He’s a three-star General. President Obama selected him as Secretary of Defense Hagel’s senior military advisor. The Abrams tank is named after his father. As a young soldier, his nickname was “the natural-born killer.” He has two brothers; both are generals. When the Iraqi insurgency exploded in Sadr City in 2004, Abrams commanded three thousand troops at the center of the fight, just as his dad Creighton Abrams commanded American soldiers in the Vietnam War.
You could say Lieutenant General Robert Abrams has a distinguished biography. But one of his achievements has received little coverage: launching the mass adoption of CrossFit in the U.S. Army.
The Abrams Study: Does CrossFit Increase Injury Rates?
In 2012 Abrams commanded the Third Infantry Division, based in Fort Stewart, Georgia. That year he began an ambitious program to train the Third Infantry Division’s soldiers in CrossFit. In the two years since, the division has committed around $1.2 million to put nearly 2,000 soldiers through CrossFit L1 Seminars. And the division has provided gear suitable for CrossFit workouts to every company-level unit.
Abrams intends to use CrossFit to overhaul the way the U.S. Army prepares for battle. He explained,
The goal behind the CrossFit method of training is to change the Soldier’s attitude towards PT. CrossFit is a functional approach to PT in order to prevent injuries performing daily duties. CrossFit will change you.
Abrams vs. ACSM
While civilian competitors to CrossFit warn of a “potential emerging” trend of CrossFit injuries, Abrams is using CrossFit to reduce the risk of injury. Who’s right?
The civilian competitors have no evidence. Abrams, in contrast, has access to reams of data on CrossFit’s safety. He’s put thousands of soldiers through CrossFit L1 seminars. Unlike Dr. Steven Devor, the Army tracks ALL of those trainees’ medical care. If a single soldier got hurt in a CrossFit L1, the Army would know. To our knowledge, not a single injury has been reported from a 3rd Infantry Division soldier at a CrossFit L1 seminar. And the Army keeps signing up for CrossFit L1 seminars. In fact, the U.S. military is CrossFit Inc.’s single largest client.
Let me be clear: If the ACSM or NSCA were right, and CrossFit put US Military troops at a higher risk for injury than other physical activity, they’d be able to substantiate this claim with data from the thousands of US soldiers who have undergone CrossFit training. Yet the ACSM and NSCA have have failed to provide any data to support this claim, whatsoever.
The November 10, 2014 edition of the Army times interviewed Retired Command Sergeant Major Randy Ray who manages CrossFit Fort Stewart. That gym alone has hosted 31 CrossFit L1 seminars. Ray reports that “mostly it’s been a huge hit. The soldier’s love it.”
In the same Army Times article, First Sergeant Shawn Jarvis covered his experience as the “top enlisted leader for Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment.” Jarvis’ unit does CrossFit every morning except Thursday, when they road march. As a result, PT scores are up 7% unit-wide. Soldiers finish the PT test saying “Wow, that’s the easiest PT I’ve done all month.”
The Army Studies CrossFit
Big Army has caught on. The National Institute of Health is funding a $2.5 million dollar study testing 200 US Army soldiers over 4 years at Fort Leavenworth. One group will do CrossFit at Iron Major CrossFit – the other will follow the Army’s Field Manual 7-22. Kansas State University professor Katie Heinrich is leading the research, with assistance from former Navy SEAL and CrossFit Seminar trainer Joe Alexander.
Basically the lesson learned is: Don’t make stuff up … When we have any type of injury, we’re going to track them and report it.
Heinrich’s not just an exercise science PhD. – she has a 2:58 Fran and has done CrossFit herself for over 5 years. And she’s already studied CrossFit outside of the Army. Like Abrams, Heinrich considers the fear-mongering about CrossFit-increasing injury risk a baseless fantasy:
We’ve already done other CrossFit studies — with kids, overweight and obese adults, regular adults, and even those with cancer … The only injury we’ve had is a single groin muscle pull. So we’ve been able to successfully and safely deliver this type of training program.