With impressive global following and competitions, CrossFit has taken the fitness industry by storm. TotalSUP had a unique opportunity to cut through the hype and talk with Pascal Bleys, Fanatic Team Rider, Endurance SUP Athlete and CrossFit Champion, to look how stand up paddlers could benefit from cross-training workouts.
Hi Pascal, massive congratulations on your SUP 11 City Tour Grand Masters Bronze your Belgian Obstacle Racing Champ Title! Your Instagram profile resonates with pure energy, power and catching enthusiasm! From endurance SUP racing, obstacle course racing to CrossFit and strength coaching, to name just few disciplines you’re involved with – what drives you as such a multifaceted elite athlete?
I just like adventure and collecting memories, doing things that are important to me and give meaning to my life. Exploring new things and challenge myself is something I pursue every day. Monotony would kill me. I was born in late 60s but I’m a product of the 80s, I started doing sports when I was five and I have never stopped since. My parents were not sporty but they gave me a chance to try everything. I had one of the first skateboards in the 70s, the first BMX (inspired by the ET movie) and a windsurfing board in the early 80s (F2 Comet).
I tried everything from horse riding, football to diving, you name it, I tried it all. The people who inspired me the most when I was young where Rocky and Arnold. Some of the sports I liked, others I did not. That is still the way it goes today. I see a challenge in new sports and learning new skills. The fun of getting better in something is my biggest drive. And at the end, competing with better athletes gives me a lot of joy, a feeling of being alive.
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CrossFit has exploded globally. What’s the secret in your opinion to this fitness regimen with its WODs, dubbed the world’s most beautifully addictive workouts?
I think that the secret of CrossFit is the community and the variation of workouts and how effective it is. You never train alone and everybody motivates you. You can scale every workout and it can be done by anyone. The workouts are never the same so expect the unexpected: a combination of weightlifting, gymnastics, athletics and much more. The movements are functional and done under high intensity. The purpose is to build your power and conditioning to make you an allround athlete. One of the key aspects of CrossFit is that everybody knows everyone, it’s a one big family within which we’re motivating each other, it’s different than in regular gyms.
How did you come into CrossFit? Could you give us a little bit more background to the sport?
I was working in Antwerp about 8 years ago and that’s where I saw the first CF Box at CrossFit Antwerpen. I think they were the pioneers in Belgium. I was curious, dropped in and loved it from the start. Old school training in a new format. Sandbags, kettlebells, ropes …. That was the way I had already trained for years, but now it was in a group and on high intensity. Challenging yourself in every aspect of the training, seeing your name and score on the whiteboard…I had a blast, the concept of competing with yourself and training partners on an everyday basis, amazing!
CrossFit was developed in 1995 by Greg Glasmann in the United States. In 2007 the first CrossFit games where held. Combining power and conditioning in one, done under high intensity variation is the key. You train power, balance, flexibility, speed and much more (there are 10 key points). Mix the exercises and techniques in different order and your workout will never be the same. The result is priority. There is no trying in CrossFit … you either do CrossFit or you don’t and do that as often as possible. Try and learn new sports. Stop moving, start training.
You’re a renowned SUP racer and endurance paddler. When did you discover the sport of stand up paddleboarding?
About 6 years ago I saw a picture of a guy standing on a paddleboard. He looked like he was walking on water, pretty close. I had to try that so I went to the store the next day and bought a 12’6” racing board. When I was checking out YouTube for the right SUP technique I came across the SUP 11 City Tour video. It was October and the race had just finished but I accepted the challenge and had a year to prepare for the next edition. Before the year was over I changed my board to a 14” board, that was more my thing. I trained every single day and did my first race in April. I swam a lot too and had two bruised ribs but I kept going and in August I was on the podium of the Belgian SUP Championships. I found my new sport, a keeper!
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Could you tell us more about your collaboration with the Fanatic brand and becoming the Fanatic SUP Team Rider?
A year went fast, and I finally got to compete in the SUP 11 City Tour. What an epic race, ambience and friendly people! I was hooked on that race, became 12th overall. This is where I met the Fanatic team and Herman van den Berg, also known as the Boardguru. He is the Benelux distributor of Fanatic and Ion and a sponsor of some Dutch athletes. He is a great guy, sincere and genuine. We clicked right away and I have been on the Fanatic team ever since. They have been supporting me for several years now. A few times a year we get together for training, racing or just hanging out. But the highlight of the year for me is the 11 City Tour.
Herman rents a nice, loft-style house near the lake for the whole week. A whole week surrounded by friends and good athletes, what more could you wish for? I can say they are like a family to me. I have done the 11 City Tour 5 times now, next year 2020, a few team members and myself are going to do the nonstop challenge.
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How does CrossFit and high intensity workouts translate into stand up paddleboarding training?
The workouts are flexible and short you can do them alongside your normal SUP training, even at the same time, next to the waterside. The training efficiency is high. The afterburn effect keeps or makes you sharp, balancing out your weight and building toned muscle mass. There is no loss of muscle tissue. It improves your conditioning, allround physique and makes you stronger. A stronger core/midline (the power block of your body) is what you need and it’s very important for SUP athletes.
So, the combination of variations, high intensity in functional movements makes you paddle fit, gives you mental toughness, allowing to learn to deal with fatigue and push the boundaries. In my case (I’m 50 years old) the high intensity exercise is the best way to converse the aerobic capacity as you age. If you continue to perform quality high intensity workouts as you get older, you are able to maintain your VO2max for 10 years.
Where should beginners start with CrossFit?
Search for a box where you feel good vibes. Check out the coaches and ask around about their skills and start with basic exercises. Be patient. A good foundation is King. Do your homework. Check out TeamRichey, a great couple I know who share great CrossFit info! Google, read, listen to podcasts what CrossFit is all about. Learn about CrossFit WODs (Workout of the Day), abbreviations, food, exercises and more. Enjoy the ride of learning new things and skills. Focus on getting better but don’t exaggerate, be patient and take your rest!
What are your tips on structuring CrossFit workouts to get paddlers ready for a race?
Start with some basic lifts as squats and deadlifts. The hormonal response will make you stronger. Learn all about kettlebells. They are the Swiss knife of fitness tools! Swing them for a strong core/midline and a strong lower back. Learn to use them properly and ask an expert, not some YouTube shit.
Try strongman exercises. Run, SkiErg and row for your endurance training and finish with a WOD. Mix long sessions with short ones. Go beyond your limit, it will make you mentally stronger. But one of the most important things is to do it on regular basis, consistency is key. Pay the man!!!
What’s your motto when things get really hard when training and competing?
Keep going, the rest is also suffering but I’m not the one who is going to break. Keep going, stroke by stroke, step by step. It’s only your mind that wants you to stop. And to be honest, this is not suffering, yes you sweat and have some lactate and you are tired but suffering is when they shoot off your arm in a war. In a few hours you’re going to feel comfy again and drink a hot chocolate in your sofa in front of the fireplace. So shut up and keep going, nobody cares, the finish line is waiting for you. That is my mantra and keeps me going. As an endurance athlete you know bad moments will come but they also go away so you get to learn to deal with them. By the way, I can only do that kind of crazy challenges because I feel good in my daily life and have a loving family. The more I suffer in races, the more I can appreciate my life outside of competing.
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What’s the next challenge in the pipeline?
This year is going to be epic. The new thing I’m going to try this year is cross-country skiing. Going to participate in the 90k ultra Vasaloppet in Sweden. This sport is perfect as an alternative activity for SUP in Winter. January kicks off with Snow Bike Festival in Switzreland and fat bike racing in the Alpine village of Gstaad. Then the OCR (Obstacle Course Race) European Championship in Italy followed by the Qualifier for the ultra 50 Spartan Race in Morzinne, France. Then the Brompton World Championship, a fun race on the iconic Brompton Folding Bike with 600 competitors. The Salomon Serpent Trail 100k Ultra Marathon and the SUP 11 City Tour nonstop. The Grand to Grand Ultra, the 270k race through Grand Canyon. Roc Du Maroc 2020, an extreme 666 km in 6 days MTB marathon through Marocco to finish the season off with Spartan Ultra World Championship in Sweden. Also, in May 2020, we’re taking the Dordogne Intégrale 130k nonstop SUP race in France with the Fanatic Team!
Thank you for your time and best of luck with your coming up challenges!
To find out more about Fanatic SUP Range 2020, visit www.fanatic.com