Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Power Monkey Fitness Camp down in Crossville, TN where I would be running a nutrition seminar on Tuesday night. Power Monkey is known for having the world's best coaches for a wide number of disciplines and while those coaches didn't disappoint, its not the REAL reason that PMC is such a special experience. Here's my take on why this is the best athlete camp out there.
When I originally received the invitation from Dave Durante to come to camp, I was extremely excited. First off, its not everyday you get to spend 5 days with some of the best minds in all of Crossfit. Also, I absolutely love talking about nutrition and I knew that this would be an amazing chance to hopefully spread the word about what I think is a better way to do things (#carbs).
I spent most of Sunday flying into Nashville, where I met a bunch of the campers at the airport before boarding a bus to Crossville. More than 25% of the participants came from one of 14 countries, making it a truly international affair, which was obvious on the bus as you could pick up a few different languages. Having never attended camp before, I think I had a bit of a "deer in the head lights" look about me when we finally arrived at camp, but the other coaches were nice enough to show me where to go, where to stand during introductions, and more or less how not to make a huge fool of myself. We played some fun ice breaker games and then watched Steve Gluckstein put on an absolute show on the trampoline. Its amazing to see what an incredible amount of hard work combined with some obvious talent can produce.
So the basic premise of the instructional side of camp is that there are 10 stations which the campers rotate through over the four days: Rings, Bars, Hand stands, Kettlebells, Aerobic capacity, Clean, Jerk, Snatch, Jump rope and Rowing. EACH of these stations is led by one or two people that are at the absolute pinnacle of their discipline. Layered on top of these stations is work from Dave Tilley and Dan Pope about how to make changes to your body so that you can more easily hit the positions being instructed, or to hit them with more strength and stability. You can't find that collection of coaching talent anywhere else and its a major part of what PMC so special.
As an example... on day 1, I spent a couple hours with Duke Van Vleet and Andy Timm, who have both spent a lifetime as elite level gymnasts. They broke the movements for pulling and pushing into and out of a muscle up into small sections which allowed everyone to focus on moving efficiently instead of bleeding energy in 17 different directions during a workout. I've been doing Crossfit for nearly a decade, and so I've heard almost every cue you can think of, but these guys just have a better eye than most. By the end, strict and kipping muscle ups were feeling effortless, AND I managed to do a controlled negative through the muscle up transition point, something that hasn't happened in the 6 years since I tore my pec (A small, but important, accomplishment for me). I won't go through each station, but suffice it to say that what I experienced on the rings was replicated with every other coach for each movement.
Let me put it this way... both a 72 year old man named Gary and Games athlete and former elite gymnast Alec Smith said that they learned a ton from camp. If you can help two people from such different athletic starting points get better in 5 days, you're doing a damn good job.
All that said, you can get pretty great coaching at other camps, hopefully even within your own gym. What makes this experience so special is what happens AFTER the coaching sessions are done. Everything is geared towards a community and getting to know one another. Meals are served at long tables, bunks have 4+ beds per room... its just like when you were a kid at summer camp! The atmosphere is perfectly built to bring people together quickly over the ~5 days that they're there. I get the impression people make long term friendships and stay in touch year round... which is pretty remarkable in my opinion.
At night, nine time national champion Chad Vaughn (also the nicest guy ever), runs a set of campfire talks which could easily be renamed "Inspirational chats that might make you cry a little." Monday night we listened to Whitney Bozzer, a young woman that's survived four bouts with cancer. Her story is incredible and absolutely brought me to tears. She's a special woman and you can't listen to her talk and not be affected by it. Strength, determination, maybe a little stubbornness... its no wonder that Power Monkey has named a scholarship after her. The second talk of that night was from Caroline Bond, winner of this year's scholorship... more tears. The next night we listened to Ron Ortiz and Linda Elstun, two masters Games athletes with incredible stories to tell of their own. Finally Chad told his story about dealing with confidence issues and working hard enough to overcome them, followed by Dave telling the story of how Power Monkey came to be. You can't generate moments like these when everyone goes home to their hotels at the end of the night, but they'll happen organically when you get people away from their computers, phones and televisions... and PMC does an incredible job at that aspect.
Also, the Friday night party is just legit... Tennessee apple moonshine for the win :)
What about the nutrition seminar you ask???
So Tuesday night comes and I'm definitely excited but also nervous. Luckily the crowd's fantastic, tons of great questions and comments, and it goes over really well. Anyone that's heard me talk knows I try and have a lot of fun, go over some interesting science, but I also try to get at the emotional aspect of food as well. Why we view it the way we do, or why we let it "control" our actions and thoughts about ourselves. When I first booked my trip, Dave and Sadie were nice enough to let me stay the whole week despite having my talk finish on the second night. I wasn't exactly sure that it would be useful other than for selfish reasons, BUT I'm really glad that I stuck around. There's some questions that you can ask in front of an audience and others that need to be had one on one. Over the next three days I had close to a dozen conversations with campers that resulted in some outpouring of emotions (from them, but also me) about their relationship with food.
I've been doing this whole "nutrition coach" thing for a while now, but these chats were absolute eye openers for me. Its easy to forget that while I talk about "food as fuel", very few people are conditioned to think about it that way. Most people, including elite level Games athletes, struggle with the concept even when shown how powerful eating appropriately can be. What is scary is that ALL of the conversations we had involved some aspect of the "food is the enemy" mentality being engrained during the childhood years, and these effects were still affecting people's behavior in their 20s, 30's and 40's. I think its an important thing for both coaches and athletes/clients to remember... this is a LONG process. While we talk about macros and micros... some people just need to start off by venting about their current situation. Whether thats binge eating, purging, overall fear of food... whatever. You'd be surprised how many people hold these emotions inside and tell themselves that they're just being weak minded. "Coaching" these people has almost nothing to do with ratios of protein, carbs and fat, but simply just helping them to recognize that their struggles are NOT their fault. We view alcoholism or drug abuse as a disease but... we don't look at food that way for some reason, which I think is a mistake.
Coming back to the conversations, each of them admitted that it was the first time they'd had a conversation like that about their emotional connection to their diet and clearing the air kinda felt like getting the gorilla (pun intended) off their back. For that reason alone, I'm glad I stayed past Tuesday night.
Anyway, I kinda got off topic there a little bit but I think it was worth it. At the end of the day, Power Monkey camp was absolutely amazing and I hope I'm given the opportunity to speak at more camps in the future. To Dave and Sadie, thank you for the opportunity, and to Jason Leydon, thank you for putting me up for the job. Its not easy to put your reputation on the line by recommending someone for the job, hopefully I didn't let you down bud!!