CFLA Athlete Profile -Matt Lai
Hometown: New Canaan, Connecticut
Occupation: Investment Consulting + Part-time MBA, middle child
When did you first start CrossFitting?: Wednesday, September 9, 2015. 11am.
When did you first start training at CFLA?: Wednesday, September 9, 2015. 11am.
Favorite WOD: I’m still learning the named ones, but I revel the challenge of Mental Toughness WODs
Least Favorite WOD: ___+ double-unders
Tell us about you sports & fitness background: My twin brother and I tried anything and everything when we were younger – a summer of baseball, basketball camp, skating lessons, 6 months of gymnastics, a truly terrible stint at golf – but the sports I stuck with for longer stretches were soccer, tennis, kung fu, swimming, and rowing. Childhood curiosity, or sports ADD? (Still unanswered.) Eventually, I dropped most sports for music and theater in high school and college, though I continued to run and work out at the gym. After undergrad, my runs lengthened with the gorgeous backdrop of San Francisco, and I tacked on an annual Turkey Trot (10k) every Thanksgiving. I still went to the gym regularly, but without much thought or planning, I didn’t know what in the heck I was doing!
How did you first get exposed to CrossFit? Take us back to your first WOD… what was it, and how did it feel?With so many boxes in SF, I was hearing regularly about my boss’s burpees or my friend’s 6am cleans… but I couldn’t yet bring myself to join. I’d gotten a Cyber Monday deal on a local chain gym and felt I was already meeting some of my fitness goals (read: gain weight). Plus, I took much more pleasure in running outside than lifting in a sterile weight room, so what would be the point? Then fate struck: when I moved to LA last summer for grad school, I parked my U-Haul down the street from CFLA. Might as well give it a shot, Matt pondered as he built his IKEA Malm bed.
First WOD? Oh jeez, it was nuts. Early September in southern California is no joke with the heat, and I can’t recall a time when I’ve sweat so much from a seemingly innocuous workout like the ½ Cindy. Kevin patiently led a partner and me through the Fundamentals sessions, and that first day was 10 minutes of pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats that would eventually convert my cotton tee to a veritable swamp of gross. (About as pretty as it sounds.) Despite all that, I realized I’d never gotten a workout like that from the hours spent doing curls. It was just a ten-minute circuit after some warm-up movements, and it kicked my ass! It was then I knew there was something to this “WOD” thing, and I was eager to get started with regular classes.
What sort of changes have you seen in your body, health and fitness since starting CF (before/after)?
My bod: For one, I can (sparingly, cautiously) call it a bod now. Through my early-20s, I was a rail. Super-quick, half-Asian metabolism tended to crush any hope of muscle development in my earlier years, and isolated exercises at a chain gym only got me so far. Now, I’m finally seeing some results! The variety of activity has really given some shape to previously drab muscles. And much, much more importantly, I’m feeling stronger and more coordinated in my movements. CF’s training regimen and CFLA’s attention to incremental development has really pushed me to try things I normally wouldn’t attempt (lookin’ at you, snatch), and I’ve become much more attuned into my body’s growing strength thanks to regular, varied, and fun workouts.
My health/fitness: You’re asking me this question toward the end of the Whole Life Challenge! But even before WLC, I could tell that my health only improved while adding regular CFLA classes to my schedule. After graduating from Fundamentals, I decided on a whim to go to Kevin’s 7am workout for my first official WOD, more for the comfort of a familiar face than anything else. It was lightyears earlier than the workouts that I’m used to – I used to venture to the gym at 9 or 10 at night – but it made all the difference. That early effort pushed me to attack the rest of my day with a healthy mindset. I would stand more at my desk, bike more often to CVS, or sleep earlier so I could get a good 7+ hours before the morning workout.Even cooler, I’ve felt much more confident in other sports. I get fatigued much slower when I play volleyball, and I just completed my first half-marathon. Maybe I’m just a kale-eating nut soaking up the SoCal vibes for all its worth, but I can say without a doubt that CFLA has greatly helped me reach an athletic peak I haven’t seen before.
What sort of changes in your life have you experienced out of taking on something like CrossFit that were totally unexpected? One of the most intimidating factors about CrossFit is that athletes record their WODs for all to see. This scared me, flat-out. I knew that I wasn’t the strongest, the fastest, or the most flexible person by any stretch, but I was pretty uncomfortable enumerating just how much weaker I was. Hell, it was why I worked out plugged into my playlists at the gym, speaking a cursory hello to the front-desk and then playing the mute gym rat for the next hour or so. CrossFit, and especially the methodology shared by your venerable team at CFLA, changed that. Sure, we put our times/reps/weights up every day, and everyone working out after me will see just how many double-unders I decidedly did not do that morning, but CFLA never failed to put it all into oft-forgotten perspective. ‘Dude, Matt Lai, competition day – go for broke with those extra reps!’ was as common an encouragement as ‘Whoa, you just went for 1RM back-squats yesterday – don’t feel bad about taking it easy today.’ Practice days are truly meant for practice, emphasizing form and quality over quantity or weights. Even competition days were stressed as a competition with myself instead of anyone else. More than anything, it’s helped me on that constant quest to stop comparing myself to others and to be OK with doing my personal best, both inside and outside of the gym.
Please share with us any favorite CrossFit / CFLA moments:
1) CF Open 16.2, which happened four days ago. I’ll never forget how the CFLA family rallied around its athletes, both at the formal Friday nights and at the morning classes. It is such a cool sight to see, and I can’t wait to cheerlead the hell out of the remaining Open workouts.
2) It happens about every day, but I genuinely cherish the small spans before and after class. Even outside the Open, there’s an insane amount of camaraderie fostered by CFLA, and it shows from how much animated conversation happens way before our first rep and long after our last. People stretch, play around with new movements, and generally shoot the shi–.. the stuff. Heck, the coaches even take the time out of their schedule to help you finally get that kipping rhythm. It hits me in these moments that CFLA more a community than a gym. Hard to resist going back every day when you’re a small part of something as special as that.
Any advice for people just getting started? STRETCH. Holy crap, stretch and foam roll. Also, after Fundamentals and when you see a couple different classes, pick one and try to go consistently to that one time slot. I got this advice from a fellow 7am-er at my first fateful class, and it is terrific advice. You’ll get to know your classmates, your coaches, and you’ll more easily get into a routine that you can stick with. So… see you at 7am? Great! Done.*
*Reading this paragraph constitutes a binding contract that cannot be broken at any time. You hereby consent to attend all 7am classes at CFLA, Monday-Friday, and you must sing along to at least one song per month in full. All right reserved.
What are your hobbies, interests and/or talents outside of CrossFit? First and foremost is music, all kinds of music: I sing + play keys/uke/guitar with my friends pretty often and love discovering new artists. The rest of a normal week consists of B-school homework, beach volleyball, and/or reading, but never horror movies. (Heck yes, I’m a wuss.) Outside of LA life, I’ve been extremely lucky to have travelled to all seven continents… now I’m hungry to fill in the gaps. And I’m literally hungry for all the food I haven’t eaten yet. Suggestions/travel buddies always welcome.
“CF Open 16.3”
10 Power Snatches (75/55)
3 Bar Muscle Ups
10 Power Snatches (45/35)
5 Jumping Chest to Bar Pull Ups
Event begins 8am.
No regular classes – all are welcome
1 Deadlift (155/105)
1 Hang Power Clean
1 Front Squat
1 Push Press
Squat cleans (45%)
Sit to stand to box jumps (12/8)