Joey Warren

2011 CrossFit Games

Discussing Mental Fitness with Joey Warren

The Games Competitor Balances Life and Training

During the spring of 2010, Joey Warren was finishing up his Master's degree in Sports Management. At the same time, he was training to qualify for the CrossFit Games for the second time. The final project, which he needed in order to graduate, was due the same week as the Southwest Regionals. Joey wasn't sure if he would be able to " juggle graduating and train to be top 4 in the Southwest Region." 

Qualifying for the CrossFit Games is never easy, but it's especially difficult in California. The 2010 Southwest Regional was arguably the most competitive regional in that year's Games qualification process. Many big names from the 2009 Games, including Josh Everett, David Millar, Pat Barber, Jeremy Kinnick, J.C. Nessa, and Peter Egyed were competing. Each of these athletes had finished higher than Joey Warren at the 2009 Games. 

The day before his Regional, Joey presented his final project to his university's department panel. A few hours later, he took a flight down to southern California to compete in the Regional. At the end of weekend, Joey had both qualified for the 2010 Games with a 4th place finish in the regional, and received a phone call confirming that he'd earned his Master's degree.

This busy weekend is emblematic of Joey's outlook. Joey has found that discipline and success in his training promote more positive outcomes in his career and personal life. Following the Southwest Regionals, Joey went on to take 13th at the 2010 CrossFit Games, fulfilling his goal of reaching the top 15. What follows are Joey's thoughts on training and life.

On CrossFit and Mental Fitness:

There is such a tremendous mental side to Crossfit that draws me in.  There is nothing that will challenge that voice inside your head quite like it.  

It can never be perfected just like the physical aspect of Crossfit, it can only be practiced and striven for.  This is another part that keeps bringing me back to Crossfit, striving to meet my human potential or perfection.  This is why my blog is titled "Progress to Perfection.”  It’s definitely addicting when you see improvement every single month and this will always bring me back because you can never perfect everything, physically or mentally.  

How often do we get to truly test ourselves in our lives? Not often, but Crossfit gives you the ability to practice every day for when that time comes.  It's very primal!  This quote captures this mindset, "Perfection is unattainable, but if we strive for it, we can catch excellence.”

On Motivation and Weaknesses:

Striving for my potential is what keeps me competitive and the mental growth is what keeps me coming back.  You can't feel it until you experience it, which most Crossfitters know.  Everyone has trouble with motivation and staying committed.  I think how I stay so focused is by being honest with myself.  It’s tough to leave your pride at the door and work on weaknesses.  For me, growth comes from exposing my weaknesses and being vulnerable.  This is how I understand what needs work.  I’'ve never been too stubborn or arrogant to realize that I have weaknesses and knowing this gives me the confidence to do my best in every workout. If you look at these two recent posts on my blog (unbroken and deadlifts) they demonstrate the improvement I've seen over the last couple years, but in different ways, one from a physical strength standpoint and the other from a strategy.

 I never have regrets after a workout and this is partly because I know I trained 100% and never doubt my training and partly because I know I will always learn something valuable from the workout.  I see people in my gym "turn it down" during a wod, they fear getting to know that voice in their head and they don't want to feel weak. I think feeling mentally weak is what people are more scared of than being physically weak (after you get past the initial embarrassment that you are weak but nobody cares).  Understanding that the voice in your head is going to try to make you doubt yourself is what makes it OK to feel vulnerable.  But this is where you have to understand and come to terms with it; you can never be perfect. That is what I try to welcome, that voice will always be there, it’'s how well you can train it.  I won't even program my own workouts, I would over-think them too much and doubt myself.  This is partly why I have a coach program my workouts and I just have to follow, feel, and learn. 

Pushing to 100%, and Dealing With Failure

I enjoy when I fail in the gym, I learn so much and I know I pushed my limits and improved my fitness.  It’s hard to push to failure, so I strive for it.  There are times when I need to push the intensity and get used to being uncomfortable.  But I don't do it all the time, I have found it easily leads to overreaching.  If I do it every day my performance will continue to drop until I get injured.  I've found that I have the ability to push 100%, which takes some mental strength and maybe a little stupidity (convincing that voice in your head that it won't be too hard).  If I push everyday like that I will get hurt or not see the gains I want.  

I've learned to be aware of that, which I know a lot of elite Crossfitters talk about; the ability to know when to shut it down.  For example, I will not let go of that deadlift bar until my back breaks, which has happened a few times and set me back.  A lot of times I will try to lift so heavy I lose form but still can "muscle" it up.  Is this really working the muscles I want?  From this I've discovered my glutes are weak which is why my squats have been stagnant.  I need to drop weight, work on form, wake up the glutes, then work back up and hopefully more.

If I'm doing intervals, and I go all out the first one, the last one will slow drastically, am I getting anything out of it that last one, or just depleting my reserves and possibly sacrificing subsequent workouts?  So these are times I don't go 100%, make sense?  There is a time and place to go 100%, but it takes training, physically and mentally, to get there.  It all depends on the person and type of engine they have (Khalipa has the ability to go all out very well).  Most people need to find that ability to go 100% first and like MacKenzie says, to be "unscared", then you can work on refining the engine.

College Football, Burn-out, and Finding CrossFit

If I look back into how I got into Crossfit, I think it tells a lot of why I love it.  I played sports throughout high school and carried on in college where I played football for Cal Poly.  Football in college was tough for me, especially as a young player on a team that was struggling.  We played big time schools like UTEP, Toledo, Akron, Wisconsin, and others.  I knew I had to stick with it in order to rise to the top.  My final year it finally came around as our team was top 5 in the nation for 1AA and I was 1st team all conference.  This is where I first learned to struggle and emerge.  I didn't learn this in high school where every decent athlete tends to dominate with no test of how to overcome adversity.

After college, I was pretty burnt out from football, as I turned down some opportunities for arena football and Canadian.  I had trouble finding myself as I went through jobs and couldn't find any hobbies to feel fulfilled (drinking beer got old real quick).  I started working in a gym and this got me trying new workouts that would keep me healthy and feeling good.  I tried them all and eventually fell into what most people think is healthy--running long distance. I did a few half marathons and this was great to be competitive again.  I was running, lifting to look good (bench, curls), did a little yoga, and some recreational sports. I was introduced to some Crossfit workouts but wasn't hooked yet.  

Interesting enough it wasn't until I got a typical overuse injury, tendinitis in the shoulder, when my interest in Crossfit peaked.  My shoulder was so bad that I couldn't lift or do anything very intense (or I thought) for months.  I kept going to the doctor and one said I would never lift anything over my head again.   I didn't buy this and by this time I was itching to do something hard, intense, and competitive.  So I started to run fast and intense because I just felt I needed it, I didn't care what the long distance runners were saying, I started to feel good again.  I did track sprints, hill sprints, intervals, and tried to punish myself.  This is when I ran a 4:56 mile on a track.  

I saw that there was a Crossfit competition, which proclaimed to find the fittest man, coming up in a few months called the 2009 Norcal Regionals.  I started to be more proactive with my shoulder with therapy and switched my diet to a Paleo/Zone.  My shoulder got healthy and I trained as hard as I ever have those next months.  I did as many "girl-named wods" as I could fit into my day, it was grueling but I loved it.  

Then I had my first experience with "Fran."  Everyone in the gym was watching and it gave me that extra push.  I got 2:52 but was sick the rest of the day. I couldn't grab a cup of water afterward.  Some reason I loved that though, I guess it's what made me know Crossfit was for me.  Also during that time I pushed 240lb over my head and went back to that doctor to tell him.  I also mentioned that I ate large quantities of saturated fat, then found a new doctor.  So long story short, that Norcal Regional came, it destroyed me, but I got 4th and have been addicted ever since.  My competitive spirit and itch for that drive brought me to Crossfit, and I've been hooked ever since.

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17 comments on this entry

1. Merle wrote...

His first Fran was a 2:52? Beasty for sure

2. Nick 'Silver Surfer' Collins wrote...

Great article Joey!

3. Paul Klein wrote...

Very inspiring Joey. It is great to learn more about you. You will kick ass this year!

4. Mark wrote...

Thanks Joey! Just the good advice and motivation I needed!

5. mike wrote...

great advice joey!

6. David Serwitz wrote...

Nice work Joey, You da man!

7. HealtheCentric wrote...

I have been following Joeys blog for some time now. I think he is "right on" with his training and expect him to be very tough to beat this season.

8. Gabe Hall..Crossfit Durham wrote...

Can't help but get fired up when you read something like this...We share a common story in most regards to our birth into crossfit so this really spoke to me...keep ging hard brother like everyone else said you are right on track........"Not knowing what your up agaisnt is the best way to train...the unknown is the beast in the darkness..when he steps into the light ill be ready~thats my battle cry as I train for my first sectionals....God Bless everybody 1 month left!! 321....GO

9. markus willard wrote...

Growing up with Joey, I've always admired his God-given athletic abilities, but more than that, I admired his drive, tenacity, and work ethic. He knows strategy, and that's something you learn growing up in team sports, especially in Football. I have no doubt that Joey will place top three in the CrossFit games in the near future. I'm hoping to compete alongside him one day...maybe 2012. Thanks for the inspiration Joey! Keep Rockin

10. Tony Coats DC wrote...

Well spoken Joey. You fail to mention that you were struggling 6 weeks prior to the 2010 games. You were mentally down for a couple days then did your treatments and found yourself 13th overall at the '10 games. Your story is told over and over again at my office. Awesome article.

11. Michael FitzGerald wrote...

A great OPT client. Look forward to your success this year!

12. Roxan wrote...

Great post Joey! You are a great trainer, a good friend, and a superb athlete! You deserve all the success that comes your way. I am really looking forward to watching you compete this year.

13. Josh Rogers, CrossFit Cadence wrote...

Great stuff Joey! Proud to have you representing the CF Cadence community!

14. Matt wrote...

you're cool, joey

15. Brent Maier wrote...

Well said Joey!

16. Rome Stein wrote...

AWESOME stuff Joey! Love following your story! :)) Looking forward to watching you compete this year!!!!! warmest alohas! ~ rome

17. Evan Taylor wrote...

Thats all said and good, but you turned down playing in the Canadian Football League!!!! Come on man, you could have been an Edmonton Eskimo!


Great blog btw! Love the articles about pushing to failure.


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