The Invictus Mindset w/ CJ Martin

CJ Martin is the coach behind 40+ Games athletes including the likes of Lauren Fisher, Josh Bridges, Rasmus Andersen, and many more.

He specializes in helping athletes prepare for the CrossFit Games, coaching both teams and individuals at Invictus as well as athletes across the United States and the United Kingdom through online coaching and program design.

C.J. is fascinated with the role of the cerebral side in sport and fitness, which he actively uses to help his members overcome self-doubt and perceived limitations to reach their full potential. The Invictus Mindset originated from everyday conversations that proved to be a vital role in the success of any program.

He is also co-founder of Kids Helping Kids, a non-profit organization that has raised nearly $4 million for neonatal intensive care and pediatric units throughout Oregon, and he currently serves on the Board of Directors of San Diego Youth Services.

From a securities fraud & litigation lawyer to a gym owner to a world-renowned coach, we dig into his processes and principles for programming, continually learning, and so much more.


Some things we chat about in this episode

  • Getting better at weightlifting and CrossFit at the same time without one taking away from the other
  • Actionable nuggets from The Invictus Mindset that the everyday athlete can start using
  • Starting on the same playing field as everyone else, how did C.J. get to where he is now at such an effective and efficient rate?

Also available here:

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Show Notes:

  • (4:54) – The transition and processes going from a lawyer to the athlete to coach to gym owner to what you see today
  • (8:46) – Coaching everyday athletes and elite competitors
  • (10:52) – Takeaways from Tae Kwon Do that have influenced CJ’s coaching
  • (12:35) – Transition from athlete to coach
  • (14:50) – How related are the two roles of being a great coach and athlete?
  • (17:20) – What principles and non-negotiables separate your programming from others?
  • (18:25) – Differences between programming for GPP vs Athletic Development
  • (19:53) – What’s going through your head when you sit down at your computer ready to program for an individual or group?
  • (21:40) – Benchmarks for measuring progress and why athletes aren’t allowed to worry about what others are doing
  • (23:40) – How do you approach and balance strength work in your programming?
  • (25:25) – Getting better at weightlifting and CrossFit at the same time without one taking away from the other
  • (27:50) – Traditional physiology in textbooks vs what we’re seeing is possible with competitive CF today
  • (32:00) – The Invictus Mindset
  • (35:40) – Some nuggets and takeaways from the book that the everyday athlete can try
  • (38:09) – At what point do athletes realize that working on mindset is a game-changer?
  • (40:40) – Work-life balance and how it doesn’t really exist — depending on how you’re wired
  • (43:30) – “You were on the same playing field as anyone else. Going from law to fitness, how did you progress at such an effective and efficient rate?”
  • (46:10) – $30,000 on coaching education and where he allocated that
  • (47:56) – Recommended reading and favorite books
  • (51:10) – Process for extracting and retaining all the nuggets if you’re a voracious reader
  • (53:40) – If you had 1 year to live and had to start over, how would you get back to now?
  • (56:50) – What do you want listeners to take away from this episode?

Podcast Transcript:

CJ  00:00

This is CJ Martin and you’re listening to the Airborne Mind Show

Misbah Haque  00:30

Hey guys, Misbah Haque here. Thank you so much for joining me today and welcome back. This week we get to chat with CJ Martin from Invictus fitness. He is the coach behind over 40 Games athletes including the likes of Lauren Fisher, Josh Bridges, Rosmah, Sanderson and many more. He specializes in helping athletes prepare for the CrossFit Games coaching both teams and individuals, not only at Invictus, but throughout the United States and the UK through his online coaching and program design. CJ is fascinated with the role of the cerebral side and psychology in sport and fitness, which he actively uses to help his members overcome self doubt and perceived limitations so that they can reach their full potential. The Invictus mindset originated from everyday conversations that proved to be a vital role for success in any program. He’s also the co-founder of kids helping kids which is a nonprofit organization that has raised nearly $4 million for neonatal intensive care and pediatric units throughout Oregon. And he also currently serves on the board of directors of San Diego Youth Services. From a securities fraud and litigation lawyer to gym owner to a world renowned coach, we get to dig into his processes and principles for programming, continually learning and so much more. Some of the things that we get to chat about in this episode are the actionable nuggets from the Invictus mindset that the everyday athlete can start implementing and using right away, getting better at weightlifting and CrossFit at the same time, without one taking away from the other. And I think the most interesting thing is starting on the same playing field as everyone else. How did CJ get to where he is now at such an effective and efficient rate. So whether you are a coach or athlete, I think you’re gonna walk away with tons of insights from this one. Before we get started, if you love the show, if you love what we’ve been doing and putting out, head over to the airborne mind calm and grab your movement Audit Checklist. This is something I put together, which is designed to help you in five steps or five questions, help you reflect and figure out what am I not getting enough of in my training? How is it holding me back? Maybe it’s performance wise, maybe it’s aches and pains? And if I had an extra 15 minutes or so, where would I spend that precious time. I’ve also pulled the assessments that Zack Greenwald, Dr. Shawn, Jeremy, Travis mash and so forth have given us on the show. So you can objectively figure out you know, where the weaknesses are, and where you can put in the work, I think it is a very useful resource for any athlete. So once again, head over to the airborne mind, comm grab your free movement Audit Checklist, and I guarantee you’ll walk away with something useful. And with that being said, Please enjoy the show, CJ man, welcome to the show. Thank you so much for joining us today. 


CJ  03:15

Thanks for having me. 

Misbah Haque  03:18

For those who may not know you give us a little bit of background about you and just kind of let us know how you roll.

CJ  03:26

So I was a lawyer for a few years, and found myself doing a lot of CrossFit and loving coaching people and helping people at the gym and CrossFit. And kind of parlayed that into opening a gym in San Diego called Invictus. And for the last eight years, we’ve done a pretty good job of connecting with athletes and, and our gym members to, you know, help them achieve their goals. And so some of those goals have meant losing 100 pounds. And some of those goals for others has been meant, you know, competing and winning the CrossFit Games. So we’ve been able to help quite a few individuals over 40 individual athletes at the CrossFit Games. We’ve had a team there the last eight years. And you know, that to me is is super fun because it’s their dreams and we were able to help them achieve them 

Misbah Haque  04:20

What is it like coaching over 40 athletes at the Games? Do you have a lot of assistants with you?

CJ  04:28

It’s been great. We didn’t have 40 in one year. That would be all crazy. But we have had as many as 14 in a single year plus a team. And yes, we take a very team approach and I learned a ton from the other coaches that coach alongside me and we try to make sure that we do things out to give everybody the attention that they deserve. 

Misbah Haque  04:53

Now you mentioned that you were previously a lawyer. So what did that transition kind of look like from practicing law to start in CrossFit and then falling in love with coaching. And then you know, now you’re in the position that you’re in.

CJ  05:09

I’m so glad you asked that question because I do get contacted a lot. And people are. So I’m a lawyer or accountant, whatever it is. And I love CrossFit. And I’m just gonna stop, I mean, I opened a gym. And I think that, you know, while I want everybody to do what they love, I also want people to be stable and realistic about doing that. And so this is the question that most people don’t ask is, what did that process look like? They see the end result and forget to ask about the process. And the process for me was that I spent about 18 months running a gym, that I didn’t know, that I didn’t really receive a ton of benefit out of other than it gave me the opportunity to see what it would be like, but it meant that for 18 months, I got up at five in the morning, to open a gym and code from six to 8am. And then went to my law job and then left at 545, to coach from six to 8pm. And then I ate some dinner. And then I, you know, went back to my law job and worked for three hours or so and went to bed at one or two in the morning and then got up at five to do it all over again. And so the transition wasn’t sexy, it was a ton of work and burning myself down in the process. But at the end of the day, I knew that this was more than just a hobby, it was more than just something that I thought was cool for a little while, it was something that I wanted to do forever. So once you realize that you’ve got that kind of passion for something that becomes an easy decision to step out, or whatever it is you’re doing to pursue that. 

Misbah Haque  06:46

we’re all about the process here at airborne mind. So what did that transition look like from, you know, you know, you were managing somebody else’s gym for 18 months you mentioned, but as soon as you open your doors, were there any things that kind of took you by surprise?

CJ  07:02

Absolutely. So one when my original intent was to stay on 50% As a lawyer, so do 50% of my time as a lawyer, which is, a full time job for most people. At a large international law firm, 50%, probably still 40 hours a week. But, so I had intended to do that, especially just for some financial stability. And when we opened our doors slightly before we opened our doors, I just realized that if you’re going to be successful at anything you got to you gotta be willing to commit to it. And so I kind of pulled the plug on that and just said, Hey, guys, I’m going to go full on in my gym. And if I have to eat a cup of noodles for months on end to make the ends meet, then I’m going to do that. But what it taught me is that once I was free to just do what I loved that, you know, the success came very quickly and very easily because I think we were just genuine with the members that we could help. And they were going out and they were our best marketing stream and sending all their friends and because they knew that they were going to have somebody that really cared about their well being. And I just thought out of curiosity, what kind of law did you practice? I did securities fraud litigation on the defense side. Sound so I defended? Yeah, it was awesome. I defended fortune 500 companies and in securities litigation, and it was actually a great super intellectually stimulating, I loved that aspect. I just didn’t know at the end of my career, what would be written on a tombstone? That would make me super proud. 

Misbah Haque  08:42

What did that, you know, how did you go from? Like, were you working largely with just somebody who comes in and has those goals? Like they want to lose?  20 pounds? 30 pounds? Or were you from day one, working with athletes who were like, well, I just saw the CrossFit Games. I want to make it to the games and or were you doing both at the same time? How did that look? 

CJ  09:03

No, I competed in the CrossFit Games 2007 and 2008. I had such a good time in 2007, which was the first year of the CrossFit Games that I told a bunch of my friends that, you know, we all worked out together. Okay, we still go up, you know, this is when it was for fun, right? It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t a real, real arduous sport or anything. And, and so we took a bunch of people up in 2008, and coached them and we all had a great time. And so, you know, I guess to some extent, there was this aspect of like, oh, yeah, we’ll probably go back to the CrossFit Games. But I can tell you that we were not training for the CrossFit Games in 2009. When we opened our doors in January 2009. We certainly weren’t training and the, you know, 99% of our clientele wanted to lose a little weight to get back into shape. And then, yeah, we had a couple of people that were decent athletes. And I think, you know, we had a program that was conducive to helping people kind of shore up some weaknesses. And so when June rolls around to 2009, it was just, you know, huge bar gym members. And we were like, Hey, let’s, let’s put a team together. And we’ll do this team competition. And we ended up talking that year. And so from there, I think people started to get more interested in competition. But it wasn’t until 2011 that I think we had an official competition, separate workouts and stuff like that. It was just kind of our gym that the way we we approached workouts and coaching of athletes to make sure that they were healthy and shored up any weaknesses that they had

Misbah Haque  10:51

So before you even did CrossFit, you were involved in martial arts, right?

CJ  10:58

Yeah, taekwondo, and boxing was a little bit of other stuff. 

Misbah Haque  11:03

What was that? Like? Like? Were you kind of heavily involved in that? And, you know, did you take away anything from it that you think you kind of brought into your coaching or just being an athlete, a CrossFit athlete? 

CJ  11:13

Absolutely, I think, one, I think if you’d look around the fitness industry, you’ll see a ton of great coaches who grew up with martial arts backgrounds. And I think there’s a lot to that, which is one, it teaches a sense of discipline, and it teaches some really cool, you know, physical characteristics. But it also, you know, if you grew up in the martial arts, you learn, and then you pass on knowledge fairly quickly. They instill this, you know, as you develop through the ranks, that you’re also normally teaching people that are younger or newer, into your particular discipline. And so I think what it did is it really developed a love of teaching and sharing. And I think that’s why you see so many instructors with martial arts backgrounds, or, you know, CrossFit coaches, or, any coaches, generally with martial arts background. So then, of course, as an athlete competing in this sport, I had to learn a lot about arousal control, and how I was going to prepare for fights and how I was going to calm myself and the nerves that come with stepping into a ring and all of that. So I think all of that certainly informs how I coach today, and how I work with athletes is trying to figure out how we’re going to get them to be at their best and to think clearly as they go into the arena. 

Misbah Haque  12:37

So I’m gonna jump around a little bit, but when did you kind of make that transition with being an athlete and competing at the CrossFit Games and then being like, Alright, I’m going to be coaching. And this is kind of like all I’m doing.

CJ  12:53

When I was called for one of my own events at the 2008 games, and had not yet warmed up or done anything, but was coaching one of my athletes, and heard them yelling my name, that I was about to start the chest of our friend at the 2008 games, I run over hop over the little Yeah, nylon rope. 321 go and I do my friend. And I think probably somewhere there laying on the ground, and like, I should probably just stay over and keep the coach.

Misbah Haque  13:26

See, you kind of recognize early on that like coaching was your thing, and then you kind of went all in on it. 

CJ  13:32

I just realized when I look at a situation like that there’s a real difference. I knew that I had an event, I knew that I should probably go warm up. But it was more important for me to be there for the people that I coached at the gym. As they were going through, they were doing their deadlift burpee WOD I don’t know if you remember those, but it was back when it was a 275 pound deadlift. And it was like, one rep max is for a lot of guys. So I like coaching them through it. And that’s, that was always more rewarding for me even though I played baseball in college. And, you know, I, to be honest, I was more just an additional coach on the bench to work with athletes and tell them pitch counts and stuff like that. And it’s always been I’ve loved the cerebral side of sport. I’ve loved kind of conveying how somebody else can be at their best and I’ve found that more rewarding. I think some personalities are, are, you know, more geared toward coaching whereas I’ll be honest, I am my top level athletes for the most part.They, they would have walked away, long before their friend started training so that they get their warm up in and be at their best for that event. 

Misbah Haque  14:51

So what would you say? You know, is there a connection between being an amazing athlete and then being a great coach? Like, how related are those two roles? Would you say?

CJ  15:04

Well, I think you see a lot of examples of people that do that. And I think you see a lot of examples of people that were mediocre athletes, they became great coaches, because mediocre athletes often have to work really freakin hard just to get in the game. And I’ve always found that those are the people that I think, you see, that they connect maybe a little bit better. Now there are several examples in professional sports of people that were phenomenal athletes themselves sort of become great coaches. And I think both work really well. I think that you have to just understand who you are, and how that experience relates. And I use the experience of I, one of the first athletes that I got to work out with everyday is just my training partner and friend, Josh Bridges. And, you know, I’m designing programs for him early on in 2011. And if I used my personal experience, right, he would have been grossly underprepared. Because I would have thought there’s no way somebody could recover from a workout that hard. But I have to remove myself from that and think, okay, like looking at it objectively, does he recover, talking to him having the discussion, right, to do something that would be well outside of my comfort zone. And having worked with a lot of coaches and developing coaching staff under me, I know that personal experiences are extremely important, you have to know how something feels and stuff like that. But you also have to be able to remove yourself and what I have seen is that some good athletes make the mistake of programming based on what they feel. And that may or may not be appropriate for their athletes. And so whether you’re a mediocre athlete or a great athlete, you have to filter your experience, your experience is only a fragment of you know, what should inform the coaching situation or the design of the program, you really have to make sure that it’s filtered through the eyes of what is best for your client. Not just because you love heavy deadlifts doesn’t mean that your client should be doing heavy deadlifts, and expected to recover the next day. 

Misbah Haque  17:26

So what would you say? Is it different about your approach for programming? Like, are there certain principles or methodologies that are just non-negotiables? For you?

CJ  17:37

Yeah, for sure, I think we do. I think we do a lot more accessory work than a lot of people, I think we see a lot of benefit in reducing some of the volume and intensity, structural balance is something that’s very important for us. So we’re constantly looking at programs to make sure that we’re not overloading patterns. And so I would say that in a nutshell, though, when we look at those things, the principle behind it, is that I want my athletes to be doing this for 10 plus years. And if we can keep them healthy, and making continual progress, then we’re going to have a better shot of helping them win, than we would if we tried to go the, you know, shortcut approach of blasting them with a ton of volume and intensity hoping that they survived the season and can perform. 

Misbah Haque  18:34

So how different would you say your programming as for the competitors, versus just GPP for the rest of the gym?

CJ  18:43

Wildly different, like, not just they say in CrossFit, that it was a what a difference of scale, right? This is it, it starts from a different place and it ends at a different place for me, that it’s not just you can’t modify the weights and movements from competition programs to get a good GPP program, which I think people did for years. I hope they don’t still do that, that the very foundation and idea of why you’re doing something, what stimulus you’re looking for, is totally changed from one program to the other. One of the principles of CrossFit is variants, right, which variants are fantastic for a GPP program, but variants are horrible for most athletic development. You know, if you think about it, if you want to improve your Olympic weightlifting, if you think you’re going to do that, you know, twice a month and get better at it. Like you’re probably going to be sadly mistaken.

Misbah Haque  19:52

So what would you say, if you sit down in front of your computer and you’re writing your programming for the week, for your competitors or the GPP? What are some things that are kind of going through your head? Like walk us through that process? Like, what’s that underlying structure look like when you look at it week ahead of time?

CJ  20:12

Well, I think the thing that’s going through my head, whether I’m doing it for a group, or an individual that is always present is why, right is, what’s the goal? And, you know, why is that the goal? And how are we going to get there? From there, right, then it really just depends on what I’m trying to accomplish, or what that athletes, you know, needs to be working on at that point, right. So, if I’ve got an athlete that has severe deficiencies with their, you know, conditioning and gymnastics, but they lift well, then we’re going to start the template totally different than we’re going to start the template for the athlete that needs to gain strength and shore up some some maybe asymmetries right, that the  very macro template has to change. And the same even is true of GPP. Is our Is it truly GPP? Or is there something that we’ve noticed in our groups, and when we look at the gym, right? We say, Okay, we’ve got 600 members. And the last time we tested back squats, we thought that they were weak, as you know, related to some of the other movements. And so even in a GPP program, we’re looking and saying, Okay, we’re gonna try to put a little bit of an emphasis in this area, to make sure that we address what we view as a weak point for our community. 

Misbah Haque  21:40

How are you at any point, kind of measuring results with certain benchmarks or anything like that? Or is this kind of over time as people are going through the program, you’re just noticing these trends, and then making your decisions based off that. 

CJ  21:56

For our competitive athletes? Absolutely. We have benchmarks and we measure those. For even for our group athlete, or regular group members that just want to good GPP program, we have far fewer benchmarks, because their benchmarks that they normally care about are how do I feel my injury free, have I lost weight, have a you know, is my body composition where I want it to be? They’re normally different from the competitive athletes. Now, don’t get me wrong, our regular gym members still want to see that their back squat goes up every time they are tested. But we certainly put a different emphasis on that with our competitive athletes, we’re looking constantly at not just how they’re doing. So the one one principle that we have is I don’t want any of my athletes worried about what other athletes are doing. And at the same time, it’s my job as a coach, to understand where my athlete is in the competitive landscape. So that I know that, you know, if I have a male, that snatching 245, right, I need to know, and that athlete needs to know that it has to be a point of performance to bring that snatch up, so that we can catch up to the rest of the top athletes in the field. Right. But, I see, so we have a ton of benchmark data points. And a lot of times those will not be necessarily shared with the athletes, because we’re going to design a program to make sure that they’re competing in the competitive landscape, without having them constantly worried about all of the things that they may be deficient in. 

Misbah Haque  23:43

How are you approaching strength work? Like, are you when you’re doing strength work? Are you cutting down the volume of your met cons? Or like, what’s the process look like? For that? Are we doing dedicated strength work for a certain period of weeks or something like that, like, walk us through that process? 

CJ  24:05

I think one of the best kinds of strength and conditioning as a track and field coach is Charlie Francis, who is coached by Ben Johnson, and a bunch of other Olympians. And Charlie Francis always talks about vertical integration, where you, you always had touches on key points, right, that nothing was ever off the table. It’s just that you may emphasize something else more for a period of time. And that’s how I design a program. So if we’re working on strength, then we’re gonna, that will be the primary aspect of our template, right? And everything will get built around the strength component, and then our conditioning. You know, it’ll definitely be changed that you know, for that strength cycle, if it’s not if it’s just a maintenance phase. So what we do CAD is what are we really developing? What Are we maintaining? And what are we just keeping continual touches on just so it doesn’t go away? And so that really that’s kind of how we approach and then it’s creating the priorities in the program and the times of yours for those priorities that becomes kind of the importance of creating an annual cycle. 

Misbah Haque  25:26

Do you deal with a lot of athletes that are not only elite competitors in CrossFit, but maybe they’re also competing in weightlifting?

CJ  25:41

We have a ton of them. So just qualified another eight to the American open this year from inside our gym. 

Misbah Haque  25:48

Now, how are you managing that? Like, how do you get better at both without one taking away from the other?

CJ  25:59

It’s been really interesting. And here’s what I’d say is it, you’d have to have two totally different answers between males and females. Females adapt very well to volume and they get strong on volume as a general rule, which is why you’ve seen you know, you’ve seen female athletes excel in the sport of weightlifting, as well as CrossFit.  Tia Claire, to me being somebody that just went to CrossFit Games podiumed and then went to the Olympics a couple of weeks later to lift his, that’s the ultimate but we have here I get to work with Maddie Meyers and Lauren Fisher. And Lauren, one Junior nationals best lifter in 2014. For weightlifting, Maddie won in 2015, and 2016. These girls, by the nature of what we do, we’re trying to get them strong, we’re trying to get them fast. Weightlifting is the foundation of our, you know, CrossFit templates. And then we layer in all of our conditioning and gymnastic skills and all that. So it’s not surprising that they’re excelling. And we still doubt when we look at their competitive year, it tends to work out well, with weightlifting, competition, timing, and then their CrossFit Games, you know, through regionals qualifiers, kind of, we’re able to work around them pretty well, so that we’re getting the results in both. 

Misbah Haque  27:44

Very cool. Now, I mean, so if you kind of look back at this it is something more recent, right? Like, if you kind of look back at the classics, like textbooks and things like that, like, technically, you know, they say that you’re not able to do you’re not able to excel at such an elite level at both of these sports, because the demands are so different yet. We’re seeing this day in and day out, there’s athletes that are doing this. So is this something relatively new you feel like in the last couple years? 

CJ  28:14

Yeah I think we’re they’re, they’re gonna have to rewrite the physiology textbooks. And I think that competitive CrossFit has changed the way that people look at training, and has totally shifted some of these paradigms. And I know, for me, I learned a ton through the years coaching athletes where I’d read something, and I’d say, let’s try this out. And, you know, Josh, Bridges was always like, deck, that kid defies every norm of, you know, physiological rule. And so we would try things with critical drop off, right. And so like, I remember, there was a time I gave my workout, and he was traveling for work, and he’s down in Tennessee, and had, you know, 155 pounds dressers in it. And I want to say, like, on the minute, there’s, like, 15, on the minute for as many rounds as he could take or something and he calls me, he’s like tea, I can barely walk after that. And I was like, really, like, why they can’t see you being that bad. And he’s like, Well, I did  190 thrusters or something like that before I stopped. And I was like, what? And, you know, because of it, and I’d have to look back at what the exact workout was, I could be totally butchering what it was, but I remember it was 155 gestures in some time domain and  I asked him, I said, Well how many rounds he gave me. He tells me he got through like, 180 before he says, up, and I was like, What was your times per round? I know the exact same time every round. And I’m like, but in my textbook, it says that that’s not possible. You need extra don’t have time to actually recover. And so we did a ton of that with Josh early on. And then you know, with all of our athletes, we’ve done a ton of it now. And, you know, we do a test that five minute we call Fran on repeat. And it’s five minutes of 15, dressers and 15 Pull Ups. And what we see is that guys like Josh, Camille Lauren, some of these top athletes, they’ll, they’ll give you the exact same time and effort, basically, until their hands start to fall apart on the pull up bar, that, you know, even with 17 seconds of rest, they’ll go back, and they’ll repeat the exact same thing. And when you look, you know, and you look at it through the concepts of critical drop off, you just think at some point, this can’t be possible with such a short rest, that they can’t fully recover. And I just see that our athletes are totally defying that and we see it, we see it all the time in weightlifting where you know, CrossFitters PR all the time on an every minute on the minute or on a you know, a ladder at an event where they have to rush through and you know, we saw it last year at the at regionals with the snatch letter. And Josh Bridges hidden PR twice to, to cross the finish line. And there’s several examples, Kristin Hotez, somebody that like I just adore coaching, she’s, she’s one of the best human beings in the world. But she got to the final barbell, and that that was a, I think it was a five pound PR for, and you know, she smoked it twice and finish the workout and, you know, couldn’t couldn’t have been happier. But we’re seeing athletes do things that they shouldn’t be able to do without rest. You know, when when you look in textbooks, we say, Oh, well, they’re gonna have to rest, you know, four minutes, six minutes, whatever, so that they can produce power for 100% effort. And it’s just simply not true. 

Misbah Haque  32:00

And it’s amazing what the human body is capable of. So the Invictus mindset was, you know, one of my favorite books, and I love how you kind of, you know, dedicated so much focus to, you know, the mindset aspect, and we’ve had a lot of listeners interested in that. So I’m curious what kind of inspired the book for you?

CJ  32:24

Honestly, it was just, I would say that we spent just so much time speaking with our athletes about that. And that may be one of the primary differences when it comes to success and achievement is that, you know, there, I’m sure, there are a lot of awesome coaches that write amazing programs, right. And when I think about why some of our athletes have been successful, I think it’s also how they prepare and how they use things and how they, you know, view obstacles in their life and how they overcome those and I think that’s, that’s also what inspires me and makes coaching fulfilling, is that, not that I don’t love the sport or anything like that. But fitness is just a medium for me to teach. And what I really love is, I don’t care if you’re winning the CrossFit Games, or losing 100 pounds, or knocking it out of the park at work, I want somebody to reach their potential, I want them to feel like that’s as good as they could do, and that there’s constantly something that they can work on to improve and enjoy the process of that improvement. And it just so happens that fitness and CrossFit provides some really cool opportunities to constantly test people to get the most out of their abilities.

Misbah Haque  33:52

Is this something that you’re actively kind of coaching or guiding the athletes with? Or is this something kind of that they know, as a part of their program, they’re kind of doing it on their own?

CJ  34:06

I think a little bit of both, but there’s not like a set agenda. And the other thing that we do is we look at our athletes, as individuals, right? They’re all different, they all have different sets of needs. And one person’s makeup is totally different from the others. And so how they need to approach things and you know, it just changes like, you know, a quick example is that kind of arousal control, if you’re going to go into the arena, you’re going to have athletes that respond to that pressure totally differently. And you’re going to have some that know that the anxiety is going to be overwhelming and so they intentionally suppress and so you’ll see athletes like that, that are very quiet before events that aren’t very engaged. They’re kind of mellow. And then you’ll see athletes on the other side that are bouncing off the walls, they want to talk to everybody they want to run around, they want to start warming up 15 minutes before, you know, an event, they want to do all this crazy stuff. And both of those people have to be brought to the same point, at the time that, you know, they’re out on the arena floor, and they here 321 Go. And so, but how you address them how with the person that’s bouncing off the walls, we’re going to hold them back, we’re going to calm them down, we’re going to work on key breathing, you know, we’re going to do all that stuff, with the person that’s slow to get started or intentionally suppressing some of that stuff, we’re gonna actually need to fire them up, and, you know, maybe slap them around a little bit, you know, get them pumped up to yell at them. But at the end of the day, you develop that over time by learning the athletes and learning tendencies and stuff like that. 

Misbah Haque  35:55

So I remember, I think, as I was reading the book, I came across this one piece that was like when you’re when you’re doing any type of barbell work maybe in a wad, you never, you’re not walking away from the bar, right? Like, you’re always staying under the bar. That’s like, what? So if you were to think like for non competitors, right, what are maybe a few 1-3 things that they can start applying that or maybe kind of nuggets from the book. 

CJ  36:23

We teach athletes camps, and we do all this stuff. And essentially, every lesson that we teach to a competitor should apply to a non competitor, both inside and outside of the gym. But when we talk about, you know, shins against the bar, we talked about staying right at your task, that you’re not running away from it, you’re not ignoring it, you’re not trying to find that mental break from it, you’re just staying there. And even if you’re going to rest, you’re going to stay there and say, Okay, I know this, this is in front of me, and it’s not going to go away until I finish it. But doing that is a real mental challenge for people. The other thing that we’ll talk about is, will, you know, you always have to start there’s nothing worse than not starting, right. And so, you’ll see that in, in, you know, so we do have a pension for some really fun, like, 30 minute, every minute on the minute workouts, and you’ll see people in the Z moms, and they’ll come off of a station and they’ll be exhausted. And one of our rules is you have to start, you always have to start and so when you get to the next station, even if you finished the last one at 57 seconds, you hear 321 Go, you do your first strap at that next station before you rest, but you have to get started. And then of course, you know, the, you have to finish what you start. And so, you know, we encourage people to, to get through whatever it is they need to do to get through. And if that means they have to scale workout or whatever, it’s that we find a way for them to start, when it’s time to start, we find a way for them to finish their tasks, and then slowly increase, the demands on them, so that they can feel successful and finishing and have motivation to continue that progress.

Misbah Haque  38:14

Do you find that at the elite levels? You know, obviously, mindset becomes more and more important. But is this something that, you know, athletes kind of recognize once they get to a certain stage, like, wow, I really got to dial this in. And when you think about it’s kind of a low hanging fruit, like you can implement a lot of these strategies that you talked about in the book, and without physically really taxing your body and have an edge over your competitors. So I’m curious, like, what does that process look like? Like when you start working with an athlete? Is it that interest in mindset develops over time?

CJ  38:55

Yeah, I think so. I think they, you know, hopefully, if we’re doing our job as a coaching staff, they’ll understand the importance of it. And then I think that  we foster that. But I also think some athletes are drawn to that, because they understand that they’re going to get some help with that. But it’s certainly possible that it may take 510 years for an athlete to really understand something that we’ve said, and that’s okay. I think John Wooden talks about, you know, coaching is the act of continually repeating yourself until it’s heard or something like that. And I, you know, I’m okay with that, like, we teach things. So I’ll give a quick example, which is, you know, I don’t want an athlete to look at the leaderboard throughout a competition. I do as a coach, I need to look at it because I need to know, you know, if they’re going to have to take a chance in a workout in order to close the gap or something like that. I may have to coach them on that. But I don’t want an athlete to look at the leaderboard. And that’s something that we’ve talked to athletes about, since the dawn of time, right? It is, it is not something they can control. So since we started coaching, we’ve talked about it. And yet, we still have a ton of athletes, they can’t stay away from the leaderboard. And that’s okay. Like, we understand that that’s going to be a process. But, you know, I’ve had, I had an athlete that is in year five with her, and she was like, you know, that I realized that it doesn’t do any good to look at the leaderboard. It’s like, that’s awesome. I don’t care when they get it. But I know that it will improve their chances of success. Once they, once they can kind of realize that they can only control so many variables. And once they put their full focus and attention into controlling those variables and letting go of the others, they will certainly be better off. 

Misbah Haque  40:49

So you’ve clearly built something truly remarkable with Invictus. And when you find when you create that synergy between what you love and how you earn a living, I’m curious to know, when you think of work life balance, what is that what comes up for you? What does that mean to you?

CJ  41:11

Rough time to ask, we just just opened our third gym, and we did too, in the span of six months. So work life balance, you know, I’ll be honest, I’ve never, I’ve never been good with work life balance, I’m not sure it exists. I think that work life balances me and everybody. I’ll just say this, I think I’m wired a little bit differently, where I don’t know that I’m capable of just being content all the time and sitting back and relaxing. And so work life balance for me, maybe just loving what I do. And if that means I’m, you know, working 1416 hours a day, and loving every minute of it, then that’s great. I would say that the biggest change of my life has been kids. Because it’s the one thing and my wife is amazingly supportive. And so, before kids, you know, I would work 16 hours a day, but she’d be down at the gym. And you know, she was always, always very supportive of it. And with kids I’m not going to do that to my kids, I’m going to make sure that they get the time and they’re the one thing I just won’t sacrifice. So I still make it home for bedtime, I still pick my son up from school, I do all of those things to make sure that I don’t miss out on those precious moments. But it means that, you know, after the kids are in bed, I’m back on the computer and working and doing and all the things that I missed and the hours that I spent with them. But you know, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t trade it for the world because I get to spend quality time with my kids. And I continue to get to do what I absolutely love doing. Now within that, I would say this, honestly, the things that I don’t love as much are kind of more the administrative business side. And the bigger the business gets, the more demands on those times. And so if there’s, if there’s anything that I’d like to outsource and proactively look down first, it’s more along the business side so that I can continue to do the things that I love. 

Misbah Haque  43:23

Now you went to law school for four years, you practiced law for another five to six years, you know, what’s really interesting to me is that you are on the same playing field as anybody else when it comes to coaching, like you didn’t have a degree in sport science or anything like that. You were essentially kind of starting over when you made that switch. So I’m curious, how did you learn and progress at such an efficient and effective rate?

CJ  43:48

Sorry to say that I actually think my legal education and my law career is what helped me become a better coach. Because law school and so let me just give a quick story on how I kind of created my practice for myself is that in San Diego, where I worked, there wasn’t really much of a securities litigation practice. But that was the kind of law I wanted to do. So every week, I would read all of the cases that came out. And I would send around the firm, just kind of a general summary and with the principles of the case, that could be extrapolated from it. And then very short, you know, here were kind of the facts that applied. But this is the important principle that we need to take from the case, right? And when I look at it, at fitness, I view the same thing is that if I’m going to look at the Smolov program, the sets and reps are a portion of it. But you’ve got to read for the principle what is the principle at play and how there is undulation and volume and intensity and all of that and if you can extrapolate the principle, then you can apply it to a bunch of different sets of facts. And when you think about athletic development, all of my athletes come to me with a different set of facts. Right? They all come with different strengths and weaknesses. And at the end of the day, we have to be able to create a program around principles, not around reps and sets. And I think the biggest mistake I see in the cluster world is people get focused on the workout instead of the reason behind the workout. And so I always think, you know, you can’t do that in law, I couldn’t worry about the facts, because the facts of those cases that I was reading, were never going to come up for me, right. But I had to figure out the principle behind it. And that’s exactly what we do with athletes, we’re going to get athletes that always have different, you know, injuries, different, you know, asymmetrical movement patterns, and different strengths or weaknesses. And we’re gonna have to know, based on what we’ve learned through the principles of training other athletes and learning that we’ve done, how we’re going to address those things. 

Misbah Haque  46:10

I think I heard you mentioned this in another interview that you did. But in 2009, you said that you spent $30,000 on education towards becoming a better coach. I’m curious to know what you choose within that? Like, okay, these are the seminars I’m going to go to, these are the books I’m going to read and courses I’m going to do, like, what did that process look like?

CJ  46:34

How did I choose? I take a pretty damn good shotgun approach. 30 grand goes a long way and seminars and education are more than a year. But I tried to absorb damn near everything I could, and then tried to follow some links, right. So like, for example, Charles Poliquin was one that I kept running across through other courses and seminars and, you know, that would reference and I was like, Man, I probably should go do just the Poliquin. You know, so I can hear it for myself. So I did Poliquin theories. You know, James Fitzgerald, I think that was the year he popped out his very first opT coaching certification. And he had invited me up to Calgary to join the first one. And I was excited to hear that I had met him at the first CrossFit Games. And, you know, he’s a super smart guy. And so running stuff through him and then getting advice from him on things that he had done. Coach Bergner has been a huge influence on me as a mentor, but personally, and professionally, and talking to him about anything that he found useful. And so it was really like, if I got a recommendation from somebody I respected I was chasing it down. 

Misbah Haque  47:53

Alright, now you sound like you’re a huge reader. What are some of your favorite books?

CJ  48:03

Training wise, or? 

Misbah Haque  48:05

Yeah, this doesn’t have to be limited to training. I’m curious, like, do you spend a lot of time reading things completely unrelated to training? 

CJ  48:12

Yeah, absolutely. I have to say one of the recent ones that I read that really stands out is Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willick, and Dave Evans. And it’s, I mean, it’s a phenomenon. I know it’s very hot right now and trendy. But I think for good reason, as a business owner, I read through it and I’m like, Damn, I’m making a lot of mistakes. And I think that one honestly that’s been phenomenal. And longer term, Dan John book called never let go. It’s one of these where I’m not sure if it’s a training book or just a lifestyle book. But it’s got some nuggets for everybody in it. It’s phenomenal. From just the pure training aspect, I really did like Vladimir Stern’s Block Periodization. And I think, you know, if you don’t get bogged down in the actual mechanics of it, and you look at some of the concepts and then rethink how the concepts play for a sport like CrossFit. I think there’s some really interesting things there. The success principles, which is just Jack Canfield, which is more of like a you know, self improvement style book. You know, if as long as you’re okay with accepting that you’re reading a self improvement book. There’s some amazing nuggets in there that I feel like you’re new here and packaged in different formats and you know, 100 different other sources. I’m not sure about leadership, anything that talks about John Wooden, I’m going to try to pull and read. Because I think that man is, you know, kind of he’s, he’s somebody that I think you can’t find too many faults with in any aspect of his life, which is something that I do look for when I look and I put, you know, Warren Buffett’s kind of in that is that if you look at them, they weren’t just successful at their fields, they had, you know, a phenomenal family life and raised good kids. And they really excelled at life, not just at their task, which I do think is unfortunate, but I think we see a lot of people that may be really good, but they may have kind of sold themselves sold out some of the other aspects of their life to achieve and in one aspect, and so, I love looking at guys like wooden, who just seemed to be able to create excellence, everywhere that you looked.

Misbah Haque  51:08

 I’m sure that this is a skill that you kind of develop from being a lawyer, since you’re reading so much. But I’m curious to know about your process, if any, how do you kind of extract and retain, like, all the nuggets that you’re coming across? If you are somebody who reads quite a bit? 

CJ  51:29

So I haven’t had a great process all my life for it. But I would say that recently, one of the things that’s really helped is when I started my, my wife just despised any kind of reading device other than the actual book, right? And my family made fun of me all the time, because I’d like to go to Hawaii, and I take books, and I would highlight them, all right, and they’re like, Dude, you’re laying in a pool with a highlighter highlighting. It’s embarrassing. But so now, now I read on an iPad. And now I can highlight. And then I can email all of the notes to myself. And now I can email them all to my staff to say, Hey, guys, I read Extreme Ownership, here’s some really important points. Like, if you don’t have time to read the book, at least check out some of these nuggets, right. And I can pass that on. In terms of a process. This is about as easy as I’ve found, to kind of hold and store so that now if I remember a quote from a book, I can go into my email where I have like a folder, that’s all the book notes that I’ve taken from these books. And I can search, I was like, I think that was in, wooden leadership, and,  pull those notes, and then search and find the quotes. 

Misbah Haque  52:47

That’s just something I find interesting, because there’s this experiment I did for a little bit where I think it was three months, I read about a book a day, and I had a certain process for that. And to kind of make sure that you’re retaining that what I did was, like, upload to YouTube, like my private YouTube. So like, nobody else can see it. But like, literally look at my phone and just give a summary after you’re done reading whatever you read, like, what were the nuggets that you kind of came across. And so I’m sure like, if I went back right now and went over it, I’m like, wow, this is crazy. Like, so that was it. I’m just curious to hear different processes. Very cool. 

CJ  53:22

A book a day is impressive…

Misbah Haque  53:25

It was an experiment. And I would like to all at some point, elaborate and write out you know, how that happened. And like, what effects it had, because it was definitely very interesting. Now, let’s say that if you were given one year to live, and everything that you accomplished was wiped away, and you wanted to become the best coach you could possibly be, what would you do to get back to where you are now?

CJ  53:52

Yeah, If I had one year to live, I’m not sure I would do a ton of coaching outside of spending time with my kids, right? You know, I love my athletes, but, you know, one years precious time when you got a three and a half year old, and a one and a half year old. But if I had one year if I had to wipe the slate clean and try to get back to where I was. And I don’t know, because I just don’t think there’s any amount of reading that you can do that would replace the time in the gym with athletes. And so I probably would probably try to get myself the best mentor that I could and stand next to them for as many hours in the gym as they would ever permit. 

Misbah Haque  54:38

Awesome. Now you mentioned quite a few books, any other resources, people you know, in biggest influences on you, or seminars that you would strongly recommend for coaches or athletes.

CJ  54:54

Mike Bergner, like I said, I can’t say enough about the guy just because I think he’s a phenomenal human being, James Fitzgerald does a great job with his coaching certification programs. And I would say you know, have a local resource as much as possible to if there’s some guys in your community reach out. I think people tend to make too much of being intimidated to go out, reach out and ask people for some help  and guidance and I think it’s essential for that to happen. 

Misbah Haque  55:29

Very cool. And so I know you have Invictus athlete camps going on. You have the competitors programming, so where can we point people to where can people learn more about you? And anything you’re excited about right now that you’d like to share with people? 

CJ  55:45

Yeah, for sure. So I mean, we do a ton of work on that website. We offer multiple programs every day, we have our standard fitness performance competition that are all free programs. And we have subscription programs for more specialists like our Invictus masters program, and Invictus athlete, which is for guys that are training really seriously or want to have options for additional gymnastic skills and stuff like that. So check those out if you’re looking for programs we would darn near should have almost anything that you could look for. And we also have some cool products like visualizations to help you know asleep and calming and, and our book on mindset. So that’s probably the best place for people to check out. I’m not much of a social media guy. If you follow me on social media you will occasionally see me posting stuff of Maddy Meyers tripping in the gym or something like that, but most of the time, it’s, it’s my kids and stuff. 

Misbah Haque  56:52

Very cool. And now what would you like to leave listeners with like if we can if a coach or athlete can take away you know, something actionable from this episode? Like how can they make themselves better from listening to this episode?

CJ  57:07

I think the best thing is, is realize that you do have unlimited potential and that it’s a process to create the strength and fortitude to find that but nobody’s limited. You’re not  limited by your job by your you know, your current lifestyle or if you want to find your end end limits. It’s possible to do so with a little bit of coaching and a whole lot of hard work. 

Misbah Haque  57:41

Well, thank you so much, man. I really appreciate you taking the time to do this and drop tons of insight for everybody.

CJ  57:48

All right, I appreciate you having me on. 

Misbah Haque  57:50

Thank you so much for listening, guys. I know you might be driving right now or doing something else at the moment. But don’t forget to head over to the grab your free movement Audit Checklist. If you really enjoyed this episode, head over to iTunes and leave a five star review or share it with a friend and share it with somebody who might enjoy it. If you ever have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out. I would love to hear from you. Until next time!

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