Recently, in the world of fitness there has been chatter and rumblings about the use of steroids in CrossFit Training. One steroid guru, Dan Ramano, who makes his living coaching athletes on how to take steroids and is featured frequently on “T-Nation.com”, claims that over half of his clients are CrossFit athletes that he coaches on how to beat the drug tests at the regionals and games.
Steroid czar Victor Conte, the doctor at the epicenter of The “Balco” MLB drug scandal in the early 2000’s said that when you have women in your sport getting caught taking steroids, then you have a drug problem in your sport. This is an assertion made based on the masculine side effects and long term damage steroids can do to women. This year alone, of the small cross section of athletes that CrossFit Inc. tests, 3 women have been caught taking performance enhancing drugs or have outright failed the drug test by purposefully evading it, and that is just the athletes who have been made public.
So here are the big questions…are there athletes competing for the CrossFit Games who are using steroids? Yes. Is there a legitimate drug-testing program in place? Yes. In fact it is the same test that is on par with the NCAA testing program that takes urine and in some cases blood. Can the test be beat with some help or basic knowledge of steroid use? Probably. Should this effect the way we view CrossFit Inc. or the efficacy of it as a training program? Absolutely not.
Here are the facts about The Crossfit Games as a sport and method for finding the fittest athletes on Earth.
- 275,000 people compete in the CrossFit Open, and 40 men and women go to the games as individuals.
- There is an open invitation to anyone in the world from any fitness or training background to come and compete for the title, which is incentivized by a cash prize of nearly $300,000 and endorsement deals that could double that.
- No individual has ever made it to the games or won using any other training methodology than predominantly CrossFit Training (Constantly varied, functional movements, executed at a high intensity).
There are steroids that are widely used in many sports: cycling, powerlifting, bodybuilding, Olympic lifting, track and field. But these athletes are not winning the Games. Therefore it is safe to say that it is not steroids that are creating the fittest athletes on earth…it is CrossFit Training. So we have the method right, but are people cheating?
CrossFit Inc. definition of fitness is work capacity across broad time and modal domains. They use four guiding models to illustrate this:
1) A model of mastering 10 General Physical Skills
2) A model assessing ones fitness based or their ability to perform any physical task
3) A model mastering all metabolic energy pathways
4) A model of balancing lifestyle factors looking at fitness relative to health markers
The fourth model known as the sickness, wellness, and fitness continuum looks at fitness as reflected by health and performance markers. Not just 1RM deadlift and mile time, but biometrics like resting heart rate, triglycerides, blood pressure, fasting glucose, liver enzyme levels etc…
This is the model that really pokes a hole in the steroid debate in CrossFit. If any health or performance marker is pushed forward while others are left behind or worsen, CrossFit Inc, dubs this an “Ill-Conceived Fitness Program.” So if your performance markers go up to the point where you have turned yourself into a games level athlete by using steroids, but in turn your blood pressure has gone dangerously high, your liver enzyme level are out of whack and you end up with an enlarged heart…this is an ill conceived fitness regime.
CrossFit’s definition of health is fitness throughout the course of your life, so if at the age of 30 you are insanely fit, but at 55 you die because you have increased your risk factors negatively in that pursuit, you are doing things wrong.
Now let’s talk about those health markers for a bit, because I see every Testosterone Replacement Therapy Doctor rolling their eyes as we marginalize what they do. CrossFit Inc. says that performing a single dose of constantly varied, functional movements, executed at a high intensity combined with a diet of meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruits little starch and no sugar in quantities that support exercise but not body fat is protective of health and help people combat chronic disease, and maximize fitness over a lifetime. Not only that, they claim it does in a simple and elegant way.
If you go to the doctor with a blood pressure of 200/110, they will immediately put you on blood pressure medication. What CrossFit is saying is that drugs may not be the best long-term course of action. What good is having ideal blood pressure if side effects from medications are causing other issues in health or performance? One medication counter acts the side effect of another and before you know it you are on a lifetime cocktail of medications. We have seen may people get off of their blood pressure or diabetes medication using CrossFit’s prescription as the fix. So if you have a health maker like testosterone, body fat, sex drive, or energy that is off, you may consider hormone replacement therapy, but you should exhaust every other natural resource around diet and exercise first, instead of just putting a band-aide on the problem. Drugs may be a short cut fast-acting fix, but they also may lead to other issues down the road.
If performance at all costs was CrossFit Inc. guide to defining fitness then we could just scratch off that 4th model of the sickness, wellness and fitness continuum, put everyone on as many performance enhancing drugs as they can take and say “Have fun until you get sick.” There are in-fact some training programs in the world that adopt this, but CrossFit is not one of them.
Now let’s go back to the cheating issue in the competitive realm of the CrossFit Games. When you look at the ocean you only see the surface and it is easy not to consider the 99% of the water below. The same is true for the CrossFit Games athletes. These athletes are approximately .001% of the CrossFit community. They are the extreme outliers yet they get the majority of the attention in CrossFit because they are on TV and are expressing fitness in a way it has never been showcased before. They provide inspiration to the masses, but in no way would I consider them an accurate illustration of what Crossfit is for most people. Crossfit is grandma being able to pick up the groceries and play with her grand kids again. Crossfit is the IT programmer would loses 100lbs after years of sitting at a desk. CrossFit is the self-conscious girl, who showed up in baggy sweat pants and a t-shirt the first day, now wearing booty shorts and a sports bra because she is proud of her body. CrossFit is the person who decides walking is better than taking the escalator because they know they can.
This is a community built on and bonded by shared suffering, hard work, and integrity. CrossFit Training is built on standards. There are movement standards, standards that people are honest in counting reps and weight, standards that everyone works to their physical and psychological tolerance, standards that people “check their ego at the door.” This is truly what makes the CrossFit community special and unique, bonding athletes around the world.
CrossFit Games Champion Camille Leblanc-Bazinet once said in an interview with the Washington Post. “It is easy for critics of CrossFit to say that CrossFit is unsafe, or all the athletes are on steroids. These are people who are usually afraid of the idea of working hard and feeling vulnerable, who are afraid of doing things the hard way and prefer an easy pill, or who are simply trying to validate themselves, make themselves relevant and are rooted in jealousy of CrossFit’s success.”
It seems that as an athlete, taking drugs is a personal choice that has many factors and variables. It seems that CrossFit’s stance on drugs would be to pursue more natural and elegant avenues first. It seems that to judge CrossFit based on the .001% of its community would be misleading and inaccurate. But for a community that prides itself on standards, hard work, and integrity here is the final word on weather steroids belong in the CrossFit Games. All cheating is wrong, weather it be in a marriage, on your taxes of at the CrossFit Games. Cheating demonstrates 3 characteristics:
- Cowardice-not having the balls to play by the rules, not having confidence in your own abilities core values, or process.
- Malice-Intentionally hurting someone weather it be yourself, your family and friends, or the other athletes you are cheating.
- Selfishness-Putting your wants above all else, regardless of who it hurts.