Free+Style book, Who is Carl Paoli, Expectations: Athlete vs. Coach, Finding purpose in movement, and more.

Guest: Carl Paoli

Carl Paoli is an entrepreneur, author, coach, athlete and public Speaker. Carl is best known as the movement/gymnastics guy in the CrossFit community and as the author of New York Times bestseller Free+Style: Maximize Sport and Life Performance with Four Basic Movements.

More info: Scroll to the bottom for more info on Where to Listen (or watch), Barbell Shrugged, and where to Connect with Carl Paoli.


Free+Style Book

Carl’s Free+Style book became a staple “textbook” in almost every CrossFit gym and many other movement institutions. It’s a thick, 450 page manual (mostly filled with pictures) on how to “maximize sport and life performance with four basic movements.”


Who is Carl Paoli?

Carl grew up doing gymnastics in Spain. He eventually became an elite gymnast, competing on a national level for more than 15 years. Later on, Carl fell in love with action sports (snowboarding, skiing, and wakeboarding), and eventually realized how important fitness and training were in his life.

Once Carl was introduced to CrossFit, he realized his gymnastics knowledge, coupled with his experience in various sports and ability to present well, were of great value to the CrossFit community. CrossFit athletes of all backgrounds were eager to learn how to perform certain gymnastics movements, and Carl had the right personality and skill set to effectively coach and teach them.

For the past few years, CrossFit has experienced hockey stick growth, and so did the demand for Carl’s movement know-how. He wrote the book Free+Style, a manual for CrossFitters and other movement enthusiasts.

Carl quickly rose to fame in the CrossFit community and became The Movement Guy, but admittedly didn’t initially feel completely connected to this new persona. He eventually found his calling (more on this below) and continued working on his Free+Style Connection brand, in addition to investing time as Global Ambassador at STR/KE MVMNT.


Expectations: Athlete vs. Coach

Carl became known as a super coach in the CrossFit community, thanks to his YouTube videos and global seminars. When he dropped in for workouts at CrossFit boxes around the world, he felt an expectation to perform at a super athlete level. CrossFit is a new sport, and for a long time, most coaches were the fittest people in the gym and the community. Coaches are still top athletes at most gyms, but just like any other sport, as more athletes begin and coaches age, they change their primary focus from training to teaching, leaving the main stage for hard working young people.

“If you played football your whole life, and now you’re a football coach. Nobody expects you to go out on the field and be able to slam into somebody at 100% full speed. And do that all day long, and run four-four, and squat 600 lbs… [But] you’re not a football player anymore, you’re a coach now. You understand football and you know the plays, and how to do it, and you can teach someone else how to do it. But you’re not the athlete anymore. That’s where a lot of Crossfit coaches are now… But the expectation is: if you know a lot, then you should be a super athlete. Even if that’s not your primary concern anymore, [else] your primary concern is coaching people.” — Doug Larson

Carl was on Annie Thorisdottir’s coaching team when she won the Crossfit Games in 2011


Meeting Ido Portal helped Carl find his calling

When Carl met Ido Portal, founder of Ido Portal Movement Culture, he felt a huge relief. He saw Ido as the true Movement Guy and felt like the burden he was carrying was now off of him. Carl realized he’s best not only at absorbing knowledge, but disseminating filtered, practical information in context. Which is exactly what Carl does for the CrossFit community — he helps people improve their understanding of movement.

“So many people say: ‘leave your ego at the door.’ But if you don’t have your ego, you can’t make decisions. Your ego is the axis on which your moral compass spins. You just can’t become the ego.” — Carl Paoli


Finding purpose in movement

All types of movement require awareness and purpose. Athletes constantly need to be in tune with how they’re feeling before, during, and after practice. With more practice, you’ll eventually get a better feel for a movement andlearn how to acknowledge what you’re feeling, which leads you to process and understand the movement even faster.

The most difficult part is skill transfer — taking what we’re feeling and reapplying it elsewhere. But the secret is always in front of us. The trick is to accept and become content with your present skills, and not focus on where you aspire to be. Once you accept your current skill level, you will find fulfillment in training and make progress towards your aspirations.

“Purpose can be redefined as ever changing, but needs to be acknowledged daily.” — Carl Paoli

Though movement mechanics are important in training and shouldn’t be discounted, mindful training is more important. A beginner athlete who is training mindfully may find fulfillment early on, even if she’s still a long way from her aspirations.


Experienced coaching advice

Inexperienced coaches are usually hyper-focused on movement, whereas experienced coaches are focused on how their athletes feel, both physically and spiritually. We all want to express our unique personality and style (especially in movement), but everybody needs to start somewhere. Your best option is to learn from someone who is already good at it.

In the breakdancing community, where style is everything, copying the style of movement from one another is called “biting.” But breakdancers know you have to copy someone before you develop your own style. They have a saying: “If you don’t bite, you don’t eat.” So don’t be shy about copying and learning from athletes you aspire to move like. During the process, you will find and develop your own style.

Your best bet is to find a training partner who is more skilled and experienced than you, so he or she can pull you towards their skill set. (But to find this training partner, make sure to also figure out what value you bring to the table.)


Position — Movement — Purpose

Your movement practice should be safe, useful and long-lasting. First, you need to learn movement mechanics, ensuring you know how to move safely and pain-free. When you move, focus on the basics: start, transition, finish. The transition is where you’re going to struggle — spend most of your time there.

Your movement practice should have a purpose, but you should focus on the path instead of the goal. Don’t focus on fancy tricks. Focus on strength, conditioning, and accessory work that will get you there. It’s also equally important to take pride and find joy in your training.

When you gain an understanding of what you have learned, you should feel fitter, regardless of the number of reps or weight on the bar. When you understand how it becomes relevant, you should feel like you’re making progress. And when you process the information and apply it elsewhere, you should figure out how to transfer skill, which is critical for everyday functions.

Where to listen (or watch)

All Barbell Shrugged episodes are free to listen and watch on YouTube:

Listen also on: iTunesStitcherPlayerFM

Note: timestamps are based on YouTube version.

Barbell Shrugged

Barbell Shrugged is #1 rated fitness and nutrition podcast, providing training programs for athletes and education for strength and conditioning coaches. Barbell Shrugged is hosted by Mike Bledsoe and Doug Larson, and been leading the way in the CrossFit community for the past 5 years.

Connect with Carl Paoli

Connect on social: InstagramFacebookTwitter

Resources: Free+Style (the book), Free+Style ConnectionSTR/KE MVMNT

This was a HELLA LONG post packed with knowledge. Hope you made it through. Did you like it? Would you want me to take notes on another podcast episode? Which one? shoot me an email at or make your suggestion here.

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