If you're serious about the gym and love to lift weights, you probably don't watch The Biggest Loser. It may be a smash hit show on NBC currently filming its 13th season, but it appeals to women and overweight people who just can't seem to get a grip on their eating habits - not tough guys like you who have the discipline to hit the gym 3-to-5 days per week and never stray from your diet. That is you, right?
Whether this describes you or not, it's understandable if you don't know much about Bob Harper - trainer on The Biggest Loser since it began in 2004 and now an author, spokesman and motivational speaker. It's also possible that you don't think too highly of him. That may change, though, as Harper, 46, has recently entered the CrossFit arena. A growing movement of training diehards who have branded 1,500 gyms worldwide just in the past decade, CrossFit offers participants group training that meshes all kinds of workout philosophies to achieve performance-oriented but well-rounded fitness. Workouts are more or less randomly assigned and may include elements of Olympic lifting, powerlifting, sprinting, body-weight conditioning and plyometrics. Sessions are timed, with the goal being to become more efficient at the routine the next time around. While CrossFitters, as they're called, generally don't sign up to get bigger biceps or ripped abs, they often find that aesthetic results appear as a side benefit of better overall fitness.
"I've been a trainer for a long time and I've always built my workouts around circuit training," Harper says. "But jumping into CrossFit was like jumping into the deep end of a pool. These workouts are so compact. I used to do long sessions all the time, and my body started to get beat up. But with CrossFit, it's almost like my body is finally getting a chance to rest while at the same time I'm pushing it harder than I've ever pushed it."
Unlike some celebrities, Harper didn't just show up at a CrossFit gym for a photo op, sling a few kettlebells around for show, and promptly disappear. He's been a devoted member of BRICK CrossFit, L.A.'s premier location, ever since a friend brought him along for a workout last year. "I went there, and it was the most intimidating thing I've done in a long time," Harper recalls. "The members were looking at me like, 'Who the f#ck is this guy?' I had to swallow my pride and get my ass handed to me. But after the initiation process, I felt like I was a member of the club."
Harper worked hard to prove he wasn't just a TV trainer with a Hollywood attitude. "The Owner told me, 'When you first walked in, I hated you.' I said, 'How could you hate me? You didn't even know me.' And he said, 'Because you have the job every trainer wants'." Harper won him over with his open mind and positive attitude, and now he wants to spread the CrossFit gospel through the far-reaching pulpit available to him - The Biggest Loser.
Look for a strong CrossFit influence in the show's next season. Harper has been designing WODs (Workout of the Day - CrossFit lingo for the different routines), and the contestants are loving them. "I'm turning these people into badasses," says Harper of his team. "They have a new swagger." The reason for this is not only because weight is coming off their bodies, but muscles are bulging out as well.
"I have a team of five girls and two guys, and they're beating the other team badly because they're so much stronger," Harper says, noting that the value of strength is somewhat of a revelation to him. Harper had favored endurance activities in the past, like running and cycling. "I used to make fun of weightlifters who were grunting and screaming and dropping the weights, and now I'm that person! I can't help it. I have this newfound aggression, and the angrier I get, the better my workouts are."
Harper is proud of his time on "Linda," a CrossFit WOD where the deadlift, bench press and clean are performed in succession for 10 sets. "I did it in less than 25 minutes," he says, "using one-and-a-half times my body
weight on the deadlift."
Harper's passion for the CrossFit life has caught the attention of Greg Glassman, the British coach and ex-gymnast who founded the group.
He has invited Harper to get certified as a CrossFit coach. Harper says he plans to when his schedule lightens up.
"It's funny because I'm so trainer-oriented," Harper says. "I've been on Oprah and all these other shows, but when I found out that Glassman wanted to talk to me, I'm like, "Wait, who called me? The CrossFit god?' That's much cooler to me."
Take a stab at a new WOD
How It Works
CrossFit WODs may vary greatly from one to the next, but they always have one common trait: brutal intensity. The following workout, designed by Harper and dubbed "The Bob," requires only your body weight, but the pace is blistering. "It changes the planes the body moves in," he says. "Keep a chart of your workouts and times. You'll know your body is responding when your time goes down."
Perform the workout one or two times per week. You can follow your current training regimen the other days of the week, but rest at least a day before completing this workout.
How To Do It
Perform the exercises as a circuit and repeat for five total rounds. The goal is to complete the workout in as little time as possible, so rest only as much as you absolutely need to.
Hang from the pull-up bar with hands outside shoulder width. Retract your shoulder blades and swing your legs back so your torso moves forward. Then contract your chest and swing your legs forward and use the momentum to help you pull your chin up over the bar.
MODIFY IT: If Kipping pull-ups are too hard, do regular ones. If that's still too hard, attach an elastic exercise band to the bar, create a loop, and rest your feet on it. Perform pull-ups standing in the loop. The band will unload some of your body weight, making it easier to pull yourself up.
Set up a box that's moderately challenging to jump up onto. Swing your arms back to gather momentum and then jump onto the box and stick the landing. Step off the box and repeat the jump immediately.
From a standing position, bend down and touch the floor. Now shoot your legs straight out behind you so you end up in a push-up position. Reverse the motion to return to your feet and jump as high as you can.
Lower your body to the floor as in a normal push-up, but rest your chest in the bottom position. Raise your hands off the floor an inch or so, and then place them back on the floor and push yourself up.
Get into push-up position and then bend your elbows so your forearms rest on the floor. Keeping your body in a straight line and your abs braced, move one hand at a time into the bottom position of a push-up. Push yourself up to the top position, and then bend one elbow at a time to return to the plank position.