Monday 8/3

“Double Hanger”
3 Rounds for time:
100 Double Under
7 Hang Clean and Jerk @ 185/115

 

The following is a continuation of my post from last Friday critiquing Pat McCarty’s write up about this year’s CrossFit Games. If you have not yet, go read part 1 here.

Just like last time, my comments will be below the original article’s text in blue.

Annie Thorisdottir, CrossFit’s poster child for years, may have kidney damage from the Games. Let that sink in folks. We’ve gone past “these people know what they are getting into” to “one of the fittest females on Earth may have permanent repercussions from this contest.”

 

If you read this interview with Emily Abbott, who finished eight overall as a female individual athelete, you can see that “Murph” had a profound effect on not only her, but also many of the athletes. She said, “I was looking at everyone in the corral, and everyone looked so fucked up. You could see it in their eyes. Kara Webb passed out after Murph and said she came to when she was being wheeled into the the [sic] medical area.” And continued, “I was pretty angry after Murph. I felt like, ‘This is just ridiculous. I feel like we were part of a circus.”

It’s a shame that 2 time Games competitor Emily Abbott felt this way. Quite frankly though, to hear that she looked at her fellow competitors, during the test to find the fittest man, woman and team on the planet, and was SURPRISED that they were exhausted – makes me more concerned about her mindset going in than it does for anything else. Aren’t the tests of the fittest in the world meant to exhaust? Aren’t they meant to push people to and even beyond their known limits? If not now, when?

After “Murph” and the speed ladder, CrossFit took to the Twitterverse and polled fans as to which workout should come next – “Heavy DT” or “Double DT.” Yes, you heard that right – the fans got to pick the final workout of the day on Friday.

By Sunday afternoon, Facebook had lit up with outrage over the programming. Never before had it seemed that so many people were being stretchered off. Khan Porter was close to withdrawing over concerns about rhabdo, Annie was out, Maddy Myers was out. Porter was clearly affected by “Murph” because a finely tuned athlete like him, after a second-place finish in the opening event, languishing at the bottom makes little sense.

The key word here is “seemed.” I truly think people noticed the withdrawing athletes more this year because of one name – Annie. This year 2 women and 4 men withdrew during Individual competition. Last year, a year in which I don’t recall nearly the outrage we’ve seen this year, 4 women and 1 man withdrew. 6 this year and 5 last year. Certainly not a drastic uptick in injuries or other competition related issues from 2014 to 2015. While it’s true to say that Khan Porter is a “finely tuned athlete” this does not necessarily mean that he was prepared for the tests at this years Games. In fact, I would say that he clearly wasn’t. That doesn’t make them bad tests. If I were to take a Collegiate Calculus exam today I would fail miserably. That doesn’t make it a bad test, it makes me ill prepared for said test.

And while every year there is concern expressed over programming, this year was different. The mighty were falling. We’d never seen suffering on this scale or remarks like those of Emily Abbott. 

One athlete’s comments are not the base upon which to build a criticism of programming. If we had asked Sam Briggs what she thought of this year’s Murph challenge, we might have gotten a different perspective, since she finished in 39:10, faster than the entire field of women and men save Björgvin Karl Guðmundsson who finished in 38:36.

It all goes back to the Evel Knievel theory. When there is pressure to not only top yourself, but to entertain, you’re no longer testing fitness. So what are we testing?

 

  • Are we testing fitness when Rogue has to invent new pieces of equipment each year? Yes – testing unknown elements is absolutely vital to the efficacy of the competition. If the only thing we ever see are things the athletes have practiced countless times we are not truly testing fitness.
  • Are we testing fitness when the only thing that changes from year to year is the volume? It is necessary to expand a test to five days when we used to be able to test in two? Yes –  the athletes have shown that as their fitness increases we must test them across a broader spectrum of stimuli and in order to do that the test must expand in scope.
  • Are we testing fitness when entertainment value is being factored in? Yes – I can absolutely assure anyone reading this that having sat in those meetings, the first and foremost concern of all involved is to legitimately crown the fittest on the planet. Entertainment value is far down the list, as evidenced by previous years events like the Half-Marathon Row of 2013, the triathlon of Pendleton 1 & 2 in 2012, which, by the way, included a 11 km run (approx. 6.8 miles) over steep and notoriously hot “Microwave Mountain.” These are not exactly edge-of-your-seat viewing events.
  • Is “ability to acclimatize” a measure of fitness? Yes – If two athletes participate in the same event, under the same conditions and one claims the reason for loss is a “lack of acclimatization” or what is usually heard as “it was too cold, hot, dry, wet, cloudy, rainy, windy etc” that athlete is ALWAYS looked at as someone looking for excuses. It is an even playing field. 40 Men and 40 women took the field during Murph at the same time of day, in the same temperature, under the same conditions. The fact that a very small percentage were unable to rise to the challenge says more about their individual preparation than anything else. Cyclists sleep in barometric chambers to raise their blood volume and acclimatize to elevation. Andre Agassi, the famed Tennis player, moved to Las Vegas so that he would be forced to train in the heat of the desert and used this to his advantage during many a mach late in his career. This is a competition. If you choose not to prepare for the heat that Los Angeles in July may bring, you are leaving a hole in your preparation.

The Arguments for the Current Programming

I have seen several posts on social media supporting the programming. The recurring theme of such posts goes something like this:

 

  • “It’s not the programming. It’s the athlete’s failure to take into account conditions and pace accordingly.”
  • “Hey, it’s hot in Cali. Games are always in July. They know what to expect.”

 

No question that with time athletes can acclimatize. If you’re going to climb Mount Everest, there is a lot of adaptation work to be done. The human body is amazing in terms of its ability to acclimate to conditions. Look no further than the grueling preparation astronauts go through – up to two years of prep to get their bodies ready for the rigors of space travel.

But how much time do Games athletes really have? From the Open (indoors, winter) to Regionals (indoors, May and June) to the Games six weeks later. Is that enough time to adapt to 100-degree heat? Assuming all of the athletes training for the Games can even mimic those conditions, it’s doubtful that’s enough time. Can the Canadian athletes simulate California training conditions? Aussies in their winter? Even if “Murph” had been announced at the close of regional competition, I suspect that a training regimen simulating the “Murph” conditions would have had to have been undertaken fairly quickly in order to adapt.

They all have the same amount of time, give or take a week or two. Furthermore, if I were an athlete with any inkling that I might have a shot at the CrossFit Games, you’d better believe I would be preparing for that eventuality as early and often as possible. Do you think I should only add swim training into my regimen AFTER I’ve been confirmed for Carson? We know there’s going to be a swim event and most athletes were prepared for it this year. They prepared for it by spending much of the year working on their swimming. The same could be said for the intelligent athletes in regard to preparing for the California sun.

A lack of adaptation on the part of the athletes does absolutely nothing to dissuade organizers. On the contrary, I would argue that it is actually the job of the programmers of the CrossFit Games to specifically seek out the holes in athletes preparation and therefore fitness in order to find those athletes that DO NOT possess those same holes and crown them the fittest.

Here’s another way to look at it: In 2014, my coach had me do “as much outside as possible” as I trained for the Games. But when it came to the down-and-back chipper in the mid-day Carson sun, I was stunned by the heat. With a 21-minute cap, I was never so close to quitting in my life – sitting down on a med ball and calling my career over. The heat was shocking. Almost frightening. Now go back and read Emily Abbott’s interview and tell me it’s merely the athlete’s failure to take conditions into account.

Then you should consider moving to a hotter climate to train, or take other measures to acclimatize to the heat. Simply doing “as much outside as possible” won’t cut it as this sport moves higher and higher into the realm of professional sport. Do professional cyclists simply stay in their home town and ride “as many hills as possible” to prepare for the Tour de France? NO – they MOVE to mountain towns around the world to train. Any athlete who is really looking to compete at the highest level will find a way to eliminate as many holes as possible from their game. CrossFit athletes should be no different.

Imagine the alternative, the 2018 CrossFit Games take place entirely indoors in a perfectly temperature controlled environment that never wavers from 68deg F. No matter how arduous the tests the athletes are asked to compete in they are not truly tested in their ability to handle whatever life might throw at them.

But then you say, “They knew what they were getting into when they signed up.”

Did they, though? I would argue they did not. This is a contest where the events are sometimes not revealed until right before they are performed. While “Murph” was announced a couple of weeks ago, “Heavy DT” was decided minutes before it was performed. Athletes can only reasonably anticipate what the competition will look like based on last year’s games. This was not that.

No? The CrossFit Games have never had outdoor events? They’ve never before been asked to compete in the heat and the sun? They’ve never had workouts briefed to them in the last seconds before they’re asked to compete in them? What CrossFit Games have you been watching?

So you continue: “This kind of volume is nothing for these athletes. Most athletes had no trouble with ‘Murph’ or ‘Heavy DT.’ A few injuries does not point to faulty programming.

Agreed. But volume, for volume’s sake, does not measure fitness. The CrossFit Games is seemingly upping the ante because it makes for a bigger and better spectacle each year. The concept of testing fitness has been lost in the process. Testing fitness by merely testing an athlete’s guts runs counter to the ten fitness domains. If CrossFit’s goal is to “test physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains including Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy,” nowhere in that list does the ability to handle more and more volume and live to tell about it play a role.

No, volume for volume’s sake does not measure fitness. But volume for competition’s sake certainly does. AND in order to be worthy of the moniker Fittest On Earth you’d better believe that your body’s ability to deal with volume is part of the equation. PART of CrossFit’s goal is to test the 10 recognized fitness domains. There is more to testing fitness than one model. Even at the Level 1 Seminar (which McCarty has supposedly attended) we talk about 4 models that support our definition of fitness. The 10 General Physical skills are one, but so is the Hopper Model (in which an athlete should be able to complete whatever random task might come out of a hopper with relative competence), Metabolic Pathways (in which an athlete is measured on their competence across any time domain worth testing – i.e. very short, short, medium, long and very long and everything between), and the Sickness, Welness, Fitness continuum (in which an athlete’s lifestyle is considered part of their fitness, i.e. food, sleep, recovery etc.)

Come One, Come All

But you can’t have a 2km row, a true USAW snatch event with red and white lights, a standing triple jump, and skeet shooting. Because while those might test power, speed, agility, strength, and accuracy, and many of the other so-call domains of fitness, they would be boring as hell to watch. And that’s bad for business.

No, we can’t have a 2km row, a USAW snatch event and a standing triple jump along with skeet shooting to crown the Fittest on Earth – not because those tests are boring but because they don’t represent a broad enough spectrum of physical competence. Think about the things left out by those tests. No running. No agility. No gymnastics skill of any kind. No real endurance. What McCarty describes here is NOT a true test of fitness but a single day’s worth of competition on the road to it. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with these events as they stand, they are simply woefully inadequate. 

So, we have the CrossFit Games – the test of fitness as carnival sideshow. We’ve reached the Snake River Canyon days of the Evel Knievel legacy. And Castro is wearing fur.

 

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