HARRY DEBENHAM (AKA BOY WONDER)
The first time I met Harry was in 2014, I had recently moved to Australia and for the third year in a row qualified to compete at Regionals. I got stuck into Regional prep training at Reebok CrossFit Gold Coast where I was also coaching a few classes a week.
Getting to meet the new members is always fun, you start to dissect and analyse each person so you can find what triggers them and how to coach them more effectively. During my dissections I came across a young boy called Harry. He was a fresh 18 years old kid, built long and lean weighing in at 70kg at a height of 180cm, he went hard with no pacing or strategy and was essentially quite well conditioned to pain…
I remember watching him build up a heavy deadlift and his little legs would shake like a baby giraffe every time he picked the bar up and as it got heavy the vibrations got worse until his whole body was rattling and his face about to burst a blood vessel. I remember thinking either he’s going to break something or he’s going to get really strong, either way the kid was determined. His nickname for a while became Giraffe Legs or Milkshake.
Throughout his school days Harry could be found skateboarding around the backstreets of the sunshine coast taking pictures and videos of him and his friends doing tricks. He always had a driven nature though, even back then he was aiming high and wanted to be a sponsored and professional skater.
He did a little bit of cross country running through school and one day a friend suggested that they go and try a CF class at CrossFit Maroochydore. After a few CF classes he threw his skateboarded in the back of his friends’ car and that’s where it stayed, to this day he hasn’t been on a skateboard properly again.
As a coach I look at a few different things when it comes to the elusive goal of competing at Regionals. How many times have I heard someone say it? How often do they do it? Less than 0.2% of people in the Open make Regionals in their lifetime… Not 2%, 0.2%. You need to be one seriously dedicated person.
Coming from the military it was exactly the same with the Special Forces. How many soldiers had the goal of becoming Special Forces? How many actually made it? After being involved with running the selection process I can tell you with certainty that only the ones that were ready to commit everything and lose would have a chance, and even then it was never guaranteed.
The first thing I look for is a burning desire, not a hope or a goal. They have to be prepared to push EVERYTHING else aside and focus solely on CF. This also needs to be proven to me that they are true to their goal even when times get tough. They literally need to be prepared to die to get there.
Mental and physical health is paramount. If someone is unhealthy then they will not have longevity in the sport. Longevity is crucial to gain wisdom and of course maturity in training (training age).
Some people just cannot get into the positions required to be a competitive CF athlete. If you majorly lack mobility then you will know what I am talking about.
After watching Harry for a few months I saw this potential in him, he was young, he was healthy (level head), he was f*cking determined and the only mobility issue he had was tight shoulders (that he relentlessly works on to improve).
He had major weaknesses and problems with his competitive CF but all of it was trainable so I asked the owner of the affiliate Jeremy Austin if I could coach Harry one on one because I believed that with a more advanced program he could make it to Regionals in the coming years. Jeremy obliged and we began straight after the 2015 CrossFit Open.
BUILDING BOY WONDER – 2015/2016
Building an athlete is pretty easy, you just need to know the competition, know the athletes current abilities, and you then just have to fill in the gap.
The competition was the 2016 CrossFit Open and we knew the rough requirements. Next we conducted some testing on Harry to find out where his current abilities were lying and where his weaknesses were hiding.
1) Absolute Strength
2) Size (lean weight)
3) Anaerobic Power
4) Skill/Technical Efficiency (predominantly open chain, barbell cycling)
5) Everything else…
We uncovered without a shadow of a doubt that he needed to gain some weight and some strength, particularly in his upper body. His bodyweight was 70kg, max clean & jerk was 115kg, max snatch was 80kg and max Strict Press was 55kg… We had work to do so I sat down and mapped out a macro-cycle working backwards from the start of the Open.
Putting on lean weight takes a long time, as does building strength, and if Harry wanted to be ready for the 2016 Open then we had to get moving.
I broke the macro-cycle up into 4 to 6 week meso-cycles each with it’s own focus. The length of each cycle was dictated by the length of each month and also when some competitions we wanted to hit fell throughout the year. The first five meso-cycles had a sole focus on size and strength with a secondary on low intensity skill work.
The Monday after the final 2015 Open workout Harry signed up at a globo gym and started a double day split, weightlifting in the morning at Reebok CrossFit Gold Coast and bodybuilding/hypertrophy work in the evening. Weightlifting was conducted five days a week with Thursday and Sunday as rest days, bodybuilding was conducted six days a week with Sunday being a rest day.
Meso-cycle 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 – Layers of Training:
1) Weightlifting (Tech/Str), 5 x p/w
2) Hypertrophy, 6 x p/w
No cardio, no conditioning, no WOD’s, just pure gains. Each athlete only has a finite amount of energy each day and we had to spend all of our energy building size and strength. Every other type of training would have been detrimental to the rapid progress we needed. If he wasn’t lifting weights he was eating, sleeping and recovering. Eating became a workout in itself, calorie intake went through the roof and macros were timed to initiate a positive hormone response aiding in growth.
This continued for five months from April to August, along the way competing at Olympic weightlifting competitions to help Harry maintain focus, have small milestones to work towards, gain competition experience and of course add a bit of excitement to the monotony of bicep curls and back squats.
We hardly did any 1 RM testing as we saved the 1 RM’s for the competitions but it was clear that Harry had become a lot stronger. Within five months his stats had shot up significantly. His first Oly comp he missed his first two snatches at 90kg and decided to go up to 95kg PB. He then followed that up with a 130kg PB clean and jerk. From that day on he became known as Boy Wonder.
The next two meso-cycles we made some tweaks and started to bring in some other priorities which increased the intensity so we also made Thursday a complete rest day.
Double day split with weightlifting in the morning five days a week and CFBB (CrossFit Bodybuilding) in the evening four days a week and anaerobic power three days a week.
On the Power – Endurance continuum Harry was well into the endurance side of things so as the season progressed we started to bring in more fitness. His aerobic power/endurance was pretty good, but anaerobically he was not powerful at all so that became the next thing we started to train.
CFBB is a training term I use that really focuses on hypertrophy using traditional CF movements. Strict Muscle Ups, Strict Ring Dips, Strict Pull Ups, Strict T2B, Strict Press etc done to a tempo for time under tension that works the hypertrophy time domain. It is the first phase of the isolate and integrate theory.
Mesocycle 6, 7 – Layers of Training:
1) Weightlifting (Tech/Str), 5 x p/w
2) CFBB, 4 x p/w
3) Anaerobic Power, 3 x p/w
We decided to do one CF competition through the year, which was the CrossFit Torian Pro. Not to try and win but just to gauge how far away we were from the top guys. We only did one competition because each day was spent training, and any wasted days competing or recovering from max intensity competition were a waste to us. This would be the first time Harry would get to compete at a high level against CrossFit Regional level athletes.
So one month out, we took out all the CFBB, added in a couple of traditional CrossFit workouts and isolated aerobic sessions.
Mesocycle 8 – Layers of Training:
1) Weightlifting (Tech/Str), 5 x p/w
2) CF WOD, 3 x p/w
3) Anaerobic Power, 2 x p/w
4) Aerobic Endurance, 2 x p/w
5) Skill Work, 4 x p/w
Harry finished in 9th place just behind the more known names. The whole weekend everyone in the crowd kept asking “Who’s that kid? He’s doing so well!”
For the rest of the season leading into the Open that was the split we followed. Of course the lifting became more varied and not so focused on hitting a 1 RM and the closer we got to 16.1 the more traditional things became. For example, all the anaerobic power work we did was primarily on the assault bike for short sprints and long recoveries, but as we got closer to the Open that would turn into CF movements like thrusters and burpees conducted over the same time domain.
By the time the Open came round Harry was peaking.
THE 2016 OPEN
16.1 – A great start to the Open finishing 18th in the Region albeit after three attempts…
16.2 – The strength based workout with heavy squat cleans and ultimately the real test of progress from the previous year where Harry finished 1129th on 15.1a which was a heavy Clean & Jerk. When all the scores came in Boy Wonder was ecstatic with a respectable 57th place finish.
16.3 – A blowout, and I take full responsibility for it. Harry finished 130th in the Region, the lightweight Snatches for high reps were not something we had done a lot of and it showed.
16.4 – Another 18th place finish which significantly helped bring back some hope on qualifying after only 11 months of proper training.
16.5 – Another good placing coming 49th but not quite enough to make it to Regionals.
Harry finished in 42nd place, 37th after team athletes were removed from the leaderboard. If Harry had managed two more reps in 16.3 he would have qualified. He was gutted and I was too but in hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened. Honestly speaking he wasn’t mentally ready to compete at the Regional level and this would give us a fresh 11 months to make even more progress and continue to grow physically and mentally.
BUILDING BOY WONDER – 2016/2017
We started the season exactly the way we started last year, but this time we pushed the weightlifting and hypertrophy work out for an extra month. We used the same strategy of competing at weightlifting competitions during the off-season to keep him focused and firing. Harry also picked up his first sponsor PranaOn which has been a huge help with his recovery and performance.
We also sought more specialized help from the renowned weightlifting coach Miles Wydall at Cougars Weightlifting Club. Miles is the same coach that Tia Claire Toomey, 2nd Fittest Women On Earth has used so we knew we were in safe hands. It didn’t take long before Miles tweaked Harry’s technique and opened up some new personal bests. As a coach I always recommend specialised people when it is out of my league and this was one of those times.
During this time Harry developed some adductor pain due to the large volume of squatting we were doing so we buttoned off for a solid six weeks. During that time he was set to compete in an Olympic weightlifting competition. He decided to enter regardless but instead he would try and hit new PB’s in the power snatch and power clean and jerk. Did he? Of course he did, he’s Boy Wonder.
Harry continued to add size and strength all the way up to the CrossFit Torian Pro in September. We did very little conditioning or endurance work compared to last year as we knew how long it took him to become conditioned and we still needed to improve his strength going off of the Open placing’s.
This year the competition grew to include three male CF Games athletes and nine Regional athletes. Harry finished in 24th place, which was disappointing as far as a number goes. He had a blowout on day one with what was set to be his best workout, with three legless rope climbs remaining he was winning his heat beating the overall winner Ricky Garard, but with one climb remaining his muscle endurance failed him one foot from the top… He didn’t finish the event and hit the time cap. He was miserable for the remainder of the competition.
The silver lining of the competition was pretty sweet though. One of the events involved a 1 RM clean and jerk in which he hit 140kg for a equal PB and went on to clean 145kg for a PB. Another event involved multiple snatches at 100kg in which he managed to get through even though a few months ago his max was 100kg.
The biggest lesson learnt from the weekend was how to overcome disappointment. He (and I) couldn’t believe how badly his blowout had affected his attitude over the weekend. Harry is a levelheaded human and learns quickly, he vowed never to let a blowout even touch his attitude and focus again. This is what I meant earlier about him not being ready for Regionals last year, there were still lessons he had to learn, and this was one of them.
After Torian Pro Harry finished his job at Alphafit and decided to move home so he could train full time. We changed the training split to start our run towards the Open and over the coming months we tweaked each meso-cycle to bring in a little more of what’s expected and remove a little more of the specific weakness work. Things didn’t go well, since moving home to Sunshine Coast there was little to no competition for him and motivation plummeted. He didn’t have to get up and work so he would sleep in, his parents bought him food and made his meals, he had nowhere to be and nothing to do so he started to go crazy and lose his balance.
The goal of every training program should be to add progression. When it came to Harry adding intensity (speed/strength/power) was the progress we wanted to see because he could bang out volume for days (endurance/stamina), but during this timeframe whenever we tried to add intensity he would go flat and his HRV (Heart Rate Variability) would drop. I monitor all of my athletes HRV to make sure what we are doing is working and what sort of state their body is in. Harry’s HRV wasn’t doing great and we couldn’t figure out why, he just said he felt flat. His environment wasn’t conducive to a happy Harry.
In December Harry got the opportunity to coach at CrossFit Mode in Adelaide with CF Games athlete James Newbury. This was the exact ticket he needed, a job coaching his favorite sport, no added stress of study or running a business, and an environment that already plays host to a CF Games athlete. It’s amazing how fast things can change when you fix the actual problem instead of putting a Band-Aid on it. HRV came back to normal, training started climbing again and overall Harry felt fresh and excited.
For the first time EVER I started to see him embody the mind and attitude of a Regional level athlete, I got goose bumps when it hit me, he was fit enough 12 months ago but his mind wasn’t ready, but now he was even fitter and his mindset had matured and become at peace with who he was and his ability levels. I knew he was going to make it.
Fitness and success starts in the mind, and if your mind is in any sort of imbalance the fitness and success will be limited. I spend a lot of time with my athletes working on their mindset, because if that is even slightly astray then you can kiss the whole thing goodbye.
The following two cycles in January and February started to become very traditional with a splash of weakness work. The amount of times we hit ‘Randy’ and other high rep snatch workouts was enough to make you sick. 16.3 wouldn’t trip us up this time. With the addition of intensity there was a drop in volume so we cut the weekly amount of training right down.
Too many people try and add volume to an already intense schedule and go flat, plateau or even worse break themselves. If I can give you any advice it would be to find a way to track training load (stress) v’s recovery and play the long game instead of trying to be an overnight sensation. There are so many people that are fit enough to be at Regionals but they just don’t know how to time their training cycle properly so get in contact with someone that can help you periodise properly.
THE 2017 OPEN
17.1 – 34th after two attempts. The first was a blowout and had Harry panicking a little over the weekend but the maturity came through and bought a good result with it.
17.2 – 41st place but kept Harry outside the top 30… He phoned me and asked what my thoughts were. I had 100% confidence that he would climb into the top 30 and I told him why, he agreed and we moved on.
17.3 – The strength event and on the first attempt he finished with a score that we both knew wasn’t good enough. He felt wrecked going into the event and his HRV confirmed everything. We knew this workout would shake up the leaderboard because the little metcon ninjas from week one and two now had to back it up with a strength based workout. On the second attempt HRV was better and he hit a 96% 1 RM snatch multiple times under fatigue and placed 52nd.
17.4 – The repeat workout. When this was released things felt good, last year he finished 18th in the Region so we knew he would be ok. He beat his last year score and finished 25th with what he said was a really fatigued body.
17.5 – Time to put the nail in the coffin. This was the only one and done workout of the Open going head to head with James Newbury and Kosta Ilic. A 45th place finish in that event and an overall finish in the Open of 25th place.
I will never forget the phone call I received after he had finished that workout; he knew he had done enough to qualify for Regionals and he said the feeling of joy just overtook his whole body. He was definitely high on life, that’s probably why he sent me this message below.
Two years of focus, sacrifice, dedication, hard work and ups & downs. He deserves every bit of the joy he was feeling. To be in the top 0.2% is no joke and I don’t know many twenty one year olds with no real athletic background finding themselves going to Regionals within a few years of training.
He knows now the importance of staying grounded. Everything that goes up comes down and excitement and energy levels are no different. Too many newcomers to Regionals (or even old dogs that don’t learn) get a spike of motivation after the Open and start running towards Regionals only to find that their balloon starts to deflate a few weeks away from the main event.
Harry and I Skyped for an hour after the Open finished and discussed the next training cycle leading into Regionals. The focus is on staying grounded, being fresh, being aerobically fit and taking a whole day of training away to insert an extra day of recovery.
If you want some inspiration then just scroll through his Instagram (Harry Instagram) feed, you won’t be disappointed.
See you in the ‘Gong’!!