How Zack George went from 'massively overweight' child to the UK's fittest man, and how he trains to stay there
Zack George as a child and now.
Zack George finished first in the UK and 26th in the world at the CrossFit Open 2020.
As a child, however, George said he was "massively overweight" and was eating fast food five times a week.
The professional athlete and CrossFit gym owner told Insider that his father had offered him a PlayStation as an incentive to lose weight, which boosted his fitness trip.
George now trains twice a day, six days a week, and he still has to keep his weight in check.
His best advice to others is to "run your own race".
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As a child growing up in Leicestershire, UK, Zack George was "overweight" in his own words, eating huge sacks of candy and McDonald's five times a week.
Two decades later, however, he earned the title of the strongest in Britain after beating all other Britons at the CrossFit Open 2020.
George told insiders how he moved from being overweight to where he is today, how he is now training, and how to give advice to others who want to get fit.
Related: World-class gymnast guides us through his training
George's father promised him a PlayStation if he answered
As a little boy, George loved his fast food and ate McDonald's every day after school.
"I loved sweets, chocolate and things like that. I just had a ridiculous diet," he told Insider.
But after seeing his weight increase, George's parents decided to offer him an incentive to shift a few pounds: a PlayStation 2.
"I was 12 or 13 years old and my parents thought, 'Right, we have to do something here, otherwise you will get older and bigger and bigger, and it will be much more difficult to try to change things.'
"At that time, I really wanted a PlayStation 2, so my father said, 'OK, I'll make you a deal: if you lose some weight, we can get you a PlayStation 2.'
"I said 'amazing!'"
So the first step was to reduce junk food and stop having McDonald's and big bags of Haribo every day.
George says it was easy to lose weight in the beginning, so he was soon rewarded with his PlayStation.
"I was thrilled," he said.
A life-changing seminar led to a preference for fitness and team sports
Even though George had lost weight, he wasn't really interested in getting fit until he went to a life coaching and motivational speaker Tony Robbins seminar that changed the way of thinking.
"Up to this age, I just wanted to lose weight to get the PlayStation," he said. "I didn't really care about doing it for myself.
"But this seminar was a really big turning point when I actually decided to lose weight for myself and get fit for myself instead of needing any kind of external gift."
George said changing his mindset had helped him get where he is today.
He started to do more sports like rugby and squash and health and fitness soon became a passion.
"It was just a pretty big change mentally because I knew I wanted to do it for myself instead of just making something of it. And then as a family we started to get really well," said George.
As a teenager, George played sports at a high level and started taking better care of himself in every way to improve his performance.
"I think a lot of people who know me now just assume I was a really fit kid and always in good shape, but it's the opposite," he said, adding that people are always surprised when you see photos of him when he was "massively overweight".
"I think it always motivates people because I'm obviously not an inherently thin guy. I have to work on a diet to keep in shape."
It was love at first sight for George and CrossFit
After graduation, George received a personal trainer degree from Loughborough University.
However, he only discovered CrossFit when his father saw a clip on YouTube that he thought was cool - it turned out to be the 2013 CrossFit games.
"I just thought it was mental," said George. "People did all kinds of crazy things: swimming, building muscle, handstand walks, just an incredible range of fitness skills.
"I just loved the look. You have to be strong, you have to be fit. It really caught on immediately. As soon as I saw it, I thought, 'That's what I want to do. I want to come to the games.' "
George became the UK leader at the CrossFit Open 2020.
It took George about a year to get started with CrossFit because he couldn't find a box (CrossFit gyms are called boxes), and at that time he owned a commercial gym.
But George spent hours watching videos online and has been "absolutely crazy about CrossFit and the community" ever since.
So much so that in 2017 George decided to leave his gym and open his own CrossFit partner, CrossFit BFG, in Leicester.
This year George was crowned the strongest in Britain
After working hard in sports for a few years, George slowly made a name for himself - he finished sixth at the CrossFit Open 2018 in the UK and earned the nickname "Silverback" in the competition for a new one due to his ability to adopt his mindset Level.
At this year's CrossFit Open, however, George took first place among all others in Great Britain, making him 26th in the world.
And it was not an easy task.
At this year's CrossFit Open, he finished 26th in the world.
The CrossFit Open lasts five weeks: a specific training session is published every Friday morning. Participants can complete it as often as they like over the weekend and film their efforts with a qualified judge.
You submit your score on Monday and then wait for the next training session.
If you win a training session, you will receive a point. If you become 20,000, you will receive 20,000 points. The winner is the one who ends up with the fewest points.
The points system means that poor training can cost you a lot of what happened to George in previous years.
"But that's why I love CrossFit," he said. "You have to be good in so many different ways. You cannot have weaknesses. "
In most years, the 26th place in the world would have qualified George for the CrossFit games.
Due to the Corona virus being blocked, it was announced a few months ago that this year's process would be different, and only the 20 best Open athletes were invited to the games scheduled to take place in the fall.
(However, given the recent allegations of racism and misogyny at CrossFit headquarters, the future of the company and the games is currently unclear.)
His commitment earned him the nickname "silverback".
George is still incredibly proud of his performance and says it is "amazing" to win the UK Open.
"It was a dream of mine to come to the games for seven years and then finally to achieve it ... In the beginning, because I had concentrated so much on my training and after that I had prepared myself so well for the Open massive descent and I really felt demotivated.
"I didn't feel how I thought I felt, but I think it's only because so many emotions were involved and so stressful five weeks.
"But a month or two later, when it was really sinking, it was amazing to have worked for something so long and finally got it."
He now trains twice a day, six days a week
As a professional athlete, George trains twice a day.
His morning workouts are usually cardio-based fitness, which can range from a 40-minute bike session to short, intense running intervals.
In the afternoon, George will complete his second session of the day, which is usually a 2.5-hour workout that focuses on gymnastics and weight lifting.
He trains twice a day, six days a week.
"Then I do all my cleaning and jerking, snapshots, squats, all this kind of power work," he said. "And on the gymnastics side there are movements like pull-ups from chest to bar, toes to bar, muscle muscles, handstand walks and all skill elements."
Sunday is a day of rest on which George actively recovers, like swimming.
"I usually train at a very high volume, but it works for me," he said.
He still has to watch his weight
George's favorite exercise is power trains, in which you hold a barbell (or dumbbells) at shoulder height, crouch, and then, when you get up, push the bar above your head to stand up.
"It's so painful because it works on every part of your body," said George. "But I like simple movements that I can just loop through."
If you follow George on Instagram, you will also find that he does a lot of burpees while training. The main reason for this is that with a height of six feet and a weight of around 100 kg, he has to keep his weight low - being a few kg lighter makes a big difference when it comes to competition.
"If you keep doing a lot of engines all the time, you're likely to have knee pain because it's just a pretty aggressive move, but you could do burpees every day and not get too much of a repetitive strain injury, so it's a great step for fitness and to keep my weight down, "said George.
Although its size works in its favor in terms of strength, it isn't ideal for all aspects of CrossFit.
"You don't get many athletes of my size, I am a very heavy CrossFit athlete, so I just had to work very hard on the fitness and gymnastics side because I know that it will always be my weak point." Said George.
George is his own trainer
Unlike the vast majority of professional CrossFit athletes, George doesn't have a trainer - he trains himself.
However, this does not mean that he trains alone, and in fact he believes that training with others is the key to his success.
"We're turning my morning workout into a group workout so I usually have eight to ten people with me, and I have two workout partners that I work out with every night," said George.
"It makes a big difference. It is very difficult to train alone and to push yourself.
"I'm lucky to have different people in my gym who can beat me in different ways, which keeps me busy and allows me to develop. It's great to have people I can compete with . "
In competitions, it is particularly unusual for an athlete not to have a coach, but George said he had a lot of people around to optimize his technique if necessary.
Lockdown posed challenges
Like everyone else, George had to change his training during the coronavirus lock. But unlike most people, as a gym owner, he was able to take home a lot of equipment to keep exercising as well as possible.
"I was just trying to stimulate as much exercise intensity as in the gym," said George.
"It was hard, but luckily I managed to keep going. I made sure that I followed the same training times as on my normal day, which made the transition to lockdown training easier."
And now he can train as a professional athlete in the gym again.
"It was a difficult transition before, but I think I did pretty well."
He is waiting for CrossFit to make any significant changes
While many CrossFit gym owners have split from the brand following recent allegations of misogyny and racism at the company's headquarters, George is waiting for what happens.
Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, recently stepped down as CEO and has been replaced by Dave Castro. However, George believes that this is not enough to save the company, as Glassman is still 100% owner, according to Business Insider.
George opened his own CrossFit subsidiary, CrossFit BFG in 2017.
However, if the company does nothing about it, George will join the growing number of gym owners who are leaving CrossFit.
However, he is not worried.
"Members come to our gym for coaching and community, not because it's CrossFit," said George.
But the athlete, like many, spoke of his disappointment with the company and said he felt "disappointed."
Run your own race, says George
At the age of 29, Zack George was quite a journey as a child.
His number one advice for others who want to get fitter? Run your own race.
Enjoy the process and make sure you're doing it for the right reasons, said George.
"Social media is very engaging with people who look perfect, but social media is the highlight of people," said George. "They are always their best lifts or if they are in the best shape.
"You might see someone lifting a certain weight and want to get to that level really quickly, but it may have taken that person five years to get to that level.
You don't have to train like an athlete if you're not an athlete, so don't beat yourself up, he said. The key is to be consistent, because that way your fitness trip will take a long time.
"Run your race, take your time and make sure you enjoy the process and do it for yourself for the right reasons," said George.
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