Ten years ago, Ariel Fernandez was playing baseball with Baruch College in New York. Now he’s competing on CrossFit’s biggest stage against tens of thousands of world-class athletes.
We sat down with the New York native to discuss what attracted him to the sport of fitness and what it takes to stay at the top of such a fiercely competitive sport.
“CrossFit defines itself as the sport of fitness”, says Ariel. “It’s a combination of a lot of different physical challenges. Typically in competition we’ll see heavy weightlifting, high skill gymnastics, kettlebell or dumbbell movements, calisthenics, and running, rowing, or biking.”
Think of it like a Decathalon except with dozens more events.
Two months ago, Ariel competed in The Open, a worldwide CrossFit competition that pits hundreds of thousands of athletes against each other.
This year there were five leg-, arm-, shoulder- and back-sapping workouts.
First, Ariel pumped out 150 dumbbell snatches and 75 burpee box jump-overs as fast as he could.
Second, he had 12 minutes to burn through as many walking lunge, toes-to-bars and power clean as he could.
Third, he had 24 minutes to grind out 153 pull ups and 63 squat snatches.
Fourth, he had 13 minutes to rep out as many deadlifts, wall-ball shots and handstand push-ups as he could. Oh, there was some stationary rowing thrown in there for good measure, too.
Fifth, he repped out 90 thrusters and 350 double-unders as quickly as he can.
The word gruelling doesn’t do it justice.
Perhaps the hardest part of competitive CrossFit is that next year the Open will feature completely different workouts. Staying competitive in Crossfit means both being able to do everything and being able to do everything exceptionally well.
“Every facet of fitness is required,” explains Ariel. “You can’t have any holes in your game.
“The best CrossFit athletes are extremely well-rounded: strong and powerful enough to lift heavy weights, coordinated and flexible enough to perform highly skillful gymnastic and Olympic weightlifting movements, and have enough stamina to excel in running, rowing and swimming challenges.”
With so much variation, you might think training is hard. After all, a body built specifically for Olympic lifting isn’t the same as a body built for rowing.
When you compete across dozens of events, where do you even start?
“CrossFit itself is a strength and conditioning program,” admits Ariel. “In the off season I reduce the conditioning volume and work on improving my strength numbers in both Olympic Weightlifting and Powerlifting; once the season gets closer I up my conditioning work to prepare for competition.”
When the sport you’re training for is the sport of fitness, I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that training involves just doing it.
Towards the end of our conversation, I asked Ariel about how someone should start getting into CrossFit.
“Don’t be intimidated by what you see the pros doing,” he started. “At the recreational level, anyone can get involved. It’s actually very accessible and a ton of fun.”
“Regardless of whether you’re just doing it for fun or are aiming to go pro, master the basics first. You need a really solid foundation of movement before you start increasing the volume and intensity of your workouts.”
And what specific advice does Ariel have for budding CrossFit athletes?
“Spend the time working on your strength and mobility to achieve the perfect air squat before you load a ton of weight onto your back squat.
“Work on your strict gymnastics movements to make sure that your joints are strong and you have good body control and positioning before you jump on the rings and try to swing yourself into a muscle-up.
“Finally, be patient: The work you put in at the beginning will pay you back one thousand times in keeping you moving efficiently and avoiding injury later on.”
After placing 35th out of 201,951 at the 2017 Open, Ariel has his sights set on the East Regional, which kicks off on the 19th May.
If you want to see how Ariel keeps his rig in tip top shape, check out his in-season workout here.