Eric Malzone gets sweaty during the grand opening of CrossFit Pacific Coast two years ago.
CrossFit Yin, Yoga Yang, and More Power to Play
A Chat with Eric Malzone, Cofounder of CrossFit Pacific Coast
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Last November, I was hanging out with a friend from high school, and he told me that one of our classmates had moved to Santa Barbara and opened some sort of gym. “That’s cool,” I responded without much enthusiasm, for I only vaguely remembered the classmate as a water polo star and had never really been much of a gym person at all.
But then that next week, I received an email from a marketing agency, asking for someone from The Independent to come visit this gym down on Anacapa Street, check it out for a few months, and write some reports on the experience. The gym was CrossFit Pacific Coast (CPC), and one of the owners was Eric Malzone, Bellarmine College Prep class of 1995, just like me.
When serendipity knocks, I always try to answer, so I quickly found myself without any more excuses for not getting in shape. In mid December, I went to the gym and met up with Eric — who remembered me even less than I remembered him, being that we were from different sides of San Jose and ran in different social circles — and I also realized that he had gone to elementary school at Sacred Heart in Saratoga, where my great aunt, Sister Aileen Donahue, had served as principal for many years. We discussed the CrossFit philosophy and program, and then he had me do the prescribed “baseline” workout, which I proudly executed in less than seven minutes. But then, less proudly, I puked all over the street in the pouring winter rain.
Since January, I’ve been hitting up the CrossFit classes with a decent degree of regularity, and have appreciated the results — I’ve lost weight, gotten much stronger, especially in my core, and enjoyed the efficient bursts of exercise more than any other workout routine I’ve tried over the years (namely running and biking). Plus, I’ve met some pretty cool people and reconnected with others, namely Malzone, who turns out to be a friendly, level-headed, and humble guy. The 34-year-old recently answered some of my questions about his life and gym.
By Courtesy Photo
CrossFit Pacific Coast co-owner Eric Malzone performs a bar-bending back squat.
How’d you get into CrossFit?
That would be Traver. (Read the interview with co-owner Traver Boehm here. ) Right around the age of 30, I started to notice some very noticeable declines in my fitness levels. I was playing for a masters water polo team up north with two to three practices per week and tournaments on the weekends. That was combined with the normal, boring weight routine at my local Globo Gym. Traver had been supplementing his MMA training with CrossFit and wouldn’t shut the hell up about it (this is normal behavior for a CrossFitter). I kept checking out various Web sites and having the same thought pop up in my head, “This looks hard. Do I really need this?”
Around that time, I decided to suck it up and go to my introduction session with Chris LaLanne, the grand-nephew of the great fitness prophet Jack LaLanne, at LaLanne Fitness (Power by CrossFit) in San Francisco. That went swimmingly and I joined up. Then came the first class workout…
It was “Kelly.” I’ll spare you the details, but let’s say it was 30 minutes of some of the most grueling work I’ve done since college. I couldn’t get off the ground for 10 minutes and had a very difficult time walking the next three days. SOLD!
You had my Aunt Aileen as a principal at Sacred Heart elementary. How was that? Could she have handled CrossFit? But more seriously, is there an age limit for CrossFit or can anyone try it out?
That’s a great question, Matt. Let’s break this down. Sister Aileen was obviously a committed person with passion for what she did. She had what I call the “software.” Now, let’s talk about the “hardware.” She was agile enough to dodge many of the parents’ ridiculous requests. From what I remember, she had a solid jumpshot, which gives her high marks in balance and coordination. I’m going to say that with some coaching and time, she would be an elite level ordained CrossFitter.
A very important aspect of CrossFit that many people miss is that it’s 110 percent scalable. This means that we can make it work for anybody. Those advanced in age, with disabilities, and with injuries can make CrossFit work for them. Jim Baker up in CrossFit Santa Cruz Central has been doing some amazing work with older clientele for close to 15 years now. Even a quadriplegic can excel in this sport. If you have any doubts on that, look up Kyle Maynard (noexcusesCrossFit.com). That dude is inspirational.
We graduated together in 1995 from Bellarmine College Prep, where the motto is being a “man for others.” How does running a CrossFit program fit that billing?
Since I graduated college, I’ve been in various forms of sales, marketing, and advertising positions in Northern California. I always performed well, but it was always the same story. At the end of the day, I had nothing to show for what I did besides a paycheck and some recognition within the company that was very fleeting. I now consider myself a refugee of the modern day corporate rat race.
CrossFit has transformed my life in a very positive manner. Most people will ask how a workout can possibly do that. Dive into the CF lifestyle for six months and then I would love to have that conversation with you. The changes come from inside out.
Every morning I get out bed with an excitement and enthusiasm for my job that I have never, ever felt before. I now have access to peoples’ lives at a level that wasn’t available to me before. We see personal breakthroughs at our gym almost daily.
After 18 years of Catholic school, my mom is going to be disappointed to hear that I’m really not religious, but I do get the message of it all. Without planning it or really being cognizant of it, I guess that I am striving to live up to that motto.
What’s the best part about leaving the big city life of the Bay Area for the comparatively small town atmosphere of Santa Barbara?
Not everyone knows that you do all of the programming for the grueling sessions we have to endure. How do you determine what type of torture and level of activity we’ll be doing on any given day? Do you ever think, “Damn, that workout was too hard,” or alternately, too easy?
I love programming. The possibilities are infinite and creativity is limitless. The founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman, once said, “The magic is in the movement, the art is in the programming, the science is in the explanation, and the fun is in the community.” He said it better then I can.
The resources I use are all over the place, including Traver. I have friends who own gyms and do their own programming across the country and we’re always checking out each others’ Web sites to see what they’re cooking up. Every gym has its own style of programming and I just like to make sure CPC’s stays challenging, interesting, and, most of all, fun. It’s a great feeling to see one of your workouts pop up on another gym’s Web site and I do the same for them. It’s a very open and sharing community in that way.
After doing this for a few years now and programming a thousand-plus workouts, you start to get a feel for it. It takes less time now than it used to, but I still put in two to three hours per week working on it. But that doesn’t count the time when I’m daydreaming workouts while I’m driving, playing with my dog, or even sleeping. It’s sick, Matt.
I can’t seem to remember a single time that I’ve thought to myself that the workout of the day (WOD) was too hard. Although, I’ve thought many times it was too easy. If people are rolling on the ground in exhaustion after a workout, I’m happy.
How often do you do the workouts yourself? Do they kick your ass too?
I do CrossFit WODs three to five times per week and then mix in other activities as well like running, swimming, yoga, chasing my dog down the beach because he won’t bring the damn stick back…stuff like that. I do them whenever time permits. The gym is pretty busy throughout the day, so many times Traver and I will scramble to get our workouts done in 30-minute windows. There’re very few times you’ll see me happier then when I get to jump into one of our classes with the rest of our athletes. It’s completely different experience when you get to train in a group of friends.
Yes, this stuff absolutely continues to kick my ass. We always tell people that CrossFit never gets easier. You just get better at it.
You were pretty much a world class water polo player, if I remember correctly, and our high school was always renowned for having great coaches. What did you learn in those formative years about coaching and training at a high level that you now bring to your gym? Are there similarities or differences in team coaching versus CrossFit?
Our high school water polo program, at risk of sounding like Al Bundy (did you hear that he scored four touchdowns in one game for Polk High?), provided me with four of the most challenging and defining years of my life. My NCAA experience was good, but way different.
Coach Larry Rogers is an icon at Bellarmine and was the head coach for many, many years for the U.S.A. Junior National Waterpolo team. In fact, I even named a CrossFit movement after him. His propensity for seemingly over-the-top conditioning of his teams is renowned. We logged in close to five hours per day during the season including weights, cross-training (stairs, box jumps, basketball), and pool time. During that period, I learned a lot about hard work and pushing past your preconceived limitations. I also learned that I never wanted to do workouts that long again.
The only difference I’d see between coaching a team and individuals is the strategy and game planning component. Now that I have years of coaching under my belt, I do look at Larry with a newfound respect and admiration. If you truly care about your athletes, you’re not always going to be their friend. I get that now…but I still fear the man.
There is a definite team mentality here at CPC even though most of the workouts are done individually. If an athlete is in the middle of an ass-kicking workout, he can always look around and see that everybody is in the same boat. Mutual suffering breeds solidarity.
I’ve heard that you’re slowly becoming a yoga junkie to help with a back issue. How does it complement CrossFit?
I have to come clean here. When I walked into Yoga Soup for my first yoga class, I was far more intimidated then my first CrossFit class. I know, for a fact, that many of the men (and some women) in our gym are extremely intimidated as well.
That’s one of the reasons I went out and hunted down Heather Tiddens to teach yoga at our gym a few times per week. She’s an incredible teacher with a deep understanding of the human body and seemingly infinite patience that is fantastic for all levels including beginners. Jeff Baker also teaches a specialized mobility class once per week. We have a strong emphasis on flexibility and mobility for injury prevention and performance.
We’re building people into sports cars here and if you aren’t flexible and/or mobile, then you’re driving with the emergency brake on.
It complements CrossFit perfectly in my opinion. Our workouts are fast and intense. The style of yoga she teaches counterbalances that with long, deep stretches that make us chill the hell out. It’s a literal yang to yin.
We always tell people here to go do what you love outside of the gym. Whatever that activity is (running, surfing, skiing, rock climbing, SUP, tango dancing, fencing, etc.), CrossFit will make you better at it and enhance the experience.
My sources also reveal that you’re quite a cook, and that you’re especially genius with the recipes for the Paleo Diet. Tell me a bit about Paleo, and a bit about being a secret chef.
I’d love to see how that leaked out. I do enjoy dabbling and I think it’s a very important skill to have. We are in a world of detrimental processed foods and if you can’t cook for yourself, then you’re at the will of the food companies. That’s a huge problem.
In its simplest form, the Paleo Diet tells us to remove grains and sugars from our meals. I also believe that the quality of that food is of utmost importance. Get locally grown, organic produce and pay the few extra dollars for good meat and seafood. The costs of future medical bills will far outweigh the incremental dollars you spend today.
I’m a very firm believer in the Paleo lifestyle because I’ve seen what it’s done both for myself as well as those around me. I strongly encourage people to pick up Robb Wolf’s book The Paleo Solution and read it cover to cover. It simply makes sense.
I can’t tell you much about my cooking secrets, but I will say that bacon is not cheating.
And I hear your Paleo Diet is catching on with other folks in your family? How’s it making them healthier?
For Christmas this year, I got every member in my family Robb Wolf’s book and a bottle of Stronger, Faster, Healthier’s omega-3 oil. I call this my “I Want to Live Longtime Starter Kit.”
My sister Lisa, who I love and adore, has had a difficult time controlling her weight for many years and that’s led to some potentially serious health issues. Since February, she’s lost over 30 pounds and it continues to come off. She’s tried all kinds of diets and routines with little success until now. This is by far the most fulfilling contribution I’ve made to somebody’s life. Keep it up, sis!
Other than CrossFit, how else do you spend your time in Santa Barbara?
I have been living here for only two years and most of that time was spent getting this gym going. When I have free time, I love to go out and see what the area has to offer. I plan on doing a good amount of surfing and rock climbing this summer as well as competing in some running and swim races. During the fall and winter I will be in full support of 49er football.
Other than that, I love messing with my dog, River.
Where’s your favorite place to eat healthy? How about not so healthy?
Healthy: Metropulos Café in the Funk Zone.
Unhealthy: Marty’s Pizza. It’s a problem.
How about drinks? Does CrossFit allow for enjoying the nightlife?
Had to throw this in, huh, Matt? I can say, with all confidence, that our gym members enjoy the nightlife here in Santa Barbara, myself included. The list of upstanding establishments that we frequent include The Brewhouse, Union Ale, The Savoy, Boathouse, Killer B’s, Blush, and Dargan’s for billiards. I realize the list is long, but most of us have a tough time sitting still.
If you find yourself at Dargan’s, ask if Fielding Butler is bartending and have him make you a “CPC.” It’s a questionably Paleo-friendly drink. Then ask him what his favorite CrossFit workouts are and plan on staying awhile and putting away about three more rounds of CPCs.
What’s one major reason why an average Santa Barbara resident should check out your gym?
You live in a natural playground packed with hundreds of activities at your doorstep. Get with a program that will prepare you to live your life to the fullest.
Anything else to add?
By Courtesy Photo
Even super-fit dudes like CPC co-founder Eric Malzone get floored by the workout of the day. Here he is “relaxing” with his dog River.