WOD GOD

Cross­fit king James New­bury has fought his way to the top of the tough­est fit­ness com­pe­ti­tion in the world. Use his lessons to reach your own phys­i­cal peak

Mens Health (Australia) - - Health - BY BEN JHOTY PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY JA­SON LEE

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Shafts of morn­ing sun­light are throw­ing rec­tan­gles on the black rub­ber floor of We Are Play, a func­tional fit­ness space in Sydney’s In­ner West. Work­ing up a sweat in one of these il­lu­mi­nated poly­gons is James New­bury, Aus­tralia’s No.1-ranked Cross­fit ath­lete, who’s knock­ing out a se­ries of sin­gle-arm clean and jerks with a 30kg dumb­bell. Whether by chance or be­cause he likes work­ing out with the sun on his face, New­bury’s cho­sen spot for round one of his morn­ing WOD is par­tic­u­larly apt: in the lead up to next month’s Cross­fit Games (Aug 3-6) in Madi­son, Wis­con­sin, few ath­letes in Aus­tralia have a brighter spot­light on them.

Which is okay be­cause it’s un­likely few would be as phys­i­cally and men­tally pre­pared for their mo­ment in the sun as the 26-yearold from Ade­laide. This is a man who feasts on phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment, has com­pet­i­tive in­stincts forged in the crucible of sib­ling ri­valry and sports a con­fi­dence in his body’s abil­ity to per­form un­der pres­sure that ri­vals Conor Mcgre­gor’s.

“Know­ing I can do what­ever is thrown at me in a sport where I’m com­pet­ing against other peo­ple who all think they’re go­ing to be the best fires me up,” says New­bury, who wears his straw­berry blonde hair in a top-knot like a mod­ern Vik­ing war­rior. “That’s what helps me close the gap on that 300kg dead­lift or that sub five-minute mile.”

Your goals may not be as colos­sal, nor the spot­light as in­tense as what New­bury’s about to ex­pe­ri­ence. But if you’re look­ing to post new bench­marks in strength and con­di­tion­ing there are few men as qual­i­fied to help get you there as one who has worked as hard at push­ing the lim­its of his phys­i­cal po­ten­tial as New­bury has. PRE­PARE TO BE HUM­BLED

Walk­ing into a mid­day Cross­fit ses­sion back in 2011, it’s fair to say New­bury had a pretty high es­ti­ma­tion of his phys­i­cal abil­i­ties, born from a child­hood steeped in com­pe­ti­tion. The sec­ond old­est of six kids, he’d spent his school days locked in a con­stant bat­tle to top his older brother of 11 months in ev­ery­thing from soc­cer to Lit­tle Ath­let­ics. “Com­pe­ti­tion was in­grained in me,” says New­bury, who’s found an­other patch of sun­light out­side the gym. “I don’t like to lose.”

At 13 he took up rugby league, even­tu­ally cap­tain­ing the Aus­tralian Af­fil­i­ated School­boys side. That prompted a move to Bris­bane, then Sydney where he tried to break into league’s pro­fes­sional ranks. He was play­ing A-grade for Went­worthville when a mate sug­gested Cross­fit as a sup­ple­ment to his on-field train­ing.

New­bury prac­ti­cally sauntered into the box that day, con­fi­dent that with his sto­ried ath­letic past, a WOD with a class of jok­ers in knee-high socks wouldn’t pose too many prob­lems. Call it pride be­fore the fall. New­bury does.

“Back then I was scor­ing over 15 in the beep test, dead­lift­ing 200kg,” he re­calls. “And then I went into the box and did that ses­sion and the girls were fly­ing past me,” he laughs. “I re­mem­ber sit­ting in my car af­ter­wards and I was like ‘what just hap­pened?’ It put me in my place.”

New­bury’s com­pet­i­tive coals had been stoked. Ever since he’s had a keen ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the trans­for­ma­tional power of phys­i­cal evis­cer­a­tions.

“If I haven’t been hum­bled in a while I get anx­ious,” he says. “I’m not sat­is­fied un­less I’m do­ing some­thing that tests my abil­ity to keep go­ing.”

Been a while since you last had your arse handed to you? It’s prob­a­bly time you put your ego on the line, reck­ons New­bury. It could be a lunchtime run against a mate with a su­pe­rior aer­o­bic ca­pac­ity, or tak­ing on a fit­ness class com­prised of un­fa­mil­iar movements. In the wreck­age of your ego, New­bury says, you’ll find the de­ter­mi­na­tion to get bet­ter.

STEPS NOT STAIR­CASE

Be­yond the com­peti­tors’ oc­ca­sional pen­chant for eye-catch­ing socks (New­bury’s fea­ture anime char­ac­ters), Cross­fit and golf wouldn’t ap­pear to have a great deal in com­mon. One thing they do share: in both pas­times you com­pete against oth­ers while also wag­ing war with your­self. To that end ev­ery­thing New­bury does in the lead-up to the Games must serve a sim­ple ob­jec­tive: to help him do his best.

“It’s all I think about,” he says. “If I can do my best ev­ery day un­til the Games I’ll go into the event ex­tremely con­fi­dent.”

If that sounds sim­plis­tic that’s be­cause it is. But it’s taken New­bury years to drill down to such a sin­gu­lar fo­cus. Af­ter fin­ish­ing in or just out­side the top 10 at the Re­gion­als each year since 2012, he came sec­ond in 2016, qual­i­fy­ing him for the Games in the US for the first time. There, af­ter tar­get­ing a top-10 fin­ish he came in 24th.

This year New­bury sought pu­rity of pur­pose. To treat ev­ery train­ing ses­sion and ev­ery WOD as a sin­gle step on a larger jour­ney. “A whole year’s worth of work went >

into those 48 min­utes at the Re­gion­als,” he says. He fin­ished first.

Re­gard­less of whether your goal is to run a sub three-hour marathon or punch out a 150kg dead­lift, each ses­sion you put in should stand alone as a build­ing block that’ll help get you there, New­bury ad­vises. Only in achieve­ment do your goals be­come whole.

WORK OUT, THEN WORK IN

We’ve all heard the knock on Cross­fit. It’s a physio’s wet (if rather unimag­i­na­tive) dream; push­ing heavy loads at in­ten­sity puts your body un­der in­cred­i­ble strain.

New­bury’s had his share of set­backs, in­clud­ing a knee in­jury that ham­pered his 2015 cam­paign. In­deed in his early days his com­pet­i­tive streak and Cross­fit’s ca­pac­ity to ab­sorb it were a lethal com­bi­na­tion. “Back in 2012-13 I was I just like ‘let’s train, let’s train’ and I was won­der­ing why I was hurt­ing or why I was fa­tigued.”

New­bury hadn’t yet learned the im­por­tance of what he calls “work­ing in”. “Work­ing in is as much a part of get­ting stronger and fit­ter as work­ing out,” he says.

More than just a catchy name for re­cov­ery, work­ing in, New­bury in­sists, puts greater em­pha­sis on draw­ing en­ergy in­ward and re­frames rest as a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage. “Now when I know I’m due for a rest I know that’s where I get my ben­e­fit,” he says. “That’s where I’m in­creas­ing my ca­pac­ity. I think it’s just as im­por­tant as the work­out. That knowl­edge al­lows me to do well.”

So, just as you might leave the gym af­ter a work­out with your “swole on”, bask­ing in the warm glow of your achieve­ment, you’d be ad­vised to walk out of a mas­sage par­lour or ice bath smug in the knowl­edge that the depth of your chill is what’s re­ally fu­elling your next PB.

ERAD­I­CATE WEAK­NESS

Ask New­bury about his pre-cross­fit body and he breaks into a broad smile. He was at least 8kg lighter and sported a kick-arse aer­o­bic en­gine – his 3k time was un­der 10 min­utes. He was, he says in hind­sight, one-di­men­sion­ally fit. “Be­fore I thought fit­ness was solely about how fast I could run 3k,” he ad­mits. “Now I look at fit­ness across the 10 modal­i­ties of Cross­fit and how good I am at each one. It’s still about how fast I can run 3k, but also; how fast I can swim 1k, how much can I back squat? My fit­ness is 10 times bet­ter be­cause I’m bet­ter in 10 dif­fer­ent ar­eas. I’d be a bet­ter footy player now than I was then.”

One area that re­quired par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion was his Olympic lift­ing. Prob­lem was he didn’t much care for it, far more com­fort­able with Cross­fit’s car­dio and gym­nas­tic movements. “A 5-7k trail run is very ex­cit­ing to me,” he says. “Lift­ing not so much. But I came to re­alise, if you’re not work­ing on your weak­nesses you’re not re­ally get­ting bet­ter.” And in terms of your all-round ca­pac­ity, you’re not get­ting fit­ter.

BREATHE TO SUC­CEED

Like any ma­jor ath­letic event, suc­cess in the Cross­fit Games in­volves har­ness­ing the adren­a­line spike that comes with the noise and en­ergy of a large crowd cheer­ing you on. Just as a boxer might punch him­self out by go­ing too hard in the early rounds, one of the per­ils for the Cross­fit­ter is to get caught up in the mo­ment and blow your­self up early in a WOD.

That’s why in the min­utes be­fore an event New­bury’s sole fo­cus is his breath. “I know the only way I’m go­ing to be able to get through this is if I breathe,” he says. “I hear all the noise but only for a sec­ond then it’s back to my breath­ing. It’s my num­ber-one go-to when things get se­ri­ous.”

Whether you’re on the start­ing line of a 10k or crouched over a bar con­tem­plat­ing a dead­lift, you’d be wise to fo­cus your mind on the me­chan­ics of your res­pi­ra­tory sys­tem. That way, New­bury says, you give your­self the best chance of cap­i­tal­is­ing on the work you’ve put in.

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