Three CrossFit Games Athletes & Their OPEX Coaches

Three CrossFit Games Athletes & Their OPEX Coaches

"I worked with an OPEX coach and this is what happened:” Three CrossFit Games Athletes Talk About the OPEX Role in Their Journey

31-year-old Erika Copeland, 35-year-old Nick Bloch and 66-year-old Saadia Popelnik have a lot in common. They all started working with an OPEX coach and landed themselves a spot at the CrossFit Games this year.

    • Nick Bloch started working with OPEX CCP and Big Dawgs Head Coach Sam Smith at the end of 2018, and the following year, in 2019, he qualified to his first CrossFit Games as an individual, placing 41st overall. Two years later, Bloch qualified and competed at the recent 2021 Games in the Men’s 35-39 year-old division.
  • Copeland, who competed on the 12 Labours team at the Games, only began working with OPEX CCP coach Sam Smith in August 2020 and managed to help her team qualify to Madison this summer.
  • And Saadia Popelnik began working with OPEX San Juan Owner Henry Torano in 2018 and qualified to her first CrossFit Games this year, competing in the Women’s 65 + division.

All three say the OPEX touch made all the difference to their performance. 

The biggest game changer for Bloch was the “personal approach to address weaknesses and flaws in my fitness” that Smith provided, a much different experience than the generic programming he followed before, he explained. 

  • “Sam is great at identifying weaknesses and formulating a plan to address and correct them…Sam is always looking for small tweaks to make that will improve my overall performances,” he said. As a result, since working with Smith, Bloch’s overall conditioning and gymnastics capacity has improved dramatically.

Copeland agrees. One of the major keys to qualifying her team to the Games this year was the individualized training they all did in conjunction with the team training. 

  • “In the off season, we spent 100 percent of the time doing individualized training, then made the shift in January…to incorporate team training on the weekends,” Copeland said. And because Smith programmed both her individualized training and their team’s training, it “always flowed smoothly from the week into the weekend,” she said. 
  • As a result, Copeland said she made huge strides both in her gymnastics skills and her snatch abilities, thanks to a whole lot of necessary technical work. “I remember months of frustration with the snatch. We trained it many different ways through many phases focusing on positioning and technique, but it was always frustrating…Then one day, months and months later, things just started to click,” she said. 

Popelnik has a similar story. She started her fitness journey when she was almost 60 years old and credits Torano for being “extremely patient” with her. 

  • “He took me back to the basics with a primary focus on technique and building strength,” she said, adding that this approach has been “of tremendous value not only for my fitness goals but to handle the work required at my property.”
  • “I have over 4 kilometres to maintain on my own, plus five dogs, some of which are very active, and we often go for walks at least two to three (times a day)…so I need to have strength to control,” she explained. 
  • From a competitor’s standpoint, she credits Torano’s programming with helping her improve her ability to pace various workouts, and with helping her understand the mental side of the sport. Both factors played a big role in helping her reach her ultimate goal in the sport: The CrossFit Games.

Why they recommend OPEX

For Bloch, it’s simple. “There are so many programs out there to follow but they’re all too broad and general,” he said.

  • He added: “You have to get a coach that works one-on-one with you to address your specific goals and needs.” And with an OPEX coach this is a guarantee.

Beyond an individualized approach to fitness, another reason Copeland recommends the OPEX method is how it always considers her long term, ensuring she can not only improve her fitness now, but can remain fit and healthy for life. 

  • “The biggest picture is always taken into account with lifestyle and longevity being a focus no matter what your specific goal is,” Copeland said. “Having an experienced and educated coach to help guide your journey will exponentially help you pursue your goal. So often our greatest obstacle is our own mindset, so trusting a professional can help shift your focus to areas that will get you on a better path to achieving your goal.”

And for Popelnik, it’s about how OPEX established a program that matches your specific lifestyle and fitness goals, as well as providing accountability, feedback and support.

  • “And I like the fact that it is very structured and well-planned, and of course, it focuses on my weaknesses,” she said. 

“It’s the real deal.”

If you're an athlete, join the Big Dawgs' pack and experience individualized coaching for yourself. 

If you're a coach, sign up for our Professional Coaching Blueprint and get introduced to the same OPEX method of fitness coaching used by Sam Smith.


Fitness Assessments for New Clients