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The Secret to CrossFit Games Domination: Bobsledding in South Korea

Tia-Clair Toomey trains more in a day than most people do in a week; here’s how she does it, and what anyone can learn from her fitness routine

By The Wall Street Journal Aug 12, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

The Secret to CrossFit Games Domination: Bobsledding in South Korea

How far was the four-time reigning women’s CrossFit Games champion willing to go to stay in tiptop shape and defend her title? From Tennessee to South Korea to train with the Australian women’s bobsled team.

Tia-Clair Toomey’s home gym in Nashville closed due to the coronavirus pandemic last winter. So the Australian native got creative.

Ms. Toomey, 28 years old, says bobsledding is a great complement to CrossFit: It requires strength, power and speed to propel a sled that can weigh upward of 450 pounds off the starting block. She competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in weightlifting, and hopes to make her second Olympic appearance on the bobsled team at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

When she arrived in Seoul, she had to quarantine in her tiny hotel room for 14 days. She relied on a lot of burpees and a rowing machine for maintenance. Back at home, she typically trains 10 to 12 hours a day under the guidance of her husband and coach, Shane Orr.

The CrossFit Games are a grueling multiday competition. Events are kept secret until just before the contest begins—they might include handstand walks, deadlifts and sled pulls. “You have to be ready for the unknown,” says Ms. Toomey, whose workouts include everything from speedwork and rope climbs to muscle-ups, a combination of a pull-up and a triceps dip.

The 2021 CrossFit season kicked off in March with more than 263,000 athletes from around the world competing in the three-week, virtual CrossFit Open. The top 10% of athletes from each division advanced to a virtual quarterfinal, and 600 athletes moved on to semifinals. Ms. Toomey finished first at every stage. She will defend her title at the 2021 Nobull CrossFit Games in Madison, Wis., which begins July 27.

The Workout

Ms. Toomey trains more in one day than most mortals do in a week. She typically dedicates three workouts a week entirely to running, totaling nearly 17 miles. Speedwork sessions cover distances of 100, 200, 400 and 800 meters at various paces. She pairs that with cardio conditioning on the rowing machine, SkiErg and Assault Air Bike, a stationary bike that works the arms as well as the legs. She also swims throughout the week.

Six-hour gym sessions are the norm during CrossFit season. No workout is ever the same. She devotes a lot of time to perfecting the snatch and the clean-and-jerk, the two Olympic lifts. Both moves require you to hoist a weighted barbell from the ground to overhead. Powerlifting, including the squat, deadlift and bench press, are also staples.

Ms. Toomey is 5-foot-2 and 140 pounds. In competitions she squats an immense 330 pounds and deadlifts 415 pounds. She says working on technique is just as important as building strength and power.

“With the volume of training I do, recovery is huge,” she says. In addition to stretching, she uses a foam roller and massage and compression equipment. She hits the sauna three times a week, followed by an ice bath. Sleep is critical, she says. She aims for a minimum of eight hours. Ten to 11 hours is ideal.

The Diet

Fuel: During the season she consumes around 2,800 calories a day. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 2,400 for an active woman her age. In the off-season, she cuts back to 2,000.

Breakfast: Black coffee and an everything bagel. “Salt is important for me during training, as it helps me maintain water when I’m sweating,” she says. Some days she adds two eggs and avocado.

Second breakfast: One cup of oats with blueberries and honey.

Lunch: Some type of sandwich, often on sourdough, to get her carbs. She mixes up the protein, sometimes having chicken or salmon.

Snacks: Apples, oranges and oat bars.

Dinner: “I love my pasta,” she says. Spaghetti Bolognese is a favorite dish.

Splurge: “When the season is done I like to indulge,” she says. Doritos, M&M’s and Tim Tams, a chocolate-covered biscuit from Australia, are her vices.

Essential Gear

She wears lifter shoes from sponsor Nobull ($299).

She is sponsored by Rogue and uses the brand’s lifting belt ($65), wrist wraps ($13), hand grips ($21) and knee sleeves ($60).

Hyperice is a sponsor. She uses their Venom heat and massage wrap for the back ($250) and Normatec Pulse 2.0 compression leg sleeves ($900).


Classic rock. Anything by AC/DC pumps her up.

Don’t Let Lifting Intimidate You

Watch Olympic weightlifters hoist 350 pounds above their heads and you could easily think this type of strength training isn’t for you. But you can look nothing like a bodybuilder and still benefit from lifting.

“In competitions, athletes are trying to set records,” says Stephane Rochet, a San Diego-based strength and conditioning specialist. “The large amount of weight and strange technique can be intimidating. But when you break the exercises down, they all use foundational movements that can benefit people of any fitness level and age.”

Powerlifting includes the bench press, deadlift and back squat.

Olympic weightlifting is made up of two events: the snatch and the clean-and-jerk. The snatch involves taking a barbell from the floor to an overhead position in a single motion, and usually entails receiving the bar in the bottom of an overhead squat before standing with the bar overhead. For the clean-and-jerk, you move the barbell from the ground so it rests across the fronts of your shoulders. The jerk portion involves thrusting the bar overhead to fully extended arms, while moving the feet into a split stance before standing with the feet back together and the bar overhead.

Mr. Rochet says exercises that isolate specific muscle groups, such as the leg-curl machine at the gym or triceps extension, build strength but don’t mimic how we move in real life. “Olympic lifting and powerlifting moves are much more functional, recruiting multiple muscle groups and joints,” he says. A press is a motion you would use to put luggage in an overhead bin on a plane. A deadlift uses the movement pattern we need to pick a box off the ground.

“You can get benefits from doing these motions with a light barbell or very light weights,” he says. “And there are modifications you can make, like not squatting as deeply if it irritates your knees.” Mr. Rochet suggests first learning proper technique from a trainer and starting out with no weight or minimal weight until the movements become familiar.

Write to Jen Murphy at

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