Just this past week, Stan “the Rhino” Efferding posted a thought provoking rant, entitled “If you want to be healthy, don’t compete.” I’m generally a big fan of the guy anways, his YouTube rants, though long winded, are very thought out and articulate. He has a wealth of knowledge from a lifetime of competition in both the sport of powerlifting and bodybuilding. Some may be apprehensive or critical of his advice and approach, as he has admitted to hormonal augmentation during his time as a competitor. But if there was anyone with a very clear perspective of the health risks of high level competition, it would be him. And your critique of his PED use would likely even enhance the point he brings in this video.
(Warning: Almost 15 minutes of video!)
Long story short: Fitness and health are 2 separate concepts.
Fitness – Your physical readiness for a task or job.
In the Army, I would take the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT), or any other assortment of physical events meant to gauge whether I was physically prepared to carry out job descriptions and duties associated with a physical job. It was not the Army Physical Health Test. Though the Army did also require a Periodic Health Assessment, the two were entirely separate from each other.
And to echo Mr. Efferding’s sentiments, competition will lead to your eventual physical breakdown. The basic APFT was easy, and could be accomplished with fairly low stress exercise on a daily basis. But the competitive aspects of military, whether advanced leadership school like Ranger School, or Special Operations Selections and Qualifications courses involve significantly increased minimum standards, as well as grueling event tests and punishing field exercises. Not only are the “competitive” aspects of military training a leap ahead in physicality, the added stressors of lack of food and sleep are regular additions to the fare. This leads to a predictable high rate of injury and failure. People in these career fields will end up battered, full of screws and pins, with arthritis and herniated and ruptured discs. Or in my lucky case, a 100% rupture of my patella tendon! Woohoo! Hardly the picture of health. But whatever it takes to maintain ready to accomplish increasingly difficult physical tasks.
I implore CrossFitters to take note of the concept of competition. CrossFit has done a lot of good things for the awareness of strength and fitness in our society. But it comes with some red flags that should be noticed. I have previously noted that one pitfall to the efforts of the practitioners is the urge to do it “Again. Faster.” This is even a slogan within the community. On the surface it seems encouraging, but I feel it is the introduction into a damaging mindset. Because whether you are actually training for the CrossFit Games or not, chances are you got suckered into being a competitor.
Whether itching to improve your Fran time, or have your name at the top of the white board at your box, competition is a seemingly unavoidable aspect of the activity. In a sense, it is a positive sentiment. With your crew of workout pals pushing each other, and eking out your best performance, it is coming at an expense to your body. Though you are not at an actual sanctioned event, you have now become part of a competition. You have fallen into the realm of “testing your strength” rather than “building your strength.” You crossed the line when you increased unnecessary stress in your workout, inching yourself closer to the point where your body will not adapt and recover effectively. At this point, your risk of injury is increasing, whether from repetitive stress or from performing a skilled movement while fatigued.
Survival of the Fittest
The takeaway from all of this, is that reaching further to pursue fitness will inherently bring risks. Be sure to have properly evaluated your goals when you enter the gym.
Is your goal to be fit as f**k? Then acknowledge that there are elevated risks of injury. The competitive nature of increasing one’s capacity for output, whether for sports or occupation, is physically demanding. Testing your capacity with grueling events will be a goal, but it should also not be a daily or weekly occurrence.
Is your goal to be healthy? Then you can still CrossFit til the cows come home. Just be mindful of the stress levels you are encountering. Being healthy does not have to be a painful process, that is taxing your body and mind. If your goal is to simply be healthy, you might actually ENJOY the process, instead of viewing your gym sessions with dread and apprehension. And I highly recommend this second option, as you’ll be a lot more likely to see success when you WANT to go.