Kari Pearce has used TRX training tools for years, first as a gymnast, and now as one of the world’s top CrossFit athletes. This summer, TRX is chronicling Kari’s journey to the CrossFit Games with a weekly series about her training program.
The global fitness community knows Kari Pearce as the competitor who took the CrossFit world by storm in 2015. To clients at Manhattan’s CrossFit Spot, she’s the gymnastics coach who can help anyone—even senior citizens—work their way to a handstand pushup. Pearce is the rare professional athlete who continues to work a day job despite the fact that she could live off partnership deals and prize purses, and she does it because she believes in the power of functional fitness. “I love fitness. I love helping people. Sometimes I enjoy helping more than I enjoy doing it myself,” she says.
“Functional fitness” is a buzzy term in the wellness sector, but it simply means exercise that helps you feel and move better in whatever you do in daily life. Applying that standard to herself, Pearce says, “I enjoy going on hikes. Functional training is anything that will help me with that, like using my TRX straps to get stronger so my legs aren’t tired further into the hike, or using CrossFit to improve my endurance so I can go hiking longer. Even things like boating and water skiing; the stronger I can get, the longer I can last.”
So how do handstands and box jumps translate to everyday movement? According to Pearce, it’s all about improving body control and awareness: qualities that TRX and CrossFit can develop. With both TRX Suspension Trainer™ and CrossFit exercises, difficulty levels are scalable, which helps people build functional fitness skills.
For example, with CrossFit box jumps, participants can choose a larger or smaller box based on their skill level. “At our [studio], we have 6-inch foam boxes,” Pearce explains. “If someone’s scared to do a box jump, we’ll start them on those and slowly increase the height so they are comfortable. There’s always a progression or regression to make sure people are comfortable.” Similarly, she says people can use the TRX Suspension Trainer™ to master new challenges that may seem intimidating. “When they do an air squat, a lot of people compensate with one side. I love having the TRX because it forces people to use the full range of motion.” For Pearce, it’s all about helping each person pursue his or her fitness goals.
Pearce may be one of the biggest names in the sport of fitness, but CrossFit isn’t just a competitive sport for her, it’s a lifestyle. “In gymnastics, when I was 21, I knew I was going to be done, so I was ready to be finished. Right now, I love CrossFit, I love being an athlete, but you never know how long your body is going to hold up. I definitely want to stay in the fitness industry, whether that’s competing or it’s coaching.” While she recognizes that she may not compete forever, she only has to look to her clients to see that anyone, at any age, can do CrossFit. “The other day we had a 65-year-old do a handstand pushup for the first time,” she says. (According to Pearce, the woman was so happy she started crying.) “When I get that old, I hope I can still do things like that.”
On the competition side, Pearce measures success in terms of her improvement or overall ranking. As a coach, success comes from watching her clients achieve their goals and improve their quality of life. “Last year, I was away for two weeks. When I left, one of the members at our gym couldn’t do an overhead squat with the barbell. When I came back, he was overhead squatting with a hundred pounds, and said, ‘Kari, I’m so excited. You won’t believe what I just did.’ At the start, [some clients] get tired playing with their kids, but six months later, they’re like, ‘You won’t believe what I did! I can keep up with them now.’ Just seeing the smiles on their faces and knowing that you’re making their life better is so rewarding.”