Photo: SuperCleary Photo

For most students, college is a lesson in time management. Between classes, jobs, and extracirriculars, there’s usually not much left to go around. But recent NYU grad Ian Berger thrives in a busy environment. As a full-time student, he found the energy to succeed academically while helping his family open and run their own gym. Even more impressive, he found the time to do all that while competing as one of the world’s top CrossFit athletes.

A former college soccer player, Berger found CrossFit as a way to stay in shape during the offseason. He soon left soccer to compete in CrossFit and quickly forged a name for himself as one of the sport’s most well-rounded athletes. In the two-stage qualification system leading up to the CrossFit Games, Berger has placed in the top 50 in the U.S. North East Region every year since 2011.

Now a co-owner and coach at his family’s gym, O-Side CrossFit in Oceanside, New York, Berger has refocused his training with the ultimate goal of making it to next year’s CrossFit Games championship in Los Angeles. That means the 22 year-old, who deadlifts 585 pounds, will need to get even stronger by improving on some already impressive conditioning. We sat down with Berger to talk training, weaknesses, and why he loves making CrossFit a family affair.

How did you get started competing in CrossFit?

I did my fist competition at CrossFit Hoboken. It was a Winter throwdown, where I got destroyed. But that losing made me hungry to become better and eventually the best.

Are any of your family members CrossFitters? How’d they get involved?

My whole family does CrossFit. My dad started after a visit to the doctor showed he was out of shape and in danger of being prescribed cholesterol pills. He called me and I gave him a CrossFit program to follow, along with advice about the Paleo diet. My mom and sister eventually drank the Kool-Aid and were hooked as well. It’s awesome to have a house full of people who share the CrossFit lifestyle.

In order to qualify for the CrossFit Games, competitors must first compete in the Open and Regional competitions. What were your first experiences with those like, and how do they compare to now?

My first Open and Regionals experiences were a trial by fire. I crushed the Open my first year and entered Regionals in 7th [in 2011], and I was so nervous going into it that I barely slept or ate — all I did was train. I had the mentality that if I wasn’t training, someone else was, and that “more” equaled “better.”

By the time I got to Regional’s, I was so overtrained [that] I was about 15 pounds lighter than my normal weight. When I got to Regional’s, being in the presence of huge-name athletes scared the shit out of me. Before then I had only seen videos of [elite CrossFitters like] Rob Orlando, Dave Lipson, and other athletes of that class.

As hesitant as I am to say this, I’m glad my first Open and Regionals were such a shit-show. It was a learning curve and definitely fired me up to get better.

What are the skills and weaknesses you’re working on most this year?

I am focusing on becoming a better athlete all around. I do exactly what my coach [Jason Leydon] programs for me alongside some other accessory work. My biggest goal this year is to be consistent and execute the way I know I can. The difference in this sport between good and great athletes is consistency; I want to make that transition to where I don’t have any mental lapses or mistakes when competing.

But as for movements, handstand push-ups are one that seem to always kick me in the butt.

How important has it been for you to have a coach, and do you see more elite CrossFitters getting coaches in the near future?

For me, having a coach is amazing. It takes out all of the thinking; I am almost robotic and will do whatever he sends me. I think it’s crucial to have a coach, and I think you have already seen most top athletes start working with coaches. Those who don’t will eventually make the transition. In every other sport there’s a coach, and as CrossFit grows I think it will follow the same pattern.

What do you think is next for CrossFit as a sport?

The next step for CrossFit is to develop a real competition season like most sports as opposed to one mega-event [like the Games]. I think it’s very anticlimactic and leaves athletes training for one event with nothing else to participate in besides local throwdowns.

What’s your favorite CrossFit workout, and what’s the hardest for you?

My favorite workout is probably Helen or Amanda [two of the most popular CrossFit benchmark workouts]. I really like rowing and throwing around heavy weight, too. My least favorite is probably [CrossFit Hero Workout] JT.

Thanks for talking with us, Ian, and best of luck in the coming year!

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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Photos: SuperCleary Photo