Filthy Fifty at United Barbell

Last night I participated in the Filthy Fifty workout at United Barbell/CrossFit SOMA in San Francisco, an affiliate not far from the baseball park. The Filthy Fifty is a long chipper sort of workout that is composed of the following:


Filthy Fifty

  • 50 box jumps
    -50 jumping pull ups
    -50 kettle bell swings
    -50 walking lunges
    -50 knees to elbows
    -50 push press
    -50 back extensions
    -50 wall balls
    -50 burpees
    -50 double unders

There were about 12 of us at the 5:30pm class. The coaches were James Kusama and Trent Simmons, who both worked furiously throughout the WOD to keep things flowing. United Barbell/CrossFit Soma is a located near China Basin, on Brannan near 2nd street, literally a few minutes walk from Willy Mays Plaza and the AT&T ball park. It’s a good affiliate–coaches that are knit-picky about movement and technique, a fun atmosphere where the workouts are intense but the coaches have a sense of humor before and after. I truly think that that sense of humor thing is an invaluable element to taking the edge off of all the discomfort that “functional movement performed at high intensity” tends to elicit.

As it did so for me yesterday in such a spectacular way.

Oddly enough, I had just watched a video earlier in the day, from July 2008, a video shot at the original CrossFit gym in Santa Cruz where the participants do “Fight Gone Bad,” another longer brand of CrossFit workout where you steadily get driven into cardio-pulmonary hell. (At the end of the video, a woman reports her score: “243. And I didn’t even puke and I almost was going to.”)

I noticed two things from the cert video: One, the nervous state of the athletes before the start of the workout. One word to describe their emotional condition: Dread. Two, that the coach reporting on the workout (Kelly Starrett) bugged the athletes about tiny little glitches in their technique. Good technique is how you avoid getting injured in CrossFit so the gyms that drill it over and over are going to be the best gyms. Or the only CrossFit gyms–as one CrossFit affiliate owner said to me, “There’s a misperception that CrossFit is about throwing eggs at the wall and seeing which ones don’t break. You’re not going to stay in business if that’s how you run a CrossFit box. If word were to get around that all that happened at your gym is that you got injured, no one is going to join your gym. We have an incentive to make sure things are as safe as possible.”

Yesterday I had sent an email to a fellow journalist about my take on this matter. I wrote:

I am not aware of any studies that have been conducted on injury rates in CrossFit, but my take is that because CrossFit is such a powerful core muscle group training program that it has the potential to ward off injury. And as far as the movements (clean and jerk, deadlift, snatch) being dangerous themselves, the truth is that in most CrossFit gyms you first learn these movements with a piece of PVC pipe. And proper technique is pushed hard from the beginning. And I know this: at 48 years of age, and having been dealing with chronic running injuries for the last 10-15 years, I always seemed to get hurt running but I’ve never been hurt doing CrossFit. And I’ve been doing all the crazy stuff (box jumps, Olympic lifts, gymnastics) that one would see poking around the website.

Coach Trent Simmons on the left organizing the class for the Filthy Fifty.

Speaking of crazy stuff, let’s return to the Filthy Fifty. I wasn’t feeling that much dread before the workout because I’d never done it before. Ignorance is bliss, of course, and I knew I should just enjoy my ignorance while I could because as I was warming up I watched the 4:30 class complete the workout. There was plenty of distress going on. The eyes of the CrossFitters had that look that said, “What did I get myself into?”

When it was our turn, Trent and James had us do a quick warmup and we set up our stations. Off we went. The first half of the workout wasn’t so bad. The box jumps definitely get you going but the jumping pull-ups seemed to have their purpose in setting up certain muscle groups for the near-death experiences they would suffer in the last half of the workout. For me, things started getting ugly with the knees to elbows. I had fallen behind most of my classmates by that point. I had to do the knees to elbows five reps at a time and then gasp for three or four breaths before getting back on the bar. I was at 15 reps and the reality that I had another 35 reps just to finish the knees to elbows segment was really rather sucky. I was breathing in big, giant gasping breaths. This was followed by the push presses which started off feeling not too bad but the honeymoon was over by the 20th rep.

But the nightmare really begins with the wall ball shots. Crouch down, spring up and launch a 20-lb medicine ball up to a high spot on the wall. I went into the wall balls pretty hammered. In the past I recall being proficient with them. It was such a fond memory that was now just part of some smokey dream of yore. Now each wall ball rep sent a tide of metabolic consequences through my DefCon 3 state of alarm. I tried to do 10 at a time with a short break between but by the end I was surviving 5 reps at a time with the goal of completing 50 a bleak spot hovering over some infinite desert that wouldn’t seem to let me cross. The last five were particularly horrible.

Then come the burpees. I thought, OK, let’s rip through a quick 10 without even thinking about how worked I am. I went down for the first burpee and couldn’t spring back up. My arms were duly whacked. Had to stagger to a standing position and do a little hop off the ground—a true CrossFit burpee hop, meaning the bare minimum where I get just enough clearance to swipe a credit card under my shoes.

By the time the burpees were over I noticed that I was very light headed. A little dizzy in fact. Workouts like Fight Gone Bad and Filthy Fifty are the kind of CrossFit workouts that slowly lead you over the the land of puking and I was nearing the edge. It was warm in the gym and I wasn’t acclimated at all so this didn’t help matters.

The final segment of the workout is the double unders with a jump-rope. I do single hops now because my Achilles is a little tight and double unders seem to stress it out a lot, so I did the singles–150 of them. After, I tried to sit on the ground but my arms were too tired to prop me up so I just walked in circles for a bit. I commiserated for a few minutes with my brother and sister CrossFitters (standard operating procedure following a hard CrossFit workout–look each other in the eyes with a feint smile, shake your head and compare notes on which part was the worst) and then wobbled into the bathroom feeling like I had just stepped off a boat ride in a stormy sea.

I wanted this workout though—I am about 10 weeks from the Rumble in Paradise competition at CrossFit Elysium, which I did last year and I want to improve on last year’s performance (I came in last in the RX competition. Nowhere to go but up). I remember well how much that final workout of the Rumble went down–it was heavy thrusters, burpees and kettle bell swings and I didn’t make the time cap. I think my goal is to finish all the workouts in the time cap this year. My training plan is this: to go to CrossFit 5-times per week for the next 10 weeks and to suffer as much as I can now to hopefully make suffering at the competition more—I don’t know—effective I guess is the way to put it.

United Barbell/CrossFit SOMA is having a fundraiser this next Saturday that I won’t be able to go to, I’ll be out of town, but wish I could—it’s Fight Gone Bad, with proceeds going  to Rubicon Programs. It would be another opportunity to meet the ubiquitous Pukie the Clown.

In Inside the Box, veteran journalist and marathoner T.J. Murphy goes all in to expose the gritty, high-intensity sport of CrossFit®. From staggering newcomer to evangelist, Murphy finds out how it feels, why it’s so popular, and whether CrossFit can fix his broken body.