September 29, 2016

CrossFit – Next Level Performance with John Cheah

CrossFit mixes the 3 disciplines of weightlifting, gymnastics and metabolic endurance. Athletes thinking about competing should be able to perform movements from these disciplines that commonly feature in competitions, such as the snatch, clean, pull up and muscle up at the prescribed loads and repetitions required. What separates the wheat from the chaff, especially in CrossFit competitions, however, is not how an athlete looks, but how they move and think at a fundamental level. When we split hairs even further, the top athletes pull apart because of how they move in relation to their body type and energy system, in addition to how they think before, during and after competing. This mental and physical connection is akin to a chicken-and-egg situation, and being a "Next Level" competitor requires both aspects to be taken, well, to the next level.

Competitions are the best measurement for progress

If you've been doing CrossFit for a while and are looking to join a local competition, I think that's a great idea. Regardless of the result, competitions are the best mirror of your progress as an athlete, and all the time put into training, all the short cuts (if you took any) and all the accurate or inaccurate gauging of your abilities as an athlete will be on full display. To date, I've competed in 15 live CrossFit competitions (taking away the CrossFit Open and other online qualifiers) and sometimes the reflection from the mirror isn't always what I've been content with.

Going into competition doesn’t happen overnight

Let's start with the mind. I believe the mind is the egg from which the Chicken of Physical Strength hatches, if you're still following this chicken-egg analogy. I assume you're reading this because you also share the belief that the process of competing doesn't happen overnight. If you're just looking to join the weekend local competition for a laugh, then I guess this still applies. But think of the results: the former is a meat falling-off-the-bone, fragrant leg of lamb that's been slow-cooking in the oven in its juices for 8 hours and the latter is a pot of Koko instant noodles that's been sitting on the counter in water for 3 minutes. Both do the job for slating the hunger (for competitive success) but one is definitely worth the longer wait.

Preparation is key

We want to start preparing the mind for the long haul, like the leg of lamb in its quest for culinary greatness. We must set goals that are specific, lofty but achievable and within a time frame that's realistic. For me, that's qualifying for the Pacific regionals as an individual competitor in 2018. For the lamb, that's tasting like melted herb butter with a hint of cinnamon for my party of 4 tonight at 8pm.

Then, we must work backwards to make that a reality. For me, that means working with a coach to address weakness in my abilities as an athlete, making time for recovery, good nutrition and low stress situations in daily life and starting the process X years in advance. For the lamb, that means trimming the fat, pushing sticks of cinnamon into the meat, using sprigs of thyme like they're going out of fashion and preheating the oven at X o'clock, ready for dinner.

Testing yourself

While the process is happening, we must test ourselves along the way to ensure we're moving in the right direction. For me, that means joining regional competitions to put myself against known and unknown competitors from around Asia, discovering strengths and weaknesses and growing from strength to strength. For the lamb, that means getting a meat thermometer and being diligent about how it's turning out.

Trust in the work that you have done

When the day comes, all I can do is trust my training, trust the process and live with what I've prepared for myself, the same goes with the lamb. Sometimes it turns out beautifully, and the goal is met like a tennis ball on the sweet spot of a racquet. But because this is life, sometimes goals are not met, and the lamb is charred and ugly and hard. But the party of four still turns up for dinner, because you have surrounded yourself with a community that sees you more than the way you can or cannot cook a leg of lamb.

The physical advice is aplenty, and if you've chartered a mental map to reach your goals, you can sift through the myriad of nutritional advice, training myths and self-doubt to keep moving forward. The key to taking that next step to being a competitive athlete has little to do with the next squat program you follow or whether the Paleo diet is scientifically proven, but the mental plan that ultimately yields the result you want for yourself.


John Cheah is a coach and weightlifter passionate about the graceful art of movement. He’s competed at various stages locally, including the inaugural Asia Championships as one of the three finalists representing Singapore. John has also achieved personal bests in the Commonwealth Games and World’s University Weightlifting Championships for weightlifting. John can be found taking Personal Training Classes and CrossFit WOD’s at CrossFit Tanjong Pagar. When he is not seen holding a barbell, John explores movement of the human body through dance and acting as a prominent local performer in the Singapore arts scene.

Brought to you straight from our CrossFit Tanjong Pagar box, part of the UFIT family.

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