WWE Champion Seth Rollins on the Power of CrossFit

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Courtesy WWE

On a balmy Tuesday afternoon in early July, WWE World Heavyweight Champ Seth Rollins is milling about Milwaukee's Harris Bradley Center. In just a few hours, he'll take center stage, addressing his ongoing rivalry with "The Beast" Brock Lesnar, which comes to a head when they collide for Rollins' title at this Sunday’s Battleground PPV/WWE Network event. Lesnar, if you’re not familiar, is an impressive specimen. While conceding that one never knows what to expect when butting heads with a battering ram like the former UFC and WWE champion, Rollins is confident he’ll endure and put on one hell of a show. Much of that self-assurance comes from having dropped the dumbbells and devoted himself exclusively to CrossFit, the training-and-lifestyle phenomenon developed by Greg Glassman that incorporates Olympic-worthy lifting into a series of fluid, all-body exercises. He even co-runs a wrestling school in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa, that utilizes CrossFit equipment and technique.

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He's also acutely aware of CrossFit's reputation as a cultish trend, but rebuts those assertions by breaking down its common-sense ideology. Though, frankly, his physical form, ability to stay injury-free, and rapid ascent to WWE's top ranks are pretty compelling proof of why the globally minded cardio-and-muscle workout has its advantages. Still not convinced? Good thing, then, that before hitting the ring, Rollins shared more of his insights on CrossFit’s advantages, antiquated training, and staying fit night after night.

How does a CrossFit regimen help reinforce your motivation?
For me, there's no other way to train these days. I love the intensity. I think that’s the one thing that separates me from a lot of the other guys in our regimen. I train with intensity and focus. There’s never a day where I’m going through the motions. If I’m doing that, I may as well be taking a day off. And for me, CrossFit takes all the elements of fitness that I want to focus on and mashes them into an intense workout. That helps me stay on track and have fun at the gym, too, which is a big part of wanting to go in there and putting in the work.

Why are CrossFit loyalists typically so outspoken about persuading new converts?
Some people call it cultish, but I don't see it that way. The community just helps people push each other, and it manifests into a lifestyle a little bit. It's hard to explain unless you get in there and hang out with a lot of the people. It's such an addicting culture in a good way. You're getting healthier and you have more self-confidence, you’re more social. All around, it creates a better you, and that’s something people want to tell others about. It's why they’re so excited about CrossFit. All those things together make you want to share that with the world. You want everybody to feel as good as you do on a regular basis. 

But if you're more of a loner, can you still participate in CrossFit?
It's certainly not a match for everybody. I'm not forcing it on anybody. I'm not that guy. Most of my workouts happen by myself because I travel so much. For someone who enjoys the solitude of working out, that is also an option. You don't have to do CrossFit in a class-based situation. You can definitely get the same intensity of the workout doing it on your own.

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How does CrossFit avoid becoming the next fleeting workout trend?
The cool thing about CrossFit is it's been around for 15 years. I don't think people know that. And the lifts that are done are not a new type of thing. I think the fact that it's grown so fast, people want to call it a trend, but the principles that it's founded on have been around forever. Its just [CrossFit founder] Greg Glassman decided to put them all together and market it as the sport of fitness. That was the big change.

Much of it does seem like a common-sense approach to physical motion.
When you get down to it, what it’s doing is teaching movement patterns and the intuitive patterns we use in our physicality on a daily basis. A power clean is nothing more than a deadlift and a jumping movement, and those are two things you do every day. If you drop something on the ground, bend over to pick it up — that’s a deadlift. If you’re an athlete, you’re gonna jump in some way, so CrossFit teachers patterns that are seen not only in sports but in life. And they do a good job trying to teach these things.

Does CrossFit apply better to wrestling than other sports, given the state of constant movement?
That could be the truth, yes. The only experience I have to go off is what I do. I know the New Orleans Saints have started to use CrossFit a little bit. For me, it's tailored specifically for what we do. The intensity level is constant and high, and there's variables you can't foresee in our in-ring action. And having to work at a high level while you're under duress is something we're accustomed to, so training like that really helps us. It carries over very well into the ring.

Had CrossFit essentially become its own separate passion for you?
I would say so. Before I discovered CrossFit, I was really just doing regular bodybuilding, didn't understand athletic training and movements. I didn’t even know how to squat, necessarily. I just knew I wanted to get bigger and train for a pump and all that stuff, but I found myself getting hurt a lot, and it was boring. Once I found CrossFit, I started to enjoy fitness, and once my body adapted and I started to become more mobile, it was a game changer as far as injuries were concerned. So it definitely has become a passion of mine. I enjoy being in the gym and sweating and watching other people push themselves. It's nice to have two different passions instead of focusing all your energy on one.

And when you're slightly older and less mobile, will CrossFit be able to adapt to you?
The beautiful thing about it is anyone can do it. There’s people in my gym who are upwards of 50 and 60 who are doing CrossFit and are as healthy as they’ve ever been. As I get older and my body wears down a little bit, I'll have to modify what I'm doing, but at the same time, there are some power-lifters well into their 50s who are still pulling 700 pounds. I hope I'll be able to continue that for a long time. The cool thing about CrossFit is the scalability of it.

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Does all of this suggest that pumping iron for its own sake is a permanently dated approach?
I think it's a little antiquated, especially considering the evolution of professional wrestling. If you look at the wrestlers in the '80s and '90s compared to what we do today, I think training in that lifestyle is just asking for injuries. Using limited range of motion to move light weights a bunch of times just to get a pump so you're aesthetically pleasing, I feel like you're begging to hurt. In the ring, we move so fast. We take so many more bumps than those guys did, and we do so much more high-risk stuff. We're athletes now. We're not cartoon characters anymore. To do what I do 250–300 nights a year, if I didn't train like this, I wouldn't be able to do what I do at this level. So for me, yes, I think bodybuilding is slowly drifting out as a placeholder for athletic training, and I think, slowly but surely, people are understanding that they have to train functionally to do this well for a long time.

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