Interview with CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown Champ and CrossFit Games Rookie Ryan Sowder

Ryan Sowder takes 1st place at the CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown.
Ryan Sowder takes 1st place at the CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown.

Few CrossFit Games fans had likely heard of Ryan Sowder before last month. While Sowder had made it to the Central Regional the past two years, he was not a household name. If anything, fans were likely more familiar with his brother, Zach.

That all changed when Sowder headed to the Netherlands to compete at the CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown. Sowder made a name for himself by winning the Sanctional and earning an invite to compete at the 2019 CrossFit Games.

We caught up Ryan following his Sanctional win to find out how he got into CrossFit, the work he put in to qualify for the Games and his most recent ‘near perfect’ score on the new Army Combat Fitness Test.

The Barbell Spin (TBBS): How long have you been doing CrossFit? Do you remember your first WOD?

Ryan Sowder (RS): I started CrossFit December 2015 after my final football season at Georgetown College. I had done some CrossFit workouts here and there before then with my brother just for fun. The first workout I can remember doing was “Holleyman”- 30 rounds- 5 WB, 3 HSPU, 1 PC 225#. I can remember trying to muscle clean every rep and practically break my wrists to finish the workout.

TBBS: Your brother, Zach, is also going to the CrossFit Games (on a team). Do you guys train together? If so, how competitive are you during a regular WOD in training?

RS: Last year Zach and I lived together in Lexington, KY and trained together everyday. January of this year I moved to Cincinnati with a friend (Zach Watts) and live about an hour from my brother and don’t get to train with him as often now. When we do get to travel in together it is very competitive. In the past he would beat me in pretty much every workout. That’s not the case anymore. He still beats me more than I beat him but it is way more competitive now a days.

TBBS: The past two seasons you made it to the Central Regional. With the new Games qualification process, how were you approaching the season? Did you think winning a Sanctional would be in the cards this year?

RS: At the end of last year I had already planned on reaching out and getting a coach for the 2019 season. I wanted a coach for two main reasons: 10 I would have had no idea how to get back into CrossFit after taking four months off and 2) if I was going to compete again I wasn’t going to do it the same way I had in the past. This time I was going to to do everything I could to see what I was really capable of.

So I set up a call with Elcanah Senouvor while I was waiting to catch a flight home from basic training. To summarize our plans, we were going to ‘lay the foundation and just get back into it” and I if progressed quickly enough we would ‘try to qualify for a Sanctional event’. 2020 was going to be the year we went for it and would try to qualify for the Games.

Now looking back at the conversation with Elcanah, he was more worried about mindset, character and the intent rather than qualifying for the Games. It’s like he knew that if I took care of the small things, the big things would take care of themselves. Elcanah is the reason I qualified for the CrossFit Games! Who knew it would happen A YEAR AHEAD OF SCHEDULE!!

TBBS: You won the CrossFit Lowlands Throwdown earlier this month. Describe that experience and the feeling of knowing you just qualified for the CrossFit Games.

RS: It was honestly one of the craziest feelings I’ve ever had. I was so overwhelmed with Joy and relief at the same time. I’ve never worked so hard for anything in my life. After winning I realized how much I actually wanted to qualify for the Games. When I finally got some time to myself about an hour after the final event I cried uncontrollably for about 5 minutes. I just thought about everything that I have sacrificed and it finally paid off.

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Pinching myself this morning. I qualified for THE CROSSFIT GAMES❗️ ____________ I owe so much to @_coach_el Without him I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I’m at today. He believed in me and gave me the tools I needed to succeed. ____________ I also want to thank all the volunteers @crossfitlowlandsthrowdown and everyone that made this event happen. Definitely one of the smoothest run events I’ve competed at!! ___________ There are so many people that have had a hand in my journey and that I owe a big thanks to. It would take too long to name everyone but you guys know who you are!! I’m overwhelmed with gratitude right now. Dreams do come true. ______________ #crossfit #sanctionals #nextlevel #gamestraining

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TBBS: Now that you are officially in “Games Training” mode, how have you changed up your training, and probably more importantly, your recovery? Are there any specific modalities that you are training more than in the past?

RS: Training volume has increased significantly. In my coaches words “I’m going to try to Kill you then let you recover, kill you then let you recover.” We are doing a lot of aerobic work to make sure I can recover throughout the grueling 4 days at the games. I’m especially focusing on quality sleep and diet so I can maintain a high training volume. I’m working with Airrosti leading up to the games to make sure I’m staying healthy.

TBBS: What event from a prior CrossFit Games would you like to see as a repeat this year?

RS: Marathon row… NOT!! I would love to see Aeneas come back. I love anything odd object and/or heavy.

TBBS: (Aeneas was the 2018 CrossFit Games final event).

TBBS: What are your goals for the Games?

RS: I’m not sure aiming for a certain place will help my performance. I will make specific goals before each workout and judge my performance accordingly. I truly think I’m capable of being a top 10 athlete at the Games. That’s not the focus for this year but I’m not showing up to just participate.

TBBS: Last week, you set the highest score of the new Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) with a score of 597 out of a possible 600 points. (For those who might not know, the ACFT is comprised of 6 events over the course of an hour to measure the muscular strength and endurance of a Soldier. The events include the deadlift, the standing power throw, the hand-release push-up, the sprint-drag-carry, the leg tuck and a 2-mile run.) You were just 5 hand-release push-ups short of a perfect score. How does the ACFT compare to a regular day of training for you?

RS: My training on a day to day basis is very diverse so that I am prepared for any physical task thrown at me. Every event in the ACFT I was prepared for because of CrossFit. Although the ACFT was not as difficult as a normal training day, it is an adequate test for the Army and a step in the right direction to ensure soldiers are fit to perform their duties.

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