Georges St. Pierre's RUSHFIT: GSP Trainer Erik Owings and the Creation of RUSHFIT

I apologize for the lack of updates in my RushFit series. I am still doing the program, in theory at least, but have been struck down by a rash of illnesses. I don't blame Georges St. Pierre for this; it's the curse of having two young kids in school and play groups and all those other germ factories. If it happens again, though, I have lawyers on retainer.

Today we'll take a look at the brains behind the program, trainer Erik Owings. It's fairly obvious from watching the DVD's that Georges, while endorsing RushFit, isn't the originator.  Part of his gift is finding the right man for the right job and Owings was the person in his life best suited to help him take down the champion in the at home exercise field - P90X. So, who is Erik Owings? We're about to find out.

Mushin Martial Arts founder Erik Owings is not a man who believes in doing things halfway. When he got interested in training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu he went all in - two years in Brazil with some of the best grapplers in the world. At the famed Gracie Barra Academy, Owings got his brown belt before moving back to New York and finishing his tutelage under the incomparable Renzo Gracie and John Danaher.

It was in New York that Owings developed much of the knowledge he would later turn into the RushFit series of exercise DVDs. Working as a personal trainer to fund his own fighting career (Owings competed succesfully in the International Fight League before concentrating on training full time) he learned quickly how to work around space and other constraints.

"I would go to people's homes to train them. I became very good at training people with just bodyweight and light dumbbells. That's all people had room for in their spaces," Owings said in an exclusive interview with Bloody Elbow. "So when Shari Spencer came to me and said 'Hey, Georges brought your name up as somebody he thinks could design a program for him' I could say 'Actually I do have a program designed.' They say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I just took what I was already working on and modified it, tweaked it to put more intensity in it."

Preparing the program wasn't easy. It was one thing to tailor a program for a world class athlete like St. Pierre or Gracie. Designing a fitness regiment for a new mother looking to shed baby weight was something else entirely. The challenge was bringing those worlds together. Could you develop a program for everyone and anyone all at once?

"I had to think about somebody like Georges and how to give him a hard workout while also allowing my mother, who's 57 years old and in terrible shape to do the workout. Could they both do the same workout? Most people would say no," Owings said. "But I can tell you straight up that you can. I do it every day here in my gym. It's all based on progressions. All you have to do is give somebody the same exercise but adjust the variables, whether it is more repetitions, more weight, if it's box jumps more height on the box jump. Full range of motion versus partial range of motion. Our program is designed so that everyone can do it, unless they have a serious health issue, but with varying degrees of modification. For everyone that scoffs at RushFit as a commercialized gimmick to make money, I challenge you to try it. If you really give it 100 percent, I guarantee you'll be just as tired as Georges was when he attempted it. I believe Georges is super fit. But he struggled at those exercises. I think anyone would. If you're actually giving it your maximum intensity, you're body is going to wear out. And this goes for any exercise program, not just mine.  It's the principle that Cross Fit was built on. Taking basic exercises and putting maximum intensity into them."

In the course of filming the DVD collection, former GSP manager Shari Spencer says St. Pierre was exhausted by the intensity of the workouts. Owings was glad to see it. The two had been friends for years, and the trainer often found himself challenging the fighter with exercises and techniques that were new to him.

"Georges and I have been training together for a long time. We've been friends since the first B.J. Penn fight. We like to goof around and we train jiu jitsu together with John Danaher who is both of our coaches. We play around together and since I am at the gym all the time, I'm always coming up with physical fitness challenges and showing them to him," Owings said. "One of the things we included in the video is an exercise when you start in a yoga pose, put your hands on the ground, kick your legs through, do a pushup, then kick your legs back through. There's a variation of that where I would go into a handstand. And he would always be so frustrated when he couldn't do things like that. Part of what makes Georges such a great fighter is that when he tries something and can't do it, he'll keep going until he succeeds at it."

More on RushFit and GSP's controversial comments about strength and conditioning after the break

While Owings makes it clear that this isn't a fitness plan designed to prepare anyone for a professional fight, it is a program that anyone can use to get in great shape. While online critics have complained it isn't a program St. Pierre would use in his professional training, Owings says that's hardly the point.

"Of course he doesn't do our Fight Conditioning workout. It's organized shadow boxing, incorporating the most basic techniques. We're improving fitness and coordination, not preparing for a fight. My whole goal in this program is to develop the interest in a fitness lifestyle," Owings said. "For some people it will just be a new workout that inspires them to achieve better results. For other people it's going to be a gateway to fitness. All at home programs try to get you moving and burning calories. But our program, if you pay attention to the form of the exercises, gives you a great base for functional fitness. Fitness that's actually transferable into real life activity, not just having an inch gain on your biceps or losing two inches on your waist." 

The day of the RushFit release, St. Pierre told UFC announcer Joe Rogan that he didn't believe in strength and conditioning. Although not an ideal interview to push a program that includes a strength and conditioning DVD, Owings says St. Pierre's statements were largely misunderstood.

"Georges has taken a lot of heat for that. Of course, you have to realize that Georges only learned English as an adult. And people always put him under this intense scrutiny for what he says. I'll tell you, Georges does do strength and conditioning. He absolutely does," Owings said. "He does Olympic lifting, he does gymnastics, and he runs sprints.  That is the best strength and conditioning routine you're ever going to encounter.  What we've done is develop a routine that the masses can do. We've been friends a long time and he's saying 'I trust Erik. Erik can design a program.' And obviously he was dying right there on screen in front of you. As fit as he is, he couldn't even do the program easily with correct form.  That should be an inspiration."

What St. Pierre was getting at in his comments to Rogan was the desire and need for efficiency. Owings says he made that a big part of RushFit as well. Instead of focusing on individual body parts, he focused on the body as a whole. The program is designed to be functional, to build a better body, not just an aesthetically pleasing one. To St. Pierre and Owings, fitness is about more than just running a treadmill or doing a bench press. It's about training your body to engage whatever tasks it might encounter in the most efficient way.

"You can put this on the blog and it will save everyone in the martial arts world a lot of time. Georges has spoken to this as well. Stength and conditioning is a myth more or less. There is a baseline level of fitness that every fighter on the planet has. When a guy gasses in the ring, it has nothing to do with an inability to do pushups, pullups, body weight exercises, or to run a mile in a set time. What makes you fatigue and makes Georges glide through every round the same as Anderson Silva, the same as Fedor Emelianenko, the same as every great in every division is one thing and one thing only. Efficiency," Owings said. "They are efficient and expert spenders. Pretend everyone in MMA has a checking account. Some guys, when they go for a takedown, are like a guy who goes to the grocery store and spends $60 on a loaf of bread. When really all he needed to spend was a dollar. Everyone has the same amount in their bank account. You see it all the time with Russian wrestlers who wipe the mat with everyone and pound Vodka all night. You see it with Thai boxers who smoke cigarettes all day and keep going when these super fit Europeans who live like Spartans have long quit. It's because they've perfected their craft and are so efficient at it."

In my experience it takes some time to become an efficient RushFit user. The DVD's are a challenge, but one that have been worth tackling. In the end, it's not important to me whether GSP sits down in his own home to do this workout. I care about me and what the program can do for me. And Owings believes it can do wonders for almost anyone.

"If you're looking to train and get in shape at home, this is a good program," Owings said. "That's why Georges endorsed it. We've received a lot of emails and Facebook messages from people thanking us, people who have lost weight and feel better. And that's what is inspiring. We believed in it when we made it and I still believe in it now. This is program that will help people get results. People who are healthier are happier and if you're happier, you live better."

Next week, back to the grind and a woman's perspective on RushFit.

Previous RushFit entries:

Week One

Week Two

Week Three

Week Four

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