Why I Attacked My Wife Last Weekend

With a baby on the way, my wife and I decided it was about time we got a security system for our home. This wasn’t the result of some alarming incident or deep-seated suspicion, we just wanted something to keep our relatively few valuables (a Care Bear collection and various snow globes) safe for when we’re out of the house at work or shopping, nothing too fancy. Unless of course you’re a tech-savvy burglar browsing the Internet for easy targets… In which case I’d like to disclose that we’ve hired our neighbor’s 8-year-old son as head of security.

I hope you like paint cans motherf*cker.

And he works holidays.

During a conversation with a security salesman at our house, he had an interesting bit of advice for us, “If someone knocks on the door while you’re at home and you don’t recognize them, don’t open the door. But, and this is the important part, make sure to answer through the door and let them know you’re home. Tell them you’re not interested, or that your husband’s asleep after his MMA workout, whatever. Just make sure they know the house isn’t empty. Nefarious characters tend to prefer easy targets, and an empty home is an easy target. Surprising a robber with your presence can turn a bad situation into a terrible situation.”

After the salesman had left, his advice got my wife and I talking. Now, I’m not unreasonably paranoid… I’ll eat a gummy bear well after the five second rule, my first reaction is never to call customer service, and being involved in an assault or robbery strikes me as a highly improbable event. While I understand the likelihood of being the victim of violence certainly exists, it isn’t something that concerns me on an hourly basis.

That this company has three managers for every customer service agent is pretty concerning.

That this company has three managers for every customer service agent is pretty concerning however.

Nonetheless, talk of home invasion got the ugly “what if” questions going… What would my wife do if someone decided to break in while she was home alone? What would she do if she were attacked? What would she do in the event of a sexual assault? As a husband (and not exclusively as a husband) it was a pretty terrifying conversation to have… Especially when the answer to the questions ranged from “I have no idea” to the equally frightening “Nothing.” She’d pretty much just come to the conclusion that as a female, there was basically nothing she could do in the case of violence. My wife, who spends 4-5 days a week at a CrossFit gym getting stronger, faster, and more powerful had pretty much resigned herself to “just kind of submit and hope for the best” in case of assault. The vastly more horrible part was that deep down, I basically agreed that she was powerless should she find herself in a violent situation.

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that an opportunity to attend a course by the name of CrossFit Defense cropped up close to home. I had seen the course’s creator, Tony Blauer, in a video describing how to avoid getting mugged at an ATM about 8 months earlier after it had popped up in my Facebook feed. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend taking a gander. As a violence averse citizen, it was nice to see a defense expert talk about how to avoid conflict rather than how to five finger death punch an assailant once it’s taken place. At the risk of sounding not very heroic, I’d really prefer to go through life never having to punch or kick my way out of a situation.

Perhaps the one exception.

Perhaps the one exception.

While it was obvious after our conversation that there was plenty of benefit to be gained by attending a personal defense course, my wife and I were still hesitant to pull the trigger. After some conversations at our gym, we found that many of the misgivings we were rolling around were voiced by several of our friends as well. While there was no absence of opinions on the value (or lack of value) we’d get out of CrossFit Defense, there was no actual first person experiences to draw from. That sounded like an opportunity.

So after signing up and attending the CrossFit Defense course, I thought I’d share some of the reservations I had before the course and how I feel about them now after having participated in the program.

1. My wife is a tiny person incapable of defending herself against a stronger male, so why bother?

This, embarrassingly enough, was my actual assessment of my wife’s defensive abilities before attending CrossFit Defense.

Towards the end of the first day, all of the students partnered up for the “Outside 90 Drill,” it’s based on the instinctual flinch you make when someone enters your personal space unannounced… You use your arm to create a space between you and an attacker.

Being the socially inept hermit I am, I asked my wife to partner up. For reference, I’m 5’9″ and 190 pounds. I have a 205 pound shoulder press, I can open almost every jar in my house (the vanilla extract being the one exception), and I can pretty much grab both of my wife’s wrists with a single brutish paw.

My wife on the other hand, weighs about 120 pounds and hits 5’3″ on a warm day. She can almost reach the top shelf of our medicine cabinet and still asks me to get rid of crickets that find their way into our house. Did I mention she’s pregnant? She’s also pregnant.

And feathers. She's made of feathers.

And feathers. She’s made of feathers.

The purpose of the drill was for the defender (my wife) to keep the attacker (me) at arm’s length. I decided far in advance that I’d be attacking with just 10% of my normal ferocity, I didn’t want to hurt my wife or spawn. So I lunged… And she kept me at bay. Quite easily I might add. So I tried to pull her in a bit harder… And she still didn’t budge. It was at this point that I realized in order to break the space she’d created, I’d have to actually try. So I did. Then I tried harder. And harder. And harder.

When Coach Blauer finally told us to switch, I still hadn’t made any progress. I wasn’t assaulting her with the gentle pressure of a husband, I was trying with every ounce of my being to get this woman into a bear hug and I simply couldn’t get any closer. My wife, who screams and runs out of the bathroom when she sees a moth, was able to hold at bay a pretty fit dude that outweighed her by 70 pounds.

The biggest benefit I saw that day wasn’t that my wife learned how to properly execute the “Outside 90 Drill,” it was the realization that she was fully capable of fending off an attacker should god-forbid that day ever come. The decision to fight, to scream, to kick, punch, scratch, to defend yourself could be the difference between being the victim of an attack and being the victim of an attempted attack. The first day of CrossFit Defense, my wife gained the confidence to not allow herself to be an easy target. To me, that experience was beyond value.

But while the drills were awesome exposure to new defensive postures…

2. Two days of punching a medicine ball sounds like something exclusively enjoyed by a 12-year-old.

Based on the videos I’d seen on YouTube and my general preconceptions, I assumed CrossFit Defense was going to be a two-minute lecture followed by hours of holding medicine balls like speed bags and worrying about getting a haymaker in the mouth.

Which, and I can't stress this enough, was basically my childhood dream.

Which, and I can’t stress this enough, was basically my childhood dream.

To my surprise, on the first day of the seminar we didn’t perform any physical drills until six hours in. This wasn’t because Coach Blauer needed to diagram where our fist should land during a falcon punch or the proper body position during Randy Savage’s elbow drop. He used this time to discuss defense in a way that we don’t normally consider it. Whereas I usually think of self-defense as stopping a punch with my teeth, Tony would claim I’ve already skipped over two steps, detect and defuse.

That two-thirds of self-defense is being aware and defusing potential risks was in itself a pretty mind-blowing concept, despite it seeming incredibly obvious. “Detect” wasn’t just looking over your shoulder as you walked up to the ATM… It was not getting on your phone to check Facebook immediately after getting into your car. It was paying attention to that little voice in your head when something doesn’t feel right and acting on it (even if you feel stupid or embarrassed afterwards). It was, as Coach Blauer phrased it, “choosing safety over everything.”

I know... It's far less catchy.

He’s basically the Drake of Personal Defense.

It wasn’t six hours of lecture based on paranoia and scaring the audience. It was learning about situational awareness and trusting your instinct. It was understanding fear management and distinguishing between legitimate and manufactured fears. It was lots and lots of swearing. Lots of it. Tony swears a lot.

I’d love to expand on the lessons learned during the lecture portions of the course, but I’m pretty sure that would be borderline plagiarism and I’m not sure I would do any of it justice. I know that six hours of sitting around talking about personal safety sounds horrendously boring, but believe me when I say it was anything but. At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, Tony is absolutely hilarious and manages to make the content incredibly interesting.

And he even throws in this EggGenie.

And if you order within 30 minutes, he even throws in this second EggGenie.

So the course was a good mix of lecture and drills, which was a welcome surprise. But still…

3. CrossFit is for getting all my grocery bags in one trip, not smashing a guy in the face.

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program, not a one-stop shop for all my survival needs. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around what could be the benefit of CrossFit brand self-defense.

What I didn’t realize until afterwards was that the same shameless realism that permeates CrossFit finds its way into the specialty programs as well. That brutal honesty that causes Founder Greg Glassman to say that CrossFit “can kill you” is an integral part of CrossFit Defense. Tony Blauer doesn’t make promises about becoming John McLane or defeating end bosses. He doesn’t pretend that defending yourself is a heroic right of passage that we should all go through.

Sunday's practical test was pretty brutal though.

Though Sunday’s practical test was pretty brutal.

Coach Blauer was always honest about the fact that he was teaching us to use fire extinguishers, not to run into a burning building with a firehose. This wasn’t CrossFit MMA. We were learning the most basic and easily understood movements with the broadest benefits. Where CrossFit has “functional fitness”, CrossFit Defense has “functional defense,” the idea that your body’s instinctual flinches are actual defensive measures and that this training helps you leverage those natural reactions.

CrossFit excels at distilling movements to their most basic components, an effort to extract the most benefit with the greatest efficiency. That Tony Blauer’s defense program incorporates that philosophy actually becomes an incredible asset.

So?

The three reasons to avoid CrossFit Defense mentioned above are not an all-inclusive catalog of my hesitations. Similarly, a comprehensive list of benefits I received from the lecture and drills are not included either. While it may feel like this is the one course you hopefully and most likely will never have to use, there are benefits that go far beyond the knowledge or confidence to make yourself a difficult target for an attacker. I’ve found myself incorporating fear management into my workouts as I stare at high volume thrusters, or using those same techniques before I head into an important meeting. I no longer zone out on Facebook as I walk down the street and I’ve stopped trying to figure out what fashion models are staring at when shopping for clothes with my wife.

Is it a bear? It's a bear isn't it? I hope it's a bear.

Is it a bear? It’s a bear isn’t it… I hope it’s a bear.

As a personal recommendation, CrossFit Defense was actually really fun, incredibly informative, and made use of familiar CrossFit movements and vocabulary to drive home the physical aspects of defending yourself. If you’re looking for a personal defense program that focuses on avoiding conflict and not depending on constant training to defend yourself in case it does happen, I’d definitely take a look. Plus, you may even learn some new swear words. Did I mention Tony likes to swear?

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Rhabdo – A First-Person Perspective

This last week we did “Grace” at our gym.

“Grace” is a nasty little workout where the athlete performs 30 clean and jerks as quickly as possible at a weight of 135 pounds for men and 95 pounds for women. It can be a slow grind or an unabashed sprint and I had every intention of achieving the latter. While I spent almost all day visualizing the bar moving up and down from the floor to overhead, I spent almost no time thinking about the possibility of “Rhabdo.”

Rhabdomyolysis or “Rhabdo” as the Internets likes to call it is the breakdown of muscle fibers that leads to the release of myoglobin into the bloodstream where it can wreak havoc on the kidneys and other parts of the body. It can be the result of dozens of causes, but for the purpose of this post, physical over exertion is one of them.

And here's a picture of Channing Tatum to keep this upbeat.

And here’s a picture of Channing Tatum to keep this upbeat.

During the workout, I tried so intensely to keep ahold of the bar that my forearms went from an aching pain to a dull numbness that screamed, “LET GO OF THE BAR.” Which I did, after 26 unbroken reps. I continued knocking out the last 4 reps as singles and ended with a time of 1:43, which was by far the hardest I’ve pushed myself in any workout ever.

Whatever fitness science/magic that needed to happen occurred about 15 seconds after finishing the workout as my body caught up with the unusual effort I had asked of it. Breathing was a chore and my arms felt likely useless weights attached to my torso. I was a mess.

After a few minutes, everything seemed to equalize and get back under control, I was able to break down my bar and head on home with my wife. I took a shower, had dinner, went to sleep, classic CrossFit stuff.

The next morning, I woke up with a strange sensation. I was tingly and lightheaded, I turned to my wife and yelled, “Yo, I CRUSHED that WOD yesterday!” Because that’s how I talk when nobody’s around.

But no, not with my flavor. That would be weird.

No, not with my flavor. That sounds terrible.

Everything was fine. I could still grab a knife to butter my Strawberry Pop Tart, I could still stand in the shower and ruin “Bye, Bye, Bye,” and I was still able to go work out at the gym. Later that day, I came across the article, “CrossFit’s Dirty Little Secret” serendipitously being shared via The Facebooks a day after I made my limit pushing effort during the workout. While I know everything that could be said has been said on the subject of Rhabdomyolysis and CrossFit, my overly-inflated sense of self worth says I should probably chime in with my take on “Uncle Rhabdo” as I’ve heard absolutely no one ever refer to it as.

1. Rhabdomyolysis will savagely rabbit punch everyone you know and care about.

I’ve been CrossFitting for about 16 months now and I have yet to hear a first hand account from anyone who’s suffered “Rhabdo.” I understand that’s a terrible population subset (anyone who’s gotten Rhabdomyolysis is unlikely to return to CrossFit), though I’ve also never met anyone with even a second hand account of anyone who’s gotten Rhabdo. This includes talking to CrossFitters who have 4+ years of experience coaching CrossFit, as well as long time members in multiple gyms in multiple geographical locations around the country. Yes, I asked. Awkwardly and mid-conversation.

This isn’t to say that Rhabdomyolysis is not a risk of CrossFit. It is absolutely a risk of CrossFit. Just like Rhabdomyolysis is a risk of Triathlons or High School Football. Just like Decompression Sickness is a risk of Scuba Diving. Just like Structural Damage is a risk of Thirst.

The Thirst Industry has been sweeping it under the rug for years.

He’s smart enough to use ice, but not smart enough to use the door?

And while an anecdotal story about a friend of the author certainly shows the ferocity of the condition and its terrible repercussions, I’d be cautious in making the jump that CrossFit causes Rhabdo. Much in the same way that I’d be cautious to say that Scuba Diving causes Decompression Sickness. It’s a risk, and based on my equally anecdotal experience, a starkly low risk. CrossFit is very up front about that risk and makes an effort to educate athletes and coaches. It’s an integral part of the L1 course and you can find plenty of articles (examples here and here) on the CrossFit Journal. It’s not a “dirty little secret” as the article describes. It’s a well documented and oft talked about subject in CrossFit, we’re not trying to spirit it away.

And while the terrifying reality of muscles breaking down and poisoning your body is certainly a jarring concept, the brutal nature of Rhabdomyolysis doesn’t somehow make it more common.

2. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. (Matt Damon cries.)

Eric Robertson wrote a follow up piece to his initial “Secrets” post, “I didn’t Shoot John Lennon.” In it, he mentions that a largely supported rebuttal to his first article is “personal responsibility,” the idea that many CrossFitters believe the athlete should have an understanding of the inherent risks of intense exercise and understand how to mitigate those risks through education and not letting their ego get the best of them.

While I agree that education on the subject is incredibly important and that athletes need to understand their limits, I also understand that I go to CrossFit to push those limits. I spent all day preparing myself for the devastation I would go through during “Grace” and I pushed myself harder than I can recall doing in my recent past. I also didn’t get Rhabdo. But maybe I could have. And then maybe I wouldn’t have suckered you into reading this post with its misleading title.

This bridge.

Or buying this bridge. Which by the way, is for sale.

Rhabdomyolysis can be the result of bad programming or poor coaching. It can also be the result of poor decisions made by the athlete. It can also be a thing that happens. Just a thing. That happens. Like Lil Wayne or the Teletubbies. Not anyone’s fault. Just the result of an athlete pushing themselves slightly too far during a workout that 99.9999% of the time would be perfectly normal and sane.

This happens all the time in normal non-CrossFit life. Driving is statistically a terribly dangerous activity to participate in. Especially compared to using public transportation (buses are 170 times safer than riding in a car according to the National Safety Council). But I do it literally all the time. I find that it fits my transportation needs quite well and despite the inherent risk I will continue to do it. I could certainly get into an accident. It might be the other driver’s fault. It might even be my fault. Or it could just be a thing that happens. And that would be terrible.

As I’ve shamelessly plugged on my blog before, CrossFit is not for everyone and if the incredibly small chance of Rhabdomyolysis is enough to turn you away from this particular form of fitness, that’s totally okay. I get it. There are other options available with perhaps less risk/intensity or that maybe fit your goals a bit better. If the level of intensity available to you through CrossFit is what you desire and you accept that Rhabdo is a thing that could potentially occur in the most minute of circumstances then that’s cool too. But let’s not pretend that this is something that I need to constantly be brooding over and concerned with every time I do 100 push ups and my arms get sore.

3. So wait… Did CrossFit break the Internet?

It’s incredible to me how excited the internet gets about CrossFit. I’m not sure everyone’s quite caught that Rhabdomyolysis is not a new disease invented by CrossFit. I used to run a few Triathlons and longer endurance runs and I never heard anyone talk about Rhabdo and its causes/symptoms. And not because it wasn’t a risk. It was just something people didn’t talk about. Though to be fair, I also didn’t seek out information on potential hazards of running Triathlons.

Risk.

Like getting my leotard all sticky.

CrossFit is exposing a larger population to a form of exercise that is much more “intense” than many of us are used to. Creating that level of intensity on this massive of a scale means that the larger population is not only able to reap the benefits of the program but is also exposed to some of the risk that is associated with that particular level of fitness.

The upside to all this online conflict is that more athletes are getting involved with the Rhabdo discourse, even when much of it is thinly veiled “I love CrossFit/I hate CrossFit” talk (present blog included). My wife is way more interested in reading about Rhabdomyolysis today than she’s been in the past year and that’s awesome. All CrossFit athletes (and athletes generally) should have a good understanding of Rhabdo and it’s causes, symptoms, and remedies. Just don’t make the assumption that if something can happen it will happen. It’s like the worst kind of lottery ticket.

Well, maybe the second worst kind of lottery.

Well, maybe the second worst.