Sacha Adkins talks about Women & Competitive CrossFit

What’s your story, how did you find CrossFit?

I bought a Groupon for Crossfit Kitchener just over 5 years ago. I had no idea what it was but I was bored of going to the gym by myself and not feeling like I had accomplished anything. I have always been active and played competitive soccer for most of my life but couldn’t anymore due to a knee injury. When I started Crossfit, I had never done a squat or lifted a weight in my life so everything was new. I remember checking the workouts on the website, googling the movements and practicing with a broomstick in my kitchen before classes for the first few months. Early on, I knew this was going to be my sport.

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Crossfit became such a big part of my life because of timing. I had just moved back from teaching English in China, where I had been eating almost exclusively peanut butter and jam sandwiches and coca cola, and was about 30lbs overweight. I had also been used to playing team sports and missed the direction and camaraderie. Crossfit challenged me physically and gave me a social outlet. 6 months after starting, I moved to Halifax with my boyfriend Nick while he went to law school. The first thing I did was google the nearest Crossfit gym and when I walked in, there were 3 women on the rings doing a muscle-up WOD- I knew this was where I wanted to be. My first year doing the Open in Halifax, I was fighting for the third female spot on the Regionals team and missed out narrowly. I traveled to Toronto with them as the alternate and as I watched from the sidelines, I resolved never to be in this position again. I worked extremely hard for the next 9 months, finished top 20 in the Open and qualified as an individual the next year.

What is it about CrossFit that you love so much?

Where to start?! I am naturally very competitive so I fell in love with the physical challenge of it very quickly- every day I get concrete, numerical results of my progress. And no matter how good you get, there is always something to work on.

Crossfit reteaches me the correlation of hard work and results every day. Nothing is a surprise- I either made something a priority, worked hard and made gains, or I didn’t, and didn’t see any improvement. In my day to day life, this has taught me to take personal responsibility for the things I make a priority in my life and be unapologetic for the things I do not.

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Lately, coaching has become more of my focus and it is the most rewarding experience yet. I am so lucky to have a job where I get to make real changes in people’s lives every day. Crossfit is about so much more than lifting weights. For me, it’s about people setting goals, making a plan to achieve them and having a genuinely supportive community around them while they do the work.

Could you speak on the importance of CrossFit for women?

Creating a space where women are appreciated for what their bodies can do, rather than what they look like, is huge. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had new members come into the gym and say, ‘I want to get toned but I don’t want to look like you’. They don’t mean it as an insult- they’re just reflecting what we have been taught to value as beautiful in society. My favorite part of coaching is watching women transition from purely aesthetic goals to performance-based ones. The switch from, ‘I don’t want my thighs to touch’, to, ‘I want to be strong’ is so powerful, not just for women but for everyone in their lives. When we create strong, empowered women, we create role models for our daughters and sons, and new expectations of women outside of the box. Being a part of this shift is a truly incredible experience.

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What is Women’s comp prep?

WCP is a program specifically designed to coach and develop female athletes. ‘Competition’ doesn’t mean everyone has goals to go to Regionals- it just means that people are invested in improving their skills. The program itself is a series of 2-hour classes held at Reebok Crossfit East Woodbridge, and each cycle has a different focus. The program that just finished was our Open Prep cycle, which emphasized the movements and workout formats we typically see in the Open. A large part of our program is prepping mentally for competition- how to strategize for workouts, make a game plan based on your personal strengths and weaknesses as an athlete, and how to learn from workouts and take that knowledge forward. Physically, we focus on creating upper body strength, efficiency in gymnastics movements and barbell cycling. The classes are capped at 15 athletes to ensure lots of coaching attention.

I am in the unique position of working with a former Crossfit Games athlete, dedicated coach and badass strong female, Azadeh Boromoud, and we came together to form the program with the support of Chris and Steve Cristini. Azadeh recently moved here from Vancouver and I could not ask for Azadeh Boroumand, South Centrala better coaching partner. We both bring significant athletic and coaching experience and are great compliments to each other in terms of coaching style and expertise. Beyond being coaching partners, we are also teammates and training partners. Leading by example and showing what women supporting women actually looks like in the competitive community is very powerful and a unique opportunity that we have.

 

What inspired you to create it?

Azadeh and I have a lot of common ground when we compare our competitive training journeys. We both spent too much time figuring out how to train smart to avoid injuries, develop high-level gymnastics skills efficiently, and create mental toughness while having a healthy relationship to competitive Crossfit and training, which can be the most challenging part. I cannot put a price on the knowledge I’ve gained over the past 4 years of competing at a high level. Azadeh and I are both passionate coaches and the program allows us to share our experience as competitors with other women. It is basically my dream job.

At the end of the day, women need to train differently than men, specifically to develop more upper body strength and gymnastics skills. Most women come into Crossfit with good lower body strength but no pull ups, whereas most men come in and can perform a muscle up with minimal work. There are no programs out there like this, that focus on creating well-rounded female competitors. We saw the need at our own gym and knew that this would be something to benefit athletes throughout the GTA.

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Creating a community of strong women that support each other was my main motivation for creating the program. When I started competing when I lived in Halifax, I had a group of strong women surrounding me, and I would not be where I am today without them- not just as training partners but as emotional and social support as well, and I want to help create this for women in our community. So often I see more jealousy than support, or women tagging along with an all-male training group just to drop out when muscle ups or strict handstand push-ups appear in the programming. The competitive Crossfit scene in this area is male-dominated and my goal is to create a stronger female presence here- women training together and not getting scared off by high-skilled movements.

 

What kind of results can people expect from it?

Our biggest message to the women in the program is that there is no unicorn dust- put the work in and you will get results, and we’ve seen this in our athletes through the first cycle of WCP. The athletes who took the most away from the program were those who were the most engaged in class, completed all of the homework and began to problem solve for themselves. The first week, we had endless questions on how to modify the homework for individual athletes compared to almost none in the last 4 weeks. Our mission is to create athletes who know their capacities and understand how to intelligently scale movements accordingly, not necessarily in terms of weights but for high-skilled movements such as muscle-ups and handstand push-ups.

The biggest take away the women had was a higher level of confidence when approaching workouts. The program’s timeline worked perfectly with the Open because we had 4 sessions pre-Open and then we able to do 3 of the Open workouts in class. It was incredible to see how quickly these women developed as athletes- we went from watching members performing a class workout to being surrounded by competitors.

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Our last class fell on the week of 16.3 and when the workout was announced I was a bit worried about how the class would go. We were bringing all 20 women from both classes together to do the workout and only a handful of them could perform a bar muscle up. We had spent significant time working on ring muscle-ups but only one class talking about bar. The day of 16.3, we spent 45 minutes working on bar muscle-up skill development before starting the workout.

There are only 2 pull-up bars for bar muscle-ups at Woodbridge so every athlete had either Azadeh or myself as their coach and judge through the whole 7 minutes. Out of the 2 women, over half of them got their first (and second, and third) bar muscle-ups. Women who walked in on day 1 with inconsistent chest to bar pull-ups and only dreams of getting muscle-ups were getting over the bar. Even the women who didn’t get their first muscle-up that day came closer than I ever would have thought imaginable 7 weeks prior. I can speak for both Azadaeh and myself when I say that was a pivotal moment in our coaching careers and validated all the work we have put into this program. Not only were these women accomplishing things they had previously thought impossible, but they were supporting each other in the process- the energy in the room was electric. Screaming, crying, hugging- this was the community I had hoped to create.

When does the next program begin?IMG_0568

Phase 2, Offseason Training, starts on Friday, April 1st. The program will be on Friday evenings for this phase, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm for an 8-week cycle. The focus for Offseason Training will be building strength, perfecting weightlifting technique and mastering fundamental gymnastic movements. All of the info can be found at HERE and our Facebook page.

 

What advice would you give to young women who see CrossFit and want to get started?

My advice would be to just jump in no matter what level of experience or fitness you have. Everyone started somewhere, some even with Groupon, and this sport is the greatest platform to be empowered through your strength and abilities rather than aesthetics. And don’t be intimidated by the videos on youtube or the intense competitors you may see at your gym- this sport is whatever you want it to be and for most people it is just a fun way to stay fit. Although I love coaching competitors, I equally love coaching badass moms lifting and getting stronger.

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