Annie Sakamoto Prepares for 2012

By Anna Lutz on 01.24.12

Have you ever thought that top CrossFit Games competitors are super human? Different than the average CrossFitter? What about 2011 “Spirit of the Games” winner and 9th place finisher Annie Sakamoto? She barely looks to be working hard as she competes, smiling and waving at the crowd. The 36-year-old mother of two, seems to be super human. 

But Sakamoto is very much human. From working, to raising a family, pursuing hobbies, to training, and managing her nutrition, she encounters the same struggles as everyone else. It is how she juggles all of this and still manages to compete at the level she does that makes Sakamoto the athlete fans love and admire.

Sakamoto is the first to admit, “I am where I am because of Gary.” Gary Hirthler, of CrossFit Santa Cruz Central, is her dedicated coach and programmer, who supported her from the moment she decided to compete last year. In fact, he was a key motivator for her even competing in 2011, she says. She competed in the 2011 Open, “on a whim, because my affiliate was running the WODs anyway.” Hirthler told her, “you’ve got nothing to lose, just have fun and remember your good form.”

It was at this point, having surprised herself by qualifying for the Northern California Regional, she started to really train for competition, turning to her coach for training tips and programming. The greatest and most immediate change before Regionals was to increase her training volume. Having never anticipated competition, high-rep workouts were not part of her repertoire. Even with this increase, she had never done 100 pull-ups consecutively until Regionals. “’Angie’ is my least favorite workout, even though I’ve never done it.” 

It wasn’t until after qualifying for the Games that Sakamoto really committed herself to training. Recovering from the shock of even making it to Day 3 of the Regional, and unsure whether going to the Games was something she really wanted, Hirthler had to convince her she should go for it. He told her, “you made decide later you want to go to the Games, but never have the opportunity again.” She decided it was time to rev up her training and hone her diet.

“The first things that had to go were the two bowls of Life cereal every night before bed,” she says. Sakamoto is not one to be overly regimented with her diet, but figured this would be a healthy change. She now considers herself to be about 85 percent Paleo, still enjoying the occasional dessert or, “breaking the rules” during the holidays.  

“Being smaller in height and weight than many other female competitors, strength has always been a weakness,” she says. This has changed her training in preparation for 2012. She is starting to incorporate a high volume of strength-based training elements into her workouts.

CrossFit Football’s “squat cluster,” which requires completing 25 reps of back squats at 85 percent of your one-rep max, is her favorite workout, and she hits all the major lifts every week: back squat, front squat, deadlift, and the Olympic lifts. She goes lighter on the met-cons, really targeting her weaknesses.

The other side of her training is going back to the basics, she says. As an original “Nasty Girl,” “no one taught me how to kip or climb a rope,” so she is taking time to re-learn those skills in order to build greater efficiency.          

Paramount to all this training is the recovery tool of sleep. As a mother of two young children, she initially wrote off getting more than six hours every night. Her coach insisted this change, so for the sake of her training, “some nights I just have to cut my losses” and leave work unfinished in order to get the sleep needed to maintain training. Even if this means delegating responsibilities both at home and at work, she is committed to doing what it takes to get back to the big show.

The whole process, intense Games preparation, coupled with her expectations and that of others, could force some people into competitive overdrive, but Sakamoto still maintains the characteristics that won her the “Spirit of the Games” award last July. Her focus and drive have intensified throughout the year, but she won’t stop smiling and waving any time soon. She still remains a great friend and support to fellow competitors and she will never lose the ability to wow the crowd with her infectious attitude.