Steve: This is Steve from Calibre Fitness, I'm here with Ben Schwartz from Crossfit Melbourne. Hi Ben, How are you going?

Ben: Yeh, Good mate, good.

Steve: Ben is the founder and owner of Melbourne's premier Crossfit Gym, Schwartz's Crossfit Melbourne. The Swartz team won this years' Australian Crossfit Games and went on to acquire 9th place overall in America. Ben has managed to train a champion team.

 

On top of being a top-level coach, Ben is also an athlete in his own right. Having competed in football, athletics, martial arts and body-building, where at the age of 16, he won Teenage Mr. Melbourne.

 

Martial arts have always been a particular passion for Ben and he has trained in many of its disciplines, particularly kickboxing/boxing and Brazilian Ju-jitsu. Brazilian Ju-jitsu, now consumes most of Ben's martial arts training and he has competed several times at MG tournaments were he has placed as high as second place.

 

Anyone who trained with or been trained by Ben knows how completely committed he is to fitness, it's not just his hobby, but truly his way of life and he brings enormous enthusiasm, passion and encouragement to every single training session.

 

This interview may be the first time many readers/listeners are exposed to Crossfit. Can you give them an overview of what Crossfit is?

 

Ben: It's a mixture of gymnastics, power lifting, weight lifting, running, rowing and jumping all thrown together. Combined, they make really hard, tough workouts. The idea of Crossfit is that when you train, you train to be good at everything. Usually runners run, people who lift weights lift weights, people who swim swim. In Crossfit we try to do it all and try to be very good at it. I suppose when Crossfit first started and for years after that even, there were always limits placed on people. Say, if a guy is running this fast, he can probably only lift that much and if a guy's dead lifted this much, he can probably only run this fast, where now guys keep breaking those boundaries. Their runtimes keep getting faster and their lifts keep getting bigger. At the moment, everything keeps going through the roof, what we thought was impossible in now becoming possible, in terms of guys clean and jerking 150-160, but running ridiculous 5k times as well and running triathlons and doing amazing stuff.

Steve: Fantastic. How and when did you actually get into Crossfit?

 

Ben: 2006. I already had a gym and was pretty much training in Crossfit style without the named workouts, Fran, Diane... All that stuff. I always liked doing the heavy lifting and I always liked body weight stuff, so I was always doing my deadlift squats and doing handstand pushups, chin-ups, dips all that sort of stuff. Then in 2006, I was in Borders and was having a look at an MMA magazine and there was this little tiny article on Crossfit and it had climbing ropes. It had a lot about lifting and climbing and I thought, this is the kind of stuff I like, it sounded really interesting. I got home, jumped on the internet, tried a couple of workouts and thought this stuff's the real deal. I booked a flight to the States, did my first seminar there in May 2006, came back and was incorporating a bit of it, with myself and clients, but it wasn't a full-on thing yet. Then each week, slowly, slowly, more of my workouts and more of my clients workouts were only Crossfit based and it just went from there. Then at the end of that year in 2006, I affiliated with Crossfit.

Steve: Sure. Can you tell us a bit about your sporting background?

 

Ben: When I was really young, as a kid, I used to play football all the time and martial arts... That was sort of my thing. When I was younger, say 13-14, I was always doing 400 pushups a night, 100 chin-ups... Then when I was 16, embarrassingly enough, I went into body-building and competed a few times and won Mr Melbourne. I was over that pretty quickly though, did it for a year and then hated it. I just didn't like the idea of training to pose/ look good. So then I got more into purely strength training and martial arts and then kept just doing those sorts of things all the way through until 2006 when I started the Crossfit. Eventually Crossfit started taking over more, until I totally gave up the martial arts because I didn't want to get injured from that.

Steve: Could you describe your personal typical training week?

 

Ben: My training week, it's difference to when I was younger. About 4 years ago I had an operation on my shoulder. When I was younger I used to train by the philosophy that 'if it's injured, you can still do everything' and I'd train through any injury, nothing would stop me, I'd just say 'I'm lucky, at least I've got a shoulder... Some people don't'. That was my mentality; I'd say 'I'm not dead, so I can keep doing it'. That was all good, until you get a bit older... I went to the surgeon to have a look at my shoulder and he said it was the worst shoulder he'd ever seen on someone my age! It took me 3 years because my shoulder was so bad, to rehabilitate myself properly so I could compete again, but now I'll train differently in the sense that I listen to my body. So, in the old day I wouldn't have rest days and would just train through anything, now I will. A lot of the time those rest days, I'll still swim or row, but its different now. Mostly throughout the year, I'll just train once a day and usually it'll be some kind of strength stuff, whether it be a snatch, a clean and jerk or a squat or some kind of WOD (Workout of the Day). That's what I do all year, before the world games and regional's, we probably split it up a bit more, do a bit more strength in the morning then another WOD later in the day, but not more than that for me, that's all I could take. Some of the guys probably do a bit more than that, but it depends on their age and what their bodies can take.

Steve: What is your diet like, are you very focussed on your diet these days?

Ben: Nutrition-wise, I've always been pretty focussed on it. A lot of Crossfitters are into Paleo (*Paleo is a diet mainly consisting of fish, grass-fed pasture raised meats, vegetables, fruit, fungi, roots, and nuts). I suppose a lot of what I do is Paleo, but a lot isn't as well. I'll have protein supplements, it's just a quick way to get some food down but isn't really Paleo, some other products too like Tuna and Dairy. But primarily I eat meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds... All that sort of stuff with little starch and stuff like that.

Steve: You've mentioned having some trouble with your shoulder. Have you suffered any particularly bad injuries while Crossfit training?

Ben: Crossfit didn't get my shoulder, my shoulder started when I was 19 playing gridiron one day, then I kept going for 11 years without doing anything and it just got worse and worse. It wasn't one thing, I got it through grappling, which is pretty hard on the shoulders, then Crossfit you use your shoulders a lot. When I first started Crossfit, I was like 'more is better'. It was pretty stuffed before Crossfit, but Crossfit just seemed to bring up all the issues. But besides that, I haven't had any injuries.

Steve: What do you think are the main advantages of Crossfit training over other forms of 'traditional' training?

Ben: You just can't compare it. It's the best thing. Motivation-wise. Whether you're an athlete or whether you're just an everyday person, I'd hate to go to the gym and think I'm going to go do cardio, I'm going to go do biceps, I'm going to go do legs... There's sort of no motivation there. But for us, we come in and say we're going to work things. So we might work snatches to get better technique to lift more weight or whether you're working handstand pushups or muscleups technique. A lot of its technique-driven, it's always you going out because you want to go practice stuff. It's fun because you're practicing, not just training. We don't do things to look a certain way. There's always a next stage in your training. So first you try to do pushups, if you can do pushups in terms of bodyweight and gymnastic movement, if you can do pushups, you might start bar dips, if you can do bar dips you might go to ring dips, if you can do that, you might start handstand pushups, if you can do that you might go to muscleups... So there's always a progression. With Olympic lifting, you might start off doing air squats, then you might try an overhead squat, then you go to a snatch. Even with handstands, you might first start it holding against a wall, then free-standing, then handstand walking. There are guys in this gym, not myself, who love handstand walking over obstacles, around things. There's always a new thing or something harder to do. You go to the gym, you do biceps curls, it doesn't lead to anything else. You might put some more weight on, but really it doesn't lead to another movement. Crossfit is so fun and challenging. People come in here every day and do things they never thought they'd be able to do and the smile they walk out with is amazing. My guys in this gym can do anything that anyone can do in Genesis, Fitness First, all those gyms... But none of them can do what these guys do. Crossfit is a bit like the MMA of fitness, you need to be good at so many different skills. It's also a respect thing. In MAA, you might be an amazing grappler, but you respect someone's Muay Thai skills. It's the same in Crossfit, you might be amazing at everything, but someone comes in that's just kickass at handstand walking, you're just like 'that is awesome!' You can respect everyone for their little abilities that are different.

Steve: Sure. In my limited experience with Crossfit training, what I loved about it was the variety and that I was doing exercises that I'd never done before, for example a cartwheel. I didn't have the desire to do a cartwheel until I started Crossfit. I loved that, you never knew what was coming at you next.

Ben: Of course the variety is a massive factor of it, along with all the things we've just mentioned. There's just so much there.

Steve: Your team came 9th at the world Crossfit games this year in LA which is a massive achievement. How have you developed such a strong, world-class team?

Ben: Everyone who's ever walked into my gym, I've always trained them, not them knowing this possibly, but to compete. I don't care how bad or useless they seem when they walk in, I want to try to make everyone as good as possible. The advantage of why this gym does quite well with competitions is from the bottom up, we treat everyone the same. So we try to make everyone good. I think most gyms try to get 1-2 guys in and this, these are our new freaks, our new monsters and really push them, but let everyone else coast by. I'm always trying to be really hard on everyone that comes in, in terms of their technique, their standard and trying to get them to be as good as they can be and possibly to a level to compete. So if you bring your bottom guys and your average guys up, then it brings up your top guys as well. So I think that's one of the reasons that we've been lucky to have quite the athletes.

Steve: Did you participate in the games as well?

Ben: Yes.

Steve: How often does the team train?

Ben: Most of the team members train 5-6 days a week.

Steve: How does your teams' training differ leading in to such a big event?

Ben: We do a bit more conditioning work and probably rather than train once a day, we'll start training twice a day, split up the sessions. Not necessarily that we do more, but its just strength you can focus on strength or conditioning, you can just focus on that.

Steve: What are your prospects for next year? Can you better this year's result?

Ben: It all depends on who's in the team. If the girls all qualify individually for the regionals, if they all want to compete in the team event, then it will be a totally different makeup. So a lot of that depends on what each of the individual boys and girls want to do. So you can't really say anything about it now and I'm not the type of person to put pressure on them to do the team or to do the individual. I used to put pressure on people to do individual and I'd put a lot of emphasis on that, but these days I probably let people make their own decision and don't say 'you have to do the team' or 'you have to do individual'. So I can't really say what the prospects are for that at the moment. But if we had a similar team together, hopefully we could.

Steve: What do you feel is your greatest Crossfit achievement?

Ben: Definitely my greatest achievement is that I'm proud of the middle guys at my gym. I think again. I think our 'average Joes' that come into our gym are better than any others about. Definitely out of all the gyms that I've seen, and I'd go as far to say better than a lot around the world too. I don't want to come off as smug or arrogant about that. A lot of coaches put their pride on their 1 or 2 top athletes, but I always put my pride on my lower tier people. I think they're the guys that really make me proud.

Steve: Yeh, sure. How do you see Crossfit's future in Australia?

Ben: It's just going from strength to strength. When I joined as an affiliate, I think there were maybe 70 affiliates. I remember Glassman saying that he hoped it would be 100 by the end of that year and now I think there's 4,500 or something like that. I think I was the 2nd affiliate in Australia and now there'd be 200 at least, and just growing more and more. What people don't know at the beginning is, Crossfit isn't like going into McDonalds, you don't walk into every Crossfit and it's the same, they're all different. There are definitely some not-so-great crossfits and there are some better ones. So I'd advice people, if they are choosing a Crossfit gym, not to just choose the first one or the closest one, but to have a look around and find the one that best suits them.

Steve: Well, thanks for the interview Ben, I really appreciate it. You've got a fantastic setup here. For our subscribers, we're at 904 Glen Huntly rd, come on down and check it out. You'll love it!