JACKRABBIT INTERVIEWS: CHRIS HENSHAW – ENDURANCE ATHLETE TO CROSSFIT PIONEER
Chris Henshaw is the ultimate endurance athlete. Starting as a collegiate swimmer, he embraced Ironman triathlon when the sport was still in its infancy, competing as an equal with the triathlon greats and coming in second to Scott Tinley in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in 1985.
We sat down with Chris to talk about training world-champion CrossFit athletes, drawing upon his huge knowledge of endurance training to lead and prepare his athletes for elite level performances. You can learn more about Chris and his approach to training at his site Aerobic Capacity
There’s much we can all learn from Chris, so read on!
JACKRABBIT: Hi Chris – Your career path has been impressive. Second on the podium in the Ironman World Championships to now training world class athletes in the CrossFit arena. Share with us how you went from endurance sports to CrossFit?
CHRIS HENSHAW: I had an incredible 8 years while competing as a professional triathlete. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the sport. I’m truly grateful for the experiences. However, the weekly volume eventually stacked up and my unrelenting injuries forced me into retirement at 28 years old. I was introduced to CrossFit as a potential option to restore my neglected muscle groups in order to become functional. I was 44 years old.
JR: What do you bring to CrossFit training from your vast endurance background? How does your approach to training differ to what athletes are used to?
CH: As a professional triathlete, I was given many unique opportunities to improve my performance that included access to elite coaching, physiology testing, nutrition, mindset, and product design. These experiences created a very unique advantage as my career evolved into coaching. Triathlons and CrossFit are both multi-sports. Triathlons taught me to find the most effective and efficient methods for maximizing an individual adaptation. My approach values the athlete’s time commitment to fitness.
JR: Mental training is a huge part of sport, what advice do you give your athletes to bring a higher mental game to their training?
CH: Triathlons have taught me how negative thoughts develop and ultimately limit performance. Long competitions create the perfect environment for negative thoughts because the body is pushed multiple times too far away from homeostasis. I want my athletes to recognize negative thoughts or perceptions as valuable internal feedback while performing a workout or competition.
JR: You’re a high-performing athlete, and you train world champion athletes, do you see any common factor(s) amongst athletes at the top of their game?
CH: World champion athletes are relentless in their quest for improvement. However, the underlining focus was building their knowledge. Knowledge is created from a variety of sources. It is this knowledge that becomes the source of confidence.
JR: The CrossFit Games are a grueling few days of competition, how do you prepare your athletes when they have to be ready for anything?
CH: My athletes recognize that every movement is unique and every intensity within that movement is unique. The combinations of movements and intensities within CrossFit are endless. However, no athlete would have the time or capacity to prepare for every potential combination. Games athletes, just like any athlete, must focus on the movements and intensities that are the highest value of their available time. My job is to assess the strengths and weaknesses of any athlete in order to provide programming that maximizes their specific adaptations.
JR: What three pieces of advice would you give to any athlete (CrossFit athletes, runners, triathletes) who wants to increase their level of performance?
CH: As a coach, one of my top priorities is to provide outstanding programming as well as explain the “how & why” (focus & intent) of every individual workout. I believe every athlete needs to take ownership in his or her fitness. I would advise every athlete to know their strengths and weaknesses, to know the intent (or targeted adaptation) of their workouts, and to know how and/or why their workouts will maximize their fitness. As a coach, I’ve learned these athletes with ownership will return tomorrow and this is what determines a successful coach.
JR: In the span of your career you’ve been involved with running shoe companies from their initial R&D at the Ironman World Championships to your current work with Reebok. Tell us a bit about your collaboration and how running/training shoes have changed since then.
CH: As a professional triathlete, my involvement with running shoe companies was 100% focused on individual performance. As a coach, my interests in shoe design focus on stability, durability, and comfort to provide a better running experience for recreational athletes. Reebok has proven their ability to deliver running shoes that cover both ends of the design spectrum; soft cushioning for longer runs, and an explosive feel at toe-off for high intensity track intervals.
What advice would you give JackRabbits wanting to try CrossFit for the first time?
CH: CrossFit can be very intimidating because of the quantity of unfamiliar movements. As example, I had never picked up a barbell before starting CrossFit. In addition, I have never done a pull-up prior to CrossFit. I understand that uncertainty when walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time. That said, CrossFit biggest value is it’s coaching and member community. This is where you will find your strength and greatness.
JR: Here at JackRabbit we live and breathe shoes. What are the go-to shoes for CrossFit training? What should someone look for in a performance shoe for this sport?
CH: I believe that shoes should be selected based on the intended application. Reebok makes several models of shoes that are perfect for functional fitness type workouts (i.e., Reebok Nano’s). These shoes are excellent all around shoes that have been tested by the Fittest Athletes on Earth at the CrossFit Games. However, I want all athletes to understand the importance of sports specific shoes. As example, if you pick running for your fitness options then pick a good running specific shoe such as the Reebok Float or Harmony Road. Finding the correct shoe is a critical component in maximizing your individual fitness.
JR: When it comes to music, we love to ask all our JackRabbit guests, what are the top three songs you turn to for motivation? What gets you moving before a hard training session?
CH: 1. Mr. Brightside by The Killers; 2. Learn to Fly by Foo Fighters; 3. Kickstart My Heart by Motley Crue