This is the place where you were supposed to be. Like this is where you were supposed to go. Malik: Yeah, yeah. Prison’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me, really. I need to know that the fire’s going to burn me. I’m not going to believe you if you tell me it’s hot. I need to stick my hand in there and I need to see that this shit is hot. Like, I need to know for myself. It was a wake up call, you know? Narrator: Nobody ever has—or ever will—escape the consequences of their choices. For Malik Abdul-Haqq, his choices would lead him to a place that would change his life forever. Prison was his figurative slap in the face, but it’s where his fitness journey would begin. A journey that would eventually take him to the doorstep of CrossFit. This is the story of Malik Abdul-Haqq. The Specialist. Adrian: Hey, you’re you man? I’m Adrian. Malik? Nice to meet you Malik, how’re you doing today? Malik: I’m doing good
Adrian: Good! Cause I’m a bodybuilder, came from bodybuilding, I didn’t know if I was going to be looked down on a little bit. I didn’t know. But that definitely was not the case. Everyone was really friendly and it was all about the seminar. Bodybuilding never even was brought up. Hollis: Ready. Down and hold! Great. Sit back a half inch and chest up. Beautiful. Half inch deeper now. Now you’re working hard. Stand! Katie: And reset. Tell those arms they gotta wait. You got a strong upper body, you want to use it You gotta tell them to wait. Wait until they feel all-the-way-extended legs they’re going to hand off to the arms. These guys gotta wait their turn, okay? Get set. Ready? Go! Much better! Good! Reset! Malik: My size and flexibility made me not want to use technique. I wanted to force everything. I mean, bodybuilding has made me damn near immobile. There’s a bad side to everything, you know? Hollis: Who here thinks that their shoulder flexibility is the issue for the overhead squat? Malik: I know how to sit down and do this, or I know how to lay down and do this or I can stand up and do this. It made me look good but my hips are tight as fuck like everything else. Bodybuilding is about one thing: getting muscular size and definition. That’s not to say that bodybuilders don’t work hard. Because they do. But in order to attain their aesthetic goals, sacrifices are made and their level of fitness is limited. In essence, they are specialists. Adrian: A specialist is somebody who has a pretty narrow application of their physical capabilities. For example, you take somebody that is really proficient at running a marathon and you can say they have a lot of endurance, but really only in running. If you get them rowing or cycling, they might not be as impressive as you thought because the application of that endurance is so narrow it can’t really be used in other places. Malik: I always used the word to be an all-around badass. Like I just love that. Just being good at everything. I don’t like just being limited to one thing. Hollis: Fitness is this kind of adaptive activity that generally leads itself to other activities. Our specialty is not specializing. We are generalists by nature. What I’m going to talk to you about is fitness and our definition. Narrator: It should be fairly clear that the fitness that CrossFit advocates and develops is deliberately broad, general, and inclusive. Combat. Survival. Many sports (and life) reward this kind of fitness. And on average, punish the specialist. Whatever I do, I’ve always been this way. If I choose to do something I kind of obsess over it. I get obsessed with whatever I do. I have an addictive personality. The addictive personality is a gift and a curse. A good word for him is precocious. Inquisitive. Adventurous. That’s Malik in a nutshell. Narrator: This is Malik’s father, David. Malik: When I was young, my dad has alway been going into the gym. He trained my whole life. I always remember him going to the gym. David: A lot of years was just driving iron. I started out just lifting weights in the neighborhood with the fellas. Malik: I always wanted to be like him. I always thought he was the biggest dude in the world. I would always brag to my friends, “My dad’s so buff you would not even imagine if you saw him.” I always wanted to be like that. I wanted to be swol. I wanted to be like that. He’s like an old school, iron driving type of dude. He wasn’t really a competitive bodybuilder or anything. He just did it for the love of lifting heavy stuff. Narrator: Malik was young enough that he doesn’t remember his parents getting divorced. But in the years that followed, he struggled to find a sense of family. Malik: My parents did what they could for me, but there were ups and downs just like in many other people’s families and childhoods. I went to a lot of different schools. Moved to a lot of different areas. I learned how to run away. From the stuff that was going on at home and so I feel like that was a big part of me just wanting to be out all the time. Never wanting to be at home, ever. Reality is harsh to deal with. Sometimes if you can’t deal with it you find different ways. Certain people fill it with different things. Toxic relationships. Some people fill it with buying a lot of stuff. Money. Some people fill it with violence. I just filled it with drugs. I drank a lot. That was like the thing. Drinking would lead to everything. Do coke, smoke a bunch of weed, do coke. We messed around with meth. Heroin. Everything. Me and the little group of people I was with pretty much had our hands in whatever. They say that drug addicts have an anthem and it’s, “Fuck it.” And so I was in full “Fuck it” mode for a lot of years. David: I knew he was going to get in trouble. I see what you’re doing and what’s getting ready to happen is your life is going to get interrupted. So you’re handcuffed. You know you’re fucked. What’s going through your mind at that point? Malik: I called my girlfriend at the time I told her the cops are behind us and that I was in a high speed [chase] and it was at the end and she knew what I left the house with that day. I never went anywhere without my tools. Which was the guns and the drugs. And so all she had got was the phone call, “Hey, they’re behind me and it’s over.” And I had to hang up. Narrator: Malik was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to three years in a state prison. He would do his time at Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, California. A place once known as “Gladiator School” Before serving out his term, Malik received some fatherly advice. David: Look, you did what you did and now you gotta do your time. You gotta live here, okay? This is how you’re gonna live here. You’re gonna die on your feet, not on your knees. You’re gonna embody this information, these books that I’m about to give you and you gonna feed your brain and you gonna exercise every day. Every motherfucking day. That’s what you’re gonna do. Look at me. This is the life you chose. This is what you chose. This is how you gotta live it. You’re living amongst terminators and predators up in here. You don’t take any shit off anybody. These people who work here, these guards, you give them their respect. If you gotta go to lock-up for something you do in here, you welcome lock-up with open arms. Don’t let them see you worry about getting locked up while you’re locked up. This is the life you chose. You’re gonna be here. There are going to be people who have life [sentences], 50 years, 2 years, ain’t none of them your friends. This is the life you chose. I love you. Imma be here for you. Imma answer the phone when you call. But this is the life you chose, man. And you’re blessed right now cause you got me and you got a date that you’re gonna come home. So I’m gonna have to leave here in a few minutes, man. I already told you how you gotta walk this walk. Malik: You can go there and you can sit on your bunk in your cell and you can watch TV and you can hustle joints and you can smoke weed and, you know, do your whole time blindly but I associated with people who have been in there for like 30 years, 40 years, 35 years, 27 years. Been in there since they were 14 and they’re 40 years old. They gave me a lot of good information and a lot of life advice. I was in there with the attitude like I kept it real like, “Blah blah blah. I’m just doing this time for whatever.” I had one dude that said, “You know I been here for 32 years cause I kept it real.” And he said, “I’m never going home.” “I’m never going home.” And that was like a wake up call for me for ‘keeping it real’ Narrator: Malik would heed his father’s advice, staying out of trouble and working out. Every. Single. Day. Malik: So I would take a deck of cards 52 cards and I would just set it on the ground and I’d flip one card and do 20 push-ups. I’d walk to one side of my cell and walk to the other and flip another card and do 20 more push-ups. I did that until the deck is gone. It was 1,000 push-ups. They would open up for yard and I would go out to yard and that was when I would do all my bar work. I’d do 40 sets of pull-ups. I did 10 sets wide, overhand, I’d do 10 sets close-grip, like this. And then I’d do 10 sets of 10 underhand like this and then I’d do 10 sets like this. That would equal 40 sets. And so we would go back in our cells and blah blah blah throughout the day and then when they opened up for night yard I would go out there and do a lot of plyometric stuff. I’d be doing leap frog jumps and jump squats and taking old t-shirts to the yard and filling it up with gravel, using it as weights and lunging the entire track. Narrator: Every other day, Malik would run ten miles. Since 1998, weightlifting has been banned in California State prisons. Inside, you have to get creative with your methods of working out. Malik: I would steal trash bags from medical and then I would go into my cell and fill them up with like 50 pounds of water. Then I’d stick a plunger–I’d wrap it in a sheet and stick a plunger through the sheet and so it’d be like a 50 pound bag of water, wrapped in a sheet and then I’d stick a plunger through the sheet and then I’d do like 30 sets of curls. Torin: Did it ever break while you’re doing that?
Malik: Yeah, I flooded my cell. My cellmates all hated me because I trained so much. It’s all about consistency because you do the same thing, every day. No matter what, you eat the same thing every day and you train the same time and train the same way. And the intensity is–out here you have lazy days at the gym. I’m just whatever today. In there it’s balls to the walls. Every day. It got me through. That’s what got me through there. If I couldn’t work out I don’t know what I would have done. That’s what got me through it all. Five! There it is. Perfect. That was perfect. The weight on the heels. Hips all the way back. Six! Nice! When did he start talking about he potential career path that he’s on now, being a personal trainer? David: Before he came home. I stressed to him that you need to learn the routines. Learn them like it’s the back of your hand, man. People will pay you–and pay you well–to show them how to do what you do, well. Ironically enough, he came in and started to do his calisthenics work here. He got a lot of people’s attention. The gym owner urged him to get his certification. He got his certification. He got his insurance. And he started getting his own clients. Walk down the street, talk to people, and used his personality to get his own clients. He’s a go-getter. Malik: as soon as I got out I didn’t have any clients or anything like real social skills or anything but I went and made some business cards that just had my name on it and I would go over to Lake Merritt in Oakland and I would just talk to people. Like, “Hey, you look like you like to take care of yourself. Let me give you this card and blah blah blah.” And I’d chop it up with them about training. Keeping the weight on the heel when you come up, just squeeze everything in your lower body. Squeeze it all. There you go. Perfect. Give it all. Let it go. Flex it. Give me five more. Five. Perfect. Four. Nice. Three. There it is, come on. Last one. Lock it out. Good job. Perfect set. The number three has lidocaine in it. You don’t have any problem with novocaine, lidocaine, anything like that? You’ve been to the dentist and had shots and… Do you mind if I clean with alcohol and do this while you’re… Going to multitask here. Malik: That tattoo is just a reflection of my past. Purely. Just a pure reflection. It’s not anything that I currently believe in or support. It’s just how I was living at the moment. Narrator: As Malik works to reset his life, there’s one permanent reminder of his past that continues to haunt him. Malik: Tattoos usually tell a story. I was into guns and so I got a bullet on me. Is that something you’re going to keep forever, like a reminder? Malik: Fuck no. [laughs] Yeah, that one’s gotta go. I’ve been at an interview before and [they] said, “We really want you, but that bullet on your face, dude is just too intense.” I feel like it’s going to hurt. I’m not tripping. Like the pain of the laser isn’t going to even compare to the pain of the rejection and the judgement and all the other bullshit, you kno, that comes along with a tattoo. I think it’s a fair trade, if you ask me. Doing okay?
Malik: Yeah. Narrator: Malik will require multiple laser treatments before the tattoo is completely removed. Okay, we’re all done. We’re just going to ice that. How you doing?
Malik: Good. [laughs] Lindsey: All right, make sure you’re ready to pick up the bar. 20 front squats. So be smart with this. Remember after this you’ve got front rack lunges and power cleans. Narrator: Once a specialist, in more ways than one, Malik was indeed punished by life. He had to make the mistakes he made in order to get to this point in his life. A fitness journey that began in confinement, expands with his freedom. With the addition of CrossFit to his fitness toolbox, he looks to the future with hope and confidence. Malik: I want to a couple more bodybuilding shows. I want to do CrossFit. I want to compete in CrossFit. And I also would like to do a powerlifting meet. And I want to own my own gym, eventually. And basically have programs for kids at the gym after school, things like that. Have it shut down for a certain amount of time for after school stuff. That’s like my ultimate goal. To just have a gym that I can help people. I have a little motto, and it’s that I want to live to give. My end goal is to use fitness in which ever area of fitness I need to use it to give as much as I can. So what’s next for Malik? I wish that I was in control of that. His only enemy is himself. Our only enemy is ourself. It’s not anyone else’s fault, so he’s the master of his destiny right now.