Thirty minutes past midnight approaching August 2 Philippine time, CrossFit coach Justin Hernandez takes on his first event at the CrossFit Games. Presently, together with fellow Filipino Kristen Lim, Justin is at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison, Wisconsin, representing the country at the prestigious event. The 26 year-old four-time CrossFit Open national champion is the first Pinoy to do so.
We met Justin on a hot Friday brunch time weeks before the competition, right at the gym where he teaches, SkyHigh Fitness Gym in Marikina. He came off buff and burly, typical of any athlete in the sport we know who'd recite "CrossFit is life!" without delay. As it turned out, he did say it in our conversation—many times.
"CrossFit is life. Just CrossFit," Justin would state with self-assurance once asked how his day-to-day goes. Any sign of boastfulness and intimidation his demigod-like bod gave off, he shaved off and replaced with meekness, which in turn he sealed with a warm smile. "Other than this, siguro, I like riding motorcycles."
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Justin's journey in the—let's call it—art of fitness started in college, back at the Far Eastern University. He was 15 or 16 for his first time, lifting rusty weights and sweating it out on slimy equipment at some bakal gym, finding the progress he got from working out not just elating, but also challenging. Justin, who wasn't entirely athletic growing up, got serious about bodybuilding in 2009. He enjoyed the sport so much so he entered the Gemmalyn Crosby Sports Festival's novice division in 2014—and won.
As does any narrative of a sportsman always down for change and a challenge, Justin then focused on CrossFit next. So after five years in bodybuilding and upon CrossFitter Nikko de Guzman's prodding, the then-curious fitness instructor then tried his hand in CrossFit.
"Actually, for me, difficulty-wise, (bodybuilding and CrossFit) are the same," he declared his little adjustment. "Yung mga workouts sa CrossFit, mas nakakahingal lang sya and then sa bodybuilding, mas nakakangawit. Ang difficulty naman sa bodybuilding ay pag-nag-di-diet ka na preparing for a competition."
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Justin, who would later indulge in a Krispy Kreme red velvet without hesitation during our chat, went on and compared the diet. "Meron naman sa CrossFit, pero not as strict as bodybuilding. Hindi mo kailangan i-limit yung sodium mo, hindi mo kailangan i-limit yung water mo. More performance kasi ang CrossFit—ang bodybuilding, gusto mo mag-improve yung looks mo. More physique. Sa bodybuilding, makikita mo sa stage na ang ganda ng katawan nila. Mukhang malakas, pero in reality, they’re not at their strongest."
Justin, who looks up to American CrossFit athletes Mat Fraser and Rich Froning, found this as his exact reason why he stayed in this venture. "The difference is in bodybuilding ang goal mo is gumanda yung katawan mo. Kapag maganda yung katawan mo, hindi mo kailangan ng masyado maraming reps. Hindi mo kailangan ng sobrang daming volume. Ang goal mo lang is as long as yung muscle mo nasaktan sya, nangangawit sya, mag-go-grow siya eh, whereas in CrossFit, ang goal mo is maging efficient gumalaw, para mas madami kang reps o mas mabilis ka tumakbo. Yun lang, that’s the difference," he said.
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Justin works out on any given week at least six times and consumes 40-50% protein, 30-40% carbs, and 10-20% fat daily. His life now seems to circle around CrossFit besides his day job as a trainer (he also teaches at CrossFit Katipunan, Quezon City). Yet, while his motto screams himself being too invested in the sport, he also finds gratification in his students. "Nakakatuwa lang yung feeling na naikita ko clients ko na they’re reaching their goals."
Besides the health aspect, Justin finds inspiration in the unusally tight CrossFit community. (Tight, we say, as CrossFitters across different boxes in Manila would most likely know each other. No kidding, go ask CrossFitter X if s/he knows CrossFitter Y or CrossFitter Z!) "It’s kind of hard to explain, pero pag pumasok ka sa gym…ma-fi-feel mo eh. Mas warm sa CrossFit, mas friendly. Whereas—hindi naman sa nanlalait—most of the time in bodybuilding gyms, pabigatan ng buhat. Kaya nauso yung term na 'ego-lifters.' Parang kahit na-sa-sacrifice yung form mo, basta mabigat yung nabubuhat mo. Feel mo sa bodybuilding, ang competitive," he said. "Sa CrossFit, tulungan. Siguro nakakatulong din na sa CrossFit, laging class. Pare-parehas kayo lagi ng ginagawa, lagi kayo sabay sabay na nag-wo-workout. Kaya na-build yung ganoong environment."
Ultimately, yet again, "CrossFit is life" it is going to be for Justin—even after the 2019 CrossFit Games that is underway as of press time and will end on August 4. "Gusto kong ituloy yung CrossFit. I’m just going to keep training hard, doing my best. Syempre ang goal ng lahat na nag-ko-CrossFit is to join the CrossFit Games and then stand on the podium—na manalo. Pero, to be honest, ang lalakas talaga ng kalaban, it’s quite a long shot."
It was at this point that we told him to stop playing nice and go for the gold instead.
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Photography by Kitty de Leon | Special thanks to Joselle Salvador