The Proper Way to Do a Hero WOD and Honor the Fallen
CrossFit, Masters Athletes
You read that right, folks. Progenex, the preeminent provider of CrossFitter supplements and major sponsor of the CrossFit Games, is once again using tragedy to sell product. In a blog post entitled 5 Hero Wods You Must Try, the reader is initially greeted with an email opt-in pop-up, and once you click your way through, you are treated to a poorly-written, hastily assembled excuse to sell.
At that point, what you quickly realize is that, first, this is not a well-researched or thoughtful list of hero WODs as promised in the title, but rather, merely a sample list. “Here are just a few examples of hero Wods.” Moreover, the writer goes on to explain how these grueling, 45 to sixty minute WODs require much more endurance than most CrossFit workouts - as well as the right Progenex products to survive them. It then goes on to mention “Randy,” which is, for many, a sub-five-minute workout.
So much for honoring the fallen.
The Mystery to the History Behind the Hero WOD
There is a certain mystery to the history behind the hero WOD. The CrossFit website is surprisingly devoid of explanation as to their genesis, the intent, and any protocols surrounding how to properly honor a fallen serviceman or woman when doing these WODs.
Yes, each hero WOD is accompanied with a brief bio of the fallen soldier, but who came up with this idea? What was the intent? Who decides on new hero WODS? What are the criteria? No one really knows.
"The CrossFit Website is surprisingly devoid of explanation as to their genesis, the intent, and any protocols surrounding how to properly honor a fallen serviceman or woman when doing these WODs."
That, of course, leads individuals to their own interpretation as to how to best pay tribute. Some of which are great, some of which are flat-out incorrect, and others of which may actually serve to offend active or retired service personnel.
For example, I remember being quite jarred on June 2, 2011 when the question of scaling a hero WOD came up and a poster by the name of Fred said this:
is it legal to scale on hero WODs? come on, if you can't do the RXd hero WOD don't dishonor it by scaling!!!
According to Fred, you dishonor the WOD unless you do it as prescribed. This is not the only time this sentiment has been expressed. More than this though, is the idea of “honoring their sacrifice.”
The True Intent of a Hero WOD
Let’s examine that idea. Hero WODs tend to be exceptionally long and arduous. “Clovis,” for example, begins with a ten-mile run. And that’s not the whole workout.
But it wasn’t always that way. The first couple of hero WODs were not that different from normal CrossFit Workouts. “JT,” the first hero posted, was 21-15-9 of handstand pushups, ring dips, and pushups. “Michael,” the second hero, was really a fairly sedate workout as well. Three rounds of an 800m run, and 50 each of back extensions and sit-ups.
So the concept of the exceptionally long and grinding hero WOD to help put us in a place of solitude and reflection was clearly not the original intent.
In fact, the original two hero WODS, “JT” and “Michael,” were posted only with the words “In honor of,” which means “respect that is given to someone who is admired,” or, “named after, in order to honor the person to whom respect is given.” Plain and simple.
"So the concept of the exceptionally long and grinding hero WOD to help put us in a place of solitude and reflection was clearly not the original intent."
So hero WODs are much like the Matt Maupin Highway, a stretch of I-275 in Clermont County, Ohio dedicated to fallen soldier Matt Maupin, or the Nick Vogt Wounded Warrior 5K. Like MLK Drive or JFK Airport.
Working Out Is Not Exteme Effort
The grinding nature of hero WODS and, accordingly, the mythology that “the extreme effort required to complete any Hero style workout is offered in service to the fallen hero” was a concept that developed over time and, according to some, borders on offensive.
Meaning, “extreme effort” in a workout will never, ever come close to the effort required to even get though a normal day on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan in 130-degree temperatures. Doing push ups and ring dips with the lure of a cold, post-WOD beer and a restful night’s sleep in your own bed can’t possibly emulate getting shot at by real bullets and real mortar. And flopping flat on your back after a hearty run at “Bulger” is nowhere close to the sacrifice that was really offered up.
These guys gave their lives, so the idea that exercising - even brutal, blood-letting WODs - could mimic dipping a toe into the day of a life of a solider in battle is just not realistic.
Does doing a really hard workout “honor” someone killed in battle? No. Especially if the workout is accompanied by comments like, “Whoa! This one was a leg smoker!” or “Can’t wait to try this WOD!”
"Are you honoring anyone if you don’t take the time and effort to learn about the person for whom the WOD is named?"
Moreover, if your box programs “Badger” and you do it, do you leave knowing anything at all about Navy Chief Petty Officer Mark Carter? Are you honoring anyone if you don’t take the time and effort to learn about the person for whom the WOD is named?
The Proper Way to Do a Hero WOD
Face it - all of the rhetoric about “the extreme effort required to complete any Hero style workout is offered in service to the fallen hero” rings quite hollow if you don’t even have a visual of the hero. You’re just imagining a shadow.
So what are we left with? What is the proper way to do a hero WOD and still honor the fallen? First, I suggest detaching any meaning between doing a workout and allegedly making the world a better place. You want to honor one of the fallen military, police, or firefighter whose WOD you did? Great. Go home, Google the person, and learn everything you can about him or her. Find out what he or she cared about and make a donation. Find out if there is a scholarship fund for the children left behind.
Then, the next time that WOD comes up, educate everyone in your vicinity about that person and his or her story. We all know Murph and he gets a ton of honor every Memorial Day. But do you know DT? Do you even know who SPC Kham Xiong is?
If you don’t, you’re just honoring reps and rounds.
Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Shutterstock.
Photo 3 courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.