Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last year or so, you’ve probably heard of Crossfit or either partake in it or know someone who does. It advertises “General Physical Preparedness” and “functional fitness,” meaning it doesn’t specialize in strength or endurance, lifting or running, but programs everything so you are ready for anything life has to throw at you. Nothing bad about that concept, but Greg Glassman and the Crossfit brand has twisted this approach quite a bit to mean incorporating highly technical lifts into programming while fatigue is high. I’ll get to the ramifications of this in a bit. As a way to grow the sport, it morphed from affiliate owned gyms focused on health, strength and fitness to a brand, one sponsored by Reebok among others. You’ve probably even seen the Crossfit Games: The Fittest on Earth on ESPN. It’s a huge production, with a lot of money now, for both the athletes (the men and women winners get $250k) but mostly for Glassman and the Crossfit brand. As could be expected with so much money, they pushed the envelope on weights, movements and what they throw at these very genetically gifted athletes. It’s more like a circus strongman high-flying trapeze act than fitness at this point for that high level athlete. “Come one come all and see the crazy strongman and women who can swim with weights underwater!” Makes for good television. Unfortunately, many events started to replicate these crazy antics with less organization and less medical oversight.
Both my wife and I have participated in Crossfit at a local gym for approximately two years. While, in general, our gym programmed their workouts pretty well, with more of a strength bias with limited long high intensity cardio work (which seems to be a staple in many gyms). Other owners/coaches really have poor programming, which as an affiliate owner, there are no standards for coaching or degrees or anything; just attend a weekend coarse and you can open a gym provided you have the cash.
Getting strong and being fit are both noble goals, and there many ways to accomplish those goals. Taking regular out of shape people, having them pay $150 a month and beating the shit out of them isn’t the way to do it. Many people love the daily competitive environments of the timed WODs (or workout of the day for those not initiated in the cult), and crush themselves to be one of the group. A lot of bonding occurs in these gyms due to the difficult nature of getting through workouts, but in many ways, it’s similar to Stockholm syndrome.
During our time at the gym, we met a lot of great people, got a lot stronger and had a chance to compete at a number of local and regional Crossfit competitions, holding our own (Holly especially kicked ass) and in general really enjoying ourselves in pushing the limits of our own bodies. Since then, we both decided that we wanted something different than what our gym offers with regard to classes and coaching, and have moved our own strength and conditioning program 100% back to our home gym. While we enjoyed competitions, we’re looking for something else right now, and will be saving a fair amount of money without gym dues and by staying at home instead of paying entry dues, travel, hotel, and so forth.
Over the weekend, a large Crossfit competition called the OC Throwdown in Orange County, California, with 30 top men and women athletes who qualified in four earlier events to compete. These are Games caliber athletes people, not newbs. Over a two day period, they were to compete in the following events:
Total points from:
Forty Yard Dash
Total points from:
3 Cone Drill
Twenty Yard Shuttle
Squat Clean 210/130
5 Min Clock x 3
Score: Slowest Fran
missing reps: 5 sec penalty
5 Minutes Per Round, no rest, other than your time faster than 5 min. Next Fran starts every 5 min.
3 mile run
mile 1 with two 1.5 pood/1 pood dumb-bell carry
mile 2 with one 1.5 pood/1pood dumb-bell carry
mile 3 with no carry
separate score for event 7 – mile time without carry
Total points from:
3 round strength
a. touch and go 3 rep max snatch
b. touch and go three rep max hang clean
c. two rep max back squat
50 Half Body Weight OHS
50 Calorie Assault Bike
20 weighted 20/14 Muscle Up
50 back squat Half BW
50 DUBs heavy rope
50 Wallballs 30/20
20 165/110 PowerSnatch
20 315/225 DeadLift
1 Cargo Net Ascent
22 ft Hand Over hand Traverse
9, 10 11 triplets performed consecutively with no rest in between
Dude is a very experienced lifter and it was a freak accident. But a few things need to be noted in this tragedy. Some rumors I’ve read is that while medical personnel were on site, an ambulance wasn’t, and it took awhile to get there and had a difficult time locating where they were supposed to go. Second, to what extent do the organizers of the event hold liability for A) the programming – putting such technical lifts toward the end of such a long weekend and B) event organization that allow a stack of weights in close proximity to the lifting area that directly influenced the incident by not allowing the bar and Kevin to safely bail on the failed lift. Olympic lifts such as snatch are done on a lifting platform with a nice clear area so any lift that fails can be safely bailed. EDIT: This is all pure conjecture on my part, upon seeing the video, it’s not clear exactly what happened that caused the spinal cord injury, but it’s still possible the above points contributed to the freak accident. I’m guessing that despite the injury waiver he surely signed, there will be a lawsuit involved (that will likely be settled quietly, out of court; wouldn’t want poor publicity for the Sport of Fitness).
In this case, shit happens, and to a high level athlete. How many other less severe injuries are occurring in Crossfit from overzealous recreational athletes trying to stay up with their gym’s top dogs? I think it behooves all of us, no matter what fitness routine we do, or what events we compete in, to not always follow the sheeple and simply do workouts because everyone else is. We all need to take our own health and safety seriously, and recognize that just because something is written down by a coach, doesn’t mean it’s good for us. That is part of the reason Holly and I left the gym, since I feel we can more safely work on strength and conditioning without the super-competitive environment and without stupid shit I hate like high repetition technical lifts, high rep deadlifts, high rep box jumps, handstand pushups (hello! The vertebrae in the neck is not designed to hold up your bodyweight), sumo deadlift high pulls and even kipping pullups.
If you feel the desire to support Kevin’s recovery fund, you can donate here. Here’s hoping for a full recovery, and hopefully this tragedy can result in some safer events in the future.