From the Gym to the Games: David Tillman on the Evolution of MAD Athletes CrossFit Training Program

October 2, 2023 by
Photo Credit: Ava Kitzi
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David Tillman started writing his own CrossFit workouts in 2007, shortly after learning about the sport. Now, almost 18 years later, he’s coached an impressive list of teen and age group athletes who have gone on to compete at the CrossFit Games, all under his programming and training method MAD Athletes. 

The program now includes virtual programming and a mobile app for remote athletes looking to follow his training method. Tillman is the owner of CrossFit Cedar Park in Austin, Texas and has a kinesiology degree from University of Texas. His love of the sport started almost at the same time that CrossFit started to gain mainstream popularity in 2007, and found a love for programming workouts. 

  • “One of the reasons I affiliated is that CrossFit allows you to program whatever you want.  I just always knew that’s what I wanted to program and coach.   I literally have every workout that I’ve ever programmed since 2007,” said Tillman. 
  • Tillman became the go-to person in his area for CrossFit athletes looking to elevate their fitness and “the past few years, it’s been a lot of teens. I have some masters and individuals, but lately it’s been an influx of teens. I think we’ve sent seven different teenagers to the CrossFit Games.” 
  • “I started programming, actually, before I even became an affiliate. I was the personal trainer with the clipboard, and my brother is a doctor of physical therapy and we opened up a place together, and out of that I would train people.”
  • “I worked a lot with athletes, specifically, athletes that wanted to play high school sports, college sports, even some professional athletes, and so that was kind of my bread and butter at the time.” 

Most recently, Tillman and MAD Athletes sent two teen division athletes to the 2023 NOBULL CrossFIt Games, including Kulani Subiono (14-15) and Kaeo Subiono (16-17). This was the first appearance at the Games for Kulani, who ended up just outside of the podium in fourth place, while Kaeo finished in 9th place overall. MAD Athletes had its first individual make the Games in 2009 and have had an athlete in some level (regionals, semifinals finals) every year since. 

“MAD program is amazing! When I started MAD I wanted to build more skills and strength,” said Chelsea Hanson, who finished in 19th in the 40-44 division this year. 

“Dave’s MAD athletes are known as being both strong and good at the high skill movements. In the 5 years I’ve done MAD, I have had great improvements in both.” 

What sets MAD Athletes apart from other training programs is the strength focus. If you asked Tillman what he was known for “it’s making very strong athletes.” And he isn’t wrong. Kulani and Kaeo got top scores in the test Olympic Total at the Games this year. Kulani took first in his division, while Kaeo got fifth. 

  • “As the years progress we adjust and try to get better because I always look at all of my athletes and ask, ‘Is there a common thing that we were not doing?’ or  were we not good at this movement or that movement.’” 
  • “They can expect some very unique strength things. I have a strength program where we utilize a lot of tempo and pauses. I was lucky enough to work with really great coaches. I worked with Coach Bergener. I worked with Chad and Jody Vaughn and Ursula Garza, Papandrea, Dave Durante. So I was lucky to be around these great coaches and you just sponge off of them and try to learn from them.” 
  • “I developed a tempo progression program for our strength and combined it with some explosive movements and it’s unique. It’s different. It’s difficult. It’s very challenging, but it works. Everybody PRs all their strength numbers, a significant amount, and so that’s probably the first thing that you would notice.” 

With the majority of MAD Athletes competing at the local level Tillman offers several different programming options, for all levels including strength cycles, gymnastics, teen and masters specific, barbell cycling, and much more. The mobile app is his newest expansion of the training program and is available on Apple and Android products. 

To ensure the quality of the app and programming, Tillman had a select group of individuals beta test the app, which has been in the works for a little over a year. 

“It’s more than a year’s worth of programming in the app. And I constantly go through and adjust it because the strength cycle from two years ago is not the same as the one I’m developing for this year. Every year it evolves and changes,” said Tillman. 

The bottom line: MAD Athletes has a lot to offer and it’s for athletes at all levels looking to build strength and improve their overall fitness. Now, with the app, Tillman’s programming is available to people all over the world. If you want to get started and try out the MAD Athletes method use the discount code MAD-CHALK-UP for Morning Chalk Up readers.

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