A Qualified Defense of Puking in CrossFit

Tossing your cookies occasionally is okay. Celebrating it is not.

This may come as a shock to those who regularly read my articles and know I often rail against the CrossFit status quo in favor of smarter, safer, more logical fitness practices.

Sometimes, it’s okay to puke.

A Stomach-Turning Spectacle

Last week CrossFit posted this picture on social media, of John Immel from Kauai CrossFit vomiting into a tire. I will leave the snark regarding puking into a tire for another day. But suffice it to say, the near-300 comments were a fairly even push-pull regarding the benefits or detriments of puking:

“Just one of the many reasons to stay away from crossfit. This isn’t weakness leaving the body. It’s any sign of intelligence leaving the body.” 
“That is unimpressive at best. I’m embarrassed for CrossFit.”
“Nothing to ‘like’ about this pic. Rather crass and tasteless in fact. I’m sure that guy was not jumping for joy that he puked his guts out. Pushing to our personal limits yes, but is this really how we want our sport to be portrayed?”

Now, there are two forks in this particular gastronomic issue. One is the issue of Pukie the Clown and vomiting being a badge of honor in the CrossFit hemisphere. The other is the very real response to the intensity of a workout that may have you bent over a tire every once in a great while. Let’s examine both.

Pukie the Clown Is an Idiot

Make no mistake, I come down solidly against the mascotization (I made that word up) of a bodily process. This culture seems to almost encourage the act of vomiting as an introduction into the club – the CrossFitter’s hazing process. You can win a free t-shirt for puking or get your name on the whiteboard in some boxes, as if exercising to the point of retching is a particular PR to which we should all aspire.

When these gyms have slogans like “Exercise ‘till you puke!” and graffiti artists tag gym walls with the ‘roided-out version of the clown, it’s just silliness. Encouraging the act of puking completely misunderstands the point of training. Saying things like, “Now you’re one of us” to your fellow CrossFitter as he or she is on hand and knees in the parking lot is just foolish.

Celebrating vomiting, tearing, or any injury at all is the old-school, hard-core CrossFit-of-yesteryear, hearkening back to the days when all of this was so new no one knew what was good and what was bad. We’re smarter than that now. We train for fitness, competition, and life. As such, we should no longer subscribe to the ancient practices of CrossFit jackassery. Which means CrossFit’s social media team should stop posting pictures of people mid-vomit and quit being so giddy about the misconception that upchucking is neat-o.

On the Other Hand

I am here to tell you friends – sometimes, you puke. And sometimes, it’s okay.

Some training tests require an intensity that may bring you to the point of vomiting. Keep in mind this bodily reaction is different from person to person. Some people never vomit, no matter how hard they go. Other folks seem to lose their lunch fairly easily because that’s how they’re wired.

I am not talking about training here, I am talking about testing. Most times, in your daily training environment, your prescription will not call for 100 percent sustained effort, but rather, a submaximal pace or weight. Other times, your workout calls for an all-out effort. Whether you’re prepping for competition or actually competing, a test may require you to give everything you have. For example:

Imagine a workout in a competition where you have, for time, 5 rounds of 49 double unders and 7 deadlifts at 275/175 lb. It’s a fairly short workout, so you’re basically going to go full out, 100 percent pace. Let’s assume that in round 4, you’re a mere 1-2 reps behind the leader and you need to increase speed and intensity. You do, and you find yourself having to go to a dark place to find that extra 3-percent effort.

By the final deadlifts, you can feel your guts beginning to well up. You have pushed past any level of effort you even thought possible, but you continue to crank out the final reps as fast and as hard as you can. By doing so, you not only take the workout – you take the podium.

And you vomit.

Overheated after a workout

A Time and a Place

Do you celebrate the vomit? No. You celebrate the win. You celebrate the fact that you found the gear to go there and separate yourself from second place. That’s the intensity and effort that competitors sometimes find themselves needing to truly compete. It’s not funny, nor is it worth a t-shirt or a picture on CrossFit’s social media pages, but it is a reality. It’s not the end of the world, nor is it “intelligence leaving the body.” Sometimes you go there, and as a result, you throw up.

Do you go there on a Saturday partner WOD in a CrossFit group class? NO. During “Fight Gone Bad”? NO. In a qualifier workout for a national competition where four extra reps might mean the difference between qualifying and not? If it happens, it happens. As a community, let’s all celebrate the effort. Not the regurgitation.

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Photos courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.

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