By Jack Franks
Image credit: Big Partnership
“It’s a challenge, but one I am enjoying.”
On 1 March 2023, Zack George broke the news to his 227k plus Instagram audience that he and his partner had welcomed their daughter, Ivy Rose, into the world.
24 hours later, eight-time Crossfit Games athlete, Stacie Tovar, revealed the finale of a triplet of workouts that make up this year’s edition of the Open. Exhausted and sleep-deprived, Zack took “a quick break from the hospital to get the workout done.
His dream was taken away from him in 2020 by the pandemic. But he’ll always find time to perfect his craft despite being a new father “up for every hour during the night” at the minute.
“I’ve trained as a full-time athlete for ten years, so it’s built in me. I love training; ultimately, it’s my job, so I can’t just take time off.
“If I take a month off training, my performance will dip, so it’s a combination of me loving being in the gym environment and the thrill of pushing myself.”
Zack George, nicknamed the Silverback – no doubt due to his primitive physique, dominated by a set of trapezius muscles that resemble coconuts – is a popular member of the CrossFit community and is primed and ready to climb the summit once more.
The Games are in his sight.
“This time I want actually to get there. I want to step onto that field.”
A life-changing deal
For a young Zack, the CrossFit games were unthinkable, with documentaries like ‘The Ultimate Test’ and ‘The Fittest On Earth’ – emphasizing the ridiculous physical fitness required to compete.
Born in Leicestershire in 1990, his arrival was a blessing to his mother.
“After having my sister, she had seven miscarriages before I was born. It was a very traumatic time and experience for my Mum to go through.”
Although fully aware it came from a place of pure love, Zack believes this was part of the reason he was “super overweight” as a kid.
“I think it stemmed from my mum always wanting a big family. She wrapped me in cotton wool when I came along, and I couldn’t do anything wrong. She couldn’t say no if I ever wanted chocolate or sweets. It wasn’t the best for my health. She was just so happy and grateful that she got to have another child.”
A childhood of over-indulgence, fuelled by “four to five McDonald’s or KFCs a week” and a “bag of Haribo every day,” eventually arrived at a sliding doors moment when his father made him a bet that would alter the course of Zack’s destiny.
Ironically, designed to encourage, rather than combat, Zack’s self-proclaimed “extreme laziness”, the bet was based around a compromise to improve not only his physical body but also his mental state.
“It got to a point where my dad said things were getting out of hand, and he could see I was not happy with myself. I was very self-conscious and didn’t like going anywhere with my top off. I used to skip swimming lessons at school so I didn’t have to go shirtless. I wanted a PlayStation2 then, so if I cleaned my diet up a little bit and stuck to it after a month, he would buy me one.”
Fast-forward two months, and after “only having two McDonald’s a week instead of five,” Zack could see a change. He lost weight, felt re-energized and began to enjoy leading a life fuelled by choices far attached from his usual processed preferences.
Oh, and he got his PlayStation 2.
One year later, and no doubt having racked up countless hours performing RKO’s and preventing evil henchmen from plotting world domination, another milestone moment arrived.
Zack attended Tony Robbin’s weekend seminar titled ‘Unleash The Power Within’, and if it hadn’t been for that, the crown of the UK’s Fittest Man 2020 might have been placed on the head of Elliot Simmonds (the man who finished a sole point behind Zack George on the final leaderboard).
Robbins believes that there is no gain without pain….and it’s clear Zack agrees.
“After that weekend, that was first time I wanted to get healthier and get in shape. I didn’t need external rewards or someone to buy me something if I reached a certain goal. My health kick began after that moment.”
It all started with a kip…
Despite his struggle with weight, Zack was still an active child, with most of his energy being put into rugby, his first sporting passion.
The sporting environment brought the best out of him, and with evident talent on show to coaches, a short period at Leicestershire Tigers Academy soon followed.
“I thought I was going to be a professional rugby player.”
How different this tale could have been had it not been for a pair of troublesome ankles.
“That rugby dream was on track until the age of 18 when I started having ankle issues. I’m extremely flat-footed, so that’s when the issues with my knees and hips began. Of course, that’s what still gives me trouble now. I stopped playing rugby when I was 19 and then went into general fitness work until the age of 23.”
The concept of CrossFit had yet to arrive at Zack’s doorstep, with his focus now on opening his own commercial gym space. However, once his dad showed him a YouTube video of the 2013 Reebok CrossFit Games his life took a seismic turn.
Zack’s got a glimpse of his first idol of the sport, Jason Khalipa – “he was like a big bear and stood out for me” – leading the Men’s overall leaderboard. Zack was enamored by each athlete’s individual NBA-like entrance, followed by a rapturous reception from the audience baying for sweat.
This was a drama, with the energy spilling out through the screen.
“My dad showed me and thought I would naturally be quite good at it. It was the games where they were doing swimming, muscle ups and handstand walks, and I was like, what is this? Like, this stuff looks mental! When you first start CrossFit, you very naively think you’re going to get to the Games after a year. It took me seven years to actually get there.”
That seven-year quest began on an industrial estate nestled in the southwest corner of Northampton.Unit 22 was the location for Zack’s first-ever CrossFit workout, which he still remembers to this day.
That love saw Zack’s training regime gradually become more CrossFit-specific, before deciding to open his box named CrossFit BFG in 2017.
By 2018 Zack had qualified for regionals, kicking off his decision to go full-time.
A bittersweet win…
Fast-forward two years, Zack is at the peak of his physical powers, fully embracing his Silverback name.
Between February 16th and March 6th of 2020, the Open chucked five grueling workouts Zack’s way, but this was his moment.
Two blisteringly quick times earned him the first spot for two workouts across the United Kingdom. And he narrowly missed out on another golden finish, finishing six seconds behind Simmonds.
Coupled with another 2nd place time and a 9th place standing, Zack had officially gone full circle, transforming himself from an extremely lazy and overweight child to the UK’s Fittest Man 2020. More importantly, his overall worldwide standing of 26th meant he had successfully acquired two routes to the CrossFit Games.
However, the small matter of a global pandemic intervened…
On May 18, 2020, CrossFit Director of Sport Dave Castro announced The Ranch in Aromas, California, the location of the first CrossFit Games in 2007.
Sadly for Zack, he would be a victim of a series of event re-adjustments.
First, the competition was moved from Wisconsin to California, and it was revealed that spectators would not be permitted to attend. Then, CrossFit stated that only the top 20 men and women from the Open would be invited to minimize the risk of spreading coronavirus.
Zack, who finished 26th in the men’s category overall, missed out.
“It was pretty tough. At that time, obviously, everyone was locked down and it was a crazy period. A lot of people lost their lives, watched family members die and lost their livelihoods.Me not going to the games wasn’t the end of the world in the grand scheme of things. Looking back, it was sad not getting to the games, but I’ve achieved a lot because I didn’t go.”
Not one to let life get him down, the experience motivated Zack to write a book. Released in April 2021, ‘Start Where Others Stop’, gave readers nine strategies for life optimization.
“I always try to turn negatives into positives, so we focused a lot on work during that time, and that’s why I wrote my first book.”
Zack George is ready to get back onto the field…
Two years of injury-plagued years have followed since, with Zack’s flat-footed nature coming back to haunt him after a very heavy pistol workout, combined with cleaning 170kg multiple times, which put a lot of load onto his hips.
“I’ve had some big hip issues which affected me during the main part of the season in 2021. I never got a scan, and the issue eventually went away, but when I confronted the problem, I was told it would put me out of last year’s season. I didn’t want that to happen, so I had two cortisone injections in both hips, which kept me going, but it wasn’t right.”
Zack is back in 2023, declaring it took him a full eight months to get to a “fully pain-free state.” This is predominantly down to the two 45-minute sessions per day, which he does with two specialists who have put him through an intensive rehab plan.
And that plan is working.
Ahead of the start of the Quarterfinals on March 16th, in which the top 10% in the world advance, Zack finished sixth overall in the UK, his highest since reaching the Games in 2020.
Pain-free and more motivated than ever, the new father is ready to complete one or two advanced workouts every day for three days. An unthinkable task for the mere mortals, but one that suits Zack’s desire to push his body and mind to the darkest depths.
“I find it hard when I don’t put myself in a hole.”
Let’s hope Zack can climb out and finish what he started. It’s time for Silverback to conquer Madison.