Josh Bridges: Mentally tough

Jamie Shane
Photographer: Jamie Shane
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Josh Bridges

CrossFit builds tough. Athletes train themselves to run faster, lift heavier, and push further — it shows in their physique. Deeply layered musculature sculpted into broad, curving planes demonstrates the versatile and unique physical gifts of the CrossFit training program. Across the board, in the body of every CrossFit competitor, we can see their dedication just by looking.

But what might be less obvious is the mental training that walks hand-in-hand with the physical routines. It takes mental fortitude to dedicate oneself to this discipline. Outside of the rigorous workouts, there are nutritional and lifestyle considerations. There is the sacrifice of time and energy. And there is the ever-present battle with the desire to stop running, to put down the bar, to just give up on the WOD and lay down. To be a CrossFit competitor, one must have mental fortitude in spades. And no competitor speaks to this as eloquently as Josh Bridges—his mental artillery helped catapult him to top of the leaderboard and a stellar 4th place finish at this year’s Games.

“The mind is a powerful thing; it can help you get through tough times, or it can cause you to crumble. The strong learn how to handle and control their mind when it starts to rant, rave, and tell you to stop what you’re doing,” says Josh.

Bridges came to the sport in 2005, but not with the goal of competing. He joined the ranks of everyday CrossFit athletes simply to get in shape and improve at other things. But he quickly fell in love with the style of the sport and the inherent competitiveness. This affair with CrossFit toughness carried over when he joined the military in 2007, and it gave him a strong foundation of strength and fortitude. These two intertwining experiences of CrossFit and military service helped him to create a philosophy of mental strength that has pushed him to the top of the leaderboard. Josh Bridges does not believe in taking the easy way or the path of least resistance.

“It is the hard stuff that is worth your time and effort. Look at professional athletes, for example. These guys and gals have made countless sacrifices to achieve their goals in life. You think these people roll out of bed and are magically great at their sport? They have paid the price of sweat, blood, and failures that they get up from time and time again. They poured their souls into their respective sport, and it wasn’t the easy route that got them there,” he writes.

Bridges burst onto the competitive scene with an impressive second-place showing in the 2011 Games. He seems to have a never-ending supply of energy, which allows him to tackle endurance events or long, sustained workouts with apparent ease. This gift helped to propel him through the ranks. Josh Bridges quickly became an athlete to watch.

In 2012, however, he was forced to take a year off of competition due to his service obligations. This did not prevent him from doing the Opens workouts overseas, on his own, often with minimal equipment. He did not post his scores, and the workouts were not judged, but in comparison to other top athletes, he would have done very well. On the heels of this quiet victory, in April 2012, Josh suffered a knee injury that could have ended his career permanently.

Suffering from complete tears of his ACL, PCL, MCL and meniscus, Bridges underwent reconstructive surgery and was forced to take time off from most CrossFit movements.

Enter mental fortitude.

He decided to creatively continue his training in any fashion that he could. He focused on movements that did not compromise his knee, such as arms-only AirDyne sprints or one-legged rowing with a skateboard supporting his injured leg. Bridges stayed at it, and stayed tough until he was able to return to regular CrossFit movements and lifts.

“Consistently taking the hard route becomes a habit that helps to ward off weakness. It helps you grow stronger as a person, athlete, mother, father, student, and employee. There are tons of scenarios in your life that you can either choose to use to help yourself or to take the easy way out,” he claims.

This type of thinking brought him back to the 2013 Opens, where he put up a strong showing and
demonstrated that the knee would be no issue. Sitting in first for his region and third worldwide after posting four top ten finishes, Josh Bridges was once again an athlete to watch. He returned to the Games with much fanfare and posted a seventh-place finish. While critics may have expected him to come roaring back into a first or second, the fact that he conquered both time and injury to place at all speaks to his great strength.

Bridges has been working consistently to train to both his strengths and his weaknesses as is evidenced by his latest Games showing. Coming back in 2014, he placed fourth overall in the men’s, showing much improvement in physical strength. Always talented in conditioning and gymnastics, Bridges put extra effort into improving his Olympic lifts, which has rounded out his performance. He placed first as often as Khalipa and Froning in individual events, and put up two more top three performances. He may not have taken the podium this time, but he is showing momentum and will no doubt put in the hard work to keep up the success.

Josh Bridges remains a competitor to watch. He has a great love of the sport, a natural ability, and the mental focus to tackle the tough training required to excel. Put all these factors into play, and 2015 could be Bridges’ big year.

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