In 2008, I wrecked my knee in the last pre-season game in Boston and I knew I needed help if I was going to give football another chance. Really, I needed to have something done if I wanted to lead a normal life (however one defines that).
I called Kelly Starrett for advice. He not only recommended the Ortho he was working with at the time, he offered me his couch while I recovered. I will always be grateful for his help, as that was a strange time for me.
Since I was a high school freshman, my sole focus was football. I knew school was important but it did not have the same luster, so, like most 14 year olds, I focused on the thing that shined the brightest. I knew football was seasonal, but training was year round. Luckily, I really enjoyed lifting weights. The sound of iron rattling on the bar during a set, the dry smell of chalk, hearing a stack of weights slam into the ground after a heavy pull, the blood on my shins – it all spoke to me. The post-training euphoria and the looks I got from people as I got bigger and stronger was addictive, too. But what I enjoyed most was how I could draw a straight line between my training gains and on-field performance. As my squat went up, I got faster. As I ran faster, I hit harder. Harder hits knocked my opponents down, garnering from colleges and the media. That culminated with winning the LA Times Lineman of the year, numerous scholarship offers, and a full ride for the University of California at Berkeley.
I loved college, but not for the Saturday football games or dollar drinks on Tuesday nights. I enjoyed the education. I was challenged every day by some of the smartest people on the planet at a time when I was an open book, full of blank pages. I believe my experience there was one of the richest. Berkeley is the decision I will never regret.
Moving to the NFL was another big step. From high school to college, I was an 18-year kid playing football with 23 year old men. Now I was a 23 year old man playing with men in their late 20s, 30s and even some in their 40s.
I was fortunate to start the first game of my NFL career. It was a great day for about 2 quarters. Right before half time, I suffered a near career ending rupture of my patellar tendon. I had surgery that night and started a rehab program in an attempt to fight out of the depths of despair and earn a spot on an NFL rooster. But wouldn’t you know it, next season on opening day, I was the starter again and once again, all was right in the world. The hard work and ethic forged while training was what drove me to overcome that painful experience just one year prior. Just as I had worked to earn a scholarship in high school, I had to train myself to fight back from a career ending injury, and fulfill a promise a young kid made to himself when his peewee basketball coach said he would never make it past the first day of football.
Fast-forward 10 years of a hundred plus NFL starts and playing in front of millions of fans, and I was contemplating a new career for the first time in my life. While I had had jobs over the course of my life, I had never really done anything other than be a student and play football.
As I sat down to figure the next chapter of my life, two opportunities came about.
I had been a Rhetoric major in college and always had aspirations of being a lawyer, so naturally, the first was to follow the path laid out in college and be an attorney like my father and brother. When it looked like my career was coming to close, I searched for the next LSAT test and started requesting law school applications.
I considered rehabbing my knee and attempting an 11th season, but around that time, I got a call from a former teammate. He had a seizure while listening to music at a bar. Doctors found extensive damage to his brain as a result of using his head as a battering ram for most of a decade. My friend was a year older, but I had more time with more starts. I figured if there was ever a time to move on, it was now.
The second option materialized while in Washington DC. Months before I had been training at a CrossFit gym before my 10th season and was convinced at the last minute to compete in the CrossFit Games as part of the documentary, “Every Second Counts”, where I met Crossfit CEO, Greg Glassman. Fast forward to while recovering from surgery, Greg asked me support a talk he was doing at the National War College. At a celebratory dinner, Greg suggested I create a power-based program called CrossFit Football. The original intent was to create a program for field sports by taking the CrossFit methodology from broad and general to focused and specific.
The opportunity to create a specific program for CrossFit was exciting. In 2008, CrossFit was this small collection of gyms banded together like a fleet of pirate ships ready to take on the world of fitness and change the training conversation for the masses. While still small, I saw the power in the “brand” and was amazed at the blind loyalty the CrossFit community maintained. I knew from day 1 CrossFit was going to be big and if I wanted to bring my brand of training to the world, this would be the opportunity. So I put my law school applications on hold and headed out to Prescott, Arizona to present my program to Greg and Lauren Glassman.
Greg and Lauren were ecstatic and 30 days later, I launched CrossFit Football. That first day was overwhelming, I got 17k hits in 100 plus countries and 400 plus emails asking what CrossFit Football was, how the program differed from traditional CrossFit, and how to begin.
Up until this point, many just knew CrossFit as what was posted daily on CrossFit.com. There were other programs floating around like CrossFit Endurance or Strength Bias, but those were supplemental programs that coincided with the “main site” WODs.
CrossFit Football was a completely separate, different animal. Here was a CrossFit branded training program with a periodized strength template coupled with short, heavy, hard, and fast conditioning workouts mixed with sprints and change of direction.
People fucking ate it up.
The knock on CrossFit by haters the world over is it would make you small and weak, given its propensity towards 20 plus minute metcons and limited barbell work interspersed throughout the training. But my program put the strength front and center, with accessory work wrapped up in short, heavy little packages. Next thing you know, people were getting stronger, putting on muscle, and wanting more. I had a loyal following.
The “more” came in two forms – a traveling seminar and my blog, Talk To Me Johnnie.
The seminar was always a bit of conundrum, as it was an S&C seminar for coaches wanting to train field sport athletes. The training I was teaching every Saturday and Sunday around the globe was different than the training I was offering on CrossFitFootball.com.
But I didn’t see a problem as I thought the methodology was sound. If I could make people bigger, stronger, more powerful with loads of capacity, shouldn’t this translate into better athletes?
Not so fast.
It was not what I was seeing at the seminars. Many people doing my training came to the seminar struggling with the basics like squatting, pulling, sprinting, change of direction, heck… even basic movement.
You have to remember, my NFL tenure made me an elitist. I was fortunate to work with the world’s best athletes and I got to test my skill, strength, and athleticism every day on the world’s biggest stage. The seminar was not like this. Many days I left pulling hair out as attendees struggled to master the basics needed for athleticism.
About this time I started Talk To Me Johnnie to answer questions about CrossFit Football. I believed if one person had a question, someone else would have the same question, so I used this to answer whatever hit my inbox.
Now I had the ability to say what I was thinking without representing any brand. I could be honest and spray realism whether they wanted it or not.
In 2011, an email asking, “What would CrossFit Football look like without the CrossFit?” got me thinking. There was friction with CrossFit’s core methodology, and understandably so, I was offering a CrossFit branded program yet not teaching movements performed at high intensity.
I was not teaching fitness with increased work capacity of broad time and modal domains. I was teaching performance as success on the field, pitch, ice, or track. I was teaching athleticism as “the ability to seamlessly and effortlessly combine primal movement patterns though space to accomplish a known or novel task.”
This email helped me see the different objectives. And while we both were looking for excellence it was just in difference contexts. I wrote a response called “Power Athlete Template”, where I outlined the training program I would use to train my athletes. I posted it and the next day I got a few dozen emails asking for specific programming.
To grow, I needed to move toward developing training that fosters field performance and athleticism.
Fitness is great and should be strived for daily, but it is also personal as the level you need is related your application. My athletes must be big, strong, and fast with perfect movement so they could win on the field. Thus, their level of fitness must directly correlate. As I wrote in my blog post, “Do I Have To Be In Shape?” your level of fitness must be high enough to survive training. Anything beyond that is counterproductive and only saps time and energy better used for skill development and cultivating athleticism.
Regardless of what people tell you, Fitness and Athleticism are mutually exclusive. You can increase your fitness without moving your feet. You can’t develop your athleticism standing in place thrustering duck footed - you have to move.
You develop athleticism through the constant pursuit of perfect movements. By paying close attention to how you are moving both unbounded and in relation to others/objects, you improve athleticism.
Inspired, I launched Power Athlete and the Field Strong training program. Over my years of playing football, I noticed people were either weight room strong or field strong, very rarely both. Weight room strong is good if we got paid for our performance in the weight room. Unfortunately for a lot of strong guys, I got paid for what we did on the field.
I was in that rare group whose weight room gains translated into field strength. I knew the training I had created over the years would help others have the same results. From experience, I knew what worked.
Therefore, I segmented my brand, changed my direction, and started posting training on both sites. The training on Power Athlete was more representative of what I was teaching at the CrossFit Football seminar.
That said the CrossFit Football program has always been part of my personality.
The movie “Fight Club” profoundly impacted me.
“Maybe self-improvement isn't the answer, maybe self-destruction is the answer.”
The program given away freely on CrossFitFootball.com is a strength heavy program with short, heavy, hard metcons that kicked you in the groin daily. There was little thought given towards recovery or training cycles; just go, and go hard.
There is something gratifying about walking into the gym and destroying yourself during a workout. I find if I miss a training day, I come back and hurt myself. When I get home from a particularly rough training day, my wife will know by the smile on my face, to which she says, “Good one, huh?”
Another side note, I met my wife at the CrossFit gym. She competed in the CrossFit Games and I know she dreams of the days the kids are all in school and she can focus on her training again.
“Self-improvement is masturbation. Now self-destruction…“
While self-destruction has always been central, self-improvement is equally important to me.
Power Athlete is the other part of my personality as I am obsessed with improving performance by developing athleticism.
I buy every book, read everything related (often multiple times), and search out the most knowledgeable guests for my podcast, Power Athlete Radio, to build, develop, and discuss athleticism.
I believe I can put an un-athletic person into my training system and improve their athleticism. And I believe all things being equal, the more athletic a person is, the more they will accomplish in sport.
For years, these two aspects of my personality raged a war to balance both sides.
Serendipitously, CrossFit HQ wanted to discuss revamping the CrossFit Football seminar to make it more sport specific, focused on training athletes for sport - similar to what I do at Power Athlete. The seminar was already there, it just needed a little push.
I will be forever grateful for the opportunity CrossFit provided to develop my thoughts in real time via CrossFit Football and its global seminar. Without CrossFit Football, I would have never created Power Athlete and started the conversation on developing athleticism and its training model.
With the rebrand in full effect, what was I going to do with CrossFit Football if the seminar evolved past the original purpose of the website?
I had offered this program freely for 8 years with thousands of people coming to the site daily for training. It is a part of the CrossFit story.
Like the seminar, maybe CrossFit Football needed a new direction.
It needs a new image that spoke to the program’s true intent - create bad motherfuckers that can go hard and fast. While this was not at the forefront, periodically I would receive updates or pictures from people following the program and they were savages.
One time I met a girl who followed the CrossFit Football program, and she looked like something out of Marvel Comics movie. I’ve met more than a few guys over the years and thought, “What the fuck has he been doing for his training?” The answer was always CrossFit Football.
I cannot shut it down.
Enter Johnnie WOD.
You might not be old enough to remember "OG" Johnny Wadd but do a quick search. I guarantee you will never forget him. He famously swung a 12-pound hammer better than anybody.
Therefore, taking a cue from the Johnnies and a massive sense of humor Johnnie WOD will offer the same training as CrossFit Football but without the facade. I am done pretending CFFB is about on-field performance; I have Power Athlete for that.
Johnnie WOD is about getting down and dirty, banging heavy weights and crushing WODs with some innuendos, humor and a smile.
“Self improvement is masturbation. Now self destruction…”
Welcome to Johnnie WOD.