Featured Coach: Eva Twardokens, Part 3 – Demon-Free and Future Bright

Eva Twardokens, world-class skier and original CrossFitter, shares how Olympic weightlifting rid her of her competition demons and how she coaches her clients to be their best.

Welcome to our third and final installment in our feature interview with U.S. Ski Hall of Fame Member Eva Twardokens. So far we’ve learned about Eva’s accomplishments as a world-class skier and then her evolution into a coach herself alongside the birth and growth of CrossFit, but what we haven’t talked about are the demons competing in the Olympics left behind.

Talking about her years on the U.S. Ski Team, Eva shared:

I was a successful ski racer, but I didn’t get a win under my terms. Meaning, I didn’t win the gold medal; I didn’t get to do the kind of training I wanted to do. It was all managed by the U.S. Ski Team and it was kind of a more is best attitude and I really think that most years that I ski raced I was burnt out. I was young but I just did too much. They had us do too much.

After retirement and discovering CrossFit, Eva had the honor of working with CrossFit’s Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). In particular, Eva developed a love of Olympic weightlifting. She began training regularly with coach Mike Burgener, traveling monthly from Santa Cruz to train with him and his team in Southern California. Eventually, Burgener convinced Eva to compete. Not only did she compete, but she won her division at the National level.

The Olympic weightlifting was a lot about getting rid of some demons. Which was getting a lot of second and third places in the world, which is awesome, but if you’re getting top five in the world all the time you want the wins – you’re capable of the wins. For the Olympic weightlifting it was just getting rid of the need to win on my own terms. The biggest part was the journey, managing my own thing. And the second part was the feeling of winning and doing it.

Now, as a trainer at CrossFit Central Santa Cruz, Eva works with others helping them reach their athletic potential and lead healthy lives. For her, this is her true passion in life, based on a lifetime of pursuing athletics herself:

It’s my passion – learning the knowledge and sharing the knowledge. And also part of that goes with that is I have a unique knowledge and experience that I can share with my clients. I don’t think it’s anything you can see, it’s not like, “Oh, Eva teaches the clean in a different way.” It’s more something that my clients can feel. I love teaching people. I love seeing the smile on their face when they learn something new, when they’ve accomplished something, and I think that I just like to help people. I like to do it in something that I’m kind of a geek about, which is fitness and health. That’s my drive in the real sense.

And while Eva has a unique understanding of intensity and mental toughness, coming from world-class competition, she doesn’t push her clients like she used to push herself:

I don’t really push my clients to that point that much anymore. I don’t feel like it’s necessary. I think it’s necessary with safe movements and certain modalities, but I don’t need them to do it in movements that are highly technical, or even with a lot of weight. I have started to do more segregation with my training. If we’re going to lift heavy, we’re going to lift heavy. When we’re going to do a WOD, we’re going to combine the movements so they’re safe. And if we’re going to do metabolic conditioning I would like to see you do sprint intervals, on the bike, on the rower, or running. After a strength workout I still will put together a little mini-WOD and have them work hard for five minutes, but it’s not like I’m going to look at them and go, “You know you have to do it like I do it.” Or like I used to – I don’t even go glycolytic that much anymore. That’s when they get their mixed modality training in and they get a little CrossFit in, but it’s usually short. I try to keep it very callisthenic-like – we’ll do thrusters with dumbbells, or cleans with the bar if they’re going to have to rep it out, but I keep it very, very simple.

Eva has seen the extremes of fitness and athletics. From years on the U.S. Ski Team where she endured injury and overtraining, to working with elderly and/or deconditioned clients who just need to learn how to move. As both an athlete and a coach, Eva has amassed a unique knowledge of what it means to be a good coach.

Eva’s Advice to New Coaches:

  1. The first advice I would give is if you get to the point where it’s like, “Should we do another round, should we do another rep, should we do another something?” My advice is not to do it. Undertraining is always, even for a professional athlete, going to be more effective than overtraining. So, if I see my client has a funny look on their face, like they’re not sure about the next something we’re going to do, and I say, “Hey, you want to take one more run?” And they’re like, “I’m not sure, what do you think?” I’m like, “we’re done. We’re out of here.” The benefit you get from that one extra thing is usually not worth the risk of them not having their mind in the game, or being fatigued, or even going up and skiing another run and being so tired that they ski crappy and all the whole session I’ve done with them, we’ve worked on technique, and they’ve gone back to their old habits. It’s risky in that way.
  2. Try to get people moving well. If someone’s doing an overhead lift and they’re not getting it overhead, they’re really just getting it strong at not getting overhead. You’re training the muscles to not be overhead, you’re training the muscles to be forward of overhead. You’re reinforcing them and strengthening them to stop at that stopping point. It’s not practice makes perfect, it’s perfect practice makes perfect.
  3. Encourage your clients to get the hell out of the gym. I know that’s counterproductive to my income, but as a consultant that’s some of the best advice I can give. Find your sport, find your outdoor thing, walk, whatever it is – just don’t get too stuck in the garage gym. Use the benefits you’re getting here for something else.
  4. Know what your clients are there for. Don’t treat them like a CrossFit Gamer if they’re there just to be healthy. There’s no reason. If they want to do the CrossFit Games, of course you’ll train them differently, but know what they want and make sure you’re doing what they want, not what you perceive they want, or what you perceive they should want. Do what they want.

These days depending on the weather, you might find Eva out on the ocean surfing, anywhere along the coast from Santa Cruz to Baja, Mexico. Or you might find her out on the hills riding her dirt bike. Regardless, you can be sure Eva is up to something. How does Eva see her life playing out?

I don’t know where I’m going. My life has taken so many turns. You come to a moment of desperation and something comes along that saves you, something new. Who knows I might end up working in the computer industry or I might end up being an actress. I don’t know what the future holds for me, I just do live with the hope that opportunities come around every corner. I love my life right now, if I could live it like I have been right now for the next fifty years, I would do it.

For more about Eva:

Featured Coach: Eva Twardokens, Part 1 – Growing Up on Skis

Featured Coach: Eva Twardokens, Part 2 – The Evolution

To follow Eva’s workouts here on Breaking Muscle follow this link:

Strength & Conditioning Workouts from Eva Twardokens

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