Name: Jeb Stuart Johnston
Hometown: Baltimore, MD
CrossFitting Since: On and off since 2007
Favorite WOD or Movement: I love to deadlift.
Least Favorite WOD or Movement: Like everyone else, thrusters and wall balls make me sad.
What is your fitness background?
I grew up playing football mainly. My Dad had always made us box so that was also a big part of how I perceived training. As I reached my 20s and missed the contact sports I found MMA and trained in Krav Maga, Muay Thai, Western Boxing, Wrestling, Submission Wrestling, and later BJJ.
What were you doing before CrossFit?
I found CrossFit because a lot of MMA fighters used it as conditioning. We were already doing HIIT (high intensity interval) training and using things like sledgehammer strikes, tire flips, a ton of bodyweight work and barbell complexes so it was a natural fit.
I understand you do Strongman Competitions. How did you get into that?
I got into Strongman by accident (and a bit of arm twisting) really. I had just started getting more into lifting heavy and transitioning out of MMA because, let’s face it, I’m getting older and my body just can’t handle the punishment any more. Since I no longer was worried about staying at 145-155lbs, I started to love training to get bigger and stronger. When my wife Sarah and I moved to New York last January, a friend recommended I check out Global Strongman Gym. I went in and met the owner Hans and he had me lifting stones, log pressing, and doing yoke runs. I didn’t think it was for me but he was rather convincing.
I had never really deadlifted from the floor but within the year I had hit 507lbs for a double. So something was working. When he announced his show here in New York I signed up (and somehow convinced Maillard to, as well.) Strongman training is brutal. It’s painful and you are in constant risk of injury. But something about putting heavy weight on your back and running or lifting an awkward object overhead promotes crazy growth and strength. And then there are the other athletes. The guys I train with are 300lb monsters. And that’s small for a pro. Watching a guy do an 800lb deadlift or 700lb squat is both terrifying and inspiring. At the end of the day, though, you aren’t competing against anyone but yourself and I love that.
How is Strongman similar to CrossFit?
Well, I would qualify that, as it is similar to the sport of competitive CrossFit, it is a day (or 2) of 5-6 events of variety. There may be a max lift, lift for reps in a minute, lift or carries for max speed, and of course stone loading. In Strongman, though, we know the events ahead of time so we can train for each contest individually. The biggest similarity, I would say, is the community. It’s a lot like CrossFit in that everyone helps and supports each other. When your competitor is beating your time you are in their face cheering them on.
As per my general personality dysfunction, once I decided to compete in Strongman I reached out and used every contact I had in the S&C world to help (I’m a bit Type-A, haha.) Through Jason Ferruggia, my first mentor in strength training, I was connected with Chase Karnes. Chase is a top amateur in the 200lb weight class and he has been coaching me on events and did all of my programming for Viking Battle. I also communicated quite a bit with the late Mike Jenkins, one of the World’s Strongest Men and a CrossFit Box owner, and he was an exemplary model of both sports.
How has CrossFit helped you prepare for your competitions?
I am competing in April in the 175lb class (only select shows have 175lbs, usually 200lbs is the lightest) so I am utilizing CrossFit to get rid of my “powerbelly” (code for eating Five Guys 3 times per week.) CrossFit is also great to remind me just how unfit I am. Nothing is more humbling than a CrossFit WOD. I generally train to be really strong and fast for 60 seconds so by minute 4 of a WOD I am usually dying. Then George starts yelling at me, calling me names, and questioning my masculinity, so I have to suck it up and power through.
It’s such a mental game and that mental toughness really transfers over to my Strongman training. Honestly, though, it’s not the WODs that helped me most at my last competition, it was the CFV community. There were over a dozen CFV athletes who trekked up damn near the Bronx in arctic temperatures to come see Maillard and myself compete. In the max reps deadlift event, when I blacked out and went to one knee, it was voices from CFV that made me stand up and get that 28th rep @ 315lbs. It was one of those moments that made me realize just how much bigger CrossFit is than just us as athletes. It was really touching.
I also understand that you’re in the CFV Coaches Program. What makes this program unique?
Where do I start? First of all, as an apprentice, we have such great access to the coaches at CFV. Beyond their general CrossFit knowledge, each of the Lead Coaches has some type of specialized area that they are passionate about so we learn about movement from many different perspectives. I mean, where else would an Apprentice/Intern have access to an anatomy/yoga expert, a CF Level 1 Trainer, a gymnastics/movement Jedi, two Weightlifting coaches with an athlete ranked 7th in the Nation, and a circus/dance/programming lunatic? And that’s just the Coaches. We are also exposed more to the CFV athletes who are so good at so many things. It’s kind of ridiculous when you look at a cross-section of CrossFitters, they are just so good at so much.
Now, as an athlete, I am becoming more cognizant of my weak points and my flaws in movement. I participate in a sport that values strength while in compromised positions so I have to spend all of my static training practicing better movement patterns.
Last, as an aspiring coach, I am learning so much about how to help people be better. Better in sport, better in health, better in life.
Why did you apply for the Coaches Program?
I have a passion for helping people find the best version of themselves. As a hairdresser, I get to see what can transpire in a woman’s life from a simple makeover. What are the possibilities from a physical transformation? CrossFit has put a barbell in more hands than any training modality in modern history, so that alone makes it a progressive movement. Yet, as progressive as NYC and CrossFit may be, women still have to fight a little bit harder than men. CrossFit lets them express that strength without judgement and rewards them for it. My training partner Sean Hyson (who has a great book out, the 101 Best Workouts of All Time, buy it!) is the fitness editor at Men’s Fitness and Muscle & Fitness and he pushed me along on the journey of becoming a trainer. Between his helpful contacts and my wife’s support, I knew that this was my future. I also knew that the best hands on movement coaches I had ever encountered were the Lead Coaches at CFV. So it was a no brainer.
Any advice for people considering the Coaches Program?
Yes, it’s a big commitment but it’s totally worth it. If you want to coach CrossFit I think it really is a necessity. A Level 1 certificate is great but there is just no way that you can really learn what it takes to be an effective coach in two days. It’s a learned skill and the coaching program gives you a safe place to harbor those traits under the watchful eye of experienced Lead Coaches.
Anything else? Good stories?
The main thing I want to acknowledge is just how great the CrossFit community as a whole is and how special CFV is in particular. When Sarah joined last year I tagged along to some social events and saw her quickly making some of the best friends she has had since college. From the first day I walked in everyone was so welcoming and cool. A year later, and I have such great relationships. The majority of my social circle are members of CFV. People at work often joke about how I just hang out at the gym and it’s true, there is no place I’d rather be than CFV. Some people hang out at bars, we hang out at a Barbell Club.