The Long Road to Regionals - Going to the Games with Chris Clyde of CrossFit Diamond State

Good morning, this is Peter from Fringe Sports, and I'm on with Chris Clyde today of CrossFit Diamond State. So, I was talking a little bit earlier with Eamon and Tim of CrossFit Pallas, and they had suggested that I needed to talk with Chris, and one of the things they told me is that Chris has a great motto, "Thank God it's Monday." Chris, tell me about that motto.

Chris Clyde: Hey, how's it going? Obviously since we're doing this interview on a Monday, I guess that fits pretty nicely, but I just struggled a long time with trying to figure out what motivated me and what inspired me to pursue any kind of goal that I had, whether it was athletically, or professionally, or even just personally, and I always found myself on Sundays being almost fearful or worrisome of the week ahead even if I had plans, or even if I had things set in place to keep me on the right path, and doing the things that I knew would be productive for whatever I was trying to achieve.

You see enough of the motivational posts out there on social media now, and a lot of them talk about mindset and all the books and podcasts that are becoming more popular that I love, they focus on what you can control and control what you can focus on, and then that will set you up with the right momentum.

And I focus a lot on momentum, so the idea about Mondays and embracing them was a huge step for me in terms of not starting slow, or missing opportunities to execute at certain times, and everyone loves to belittle Monday and use Monday as a woe-is-me kind of day, and I wanted to flip that on its head as fast as possible and try to keep the arrows up and everything in the green.

I love it. When did you make that decision? How long have you been saying that and living like that?

Chris Clyde: It's hard to say. I've been training and coaching full-time, well, I've been coaching full time and training to be competitive in CrossFit and I guess functional fitness in general with the GRID stuff, too, for the last three or four years. I was a strength and conditioning coach at the Division 1 level for a while, and my last stint was with the U.S. Army at West Point with their athletic team, and obviously that's a huge chunk of what they focus on from a mindset standpoint and a way of having no loose ends, and attacking every day, and taking care of business. So I really got around that kind of idea during my time up there, and then as I became more competitive in the CrossFit world and a full-time CrossFit coach and gym manager and all of those sorts of things, I tried to make it my own thing and really focus on that as my tip of the spear.

I love it. So we started out talking about your "thank God it's Monday," but why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history. How did you get into strength conditioning?

Chris Clyde: Sure. So I'm a life-long athlete. I grew up in a small suburban town playing every sport possible, having fun with it, being successful but not really from a standpoint of a scholarship to play in college. And I played football, baseball, basketball, and I loved all of it. When I went to college I kind of floated around with different ideas, whether it be walk-on football team, or rowing, or rugby, or whatever, and the one that really stuck for me was rugby. I came from a football family, and so the contact sports were always more natural for me and easier for me to understand and get into, and when I started playing rugby I had actually used it, or planned to use it, as a vehicle to get more in shape to try and walk on to the University of Delaware's football team, which is pretty big time, Division 1 AA.

I signed up in the fall when I got there, played rugby all fall, lost 30 pounds, and was finding a sport now where I didn't have to just block or just play defense, but I got to carry the ball and be an offensive weapon as well as a defensive player, so it was much more interesting and enticing from an athletic standpoint, and also they became my family as rugby is commonly known for from that standpoint. And I never looked back.

I played five years of it, but what happened was the funny thing about rugby and the no pads is there are obviously a lot of injuries and a lot of bumps and bruises that I just couldn't overcome. And when I was in grad school for exercise science at University of Delaware, I was an assistant strength coach, or graduation assistant strength coach, I decided to stop playing after a major knee reconstruction and one too many concussions.

And that was kind of the beginning to the end of my formal athletic career, but also the beginning of my CrossFit career, if you want to consider it that, because when I came back from that, that's when I was able to divulge full time all of my effort, all of my passion into strength conditioning. Not just professionally to help others, but also personally to start with a clean slate and do things the right way and learn the right way and then find what grabs my passion for being competitive again. Which, after a couple of months of random obstacle course races, and lifting meets, and all of these types of things, one of my good friends had been trying to get me into a CrossFit box for a couple of months because I had all the lifting movements, and decent numbers, and somewhat of an endurance background, or what I considered an endurance background at that time just from playing rugby for five years, and I started my first workout in a box formally was January 7, 2012, and I have never looked back.

I did it the last semester of my graduate studies and my thesis defense and all of those things, and at the end of that spring I went and watched the mid-Atlantic Regionals in 2012 because a couple of my friends qualified. And that was my first competition I'd ever gone to, to watch, and it was ... it blew my mind basically, and I couldn't believe that it was as big as it was, and that'll be five years ago this spring, and since then I've been to four Regionals in a row on teams and two games, and things have really gone to the next level for me because now I know what I want, and I've seen the way things are done, and that's led me down the path into strength conditioning as a coach because that was my passion, to help as many people as possible.

But also competitively and now professionally full time involved in the CrossFit world because my goals are based around achieving and pursuing the highest level of performances I can physically and mentally I guess comprehend and also not comprehend because I don't want to limit myself, and then coaching full time in as many gyms as possible and helping as many people as possible.

I love it. And by the way, I always love talking to a fellow rugger, so I've played for Texas back in the late '90s, early 2000s, I was a prop. So if you lost 30 pounds I'm guessing maybe you were a back and you were running around a lot, or where were you?

Chris Clyde: Well, I was a lot bigger when I first started, so I walk around right now at about 215, 220. When I played rugby, I played at about 240, so when I came in, the last season I played which is the most in shape I had been at that point, I was playing at like 225. So, I played small-time football in New York just outside the city, Westchester County, so I was an offensive lineman and I was a successful offensive lineman weighing 250 pounds, but obviously that doesn't exactly translate to the collegiate level anywhere. So I think I was meant to play rugby, it just so happened that my high school didn't get it until I was in college.

There you go. I guess I guessed wrong. All right. So tell me about CrossFit Diamond State.

Chris Clyde: CrossFit Diamond State is a three-year-old box as of this January. The owner and head coach is Gia O'Keefe, my best friend from college and since then, so it's over ten years now. And it's a smaller gym based out of a warehouse facility just on the edge of Wilmington and Newark in northern Delaware, and it's our little slice of heaven, I guess we can call it, because it's just over 100 members, you have every walk of life, just like any gym I've ever been in, but it also has that ideal balance between the folks that want to be competitive and do the Savage Races and the Garage Games events. And also there's a huge crossover between those folks and the folks that are there just to get their daily responsibility of getting their workouts in and being active, and fit, and happy, but also hit up happy hour and all of our box events on the weekends and at night. And it's a lot of fun. A lot of my good friends in the area either train here or coach here.

And obviously we're in the midst of the CrossFit season with the Open coming to a close recently, and at this point, moving back into this area recently, as of this past fall for personal reasons, we had the opportunity to put a team together. So all of our good friends, there's six of us obviously, but the eight of us with our two alternates, we train as much as we can together, and four of us qualified individually, but we all committed to go as a team trying to get a shot to be one of those lucky few that make the first trip ever to Madison, Wisconsin this year.

It's going to be exciting. So tell me, you had mentioned four Regionals and Games appearances. Can you talk to us a little bit about your experience competing at Regionals and going on to the Games?

Chris Clyde: Yeah, so that's pretty crazy. I still kind of look back on that every once in a while and my coach are still the same since those experiences, especially the Games. So I had said I went to 2012 Regionals to watch. That summer I trained basically full time because of my first strength conditioning job didn't start until August. So I basically trained full time and coached part time at a local box, actually Gia O'Keefe's older brother owns CrossFit Steam in North Jersey, in Rutherford, and he was nice enough to give me a couple hours to hold me over and let me train full time.

And by that fall I had linked up with my coaches now, who are Justin Cotler of CrossFit Dynamix and Dave Charbonneau who was my coach full time, talked on the phone with me every day, listened to me complain about his conditioning pieces. But he was actually my teammate at CrossFit Dynamix, and we won the Northeast Regional in 2013 and '14. So I was just over a year into CrossFit formally, and they scooped me up and told me that if I let them program for me that I would be a very viable member of their team. And given the pedigree of the folks around me, I wasn't going to turn that down even though I was scared to death. And it turned into exactly what we wanted.

The first year we went up to the Northeast Regional in, I forget what city, it's obviously right outside Boston, but oh, Canton, Massachusetts, and that was when it was still outdoors and we were rivals with CrossFit New England. We beat them in 2013 and then we came in in '14 with all the hype and repeated, and it was the most work and most fun I've ever had, the most anxious and most excited I've ever been, and then in 2013 we finished fifth at the Games. We didn't look at the leader board, or at least I didn't look at the leader board, the entire weekend, and we found ourselves in the final heat, shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of the Tommy Hackenbruck and the "Hacks Pack" and CrossFit Addictus and CrossFit Adrenaline and Fort Vancouver who never goes away, and all these different teams that had been doing it. And then we found ourselves in the tennis stadium on Sunday, so that was a great place to be, and it's something that I still look back on almost in disbelief.

And then '14, same deal. We went back. We went sixteenth, not exactly the result we were looking for, but still an amazing experience nonetheless. And after that year, I left West Point to move down to Alexandria, Virginia to be with my long-time girlfriend, Maria, who, we just recently married in November. So obviously that was a good decision. And I was a team member for CrossFit Balance in 2015, and we finished in eighth which was exciting, but not the result anyone wants, you always want to be better.

And then in '16, which was the best year I could have imagined because that was last year and had planned to go individual, and I failed. And it was the first time I had set a goal, at least in the CrossFit world, that I was not successful. And I had to do a lot of self-assessment. We were lucky enough to still qualify a team and go down, and it was definitely more of a we're just happy to be here situation. And got to throw around a little bit. We got a chance to take a couple people that had never competed before at that level, so that was exciting. Obviously to be around my friends that I only get to see at these types of competitions was cool, but a lot of self introspection and awareness was developed over the course of the 2016 Opening and Regional season that led me into what is now the 2017 season, that's for sure.

And how are you sitting now? I neglected to check before we talked.

Chris Clyde: Actually, so 2017 opened, this is the first year that I've qualified top 20.

Awesome. Congratulations. Are you going individual or are you still going team?

Chris Clyde: Oh no, we all committed to go team this year just because we have a situation where a couple people are in the area just for this year. So myself. Vinny Casey, he also qualified individual, he was in the Top Athlete out of Delaware the last two years. And Bobby Leradi, he's a great athlete with the Baltimore Anthem, who's our other male. And then Gia O'Keefe, the owner of Diamond State, she qualified individually. Jaimie Byerly, she's been the Top Athlete out of Delaware, or Pennsylvania, she in the individual athlete the last two years, she qualified. And then Christina Ruggiero who's been an individual athlete and team athlete at he Games. So we're coming in with a lot of experience and just trying to be as ready and healthy as possible for whatever they announce in about 30 days.

Awesome. And I now recall that you had mentioned that before. One question that I have that, this has just been a fascinating interview, one question that I have, though. How is it different teaching strength conditioning or coaching strength conditioning at a place like West Point versus moving that into your CrossFit coaching career?

Chris Clyde: There's two sides to that coin, I think. The one that I think people don't really expect is from the strength conditioning standpoint, now West Point is the ultimate type A personality, these are the future leaders of the U.S. military, so not your normal collegiate athletes, so you still see although they're from, well a strength conditioning standpoint, you're talking about being a piece of the puzzle. So from an athlete coming in, you have no control over the coach's attitude towards you, in terms of how important your strength conditioning practices are to their daily performance or health. You have no control over the athlete's attitude towards their individual performance or health. So for just as many kids as you get that are just happy to be there and they got a scholarship and all that jazz, you have a handful of athletes who despise it and devalue it or don't understand it, and it's like tooth and nails and everything you say is like fingernails on a chalkboard to them.

And that's very frustrating from the standpoint of our background as strength coaches, going to school, doing all the education, doing all the work to become effective leaders, and even if you know you're doing a great job, if you can measure and have qualitative and quantitative data that the athletes are improving or are healthier, you still might not get to work with them as much, or you might get sessions taken away, or you might not get the thanks and the praise that you think you deserve, or the adequate income that you believe you deserve.

And it's a different world where on that side and that topic, you walk into a CrossFit gym, by default the athletes that are there are dying to be there. Or at the very least they're going to pay attention because when push comes to shove, they're paying to be there and it's something that they're choosing to do. So if they were in there just wasting their time and not really pay attention or dicking around or not giving their full effort, it's to their fault and detriment, not even to yours. Or no one else's.

But from a sticks-and-stones and the bare-bones idea of all of it, it's very similar. It just so happens that when you work with the CrossFit gym environment and those clientele, you just have to be mindful that not everyone wants to go to the Games. Not everyone is a extroverted, type A, aggressive athlete type person. Not everyone really cares at all about what they're lifting or what their times are. Some people just want to be safe, and they want to sweat a lot, and they want to feel like they did something for an hour every time they come in. And then it's very important to cater to that demand. And then with the people you can leave a last imprint on, a lasting impression on, you have to tap into that ability and make sure you never devalue any single accomplishment that anyone has. And that just might be the fact that they work out more than once a week. Or that might just be that they squat to depth for the first time. Or it could be something major like a body-weight snatch or a sub-three Fran or any of those kind of huge measures that get all the social media attention. But the gratification is there.

In the strength conditional world obviously it's a much more microscopic focus because you have that sports-specific demand without sports-specific training. Because if, Greg Lassen I think hits it on the head when he talks about the needs of every single human don't vary in type, they just vary in degree. And from the standard ideas of everyone needs a strong back, and explosive hips, and stable shoulders, and all these huge ideas that we talk about with training, but it just so happens for a middle linebacker at West Point those explosive hips need to be expressed through a 300-pound clean, where in the box it might be just getting an elderly individual to kettlebell swing using their hips instead of their arms. That's a huge thing. Or being able to do a box jump on a higher box than they could when they walked in day one. And that the degree that which that you need to show progress, and that's going to have a viable and very significant impact on their day-to-day well being.

And I didn't have much of an issue leaving that realm of exercise science and coaching and strength conditioning to come full time into the personal training, group class, CrossFit setting because at the end of the day they're not wearing jerseys and pads, but they're still trying to get better, they're still trying to get after it, and they're looking at you at the front of the room to make sure that you're engaged, you're giving the right information, and you're individually addressing what needs to be addressed with each client.

And that's what keeps me going, and that's what makes it fun, and that's why it's gratifying, but at the same time it's what I do. It's not my job, it's who I am, and I've dedicated my life to helping people, and at first it was going to be in the teaching world, and then it was going to be in the physical education world, and then it went to the strength conditioning world. So it kind of molded from teaching academics, to teaching a blend of academics and fitness and health and sport, to teaching and instructing athletics and fitness and health and well being through that side of things.

I love it. Well, that's about what we've got time for. I did have two really fast questions. First of all, lightning question, what's your favorite piece of fitness equipment?

Chris Clyde: My favorite piece of fitness equipment, I would have to say is the Assault Bike.

Why is that?

Chris Clyde: Because you can't hide on it. You can warm up on it or you can get crushed by it, you can recover on it or you can get fitter on it. And you can find out a lot about people just by how they handle Assault Bike workouts.

Awesome. I love it. And this would kind of feed into the next question. What is your favorite workout?

Chris Clyde: Oh, man. My favorite workout? That's so hard. It depends on the day. I really like Chief. I'm a big fan of Hero workouts, just for the purpose of them and obviously by design they're just difficult, so it's a good challenge. But I also really like Chief because the rugby football background lends myself definitely to power cleans, and everybody that knows the rugby players, and I guess a true bro in general, loves pushups, so the Chief is quite a good test and also a good pump.

Remind me what the exact WOD is on Chief.

Chris Clyde: Chief, I hope I don't screw it up, is five rounds, three minutes on, one minute off, and it's the rep scheme of I believe three power cleans at 135, six pushups, and nine air squats. And five round, three minutes on, one minute off, for total round.

Awesome. I'm going to have to try that one out. I know I've not done that one yet. Well, Chris, it's been a pleasure chatting with you. If people want to get a hold of you, what's the best way for them to get a hold of you?

Chris Clyde: If people want to get a hold of me, I do do any level of remote programming and coaching. My email is chrisclydesdales@gmail.com. And I have Instagram, that's my favorite social media, and it's @eyesofclyde. And if anyone has any questions, or is interested in anything, or wants to talk trash on any of my lifts, then check me out on Instagram.

All right, I'll pop on there and critique your lifts. So, Chris, this has been Peter from Fringe Sports. Only thing I can say right now is thank God it's Monday.

Chris Clyde: Yes, sir, that's all we have to worry about today.

And we're out.


Peter Keller
Peter Keller

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