Get to Know Your Captains – Samantha Birr


Samantha Birr | Captain, Team Patriot Courage

How/when did you get started with CrossFit? What has made you stick around?
I started Crossfit in the summer of 2013 after graduating from college and moving to Miami Florida. Being new to the area I was looking for a fun way to meet people and get back in shape for year round beach season. The community aspect and ability to continually push and challenge yourself has made me stick around.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Open/Intramural Open?
I am looking forward to the added team element. Love a little friendly competition and I think it will be a great way to get to know more people in the PCF community.

For people that have never done the Open before and are maybe on the fence, what would you tell them?
Just go for it! Don’t be intimidated to sign up. It’s really just about having fun and pushing your limits.

Give us some cold, hard numbers: What is your Fran/Helen/Grace time? 1RM Deadlift? Olympic total? 2K time? Pick some common CrossFit Benchmarks and let us know where you are!
Deadlift: 300
Crossfit Total: 595
New Years Resolution: Keep better track of these things

Favorite CrossFit movement:
Power Cleans
Least Favorite:

Get to Know Your Captains – The Donahoes


Chris & Monica met at Potomac CrossFit when they were quasi-randomly paired up to compete in a Friday Night Throwdown in February of 2016. They were married in January of 2018. Since the day both of them joined PCF they have been a tremendously positive influence on our community. After their nuptials, it is almost certain their love and positive attitudes will continue and exponentially grow.   

Chris & Monica Donahoe | Co-Captains, Team Potomac Freedom

What is something most PCF’ers don’t know about you? A secret talent? An embarrassing story?
C: I was homeschooled
M: I’m insanely scared of mice and possums. Snakes don’t bother me and I work with little kids, so I’m not usually grossed out. Regardless, I am TERRIFIED of mice and rats and anything small and furry with a tail.

How/when did you get started with CrossFit? What has made you stick around?
C: I started Crossfit in August 2015 because I simply wanted to get back in shape. I stuck around because I met my wife.
M: I read about CF on a blog in 2010 when I lived overseas and wanted to check it out but didn’t have the opportunity to until I moved to North Carolina in 2013. I grew up dancing and have always needed exercise and movement to feel balanced. CrossFit keeps my mood up and stress level down. I also just love going to the gym to see my friends and coaches!

What has your past experience with The Open been like?
C: Always a fun test. I’m an accomplished C-student.
M: Encouraging, motivating, wonderful. I love the Open because it gives me something to focus on and get excited about at the end of February which is always a long, cold, dreary month. The Open brings people together. It pushes me to work harder and go the extra mile. I also love seeing people get excited. Enthusiasm is my favorite.

So, you’ve been named captain (nice work!) of one of the PCF Intramural Open Teams… what does that mean to you?
M: It’s a lot of responsibility! PCF has been a huge part of my life the last couple years and I enjoy the community and all the new people I keep meeting.
C: Being named a co-captain with my new husband validates for me that PCF sees us as being positive people who are genuinely committed to the cause… fitness and community. I want to motivate others to value “the cause” as much as I do. CrossFit  isn’t about being super competitive, or a cool kid in a clique, or impressing others with how big of a sweat angel you can make. It’s about being brave and positive and emotionally vulnerable and making connections with other people based on your mutual understanding of how important it is to stay active and take care of yourself.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Open/Intramural Open?
C: Cheering Monica on!
M: Meeting new people! Potentially making team t-shirts! Being better than I was last year.

For people that have never done the Open before and are maybe on the fence, what would you tell them?
C: We miss out if you sit out. Join the fun!
M: How much fun it always is! I would describe the hype around Thursday night workout announcements, strategizing with your friends, getting prepped, doing the workout with a judge (which I LOVE), completing the workouts and the amazing feeling you get when you know you couldn’t have pushed even one second further, going out for drinks after, comparing experiences, and then getting to do the whole thing again the next week!

Give us some cold, hard numbers: What is your Fran/Helen/Grace time? 1RM Deadlift? Olympic total? 2K time? Pick some common CrossFit Benchmarks and let us know where you are!



Favorite CrossFit movement?
C: Back Squat
M: Handstand Push-ups, Burpees

Least favorite?
C: Handstand push-up
M: High volume wallball

Get to Know Your Captains – John Schurtz


John Schurtz | Captain, Team Patriot Honor

How/when did you get started with CrossFit? What has made you stick around?
I started CrossFit in early 2009 while serving in the Embassy in Beijing. I had known about it since 2002 when a Navy SEAL buddy told me about it. I thought he was crazy. Man I wish had started then.

So, you’ve been named captain (nice work!) of one of the PCF Intramural Open Teams… what does that mean to you?
It means you guys are more desperate than I ever would’ve expected! I love Patriot and being a part of this community is one of the most positive experiences of my adult life. Anything I can do to contribute to the spirit I have come to depend on is a pleasure and an honor.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Open/Intramural Open?
I know there are people in our gym who will get their “first” of some movement they didn’t think they could do. Seen it before and it’s amazing every time.

Give us some cold, hard numbers: What is your Fran/Helen/Grace time? 1RM Deadlift? Olympic total? 2K time? Pick some common CrossFit Benchmarks and let us know where you are!
All my times and scores are middle of the road. I am not a strong athlete, but I can do things this year that I couldn’t do last year. Every year since 2009 has been that way.

Favorite CrossFit movement
: Burpees
Least favorite: Renegade Row Man-Makers

Get to Know Your Captains – Katelyn Thomas


Katelyn Thomas | Captain, Team Potomac Justice

What is something most PCF’ers don’t know about you? A secret talent? An embarrassing story?
I was the third runner up (third loser) in the Miss Pre Teen Virginia Beach Pageant

How/when did you get started with CrossFit? What has made you stick around?
I started in 2015. CrossFit is the only exercise experience I have ever looked forward to and enjoyed. However, a majority of the time I am in quite a bit of pain. We are crazy people!

What has your past experience with The Open been like?
In 2016 I did most of the workouts scaled but did not officially register. In 2017 I registered and did two RX’d and three scaled. I actually did 16.4 twice, prescribed, because I wanted to get to the HSPUs. The open workouts made me push harder than I ever had before. It was nuts.

So, you’ve been named captain (nice work!) of one of the PCF Intramural Open Teams… what does that mean to you?
One of my favorite things is watching people discover  and fall in love with Crossfit. I know I will have some people on my team that have never done the Open before and I know they will surprise themselves by how well they do.

What are you looking forward to most about this year’s Open/Intramural Open?
Hopefully seeing improvements upon last year’s open. However, I think I was in better shape last year so I’m not going to be too hard on myself if there are not dramatic improvements. I am looking to have fun and encourage my team.

For people that have never done the Open before and are maybe on the fence, what would you tell them?
If you have done CrossFit  for even just a couple months, you will be able to do everything that is programmed. And if you come on Friday at Patriot or Saturday at Potomac, you will do the workout regardless, might as well sign up!

Some Stats on Katelyn…
Grace 4:53
Fran 8:41
Deadlift: 235#
OHS 125#
Press 95#
Clean #140
2k Row 8:35

Favorite CrossFit movement? Right now, it’s pistols.

Least favorite movement? Turkish Get-ups

Lose the Belt, Learn to Set your Spine

Lose the Belt, Learn to Set your Spine
By Colin Farrell

An athlete steps into the gym after a day at the office. She gets changed out of her work clothes and into her Lululemon and Reebok apparel, she laces up her Nike Metcon 3’s. She hops on a rower and starts getting warm before class starts, she does some work with a lacrosse ball, and then class starts. She completes the group warm-up and now it’s time do some front squatting.

She pulls on a pair of neoprene knee sleeves.
She changes out her shoes into a pair of Olympic-style lifting shoes.
She fishes her leather lifting belt out of her gym bag and tosses it on the floor by her squat rack.
She straps on her wrist wraps and pulls out her gymnastics grips as she may need them later during the workout, which has lots of toe-to-bar.

What the hell is all of this stuff? Newer athletes may, justifiably so, be confounded by all the “things” people have just to workout. What ever happened to sneakers, gym shorts, and a t-shirt?

There is a lengthier discussion to be had about each of these pieces of equipment, but I want to focus on one in particular: the lifting belt. Aside from Oly shoes, it is probably one of the most overused pieces of equipment by CrossFitters the world-over. Like lifters, wrist wraps, knee sleeves, gymnastics grips, KT tape, etc., a belt has its time and place and is–in many cases–appropriate to put to use.

However, if athletes are using the belt because they are incapable of securing their spine without one, that presents a serious issue. While CrossFit is a ton of fun, and many of us like to compete in The Sport of Fitness, the overwhelming majority of athletes do CrossFit so they are more capable of accomplishing tasks outside of the gym. We don’t just want to be the best at exercising. Last I checked, it is socially unacceptable to wear a lifting belt to the office, to your kid’s birthday party, or out to dinner. Additionally, you may not always have an opportunity to use the belt when you believe you need it.

You have to know how to set your spine. What that means is athletes must be able to organize their vertebrae in as safe a position as possible in relation to their hip and shoulder, and subsequently cinch the musculature around the spine (especially in the lumbar region, where athletes are most prone to overflex or over-extend) to protect it while moving. This task takes less than four seconds and can be done in four steps:

    Step 1: Stand with feet parallel and directly under your hips. With your hands to your sides, roll your thumbs outwards so your palms are facing forward. Pull your shoulders back into what most would term “good posture” (i.e. don’t slouch).
    Purpose: To ensure your spine is in a safe, neutral position, we need to ensure your shoulders and hips themselves are secure and set into a strong position. With your hip and shoulder set, your spine will have pulled into the most neutral position it can naturally achieve.
    Step 2: Squeeze your butt as hard as you possibly can..
    Purpose: When athletes squeeze their butt, the pelvis pushes slightly forward. This will aid in aligning the shoulder and and hip in a nice, neat stack with the spine connecting the two.
    Step 3:While still squeezing your butt, and maintaining the position outlined in Step 1, take a big deep breath in, and exhale as much as is possible. As soon as you have exhaled, flex and tighten every muscle in your core as much as you possibly can.
    Purpose: With your spine nicely aligned relative to the hip and shoulder, it’s time to cinch up all that musculature around it. Tightening up will effectively secure and protect the spine in a similar fashion as a weight belt would.
    Step 4:Hold your breath in, unclench your glutes, and commence lifting.
    Purpose: With the vertebrae fully secured, athletes can release their glutes and begin moving around. The spine is as secure as it can possibly be without a belt. While it would be nice to keep our glutes flexed at all times, there are some drawbacks: you’d look really funny moving around, you can’t squat with your glutes fully flexed, and it would be exhausting.

Commit these four steps to memory. Practice doing them. Make it so much a habit you do it without thinking about it.

You may have noticed that after Step 3 (when athletes exhale and cinch up their core, nice and tight), there was never an instruction to breath again. Naturally, you will eventually have to breath. If you are going for a new 1-rep max deadlift or squat, hold your breath after that exhale from start to finish. If you are doing a set of 7 heavy overhead squats, you will certainly have to breath before the set is done. If that is the case, take small, short, diaphragmatic breaths at the top of each rep. On the exhale, re-tighten and complete the next rep.

This four step process, mind you, is not just for lifting. Athletes at all times should maintain about 15-20% brace just while out and about, at work, walking around, etc. If you are out for a run, 40%. If you are going for a max-effort power clean, 100% braced. Hopefully you get the idea.

As mentioned above they absolutely have their time and place:

The following are good, general guidelines for when it is appropriate for a CrossFitter to strap on a lifting belt

  • When performing lifts at 85% or above of 1-repetition max, including all squatting, pressing, and pulling movements.
  • When in a competition setting or testing fitness, as opposed to building fitness (see Today, Why Are you Here?); situations may include:
    • -Completing heavy CrossFit Benchmark workouts (see Who The Hell is Fran?)
      -Competing with heavier barbells (whether it’s SuperFit, The Open, The Festivus Games or a Friday Night Throwdown)

    I would encourage newer athletes to not use a belt for at least the first year of their experience with CrossFit and the barbell lifts. Experienced athletes may be begin to dabble with such accessories, and there is certainly nothing inherently wrong with that. Each accessory has a purpose, athletes need to ensure they are using them as an aid at appropriate times, and not a crutch to lean one due to inefficiencies in mobility, strength, or skill.


    Starrett, Kelly, and Glen Cordoza. Becoming a Supple Leopard: the Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance. Victory Belt Publishing, 2015.

    January Benchmarks at Potomac


    January 3: Cindy or Mary

    January 4: 13.2

    January 6: Benchmark Hero

    January 8: Max Effort Lift + Open Workout

    January 9: Benchmark Girl

    January 12: Benchmark Girl

    January 13: Open Workout

    January 15: Benchmark Girl

    January 16: Max Effort Lift

    January 17: Max Effort Lift

    January 23: Max Effort Lift

    January 24: Benchmark Girl

    January 25: Max Effort Lift

    January 28: The CrossFit Total (make-up)

    What is the Open?

    By Colin Farrell

    The CrossFit Games Open, commonly referred to as just “The Open”, is a 5-week long, worldwide CrossFit competition whose purpose is to test the fitness of participating athletes. For 99.9% of us, our competition season ends after Week 5. For the top few women, men, and teams in their geographic region, The Open serves as the qualifying round before making it to Regionals, and for the fittest among them, subsequently to the CrossFit Games.

    The Open is, reportedly, the most egalitarian sporting event on Earth. It costs only $20 to participate (a tiny amount when compared to local fitness competition, Spartan Races, Tough Mudders, or even your local half marathon or 10k), and you can compete in your own gym, or even at your home so long as you have the necessary equipment. In its inaugural year, roughly 20,000 athletes signed up. In 2017, that number had grown to nearly a half million.

    The Open usually starts in late February and runs through March. Each week during the competition, on Thursday night, CrossFit Headquarters announces the workout. Athletes around the world have until Monday night to complete the workout and submit their scores online. At Potomac CrossFit, the Open workout is programmed for Saturday during each week of the Open. At Patriot CrossFit, it is programmed for Fridays throughout the 5 weeks. Participating athletes will have a judge and scorecard to verify each repetition was completed properly (at the correct weight, with the specified range of motion, etc.) and their scores will be validated by the Head Coach from each gym.

    If inclined to do so, athletes may repeat a workout for a better score. As long as their score is submitted before the deadline each Monday night.

    At the end of the 5 weeks, athletes may take a look at the leaderboard to see how they did compared to their results in previous years, compared to athletes in their gym, age bracket, geographic location, and even see where they stack up in the world.

    The Open is a great time to test your fitness and push yourself. It is a great time to push a little bit outside your normal comfort zone. Every year, people PR major lifts during the Open, someone will nail double-unders for the first time, get their first muscle-up, or complete a box jump at a height they never dreamed imaginable.

    The Open is a ton of fun. Registration opens at on 11 January. Are you in?


    Further Reading and Viewing

    The CrossFit Games website
    What is The Open?
    Greg Glassman On The Open, Part I and Part II
    Live Announcement of 17.1
    “Thank you, Dan”

    The 2018 Intramural Open

    By Colin Farrell

    The Open is the most egalitarian sporting event in human history. In 2017, over 300,000 athletes registered. In just five weeks, that field is narrowed down to the few hundred fittest athletes on the planet.

    The PCF Intramural Open, however, is designed to ensure that the Open is not just a test of our fitness, but–more importantly–a tool by which we grow as a community.  For 99.9% of the athletes that participate in the Open, our official CrossFit Games season ends after those 5 weeks in February and March. After those 5 weeks, everyone who participated should enter the off-season excited about their accomplishments, the friends they made, and confident in knowing what they must do to improve their fitness and, therefore, their health, over the coming year.

    Patriot and Potomac CrossFit will be divided into 6 teams.  Each team will compete with one another across The CrossFit Games Open.  However, teams will not only compete with another on the floor of the gym…

    The CrossFit Games Open has 5 workouts–5 scored events. The PCF Intramural Open will have 8 scored events.  The three additional events will be community-based.  Only the top-performing athletes during workouts 18.1 through 18.5 affect the overall team score on the leaderboard. During the Intramural Open, here at PCF, athletes of all capabilities will have an opportunity to affect the score in events 6, 7, and 8.

    Event 1: 18.1
    Event 2: 18.2
    Event 3: 18.3
    Event 4: 18.4
    Event 5: 18.5
    Event 6: A mystery, for now…
    Event 7: Community Engagement
    Event 8: The Spirit of the Open

    Event 6 shall remain a mystery until the night of The Draft (more on that later). The Community Engagement event, Event 7, will be scored based on your team’s, well, community engagement. Teams will earn points by completing non-CrossFit Open related activities or tasks. For example, if X-number of athletes from your team goes out for a happy hour together, you will earn a set number of points. If x-number of athletes from your team do a non-CrossFit-related fitness activity together (say, go climbing at Earth Treks on a Sunday afternoon), your team will earn points. If your members of your team come on a Thursday night during an Open workout announcement to cheer on other competitors, that team will earn points. The team with the most Community Involvement points at the end of 5 weeks will win Event 7.

    Event 8 is a special event.  After Week 3 of the Open, the captains of each team will submit the name of one member of their team for consideration to win the “Spirit of the Open” award. All participating athletes, between Weeks 3 and 4, will vote on who most embodies the Spirit of the Open and, thus, has earned the award.  Teams will not be permitted to vote for the member of their own team. The Spirit of the Open award has nought to do with increased work capacity and fitness. It is earned with a great attitude, hard work, and a caring for others that goes well beyond average kindness and courtesy.

    Teams will be picked on the night of The Draft, February 1, 2018. Prior to the draft, PCF coaching staff will have hand-selected one captain to lead each team. Every athlete that has already registered for the Open on the CrossFit Games website will be eligible for the draft. PCF Coaches are eligible for the draft, but must be chosen after all members have been selected by team captains.

    Thursday Night Throwdown. Each week during The Open, athletes from specified teams will square off on Thursday night, right after the workout is announced (around 8:15pm):

    Week 1: A vs. B
    Week 2: B vs. C
    Week 3: C vs. A
    Week 4: Potomac vs. Patriot
    Week 5: A vs. B vs. C

    In Weeks 1, 2, 3 athletes from each specified team will go head-to-head on Thursday night. In Week 4, two athletes from each team will go to the opposite gym to complete the workout (Patriot athletes will go to Potomac, Potomac athletes will go to Patriot). In Week 5, a few athletes from every team will compete on Thursday night. Athletes that do not compete on Thursday night will have the opportunity to throw down on Friday at Patriot or Saturday at Potomac.

    Friday Night Lights. Athletes that do not complete the workout on Thursday night will have the opportunity to complete The Open workout at any regularly-scheduled class at Patriot.

    Saturday Showdown. Athletes that do not complete the workout on Thursday or Friday will have the opportunity to complete The Open workout at any regularly-scheduled class at Potomac.

    Whether you started CrossFit 10 days ago or 10 years ago, the Open and the Intramural Open here at PCF have something to offer. You, regardless of your experience, have something to contribute to the community around you in so many ways.  It is an exhausting and exciting five weeks, and I hope you will consider joining us.

    Are you in?

    About that Nutrition Thing…

    By Laura Pilchuk

    So, you’ve been here, at this gym for a year or two now. Maybe even 3-5 years but you haven’t seen many changes in the last year or so. Your performance has hit a plateau and you just chalk it up to the fact that you’re getting older and you’ve been busy so you haven’t really been able to focus on it. What if this could be fixed with something as simple as what you’re eating?

    Usually, if I ask someone how many calories they eat a day or how many protein, fats and carbs they consume, they have no clue. Would you attempt to lift a barbell without knowing how much it weighs? Of course not, you need to warm up and lead up to that weight. You’d typically add 25’s or 45’s to the bar, hit that a few times, make your usual jumps in weights whether it’s 50-lb jumps or 20-lb jumps; only then would you pick it up. The same applies for food.

    Knowing what you’re eating and when you’re eating it plays an important role in your workout performance. Protein, fats, carbohydrates, and water all have an impact on how you feel during and after your workout. Depending on your body, you use either carbs or fats as fuel. I’ll stick with carbs as fuel for this example. It’s just like gas in a car. If you’re on empty in your car, you won’t go anywhere. At least maybe a couple miles until you’re completely out. That’s how carbs affect your workout. 3, 2, 1 GO! Just a couple minutes in, you’ll realize that you’re exhausted and you might even get dizzy. You’re running on empty.

    Eating fats too close to a workout can make you feel sluggish and heavy. If you eat fats (and they’re not your primary fuel source), it can also make you feel lethargic and gross while you’re getting your heart rate up. Keeping them on the opposite end of your work out keeps you full while you’re doing every day, normal work stuff.

    Protein is good to spread out evenly throughout the day. If you decide to eat a chunk of it right before your workout, it’ll have the same effect as fat. Water is one of the most important (maybe most important) to consume throughout the day. It keeps you hydrated, keeps your body moving, and it helps you recover faster. It transports nutrients and oxygen that are important for cell growth and repair. It can prevent cramping and it flushes filtering organs like the liver and kidneys that removes toxins from the body.

    Are you starting to realize what you’re missing in your diet? Great, that’s step one. Step two is to sign up for the January Nutrition Challenge so that I can help you perfect your diet so you can get the results you deserve.

    All Hail the Toe-To-Bar

    All Hail the Toe-to-Bar
    By Colin Farrell

    Weightlifters will often make reference to the back squat as “the king of lifts.” Why? It’s not as fast or cool as the snatch, it’s not as powerful as the clean-and-jerk, it’s not as exotic or instagram-worthy as the overhead squat.

    The squat is the king of lifts because it is not cool, or fast, or exotic, yet still it makes you better at just about everything else you do in life. Get stronger at the back squat, and your push press will go up. Get stronger at the back squat, and your snatch will go up. Get stronger at the back squat, and you will probably get a pay raise at work

    The same should be said of the toe-to-bar in the realm of gymnastics. The toe-to-bar lacks the fluidity of smooth and multi-rep sets of muscle-ups, it is not the social media gold of handstand walking, it does not really offer the same sense of accomplishment as climbing the rope.

    However, to become more proficient at all of those things, athletes need to master the toe-to-bar. Often times athletes will scale muscle-ups to pull-ups and ring dips (or push-ups), or to work on pulling and grip strength for rope climbs they will perform more pull-ups or ring rows. While no one will get less fit doing pull-ups, dips, and ring rows, it is not the most efficient avenue to the higher skill gymnastics movements.

    The toe-to-bar goes something like this:

      1. After a forward swing, athlete drives/presses the bar away from them and down, using the shoulder and lat to do the work
      2. There is no pulling or flexing at the elbow.
      3. As the athlete presses down on the bar, the shoulder closes and the athlete’s hips rise higher and higher, shortening the distance between toes and bar.
      4. Athletes with strong shoulders will be able to press down on the bar hard enough that the forehead may even be in line with the anchor point of the hands.
      5. Athlete closes hips as kicks toes to the bar, making contact, and finishing the movement.

    The lats stay strong and doing the bulk of the work. The elbows don’t bend. The hips have to close hard and fast at the right time in order to maintain rhythm and successfully complete the movement.

    The muscle-up (bar and/or ring) and the rope climb require much the same thing. During the muscle-up athletes must press the bar/rings away from them using the lat as they raise the hips as high as possible. Once the hips have driven to their apex, the hip has to close hard and fast. Anyone who has ever tried a kipping muscle-up by pulling with the arms and flexing at the elbow has ended up doing an awkward chest-to-bar or chest-to-rings pull-up that coupled well with an, “Aw, shit” face.

    During the rope climb, the elbows should flex very little. The lats do the work and the hips close hard as the athlete leans back (just like a toe-to-bar).

    This same concept carries over to weightlifting as well: hard hip- and shoulder-driven movements, followed up by a rapid closing of the hip, and characterized by the elbows bending only at the last possible moment and only as much as is necessary. If you’ve ever seen old YouTube videos of Coach Cody’s dad, Coach B, you’ve probably heard him bark the words, “When the elbows end, the power ends.” This is true with all of the aforementioned movements.

    Want to get that first muscle up, or get better at them? Do more toe-to-bar.

    Want to climb ropes faster? Do more toe-to-bar.

    Want to get better at first impressions on dates? Do more toe-to-bar.

    Kippin Toes to Bar Progression