In continuing to connect with our community during these challenging times, we recently spoke with Johnny Mears (CF-L3) CFHQ Seminar Staff. Johnny is a long-time athlete and incredibly knowledgeable coach, and he offers solid guidance for how to stay fit, healthy, and happy — even in the midst of chaos.

TWL x Johnny Mears

What’s the most important thing people need to remember right now?

First, I’d like to say during this time of fear and uncertainty, be kind to yourself. No, you might not have access to all the things you did at the gym. Your diet might be a little funky. Yes, fear and stress affect everything in your body. Just know that with all this going in, your body might not feel as good, you have to get very creative (I’ll help with that), and as long as we eat good most of the time, the slips won’t matter as much.

Tell us a little more about your background.

Here we go! I have been working in the fitness game a long time (almost 30 years, sheesh). I am a CrossFit guy, but I understand all types of training. I am very lucky to have been doing CF for some time (10 years), and have amassed a quite extensive home gym.

I have adjustable dumbbells (5-50#), which really help with space. Kettlebells, slam balls, medicine balls, pull up/squat rig for the lifting. For the cardio, I have an Assault Bike, Concept 2 Rower, Concept 2 Ski Erg, jump rope, and feet for running.

johnny working with dumbbells

What’s one of the biggest challenges you’re noticing with athletes at the moment?

Here is a question I get a lot online: “Coach, I don’t have a lot of weight. What do I do to get strong?” I can tell ya that what a lot of you have now is time!

What I really mean is that time is something to play with. Maybe it’s time under tension or tabata intervals. Think of how to make light weight feel very heavy. A good example of this is tempo lifting. Let’s say, for example, you’re doing a dumbbell goblet squat and the tempo is going to be a 45×1.

The first number is the time you spend in the eccentric (lowering/lengthening of the muscle) phase, so, 4 seconds down. The second number is the hold (pause) at the bottom of the squat, so, 5 seconds. The third is the concentric time (or “up” phase/shorting of the muscle). “x” means stand fast.

The last number is how long you wait between reps. A 1 usually means a second, or one breath.

Now, when you slow things down, you spend more time under tension and get fatigued much quicker. You will also find better positions in your lifts, as well as more muscle fiber recruitment. Strength will go through the roof.

Here is another example of tempo. Let’s go 5/10/5/1 for 2 reps of a squat. You will descend for 5 seconds, hold in the bottom for 10 seconds, on the way up you will move slow and take 5 seconds to stand all the way up, take a big breath, and do it again! I’m sweating just typing that.

You can use tempos for pretty much any lift and even gymnastics.

coach johnny home gym
Using bands and kettlebells to increase the challenge

The other way to play with time is intervals. Some we may know, and others may be new. Here are a few:

  • 30 on/30 off
  • 1 min on/1 min off
  • 1:1 work rest
  • EMOM
  • Tabata

When the time domain is shorter, the intensity usually goes up. A 30/30 means 30 seconds of work followed by 30 seconds of rest. This is REALLY bad on a rower or Assault Bike, but it can be used with jump ropes and burpees, and many other things.

1:1 can be really good for middle duration, like a 400-meter run. Say it takes 1:45, then you rest 1:45 and repeat as many times as you like. Depending on the time and intensity, that number can change. For instance, a 40-meter sprint will need more rest than the time it takes to run… could be 1:5.

On the other end, mile repeats could be less rest than time to complete, so 2:1 or 4:1.

EMOM means Every Minute On the Minute. These can be every 2M, E3M, and on and on. It’s a great way to get a cardio response without as much muscle fatigue. For example, EMOM 10 minutes do 20 squats.

You can alternate an EMOM’s minutes. For instance, on minutes 1/3/5/7/9 do 10 burpees. Then, on minutes 2/4/6/8/10, do 15 kettlebell swings.

Lastly, let’s talk Tabata. A Tabata is 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, and that is repeated 8 times. Developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata, it’s a way to get the most out of your cardiovascular and muscular system in a short time. One 8-round Tabata takes 4 minutes. You can pick one movement, and it’s devastating. You can also mash it up. Try burpees and kettlebell swings, alternating each round for 16 rounds.

Be careful of your volume. Just because it’s bodyweight doesn’t mean it’s not destructive, or redundant. I see a lot of people doing pushups, lunges, and burpees by the 100s a week. That is a lot of volume.

coach johnny home gym setup
Johnny’s home gym setup

While you may be missing your crew, remember, if you’re going to work out, “Go hard!” Whatever that means for your particular training style. Let’s not use excuses of “I need someone to push me,” or “I don’t have a ______ (insert equipment).”

The other thing is don’t cherry pick your workouts. I am very fortunate to be on the CrossFit HQ Level 1 Seminar Staff. One thing we mention in lectures is, “You have more to gain by diving headlong into your weaknesses, than you do your strengths.” Don’t just pick workouts you’re good at. Do whatever is placed before you. Now, I understand if you can’t do certain movements at home. In that case, just substitute it.

What has it been like training on your own lately?

I feel that I have enough coaching experience that I can work out alone and know what I am doing. I do film certain movements that are more technical or difficult for me. I also join in my gym’s Zoom classes a few times a week. I go pretty hard on my own, but it’s amazing how much harder I’ll go when there is a camera and group of people. Even if it’s virtual, I go harder.

What’s keeping you motivated?

I am motivated by the fact that there are so many people trying so hard to be fit right now! I love scrolling through social media and seeing all you people doing the thing, with whatever you have. I try to make positives out of everything. At the end of the day, when I stretch and watch TV, I know I earned that fatigue and ability to zone out to some Shudder TV (huge fan of horror).

Guys, stay positive, do something, doesn’t have to be perfect, just move your body. Move it fast, move it slow, don’t move at all sometimes.

Be sure to connect with Johnny on Instagram for more guidance, motivation, and training tips.