Erica Mendel reached out to us about possible work early this past summer, before she relocated to Los Angeles with her boyfriend. We get hundreds of requests for potential coaching positions at DogTown, which 99 percent of them are dead ends. From time to time, we find real gems like Erica. Upon meeting her, I immediately liked her perspective on life, her approach to coaching people and her belief in the basics when it comes to Strength and Conditioning. Please welcome Erica to the DT family if you haven't already!
Coach Dusty

Q: From Maryland to California, what brought you to Los Angeles?
A: My boyfriend and I both started school at UCLA this past fall. He is getting his PhD in Sustainability and I am doing an Acting program. I want to be an actor (I am an actor – gotta get used to saying that), so moving here was going to happen eventually. UCLA just sped it up a bit.

Q: What has it been like adjusting to West Coast life?
A: Honestly it’s been great! I was ready for a change, and getting the opportunity to start our own life here has been really nice.
Q: How long have you been doing CrossFit and what were you doing before?
A: I have been doing CrossFit for 5 years. I was a swimmer from the age of 7-18. I got pretty sick my last year of high school and had to quit. To be honest, I was also pretty burnt out. I dabbled in climbing and yoga and Muay Thai before I finally went to a CrossFit gym and got totally hooked.

Q: What are your CrossFit and fitness goals as an athlete?
A: I actually don’t have any goals as an athlete. I have a really obsessive personality, and I have found that if I set goals in CrossFit, I stop enjoying my training and just obsess over why I am not achieving things as fast as I want to.
I am not a competitive CrossFit athlete and I never will be. So I just focus on doing what I like to do, and letting whatever happens happen. It took me a really long time to learn to enjoy the ride and not focus on the end result. If I am looking for longevity in this sport and in my general fitness, then I need to just focus on keeping myself healthy and happy. That said, if setting goals keeps you coming to the gym, by all means keep setting those goals and crushing them. I think it’s important for each person to find what works for them and stick to it.

Q: As a coach, what advice do you give both veterans and rookies of CrossFit?
A: For veterans: Pay attention to your movement. After years of lifting it is easy to think that you know it all and don’t have to focus on what the coaches are saying or what your body is doing. Everyone can improve, forever, especially when it comes to movement. Our bodies change over time, so what you did 5 years ago won’t necessarily work for you anymore. Take joy in continuing to learn. Don’t take it as an attack on what you think that you already know.

For rookies: Take it slow. We all start somewhere. If you kill yourself trying to beat the people who have been doing this for 5 years, you’re going to end up hurt and with bad movement patterns. Just focus on you and your journey! Nobody else can affect the work that you put in and the results that you get out of it. It’s easy to fall into the trap of rushing things (i.e. kipping pull-ups: Do NOT do them until you have strict pull-ups). That is how people get hurt. Trust the process and be patient (and diligent).

Q: Mobility is one of those areas that often is neglected. Thank you for always adding even a few extra minutes of mobility to the classes you coach! What are the benefits (aka selling points) of mobility you would like for DogTown to cash in on?
A: I LOVE MOBILITY! I like to think about it this way. If you have mobility restrictions, you are not able to do anything at your full capacity. If your shoulders are super tight, then your overhead squat is only going to be 30% of what it could be if you were more mobile. Mobility (and stability in those end ranges) opens up a whole new level of gains that you will never be able to reach if you never work on it.
If you watch Olympic Lifting competitions they often have a stream of the training hall. All of the best lifters in the world also have INCREDIBLE mobility. You can be big and strong, but if the guy/girl next to you is big and strong AND mobile, he/she will out-lift you every time.

Q: As the new coach for Saturday classes, you get to take liberties with the programming. What is the method behind your madness?
A: HA! This is a great question. I love those Saturday classes. I like to try to introduce odd objects and movements that you wouldn’t see in a normal class during the week. Mostly, I try to think of workouts that I think would be fun and that force people to work together (hence the partner workouts!). The mobility is there for all the reasons mentioned above, and the question of the day is there to force us all to get to know each other. I love the conversation that those questions spark and the laughs that usually ensue!

Q: What do you find to be unique about the DogTown community?
A: DogTown has a really welcoming community. Oftentimes gyms can be very exclusive, even though they advertise inclusivity. From the start of my time here, the people at DogTown have been incredibly kind and supportive of me and from what I can see, of each other. It’s really nice to watch people really care about one another!

Q: What are two things about you that our DogTown family may not know?
A: First…. I used to have (slash still struggle with) an eating disorder. It is often touted that CrossFit can cure body image issues; at least, that is largely what I have seen. CrossFit is wonderful for many people, but it is not guaranteed to cure anything.
My body image ideals just shifted from being skinny, to being lean and “ripped” when I started CrossFit. Neither of those things are healthy for me (or anyone) to obsess over. If you struggle with really unhealthy eating habits (and that can include obsession with sticking to a “healthy” diet), get help! My eating disorder did not go away when I started CrossFit, even though I tried really hard to pretend it did. Just be really aware of the messages that you are telling yourself with regards to training and eating. Secondly… I am 24 years old. I like to try to pretend that I am older and wiser than I am, but really I am just a youth masquerading as a grown-up

Q: When you are not at DogTown, what are you up to?
I am usually spending time with Russell and my dog, working on my acting/photography, or cooking.

Final word: In regards to health, working out and eating well are great, but if you are not getting enough sleep, you are severely hindering all of your hard work. Sleep is the cornerstone of health. Get some sleep kids.