Corpus Animus: The Rise of Training Think Tank
If you polled 100 people in the CrossFit community to name some of the “training hubs,” of the sport and you will likely get answers like Boston, Cookeville San Diego, cities that lay claim to highly touted training programs like Invictus, CompTrain, or CrossFit Mayhem.
Alpharetta, Georgia is most likely not on the list, but as the home to Training Think Tank, the small, northern suburb of Atlanta has played host to some of the sports biggest names, as Training Think Tank has steadily established itself as a premier program for CrossFit Games athletes in the space.
Max El-Hag founded Training Think Tank in 2013, but the genesis of his journey began in 2009 when he was introduced to CrossFit in 2009 as a means for conditioning for Jiu-jitsu and combat sports. The son of an Olympic Judoka for Egypt, El-Hag transitioned into the sport, competing at both the 2010 CrossFit Games on a team, and the 2011 South East Regional as an individual while diving head first into the training methodology.
- El-Hag: “My natural mind is pretty analytical, it’s how I think about things, so naturally I was reading up on how energy systems affect certain things, I started working with Glenn Pendlay in the southeast and learning about weightlifting, I looked into the movement culture and found Ido Portal and tried to understand how to navigate gymnastics training and what the foundations were.”
His interest and passion for the sport and training led him to James “OPT” Fitzgerald of OPEX, first hiring him as a coach before eventually working for the OPEX team where he had the opportunity to work and research Games level athletes like Marcus Filly and Nate Schrader.
- “I think that’s just my nature, you tell me something and I’ll ask questions about it, I’ll pick into it, what’s happening, why are doing this, why are some people successful using these methods and why are some people getting burnt out.”
- In 2012 El-Hag began working with Travis Mayer, and a year later Mayer qualified for his first of six CrossFit Games appearances. El-Hag moved to Georgia to work more closely with Mayer, who was based in Alpharetta, and Training Think Tank was born.
The program adopted the slogan “Corpus Animus,” the Latin words for body and mind/soul, and philosophically Training Think Tank was focused around the professionalization of the coaching pursuit through the collection of high level minds to better serve the sports athletes, as well as provide solutions to pervasive problems like body image and mindset within the health and fitness industry.
- The name Training Think Tank is derived from El-Hag’s background in finance and accounting where certain issues or policy problems in a variety of sectors can be addressed through research institutes known as “Think Tanks,” that are comprised of a network of individuals with specialized knowledge.
- El-Hag: “I always had this concept, and honestly the ideology of CrossFit is about bringing together disciplined experts to be able to create a better unified understanding of the human body and I was in love with that concept.”
- ”I started bringing on coaches and building courses, and my coaches started becoming more specialized, a world level swimmer, a runner that’s trying to qualify for nationals, weightlifters, someone who participated in GRID, so we started taking components of what they’re good at and figuring out how to get coaching processes to help organize it all.”
Training Think Tank grew steadily through the first few years, but a significant boost in the public eye came in 2016, when Noah Ohslen tapped El-Hag to be his coach following a career-worst finish at the Games that signified a significant regression for an athlete that was considered a podium threat like Ohlsen.
- El-Hag: “I was honest with him, I was like “man, when I first met you, you were like the most enthusiastic, happy, hungry competitor,” and that enthusiasm for the game was gone in my mind, and I think some of it too was getting slashed by people, slashed by the media, slashed on social media, slashed by comments, and judging mistakes he made on the big stage when the eyes were on him.”
- “Part of that is personal responsibility on him, be prepared better so that doesn’t happen, and part of that is just the cutthroat nature of sport itself.”
Ohlsen responded with what was then a career best finish at the Games, finishing 4th overall, just four points away from the podium, and two years later his podium dreams came to fruition when he finished 2nd at the 2019 CrossFit Games after wearing the leader’s jersey for close to half the competition.
- In four years with Training Think Tank, Ohlsen has never finished lower than 6th, and as a result, more athletes have joined in alongside Ohlsen and the Training Think Tank crew to compete, for collective training sessions, or full-time coaching.
11 coaches now make up the Training Think Tank staff, and together they coach a stable of athletes in addition to Mayer and Ohlsen that include recent Games qualifiers like Cedric Lapointe, Josh Miller, as well as recently adding seven-time individual Games qualifier Alessandra Pichelli to the mix.
- Their program also includes educational opportunities and resources for coaches of all levels as well as a free weekly podcast covering a variety of topics within the space.
In the future El-Hag hopes Training Think Tank can build its own space, a training ground of sorts for athletes, coaches, and anyone interested in the pursuit of human performance to cut their teeth, learn, and explore, but geographically he plans on staying put.
Which means people should get familiar with Alpharetta, Georgia.