Maybe it’s just me, but I find it odd that the world is now filled with multi-million dollar celebrity chefs. Don’t get me wrong. I love great food, and I am a fan of Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bordain, and Gordon Ramsey. My problem is my inability to understand why these folks are held in such high esteem, and yet the rock-stars of athletic development and coaching toil away in the dark, in relative obscurity.
Let’s see if I can turn the lights up a bit!
Mike Young is living his dream. He is a passionate entrepreneur, a teacher, an influencer of athletes, and in his spare time, the owner of Cary CrossFit in Cary, North Carolina. With a PhD in Kinesiology, and prior coaching stints at places like LSU and West Point, Mike is considered one of the United States leading experts in developing explosive speed and strength. He is also a certified Level 3 USA Track and Field Coach.
With that background, Mike has established Cary CrossFit as a unique snowflake in the swelling sea of CrossFit affiliates. Even though his programing is similar to other affiliates, Cary CrossFit is housed under the umbrella of The Athletic Lab, a sport performance training center that serves elite athletes and provides training for professional sports players and teams. The 11,000 sq. foot facility looks more like a smaller version of a field house for a Division I college athletic program than a typical CrossFit box.
One of the cornerstones of Mike’s vision is his HPC Elite team. With HPC Elite, Mike’s vision is to foster aspiring Olympic hopefuls and provide them with the necessary environment and training to be successful, both on and off the track. After running HPC Elite for 3 years without a true home facility, Mike uprooted his family in 2008 and moved from New York to North Carolina. There have been bumps and false starts along the way, but at this point, Mike has firmly established himself and has grown his business to over 160 clients, over a third of which are professional or elite Olympic sport athletes.
As I mentioned in my post An Achievable Goal or a Mid-Life Crisis, I am eager to learn how to be a faster runner; therefore I took a self-serving opportunity to have lunch with Mike last week and learn a bit more about Athletic Lab and Cary CrossFit.
To begin with, how has the transition been in moving from New York to North Carolina?
It’s been great. The Triangle region of North Carolina is one of the top places in the country to live and regularly is ranked in the top 5 places for quality of life and starting a business. I’ve been here now for almost 3 years and really love it. I did a ton of market research on areas around the country that could support my vision of an elite sport performance training center and the Triangle was at or near the top of every category that I looked at.
What is the composition of your HPC Elite Olympic development team?
The team is made up primarily of track and field athletes but I also have the occasional Winter Olympic athlete or soccer athlete as well. I work primarily with athletes in speed-power events like the sprints, hurdles, jumps, and multi-events but we also have a couple members who are middle distance runners. All of the athletes are post-collegiate and are competing at the national or international level. The club has been growing each year and this year we have about 20 athletes on the team. If all goes well I suspect we will have about half of them competing at the US Olympic trials and if we’re lucky we might even see some of them make the 2012 Olympic team.
Do you see much interaction between your elite team and folks coming in for CrossFit classes?
That’s a great question! Although I don’t prescribe CrossFit workouts for any of our elite or professional athletes during the structured training portion for the year, a handful occasionally pop in to our CrossFit classes for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they’ll do it to make up a workout that they missed during our normal training time. In these scenarios they often can’t spend the 2-4 hours to make up the planned training so they join in on a CrossFit workout to make sure they get in some general conditioning for the day. They also tend to pop in during their transition phase. The transition phase is the time of the year when they have completed all their competitions for that year and I give them 4-6 weeks to do a combination of complete rest and non-regimented training. As a result, it’s quite common to see the occasional member of the HPC Elite Olympic development team or a professional athlete from another sport (MMA, football, soccer) join in on our CrossFit sessions during their off-season. They tend to do quite well but they don’t always win the workout. Their training tends to be fairly specific, so while they’re tremendous athletes with great fitness, they oftentimes haven’t mastered CrossFit specific skills or capacities.
Do you think that having potential Olympians or other professional athletes participating in CrossFit workouts is motivational for everyday CrossFitters?
They love it! In fact, some of our better CrossFitters take a lot of pride in going head-to-head with some of our elite athletes. Sometimes they even win!
What are your thoughts about the explosive growth of CrossFit, not only in terms of affiliates, but more importantly the way in which CrossFit is becoming its own competitive sport?
It’s really quite fascinating. In many regards, many of the training methods of CrossFit aren’t all that new if you come from a performance oriented background like myself (I’ve coached and / or competed in swimming, track and field, Olympic weightlifting, and bobsled / skeleton). What’s great is that it’s brought exercises and intensities previously reserved for athletes to the general population. CrossFit as a competitive sport is interesting because it poses such unique training demands. Unlike practically any other competitive activity, you are required to be good at a very broad spectrum of activities. Also, the outcome of the competitions are going to be greatly affected by whatever events are selected. So in addition to the usual luck that plays in to any competitive event, with CrossFit competitions, each competitor will also experience luck or misfortune depending on the events selected. This makes them unique to truly prepare for.
Lastly, what are your aspirations for both your business as well as your athletes?
I’m looking to continue to grow the business. We’re really in our infancy but we’re doing some great things. Athletic Lab is truly a special place because of our facility, high level training that trickles down to Cary CrossFit and our mix of elite and non-elite athletes all training at the same place. I have no intentions of ever being a high volume training center because my goal is to provide the highest possible training experience possible and I think this depends on having the most qualified staff, attention to every detail possible, sensible training methods and progressions, and motivated clients. We’ll continue to grow organically and I know that both elites and non-elites will continue to join and recognize us as the place to train whether they want to win an Olympic medal, a Super Bowl ring, or just get in the best shape of their life.