How CrossFit changed the way WWE superstars train outside the ring

Josh Gallegos, a CrossFit Level 2 certified coach, advises Seth Rollins at Paradiso CrossFit in Venice Beach, California. Gallegos has been writing CrossFit programming for Rollins over the past few years. Courtesy of Josh Gallegos

Before Seth Rollins was christened "CrossFit Jesus," the man who now can snatch more than 250 pounds didn't even know how to squat properly.

"I understood the mechanics -- You put a bar on your back, and you drop your butt to the ground and bend your knees, but I didn't know how to squat," Rollins said. "I didn't understand external rotation versus internal rotation."

Rollins, one of the first wrestlers to talk about CrossFit on social media, said learning the fitness regimen started by Greg Glassman back in 2000 has helped him become a "more productive" professional wrestler.

In the process, it helped ignite a movement in the fitness of WWE superstars. But it began out of a desire to find a training regimen that fit his body type and in-ring style.

"I'm 6-foot-1, 205 pounds. I have to move around in the ring a lot. I can't be like a Braun Strowman or an Andre the Giant," Rollins said. "They kind of get to just stand there and throw bodies around. I'm the body that gets thrown around."

The man who would come to be known as the King Slayer started his CrossFit journey in 2010 at a friend's suggestion after noticing it "mimicked" how he felt during a match.

"I figured it would behoove me to maybe put some of this into my training," Rollins said. "And the more and more I got into it, the more and more I started to fall in love with the training paradigm."

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To Josh Gallegos, a long-time wrestling fan and a CrossFit Level 2-certified trainer who writes Rollins' programming, professional wrestlers are "more or less doing CrossFit in the ring."

For that reason, he's happy to see stars such as Rollins and, more recently, Bayley, integrate CrossFit into their training. As someone who became engrossed in the CrossFit community in 2010 while training for triathlons, Gallegos himself "immediately fell in love with the methodology of CrossFit."

"Seeing so many people support one another and encourage you to be the best version of yourself while learning movements and working out in class was something I was drawn to," Gallegos said.

Bayley, who started CrossFit in February 2017, said the atmosphere at boxes (gyms) all around the country feels like family, which is especially helpful when WWE is on the road.

"They just open their arms, and we have access to their whole gym," Bayley said. "Sometimes it's there just for us. So I just kind of fell in love with the community."

'Everything's scalable'

Rollins and Gallegos first connected through social media, after a CrossFit games athlete reached out on Gallegos' behalf.

"[Josh] was training at a gym in LA called DogTown CrossFit, where a lot of prominent female CrossFitters were at, including a girl by the name of Lindsey Valenzuela," Rollins said. "And he had Lindsey tweet me on Twitter and basically open the gym up for me and whoever was going to be with me if we were training in LA before a show one day."

What Gallegos called a "shot in the dark" turned into Rollins dropping in, returning the next day with a couple of other wrestlers, and before long a friendship formed. The next time Rollins was in town, he asked Gallegos about writing programming for him.

Previously, Rollins either did the workouts that his local box created, or group classes at boxes he dropped into while traveling. But he wanted more. Because Gallegos was aware of the rigors Rollins went through inside of the ring, he was able to provide a personalized plan to handle Rollins' unique demands.

"He programmed a little bit of that in there, a little bit of a bodybuilding aspect as well to keep me sustaining a look that is what works for our product," Rollins said.

In a way, Gallegos said, he thinks CrossFit is the "end all-be all for wrestlers who want to train smarter," but the coach and the programming matters just as much as the athlete's drive. All of Gallegos's WWE clients were "amazing athletes" before they came to him, but he said he doesn't deviate too far from how he normally programs for others since "everything's scalable."

Gallegos began writing programming for athletes and personal clients shortly after earning his CrossFit Level 1 Certification, getting advice from other athletes and coaches.

To Bayley, Gallegos' approach is "so different" from what she'd done in the past at the WWE Performance Center. She utilized programming from strength and conditioning coach Sean Hayes, which focused more on powerlifting. After making the move from NXT to Monday Night Raw she wanted something different, and there was an immediate connection with Gallegos.

"When I met Josh, honestly, we were texting and we had a bond over Macho Man because he's both of our favorites," Bayley said.

Her introductory workout of power cleans, jump rope and burpees, with one minute at each station for five rounds, was one she thought she could handle.

"Throwing in the burpees and a movement like power cleans that I've never done before, that requires your whole body," Bayley said. "It was so hard, but [Josh] was there yelling at me, so I had to impress him."

Working with Gallegos is the first time Bayley has had a personal trainer, and that's helped her to push herself harder than ever.

"I really noticed it going into WrestleMania [33]," Bayley said. "I saw my body transform right away and just feel differently in the ring. I felt stronger and felt more confident and definitely more durable."

Overcoming injuries

While he was the reigning WWE world heavyweight champion in 2015, Rollins tore the ACL, MCL and medial meniscus in his right knee during a match against Kane in Ireland. This injury required surgery and an expected six to nine months off the road.

For two months after surgery, Rollins had to keep his leg straight when he wasn't doing rehab, which limited his movements in CrossFit. A modified workout could consist of as many rounds as possible in a given time frame of five strict pullups, five pushups and five ring rows. Gallegos said that type of work caused "muscle fatigue way before condition fatigue." Rollins also did a mixture of upper-body work, cardio and rowing, which he was able to do by putting his foot on a skateboard.

But the hardest "mental hurdle" for Rollins was dialing down the intensity.

"If I did too much, even just from an upper body standpoint, my body would have to focus on repairing the tissue in my chest or my shoulders or my lats from doing a workout, and it would take a little bit of the emphasis off of repairing my knee," said Rollins, who returned to the ring in five-and-a-half months.

Gallegos' understanding of Rollins' training and mindset helped Rollins "expedite the process."

"[Josh] knew how I wanted to push myself," Rollins said, "and he could help me get me where I wanted to be with the workouts and stuff like that and at the same time, he knew to pull me back when I wanted to push a little harder."

Bayley was just five months into her CrossFit journey when she suffered a shoulder injury while facing Nia Jax on Monday Night Raw. Her problem was the opposite of Rollins' -- she couldn't do any upper-body work, not even deadlifts, which can be "mentally draining," Gallegos said.

"She couldn't row and running was a little tricky, so she was on the assault bike a lot," said Gallegos, who noted that the key is to "get as creative as possible with what you're given." One-armed kettlebell work became the norm, and Bayley was concerned about losing strength in her injured arm. Working around the injury was more mental than anything.

"I was just worried that I was going to re-injure it or push myself too far to where it would push my [recovery] time back," Bayley said.

Coming back stronger

When Bayley returned to Monday Night Raw, she didn't tell Gallegos because she wanted to surprise him. But that also meant her workouts still had to be modified. She waited until about three weeks after her return to action to get back to her previous intensity with CrossFit.

"To me, wrestling always comes first," Bayley said. "So I just wanted to get some matches under my belt and make sure it felt OK in the ring before I even tried to do cleans again because that, to me, I felt like would be a lot of pressure on the shoulder, even snatches."

Most people in the position of Rollins or Bayley, according to Gallegos, could "showboat" or "coast." But they don't.

"These guys have setbacks just like any other person," Gallegos said. "To see them fight through all that stuff and come back stronger than before is awesome."

Gallegos has drawn in several other WWE stars as clients over the past few years. He now writes programming for Rollins, Bayley, Becky Lynch and Roderick Strong, as well as conditioning work for Cesaro. In November, he announced WWE's United Kingdom champion "Bruiserweight" Pete Dunne as his latest client.

Though Gallegos doesn't consider himself as ever being a CrossFit "athlete" -- he's been at the CrossFit Games as an announcer, but never a competitor -- his transition to coaching allows him to changes lives.

"Whether it's a weight loss goal, setting personal PRs or making them look good on TV, I get no bigger thrill than being a part of that goal. That means more to me than competing," Gallegos said.

Creating programming for WWE stars is "like a dream come true," but what Gallegos enjoys most is that they are "normal, everyday people" who just want to improve.

"They have the same kind of goals and concerns that a normal CrossFit athlete does," Gallegos said.

Becoming 'CrossFit Jesus'

Over the past seven years, Rollins has garnered the nickname "CrossFit Jesus," though he doesn't know where the namesake came from.

"I think I bear a striking resemblance to the western version of Jesus Christ of Nazareth facially with my own beard and long hair and stuff like that," Rollins said, "and I'm always talking about CrossFit, so somewhere along the line, somebody put that together and came up with the CrossFit Jesus moniker, which is fantastic. I think it's wonderful. It's funny and it's correct and my wrestling school made a T-shirt out of it."

He's been a vocal advocate for CrossFit on social media, and Rollins has also made it a point to make CrossFit a requirement at his school -- the Black and Brave Wrestling Academy, which he runs with independent wrestling veteran Marek Brave, in Moline, Illinois.

"I'm trying to basically start a new wave in functional training with wrestling, with professional wrestling," Rollins said. "I just think it's the best foot to start off on."

Rollins recognizes that after his students leave Black and Brave, they can train however they see fit. But by having the baseline of CrossFit knowledge, they'll have an understanding of how their bodies move that'll help them both in the ring and in the gym -- and that's a message Rollins is happy to pass along to the next generation.

"At least after three months, they're going to have some idea of the fundamental of how to move their bodies through space with strength and speed and accuracy," Rollins said. "So I'm just trying to pass the information and the things that I've learned and accomplished on to the next generation."