Greg Glassman is the founder of CrossFit, an exciting training
protocol and way of life that is rapidly gaining popularity in
a wide variety of sports. He also publishes the CrossFit Journal.
I am excited to offer a free issue to all of the readers of Girevik
Magazine, entitled "What is fitness?". It is an incredible
read and will surely change and challenge your views on the topic.
Greg, thanks for agreeing to do the interview.
First of all, what is unique about your
Crossfit approach to training?
I think we are unique in both the efficacy of our regimen and
our methodology. In terms of approach, I don't know of another
program utilizing gymnastics skills and drills, Olympic Weightlifting/powerlifting,
and multi-mode sprint work. Our hallmark of combining these elements
in single workouts may be globally unique - we're still searching.
In terms of efficacy, of course our results are due to our methods
- this is true of every program, but more to the point we have
spent literally thousands of hours honing our definition of fitness.
It is our definition of fitness that has refined our approach,
and, in turn, forged our results. For CrossFit the specter of
championing a fitness program without clearly defining what it
is that the program delivers combines elements of fraud and farce.
The October 2002 issue ("What is Fitness?") of our magazine,
CrossFit Journal, is an eleven-page manifesto of our view and
standards of fitness.
So Girevik readers can get some sense of our method, here from
that issue of the CrossFit Journal is "World-Class Fitness
in 100 Words":
"Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and
seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake levels
that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train
major lifts: deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, snatch.
Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope
climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips,
splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five
or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations
and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep
workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports."
I'm curious about your background. How did
you get started in fitness and
how did your experiences gradually evolve into the Crossfit methodology?
My first training job was in 1974 as a gymnastics coach at the
Pasadena, California Y.W.C.A. I wan an 18-year-old college student.
Over the next fifteen years I trained in dozens of great Southern
California gyms finding success with a highly efficient, high
intensity workout and a celebrity/athlete clientele. It was my
work with cops, though, that was so formative of my training.
It was easy to see what was lacking in both body builders and
endurance athletes when it came to the demands of arrest and control.
Over the years it became abundantly clear that combining elements
of traditional body building (curls, leg extensions, lateral raises,
etc.) with extended aerobic efforts while producing results paled
to mixing heavy fundamental movements with high intensity "cardio"
efforts. Trainers, athletes, coaches, and gym goers watched in
stunned disbelief as my athletes alternated heavy deadlifts with
400-meter sprints - that is, until they tried it. To this day
you are about as likely to win the lottery as you are to find
someone mixing heavy fundamental resistance movements with sprints
in single workouts in a commercial facility. This won't be the
case if strength and conditioning are going to advance.
By 1995 CrossFit had been featured on TV and radio, and in print
for its contributions to police fitness and our athletes achievements
and dominance. But it was the launching of our website in February
of 2001 with a daily workout that gave us regular interaction
with thousands of athletes worldwide. We have had the honor and
challenge of putting our beliefs to worldwide test with thousands
of athletes from every walk of life. It would be rough to overstate
the value of this feedback, experimentation, and exposure with
a global audience.
Today, we are a leading force in elite physical conditioning
with a growing influence in military, police, and martial arts
communities and a growing roster of national, world, and Olympic
champions from more than a dozen sports.
You have established a solid reputation
in the mixed martial arts community.
Do you practice any martial arts yourself?
No, I've no formal martial arts training. The martial arts community
found us; we've made no direct overtures to that community. A
few of our martial artists elevated themselves from regionally
significant to world dominance and had the grace and good nature
to publicly thank us - one after an eleven second UFC rout.
If you know martial arts, especially MMA/NHB, and understand
CrossFit, it is fairly obvious that I would hold these athletes
in the highest regard.
What kinds of people have you been working
Literally, all kinds. I wouldn't know how to begin to characterize
our typical client. We've got a 70-year-old author of a standard
reference in cardiology, the only American black belt BJJ world
champion, and terrorist hunters.
It is our work with military special op's teams and police that
has won our hearts and for which we are most proud. To get emailed
testimonials from soldiers returning from Afghanistan who've been
awarded Silver Stars Nominations, Bronze Stars with "V"
devices, Bronze Stars, Joint Service Commendations Medals with
"V" devices, ARCOMS, Air Force Commendation Medals,
and CIB's and Overseas Bars due to their "high levels of
physical fitness in preparation for the conduct of combat"
is, for me, an honor I will never forget. The U.S. Department
of Justice's National Police Corps Training Specialists became
our first certification clients this year, and helping these fine
men and women create a new standard for police training is the
culmination of my nearly thirty years of studying human performance.
The most amazing thing about your program
is that it is designed as a
one-size-fits-all workout, regardless of the needs of the individual.
shocked to hear so many success stories from such a variety of
people. What makes this possible? How does Crossfit work for so
many different types of people?
It has long been our contention, our observation, that people's
needs differ by degree not kind. Olympic athletes and our grandparents
both need to fulfill their potentials for cardiorespiratory endurance,
stamina, strength, flexibility, speed, power, coordination, accuracy,
balance, and agility. One is looking for functional dominance
the other for functional competence. Competence and dominance
manifest and optimize through identical physiological mechanisms.
We scale our program by altering rest, load, intensity, etc. while
utilizing the same tools (exercises) for everyone whenever possible.
We get requests from athletes from every sport looking for a strength
and conditioning program for their sport. Firemen, soccer players,
triathletes, boxers, and surfers all want programs that conform
to their perceived specific needs. While admitting that there
are surely needs specific to any sport, the bulk of sport specific
training has been ridiculously ineffective. The need for specificity
is nearly completely met by regular practice and training within
the sport not in the strength and conditioning environment. Our
terrorist hunters, skiers, mountain bikers, and housewives have
found their best fitness form the same regimen - CrossFit.
What type of planning goes into the routine?
What is your method for
selecting the exercises each week?
Our view of what fitness is and isn't creates, in effect, a theoretical
template that guides the selection of exercises, their rep range,
frequency of occurrence, length of workout, etc. Come to know
our standards and aims and the rationale behind our workouts'
architecture becomes somewhat self-evident. The workouts themselves
are a near perfect expression of our vast experience building
the world's toughest athletes. This question is great but somewhat
like asking Tiger Woods, "How do you do it?"
That being said, the process is without a doubt part art. In
fact, the National Strength and Conditioning Association, that
august non-profit arbiter of exercise science admits in its Essentials
of Strength and Conditioning that exercise programming is still
more art than science. At CrossFit we call it the choreography
of exertion. Our routines display balance, symmetry, theme, composition,
and an aesthetic cultivated over decades of experience - including
successes, and failures. The workouts are designed to maximize
human physical capacity, period. That being the case, they are
universally regarded as being the toughest workouts in every athlete's
Finally, I cannot discount the utility of posting workouts to
the site and getting feedback from hundreds of elite athletes
around the world. This would prove invaluable to any strength
and conditioning coach or program.
What is the best way for a person to get started in Crossfit?
It is imperative that someone new to CrossFit takes the first
month to learn the movements, if they're not already intimate
with them, and establish consistency before increasing intensity.
If you can get through the workouts for one month straight without
falling apart, then we recommend that you up the intensity a little
the following month. If you throw yourself at this task 100% from
day one, these workouts will chew you up and swallow you whole.
I promise it. Don't be misled by the workouts' brevity. The tougher
you are the harder you'll go down, guaranteed.
Based on the experience of friends doing
the Crossfit program, I have heardmany reports of new PR's and
other feats of strength in specific lifts.
This happens despite the fact that the particular lift only comes
up on an
occasional basis. This completely flies in the face of conventional
training wisdom, so I must ask: how is this possible?!
If you come to us with a 4-minute mile, six months into it you
are going to be 30 seconds slower but a whole hell of a lot fitter.
Similarly, if you come to us with a 900-pound squat, in six months
it's going to be 750 pounds, but you, too, will be much fitter.
A 4-minute mile and a 900-pound squat are both clear and compelling
evidence of a lack of balance in your program. This doesn't reflect
the limitations of our program but the inherent nature of flesh
But here's the fascinating part. We can take you from a 200 pound
max deadlift to a 500-750 pound max deadlift in two years while
only pulling max singles four or five times a year. We will though
work the deadlift, like most lifts, approximately once per week
at higher reps and under grueling conditions. It may intuit well
that if you can pull a 250 pound deadlift 21 times coming to the
lift at a heart rate of 180 beats per minute, then 500 pounds
for a single at a resting heart rate is perhaps manageable.
Now, I know there have been studies done that seem to demonstrate
that regimens that combine resistance training and endurance training
in a single workout do not develop strength or endurance as well
as regimens that develop them separately. It is true that if I
train for the deadlift on some days and the mile on others, I
will when tested for the deadlift on one day and the mile on another
show better results for both than if I had trained with the deadlift
and run combined - I'm sure of that. But what if I tested both
protocols by running 400 meters then immediately deadlifting and
repeating this four times without rest? Promise yourself that
the mixed protocol will beat out the separated. The real point,
though, is that running 400 meters followed immediately by deadlifting,
repeated four times has dramatically greater application to sport,
combat, and survival than superior performance for both performed
on separate occasions.
Also operative in the phenomenon you mentioned is the nature
of our exercises. We work with a cast of about thirty exercises
where about fifteen account for 80% of the workouts. The cast
of characters that comprise are routines are so potent in increasing
strength from head to toe that regular exposure to any of them
nearly guarantees improvements in the others. Improve your deadlift,
bench, and pull-ups and your squat, dips, and rope climb will
come up. The neuroendocrine response of the major lifts is so
potent that they alone will increase your strength measured by
any other exercise so that seemingly infrequent exposures to some
exercises is not a certain disadvantage.
At CrossFit we endeavor to blur the lines between "cardio"
and strength training simply because nature frequently does not
recognize the distinction and will on average punish those who
cannot see past the distinction. We've often noted that the demands
of survival, combat, and life look more like running up five flights
of stairs with a keg of beer on your shoulder for time than running
a mile on Tuesday and deadlifting on Friday.
Conventional training wisdom is - like most popular notions -
frequently at odds with reality. That is the nature of things.
Outside of the gym, what other recommendations
do you make for your athletes in order to maximize benefits from
the Crossfit program?
We could never have accomplished what we have without keen insights
into nutrition. We allied ourselves with Barry Sears, author of
the Zone books, long before he published his first book. Much
of our athlete's results have been greatly magnified by realizing
the deficiencies of the low-fat, high-carb, fad diet that characterizes
conventional training wisdom. Here again following the masses
is to miss the truth.
What is the Neuroendocrine response and
what kind of exercises stimulate it the most?
Neuroendocrine response is a change in the body that affects
you either neurologically or hormonally. Most important adaptations
to exercise are in part or completely a result of a hormonal or
neurological shift. Current research, much of it done by Dr. William
Kraemer, Penn State University, has shown which exercise protocols
maximize neuroendocrine responses. Deadlift, squat, presses, and
cleans all have a demonstrated potent neuroendocrine response.
Among the hormonal responses vital to athletic development are
substantial increases in testosterone, insulin-like growth factor,
and human growth hormone. Exercising with protocols known to elevate
these hormones eerily mimics the hormonal changes sought in exogenous
hormonal therapy (steroid use) with none of the deleterious effect.
Exercise regimens that induce a high neuroendocrine response produce
champions! Increased muscle mass and bone density are just two
of many adaptive responses to exercises capable of producing a
significant neuroendocrine response.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of the neuroendocrine
response to exercise protocols. This is why it is one of the defining
themes of the CrossFit program. Heavy load weight training, short
rest between sets, high heart rates, high intensity training,
and short rest intervals, though not entirely distinct components,
are all associated with a high neuroendocrine response.
Lastly, we should discuss your magazine,
the Crossfit Journal? How did the magazine come about and what
types of material you cover?
We've long puzzled over the fact that there are dozens and dozens
of commercial fitness magazines available and none contain any
material that would be of use to the serious or professional athlete.
The peer reviewed exercise science journals hold even less value
for the hard-core athlete. (We've repeatedly and publicly challenged
the exercise science community to name a single major contribution
to sport coming from their ranks - steroids don't count!)
We decided in September of this year to launch "CrossFit
Journal" a monthly electronically distributed fitness magazine
chronicling the methods of the CrossFit program. The response
has been overwhelming!
Thanks a lot for doing the interview. Be sure to check out the
website where you can read more about the program, see the daily
workout and find out more about the Crossfit Journal.