MSCF Coach Interview: Katie Hulse

About Katie:

  • Profession: Immunologist.  Was a faculty member at Northwestern University, now works for a big pharma company.
  • Hometown: Waukesha, WI
  • Family: Married, 11 year old son
  • Lives in: Winchester

I assume that everyone who coaches CrossFit is someone who first “got hooked” on CrossFit.  How did you get started?  What got you hooked?
So honestly, it was my very first free trial class. It was exactly what I was looking for;  I had read about it and heard about it and I was looking for something that would be both competitive and friendly.    It’s that competitive friendliness that I really like, as someone who tried to be an athlete for a long time. I had tried running and triathlons and all kinds of stuff since college, but none of that really “fit”.  And CrossFit was, like, instantaneous, like this is for me!  And what I really love about it is there are so many things to learn and to work on. There’s constantly things that you can get better at, right?  And all it really just takes a little bit of dedication and hard work.  I’m the least coordinated person ever, but I learned how to walk on my hands and do a muscle up.  I mean, it wasn’t easy, but I did it. So there’s always a new goal to set, whether it’s  Olympic lifting, or a gymnastics skill, or getting better at double-unders; there’s constantly things to challenge yourself with. I think that’s what I really love about it.

Totally.  One of the things people don’t believe me until they try it is–for something that has you slinging heavy weights around–how cerebral CrossFit is.  There’s an angle to it where having to be so thoughtful about what you’re doing and how you train and how you learn things is, I think  surprising for some people.
I also love how it’s  infinitely scalable, right?  So whether you’re just walking in the door or whether you’ve been there for 10 years, you’re going to get the same level of stimulus and workout.  When I walked in the door, I couldn’t do a pull up, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t do workouts that had pull-ups prescribed in them; I could do other things to build up the strength and the technique.  And now I can do pull-ups. Every exercise has a way to modify it to fit the need of each individual person. 

What was your sport of choice before CrossFit?
Growing up, soccer and basketball were my sports.  I then played roller derby in grad school, which was actually the most fun I’ve ever had on a team sport.  It’s so fun, it was perfect timing for graduate school, like stress relief.   And like I said, I tried running and triathlons, but that didn’t “click.”

For how long have you been coaching now?  And what’s your favorite skill to coach?
I am coming up on five years now;  I have to go renew my Level 1 this year.  And I also have my USA Weightlifting Sports Performance certification, which is basically Olympic lifting.  I love teaching Olympic lifting, and helping people fix all the little things, because it’s not just about strength, it’s about really about technique. And once people learn the proper technique and see how to do it right;  watching them be able to lift heavier weight and do things more efficiently, that’s what I really enjoy.

How about, personally as an athlete, what is  one thing that was extremely hard for you to master, but eventually “clicked” for you?
Double-unders and muscle-ups.  It took me years to get double-unders.  It took me so long to get them, and it was all about coordination and timing and I just could not, could not get it.  And it was an accumulation of lots of things over time, but I found videos on the Internet and asked every coach and everyone I knew for tips, and eventually I found a video about the “penguin clap”?  And that became my go-to drill, and whenever I feel I’m losing them, I drop the rope and do a few penguin claps, and I’m back.  And Fred just gave me a good tip this past week when he saw my left hand drifting, and he had me put my arms in a little band and then I got 60 in a row.
For muscle-ups, it was just determination and drills.  Low bar drills, jumping muscle-ups, and once I got closer, doing them with a band, helping me feel how to open my hips up.  I’m still sporadic at them, but if I get in a band, I know how to get that feeling back and I’ll know when I do that first swing whether I’ve got them or not.  There’s also a drill with the adjustable pull up bar and putting your feet on a box to help you get your hips up and work on the turnover.

Let’s talk about helping athletes new to CrossFit: what are  the one or two things  that you wish you had known when you were first getting started?
Really emphasizing that scaling isn’t a bad thing.  The idea that it doesn’t make the workout any easier is really key.  I know that I always felt like “oh, I’m [just] going to do this scaled,” but what I should have been thinking was “you got a good workout!  You got the right stimulus and you got stronger and you got better in that amount of time.”  So, I think it’s  important for new people to understand and for us coaches to say repeatedly, scaling doesn’t mean it’s less. Yes, it means you’re changing some component of the workout to match your skill set.

Yes, I’m with you on the whole stimulus side of it.  Like, if you try to Rx Fran before you’re ready, you might finish it, but you’ll go too slowly, and the whole point of that workout is to go as fast as you can and as close to unbroken as you can, and to have it leave you in a puddle on the floor.
Exactly–and then to get Fran cough a minute after you’re done. [Laughing]

So what about more experienced athletes?  What should they be thinking about?
Two things. One is that you don’t have to go heavy every day. Sometimes it’s more important to make sure you’re refining your technique and not putting  90 percent of your one rep max on the bar every time you go out to do squats or deadlifts or whatever.  Sometimes it’s it’s better to dial it back and really dial in those little pieces that will make you better in the long run.  Not every day has to be a max-out day.  There’s a reason why we prescribe things at 60 to 70 percent or a moderate weight; it’s not going to hinder your progress. It’s going to actually help you.  And the other is that I don’t think people appreciate rest days. Rest days are really important for helping you to get stronger,  to recover, to prevent injuries. So you can be in it for the long haul.     

How about nutrition?  What is your best nutrition tip or piece of advice for someone who is paying more attention to what they eat?
You need carbs to build muscle and to recover.  Carbs are not bad; they’re really good for you.    I use an online coach, and I eat a ton of food.  I just eat all the time basically, and like, 60 percent of my diet is carbs.  They don’t make you fat, and they help you build muscle, and they help you sleep and recover.  So I think–especially for women–don’t be afraid to eat some carbs.  It’s not like “you have to go to the gym and earn your food,” it’s “you need to eat to fuel yourself to do well in the gym.”  It’s not a punishment or a reward–it’s your fuel source.

What about losing motivation?  Even though CrossFit is interesting and great, it’s still possible to get down and not want to be in the gym.  What’s your advice for someone who just has “the blahs”?
Finding something you can focus on that isn’t necessarily a performance goal?  So, maybe you don’t feel like you’re going to crush the workout today, but you can still come in and work on  perfecting one thing about whatever it is you’re doing that day.  Maybe you’re just going to make sure that every rep looks good;  finding that one little thing can motivate you to get through it.  And my other thing, at least for me personally, is knowing that I always feel better when I go. I always feel better when I go.  So if I’m waking up, to coach at five thirty, or to work out at five thirty, most days when I wake up, I don’t want to get out of bed.    But I know that if I get out of bed and go, I will feel better the rest of the day if I do that.  So it’s always worth it to just get up and go, even if I know it’s not going to be my best day, which is fine because that only happens sporadically anyway.

Totally.  So, one weird thing that is new for us all is that many of us have had to be away from the gym when we didn’t want to be, because of COVID.  And now we’re looking at coming back, and that’s hard.  What’s your advice for someone who just hasn’t been in the gym for a long time, and is maybe worried about having lost a lot of progress?
What worked for me, was, thinking about it as “setting a new baseline.”  So we’re going to get back to the gym, we’re going to see where we’re at, right?  One of my first workouts when I came back was D.T.  I love barbell cycling, and D.T. is  my favorite benchmark to do. So shortly after we were allowed to be back in the gym, I did D.T. and I was like, I don’t know, 90 seconds to two minutes slower than my fastest time?  So I said, okay, that was expected. And so here’s my new baseline;  now I know where I’m starting from and I can retest in six months and see where I’m at then.  It’s how we frame it.  Yeah, you probably lost some strength and you maybe lost some of those finer skills, but you haven’t lost muscle memory, you haven’t lost everything; you’ll relearn it faster than you learned it the first time.  It’ll come back faster. And we can use this as an opportunity to say, here’s where I’m at.  And maybe it’s a good thing to start to take a step back again.  We can refine our technique, and see if–in six months or a year–are we better off than we were,  can we be better off than even we were before the shutdown? Set it as a goal.

I think that’s great advice–think about it with a diagnostic mindset, not with a deficit mindset.      So to wrap up, what’s one that you really like to do for fun, when you’re not in the gym?
. . . . [Silence]. . . . I mostly like Olympic Lifting?  [Laughter]

OK, that’s cool–you’re allowed to double-down on that.
[Laughter]  And I really like to read a lot.

So you joined the gym during this crazy year: what brought you to Winchester?
We moved here in May.  I’m an immunologist.  Before I came here, I was a faculty member at Northwestern University and now I work for one of the big pharma companies.


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