Guest Post by CrossFit Competitor Kristen Gemme



Kristen is one mentally tough CrossFitter.

It’s an honor to have one of my favorite and toughest CrossFit sisters write today’s guest post. What I love best about Kristen is her work ethic. Before we became friends, I used to watch Kristen work on trying to get her first muscle ups before and after class. She struggled big time as you could see the frustration on her face whenever she missed. However, you can also see the fierce determination in her too. I knew eventually she would achieve the muscle up, but what I found so admirable about Kristen is the dedication she put in. I’m telling you all –  this girl was relentless.  She would go to the gym before class and work on her muscle up attempts on her own. After a hard WOD when most people are completely drained, I’ve seen her hop on the rings and do more muscle up work. This was all a sign of somebody really wanting it and the heart of one that refuses to give up.

The fact that Kristen swears like a sailor makes her the type of friend that I like to have a beer with after an ass kicking WOD.

Lucky me.

You can read her engaging and very humorous blog here.

Without further adieu, here’s Kristen:

Fighting for Mental Toughness through “Fran”

No matter what workout you are about to attack, you have to have some sort of plan. Planning comes in many shapes and forms, depending on what task you have in front of you, and it’s different for everybody. Planning is a huge part of mental toughness and in my mind, forms a foundation for toughness and success. Mental toughness is what gives you an edge. It’s what separates the average from the elite.  “Elite” is a term that use loosely. I don’t mean the top of your sport (ie. Crossfit games, olympics, nationals, etc…) But, I mean at the top of YOUR game. YOUR elite. Your biggest competition is yourself, and more so your mental state than your physical.

All day, every time I thought about the upcoming workout that was facing me later that evening I got a wave of mild panic and butterflies in my stomach. For some reason, “Fran” is the only wod that induces this degree of pre-workout jitters. For those of you who are not aware, “Fran” is a benchmark crossfit workout, one of the originals, if not “the” original, developed by Greg Glassman before crossfit was even crossfit. It is a sprint workout that consists of 21-15-9 reps of thrusters at (95# men, 65# women) and pull ups. It doesn’t look bad on paper…shit, it even looks almost easy! But say “Fran” in front of any crossfitter, and you will bring on looks of horror, head shaking, “holy shits”, “ugh”, and “Fran’s a bitch”.  ”What’s your “Fran” time?” in the crossfit world is equivalent to “what do you bench?” in the world of globo gyms. 

With that said, my previous PR on Fran was 6:38 Rx, which isn’t spectacular, but is “ok”- average, I’d say. It’s been several months since I last did Fran, and since then I’ve made big gains, lost weight, got stronger, better endurance, blah blah blah….no needless to say, I was excited but extremely anxious to find out where I would fall. “Fran” is a great fire-breather test- mentally and physically. There’s no way around it, “Fran” hurts. No matter how in shape you are and how conditioned you are, it fucking hurts. What separates the fire-breathers from the average crossfitter is the ability to mentally suck it fuck up and push through the pain. “Fran” is the ultimate test of mental toughness. Being able to ignore the pain and turn it into fire to push through to the finish is what makes the difference between a >5 min “Fran” and a sub 5min “Fran”. It’s so unbelievably easy to slow down, rest excessively, or overall just give up and say “fuck it”. But if you want to make gains, you have to suck it the fuck up and push on. 

Setting up and waiting for 3-2-1 “go”, my hands were shaking and my heart was already racing- but I was ready to tackle this fucking wod. The first set of 21 thrusters and pull ups is a piece of cake and moves quickly. The sets of 15 are notoriously what hurt the most and slow you down the most. The round of 15 is where my inner voice has to become louder than the pain searing through my muscles and the burn in my lungs. 

You have to have a plan of attack before starting a wod- especially a wod like “Fran”. My plan of attack came into play starting at the sets of 15. I went into it with the plan of breaking it up into a set of two. I only wanted to drop the bar once, and I was only allowing myself to rest for 2 seconds at the top of the thruster, so I could utilize the momentum down to power into the next thruster. Now, this is the plan- things don’t always or usually go as planned. The pain fights that plan and starts becoming the dominating force. When that happens I instantly make my sets smaller- but only in my mind. If I mentally can tell myself to “just do two more”, suddenly those two reps are done and I just repeat “just two more”. And I take those small victories and stack them together until the set is complete and the bar can come down. By that point, I leave myself with no more than 3 reps to complete, so I pick the bar right back up and can immediately bang out the last 2-3 reps, knowing that the end is in sight. BOOM. Set of 15 are done. I use the same mental game play on the pull ups. 

The final round of 9 reps hurts like a mother-fucker, but by that time, my give a shit is gone and all I’m doing is rallying to the finish. I know that no matter how much it hurts, it will be over soon and I can rest. No rest on the last round is allowed unless I legitimately reach muscle failure, in which case, shake it out no longer than a second or two and it’s back on the bar. You don’t need to think, don’t need to breathe, don’t need to feel the pain until your chin reaches over the bar on that 9th rep. 

The only time I watched the clock was after my first rounds of 21. After that, the clock meant nothing. I would be wasting precious seconds looking at the clock instead of working, and “Fran” is such a fast sprint, that seconds count. The next time I looked at the clock was when I jumped off the pull up bar and hit the deck in a pile of sweat, hyperventilation and lightheaded giddiness. I had knocked 2 minutes off of my time.


But it didn’t stop there. I signed up to do this at the “competitor” level at my gym. This meant that for every second over 4 minutes, you had to complete 1 burpee. I had accrued 40 burpees for a penalty. It would’ve been easy to not do them. To ignore the fist bump I did with my coach at the start of class when he said “competitor, Kristin?”. Mental-fucking-toughness. Despite the fire I felt in my lungs, shoulders and quads, after I caught my breath and cheered on the remaining athletes through their finish, I hit the deck and did my burpees. Four sets of 10. Five sets of 2. Small victories set me up for task completion, and I could finally celebrate my personal win, knowing I had the mental toughness and integrity to stand back up and finish the race.


Thanks Kristen for a great post! Really inspiring!

Normally, on Wednesday I have a strength workout for you all. But, today let’s take Kristen’s challenge and do “Fran” today. However, if you did the WOD from the last post, do NOT do “Fran” as you don’t want to overdose on doing too many pull-ups. Do this strength WOD instead.

Today’s classic CrossFit WOD –


3 rounds as fast as you can with the following rep scheme: 21-15-9

1. Thrusters

2. Pull-ups – if you can do kipping pull-ups, go for it. But, if you can’t them, do dead-hang ones instead.

I highly suggest you take Kristen’s advice today and have a plan of attack for “Fran.” When I first started doing “Fran,” my plan was literally to not die. That’s how fast your heart will be pounding from the first set of thrusters. I really liked how Kristen had a targeted number of reps that she went after for each set. You all should do the same. For example, in the first set of 21 reps thrusters and pull-ups, break it down to 3 sets of 7 reps. By having mini-goals that you can reach will make “Fran” more attainable and less draining on the mental. Continue this strategy for the remaining sets.

One of the best ways to offset the inevitable physical discomfort from “Fran” is to stop focusing on how much your body is hurting. At some point of this WOD, your lungs will hurt, your legs will be burning and your shoulders will feel like falling off. By putting your attention on the discomfort is like being in a defensive state of mind. When the misery happens, learn to shift your mind to being on the aggressive offensive. The best way to do this is to switch your attention to your will. Listen to your will speak to you. Your will should be screaming at you to never, ever give the fuck up. When this message becomes loud and clear, you know you have no choice, but to continue the fight. By redirecting all your attention back to the battle, your mind is totally engaged with only one singular goal – to do whatever it takes to get you to finish. When your mind is on the offense once again, your body will be revitalize with a new level of strength and the pain that you were just feeling, becomes almost an afterthought.

Let your will guide you back to the thrusters and pull-ups to finally put an end to “Fran.” Make a statement to yourself and finish her off as aggressive and as feisty as you can be. When you are done, congratulate yourself. You just made a huge leap in your mental toughness development by finishing off the mother beast of them all. My favorite girl, Fran.”

Scaled back versions of “Fran” –

1.  Use a Woody band for the assisted pull-ups

2. Horizontal body rows can done be instead of the pull-ups. They look like this – images (18)

3. Jumping pull-ups are good too. Here’s what they look like – download (2)

4. Rest at least 3 minutes between each set.

5. Alternative rep scheme: 12, 8, 6.

6. Do only 2 sets.

Suitable substitutions for this WOD –

1. You can do military presses instead of the thrusters,

2. The recommend weight for the thrusters is 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for woman. However, unless you are an experienced CrossFitter, be conservative and go light. Using just the barbell will be more than sufficient when you first start off with “Fran.”


13 thoughts on “Guest Post by CrossFit Competitor Kristen Gemme”

  1. Great to read about a strong and mentally tough woman!

    Kristen – you are role model for us all! Very inspiring and loved your writing style.

    Don’t know how I will do on Fran, but I will attack it later this week as I did “Jason” on on Monday.

    Wish me luck!

  2. Wow, what a amazing bod you have. Okay, I’m convinced. I”m going to give this Crossfit/mental toughness protocol a try.

    Kris – What kind of diet do follow? Do you write about what you eat on your blog? Do you recommend joining a crossfit gym or should I do it on my own?

    Thanks so much for all your help!

  3. Hey Cindy – Kristen writes a lot about what she eats. Check out her blog! You’ll love it and probably laugh a lot too.

    Thanks for your comment and good luck w/the training!

  4. Hi Cindy! I do follow a strict diet. It’s not a difficult one to master, but it’s relatively strict. I get my body fat % measured once a month as well so I can help track my progress and determine if I’m eating correctly. I just recently made a change to increase protein and carbs.
    Joining a crossfit gym will absolutely make your transition to these types of workouts easier, and will help ensure that you are using correct form to avoid injury and to promote body development, but you can absolutely tackle them on your own as well.

    I would be happy to discuss diet more in depth with you if you wish- I love talking to people about it and helping get them on the right track. I can be contacted through my blog or by email at

    Take care and kick ass!

  5. Its a shame that your fran time is faster than mine! What a bad ass you are! ‘

    Tough girls rule!


  6. Did Fran for the second time and really embarrass for my time. I really suck at both the thrusters and pull-ups (I had to use a band for the second and third set). What are some of the ways I can improve on my fran time? Should I do more pull-ups? How does one practice their thrusters? how often should I do fran?

    Really motivated to break my crappy time of over 11 minutes.


  7. The first thing you need to do is become more proficient with your pull-ups. Get a doorway pullbar and practice doing pulling ups even day. Google “grease the groove” pullups and it will give you a good program to improve your pullups.

    Once you are able to bang 15 dead hand pullups, you can start working on some kipping pull-ups. Kipping pullups are fast and are exactly what you need if you want a faster FRAN time.

  8. I also find that doing HEAVY thrusters immediately before fran makes the thruster weight feel like nothing! I would work up to ~138# for a 1 rep max thruster and then take 5 min to rest, then go to fran. You’d be amazed at how light it feels

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