How to Train Like Kari Pearce

From diet tips to training programs, we caught up and talked shop with the second-place athlete in the 2017 CrossFit Games Open.

Jenessa Connor April 18, 2017


You wouldn’t know it from her second-place spot on the 2017 Open leader board, but Kari Pearce is still learning about the sport of CrossFit. Formerly a competitive gymnast and bodybuilder, Pearce took a couple of years to adapt to CrossFit’s demanding mix of metcons and heavy lifting. “Me and the barbell weren’t exactly friends,” she explained in a recent interview. After placing 38th in the squat clean pyramid during last year’s Games, she realized she needed to up her strength and focus on cycling the barbell.

But Pearce knows that strength alone won’t get you to the Games, much less earn you a spot on the podium. With the guidance of her longtime coach, she’s employing a holistic training strategy that accounts for everything from her nutrition plan to her breathing patterns. Lucky for us, she shared a few pointers from her playbook.

Make Sleep Nonnegotiable

“I love sleep,” Pearce says. (So much so that she recently partnered with the smart mattress company ReST Performance.) She never gets less than eight or nine hours if she can help it, and she doesn’t understand why some athletes brag about running on minimal rest. “Our bodies were meant to rest and recover, and if you don’t get that, your muscles are fatigued and they’re not going to be performing like they should. And even your mental focus isn’t going to be there if you’re not rested and ready to go,” she says.

Eat to Perform

Pearce’s background in bodybuilding already had her eating clean, but she quickly learned that eating for performance is different from eating for appearance. Renaissance Periodization, her nutrition company, immediately removed some of the protein from her diet and added more fat and carbs. (“I eat oatmeal, like, four times a day,” she says with a laugh.) She also drinks sugar and protein during her workouts, and contrary to conventional wisdom, she eats right before bed to fuel her recovery.

Breathe Deliberately

One of the biggest mistakes she sees other CrossFitters make is failing to breathe properly. Or at all. “I see so many people holding their breath and tensing up,” she says. “When I gauge a workout and I think about my strategy for the workout, I think about where I can place breathing.” For example, if a WOD includes thrusters, she’ll make a mental note to breathe at the top of every thruster when the barbell is overhead.

Don’t Walk Away

For all her training and accomplishments, Pearce isn’t immune to bad workouts. For her, 17.1, with its seemingly endless dumbbell snatches and burpee box jump-overs, was the low point of this year’s Open. She got through it by focusing on her breathing and taking the WOD one rep at a time. But she also has a rule about never stepping away from the workout to rest. “If I stop for too long, I don’t want to go again,” she says.

Get a Coach

Having a coach program her workouts has been a game changer for Pearce. Handing over the reins frees up more time for training and recovery. But more important, her training has become more comprehensive and well-rounded since enlisting the help of a coach. Formerly a personal trainer, she used to create her own schedule, but inevitably, her workouts would get repetitive or favor the lifts she liked best. Now she follows direction and covers all her bases.

Or Pick One Training Program — and Stick to It

If hiring a coach isn’t feasible, Pearce recommends picking one reputable program — Invictus, CompTrain or Misfit Athletics, for example — and sticking to it. In others words, don’t jump from one plan to the next or try to blend multiple programs by cherry-picking WODs. “Each program is great by itself,” Pearce explains. “Mixed, you’re going to end up overtraining or you’re going to miss some key components.”


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About the Author

Jenessa Connor

Jenessa Connor is a freelance writer and NASM Personal Trainer. She’s a proud member of CrossFit 718 in Brooklyn, New York. When she’s not at the box, she’s playing Scrabble with her husband and two cats. (They help judge challenges.) You can read her blog at

www.jenessaconnor.com.