How CrossFit Saved Pro Golfer Scott Stallings’ Health and Career
This professional player was on the brink of a health disaster until CrossFit helped him to lose weight, transform his life, and raise his golf game.
If you’re going to work out with the Fittest Man on Earth , you better know what you’re getting yourself into. Professional golfer Scott Stallings knows. He attended college with Rich Froning , the four-time CrossFit champion. Today, they live a stone’s throw from each other outside Knoxville.
Stallings often works out at the gym on Froning’s property. Sometimes Froning joins in, and sometimes he does his own thing. On this post-Thanksgiving Saturday, Froning chooses to heckle from nearby as he bangs out rope climbs at an impressive pace.
Stallings is gutting out his favorite cardio slam, which he calls The Holy Trinity: Four 400-meter runs separated by 30 calories each on the assault bike, ski erg and rower, then 20 calories, then 10 calories, with a goal of finishing in under 20 minutes. Stallings broke 18 minutes in this workout once, but today, he’s distracted by Froning who fires a suggestion from the top of his rope. “I know how you could make it a whole lot harder,” he says. “When you finish, you should go back up.”
“That’s Rich,” Stallings says. “He has absolutely nothing to prove, but he’s constantly trying to make himself and everyone around him better . There’s a lot to be learned from that.”
It’s a testament to Stallings that he can keep up with Froning in many of these workouts, but that wasn’t always the case.
In the Danger Zone
Take a look at Stallings’ chiseled, 6’0”, 185-pound frame and you’d never know just a few years ago he was flirting with a health disaster. In 2014, despite daily workouts, Stallings weighed 255 pounds. His strength and conditioning coach pleaded with him to make dietary changes to lose weight, starting with a decrease in the exceptionally high number of sodas he drank per day.
Small changes helped Stallings drop fifteen pounds quickly. He also discovered CrossFit. The quick, intense nature of the workouts appealed to him. “It sucked while it was happening but it was short, and I thought, ‘I can do this,’” says Stallings.
Still, he was experiencing disturbingly high levels of exhaustion: At times, he barely had enough energy for golf, much less to play with his kids. Then when bedtime rolled around, Stallings couldn’t sleep. He visited the doctor for a complete workup, and the news wasn’t good.
Stallings’ cortisol and testosterone levels were completely out of whack and he was diagnosed with acute adrenal fatigue. An MRT blood test showed his inflammatory markers were more representative of a sedentary, middle-aged man than a professional athlete. An allergy test revealed Stallings had reactions to sweet potato, barley, and milk, all of which were key ingredients in the protein powder he had been mixing into his shakes every day. “It was basically killing me and I had used it for two straight years,” Stallings says. Then, during a two-night sleep study, Stallings went into REM sleep only once, for a scant 15 minutes.
It was a eureka moment: Lack of sleep was making it impossible for Stallings to have the hormone profile necessary to improve his physical condition. His medical team decided that problem was their most urgent, and worked to fix it first.
Stepping Back to Move Forward
Through testing, doctors determined that Stallings’ three childhood broken noses had resulted in injuries that made it difficult to breathe during sleep. Stallings underwent surgery to fix his dysfunctional sinus cavity in July 2015. “The first two weeks of recovery were excruciating, but as badly as it hurt, I’d do it again,” Stallings says. The near-instantaneous improvement in his ability to sleep improved Stallings’ hormone levels, increasing his energy and motivating him to get back to the gym.
Stallings began working out during open gyms at a CrossFit in Knoxville. Gradually, he started doing more and more classes. “The intensity of CrossFit appealed to me, because it was counter to what I do every day with golf,” he says.
Stallings became so devoted to his training that he built a 1500-square-foot gym in a barn on his property, outfitted with the best equipment available. Over the next three years, he gradually made the lifestyle transformation from overweight and exhausted to the fittest he’s ever been. His journey has been aided by the group of CrossFit friends he’s met along the way. His crew of workout buddies includes three professional baseball players, a UFC fighter, a physical therapist and “a bunch of dads” who are friends from school and church. Stallings does the programming, writing a workout on the whiteboard each night for the next morning.
The group does regular milestone workouts and fitness challenges. In early December, to celebrate a friend’s one-year CrossFit anniversary, they did 10 exercises for three minutes each, to either 30 calories or 30 reps, then did max burpees to fill each time block. There was a one-minute rest between rounds. “I’ve never been so sore from burpees in my life,” Stallings says. “265 in 40 minutes.”
Last fall during the golf off-season, the group did lunges every day for 30 days, with 400 meters of walking lunges in a 20-pound vest on odd days and 800 meters of unweighted lunges on even days. The consistent routine had Stallings’ deadlift up to 475 pounds. “My hips felt amazing,” he says. “But then I had to start playing again.”
Stallings has a tournament nearly every week from January through October. But he still works out daily, following programs structured in length and intensity to accommodate his golf schedule. “Early in the week, we do heavier, slower, longer training sessions,” he says. “On Wednesdays, I do fasted cardio (at least 12 hours after consuming food), and then Thursday through Sunday, workouts are lighter, faster and shorter.”
A revamped diet has also played a huge part in his fitness transformation. Stallings stocks up on liquid egg whites, low-sodium turkey, power greens, sprouts and multi-grain toast for his go-to breakfast scramble, along with cinnamon almond butter packets and apples for golf bag snacks. He also tries to drink plenty of water before dinner.
In every city on his golf tour, Stallings will find a CrossFit gym for a drop-in. Through industry connections, he’s made friends in the community nationwide. “It’s really nice to be able to call those people when I’m playing golf in a random place, and ask them if they know anyone,” he says. “There is always a CrossFit gym willing to open its doors.”
During the season, Stalling adjusts or eliminates any CrossFit movements that could jeopardize his golf game. “One of the first things Rich said to me was, ‘Why would you ever need to do a bar snatch? Don’t let your ego get in the way,’” Stallings recalls. Rather than risk blowing out a shoulder and jeopardizing his golf game, Stallings does dumbbell snatches to build shoulder strength instead. He also has a history of lumbar issues, so back squatting is a no-go, but he laces up his shoes and does countless reps of front squats, goblet squats, kettlebell offset squats and landmine squats instead.
Two Workouts Are Better Than One
Overall, Stallings’ time in the gym has had a significant positive impact in his golf game. The 2019 season was one of his best as a professional player. “The pace of golf is very counterintuitive to my personality, so going to the gym in the morning and getting that aggression out of my system really clears my head for golf,” Stallings says. “CrossFit also helps me adjust to whatever might come up on the golf course. You might have an idea of how a workout is going to go, and midway through, you’re like, ‘Wait, this isn’t what I thought,’ and you have to adjust. I can apply that to golf as well.”
Physically, Stallings’ improved fitness and overall mobility and strength enable him to get into positions in his golf swing that he could never reach before. He is able to generate more force off the ground, and therefore more club head speed, without putting too much pressure on his lower back, and is able to hit shots out of heavy rough with ease. “The ball goes a lot straighter and my back doesn’t hurt,” Stallings says. “My swing has become much more repeatable and I can do a lot more with a lot less effort.”
Like most CrossFitters, Stallings goal in the gym is simply to do better today than yesterday, and his mentality is much the same on the golf course, where he wants to do better in 2020 than he did in 2019. “I want to get back into the winner’s circle,” he says. “My performance goals are pretty simple.”
If you’re motivated to get fitter and leaner, start with a healthy breakfast like these pre-workout meals of six elite CrossFitters.
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(All photos credit @ScottStallings)