by Shane Williams
Chip Conrad, owner of Bodytribe Fitness in Sacramento, CA, might be the hardest working man in the strength biz. In addition to being a gym/owner and trainer he’s a musician, an author, a blogger and a competitive Olympic weightlifter and powerlifter.
A student of the late Mel Siff, Chip is well-versed in everything from the old-timey strongman lifts to clubbells and yoga infused mobility moves. He also claims to know 75% of all Tom Waits songs and about 75% of the lyrics Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”
Somehow he does it all while maintaining a busy lecture schedule traveling across the country giving his Brutal Recess seminar. Here, in an effort to help you all get to know Chip a little bit better before this weekend, is a short yet sweet interview with the man himself. Enjoy!
Chip, your bio opens very similar to a lot of our members/trainers with ‘i didn’t grow up an athlete” you were (and still are) a musician. Now you are a competitive olympic lifter, powerlifter and sought after strength coach. Fill in the blanks for us on how you got into the you to the world of physical culture?
21 years old… got into cross country skiing due to the need for a job. Ski resorts hire a lot of folks. I was one of them.
23 years old… skinny guy (about 127 pounds), wanting to get bigger. Skiing gave me some lungs, but I wanted some brawn.
About 24 years old… got certified as a trainer and was working at a gym. Soon became fitness director.
28-ish… started questioning everything I thought I knew. Wondering why an industry named ‘fitness’ wasn’t really interested in anything of the sort. Seemed built off aesthetic dreams and insecurity… ya know… sex and sex appeal. Decided that ability, strength and… well… fitness, actually meant something, but it wasn’t found in gyms at that time (still isn’t in most of them). Stumbled upon the underground world of strength athletics. Pretty cool place, have been here ever since.
2. Crossfit has a very specific definition of fitness. In your work you also talk about the importance of defining the term “fitness” and also offer a rather different definition. Tell us a little about yours and how you arrived at it?
Simple. My definition (fitness = the increase in the quality of life, or personal empowerment, through movement) answers the question of “why is this important?” It’s the metaphysical (beyond physical) definition. What most people list, including CrossFit, is the tenets of fitness, not actually what fitness means to anyone personally. To embrace a passion means to define it, personally define it. Then we begin our own philosophy, and that’s how we take the first step of our journey.
Would a truly passionate musician explain music as a series of notes, harmony and rhythm? Would a brilliant scientist explain math as addition and subtraction? No, these are the tenets of those disciplines, but they sure don’t DEFINE what they are.
3. In Brutal Recess you stress the importance of various forms of play, something we as adults and athletes sometimes forget there is a critical need for. Can you share a little about the Brutal Recess concept and what play brings to our time inside and outside of the gym?
A common chronology of our relationship to movement for us westerners:
Preteens: we enjoy recess and playtime, making up games, being silly and only dabbling a bit in the rules and structure of organized sport. Movement, for the most part, is a tension release valve.
Teens: For many, movement is limited to organized sport. ‘Play’ is now to win. Fun is becoming less of an option, stress through competition is replacing the release of tension we enjoyed at an earlier age.
Young Adulthood. Most folks have dropped movement at this point, unless they continue the path of rule-based competition. Recess is gone, fun in movement has been replaced with obligation, if there is any at all.
Older Adulthood: Lack of movement has led to disease and decay of the wonderful machine that is our body. This is not only a waste, but completely avoidable. Keep the fun within movement, keep the concept of recess, and we have longevity in our bodies and minds!
4. Mobility has recently (finally) become increasingly popular in the Crossfit community thanks to things like Kelly Starrett’s Mobility WOD blog. You’ve been including mobility complexes and movements into your training for years now and it’s a big part of of the Brutal Recess seminar. You’ve taken a rather integrated approach to the subject making it almost a workout unto itself. Talk a little bit about why mobility is so key and its role in the Brutal Recess concept.
Training has gone from movement for the sake of movement (what children and only a handful of evolved adults do), which is, as mentioned, a tension release valve for the body, to a redundant, intense event that creates permanent and potentially dangerous stress in the body. That’s right… our workouts are stressful, and not in the good way all the fitness literature is spewing at us.
What everyone is calling mobility now is simply moving the body through all of the possible full and healthy ranges of motion. Most training doesn’t do that, instead focusing on a handful of incomplete movements for high loads, repetitions or both. But just tacking on some obligatory bonus moves at the beginning or end of a workout doesn’t quite complete the picture either. Why not use the body as it should be used WITHIN the workout? Slowly some factions of the CrossFit world are beginning to understand that there is much more to overall fitness than just workload/power.
5. Lastly, I’m going to give you a variation on the desert island question. Imagine you’re stranded in a traditional globo gym. Forever. You can only take one implement (i.e. Kettlebell, barbell, sandbag, etc), one training book and have one song to workout to. Forever. Pick ’em.
Implement: Barbell if it is adjustable, sandbag if it is not.
Training book: a workout log. Blank pages to ruminate on and contribute to. Most of us know the basics… we have to trust ourselves to get creative from there.
Song: aw, come one… just one? The best I can do for now is to narrow it down to a top three list…
For Heaven’s Sake by 16 Horsepower
Victim Support by Distance
Payback by Slayer