2011 CrossFit Games

The Next Holmberg? An Interview with Sam Briggs

Moving from 19th place to the win

Sam Briggs hails from Manchester, England. She placed 19th in the 2010 Games and is training to come back for 2011. As firefighter and former competitive soccer player in Northern Premiership League, Sam came into the 2010 Games with a strong athletic background, but only a little over a year of CrossFit experience.

Nonetheless, Sam came into the running for the 2010 Games with speed, grit, and natural ability that put her in the forefront of female European athletes. At the Europe Regional, Sam came in a close 2nd behind ‘Iceland Annie’ Thorisdottir after beating Annie in the run, tying her for 1st in the 'overhead anyhow' AMRAP, trailing her for 2nd on the run-couplet-run, and falling to 5th place in an overhead workout.

At the Games, Sam slew the Pyramid Double Helen to come in 3rd place behind Clever and Thorisdottir.

Given her ability to finish at the center of the international elite despite her relative inexperience, Briggs is an athlete to look out for in 2011. In our Games Competitor Database we found that the Top 5 finishers at the 2007-2010 Games have had an average of 2 years of experience, and we’ve seen competitors like Holmberg rise from his 19th place finish in 2009 to 1st in 2010. We think that Briggs may have a lot more in her.

In this interview Sam talks about her weaknesses and what she has been doing to overcome them, the CrossFit culture in Manchester England, drinking, skill transfer from competitive soccer and firefighting, and what it’s like being the rare lady in the firehouse.

The full interview is available below:

You placed 19th in 2010, Graham Holmberg placed 19th in 2009 but came back for the win the next year. What kept you out of the top ten, or even top five, and what are you doing to change that?

If someone had asked me what movements would I not liked to have seen in the Games, the list pretty much came out! At the time I had only been doing CrossFit for a year and my skill base and strength overhead were definitely lacking. I have and will continue to try and work on my weaknesses but as is the nature of CrossFit new things come out of the wood work but hopefully in 2011 I will be a more rounded athlete and be able to deal with the challenges thrown at me.

In the 2010 Games, many competitors struggled with movements like the pistols, double-unders, and handstand push ups. How did you do with these movements and how would you say that affected your performance overall? What experience did you have with each of these movements before the Games?

Pistols were definitely a weakness for me, and probably still are. I've struggled with knee injuries in the past and at the Games found it hard to do any pistols on my right leg. I've have been having acupuncture on my knees which seems to have alleviated the problem, so I will be working on improving my pistols.

With the handstand push ups I feel I made a school boy error. In the Games I pressed to failure each time leaving my shoulders fatigued and once they'd gone I couldn't get anymore presses. Since then I have done lots of W.O.D's with HSPUs in each time getting a couple of reps, dropping then going for more, meaning my shoulders felt fresher for longer and allowed me to keep going for the full allocated time/rounds.

What skills do you struggle with, specifically? Can you give us some insight into how you’re fixing those skill gaps?

As far as lifts go I probably struggle with squat snatching the most. To address this I ensure that I schedule in snatching once a week, and also practice from the hang and snatch balance.

In general, my strength over head is something that I am trying to improve. When doing W.O.Ds I am trying to go heavier than women's Rx’d weight which I hope will do the trick.

Could you provide us with your current benchmark workout stats?

Fran: 3:35
Grace: 1:45
Diane: 8:46 (kipping HSPU)
Elizabeth: 6:14
Helen: 8:30

Deadlift: 341#
Back Squat: 247.5#

Clean and Jerk: 165#
Snatch: 121#
Shoulder Press: 115.5#

Filthy Fifty: 19:51
Fight Gone Bad: 413
400m run: 1:15 
5k run: 18:56

CrossFit is just starting to pick up in Europe. We’re curious how it is out in Manchester, would you expect the average person in your town has any idea what CrossFit is?

The average person in Manchester, as in the UK, would probably still have no idea about CrossFit. The situation is improving though with more and more CrossFit gyms springing up around the UK, and we've had some articles published in magazines. Unfortunately these have mainly been in Men’s Fitness magazines, and each time the women's participation and success is omitted.

How’s your CrossFit box, CF Manchester? Do they have many people training there? Are there many other firebreathers for you to work out with?

We have a fantastic community at CrossFit Central Manchester, with a wide variety of skill levels. This community is spread to all the other affiliates in the UK, and I regularly train with CrossFit 3D and CrossFit Leeds, not forgetting my sessions with young firebreather Jordan Wallace, from CrossFit Tyneside.

What’s it like working as a firefighter, a profession that tends to be male dominated? Did you, as a woman, have to put in extra effort to get the respect of your peers?

I think as with any job, you do need to prove yourself in order to gain the respect of your peers. As being a firefighter is a physical job, I certainly worked hard on my fitness to prove I was capable of doing the job just as well as my male counterparts. I didn't want anybody feeling that they had to carry me at any point.

We’ve seen a trend forming amongst the Top 5 Games finishers: many of them work as fire fighters. Do you think that’s because of the requirement to be fit to do the job and greater freedom to train in the off-days? Or do you have other ideas why that may be?

Being a firefighter does allow me time to train, but I feel the reason may be the type of people who become firefighters. At jobs we must be able to switch off to the emotions and strains, sometimes working arduously for hours in horrendous environments, but we can't stop. I suppose this can be said for some W.O.D.s our bodies are put under strain but we are able to switch off to the pain and get through.

How does CrossFit fit into your social life? Do many of your friends do CrossFit? Do you go out to the pubs after working in the firehouse, or skip it?

Most of my friends don't do CrossFit but are incredibly supportive of me, and I often have a following at competitions. I have of course made lots of new friends from the CrossFit community, and have introduced CrossFit to a few fellow firefighters.

At work most of the lads like a social drink in the pub, and I will join them for special occasions. I haven't cut alcohol totally out of my diet, I am just more aware of it's negative effects and drink in moderation. 

We understand you were an elite soccer (football) player before. Who’d you play with? What position did you play?

Unfortunately women's football (soccer) isn't as big in the UK as America so there aren't many elite teams. I did play for Bradford City then onto Leeds City which were in the Northern Premiership. I started out as I central midfielder finishing my career as a central defender. I retired from football in 2008 due to a reoccurring ankle injury. I then joined a running club to fill the void of training. In 2009 I entered some amateur Triathlons and Duathlons. These then became my main concentration in training, and in 2010 I qualified for team GB age group, to compete in the World Championship Duathlon.

What did you learn from soccer that has now helped you with CrossFit?

Competing in sport from a young age helped me to learn about dedication and commitment. I use to train and play 6 days a week which has got my body used to recovering quickly, allowing me now to train in CrossFit without many rest days.

Why CrossFit?

When I was introduced to CrossFit I instantly fell in love with it. It was nothing like I'd done before and I enjoyed the challenges and atmosphere of the training. Unlike football (soccer) where success depended on everyone pulling together, this time it was on me, if something went wrong it was my fault and if I did well it was because I'd put in the hard work and the training was paying off.

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5 comments on this entry

1. Ling wrote...

Way to go Sam! We'll be there cheering for you in July!

2. danny lau wrote...

You are wrong Ouch.
The winner will train CrossFit to win and during that time they WILL come to love the community. They will be crossfitters.
It will make CrossFit stronger. A champion is a champion and will support the team as such.

Go Sam GO!

3. Lauren G. wrote...

Proud to know you and have competed against you Sam! Best of luck during Sectionals and Regionals (not that you'll need it!). I hope to see your name on the roster for the Games again this year!

4. Krista P. wrote...

Great article Sam...can't wait to see you at the games!

5. Gray wrote...

Great interview, great work Sam.

I hope there are some scared ladies across the globe after reading this!

Ace that you mentioned Jordan!!!!


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