Emma McQuaid is officially Ireland’s fittest female after finishing in 1st place after 5 grueling workouts over 5 weeks for the Crossfit Games Open 2015. Emma is coached by Neil Laverty – Owner & Head Coach at Crossfit 8020, Portadown
Next up are Regionals in Copenhagen where Emma will try to secure her place at the Reebok CrossFit Games at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. At this point in the season, the field has been whittled down from hundreds of thousands of athletes in the Open to the fittest 40 men and 40 women in the world. The CrossFit Games rank the world’s fittest, and determine which man and woman may be called the Fittest on Earth.
We had the pleasure of chatting to both Emma & Neil as they prepare for Regionals and they kindly shared an awesome video of Emma in action!!
How does it feel to be officially one of the fittest women in Europe?
I haven’t really thought about it much to be honest; it’s just a number. I’m just really happy to have made Regionals, that was my goal for this year, and it’s taken a little pressure off now that I’ve met that goal. My coach let me have a few days off after 15.5 to relax and clear my head, but since then we’ve been right back to normal. I’m actually more proud to be representing CrossFit 8020 in Denmark in May than any sort of accolades people are talking about.
How did you prepare on the lead up to the open?
After The Athletes Games in January a lot changed with my training, I thought I was getting on well until I went to Manchester and didn’t show what I was capable of. Neil and I had a frank chat and were very honest about my performance and my goals, so we agreed to change things up with my program, focusing more on not trying to win every WOD in the gym, but concentrating on moving more efficiently, with some small changes and more specific sessions with Neil I have noticed a massive difference in my training and more importantly my recovery, this prepared me perfectly for the open, I felt strong, fit and very switched on.
How did you train during the open with the unknown wods ahead?
We kept the same routine the whole way through the Open, which really worked well for me. I trained like normal from Sunday to Wednesday, doing our usually brutal WODs along with the skills and strength relative to our own weaknesses. I went for a swim on Thursday and did some light mono-structural work and mobility on Friday, Fridays were great, very chilled and relaxed, talking about the WOD and the best strategy and just messing about in the gym. I found I was ready hit the open WOD hard on Saturday mornings, usually after the open WOD we would all hit a team WOD which is always good fun to push against the rest of the Competition group with no stress about times or scores. Then depending on how I felt, I rested or trained the program. I’ve learnt so much recently about listening to my body and understanding when I need to step back and rest, this has really allowed me to increase the intensity of each session, I think loads of athletes need to realise that recovery is the key to this sport.
How do you prepare mentally going into a wod?
I think coming from a high level, competitive background in quad racing has really helped me a lot mentally. During races there were times I was so sore and tired that all I could think about was pulling over and quitting, but somehow I always found the inner drive to push on and finish. It’s the same with CrossFit, no matter how hard it is or how much I’m hurting I’ll never give up!! I know I’m not as skilled or as fit as a lot of other competitors out there, but I’m stubborn and mentally strong, so I think that’s were I make up for it.
Have you had to adapt your diet in accordance with training for competitions at this level?
Usually I would just eat what ever is put in front off me, but I recently started getting my meals from a local company called Slims Kitchen. They put a food plan together which has really helped so much and I even lost a few extra KG before the open. I’m now the lightest I’ve ever been since starting CrossFit, and all my numbers and performances are still going up, so something is working and I feel great.
Who are you most excited to meet and compete against in the regionals?
I’m really looking forward to meeting Iceland Annie, it’ll be nerve wrecking competing on the same floor as her, she won the open, and so at this moment in time is the fittest woman. At the same time I’m really excited, I can’t wait to see how I stand up against the very best in the world.
What are the next steps in your preparation for Copenhagen?
Over the next 8 weeks I’ll not be changing much. I work closely with Neil every day so we stick to the program and have already been concentrating a little bit more on my biggest weaknesses. This week I’m starting with a Gymnastics Coach once a week up until Regionals. It’s still my biggest weakness and could hold me back against the top girls in Copenhagen, but I’ll have it sorted by then. Other than that I’m keeping everything the same, just carefully increasing the volume of training a bit to help prepare me for 3 days competing, and focusing loads on efficiency, transitions and tactics.
What advice would you give to athletes hoping to reach similar success in CrossFit?
Set achievable goals with your coach and commit to reaching them. Neil is upfront with me about my numbers and what I need to achieve, so I know what is expected and there is no confusion. Put 100% effort in; give your best every session, even if things aren’t going well. Find a training group that pushes you, I’m lucky to have the competitive group at 8020; I never get a win easy. And most importantly enjoy it, I have fun training, some of the sessions just suck, but mostly I laugh and have fun, which makes showing up every day easy!
How does it feel to be the coach behind one of Europe’s fittest women?
If I’m honest it doesn’t feel any different, I haven’t done anything really, Emma has done all the hard graft, I’ve just facilitated her development, she’d likely be this good under any coach. I’ve been working with Emma now for about 18 months, during her rehab, and recently developing her as a competitive CrossFit athlete. Straight away I could she was talented, but needed work to refine the natural power and strength she showed. Emma and I have a long term plan, the goals are set out and so far she keeps ticking them off. It’s obviously been great to see her progress and see her recent results, but for me, it’s a simple case of constantly assessing her weaknesses, and ensuring she is as prepared as possible. We still train together every morning, the sessions are still as tough as ever and we still keep working to the plan, so nothing has changed really! I guess if anything I’m feeling like the lucky one, the coach that got Emma, and all my other competitors, walking through the doors and wanting to train with me.
How did you tailor Emma’s programming on the lead up and during the open?
During the lead up to the open, we worked a lot on specific weaknesses, making the movements she struggled with, less of a struggle, and the movements she is good at were broken down and made more efficient. We also really worked hard on developing the energy systems she is weak at and struggles with, those are the sessions that really see her go to the limit, but they are vital to ensure she has the top end capacity required at that level. Emma is a well rounded athlete, but working with her so closely every day gives a great insight into the areas she needs work on, right down to how many contractions she is good with in each movement. Understanding her capacity was key to strategising the WODs.
Have you been reviewing other top European athletes? Who would you see as Emma’s biggest competition?
We aren’t spending anytime looking at anyone else. CrossFit is an individual sport and while you compete against others, if you can stick to your own plan, give 100%, then whatever will be, will be. Without doubt competing against the very best in the world will allow Emma to access that 100% maximal effort, probably taking her to level she doesn’t even access in training, but that’s what sets competition apart from training. CrossFit is an amazing sport that tests so much, so there will be 39 other athletes there that on any given WOD, will be her biggest competition. All we can do is continue to work hard, recover optimally and ensure Emma gives the best she can in 6 workouts over 3 days.
Are there other coaches whose methods you admire?
Within CrossFit, there are a few coaches standing out at present, without doubt CJ Martin at Invictus, Ben Bergeron from CrossFit New England and a few others are doing very well, with multiple athletes and teams making the Games year in, year out. CrossFit is still a very young sport, so it’s yet to be proved who is the best coach, or who has the best program. At 8020 we try to tailor the program to suit the individual, not copy anyone else or get obsessed with who is doing what. Dave Brailsford, the former director of British Cycling, is a coach I admire. His attention to detail, to gaining small percentages in loads of areas, is something I think is vital at top level sport. At 8020 we train the athletes to be efficient, to save 0.5 seconds on a movement, to save 3 seconds on a transition. It’s those small percentages that add up. If a WOD has 2 movements and is 3 rounds of 15 each (30 reps), then potentially we can make the athlete 15 secs per round faster and save 15 secs on transitions, that’s 60 seconds faster on that WOD we can make that athlete, without getting them fitter or stronger, that’s the difference between 1st place and 30th place.
What do you think makes a top athlete?
First and foremost, and this is the answer that kills dreams, but it’s the truth, Genetics. If someone is just built to do that activity, then it’s hard to compete with that, no matter how hard you train. Beyond that, it comes down to work ethic and consistency. The athlete has to want to train day in day out, do the sessions that are boring and monotonous, put in the hours practicing skills and techniques, that’s the mental aspect, the strength to have bad days and keep coming back for more, to constantly get critiqued and always try to improve. They also have to be consistent, to follow a program, commit to the long term, and keep their eye on what the real goal is.
What are the next steps in preparation for Copenhagen?
We’ll keep working hard and addressing weaknesses. It’s just life as normal really, with a little more detail around recovery and any potential injuries. Things will change massiveley when the WODs are released. That’s when the very specific work will happen. We’ll address each WOD and workout how Emma can do it best. It’ll be trial and error, but normally we get things right, we spend a lot of time at the whiteboard covering WOD strategy, so I think we are both looking forward to seeing the regionals workouts and starting the specific preparation for each one.
How did you find the addition of the scaled division to this year’s open format?
The scaled division was a great addition, CrossFit is still a community sport at it’s heart, and it was great to see so many people sign up to compete, knowing that they can’t go to regionals. Personally as a coach I agreed with most of the scaling and was happy that athletes all had the opportunity to complete at least one of the workouts.
What advice would you give to athletes hoping to reach similar success in CrossFit?
1. Find a good coach with proven results working with multiple athletes.
2. Commit to the program and turn up to every session.
3. Remain consistent.
4. Listen to your body, this sport is about recovery as much as it is about training.
5. Enjoy the process and don’t get impatient.