Terry Crews 21 Days to Change Program
Whether you can’t get enough of NBC series Brooklyn Nine-Nine, you’re hooked on America’s Got Talent, or you’re a closet White Chicks superfan, there’s a Terry for everyone!
I chatted to the Hollywood legend from his LA home and acquired a new workout regime and a strong desire to become totally ‘unembarrassable’.
“We’re so blessed to live in this era,” says Terry, who sports the most bona fide smile I’ve ever laid eyes on. “We know so much more about our well-being than we did in days gone by. ‘I stand on the shoulders of giants’ so to speak. We are part of a generation who know more about health and fitness than ever and we can all take it to the next level, you know. I will be 52 at the end of this month and I feel great. It’s funny because when I look at the generation before me, 52 didn’t look like this and I’m just so thankful.”
Having spent the lockdown period with his wife and youngest son, Terry maintains a phenomenal physique and has a positively unwavering attitude towards world affairs.
“We are fortunate to live in such a good time that’s full of opportunity,” he says. Even with the COVID-19 pandemic and all the recent problems, we as a human race are in a position where we know more and we can do more with that information.
“When I say we know more, I really mean spiritually. When I work out it’s a spiritual thing for me. It’s all mental; it’s mindfulness. I’m really trying to become self-actualized in the sense that every day I’m discovering a little more about myself.”
Life wasn’t always a song and a dance for Terry. Having solidified a phenomenal career with the NFL, he walked off the field into complete darkness.
“After spending seven years in the NFL, I saw a ton of bodies that were incredible, but minds that were just not there to match. I witnessed many of my friends and piers end up living lives that were way less fulfilled than they ever thought they would, all because the mental side of them was not ready. I saw suicides, major depressions and weight gain after the NFL. When you make things sports specific it’s easy, but once that’s gone you can lose any impetus to try or to do anything anymore. You need to discover keeping fit for your health, for you, for everything- not just for sports specific reasons. It’s almost like building a house. You have to have a really strong foundation. Measure twice, cut once. Build on the right things.
“In 1997 my wife and I moved out to California to make our way in Hollywood. I’d retired from football and I stopped working out. There was no going to the gym. I no longer had someone to tell me when to wake up, eat and go to the gym. Nobody was calling me or telling me what to do anymore. I gained 30 pounds of fat. In my head I thought I was fine, but I was sitting up on the couch until 2AM eating hamburgers and cookies and just dealing with this depression and not knowing how to get out.
“During that period of my life, I overheard someone say ‘it takes 21 days to change.’ I thought ‘nothing is wrong with me so it’s no big deal.’ But then one morning my wife came up to me and pinched my back fat and was like, ‘hey honey’ and I was like, ‘woah stop!’ She told me it was cute, but for me I had never known I had fat there until that moment. Of course my wife had meant no harm, but it was the wake-up call I needed to change. I said, ‘okay, 21 days, 21 days.’
“I joined the cheapest gym down the street. We were broke at the time. I’d been working out for so long that it was strange for me to suddenly have to pay to work out. They were like ‘that’ll be 20 dollars a month’ and I was like, ‘I have to pay to work out here?!’ That was how warped my mind was.
“I went the first day and I was so depressed. I literally sat on a recumbent bike; I probably moved my legs like three times, read a magazine and said to myself ‘okay I went to the gym,’ and then I went back the next day and I did the same thing. I sat on that recumbent bike and I did a little more. And each day a little more. As it got to day 14, I still wasn’t really working out, but I started looking at the machines. By day 21, I had the habit of going to the gym. It was the habit of putting that space in my life. I spent that 21 days thinking- not working out, but thinking about what I wanted to be, who I wanted to become, how I wanted my body to look, why had I become depressed. It was therapy; it was so nuts.
“That 21 days has turned into 21 years. It has never stopped. I have never, ever stopped.”
Terry’s machine mentality has rewarded him with a body to match, but for him that’s not what it’s all about.
“I’ve never worked out just for looks,” he says. “I’ve never done any fitness shows or stepped on stage. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with them, but I’ve never done anything like that. I’m not a bodybuilder per se, but my workouts are about my mind and taking myself to another level and then what happens is you end up with a body that goes with your mind.
“I have never ever taken steroids. People often accuse me of it and say ‘you have a steroid body,’ but I have never ever done any of that.”
Terry practices intermittent fasting and always trains on an empty stomach.
“I’ve been intermittent fasting for eight years for spiritual reasons,” he says. “The reason for it is because whatever is in your grasp is not always meant to be in your hand. I had to train myself to say no to my body and give myself these limits and say, ‘you’re not going to do this today.’ Imposing limits on yourself leads to heightened levels of gratitude. It’s not about the looks. The looks do come and that’s great, but when you see someone who’s very thankful, they’re usually successful with it. I always say, ‘the height of your success is equal to the depth of your gratitude.’
“You will never see a person who’s truly successful who’s not thankful. It’s impossible. Go deep with your thankfulness and you can go really, really high with your success.
“When I left the NFL I really went through the most severe depression, severe. My whole life had been about football and when that finished I felt as if the whole world looked at me like a loser. In the world of sport, sometimes you become your wins. You identify with winning. It feels so great when you win. You’re actually above other people. The problem is, when you lose you have to become your losses too. When the sports career is over and all of sudden you can’t run as fast and do what you used to do, not only are you not better than other people, you’re worse than other people. That’s the downfall of many athletes.
“I was in a two year hole, but once I adopted the attitude I could change in 21 days, I hit the gym and I dug myself out of it. I call it 21 days to 21 years.”
Terry sticks to a seriously regimented routine when it comes to eating and training.
“I love going to the gym at 4 o’clock in the morning,” he says. “I love 4AM. I’ll go to bed at 9 o’clock just so I can get that great 4AM feeling. I love getting my heart rate up really, really high and feeling how fast I can lower it down to my resting heart rate. I’ve been doing it for so long I don’t need to wear a monitor anymore. I’ll push 135, 155, 165 and then 185, and by the time you get to the last set the way I train it’s real gut pushing. I mean, your heart rate goes ‘wow!’ Everything is about the heart rate for me. It’s all about explosion.
“I play around with rest according to how I feel. When someone comes up and says ‘hey’ and I’m like ‘woah, not now, I can’t talk,’ I know I have my heart rate up high enough. Sometimes I’ll rest for like two or three minutes, but when I feel good that rest can go out the window. It takes a lot of concentration. I can’t even wear headphones. I grip the bar as hard as I can just to make sure I’m present. You’ve got to always be present whilst you’re doing it and feel how your body feels. Stay in tune with your body. When you’re young maybe you can get away with listening to banging music, but as you get older those little things start to tweak if you’re not thinking. In 2010 it was the premier of ‘The Expendables’ and I just wasn’t thinking. I was moving a couch and not being mindful and my bicep popped off. I had to get it surgically reattached. They screwed it back in and it’s actually better than my other one now, but it took a lot of rehab. I had a brace on for a whole year. I learned never, ever to take concentration for granted. When really good people like Mike O’Hearn train, they concentrate. It’s a really beautiful thing.”
Terry credits his effective training method to his former personal trainer Mike Talik.
“Mike Talik was an Olympic trainer up in Vancouver,” he says. “In 1999, right after I came out of that ‘bump’, I started acting. I was doing my first movie, ‘The 6th Day’ with Arnold Schwarzenegger and I met Mike and he gave me something called the 24s workout. He was all about it. I incorporated it and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Terry’s gym sessions leave him supple, strong and mindful, without any additional form of yoga or meditation.
“Just stretching for stretching never really did it for me,” he says. “I always combine my stretches with a lift. A bent over row is a stretch for the hamstrings. I’ll take a 45-pound bar and just stretch it out, or grab the cables and really feel the stretch across my chest. The resistance is really beneficial for mobility. It’s that point where you’re resisting that really helps you. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my calves to help with some ankle issues I had. I get on an incline board and get into a really deep stretch, but I’m having a workout at the same time.”
The program Terry follows allows him rest days on the weekend, but there’s little rest from the fasting.
“I don’t go to the gym on the weekends, but I still fast for sixteen hours every day,” he says. “I start my meals at 2PM and I stop eating by ten. Often I don’t get to that ten o’clock meal. I’m usually done by 9PM, so most days I go more than sixteen hours. I really like the feeling of being empty and clean. I always work out fasted without exception. For eight years I did not drink any protein after my gym sessions either, but lately I’ve incorporated a zero-carb whey protein into my diet because it doesn’t stop ketosis and I like to go keto during the day.
“Saturday and Sunday are rest days and cheat days despite the fasting window still in place. I’m a big dessert fan but there’s no breakfast in bed. My wife says to me, ‘you’ve been doing this thing for eight years; we can never have breakfast together.’ I make her pancakes or waffles and I’ll eat at two o’clock. I’ll have my BCAA drink and we’ll sit together and she will enjoy it.”
Terry says he really enjoys his food and doesn’t leave himself feeling hungry.
“My first two meals are always ketogenic,” he says. “I usually start with an omelet with turkey bacon and some salad or vegetables. Then I’ll have something like beef or chicken and salad for my second meal. I feel really satisfied because I’ve conditioned my body to be ready for that. Sometimes I’ll have a straight double espresso for energy. Then at night I’ll incorporate some carbs like brown rice or sweet potato. My workouts are really intensive so if I went 100% keto and intermittent I wouldn’t be able to sustain it. I have three meals during the eight-hour eating window. I have a lot of good fats like almonds, bacon and lots of fatty meats. When I eat, I eat until I’m full. My meals are really substantial. I might have six or seven eggs at a time.”
Despite being famed for his comedic charm, Terry says he’s not a comedian and relishes his new hosting role on America’s Got Talent.
“When you look at a guy like me, the last thing you’d think is ‘host of a worldwide talent show,’” he says. “I mean, I’m an ex-footballer, an athlete, that kinda thing. It is making dreams come true.
“When I play characters, they’re all versions of me, but I am enjoying being 100% myself. ‘White Chicks’ is a version of me. Every movie I’ve ever done is! But what I love is getting on AGT and being able to totally be me. What I love more than anything is creating a talent.
“I love to watch and study people and see what makes one person different from another. What makes one person rise above all the others? It’s how they prepare. The ones who are really successful have always seen themselves as superstars in their heads. Not in a narcissistic way, but in a fantasy way. They’ve always seen themselves as stars and when they walk out there, they walk into that stardom. They don’t even have to play it up, they literally just walk right into their dream. It’s a really, really fascinating study. I can always tell which ones it’s going to be backstage.
“Little kids don’t have fear. These dreams get beat out of you as you grow up because people tell you you can’t sing or you can’t dance and when they hear too many of those voices they stop. If you have an encouraging parent or an encouraging teacher you can be incredible. This group of kids from India were doing things I didn’t know you could do. You couldn’t tell these kids they couldn’t do it. It’s an ‘I can do this’ attitude. It’s fear that prevents people from doing things. But these fears don’t come from you, they come from other people.
“I’ve heard so many negative things in my life. But what happened was I started to study creativity and I started to change what I believe; I challenged every single one of those negative beliefs. People were telling me I couldn’t do things and I was like ‘yes I can!’ Even with the AGT hosting, people were like, ‘you shouldn’t be doing that’ and I was like, ‘yes I can!’ It never ever stops in your life.
“My 4AM gym session is like a brainwash. It’s like putting my brain through a sieve and washing out the negativity. By the time I’m done with my workout I’m self-actualized and I say, ‘I can do this. I’m gonna go for it.’
“I’ve developed this thing called ‘unembarrassability’. You have to develop it! If you get out there and things don’t go right you have to say ‘I’m learning, it’s okay, I’m human.’
“No-one who’s really good at what they’re doing right now was good when they first started. Everyone who’s doing something they love right now and doing it well was horrible at it when they started. You have to be unembarrassable to get over those hurdles.
“It’s no different from 21 days to 21 years. After a year you’re suddenly like, ‘I know what I’m doing.’
“The world we live in now rewards immediate success. People love the story of, ‘look, she’s three and she can do all this stuff!’ The truth is, the most successful people have been doing what they’re doing for years. I still face performance challenges all the time and some are easier than others to overcome.
“The most challenging role I ever played was probably a bodyguard called ‘Lonny’ in the HBO series ‘The Newsroom’. It was very serious and dramatic. The whole experience was so amazing and so wonderful, but it was also so different from what I was used to. The creator Aaron Sorkin was a genius. He was a playwright. You couldn’t just play around with lines. I’d do a whole monologue and then have to do it again. I think there’s going to be more dramatic stuff coming up for me. I’m not a comedian. Comedy is the best way to tell the truth because people don’t get offended. Saying a joke is a cool way to say what you mean.”
There’s good news for concerned Brooklyn Nine-Nine fans who don’t want the parody police force to lose their comedic charm.
“We just got picked up for an eighth season, but some things are going to have to change,” says Terry. “With Black Lives Matter, the narrative is going to be very, very different. We’ve been having deep talks.
We’ve actually delayed this season because we have to wait for things to calm down. It’s a different world. There are people who are not liking the police right now and it makes it very, very hard to do a show that’s about funny, happy police. A lot of people feel as if we’re being insensitive. But we’ve handled this kind of stuff before. We’ve handled deep topics before. Our writers have so much talent and I know they’ll come up with something that’s entertaining and also truthful. The show is already a hit. People love the show and we have a responsibility to keep it funny but not make it a cartoon. We can’t just ignore things. This is a challenge that will make the show much more fun actually.”
Terry attributes his polished performance record to his daily early starts.
“I have to work out before work,” he says. “There is no working out later. If I don’t train before eating, or I try to go to the gym after I’ve been on set, my energy is gone; it’s terrible. If I don’t get the workout in and then I have to focus on my training and then rest after a long day on set it’s all too much. That’s why if I have a 5AM flight, I’ll work out at three o’clock in the morning just to make the airport by 4:30AM. Then I rest on the plane.”
Terry has endured some recent personal battles, but his future is looking brighter than ever.
“My wife has just recovered from breast cancer,” he says. “In February she underwent a double mastectomy. Because she’s proactive about her health, she found it early, just before the hospitals became inundated with COVID-19 patients and she’s now 100% cancer-free. I am so thankful.
“During the strict lockdown I was really lucky because I had a friend who rented me his gym for two hours every morning from 4-7AM. I was completely alone. I had a key, I opened it up and nobody knew where I was. It was really good. Nobody else wanted the gym at four o’clock in the morning! I’m building my own home gym right now. I thank God I’m in a financial position to be able to do that. It’s so worth it for me. In LA you have to wear a mask and gloves in the gym when you’re training. The CO2 you’re breathing out is not meant to go right back into your body. You’re breathing it out for a reason.
“I am throwing myself into my work as always and for AGT we are trying to work out how to film safely with this pandemic. We’ve been doing auditions on Zoom which will be televised. No crowds. Myself and the judges have all been using Zoom and people have been performing from their houses. We record everything and edit it later and then make a show out of it. Everything’s different now, but we will get through it together and come out stronger.”