Rick Scarpulla: Become an Ultimate Athlete

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Coach Rick Scarpulla, creator of the Ultimate Athlete Training Program, is a highly sought after and hugely successful coach working with and training top athletes on a daily basis. He is considered by many as one of the nation’s best in the field. As both athlete and coach, Coach Scarpulla has studied under and is affiliated with some of the world’s top speed and strength coaches and athletes — from the youngest athletes all the way up to Olympians and NFL professionals and more — for over 30 years. He still studies daily to continue to improve his education and is always striving to improve his knowledge and skills.

Coach Scarpulla shared with us his insights into CrossFit and the importance of a primary focus on training as an athlete before becoming a specialist.

What is your background as an athlete and as a coach?

As an athlete, I have been a strength athlete for about thirty years and have been competitive for twenty-five of those years. I am still competing as a Master’s athlete in the 220-lb weight class. Although I have not competed in the last year and a half, hopefully in the spring I will be back again. With gear, my bench is around 600lbs, and my raw bench is at 440 lb. That’s at a bodyweight of 206.

I also do lots of work with the Special Olympics, working on powerlifting and training. Athletics has given me so much in my own life, so it is very important to me to give back to other communities as well.
In fact, this past Monday [10/8/12] I put up a 485-lb floor press and a 295 lb military press (shoulder press). Not bad for a guy turning 51 relatively soon; I’ll take it! I’d say I’m one of  the top 50-55 year old 205-220 weight classes lifters in the country right now. At my current (lighter) bodyweight, my current goals are to squat over 700 lbs by the spring and to get my bench back up above 600 lbs.

As a coach, this is my 11th year as the head coach of the Army PowerLifting team at West Point. I am a certified Nike/SPARQ coach, and I am also a certified Westside Barbell coach. I am lucky to have been working with athletes all day every day for the las 15+ years at my Training Center in Orange County, New York — one of the top Training Centers on the East Coast.

I also do lots of work with the Special Olympics, working on powerlifting and training. Athletics has given me so much in my own life, so it is very important to me to give back to other communities as well.

How did you hear about CrossFit and when? What were your initial thoughts?

This is a good story, actually. It was a few years ago when Louie Simmons [of Westside Barbell] called me up to tell me that he was doing some powerlifting certifications for CrossFit. He tells me, “It’s all the kind of stuff that you’re doing…” At first I was thinking that it was something like Insanity or P90-X, and he said, “Not really.”

At my facility we call “met-cons” warrior training. There was a strong CrossFitter who visited us and told us we should rename our warrior training “death-cons.”
And it is actually very similar to how we train. Though we weren’t calling it “CrossFit” or doing events, it was the same style of stuff. It looked just like what we were doing, except that we do it a lot heavier. So I looked into it and Lou asked me to do some certifications out of Westside with him. That was how I met CrossFit, and the rest is history. Some of the people who came to the certifications called me afterward to say they appreciated my coaching and started asking me to do seminars at their affiliates. Since then I have been successfully working with countless CF athletes and facilities and doing our Ultimate Athlete seminars almost every weekend all over the country. In fact, I am heading to Hong Kong to do a 2-week tour including an event for Reebok.

Many people — including myself — think my Ultimate Athlete program is absolutely the best program for functional CrossFit training.

At my facility we call “met-cons” warrior training. There was a strong CrossFitter who visited us and told us we should rename our warrior training “death-cons.” True story.

Describe your approach to how athletes should approach training for CrossFit.

You need to become an athlete FIRST, and then become a sport-specific performer, such as a CrossFitter, a football player, a soccer player, a swimmer. You will perform better if you focus on athleticism first, then sport-specific skills.

The greater the level of non-sport specific athletic ability you can gain, the greater the sport-specific performance, and thus the higher the level you will be able to achieve.

So for example, let’s say we had 200 athletes and wanted to test them in strength, speed, agility, endurance, reaction, and whatever other physical tests we can think of. If we took the top 10 athletes out of the 200 and had them compete against the bottom 10, the top 10 will always win. Why? Because they are better athletes. Athletes are built, not born.

Every single sport practices situational play — you don’t play the whole game over and over at practices…. CrossFitters need to approach the game similarly and work “situational” parts of their training. 
Everyone has athletic potential — some more than others, of course. Where and how you develop your athletic potential will determine what your sport-specific performance will be. For example, take a sprinter who wants to improve his 100-yard dash time. You’ll only get so much better if all you ever did was continue to run the entire 100-yard dash again and again. But if you broke it down and trained the start, the middle, and the finish, the sum of the parts will become greater than the whole. You have to be able to strengthen the parts vs. focusing on the whole all the time.

Every single sport practices situational play — you don’t play the whole game over and over at practices. Baseball players work on turning a double play from third base; football linebackers practice dropping into coverage in the flat; swimmers work the start off the blocks. CrossFitters need to approach the game similarly and work “situational” parts of their training to practice a start, middle, and a finish.

If you are faster, stronger, more agile, and have better endurance, your CrossFit performance will increase.
If those three parts each made up 33 1/3% of your overall strength, and you built up each part separately to 40%, then the sum of the parts would be 120% and greater than the whole, which is obviously a better result than training singularly in a full fashion. That’s how the top athletes are training; I guarantee the top athletes in CrossFit are not just following mainsite WODs every day.

You have to work on becoming a better athlete in order to become a better CrossFitter, no question whatsoever. If you are faster, stronger, more agile, and have better endurance, your CrossFit performance will increase.

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