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Review: Rudy Nielsen’s Outlaw CrossFit Camp

The Outlaw CrossFit Camp @ CrossFit Active

The Outlaw CrossFit Camp @ CrossFit Active

In January of this year, I was lucky enough to attend the highly sought after Outlaw CrossFit Camp held at CrossFit Active in Sydney, Australia.

This camp was part of a worldwide tour where Super Coach, Rudy Nielsen and his entourage of various Games athletes, spent three days at a number of boxes and ran workshops on Olympic lifting and Gymnastics movements.

On arrival at the camp on Day 1, I was met with the sight of 50 or so CrossFitters (I’m not sure exactly how many but there were a heap) engaged in conversation with each other, awaiting the arrival of the man himself – Rudy.

This was a hell of a lot of people. More than I had imagined would be attending, which showed just how much popularity this guy had garnered in a short period of time.

It crossed my mind how Rudy and his team were going to make it logistically possible to run a workshop with so many people, and it was a thought that seemed to be on the minds of many others I spoke to. Despite this, everyone was pumped and excited about the opportunity to listen to, and observe the training methodology, of a coach who had made quite a name for himself in the CrossFit world.

My experience with Outlaw CrossFit started after the 2012 Games season when I began reading articles and watching videos about Rudy. He seemed to be a no-nonsense coach who placed a lot of emphasis on Olympic lifting. A coach who knew his stuff, stuck to his guns, and proved the validity of his training methodology by producing multiple Games athletes – Chad Mackay, Talayna Fortunato, Brandon Phillips, Elisabeth Akinwale... to name a few.

I began following the Outlaw blog, thinking to myself that if this is the way a successful coach is training his members, then I should give it a try. I started programming Outlaw WODs at my Box – CrossFit GEO.  And low and behold, I saw some big gains in the strength of my members with PR’s happening on a regular basis, myself included.

I spoke to coaches from other local Boxes and many of them were following suit. Rudy was onto a winning formula, and, as is often done in the CrossFit world, others started pilfering the ideas of the successful.

So, back to the camp. As a coach, I was excited about learning more about Rudy’s methodology of coaching and programming.

Brandon Swan, Rudy Nielsen and Daniel Tyminski

Brandon Swan, Rudy Nielsen and Daniel Tyminski

Day 1 (2 hours in the evening):

Day 1 was a bit of a meet and greet session. We all sorted ourselves into groups and had a hit-out with snatches and cleans.

There wasn’t any real coaching coming from Rudy and his team at this stage. It was more a chance for everyone just to hang out and lift some weights, with Rudy entertaining us with his enthusiastic use of profanities whilst explaining what we were going to be doing, and Games athletes Dan Tyminski, Brandon Swan and Chad McKay (co-owner of CrossFit Active) walking around and offering advice here and there.

There were some strong boys and girls there with some big lifts and they obviously caught the eye of Rudy. I ended up PR-ing on my Power Snatch by 8kgs, which resulted more from the fact that I was using pounds on the bar as opposed to kilos. So during most lifts I didn’t know what I was lifting anyway (It should be noted that my PR was a warm-up lift for some of the other beasts in the box).

Day 2:

Day 2 was all about getting into the guts of Olympic lifting. We focused on the snatch and later in the day, the jerk.

Having followed Coach Burgener (via the CrossFit Journal and YouTube) for most of my CrossFit training, then to attend a Pendlay Workshop with Glenn Pendlay and Donny Shankle last year, I was intrigued by the method that Rudy was going to teach us.

We spent a lot of time doing drills where the movement was broken right down. A lot of emphasis was placed on staying over the bar for as long as possible and keeping the hamstrings under tension. It was hard work, and the coaches drilled the technique into us, forcing it to become second nature. Rudy would use Dan and Brandon to demonstrate, then we would all have a crack at it.

Rudy and the other coaches would walk through the crowd and offer tips where necessary and make kinesthetic adjustments to those out of position. Just when you think your hammies are under tension and your knees are pressed back, a coach can always get just that little bit more out of you. My hammies were on fire!

Now anyone who has spent even a little time following Rudy will know that he is no wallflower and during this workshop he definitely displayed an air of arrogance to his knowledge. But the arrogance, in my mind, was justified.

Everything he proclaimed, he backed up with the proof in his athlete’s performances. He was also able to dissect the movements of athletes and explain where their form could have been improved, and also show where athletes were getting it right – Rich Froning Jr was one name that kept popping up. And Rich Froning Jr, it should be noted, is not one of his athletes, but someone who Rudy has a healthy respect for (or so it would appear by the number of times Rudy praised him over the course of the camp).

I for one, felt like the technique that Rudy taught made sense and it all seemed very logical. Day 1 ended with some really good advice and I left with a determination to change my Olympic lifting technique to that professed by Rudy. And this technique is what I am now passing on to my own members.

Me (far right) with the Outlaw Crew

Me (far right) with the Outlaw Crew

Day 3:

Day 3 was all about Gymnastics movements, in particular the handstand push-up and pull-ups.

Rudy spent a quite a bit of time talking about the technique he teaches his athletes and why these techniques are more efficient than others used out there.

Again, he used Dan and Brandon to demonstrate movements that day and while the two also explained how their own performances had improved under Rudy’s guidance.

It all made sense and I did feel that when I used his techniques, I was moving more efficiently, especially with the kipping handstand push-up – butt to the wall, knees down, then firing the hips open and shooting the legs up. Many of you may say, well yeah that’s what you do. But for me, despite my years of training, I had never quite got the knack of it until that day.

Unfortunately we did not get to work on the muscle-up, which had been programmed for the camp. Without knowing for sure, it seemed this may have been due to time constraints.

On Day 3 Rudy also put aside some time to talk about the way he programs out the whole year for his athletes. I found this really interesting and extremely valuable. This is where Rudy’s obsession with detail came to prominence. He explained to us that the CrossFit Games represent the pinnacle of the year as far as training goes. Everything he programs is with this in mind.

Rudy Nielsen and Elisabeth Akinwale

Rudy Nielsen and Elisabeth Akinwale

Rudy breaks the year up into the off-season (August to December), the pre-season (January & February), the season (March to June), and then the Games in July. And during the different periods he will switch the focus of the training between strength, skill, volume load etc. so that the athlete peaks for the Games. I was one of only a few who seemed to be taking notes and lapping up the information he was offering (I guess that’s the nerd in me).

The camp also gave us the opportunity to question Chad, Dan and Brandon about various aspects of their CrossFit lives – training, eating, resting, downtime and gave us a great insight into what it takes to be a Games athlete.

What I found interesting about this was that they are all unique in their approaches to CrossFit. Yes, they all follow Rudy’s programming but they all eat differently (Chad – very clean and healthy; Dan – burgers, chocolates etc), rest differently, and have different mental approaches to the WOD’s they do.

This highlighted the fact that there is no one cookie-cutter template you can follow to compete at an elite level. Everyone is different and what works for one person will not work for another.

So here’s my wrap-up of the 3 day camp:

Do not go to an Outlaw camp expecting it to be warm and fuzzy. Rudy does not suffer fools kindly and he does not fart-arse around when he is coaching. You listen when he speaks and you follow his instructions.

With so many people at my camp, this proved difficult sometimes and a bit of frustration seemed to creep into his dialogue but it was always rectified by the loud voice of Dan Tyminski telling everyone to shut up. People did not seem to be offended by this, and I am sure, as coaches, we have all experienced this at our own Boxes.

Rudy is a self-proclaimed statistics nerd and listening to him speak, it is easy to understand that he is a very knowledgeable man who does a lot of research into improving the coaching of his athletes. He knows his stuff. I recommend you take a pen and pad to record his many good ideas.

David Buckley and Daniel Cooke (Cookie) with Rudy Nielsen (Centre)

David Buckley and Daniel Cooke (Cookie) with Rudy Nielsen (Centre)

For many CrossFitters out there, the Games athletes are the elite, and almost infallible. Rudy was not shy about breaking down the technique and form of Dan and Brandon who demonstrated all of the movements we did. When these two guys did not perform as per the technique required by Rudy, they were quickly told so. To me, it showed that Rudy does not settle for satisfactory, but strives towards perfection of a movement in his athletes. This was very inspiring for me as a Coach.

As far as Rudy’s coaching goes, I think he is a genius. He is a big advocate of getting the Olympic lifts to a high standard in his athletes so that the skills and fitness needed for those will transfer over to a lot of the other CrossFit movements we do. When he backs this up with anecdotes of his own athletes doing just that – forging ahead with their Olympic lifting and simultaneously improving their results in competitions, it is hard to argue.

I would have preferred attending a camp with smaller numbers and to have had a bit more hands-on coaching from Rudy (perhaps I was naive to think this was going to happen), but despite this not occurring, I definitely learned a lot about Olympic lifting technique, efficient movement through the handstand push-up and pull-up, and also some massive insight into programming for athletes who are serious about competing.

One of my Box members, Amanda Wilson, attended the same camp with me.

“I loved the course,” she said. “He (Rudy) is a very knowledgeable man, and he has coached a lot of successful athletes. He says it how it is. I think his language is quite colourful and it wasn’t used inappropriately. He is very passionate about coaching.”

Fellow Coach, Dave Buckley from Inner West CrossFit and CrossFit Marrickville, agrees with Amanda.

“The camp’s purpose for me was to become a better coach by understanding Rudy’s concepts a bit better, which I did,” he said. “People should not expect one-on-one training with him.”

Do I think it was worth it? Yes I do.

Would I recommend others attend his camps? Yes I would.

This is my opinion, which is based on attending only one camp. Given the chance to attend another of his camps, I would go in a heartbeat.

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