From “The Games” to “The Cert”: The Story Behind the Grundler Brothers

Today marks the launch of an annual competition I’m sure you’re all familiar with: The CrossFit Games. For those of you out there who love CrossFit—for the challenge it offers, the physical results it produces, and the community it provides—you’ll get to tune in for a daily dose of inspiration. And for those of you who don’t practice CrossFit, the takeaway from today’s story is the same: taking the plunge, deepening your knowledge, and having someone supportive to cheer you on and test your limits, can lead to extraordinary accomplishments. Life is about picking new challenges and conquering them with your clan, your tribe, your family (whether the ones you’re born with or the ones you choose). I know we have our own primal tribe here at Mark’s Daily Apple, so I thought it’d be worth sharing a story about living awesome with the support of a community that wants to see you succeed.

If you’re up to speed on all the latest CrossFit Games news, then you’ve probably heard about the Grundler brothers. If you haven’t, you should. Bill and James Grundler have made a splash this year—and for good reason. The power duo are the first brothers to ever compete in the Games together, and they’ve shown that there’s a lot to be gained from having someone close, and knowledgeable, to help you achieve your goals. The two started off competing against each other in high school wrestling (proto-WWF stars by their own tongue-in-cheek accounts). But as the two grew up, they went their separate professional paths—Bill into a career as a high school athletics coach, firefighter and trainer, and James into the music biz, where he toured as the lead vocalist in a popular indie rock band. So how did CrossFit and primal living come into the mix?

The love of competitive fitness stayed strong in Bill—never leaving him from his early days as a kid who competed in swimming and wrestling. So he found a career path that piggybacked off his passion. As a captain of the Pismo Beach Fire Department, Bill had to stay in shape as a job requirement. Firefighters need to be healthy, fit and strong. It’s an occupational necessity. Honestly, there’s not much more of a primal-adapted job that comes to mind. Unlike most modern desk jobs, lifting heavy things and strengthening your body through functional movements is pretty much an essential part of your day (try lifting the dead weight of a person or smashing down the door to a burning building—you’re not going to get that kind of power with chronic cardio or spin class). That’s why in 2008, years after he had been using CrossFit for his own personal gains, Bill implemented its techniques for his fellow firefighters—who all had similar success. Eventually, he took his practice to the next level and opened up his own CrossFit gym up in San Luis Obispo, California: CrossFit Inferno.

James, on the other hand, went into the music business—exercising his vocal cords (instead of his biceps or trapezius) while touring as lead vocalist with his band, Golden State. And by his own account, being fit just didn’t quite “fit” in with the artistic vibe that comes along with being a rock star—something many of us with a non-physically demanding job often use as an excuse not to exercise. While Bill was building muscle, James was building a music career. And that’s how things went, until James made an about-face (an “Aha!” moment that most of us can identify with) a little over a year ago. It was time to return to his athletic roots.

Following in his brother’s footsteps, James got into CrossFit. He trained hard and even started getting some recognition. But he asked his older brother if he thought he had the chops to compete in the Masters Division at the CrossFit Games. Bill, the encouraging older brother he is, said that if James dedicated himself for the next year, he could crush it. But now, with both brothers in the same sport, James reminisced about the good old days when the two would spar together. So James asked Bill if he would not only be his mentor, but also join him in competing in the Masters Division—something that Bill (a well-known CrossFitter) had always qualified for, but always refused to do, even at the behest of close friends. Bill was steadfast on competing as an Open Athlete against the top competitors in the field, not as a member of the Masters Division, which is restricted to an older age range. After Bill’s injury in 2014, Bill only expected to qualify for the Masters Division, which, for him, meant sitting the Games out altogether.

But seeing James’ enthusiasm moved Bill to make his own about-face—and he made a deal that if James’ qualified for the Masters Division, Bill would join him. The thrill of competing with his brother changed his seemingly unmovable perspective, and shined a whole new light on Bill’s motivation to join the Games. And so the brothers’ training began.

In pursuing optimal physical fitness, Bill had already taken up the paleo/primal lifestyle along with a rigorous CrossFit routine. He knew that eating a clean, primal-aligned diet gave his body the fuel it needed for his rigorous training without the crashes, insulin resistance, and unrelenting hunger that inevitably comes with following a Standard American Diet. But James needed some reintroduction to the fold—and Bill was there to give him that reintroduction.

James had his work cut out for him, but after some rigorous dedication, sweat, and fun, each of the brothers received his letter of acceptance to compete in the Games. And both of them accepted the invitation to compete in the Masters Division together as brothers.

They had trained hard together. And now they were ready to compete hard together. What started as a form of play and an opportunity for bonding (like getting together with friends for a weekly match of Ultimate Frisbee) ended up creating some real success. That’s something I always try to keep in mind when tackling a new project: the importance and power of the primal instincts that carry us through each of our daily challenges. Things like community, competition in the service of a common goal, and play cannot be underestimated.

I share this story because one of our stellar worker bees over here at Mark’s Daily Apple happened to know the brothers. And the brothers knew about us. In fact, they also knew about something that piqued their interest: The Primal Blueprint Expert Certification. Bill, having already gained his level 4 certification in CrossFit (a level of certification very few trainers possess), wanted a challenge that rounded off his education in a way that married his expertise in functional fitness with the paleo/primal lifestyle that propelled him into the Games. And James, wanting a deep, comprehensive immersion into the hows and whys of a primal lifestyle, was just as curious as Bill. So we inducted the two as Cert students. It’s an opportunity they took on full force in a way that proved what I always say: an investment in yourself (along with a growth mindset) pays the highest dividends. The Cert gave the brothers a way to bond over their common goal—and that extra level of expertise to help them defy odds and expectations. So, after completing the program, each brother—now a Primal Blueprint Certified Expert—has provided his new wealth of resources to friends, family and clients.

So check out the video below, learn more about their story, and join us here at Mark’s Daily Apple in celebrating their journey, which mirrors things we create here every day: a supportive community, a series of goals, a set of challenges designed to help meet those goals, a sense of competition in the spirit of play, and a love for deeper knowledge.

Grok on, brothers, and good luck at the CrossFit Games!

Photo credit: Photography by Lorenzo

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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