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Podcast No. 88: Sam Dancer, Elite CrossFitter

August 26, 2020

My guest this week is elite CrossFitter Sam Dancer.

By Will Ahmed

Listen, review, subscribe.

Sam has been a long-time WHOOP member. He was one of the first athletes to ever wear WHOOP and says it has had a profound impact on his life. Sam describes how WHOOP helped him cut out prescription drugs, coffee, and tobacco. He also explains how WHOOP has improved his relationships with others and his relationship with himself.

Additionally, Sam shares the details of a self-described identity crisis that led him to CrossFit, how he’s seen the sport grow over the last 10 years, and how he managed to compete at the 2016 CrossFit games on a broken leg.

Stay healthy and stay in the green!

Sam Dancer Podcast Show Notes:

2:58 – Finding CrossFit. “I was in this identity crisis. I had been a football player my whole life, I had just finished up collegiate football and knew I wasn’t going to go play professionally. I was just trying to figure out who I am not as a football player. If you had asked me, ‘Who are you?’ I would have identified myself as, ‘I’m San Dancer, I play football for Western Illinois University.’ Next to my name, that was the biggest part of my identity. … It didn’t take long to find CrossFit.”

5:54 – Strength in Working Out. “I bench pressed 500 pounds when I was 16 years old. … I was bullied really hard when I was a young teenager, and in my mind I thought if I got big and strong then nobody would be able to pick on me anymore.”

7:20 – Competing With a Broken Leg. Sam details how he performed in 2016 with a broken leg. “You’re a sicko,” Will jokes. “I had worked so hard to make it to the games,” Sam says.

8:09 – Discovering WHOOP. “I was a WHOOPer before you guys were even selling it. It has radically changed my life. … It did not take long for me to start eating it up and making some serious life changes. I used to drink coffee all day, I don’t drink coffee anymore. I used to chew tobacco, I don’t consume any tobacco products any more. I don’t watch TV at all. I used to fiddle on my cell phone before I went to bed, I don’t expose myself to light anymore. This is all stuff that I learned by reverse engineering my recovery scores.”

9:57 – WHOOP and Football. Sam and Will talk about the culture of football and how prescription drug use is prevalent among some of its players. Will notes that WHOOP is the official recovery wearable of the NFLPA.

10:36 – Cutting Out Prescription Drugs. “I would take Vicodin all the time just so I could get out of bed. I would take Adderall just so I could get up and I would take Ambien just so I could get down.”

15:57 – Stress and Recovery. “I found that a simple argument with my wife could completely change the way that my body heals.” Will notes that stress can have a major effect on heart rate variability and sleep performance. “I started to better identify all these types of stress,” Sam says. “I would only typically think of stress as physical stress, what I’m putting my body through. But there’s emotional stress and there’s psychological stress and there’s chemical stress.”

18:08 – Spirituality. “WHOOP has even improved my spiritual life, too. All in the sake and pursuit of performance. I’ve just started trying to find out how to heal. … It’s become a healing journey for me and that has transpired into this spiritual awakening as well.”

20:22 – Communication and Recovery. “The words that I’m using when I’m communicating with someone else and communicating to myself have a direct correlation to the rate at which I’m able to heal.”

21:05 – Love’s Affect on Recovery. “The things that you can’t typically measure, like love for instance, it’s a very real thing but you can’t measure what love is really, but [WHOOP kind of is].” Will notes that many WHOOP members have reported a series of red recoveries following breakups and a string of green recoveries during high points of relationships.

21:57 – Listening, Observing, and Reacting. “The strap, in general, turned me into being a better observer and less of a reactor. The way that you react to things changes the way your body recovers and heals. I’m able to better now be able to observe something happening, feel what I’m feeling, and then because of that I’m able to creatively choose how I want to emote it. That has been healing, very, very healing.”

25:01 – Staying Present. “If you’re worrying, you’re either thinking of something in the past or something in the future. Granted, there are times where we need to plan, where we need to get organized so that we can execute … but by being in the present moment you’re able to, in my opinion, signal to the body that things are good. And when things are good, the body just naturally starts dishing out good stuff that makes you feel good and helps you heal faster.”

27:24 – The Key to Success. “I truly believe that success is overcoming a level of stress that would break most people. If you look at success through that lens it tells you a couple of things: One, the obstacle is the way, you have to take it on to get to the next challenge and next level; and two, you have to be capable of taking on an enormous level of stress,” Will notes.

32:53 – The Origins of WHOOP. Will and Sam discuss the beginnings of WHOOP. “Fundamentally I felt it was quite obvious that there would be a better way to understand the human body than what existed,” Will says. “In 2011, I wrote a paper called The Feedback Tool: How to Measure Intensity, Recovery, and Sleep. And today we measure strain, recovery, and sleep. It did seem fairly obvious to me that this was the direction [for WHOOP]. What’s getting me more excited is if you take that data and you add in a lot of the things that we’ve talked about on this podcast, behaviors, dieting, lifestyle choices, relationships, you name it, anything that’s affecting your life, how is that affecting your data?

36:38 – A Wearable for Everything. “It’s brought so much love and peace and happiness [to me]. … I love competing and that was originally why I got it, so I could be more competitive, but it’s bigger than that. It’s so much bigger than performing on a competitive stage. The most fascinating parts of it are just how I relate to myself, how I speak to myself, the way that it’s changed my relationships.”

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Will Ahmed

Will Ahmed is the Founder and CEO of WHOOP, which has developed next generation wearable technology for optimizing human performance and health. WHOOP members include professional athletes, Fortune 500 CEOs, fitness enthusiasts, military personnel, frontline workers and a broad range of people looking to improve their performance. WHOOP has raised more than $400 million from top investors and is valued at $3.6 billion, making it the most valuable standalone wearables company in the world. Ahmed has recruited an active advisory board that consists of some of the world’s most notable cardiologists, technologists, marketers, and designers. Ahmed was recently named to the 2021 Sports Business Journal 40 under 40 list as well as 2020 Fortune 40 Under 40 Healthcare list and previously named to Forbes 30 Under 30 and Boston Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. Ahmed founded WHOOP as a student at Harvard, where he captained the Men’s Varsity Squash Team and graduated with an A.B. in government.