Jami Tikkanen CrossFit Coach

Jami Tikkanen
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Kelly: [0:03:00] On this episode of The Ready State Podcast, I am thrilled to introduce you to one of my greatest coaching allies, someone I’ve been working with for over a decade, Jami Tikkanen. And the reason I mention that and so sort of effusively is I think Jami is one of the most underrated coaches on the planet. I also think he’s one of the greatest tactical psychoemotional spiritual coaches I have ever met in any sport in any discipline. He’s the founder and the head coach of The Training Plan, which is an online program for CrossFit athletes, peak athletes in that space. And his mission is to teach athletes to train with a purpose, really to overcome their obstacles and reach their potential. What’s incredible about Jami, not only was he on the Finnish National Judo Team as a young man, he went on to live in Paris and nab a degree in traditional Chinese medicine, then he became an osteopath. He’s Applied Fellow at the Functional Science at the Gray Institute, Z-Health Master Coach, he’s been coaching CrossFit coaches forever. He really started this thing in 2010 when he coached Annie Thorisdottir.  He coaches Bjorgvin Gudmundsson. He’s coaching Katrin Davidsdottir out of Reykjavik. It’s pretty amazing what they’ve got going on right there. I’m excited for you to hear this conversation because hopefully you’ll start a deep dive on the Jami nerdom and appreciate that he is one of the greatest people in my life and one of the most incredible coaches on the planet. Please enjoy this conversation. 

Juliet: [0:04:26] Hey Ready State listeners, if you like what you’re hearing, please subscribe and leave a review on iTunes to help others find our show.

Juliet: [0:04:33] Hey Jami, how are you? Welcome to The Ready State Podcast.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:04:36] Hey. Thanks so much for having me.

Juliet: [0:04:37] So I’m just going to get right into it, and we have a lot of questions for you since we’ve known you for a really long time. And in full disclosure, we’re friends. But I recently read in the last maybe eight months that you are the winningest coach in the CrossFit Games history. Do I have that data correct? And what is your secret?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:04:57] Interesting. I cannot deny nor confirm these accusations. This might be true. This might be true. I think it depends how you count; like if you count just the individuals teams, how do you do the math. But we certainly had plenty of success throughout the years. And if I want to answer that, kind of take the long answer and make it short, I think it’s all about creating trust with the athletes and having long-term relationships, where both me as a coach, I can grow, and they can grow as athletes. There’s mutual respect that we can build on. I think that’s really the secret.

Juliet: [0:05:31] So I think you mentioned the word long-term relationship which is another thing that I wanted to ask you about right away because what you see not just in CrossFit but also across all professional sports, is if an athlete isn’t successful or a team isn’t successful often the first thing to happen is the coach gets canned, when I think most coaches know it’s not really their fault when an athlete is or isn’t successful, ultimately.

Kelly: [0:05:54] I’m not sure we should even use the word fault.

Juliet: [0:05:54] Oh yeah. 

Kelly: [0:05:55] But it’s easy to point at your coach.

Juliet: [0:05:56] Yeah, it’s easy to point at your coach. And it seems to me that a lot of athletes and teams do maybe a bit too much changing and not doubling down on those long-term relationships like you mentioned. So tell me a little bit about that. And subtext there, you’ve been obviously working with Annie for many, many years, that being your most long-term coaching relationship.

Kelly [0:06:20] Yeah, Annie was like five years old when you started coaching her.

Juliet: [0:06:20] And obviously, it’s been very fruitful, right? She’s been able to have this insane, long career. But anyway, if you could just talk about, again, just sort of more about the value of this long-term coaching relationship and then maybe just tell us a little bit about your epic coaching relationship with Annie.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:06:35] Yeah. I think in some ways, I would say to be successful you have to be lucky and I think that my luck was that I found Annie in 2010 in a stage where she was like a diamond but still very raw. She had this incredible talent, this incredible ability to put in work and to understand movement. But she hadn’t had the coaching yet. So I came in the game exactly at the right time. And then we had success immediately. She was second 2010; then we had two first place finishes before she had the back injury; then she came back and finished second. So we built a proof very early on. So it was obvious in some ways that the relationship worked. We would find a way to make things work for her to help her grow as an athlete each year. It could have gone the other way and we could have had a couple rough years and maybe the relationship could have gone completely differently. Much more difficult to build the trust. But we had this early success hopefully because we did the right things and didn’t just get lucky. But I think that really helped. And I think it’s true that once you have that credibility, you’ve done some work with an athlete who was successful, then they can lend that credibility to you when you work with other athletes until you’ve formed that relationship again. So I think that’s been really important. My lucky strike was that I found Annie at the right time and we had the early success. So it was easy to build trust on that, clearly, then it could have just been my fault if all of a sudden, we stopped having success. But I think that being said, I think absolutely, it’s-

Kelly: [0:08:06] Let me ask you this.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:08:06] Yeah, go ahead.

Kelly: [0:08:07] Well, I was just going to say that I’m just going to man crush on you for a second because we’ve worked together, we’ve spent a lot of time together. I feel like you are one of the top coaches I have ever met on the planet. Let me just say that again. I know a lot of coaches, but I think you are one of the best total coaches. And you spent a lot of time thinking about this relationship of culture and personal development. It’s sort of a hallmark of your program, and this long-term relationship because I ask a lot of coaches, “Have you ever coached someone and been responsible for their development as a human who also happens to do athletics for 10 years?” And very few coaches can actually say, “I’ve coached someone for 10 years.” And you’ve now coached someone who’s been really good and has continued to be really good for over a decade. How did you come to recognize that component? Because I have some insight into maybe why those things are important to you. But how did you come to reconcile that this interpersonal relationship, trust piece, was such a seminal or keystone element of any successful program?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:09:09] I think part of it might have been my background in martial arts. And there was always this idea with martial arts that there’s the growth as a human and there’s the growth as a martial artist or an athlete in those sports. And I think it felt always important to me from a very young age. So then when I found CrossFit and I found coaching in CrossFit, I think it just felt intuitive that if I want someone to be a successful athlete, they can’t be a successful athlete in isolation and be a desolate human. They have to be also a successful human. They have to grow as a human being. Those two things were never really separate to me. So I think it’s something that was embedded to me very early on from the martial arts culture, and then I just carried it into CrossFit. And of course, I mean I could see the results if that relationship wasn’t there, if it wasn’t built, and what could be done if it was there. So there was also that real-life evidence that was building up on that.

Kelly: [0:09:58] I don’t think people understand or even know that you were on the Finnish National Judo Team. Do you think it was a crucial component to your ability to coach and be a coach of athletes having been and received high-level coaching yourself?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:10:15] Yeah. I think both from the ability to understand what the athlete is going through, like how tough it can be to do all the work and do all the things you need to do outside training to be successful, and then also knowing what worked for me. I really respect my judo coach that I had for many years. And he actually never… This was a thing that stuck with me very early on, he never agreed to coach me. I mean he trained me for over 10 years but he never agreed to be in a coach/athlete relationship because he had only worked with two people like that in the past. So to me from the beginning that relationship between an athlete and a coach became something very sacred. So if I say, “Okay, we are working together,” I coach you, then we are walking this path together and the commitment runs very deep. If you call me at 2 o’clock in the morning, I’m going to be ready for the athletes that I coach, but if I just train you, that relationship is different.

Juliet: [0:11:05] So I know in this, just continuing on about your long and awesome coaching relationship with Annie, we had her on the podcast this past year, and she talked to us about some of her challenges becoming a new mom and getting back into training. And then obviously she had this amazing success last summer at the CrossFit Games. But tell me a little bit about what it’s been like for you on the coaching side to go from coaching a single woman to all of a sudden, a mom, and how that’s been different.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:11:34] Yeah. That’s been very different. And thankfully, we’ve been able to also rely on experts like Stacy Sims, who I think you spoke with recently. And she’s a very good thinker around this space. So it was like a learning experience from collaboration perspective and trying to understand female physiology deeper than I did before and learning how to respect, again, the human, the mother, and the pregnant woman becoming a mother, learning to respect that as a priority and never pushing the athletic side too far but still being cognizant of the goals that we have for her to come back after this and be successful. Last season for us was, I mean it was the hardest season we’ve ever had. She might’ve said this, but we had to modify almost every single training session in one way or the other. But we also felt at the end of the season that every training session was productive. So it was basically just like duct tape and chewing gum. For five, six months, I was trying to just keep the boat going in the right direction. And then at the end, when it all came together, it was also the most rewarding coaching year of my life for sure.

Juliet: [0:12:40] And tell me a little bit more about what does that mean, to modify? Are you modifying the volume or the time or was it modifying just because she’s now managing having a baby and the schedule with the baby, or just elaborate a little bit more about that.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:12:51] Yeah. I mean I think two things: One is obviously time management, just understanding that the baby has to be a priority but then being able to build a structure around that training wise, but still supportive of the athletic goal. So that was like a time management problem for sure to be solved. But I think also from a movement perspective, respecting the changes in her body. She had a very difficult birth. She lost a lot of blood. It takes time to build back that blood volume so we had to take that into account as we planned her conditioning sessions and endurance sessions. How can we increase that blood volume as quickly as possible? What can we do to support that with food and supplements, et cetera? But then, on top of that, things like diastasis recti and just dealing with what happened to her abdominals during the pregnancy and what happened to her pelvic floor during pregnancy. And knowing that we, one, need to strengthen those areas and improve the coordination, but also, we need to respect it with movements that we do, with movement selection. And never do the workouts just because, oh, I happened to write it or just because we could do that workout, but if it’s not good for her body, we would never choose to do that workout because ultimately, we’re trying to make her to be the best version of herself. We can’t impose… It’s athlete centric training essentially, right? You take the athlete and you modify things around the athlete and their goals, and their purpose, instead of saying, “Here’s a program and you have to mold yourself into that,” because it doesn’t work anyway so well, but it definitely does not work when you’ve just given birth or you’re pregnant because things change so quickly and her having a first baby as well, it’s obviously, everything is new, you know? So there’s a lot of emotions that go with that too, and those need to be respected. So there is this logistics side of things, there is this physiology, there’s anatomy, and then there’s this emotional aspect and they all have to be managed each time. So it was definitely a lot. 

Juliet: [0:14:37] I want to make one comment real fast. As a mom and as an athlete it’s really cool to hear you talk about this and just so comfortable with all the language, right, because I think it’s newer I think for coaches to be able to speak as candidly about the challenges and to even just say pelvic floor and things like that. It’s pretty awesome.

Kelly: [0:14:56] Well, what I was going to say is, it’s interesting, Jami really cut his teeth working and coaching women first. So you have a perspective where you were seeing inputs and outputs that may not have traditionally fit with a male physiology, a man’s physiology. So were you aware, because you’ve been coaching women so long, of subtle differences between what you feel like the kinds of volume, the kinds of training, the kinds of total support that women require differently and even nutritionally or hormonally, that women have, the response to exercise, than men? Has that been part of your programing early on?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:15:33] Yeah. I think it has been something where I did not start with that knowledge apart from what I learned studying osteopathy at school, the basics. But the application wasn’t there. And then throughout the years, just seeing the differences between the male and the female athletes, recognizing the fact pretty early on that things were different. Not just Annie, but female athletes tend to be able to handle volume a little bit better at higher percentages, if we talk about weight. They can do a little bit more work than men in many aspects. And they need to do maybe a little bit more work to make the same progress. So those kind of little recognitions came early on. And then it started to be like more understanding that different times in the cycle, you might feel stronger, you might feel more tired. What’s appropriate training? What’s the best training that we could do right now to take advantage of the superpower physiology that women have? Sometimes it might feel like, okay, there’s a downside to having this menstrual cycle and that’s true. But if you understand the cycle, there’s always something that you could be doing that would be the most productive thing to do at that time. And that knowledge came later on. And the last few years, it has really, really grown. And I think Annie’s pregnancy was a big push also for me to realize that I have to understand this better if we want to get her to come back as good as we expected. 

Kelly: [0:16:48] Awesome.

Juliet: [0:16:49] Yeah. And I want to wait to talk about this, but you’re obviously coaching a whole team of women now, but I’m sure that all of these learnings that you’re having around Annie and training a new mom and all the sort of additional stuff you’re learning is going to obviously pay dividends in coaching other women. So it’s cool. So I just want to, on this coaching thing, this is one of my favorite stories. So I don’t want to tell the story; I want you to tell the story. But you’re obviously from Finland and you’ve been doing a lot of coaching but often to more American style audiences. And in part of your coaching journey, I remember that you told me that you either took classes or did specific coaching on how to speak and interact with a more American style audience. So can you tell a little bit about that because it’s one of my favorite stories?

Kelly: [0:17:37] And let me tee this off, this is the level of detail that Jami is obsessed with. How do I communicate? How do I be a better human to human coach?

Juliet: [0:17:45] Yeah. And then maybe as part of that, you can talk a little bit about yoru background as a Fin.

Jami Tikkanen [0:17:50] Yeah. So I realized that if I speak like this every time when I deliver instructions to the athletes that sometimes I don’t get so many successes. So I realized obviously at some point-

Kelly: [0:17:58] Why are you laughing out loud as a Fin? I just heard that. I heard. That was the most expressive Finnish I’ve ever heard. 

Jami Tikkanen: [0:18:07] This is why they kicked me out. This is the story. They kicked me out of Finland because I started to be too expressive. Now I would do this. I remember reading this book many years ago that actually talked about this exercise, that if you take a pen or pencil and you put it between your teeth, you kind of get this creepy smile going. And those facial expressions, like Paul Ekman’s work, et cetera, those facial expressions can actually lead to emotions. And as a Finnish person, you don’t have many emotions or they’re very under the surface. You don’t know. They’re buried somewhere deep. So I would when I was teaching seminars, teaching that seminar back in the day, the level ones for CrossFit, level twos, and before I would speak to an audience, in the morning, I would go in front of a mirror and just go like five minutes just to feel happy, you know? So I would do these kind of things and then I would also practice my… Try to have a little bit more intonation in my voice. I mean I don’t know. How am I doing? It’s getting better but it feels like a lifelong journey as a Finnish person.

Kelly: [0:19:07] You’re basically from California now. We’ve adopted you.

Juliet: [0:19:09] Yeah. I mean it sounds great and there’s a lot of intonation. And even some of your sentences that aren’t a question end with an up tone, you know? So you’re doing an amazing job. But every time I talk to you, I always think about that, especially when I see you with a massive grin on your face, I’m always like that’s a learned skill.

Kelly: [0:19:27] Check this out: You were a high-level athlete. Then you didn’t go to osteopathy school; you didn’t become an osteopath. There was a thing you did in France. What was that thing?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:19:38] So I had studied French in school for a long time and I was extremely frustrated that I couldn’t speak French despite getting good grades. So I actually went to work at Euro Disney in Paris. I was not Mickey. But I was working at Disney and I had always been excited about Chinese martial arts but I didn’t have a chance to do those in Finland. And I found this school with [inaudible 0:19:58] who was a student of William Cheung, who was the training partner of Bruce Lee. So this was very exciting for me. So I joined this martial arts school. And then through that martial arts school, I found there was an opportunity to study Chinese medicine. So I did a three-year degree in Chinese medicine in Paris, which is kind of a confusing combination of things.

Kelly: [0:20:20] Then, fast forward, you end up as a young, talented osteopath. How do you then sort of integrate all of these skills because again, I’ll say you are one of the best coaches I know with an incredible track record, continuing to evolve. You work at a general population level through the training plan and all that work. I can just log in as a middle-aged guy and train. You’re still having your laboratory in this high-performance environment. How do you continue to synthesize practitioner, Chinese thinking around the body, your judo, the evolution of CrossFit? It’s really almost too much for my little pea-shaped brain to integrate and synthesize all that into a cogent whole. How do you do it?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:20:04] I think for me, early on when I was trying to learn, whether it was osteopathy school and reading books around osteopathy and other topics or then afterwards doing courses and thinking about things for myself, I kind of realized that if every time I learned something new, I throw everything old away, I’ll never get anywhere. So I started thinking frameworks. I started to develop a basic framework for myself of understanding how humans work, how both on an emotional level, psychological level, but also in high performance. And I started to build this framework for myself and maybe it is still a more implicit than explicit model. But I always would see how new information fits into that framework and which pieces fit and which pieces would be practical for me because I kind of believe that all models are wrong but some are useful, right? So I would just always think about, okay, how are these models useful that I’m learning and always try to reintegrate them back into this general framework that I had. So in the end, I would have something that’s a whole and not all these little pieces that will be very difficult to put together. 

Kelly: [0:22:07] What do you think you got? Let’s just say if we start at your coaching of the nascent sport of CrossFit and these young superstars, we don’t know how much volume people can handle, we don’t know the skills, we don’t know how much better we can get. What do you think you got the most wrong back then, that you could go back and be like, whoa, you know, sweet potatoes in the middle of FRAN was less good? What do you think were some of our biggest errors back in the day?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:22:33] I think back in the day, I’m going to start by saying the good thing was that we were starting to understand movement and we were heavily investing in that and I think that’s good. But if I could train 2010 CrossFit athletes now with what I know, hey, I’m sorry, but you would not stand a chance against us. I mean it’s just a reality how the sport has evolved. I wish I would know what I know now about the brain, about its role in performance. But I think there’s a little frustration in that all the knowledge was available in 2010 but it took all these years to put it together, and I’m still in that process. I think that what we could have done better at the beginning is not to rely on CrossFit as the unique training methodology but to understand other sports have done great things in the past and they’ve really thought deeply about things like how to get strong, how to improve your mobility, how to level up skill and coordination. Integrating that knowledge early on I think would have been very beneficial because when I started, I was very much in that like CrossFit kind of dogma work that it was back in the day, especially everything else sucks, you know? Whereas now, look, just last week Katrin was at the globo gym doing bodybuilding, two sessions, one upper body, one lower body, with a very specific purpose in choice of movements. But that integration of knowledge in all different fields just wasn’t here yet, and I think that’s the biggest mistake that we made at the beginning. Not appreciating what people already knew.

Juliet: [0:24:03] So I have a question for people who aren’t coaches of high-level games athletes. How do you fit in all of the training and make sure you’ve checked all the boxes because it is such a diverse sport and you might be paddling or running or lifting the heaviest weights known to man. I mean it really is, the amount of skill and proficiency that these athletes have to have is kind of unimaginable. And how as a coach do you even choose and do you now after doing it this many years feel pretty confident that you have a method? I’m sure you’re always iterating on how much running and endurance type training and strength training versus sheer CrossFit training. I mean how do you figure out how to balance all that? And then when do you bring in experts like running experts or in this case bodybuilding people? How do you know when to integrate that as well? It’s a lot.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:24:56] Yeah, so basically, I think that one thing we have to recognize that these traditional periodization of training structuring models are very difficult to apply because there’s just not simply enough time. So I want to say since 2014, actually one of the most influential books for me in coaching is this book called Pragmatic Programming, which is a software development book that talks about the agile development. That was kind of the beginning. These are the people who had the agile manifesto how to develop software. And one of the things in that world is this idea of minimal viable product. What’s an MVP? And I think about what’s the minimal viable program. It needs to have certain elements in it that are at the core of our sport and at the core of athletic training. And they need to be covered first. And once those things are covered… So let’s say if you want to get better at squatting, you probably need to squat at some point. And if you’re going to half snatch and clean and jerk in part of the sport, you probably have to do them on regular intervals. So more highly skilled movements you need to have more frequency. Less skilled movements, you might need at times to have more frequency, sometimes less. But it becomes this triage basically of, okay, what is the MVP, what is the minimum viable program? That means that I’m not going to at least be wrong. And once I’ve done that, it’s a little bit like thinking like Nassim Taleb’s barbell strategy, thinking of like, okay, I have this one side, I’m not wrong, now I can place some bets and try to be right. But the beginning for me, the philosophy is I try not to be wrong with the athletes, I ensure that they’re making progress in the right direction, and then I take some calculated risks based on what I think that they need versus working on the endurance solely for 12 weeks and then maybe we got really far away from sports performance and we might never find our way back. So it’s really about having this-

Kelly: [0:26:42] By the way, no one has ever said Nassim Taleb and barbell training in the same sentence.

Juliet: [0:26:45] Yeah, yeah, I mean that was amazing. Yeah. Okay, so here’s what I’m wondering. Have you ever been sitting there at the Games and a workout or a program is announced and you in your mind, I know you would never let yoru athletes know, but have you ever had a moment in your mind where you’re like, “Oh shit, we never practiced that?” Or do you feel you’re like, my athletes have such good base skills-

Kelly: [0:27:04] Let me jump in and say that Jami was the first person ever to look at the open workouts and say, “There are only x number of movements in here,” and he was so pragmatic. Am I wrong? You’re the first person to say, “Well, there’s only this many permutations of things we’re going to see, so let’s just focus on-”

Juliet: [0:27:23] And I know you’re so tactical and so thoughtful, so maybe you’ve never had that moment. I’m just sort of wondering inside the mind of Jami, have you ever been like, “Oh, dear God, we never practiced that?”

Jami Tikkanen: [0:27:31] Yeah. Yes and no. I mean, yes, there’s been moments where it’s like, oh no, when the prone paddleboard came up for the first time, it would have been great to have done surf rescue for 10 years before that. But like Kelly was saying, there is a limited pool of movements that specifically show up in a CrossFit competition that form like a model for the sport. And then there are unknowns. And you know that there are unknowns that you can’t even predict. So that means that you want to have athletes who are adaptable. And that’s one of the goals of training, is to make the athletes resilient and adaptable. Not just good at the movements that they do, but they need to have enough experiences outside the sport that whatever happens at the Games, they will be at least able to perform. And I oftentimes say to the athletes, “The distance from zero to one is infinite. If you’ve done something at least once, you have a huge advantage against people who’ve never tried it, both mentally and physically.” So especially leading up to Games, we try to have this really big breadth of things that we do just in case. And we maybe just do one exposure. So when the time comes and there is something that we couldn’t predict, there is like oh no, but there is like at the same time, yeah, but these guys are adaptable, it’ll be fine. I’m not stressed about that. And it’s-

Juliet: [0:28:44] Yeah, adaptation is a really good way to look at it.

Kelly: [0:28:46] I’ve been around long enough in enough sports, in enough environments, when something special starts to happen in a location, it feels like there’s a generation of gravity, a specific gravity starts to aggregate, something special starts to happen. I feel like right there in Iceland, something special is happening. You were a remote journey person, coach for a long time. You didn’t have a roof. You had a flat in London that you would keep some stuff in. Definitely you were there a little bit more in the pandemic. But this is the first time you’ve really anchored down. Do you feel like that’s been a change in your approach because you have so much in contact time? And not to insinuate that you don’t spend a freakish amount of time with yoru athletes even when you were remote. You would send me a picture, you were like, “Here’s my cabin in the woods of some obscure field.”

Jami Tikkanen: [0:29:37] Oh yeah, isolation. Yeah.

Kelly: [0:29:38] I’ve seen where you’ve been over the past decade. That’s right, the isolation cabin. But do you feel like, one, something special is happening, and two, how does that feel, to feel like you have an anchor, where you’re starting to drag people in? Katrin is back home in Iceland and you’re pulling in Americans there. Talk about that.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:29:58] Yeah. I mean I think what feels really good, like yes, there is something special happening and there is energy. And I think a lot of people have made the decision to uproot their lives and to be here for this season and building from this. So I think that the commitments that I have both as a coach, the reason that I’m in Iceland is to coach these athletes. The reason that the team is in Iceland is to be the best athletes they can be, to be the best team they can be, and to win the CrossFit Games. Katrin moved back in here. I mean Björgvin obviously has been here a long time. But I think everyone obviously is so committed. There is this sense of we’re here with purpose and it’s meaningful to be here right now and there’s sacrifices that are being made. And that’s recognized, but they’re also not sacrifices because the goal is going to be worth it. And I think that’s what brings the energy in here right now. Yeah, absolutely.

Juliet: [0:30:50] So can you just sort of tell all of the listeners, who do you have there on your roster and who are they and what are you excited about each of them and their group capability?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:31:01] Yeah. So I mean obviously on an individual level we have Björgvin and Katrin, who multiple time, whether it’s the multiple time Fittest Woman on Earth or multiple time podium finisher, mister consistency at the CrossFit Games, Björgvin, then to be in the same place and training together integrated with the team just means that even though they’re both very capable of pushing themselves alone, there is a special energy. We did some intervals today that were brutal and you can just see that no one’s willing to give an inch. So if we need to create an environment where people push, that’s very much available right now. And then we have this great team of athletes with Khan Porter, who is a freakish machine of a human being. His output on the machines, his aerobic, pure aerobic capacity, it’s insane. I’ve never seen anything like that. And then we have Tola Morakinyo, who just casually did a touch and go snatch double at 130 today, kilos. So that was nice. And he just has that. Absolutely casually.

Juliet: [0:32:11] No big deal?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:32:12] Yeah. And he’s super committed to movement. He moves beautifully and he really invests so much in taking care of his body. He brings a different energy than Khan. And then we have Lauren Fisher who has so much experience in this sport and is such a capable athlete. She pulled a double of 160 today from the floor. Yesterday or last week. And it was so easy. I was like, wow, she could’ve deadlift 185 kilos that day so easily. And she’s such a small human being. And the power and the capacity there, again, incredible. And then we of course have Annie who, I think everyone who’s followed CrossFit or hasn’t followed CrossFit probably knows of her. She’s really the beginning of CrossFit in Iceland as well. So just her presence at the gym and the work ethic that she brings, I think, again, just this energy of all these people coming together, in a sense around Annie and me, in one sense, but then bringing all their personalities and bringing all their physical capabilities, it’s really like just talking about it gets me really excited.

Kelly: [0:33:20] I was just talking to a WNBA star, superstar Hall of Famer, who’s working with a team and just feels like culture is so much, especially if we’re going to really go far. Like you say, there’s easy to push, what’s happening, we’ve seen what Rachel Balkovec has been doing with culture on her team from creating the competitive cauldron and giving people the chance to compete every day. One of the things that I think people struggle with from a team sport environment is oftentimes they don’t have a history of leadership, of people who have been around a long time showing the next generation what’s up. And suddenly, I feel like you are sort of surrounded by an embarrassment of riches. Do you find that everyone there has had enough success that there is a feeling that has changed a little bit, it’s not sort of a scarcity model but a real abundancy model and that allows everyone to sort of really progress further? Has that been your experience? Because that’s what it feels like looking from the outside, but maybe I’m reading that wrong.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:34:23] Yeah. No, I think absolutely. In some ways, I would say there is no competition. No one is competing with each other about getting better. Everyone wants to support each other and everyone wants to grow and be better. But when it comes to 3, 2,1, go and we do the work, everyone wants to beat each other at the same time. So there is this really beautiful relationship where we are sharing information freely, we’re helping each other out. But when it’s game time, we also go as hard as we can, even in the team. So the guys versus the girls. So if you have a partner thing, they all try to beat each other, you know? And so it’s just a beautiful environment where you can have the both: the benefit of competition but also of the teamwork, the camaraderie, coming together. So yeah, no, I think you see it exactly as it is.

Juliet: [0:35:04] Is there any part of it that feels extra awesome having everybody together doing this at this time after all this COVID isolation and people not being together? I mean do you think that sort of heightens the pure joy that everyone’s experiencing doing this?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:35:18] Yeah, I mean I can speak for myself. Being in London during COVID, I mean with the lockdowns we had, you could go out for 30 minutes a day to exercise. And it was really, really rough. So I think that there was this moment of everyone being a little bit isolated. And then now being able to be surrounded by so many people, and not just people but really awesome people. There’s a very different vibe when everyone around you is just every day all in, I want to get better. And we have tough days, we have easy days, but it doesn’t matter. I think that energy is something that during the COVID, at least for me, that was something that at least for me, being able to be with the athletes in person. And yeah, it’s like I think that that contrast makes it feel even better.

Kelly: [0:36:00] And the unfettered access to fermented Icelandic horse milk.

Juliet: [0:36:02 inaudible] 

Kelly: [0:36:04 inaudible] I think that probably is-

Juliet: [0:36:07] That probably, yeah, it makes you a little stronger. So I’d like to shift gears a little bit, Jami, and ask you to tell us a little bit about the pro inflammation tour.

Kelly: [0:36:14] So cool. What happens on the pro inflammation tour-

Juliet: [0:36:15] I mean I just wanted to-

Kelly: [0:36:17] Stays on the pro inflammation tour.

Juliet: [0:3620] I just wanted to leave that an open-ended question. I wasn’t going to tee it up at all. I wanted Jami to tell what he felt comfortable telling about the pro inflammation tour.

Kelly: [0:36:27] That was 10 years ago.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:36:28] Wow.

Juliet: [0:36:28] Well, it was an important part of your life. 

Jami Tikkanen: [0:36:30] It was an important moment.

Juliet: [0:36:31] And an important part of Jami’s ill health. 

Jami Tikkanen: [0:36:33] Yeah. I realized, so I dislocated my finger doing judo some years back, 15 years back, maybe a little bit more. And I thought I was fully healed, you know. It took a long time to gain full range of motion in that finger. And then Kelly comes to Europe, we go see a couple sports teams, maybe teach a couple seminars. And then all of a sudden, this thing just creeps up. My finger stops moving full range of motion. There is just this little chronic inflammation that just reappeared. So that was the pro inflammation.

Kelly: [0:37:06] It may or may not have pulled-

Juliet: [0:37:07] What do you think-

Kelly: [0:37:07] I may or may not have pulled my quad trying to power clear a heavy, a single, after a long course, and maybe or maybe not there was iron brew involved.

Juliet: [0:37:18] What do you think was the cause of that creeping inflammation?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:37:22] I think it was-

Juliet: [0:37:24] I mean either one of you can answer that.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:37:26] I think it was the greens powder that we had. It was just bad greens powder that they gave us. No.

Kelly: [0:37:32] Just so everyone knows, basically Jami and I were like, look, we have an unreasonable amount of work and we’re going to be in six countries in like four days. And the work, travel, rest, we had one day off in London and that was when we went and worked with Aresenal. That was our day off, I think. And you and I were committed to eating all the pastry that we could. I think that was like how much pastry could we get down.

Juliet: [0:37:54] And waffles, right? There were a lot of waffles involved.

Kelly: [0:37:56] There might have been some red wine and waffles and pastry. But we were literally like we have nothing to lose in this except our finger range of motion.

Juliet: [0:38:03] And your hamstring.

Kelly: [0:38:04] And we didn’t sleep much either. There was a person who was working with Jami at our gym at the time doing some assistance work for the training plan, and she ratted us out to you, if you recall. Because she was like, “Well, I just got an email from Jami and it’s 3 in the morning there and they’ve just got home.” And I’m just saying that-

Juliet: [0:38:24] Didn’t you guys go to like a show in Paris and then pass out?

Kelly: [0:38:29] We may have gone to some cabaret in Paris and I may have fallen asleep in cabaret, I was so exhausted. Because that’s what happens when you go to a cabaret show; you have to catch up, power nap. Anyway, the point is that Jami and I have been together for a long time. Jami, that was the first time I’d had Athletic Greens, so thank you for that. That was when I was like, oh, I’m going to pretend to do something good for me. That was when we were just with the founder of Athletic Greens in Austin and I told him that story of how basically-

Juliet: [0:38:56] You guys ate waffles and Athletic Greens for three weeks.

Kelly: [0:38:58] And you kept me alive. You were like, “Kelly, we’re going to do this one thing. We’re going to drink some water and eat Athletic Greens first thing in the morning.”

Jami Tikkanen: [0:39:04] Yeah. It’s like have an anchor. Yeah.

Juliet: [0:39:08] You have to have one good habit in your day, a single one. 

Kelly: [0:39:11] A seed cloud crystal. You and I, you’ve been progressing, evolving, integrating, iterating for as long as I’ve known you. I feel like you were the first person who was like, “You need to get on this HRV.” We were playing around with some very early HRV tech. You have been sort of on trying to understand how humans are adapting, what’s going on. I would have to lay down in the room and put the electrodes on my head

Juliet: [0:39:38] Yeah, wait, wait. Can I tell that story? Can I tell that story?

Kelly: [0:39:41] This is Jami’s fault, by the way.

Juliet: [0:39:42] Yeah. So Jami’s like, “Kelly, Kelly, there’s this really cool HRV thing and the technology’s not quite there.” So I don’t know how you got us one. And then every morning we wake up and our kids at this time are like four and seven. And Kelly would wake up and be like, “Excuse me, I have to go lay in the guestroom and plug myself into these 47 leads and then lay here for 20 minutes while it calculates my heartrate variability.” And after like two days, I was like, “Yeah, hell, no.” I was like, “You need to come out here and help me get our kids ready for school.”

Kelly: [0:40:08] But Jami, but Jami, but Jami.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:40:10] Sorry, Kelly, I thought that plan would work longer, but-

Kelly: [0:40:10] What?

Juliet: [0:40:15] He got like two days out of it, Jami, before I was like-

Kelly: [0:40:19] What are you thinking about as a coach these days, where do you think the greatest opportunities are for coaches or even for you as a coach personally because coaches are drowning in metrics, drowning in data, drowning in methodology. What is essential and where are you putting your awareness in your own personal development right now?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:40:39] I think once you have the basic skills of coaching, I think one thing that’s essential, if you think about all this HRV technology that’s around, whether it’s Omegawave back in the day, I think that’s still around, or something like what’s important is if you have technology, I think it always should be a conversation starter with the human being. The classic thing is can you go; are you ready to go. That’s all the information that you need in some ways about their readiness. But when you have these metrics, you can approach that conversation and be informed. So we, for example, track, we use WOOP for the team. It’s very easy because they don’t need to do anything. So when I go see them in the morning, I already know how they slept; I already know what their resting heartrate or HRV was. So I can go and have the conversation, I can read their body language. So there is this marriage of interpersonal skills and the ability to read humans and then using technology. So from that perspective, I think that whatever technology you use, whether it’s tracking recovery or something else, you need to think about this human and how you integrate it into a practice where it’s about that person because it always should be a communication, not, hey, you can’t train today because this was red or orange or whatever color. So I think that’s really important to remember. And I think it goes back to what I said at the beginning. It goes back into framework. You have to understand what your framework is, what your approach is, where do you start, what are the principles for you. And building those principles and understanding the communication of those principles to your athletes I think is so much more significant than any of the technology that we have because without it, it’s just this thing that doesn’t lead to any action. And then it’s just one more thing that the athlete wears or does and there’s the meaning to it. So I think that’s the most important thing, is take the time to build the framework for yourself and then hang things into that framework.

Kelly: [0:42:27] I want to hear the follow up. Where are you personally putting your energy into becoming and bringing… If you’re asking these athletes to continually evolve. I mean the sophistication of Annie now as an athlete, or any of these athletes. Katrin, I remember hanging around Katrin when she was a goofy young athlete that hadn’t even won the Games yet, and now she’s just like a shark on the rails with laser beams. Where are you and what are you thinking about in terms of bringing new skills and awareness and are they more on the interpersonal side?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:42:56] They are partially, although I feel like at this point, if I feel like I need to go and search for something more, I will. But I realized when I’m having conversations with athletes, I have multiple levels in my mind already thinking about the outcomes for them. So it’s always honest conversation but I’m trying to think what do they need right now for them to be successful in this moment because every session builds towards their goals. But if I think about what I’m trying to understand better, definitely continues trying to understand the role of the brain in human performance and how can we can interface. I love that you talked about this analogy of the iPad before. You don’t need to understand the technology behind the iPad; use the iPad, swipe it. But if you don’t know how to open the iPad, it’s very difficult. So trying to understand how you can swipe the iPad open and get the face recognition so you can do what you want is really for me understanding applied neuroscience and neurology with the athletes, use that as the interpretation tool to understanding their movement, then also finding ways to solve problems in very strange ways at times. I think that’s something that’s very interesting for me. And I look at movement, treat it by mechanical analysis, but then I try to look at it through what might be going on in that nervous system. And that’s a continuously challenging field to grow in.

Kelly: [0:44:12] I agree with that. I feel like what’s happening right now is that people get into this neuroathletic, neurobiology, neurology approach and they stop lifting weights, they stop… It’s all of that. It’s all prime trying to understand without the go. And it’s really the interface that matters so much.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:44:27] Yes, absolutely. That integration. And again, not discarding what you already know because you learn something new. I think that’s really the central thing here.

Kelly: [0:44:36] Could you give us an example of what you’re talking about, just because I think I have an understanding what you’re saying but maybe my wife who just likes to exercise and be shredded, she woke up with abs one day just without even trying, maybe doesn’t understand.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:44:50] I think a simple-

Kelly: [0:44:52] Hashtag jelly.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:44:54] A simple example. So I watched someone squat or snatch, maybe it’s more obvious there, but let’s take a simpler movement. So someone is squatting. And as they’re squatting, I see their head is bopping forward and backwards. I’m going to start with the premise that every movement has a purpose. What are they trying to do? What is their brain asking for; what kind of input is it asking for? And I can see that there is some kind of a midline stability the head and neck into it, which draws my attention to structures that function together with that system, which could be the spine, it could be the cerebellum, it could be the eye movements. And then I’m going to start to break it down from that perspective. I might give them a simple drill of look in the distance, bounce in place 10 times. This happened just today with Lauren. She had bad balance; she was doing a snatch. I said, “Hey, I want you to look there in the distance, look at that point. Good. Can you see it clearly? Bounce. Keep it clear. Good, now go snatch straight away.” And it was better. And of course, some of it is pattern recognition and part of it is it could have also not been the stimulus that she needed. But it’s trying to learn those patterns, trying to see what’s going on, do a couple interpretive tests, and then do an application and be okay if you’re wrong, and create a culture where the athletes are also okay if you’re wrong because if you do weird stuff, it’s really important that you trust yourself as a coach enough that if it looks a little crazy and it didn’t work, that you don’t give up because that also could be very easy.

Juliet: [0:46:17] So I feel like the theme of this podcast is integration, by the way. So because my brain thinks in operations and logistics, how do you prepare yourself as an individual to go into the CrossFit Games because I know every year you’re trying to manage so many athletes and the logistics around that and everybody’s physical and emotional needs. And do you just basically put the needs of Jami to the side and drink a cup of Athletic Greens in the morning and hope for the best? How do you manage the logistics of what I know is an epic couple of weeks for you around the Games in particular?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:46:54] Yeah. I mean traditionally, my strength numbers go down during a specific time of the year. I would say this: I think that it is extremely important to take care of yourself. But I think one of the things that’s allowed me to be as dedicated as I have been to the athletes is that I have a lot of resilience in that moment when I feel like it’s meaningful enough that I can sleep on the floor, I can choose not to sleep, I can wake up first, I can do that for a while, as long as I know that after that period, I get to get some rest. Typically, after the Games, I don’t see the athletes for a month. And I think that’s a good thing and I need that. But that being said, I try to make sure for my own training, the important things for me are doing a lot of zone two work, doing a lot of aerobic base, make sure that I have energy; be strong enough, do a lot of strength work; and then on top of that, I really like going and doing some classes; they have a great community at the gym so I just love jumping in two, three times a week just doing a class, and that’s enough high intensity for me. So it’s building my own training in a way that I’m never in a rush anywhere. If I don’t feel like it today, I can rest. I can be intuitive with the training; I can alter regulate. And if I feel like I can go, then I also can choose to go. Because I don’t need to be ready at a given day, I just need to make sure that my baseline is fine enough that I can handle whatever the season throws at me. 

Kelly: [0:48:21] That is some of the best advice I’ve ever heard for coaches who really struggle. Because we worked in so many universities, there is a culture, even in the professional leagues like the NFL, there’s a culture of coach burnout and coaches are not healthy. They look like crap, they move like crap, they’re stressed, their nutrition is terrible. I really appreciate you saying that and really creating space for that. If mom ain’t right, nobody right. Do you have a certain eating style yourself? I mean, again, I have shared quite a few meals with you in the desert and other places. What are your sort of default strategies? Is it just pastry and red wine when you’re most stressed self or do you take care of something else and think differently?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:49:05] I alternate between pain au chocolat, croissant au beurre. I try to make sure that I have breakfast. I think that’s extremely important. And my two go to choices is either I have some eggs, hopefully some greens on the side, but if it’s just eggs, that’s okay for me in the morning. Or I make a protein shake in the morning and then there’s a lot of green stuff that goes in that shake. So I try to have that as a staple for me and I think that’s really important, is to have a good starting point for the day. And then we’re lucky here, we have a great restaurant where you can get great, like a lunch bowl, every day. It just makes life so easy. And I just basically, I could eat the same food every day for eternity, I’m okay. So I do that. And then basically, I make sure that I have three good meals a day. And I try to make good decisions as much as I can. And I definitely am human and I go through phases where those decisions are not as good as they could be. But the baseline is if someone would ask, I would say, “Oh, I’m plant based.” That doesn’t mean I’m vegan or vegetarian, I just try to eat as many plants as I can. And then I top that off with some delicious protein, you know?

Juliet: [0:50:13] It’s like the Michael Pollan quote from his book. It’s like, “Eat food, mostly plants.”

Jami Tikkanen: [0:50:16] Yeah. Exactly. Yeah, that’s it.

Kelly: [0:50:18] Or this will offend all the people out there. We’re like be a vegan, plus all the protein you can choke down. 

Juliet: [0:50:24] Kelly and I, people ask, “What’s your diet?” We’re like, “Vegan plus meat.” 

Kelly: [0:50:28] It’s very confusing. 

Juliet: [0:50:29] So Jami, obviously you have the Games coming up, so you can talk about that, but what are you looking forward to in short term, long term, Jami life?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:50:39] I mean this season, obviously, we have set some really big goals, both in individual athletes and then with the team. Anyone who follows CrossFit space knows that CrossFit Mayhem is probably a pretty good team at this point, that they’re joined together and we’re trying to take them and everyone else down at the Games to be the best team in the world. That’s not a small goal. Takes a lot. So right now, I’m very focused on this season. But I think beyond the season, what I’m excited about is spending more time in Iceland, getting to really develop coaching and develop the athletes in here longer term. It’s a great environment and it’s a beautiful country, and there’s great people in here. So I’m really looking forward to taking more time in here and seeing what we put together, not just this season but over the coming seasons as well.

Kelly: [0:51:25] Aquavit, yes, or no?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:51:27] Sometimes.

Kelly: [0:51:27] Sometimes. It’s a really strange liquor from the Norwegian Icelandic communities. One of the things that you do every year with one of your old best friends, you go have a really crazy adventure. You guys backpack around or you mountain bike around volcanos, or you go out to the woods and you canoe a hundred miles. What are you guys doing this year, because I love that you always have this thing at the end of your competitive season, you’re like holy crap, Jami has to go live the life and accomplish a task. What are you thinking about this year for your big person trip?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:52:02] Yeah. I mean just trying not to be a domesticated human. I think that’s really the main reason for these trips. And one of the things that we’ve been talking about this year is not quite nailed down yet, but packrafting would be quite interesting. I read this-

Kelly: [0:52:16] Oh yes.

Juliet: [0:52:17] Yeah, but we have a lot of thoughts on that, Jami, and advice on packrafts.

Kelly: [0:52:22] I think that’s a great idea.

Juliet: [0:52:24] We spend a lot of our free time shopping for packrafts. 

Jami Tikkanen: [0:52:26] Oh, excellent. I read this PDF; these guys did some crazy self-supported trip through Alaska, like most remote location where you can pretty much go on planet Earth. And they did some packrafting there and I was like, oh, that sounds like a good idea. So that’s compelling. Some kind of a packrafting thing. The other plan that’s been going on for many years, COVID kind of ruined the plan, is to just take a helicopter, get dropped somewhere in Norway, and come back. That’s it.

Kelly: [0:52:52] I’ve seen that TV show.

Juliet: [0:52:53] Yeah. It’s run by Joe De Sena. Is this a Joe De Sena thing?

Kelly: [0:52:55] Yeah, and you get to eat fermented, rotted yak carcass. It’s going to be great. Jami, you have been creating content and programming and your site is incredible. Where can people follow what you’re doing and even just follow along?

Juliet: [0:53:13] Yeah, follow your team?

Kelly: [0:53:15] The shenanigans of what you all are building together and this collaboration of what you all have together and the collaboration of all these amazing athletes. Where can people find that?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:53:22] OnlyFans. No. They should not go to OnlyFans. They should go to thetrainingplan.co. They can go to thetrainingplan.com. It takes them to thetrainingplan.co, slightly confusingly. We are also obviously on Instagram and all the social platforms as The Training Plan. Yeah. I recommend definitely come and check it out, see if it’s for you. It’s not for everyone definitely. I mean the approach that we take is try to be systematic about making progress and that’s not suitable for everyone. Some people like things to change all the time but that typically does not lead to a lot of progress, so we like to be systematic, and that means that it’s just not everybody’s cup of tea. But if you’re interested, you should try it.

Kelly: [0:53:58] And what is your home gym location? What is that place?

Jami Tikkanen: [0:54:02] So right now, I’m actually in the office here. It’s actually CrossFit Reykjavik in Iceland. It’s a fantastic gym, great community. Definitely recommend anyone who’s dropping by in Iceland to come by. 

Kelly: [0:54:16] Amazing.

Juliet: [0:54:17] Jami, thank you so much for talking to us today. It’s so fun to see you. 

Kelly: [0:54:20] Can’t wait to hug it out. This is the longest I have been without a Jami sighting.

Juliet: [0:54:23] I know. 

Kelly: [0:54:24] In like 15 years. That’s how long it’s been, my friend.

Jami Tikkanen: [0:54:28] We have to make it happen. Such a pleasure to see you guys.

Juliet: [0:54:29] Too long. 

Kelly: [0:54:30] Good to see you, my friend. Thank you. 

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