on my face in my living room and lay there for about 30 minutes,” he said. “I was hooked from that moment, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Almost immediately the coach started implementing CrossFit principles into his wrestlers’ workouts. The results, he said, are noticeable. While strength and condition play just one small role in a team’s success, the Bees produced two state champions last year.

“CrossFit principles seem to be the most effective way to get our wrestlers to where they need to be as quickly as possible,” Hage said.

Hage, who was a four-time high school state champion in Georgia and qualified for the NCAA national tournament three times at West Virginia University, said the part of that dictionary-sounding definition from the beginning of the article that most relates to wrestling is the “constantly varied” aspect.

“It applies very nicely to wrestling because of the unexpected nature that a wrestler faces every time he steps out on the mat,” he said. “Everybody has different styles. Everybody has a different body type. Everybody brings something different to the match.”

The CrossFit workouts, by their very nature, do much of the same. They prescribe specific weights and unconventional rep-schemes that can be as few as one repetition to as many as hundreds of repetitions. Every day is a new challenge.

Athletes don’t know what workout they will complete until 8 p.m. the preview night when CrossFit.com (as well as many affiliates) posts a “workout of the day,” or to use their lexicon “WOD.” For example, yesterday’s WOD was five rounds for time of 20 strict ring dips and 14 thrusters (a front squat into an overhead press) with 135 pounds.

On the chilly winter morning at East Fairmont’s wrestling facility, grapplers rotated through two-minute rounds (the same length as one wrestling period) of shoulder presses, pushups, pull ups and — of course — burpees.

After the circuit, the team carried medicine balls while doing sprints, as Hage encouraged them, wearing his CrossFit Intense T-shirt draped over his stocky frame.

Catching their breath, the wrestlers described the feeling that comes from one of the workouts.

“Jello,” said 132-pound senior Brody Nesslerotte. “You really can't feel your arms or legs or anything else.”

“You’re more mentally tired than anything,” added 152-pound senior Hayden Stewart. “You’ve just got to tell yourself you can keep going.”  

While the workouts push the wrestlers to new limits, the coaches and athletes agree that the work pays off when they step onto the mat.

Stewart said, “When we’re out there wrestling in duals you can definitely tell that we’re the better team when it comes to conditioning.”

Email Mike DeFabo at mdefabo@timeswv.com or follow on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.