Training for the Crossfit Games w/ AJ Roberts


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What does it take to go to the Crossfit Games?

This week on Barbell Shrugged we talk training and proper goal setting with champion powerlifter turned bodybuilder and business man, AJ Roberts.

AJ had a great 10-year run in the sport of powerlifting, which culminated with a world record 1,205 pound equipped back squat. Yes, that’s extraordinary. But he’d be the first to tell you that this sort of extreme achievement comes at a steep cost.

A bigger AJ in action

The easiest way to get stronger is to gain weight. That might be the very first lesson young powerlifters ever learn, actually. The more tissue you pack around every joint, the better your leverages and performance.

I’m not talking about putting on a few pounds of muscle, no, not even close. It’s more like bumping up your bodyweight by 100 pounds or more! We’re talking total transformation.

To do that, many lifters simply eat huge portions of fast-food around the clock. It’s cheaper, and it’s far easier to consume in surplus servings. But of course this sort of thing comes with side-effects. AJ might have been a world record setting athlete, but he also had sleep apnea, a puffy, inflamed face, high blood pressure, all that. The writing was on the wall.

Getting as big as possible will make you very strong, but that’s obviously not good for quality of life. Once you reach your goals, you have to be prepared to stop and move on.

From one stage to the next

A photo posted by AJ Roberts (@ajroberts) on


Crossfit attracts countless athletes with stories very similar to AJ’s.

Competitive people often struggle to find meaning in fitness and exercise if there’s no clear goal or objective in sight. There must be some kind of pressure, an upcoming event, to drive the training. The local Box provides just that.

Every training session is a chance to compete again, an opportunity to win and set records. In time, many of these athletes start competing for real, maybe with the ultimate goal of going to regionals or the Games. That’s certainly what AJ wanted. But he also made a mistake that’s super common with high-level athletes…He jumped into Crossfit head first, taking it all on at once.

That’s a big mistake.

One thing is for certain – To be great at Crossfit you have to be very strong. Just look at the current list of top competitors. They are ALL surprisingly muscular and very, very strong. In fact, many top Crossfitters are now competitive at the national-level in weightlifting, which really is impressive. 


For that reason AJ thought he could do well quickly. He figured he had the barbell mastered and was already plenty strong, but that wasn’t so. In hindsight it is obvious, of course. Powerlifting and Weightlifting are very different sports. AJ might have squatted and pressed small motor vehicles back in the XXXL days, but that did nothing to prepare him for overhead squats and snatches, for example.

Today’s top athletes all began their careers years ago, maybe around 2008-2009. During those years you actually didn’t see many large, muscular and strong competitors, which is easy to explain – They hadn’t done the work yet.

It takes time to develop as an athlete, especially in Crossfit. For a minimum of 5 years these already accomplished, strong athletes have been grinding away, putting in endless work with mobility movement drills, gymnastics training, weightlifting, brutal and frequent conditioning sessions, you name it. Some progress faster than others, but you cannot skip the work. It has to be done. Many young athletes forget that in their hurrying.

You CAN compete in Crossfit and do very well. Hell, you might actually make it to Regionals, maybe even the Games one day. That happens to new athlete’s every year, right? But here’s the thing – You cannot get there without making a radical commitment. To be your best you have to build your life around this pursuit. It must be your career, your recreation, your everything. There’s just not enough time to master all those skills otherwise.

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It took AJ over 10 years of hard training and dedication to set his world record squat. At a minimum, he realized it would take at least another decade to reach his ultimate goals in Crossfit. Only this time around, the road would obviously be much more challenging. In the end the challenge was too big, and it came on too quickly.

You can do better, just keep something in mind. Think about all of the top competitors that you admire. Appreciate what they can do and learn all you can from them, but never try and emulate their current programming and training schedule, you wont’t be able to keep up. No, you’d be much better off finding out how they trained back at the beginning of their career.

Start there and begin your work. Remain patient and focused. Who know’s, maybe you’ll find YOUR path and go all the way.

If you have any questions about the Open, your training, or anything else, just leave a comment below. We’d be happy to help out.

Enjoy the show!


6 Responses to “Training for the Crossfit Games w/ AJ Roberts”

  1. Shaun DeCroo

    Great realistic information. I had the similar effect on my body. Went from heavy lifting for 17yrs to Crossfit and suddenly had joint issues and pains that I never had lifting. You just can’t dive in and expect to be ok, ease into it let your body adapt and learn what you really want then go beast mode on it. Great video, amazing lift AJ

  2. Brandon Arndt

    I can relate to the commitment that goes into being a CrossFit athlete at that competitive level. I’m 23, single, with no real responsibilities other than work and training. I have been doing CrossFit for a year and have realistic obtainable goals to keep me motivated to one day make it to the big stage. The only downfall is that I work the night shift as an ER nurse. However, I switched my routine so that I live the night life and sleep during the day, even on days off of work. I have been documenting my sleep pattern, daily intake, and have also been keeping a journal of my energy level before and after sleep and training sessions. I respect how much sleep is required to train at a high level, knowing that it takes time as well as dedication to get what you really want. Perhaps one day I will be able to contribute knowledge to the exercise community and help others working the dreaded night shift. Who knows, I may even be discussing this topic on your show one day. Hopefully see you (barbell shrugged team) as a regional athlete this year or next!

  3. Christy Jeffery

    Definitely agree with many of the comments in regards to the evolution of competitive CrossFit. I think that the 2015 CrossFit Games season will be the first year you will see almost all Games and even all Regional level competitors who are treating the sport as professional athletes. There will be a few people, I’m sure, who have jobs or families outside of CrossFit, but with the creation of the Super Regionals where Top 20 out of The Open compete, it does not leave much room for those who have not dedicated their lives 100% to training and recovery. Also, great mention about the future 5-10 years down the road where most elite athletes will be those who started as teenagers, definitely on point with that prediction in my mind.

    P.S. first time, in awhile, actually watching an episode. I usually listen to these in the car on my commute to work, and you guys are right, much better experience on screen. As always, thanks!


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