Coaching is a Conversation
by Erik Castiglione
Memorial Day is upon us once again, and as per tradition, we’re programming “Murph.” There is an awful lot of chatter on the interwebz right now amongst CrossFit coaches and owners about whether or not this is a good idea. Many are opposed because “Murph causes rhabdo,” or because the coaches “don’t like the stimulus.” I really can’t stand this phrase, and you’ll hear some coaches throw it around frequently: “that’s not the stimulus of the workout,” or “use this weight because that’s the stimulus of the workout.” It becomes a blanket statement without meaning behind it; a safe refrain that incompetent coaches can parrot to sound intelligent. And, it is about as informative as a physical therapist telling you that you have a shoulder impingent. Gee, thanks. WHAT is impinged, and how do I fix it? Or, in our case, WHAT is the stimulus of the workout, and how do we scale appropriately to train it?
When it comes to any given workout, a competent coach will tell you what to do, and a good coach will show and tell you how to do it. Great coaches go deeper and explain WHY we are doing what we’re doing. Then, taking into consideration your individual training history and current fitness level, a great coach will discuss appropriate options with you. Keyword, DISCUSS. Coaching is a conversation, NOT a dictatorship. Well, great coaching is, anyway. During that conversation, you, the client, will also inform your coach if you are feeling sick, run down, had a poor night’s sleep, or are super stressed with work/kids/life in general. Taking all of this into consideration, your great coach will help find the best scaling options for you, based on WHAT we are training that day, and based on how you are feeling at that time.
So, let’s have a conversation about Murph. What is it we are testing/training in this workout? Well, it starts with a long run (long for CrossFit, anyway), and then goes into high volume gymnastic work. Pull-ups focus on lats and biceps, push-ups focus on triceps and chest, and air squats are a lot of quads/hamstrings (mostly quads, as we fatigue). These are localized muscle groups for each movement, and we are doing high reps, which rely on muscular stamina (also called local endurance). So, Murph is a test of muscular stamina while under metabolic fatigue (i.e. you are already winded from the run). Great, now that we’ve demystified it and broken it down, let’s talk about why some people have issues with it.
The main safety concern with Murph is that such high volume, especially of kipping pull-ups, can cause rhabdomyolysis. This is a risk if you have not been training to do high volume pull-ups, or if you use an inappropriate scaling option. For example, when we are testing muscular stamina, we want to use strict pull-ups as our substitute for kipping, adding bands and scaling volume, as necessary. Jumping pull-ups are used when we favor metabolic stress over muscular stamina. And, adding a jump to your pull-ups may help with the concentric (upward) portion of the movement, but your muscles are still fully responsible for the eccentric (lowering) portion. The eccentric portion of any movement can be thought of as controlled failure; you’re lowering a weight (or your body), but still allowing your muscles to extend under load. This type of movement is the most damaging to your tissues, particularly when it comes to uncontrolled bodyweight movements, like the negative of a jumping pull-up. There is a time and place for this, and it is NOT the middle of the metcon, and definitely not in such high volume.
In fact, the only two cases of rhabdo that I’m aware of at CFR occurred due to high volume jumping pull-ups. In the first case, we had a member come back for Murph after a 6-month hiatus from CrossFit. The coach (who should have known better, and who is no longer a coach) had her do 100 jumping pull-ups. She wound up in the hospital. Banded pull-ups, or ring rows would have been more appropriate, not to mention scaling the volume. The second case was a member who ignored the coach’s suggested scalings during high-volume gymnastics WOD and wound up with a milder case of rhabdo that still sidelined her for a couple weeks. In this case, the coach gave sound advice, but was ignored. At the end of the day, we coaches are here to provide guidance. Whether or not you heed us it ultimately your call. Since it is a conversation, that is a potential outcome.
So, how does all this apply to you and Memorial Day Murph 2020? Well, we need to consider how active you have been during quarantine. If you have been following our regular programming or the Home WOD program, you should be adequately prepared for Murph. Use the same scalings to which you are accustomed for pull-ups and push-ups. Have you been running a lot, but not much else? Keep the running volume the same. Scale the volume of the gymnastics – 50%, 70%, maybe 80% of the total volume, based on how many push-ups and pull-ups you have done. If you have not done pull-ups at all, or do not have access to a pull-up bar, bent over rows are a good option here.
Have you been completely inactive this quarantine? Well, hopefully at least your liver is a bit stronger (mine is approaching superhuman!). If you plan to partake in Murph, PLEASE make sure that you aren’t hungover – dehydration increases the risk for rhabdo (this goes for everyone). Also, you’re going to need to ease back in. Your runs should be 400-800 meters depending on how good you were at running previously, and you’re going to want to heavily scale the gymnastic volume. This should also be dependent on your pre quarantine fitness level. There is ZERO shame in doing a half Murph – you’re still partaking, after all.
Need more thoughts on how to scale? Ask me! I’m happy to keep the conversation going. If I don’t see you in our Zoom class on Monday, have a Happy Memorial Day! Stay safe and stay sane.