Training Big Cats – Coach Ben

The Big Cat is the first in this series of “Taming Your Spirit Animal.” We’re going to examine strengths, weaknesses, and the many different species that make up the Big Cat family. From Lions to Leopards we’ll dive into the similarities and subtle differences. Let’s begin with a short recap of the Big Cat.

The Big Cat (Panther, Jaguar, Cougar etc)

The big cat is categorized by his or her ability to strike hard and fast even under a moderate to heavy load. The ability to pounce allows the Big Cat to excel at workouts such as Grace, Fran, and/or 100 to 400m sprints. They perform extremely well when limited to shorter time domains. The Big Cat fails miserably though when asked to perform a truly aerobic workout (anything lasting more than 3 – 5 minutes.) Chances are, your favorite NFL or Olympic Lifting athlete is a very big cat.


Since short and powerful bursts are where Big Cats thrive, watching them perform thirty clean and jerks for time, or snatching for max load will leave you in awe. Anaerobic activity, by definition, only lasts 1 to 240 seconds placing Big Cats a real advantage when striking in this time domain, and as long as they can rest adequately (approximately 12x the work) between exertions, their ability to repeat near maximal efforts is what sets them apart in the animal kingdom.

A wise man once said, “All good things in life begin with a violent thrust of the hips,” and this definitely applies to any and all Big Cats. Max height box jumps, all the olympic lifts, and front and back uprises (aka muscle ups) are the main areas where we get to see Big Cats display their prowess in the world of Crossfit.

Let’s take a look at a few different Cats that make up the Big Cat family:


This group is characterized by their lightning speed over short distances. The two minute AMRAP is the favorite for this particular Cat. Bodyweight or very light loads are all they can effectively handle at any given time, but when the clock starts, there are none that can rival their speed. Weight training is a must for the cheetah if he/she is every going to progress as a Crossfitter. Simply starting with the basics, ie, back squat, strict press, dead lift and bench press will pay huge dividends as long as the loads are moderate to heavy and the progressions are slow and steady. Learning to handle moderate load for 5 – 10 minutes is a great place to start because the urge to sprint is still satisfied within the first minute or two. Increasing the length of the workout, then increasing the load is the appropriate path to taming your inner Cheetah.

Puma (aka the American Lion)

With the ability to run fast over further distances than the Cheetah, Pumas find themselves in the middle of the Big Cat pack. Moderate loads are no trouble if the distance isn’t too great. A Puma is the most well balanced of the Big Cats. Their 1 mile run time may even rival that of a Hoof. Problems occur for the Puma, as with all Big Cats, when they’re asked to move a heavy load for a long time ie 50 heavy barbell lunges or heavy dumbbell man makers for time. Because the Puma is better balanced, they won’t have to work as hard as Cheetah to make up ground in these areas. Starting with a long (20 – 30 minute) heavy lifting EMOM is a great way for Pumas to improve their capacity, and prepare them to perform over longer periods. Long, unweighted cardio (ie 30+ minutes running, biking, or rowing) is also another great way to help Pumas improve recovery time, and build a broad aerobic base.


The biggest of the Big Cats, you can bet your favorite NFL team’s offensive and defensive lines are comprised of Tigers! Capable of feats of brute strength that amaze, Tigers find themselves dwelling on the far end of the Big Cat spectrum opposite the Cheetah. A Tiger’s “Grace” time will rival that of your favorite Crossfit Games athlete, and they make muscle ups look too easy as long as they don’t have to do too many of them. Sadly max effort sprints, lifts, and jumps is where our fascination ends. Tigers need a lot of work with learning how to move submaximal loads for extended periods. Loading up 60 – 70% and moving through a few 3 to 5 minute AMRAPs will pay huge dividends for a true Tiger, and as tolerance increases, so does the time domain (and eventually the load.) Remember, to be a better balanced Crossfitter, the Tiger must learn to endure like the hoofed animals.

Finding Balance

For all the Big Cats, balance can be found by simply increasing their aerobic capacity, and doing the long boring “cardio” that most Crossfit athletes hate. I’d like for you to ask yourself these two questions, “How important is Balanced Fitness to me, and what am I willing to do to achieve it?”

We’ll continue in the series of “Taming Your Spirit Animal” with the hoofed animals next time. As always, we the coaching staff are here for you so pick our brains, and ask us questions. See you in class.

Go Rabbits!

Ben_AikenWhen Ben isn’t chasing his two children around, you can find him handing out tips on how to move more efficiently. Always encouraging, he likes to laugh and joke with his athletes while guiding them on their fitness journey. A gymnastics expert, he loves to teach people ninja skills and help them excel on their hands, the rings, and bars.