Coach Spotlight: Phil Tharnish

We are happy to bring you the first honorary Coach's Spotlight tonight! If you don't get up in the wee hours of the morning and stumble into the 5am (10 minutes late with bedhead) or any of the other morning classes, then you might not have had the pleasure to be coached by this gentleman. You also might not know that it was his idea to feature you all in our member spotlights. He came to St Clair in July of 2014 and helped create the 5am class here and encouraged so many of you that we were worth a try. He's a dedicated Husband and Father of 3 great boys. He's a great Coach with a patient hand and a half decent playlist. He's Phil Tharnish.

1.  Hey there!  Where are you from?


I’m from a small town about an hour South of Buffalo – Gowanda, NY.  I went to College at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY.  After graduation I moved to Atlanta, GA and lived there for about 16 years before landing in Pittsburgh, PA. 



2. How long have you been doing CrossFit?


I’ve been doing Crossfit for about 6 years.  A good friend of mine, Creighton Kelly introduced me.  I was getting my exercise by running 5 miles a day before CK had me try a WOD at this place up the street.  Since then, runs are usually capped at 400 meters. 


  CK and I hitting Crossfit Saigon in Vietnam


CK and I in a partner WOD in Atlanta, GA


3.  When did you start coaching CrossFit and why?


I was hooked on Crossfit well before I came to Pittsburgh – so much that I got my L1.  When we decided to move to here in 2012, I decided to take a hiatus from my Scientific Research career in order to ease the location transition for the kids and eventually try out coaching.  I didn’t quite know what the CF platform would be like in Pittsburgh.  I visited several different gyms.  I knew what I wanted, and more importantly, what I didn’t.  I really liked the people and the space at Integrated Fitness.  Trainers were amazing and after “sampling” various boxes in the area I settled there.  A little over a year after being a member at IF, I jumped at the chance to start coaching a few morning classes. 


In the summer of 2014, I found myself looking for another gym.  Again, I tried a few – liked some – disliked others, and eventually chose to become a member at CFStC.  Shortly thereafter, I started coaching again.  I care about people and want them to have a gym where they can call home and I hope they find value in that.



After a workout at IF with Jim Crowell


4.  Tell us about your athletic history…


I played baseball and football in high school.  To be honest, I knew I was just an average nerdy athlete.  My interests were more in academia.  I chose a college with no football program since 1979… and a pretty poor baseball program.  But I love to play softball.  I used to play weekly in Atlanta and miss it.  I also enjoyed (past tense) running marathons.  It is a great way to see a city.  


Highschool newspaper article





5.  What’s your favorite way to sweat?   (Activity/Movement/Sport)

I like to workout with people.  Any workout.  from running to lifting to playing.  I like to do it all.  except Thrusters.  No one likes Thrusters.  I really like things that combine heavy weight movement and need to be done aerobically.  Cleans and running for example.  Love that combo.






6.  Favorite food?  

I like grilled food.  Anything grilled.  Think, “a tailgating experience and I’m there”. Steaks to low country boils.  Fire and Meat can’t be beat.


7.  Favorite movie?

I’m really not a movie guy.  A friend once said “you go to the movies when you have nothing else to do, and you can always find something else to do.”  I’ve been believing that for 20 years.  So, my movie choice may be a bit dated.  One cannot go wrong with Cool Hand Luke. 


8.  Favorite book?

This is easy.  Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse.  If you need to go to a dark space, this is it.  Another book that has stuck with me is “One Second After” by William Forstchen.  It will make you start stocking cans of food.


9.  Favorite music to work out to?

… cause I’m wicked ace at playing the drums, no?  (I’m not… no clue)



I can listen to anything, but prefer something Heavy.  Metallica, NWO, Ozzy.  cannot go wrong with that.  But, depending on the workout, I can always listen to Kings Of Leon for something aerobic.  Like “Back Down South”, but lets be honest, one only hears the music when they aren’t moving, right?


10.  When you aren’t Coaching or working out, where can we find you?

Changing diapers?  Hopefully that ends soon, haha.  I’ve got three boys and an amazing wife that works her tail off.  So, we stay pretty busy with kid sports and activities.  I love nothing more than spending time with Shena and the boys.  Its fun to get lost, finding your way through a new city or place, or just in life in general.  Shena and I have traveled a fair amount and hope to continue to do so.  I’m always looking forward to our next adventure.






11.  How has CrossFit changed you?

Hmmm,  This is a tough question.  I certainly have a lot more respect for all the gymnastic movements we are challenged with.  I guess, it has helped me take the stresses of everyday life in stride.  I always feel better walking out of the gym after a good workout.  

It has also made me realize the value of Crossfit.  I can get opinionated about healthcare…. the red tape that one goes through in getting a MRI on an injury vs the availability of obesity care in our country.  People are quick to complain about the cost of good food or good fitness, yet are quick to buy cheap processed stuff or spend $$ on TV, cell Phones, new vehicles but not a gym membership, then want affordable health care(even free care?).  I believe that our CF program may be the best health care. Sorry, that may be a little bit of a rant.  Might even be a precursor to me yelling at young whipper snappers to stay off my lawn, who knows.  In all reality, I wish everyone would look at fitness through eyes of preventative care.


12.  What do you love most about CrossFit St. Clair?

Since I have started CF, I have been a member or coach at 4 places.  This is, buy far, the most member driven place I’ve seen.  If your goals align with optimization, you can have an individualized programming experience.  If you are like me and love the community feel of Crossfit, then Abby’s programming is fantastic.  I love the group setting.  I feel like, we as coaches, are always trying to make CFStC better for the members.  It seems that most decision are meant to help the vast majority of people.  






  15. What do you want the most for athletes to get out of one of your classes?

This is a great question.  Weather it is in a class I’m coaching or in one that I am attending, I like to see people pushed.  It’s easy to be pumped for someone that broke a barrier.  When someone gets 100# overhead for the first time….200#….300#? that is awesome to witness.  Its great to see the massive amount of weight that gets thrown around early in the mornings.  Astonishing, really.  But, I hope that at some point I can offer a bit of advice that sticks with someone.  Obviously, most of our “cue’s” are meant to aide in safety and efficiency, but when someone walks away with a bit of advice, that not only has worked, but will stick with them for future workouts and most importantly, helps them become better, thats awesome.






15. What 3 words would people use to describe you?  









16. Any mantra, favorite quote, or words to live by?

I found it hard, It was hard to find, Oh well. Whatever, Nevermind.  (I think Kurt hit on something here.  I interpret this as just “keep moving”)


My Dad swiped/modified one from John Wayne… “You’re burning Daylight” - Its from the movie “the Cowboys”.  Might be why I’m comfortable working out at 5AM?  Dad used to “clean” the big metal chimney (that ran by my room) by hitting it with a Sledge hammer to wake my brother and I when he wanted us to wake up to split firewood.  That sound still haunts me. 



phil shena.jpg