CrossFit may be the biggest fitness movement of all time. But there is still much to be wary of, Brandon Swan tells EDGAR at the inaugural Reebok Dubai CrossFit Championships.
With the Reebok CrossFit Games coming to Dubai this month for the inaugural CrossFit Dubai Championships, we caught up with professional Australian athlete Brandon Swan to discuss all things CrossFit. Swan has trained and competed in CrossFit competitions for just under ten years — including the pinnacle of the sporting event, the globally-watched CrossFit Games. The 27-year-old former rugby league player says that as CrossFit continues to get more popular and monetised, doping is inevitable but manageable. And with personal best lifts of a 205kg squat, 262kg deadlift and a sub-60s 400m sprint time, training topless is always an option.
How is the Dubai CrossFit Champs going?
Awesome! It’s something I wanted to do last year, but I’d just got married, so couldn’t really leave the honeymoon to compete in it – it wouldn’t have been a great start! Dubai has always been a bucket list event for me, for a number of reasons: it’s somewhere I’ve never been before; it’s one of the highest caliber competitions outside of the CrossFit Games, in terms of the big name athletes it draws — most of the guys competing here this weekend have some sort of Games experience. So for me it’s really exciting to compete against these guys. And then there’s the prize money, which is a big draw for any pro athlete.
Why did you get into CrossFit?
I was playing rugby league [for the Ipswich Jets] before I got into CrossFit, and I got into it, to basically get better at league – so it was essentially just a training method to get fitter, and I was a PT at the time, and I was dabbling with it for my clients, and was hoping to make it professionally in league, so was looking at ways to be stronger, fitter and better conditioned; stumbled into CrossFit and it eventually took over as the passion. And I’ve been competing for ten years now.
Did it make you fitter?
It definitely did, but I didn’t continue with league for much longer after taking CrossFit up. I often wonder whether I should’ve pursued league further, to see if it could take me somewhere, but I fell in love with CrossFit, wanted to compete at the Games and so footie took a back seat.
How difficult is it to be a professional CrossFit athlete?
There are a small handful of people who are able to make a full-time living out of the sport; the prize money is great but you’ve got to be winning the big competitions, and the standard of athlete now is insane. In Aus, I’m probably as professional as you get with the sport, in as much as I have sponsors who help me get out to the events and I don’t have to work a full-time job. Sponsors get me to comps, fund my travel, feed me, and clothe me. So, I consider myself a pro CrossFit athlete.
Brandon Swan: “I can’t say there aren’t drugs being used in the sport. CrossFit is now a big deal with serious professionals, big prize money and fame. And as it gets more so, more people are going to try and do it and cheat the system. ”
Why choose CrossFit over all other disciplines?
I’ve always been competitive by nature. Whatever I’ve done, I’ve wanted to win: straight A student at school, footie in the street, any sport growing up, I’ve always wanted to be the best. So, naturally with the structure of our sport, that feeds my competitive ego a bit. But thing I love about CrossFit is, there’s no luck. It’s no accident that Mat Fraser is the three-time (in a row) fittest man on the planet; he is that because he’s figured out a way to out-work and out-train everyone else.
When you finish a comp, whether you succeed or fail, it’s all on you, and it’s down to how much work you’ve put in.
Sometimes you get a bit of luck in the programming of competitions, but you take someone like Mat, he’s taken it to a level where it doesn’t matter what’s going to come up, he’s going to win. It’s all about the sacrifice and work you put in, and that reflects in the leaderboard.
What’s the CrossFit community like to be part of?
It’s a brotherhood. We all want to bust each other and outperform each other when it’s game time, but when the bell goes and we’re done we’re good mates. The fans you interact with are great because they do the sport themselves. So there’s this almost weird, but very cool connection between everyone in the community.
Who do you hang out with at the CrossFit events?
We all get along pretty well. But for instance, me and Mat (Fraser) were sitting next to each other on the bus this morning. When it’s time to compete we switch on and go for it, but on the way we’ll just be chatting – or moaning – about our wives and girlfriends, family life, what we’re doing for the holidays, and just normal stuff like that. These events are a bit of a catch up, I haven’t seen Mat for a couple of years, so it’s been cool catching up.
“There’s this almost weird, but very cool connection between everyone in the CrossFit community.”
For some, the physical feats that CrossFitters accomplish, are seemingly impossible: running sub-6 minute miles, cleaning 150kg and then doing 50 uninterrupted muscle ups one after the other… the question arises about doping and whether it’s possible to do these things without cycling drugs or using a sophisticated doping process: Can you do it clean?
I can’t say there aren’t drugs being used in the sport. It’s now a big deal with professionals, big prize money and fame. And as it gets more so, more people are going to try and do it and cheat the system. Every year, there’s new names popping up for people who are testing positive. So, I can’t tell you that it’s not being done. Because it is. For me, having competed for ten years, the thought has never crossed my mind. I’m competing at this level and doing so clean. And the thing is: I haven’t been blown away by the people that are doing it. So it hasn’t erased the clean athletes. I don’t know if the top guys are doing it or not, but right now, I turn a blind eye to those that are.
I’m of the opinion that the best in the world are not doping. They’re the best in the world simply because they work harder. I’ve been around the sport long enough to know that for the people who say, “how can that be possible?” they don’t understand how these guys are wired. And the amount of work that these guys put in. From personal experience, the things I’m doing now with my body were unfathomable even five years ago: I would never have dreamt or cleaning or snatching what I do now. With time and work what some think is impossible, becomes very much possible.
Also, with the nature of our sport, if you look at the individual feats that we’re achieving, we are doing incredible things but because of the variation in our sport, if you look at them individually, they’re not that impressive compared to the specialists in those fields. Yes, we have guys cleaning 180kg, but there are guys at the Olympics cleaning 220kg. Yes, we’re running sub-6 miles, but there are guys running close to 4. So when you compare the achievements it’s clear that we’re not as superhuman as some people think us to be.
What’s an average training day like for you?
We’re training for about 4-5 hours a day. It will be some sort of endurance – maybe a 10-15km run in the morning. That’s followed by 2 hours of heavy weight training – say heavy squatting, deadlifting or cleaning. And then in the afternoon, there’s another hour or two of CrossFit conditioning.
Yeah, and then you look at how much we’re eating!
But how sustainable is that?
With the amount of training I’m doing at the minute, it’s going to have some adverse long term effects. Look at the Ronnie Coleman documentary as an example of how training can really get you. CrossFit is still such a young sport, that we don’t really know what the long-term effects are yet. Look at rugby – there are guys with ongoing niggles and injuries, not big things, but creeky knees, bad backs, etc. and that’s the same for any professional athlete, you’ll pick those up. But those sports have a long history, well documented. For us, we’re not sure yet what will be the outcome. We are the guinea pigs, if you like. We will be the guys that show the world the effects of CrossFit on the body. We could look back in 20 years and say, awesome guys we got it spot on, or, “Wow, how wrong were we!” – we’ll just have to wait and see.
But you look at Ronnie Coleman, they ask him, would you do it all over again, he says, absolutely. And for me, I look at where I am and what I’m doing and have to think this is a lifestyle choice I made and I’m loving it, so there’s that.
What’s your favourite CrossFit exercise?
Muscle ups: because they’re so complex and use the whole body, they require so many different components. Not just strength and agility, but skill, finesse, technique and perseverance and mental strength, too. And I like any movement that blends those things together.
What WOD (workout of the day) would you design for you to win the Games next year?
Maybe heavy deadlifts and handstand walks. Maybe shuttles between deadlifts and hand-stand walks. That would be my dream work out.
Tell us about your diet: Is it strict? Boring? Do you have a cheat meal?
Yes to all of the above. I personally find that 80:20 works well. Eating clean most of the time, and then I can get the calories in, too. Also, the more I train, the more leniency I have with calories. Of course, I know I need to get the right balance of proteins and healthy fats, but if I want some cake, I’ll have some cake. Cheat meals, I have to have a couple a week, at least, mainly for the benefit of my marriage! And it’s probably a pizza.
Why do CrossFit athletes have an aversion to clothing?
Ha! I’m not sure, really! I guess it’s a culture thing. When CrossFit first started, you know, way before it was as big as it is now, with all the sponsorship, Reebok’s involvement, prize money and tv coverage, it was really quite rebellious in terms of it was kind of an underground movement with guys working out in converse, ripped board shorts and just with no top on. And over time, it’s grown, but there’s still that cultural thing. You know, when I first found out that we could work out without a shirt on, I was like, “Damn right! And ripped the thing clean off!” And also, you don’t work this hard and look like this to not be able to show it off every now and then, hey!
END OF INTERVIEW
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