My brother, Jonathan Kinnick, and the team over at Beyond the Whiteboard recently published an amazing write up and analysis on BTWB athlete and 3rd place finisher at the 2014 CrossFit Games, Julie Foucher. It is a fantastic insight into her CrossFit journey and everything it takes to become one of the fittest in the world.
How Julie Foucher Became Julie Foucher
Since 2009 Julie Foucher has recorded her entire CrossFit journey on Beyond the Whiteboard. Over the years she has posted over 4,000 results, set over 400 personal records and become one of the fittest people in the world. What makes Julie a special case is that she has achieved these goals all while attending medical school. The obvious first question is how did she make time for everything? “I think the best advice is a quote from Oprah: ‘You can have it all, just not all at once.’ Depending on what life throws at you, sometimes the balance may tip more in favor of one area of your life and other areas may suffer. I think it’s important to be aware of this and know that you will bring things back to equilibrium in time.”
I think the best advice is a quote from Oprah: “You can have it all, just not all at once.” -Julie
The Big 3
From what we have gathered, Julie’s CrossFit growth is a due to a combination of three things. First, she had a solid foundation growing up as gymnast. Second, she has a great coach in Doug Chapman. Finally, and, most importantly, she has a consistent worth ethic that is both admirable and astounding.
When we say she had a gymnastics “foundation”, we don’t mean to imply that she showed up at the door as an elite crossfitter. When Julie started CrossFit, she wasn’t amazing by any means. In her own words, “As I progressed through my first month of one-on-one sessions and later joined group classes, it was clear that I had a long way to go. With seemingly nothing to lose, I committed to training for competition with a small group of HyperFit USA members in early September 2009. With hardly any previous weightlifting experience and a recent training regimen consisting of only long, slow endurance exercise, my strength was seriously lacking.”[TRAINING FOR THE CROSSFIT GAMES]
Her first Fitness Level was a 60, which is pretty good, but definitely not even Regional Level. She was very fortunate to go to HyperFit and be coached by Doug Chapman. Doug, as many other top athletes can attest, is a great coach with well over a decade of coaching experience. He is methodical, programming his WODs a year in advance for his athletes. His methodology focuses on consistent and frequent exposure to varied skill sets. He does not separate his aspiring Games athletes from his base program. Dough believes that at its core, CrossFit is a general physical preparedness program, broadening and deepening the human capability to do work in many testable areas. This has been a major factor in Julie’s fitness journey. Julie has improved a lot since starting CrossFit back in 2009. Check out this table and see how “2009” Julie compares with “2014” Julie:
||28:37 (2010, strict)
||10.3 Rounds (2011)
|Clean & Jerk
From Good To Elite
We asked Julie when she first realized that she had a chance to be a “Games level” competitor, “The first year I started doing CrossFit I would surprise myself at each local competition I entered and ended up placing well at Sectionals. I thought I might have a chance to qualify for the Games but was still surprised when I placed 2nd at Regionals, and I had absolutely no expectations going into the Games so I was thrilled with a 5th place finish in 2010.”
Knowing that she has used Beyond the Whiteboard from the beginning, we asked her if it played a role in helping her be successful, “Absolutely. I started using BTWB just a month or two after I started CrossFit and I have logged nearly every workout I’ve completed over the past 5 years. It has helped me tremendously to monitor my progress over the years and to set new goals. Every time a benchmark workout comes up, I go straight to BTWB to see how I did last time and what notes I made about my strategy. For example, when the 2012 Games finals came up with Elizabeth, Isabel, and Fran, I checked BTWB to see how I had strategized those workouts last time I did them. My coach Doug Chapman uses BTWB for the whole gym and his Games training program so I can log in every day to see what my workouts are. I use the app as I am working through my training and I get a lot of satisfaction from entering each workout result and checking it off the list. I can also compare my times with other people on the program which helps to keep me on track as well.”
It has helped me tremendously to monitor my progress over the years and to set new goals. Every time a benchmark workout comes up, I go straight to BTWB to see how I did last time and what notes I made about my strategy. For example, when the 2012 Games finals came up with Elizabeth, Isabel, and Fran, I checked BTWB to see how I had strategized those workouts last time I did them. -Julie Foucher
A good way to see Julie’s progress in a nutshell is through the lens of her “Fran” history. She has completed Fran a total of 21 times in her CrossFit career, which is pretty impressive (and masochistic). The first time Julie attempted Fran, she did it as Rx’d in 4:58. This was after she had been crossfitting for about 6 months. Keep in mind that it takes years for most women to complete a sub-5 Fran as Rx’d. It took her an additional 13 months to get her first sub-3 Fran. During that period she did Fran 10 times. On December 13th, 2010, she completed Fran in 2:52, which is an incredible milestone especially for a female athlete. 7 months later, on July 18th, 2011, she got her first sub-2:30 Fran, at 2:29. Just last month, almost 3 years later, she set a lifetime PR with a time of 2:13 (video).
Keeping an eye on nutrition is essential for any top athlete. Although many athletes make a point of downplaying how strict their habits are, nutrition is an area where any athlete can look for an edge. When we asked Julie about her consistency in lifestyle choices, she responded, “This year I have been much more consistent with these things. I have really prioritized my goal of training for the CrossFit Games and with that comes prioritizing sleep, nutrition, and recovery.”
But her diet was not always incredibly strict. “Since I started CrossFit I’ve always eaten pretty ‘clean,’ but in January 2012 I went to a much more strict Paleo-like diet. I removed all grains, dairy, legumes, and added sugars from my diet and rarely eat anything processed. I still eat a lot of dark chocolate and occasionally wine, and of course I do have cheat meals from time to time.” So, how often does she cheat? “For most of the year I might have a cheat meal every 1 or 2 weeks. Usually it’s nothing too crazy but I might have some bread or dessert. As the CrossFit Games season gets closer I don’t have have full-blown cheat meals but I might have frozen yogurt on occasion.”
Rest and Recovery
When you train at the level Julie does, you have to keep an eye on overtraining. We asked Julie how she approaches rest and recovery, “Rarely do I take full Rest Days. I think the last time I took a day completely off was the first day of the Open when I had a stomach virus and spent the entire day in bed. Most recovery days include 30-60 minutes of either running, rowing, or swimming and some mobility work.”
As she’s evolved as an athlete, Julie has also evolved in her approach to recovery, “This year I’ve been much more attentive to my recovery. For the past several months I’ve been seeing my massage therapist and chiropractor about once per week. I do a lot of rolling with a lacrosse ball on my own. I also use the NormaTec and MarcPro. I like taking Epsom salt baths when I can as well.” If you’re anything like us, you might wonder how her body can handle all the volume that she subjects herself to. We asked her if her body had a hard time handling her training volume and she had this to say, “Surprisingly no – its amazing to see how the body can adapt as I’ve built up my training volume over the past 5 years. If anything the training volume is more difficult mentally and emotionally than physically.”
Working on Weaknesses
In CrossFit, we all have weaknesses we need to overcome. Elite athletes are no exception to this rule. We asked Julie about the biggest area of weakness that she’s had to overcome over the years,“One of the biggest ways I’ve grown over the past few years is mentally, in having the confidence to believe in my physical capabilities. I think this is the first year I can say that deep down I really truly believe I’m capable of winning the CrossFit Games. I think that belief is crucial to being able to execute.”
What about weaknesses that she’s currently working on? “There are always things to work on! I continue to work on my mental preparation, max lifts, and rowing along with everything else.”
Julie is consistent. Scary consistent. She has logged a total of 4,171 workouts on Beyond the Whiteboard since mid-2009. This is an average of 834 workouts per year. Since she averages 260 workout days per year, this means she averages 3.2 workouts per day that she trains. Julie normally trains hard 5 days a week, with the other 2 days (Mondays and Thursdays) being lower intensity recovery days. She will normally do some type of Run, Row, or Swim on those days.
Since 2011, she has consistently averaged around 5 training days a week. In 2014 she has done something every single day, utilizing overachieving oxymorons like “active recovery”. Her active recovery will be something like running or rowing an easy 5k. We asked her what keeps her consistent, “Having a coach like Doug who is consistent about my programming keeps me consistent. I know I have to get all the work done so I find a way to make it happen. Whether it is in November or June, being consistent with the programming year-round pays off when it matters most in July.” Julie giving due credit to Doug and HyperFit (CrossFit Ann Arbor) is a recurring theme in her answers. You won’t hear her say that she was just good at something, or was born with some ability that other people weren’t. She views her growth as a combination of hard work, great coaching and consistency.
Below is a typical training week for Julie, about a month out from the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games:
It’s important to note that Julie built up this type of capacity over time and anyone who is starting CrossFit should also take the time to build up their work capacity.
Fitness Level Improvements
Julie just took 3rd place at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games, after taking the 2013 season off from competition to focus on medical school. In 2012, she finished in 2nd place. Over the years she has been a model of consistency and hard work.
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Her first Fitness Level was a 60, and it took her a little over a year to increase that to a 94 (July 2010). At the 2010 Reebok CrossFit Games that year, she finished in 5th place. At the 2011 Games she finished in 5th as well.
Julie currently has a Fitness Level of 96, which is one of the highest on BTWB. Here is a summary of how her 8 individual Fitness Level categories have improved over time, and how long the improvements took:
Being a veteran athlete in CrossFit, we asked Julie how her training differs now compared to her first few years of CrossFit, “Over the 5 years I have been doing CrossFit with Doug our training has evolved. Each year we learn and adapt for the next season. He has adapted a lot of his programming to better prepare athletes for the demands of the Games and it is now a very systematic process. We’ve also added volume each year so I think this year is more volume I’ve ever done to prepare for the Games in the past.” We were also curious about how her training changed during the year she took off from competing in 2013 to focus on medical school, “I did a lot more lifting during my ‘year off.’ I would work out 4-5 days per week for 1-2 hours focused on gross lifts and Olympic lifting.”
A lot can be learned about an athlete’s progress by looking at their volume of weights and reps of movements over time. Below we will look at a few important movements to get an idea about how her volume has changed year by year. It’s important to note that Julie’s overall volume has steadily increased over the years, giving her body time to adapt to the increased workload. It would not be smart to try to emulate Julie’s 2014 volume numbers without gradually building up over multiple years.
As we can see in the graphs below, her Deadlift volume has been gradually decreasing since 2011. On the other hand, her Snatch volume has been steadily increasing.
||Max in 3 min.
Julie’s Pull-up volume peaked in 2011, and has seen a pretty sharp decline since then. Her pull-up volume was over 25% less in 2014 compared to 2011. But this same trend did not hold for Muscle-ups and Handstand Push-ups. We can see huge increases in the volume of these two movements over the same time period. Comparing 2014 to 2011, she did over 2x more Muscle-ups and over 4x more Handstand Push-ups. Even from 2013 to 2014 we see a huge increase. And this is even more remarkable given the fact that 2014 is only counting reps through July.
||1 Mile Run
Julie’s Running volume per year has been pretty consistent since 2011. By contrast, her rowing volume has increased at incredible pace, almost doubling each year since 2011.
Conclusion: Advice for Aspiring Competitors
We asked Julie what advice she would give to an athlete trying to qualify for Regionals next year,“Find a coach or a program you trust, and then commit yourself fully to it for a year. Too many people start to question their program or jump from program to program choosing what they think they need to do. You don’t know the effects of a program unless you do it fully for an extended period of time. After a year you can re-evaluate and decide where to go next. Also, find workout partners who are reliable and who you will have fun in the gym with – the people you surround yourself with make all the difference.” That seems like sound advice to us.
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