I haven’t always been into sport. As a youngster, I was very overweight and led an unhealthy lifestyle – I’d eat KFC four or five times a week. When I was 12, my dad told me he’d buy me a PS2 if I lost weight, which you can imagine was a pretty exciting proposal for a young kid. By the time I was 14, I’d started to lose the weight and get into my health and fitness. From there, my love of sport evolved, leading me to play for Leicestershire in table tennis, squash and rugby. It wasn’t until I completed my PT course at Loughborough College that I realised a career in fitness was a real possibility.
YouTube introduced me to the world of CrossFit. I first got into CrossFit by watching the 2013 CrossFit Games highlights. Straight away, I knew I wanted to be an elite athlete in the sport. Watching the energy level of the athletes and the spectators, I knew that was what I wanted to dedicate my energy to. I opened my own CrossFit affiliate, CrossFit BFG in Leicester in 2017. I came 6th in the UK at the 2018 CrossFit Open. At this year’s CrossFit Open, I came first out of everyone else in the UK, which also placed me 26th in the world.
I train twice a day. It’s cardio in the morning and weights in the afternoon. That’s around three-and-a-half to four hours a day, six days a week. During lockdown, I’ve tried to keep to this schedule as much as possible. The only variation I have in my schedule is that Wednesday will be cardio and swimming, with an active recovery swim or technical session on Sunday. Without access to the gym or a pool at the moment, my technical sessions have focused more on technique and mobility. My cardio sessions range from EMOM-style interval formats to endurance work, sprint intervals and competition workout replications. I love the cardio element of CrossFit and get a kick out of pushing myself and seeing how much I’m willing to hurt during a workout.
I don’t have a PT. But I do have a coach who will look at my technique throughout the week and feedback where I can improve. I programme all of my training myself, taking inspiration from other athletes via social media.
My favourite workout is the CrossFit Hero Workout Of The Day. It’s in honour of USAF SSgt Timothy P Davis. The workout consists of 12 deadlifts, nine hang power cleans, six push jerks, five rounds for time. My PB is 3 minutes 56 seconds. My favourite movement would have to be the thruster – it’s a killer on the legs and shoulders.
I eat around 4,000 calories a day. Over the years, I’ve found this is the minimum amount for me to perform well while keeping my weight in check. A typical breakfast would be porridge with one scoop of protein powder. Lunch tends to be a couple of salmon fillets with vegetables and rice. Dinner is usually either red meat or white fish with more vegetables and rice, or sweet potatoes. I tend to have a snack of porridge in the afternoons too, and I’ll always have protein after I train. On the weekends, I’m more relaxed with my diet and will eat the odd cheat meal. Three months before any major competitions, I’ll cut out the weekend cheat meals to get back down to my competing weight of 96kg.
Supplements support my dietary needs. My current regime includes whey protein, creatine, multivitamins, omega 3 and zinc.
As a full-time athlete, I try my hardest to prevent injuries. I make sure stretching and mobility is part of my workout on a daily basis, but injuries inevitably happen. In the past I have had a bicep tear and a strained SI joint (where the lower spine and pelvis connect), which both put me out of training for a decent chunk of time. During these times you have to work out how to be sensible and train around your injuries. During major competitions or qualifying workouts I’ll have ice baths to aid recovery.
Being the UK’s fittest man isn’t all about the physical. It means I achieved a goal I set myself seven years ago – knowing that years of hard work had paid off was deeply satisfying. I now want to achieve the same title again in 2021 and qualify for the CrossFit Games, where I aim to put in the performance of a lifetime. So much of training is in your mind – I’m a very laid-back character, so am calm and relaxed in the lead up to any competition. As soon as I get onto the competition floor it’s like a switch gets turned on, I’m in the zone and ready to go.
It’s important to have role models. My parents are my ultimate role models but the athletes that come to mind are Michael Jordan and Usain Bolt. Jordan for his insane work ethic and Bolt for his incredible personality on, and off, the track.
It’s vital to run your own race. If you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, I would stress how important this is. It’s very easy to get carried away with what you see on social media and your perception of other people’s progress. Know that anything worth having takes time. Enjoy the journey to becoming a fitter, healthier person.
Visit CrossFit.com and follow Zack on Instagram
*Features published by SLMan are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programmes.