Kurtis demonstrates core to extremity power

2010 CrossFit Games Finals

CrossFit and Strongman

Kurtis Bowler on the Games, Strongman and His Upcoming Competition

Kurtis Bowler is the original CrossFit strongman with ties to the community running back nearly 8 years. In 2003 when he was involved in the first official CrossFit Challenge, and has remained an active member of the community ever since. Outside of his 'real job' as an officer, Kurtis has dedicated himself to operating a successful affiliate (Rainier CrossFit) and educating the CrossFit community on Strongman protocols as they pertain to CrossFit. He also hosted this year's Northwest Regional Competition and is an instructor on the Level One Seminar Team. As a CrossFitter, a community organizer and a Strongman competitor Kurtis has unique insight into the growth of our sport. In a recent interview, he broke down the similarities and differences between CrossFit and Strongman, the future of our sport and his upcoming annual fundraiser for Fragile X research.  
Kurtis was experimenting with a mixture of CrossFit and strongman as early as 2003. He had been watching the evolution of CrossFit from afar for several months, dabbling with a WOD every now and again outside of his strength work. However, like many garage gym athletes, Kurtis was missing the intensity piece without being aware of it. His first real introduction to CrossFit came when Greg and Lauren Glassman delivered a mini-seminar at CrossFit North. The seminar was coupled with the first ever CrossFit Challenge, which was stacked with ringers from CrossFit HQ. The first time Kurtis attempted 'Helen' (or a group WOD for that matter), he did so with athletes like Greg Amundson, Lloyd Lewis and Kevin Johnson. The wakeup call was brutal but well received. Kurtis brought up the caboose and finished dead last in 19:35. "When I was beat by a 55 year old woman, I figured something needed to change," Says Kurtis. So he began to follow Main-site WODs, keeping his strongman equipment in the rotation (Tires were subbed for barbells when power cleans came up, atlas stones took the place of deadlifts, and a homemade fat bar added spice to the presses). 

Kurtis has continued to build an enormous work capacity as well as a thriving affiliate. he has competed in 3 strongman competitions to date, placing in the top 4 or better every time. He attributes his success to the work capacity he has developed through CrossFit. Recently, Kurtis completed a traditional Strongman competition (4th place) an 8k trail run (he's uncertain of his finish order, but he beat some clients who had underestimated him) and a lumberjack competition (took 1st in one event) all within a 4 week period. "It was cool to know that I can still do the other stuff and CrossFit really is fueling all of these other activities."  

Strongman is in his blood. Kurtis recently competed at the Buckley Log Show. The event has been around for 30 years and his parents were on the organizing committee while he was growing up. In his day Kurtis' father was the overall logger 5 different years. Competing in the event was standard operations for Kurtis when he was growing up, which had a profound impact on his future endeavors.

With no competition experience since his senior year in High School, Kurtis went out and bought an axe, practiced for 5 days (with a few pointers from dad) and showed up for Game Day. Despite a 20 year hiatus, Kurtis entered day 2 tied for 1st place in the standing block chop (picture a log with a  12 inch diameter chained to a metal upright. 3..2...1.. chop through it as fast as you can). His time on day 1 was 00:23. On day two he faced off against the reigning champ. "This dude has been doing it forever, he was 2 years ahead of me in High School," explains Kurtis while trying to contain an ear to ear grin. His training paid huge dividends and his day 2 time was was a blazing 00:20.47, enough to dethrone his competition. 

Regardless of his success, Kurtis points out that Strongman and the Games are not as similar as some might think. Athletes know the events well in advance, for example, and begin preparation by 3 months out. While there is no typical format for a strongman event, similar veins are typically present from one competition to the next. There will typically be some heavy carrying events,  and some sort of deadlift. Additionally, the presence of an overhead event (a log or an axel) is typical. Clean and press for max repetitions (or clean once to max presses) is also a mainstay of Strongman. The majority of the events in a competition are one minute or less and there are usually four or five in a day.

This structure effects the way Strongmen train as well. They will do lots of specific training outside of their gym lifts, and add an 'event day' every week.  As the get closer to the event, they are doing far more sport specific training. "like the USAW event," Kurtis offers. "CrossFitters are most likely doing a lot more lifting. And if I were a USAW lifter, I had better be doing some fucking double unders!" 

There are also similarities between the sports, they are just testing for different things. Much like CrossFit Games athletes, the guys that are doing Strongman comps aren't doing it for money. "They just want to be strongest, like we want to be the fittest," Says Bowler. The idea and underlying motivations are similar. Most have tremendous work capacity, geared towards a different objective. However, "Some of the heavyweights are just strong and that's it," explains Kurtis, (he witnessed a 300-lb. competitor who needed supplemental oxygen after completing only one minute of push presses) "but some of the lighter weight classes and the really good finishers who have amazing capacity. There were some guys who came down for our last competition who would just flip my heaviest tire back and forth for 5 minutes."  

While strongman capacities could aid Games athletes, it should be treated as one of many tools in your toolbox. "In the Games, you need to be dialed in on technique," says Kurtis, "be it the cleans at 205 or even the deadlifts. If you're shouldering a 205-lb stone, the barbell might feel lighter; but I don't know that the heavy stone would translate directly to a clean because the techniques are drastically different. I compare myself to Todd Widman (with whom he works), I can lift a heavier stone than him, but he can clean a shit-ton more than me. So the carryover goes both ways and you can't say that one is more or less important than the other. Cleans are gonna have tremendous carryover, and the more odd objects you can get your hands on - the better you're gonna be in everyday life... and the games. If I can put a Keg, fire hydrant… whatever over my head, than my sphere of experience is expanded and I will be better at random tasks. It (Strongman) has had more effect on stuff that I've had to do everyday in my life and work. We've got dude in our gym who can deadlift way heavier than me, but I can handle odd objects way better than him. If the Games has more of the task oriented events like the sandbag loading, that's where athletes with strongman experience will have a heavier carryover. Far too often Strongman is associated with nothing but heavy weights. Nothing says you can't do 90-lb. log presses instead of a super heavy log and receive the same benefit. If your'e doing that than you're getting better carryover anyhow. It's like loading a truck or building a sandbag wall. When people are building Strongman in, they need to understand that higher reps at lighter objects is just as necessary." Kurtis is big on that point, Strongman is scaleable. 

Kurtis is excited about teaching these techniques to the community. His first seminar was a big hit and he plans to expand that when he retires from the police force next month. "We have some fantastic coaches with lots of experience who can help with the techniques. It's my goal to get more people doing Strongman help them to incorporate it properly to enhance their CrossFit Programming."

The Bowler's annual fundraising event is rapidly approaching and Kurtis encourages anyone to participate. In 2006, he organized Rainier CrossFit’s Strongest Man and Woman contest to raise money for Fraxa, a research foundation working on treatments and a cure for fragile X, sometimes also referred to as Martin-Bell syndrome. By last year, the Bowlers had raised over $25,000. The following comes from their site.

This years contest will be on November 6th and will once again be fund raiser for Fragile X research. Fragile X is the most common inherited cause of mental impairment and the most common known genetic cause of Autism. Our son Casey has Fragile X. We will not be at The Old Cannery, we will be at our new 5400 square foot facility. The Old Cannery and their crew will still be heavily involved it just won't be in their parking lot this year. It will definately have more of a CrossFit flair to it than in years past.

The events will be:

1 rep max deadlift with an Ironmind Axle. We will run this like we did the second year for anyone who was there. We will start out with a base weight for each weight class. The weight on the bar will go up in 20lb jumps to a certain weight, then go up in 10lb jumps. You can take up to three attempts.

The second event will be a short run (less than 200m), 5 stone loads to a 50" platform (1 stone loaded 5 times), 1-2 trips up a 16 foot rope. You will go through this 2 rounds for time.

Next will be 7 Log Press, Push Press, or Push Jerks, followed by 21 double unders. You will do this 3 rounds for time.

The final event will be a keg carry/farmers walk medley.

All weights are TBD, but will post them as soon as I can. We will also allow for scaling on all the workouts.  It will take you out of the running for a trophy though. 

Weight classes will be: 175 and under, 176-200, 201-225, and 225 and up for men and 120 and under, 121-140, 140-160, and 160 and over for women. There will also be a prize for the top team (consisting of 2 women and 2 men) determined by the teams placing in the individual events and a prize for the top couple.

The contest will be drug tested just like the last 4 years.  We test the winner in each weight class. The test we use (as recommended by The National Center for Drug Free Sport who we consulted with on this- www.drugfreesport.com) is a screen for cocaine, stimulants, depressants, cannibis and PCP. We also use a test for anabolic steroids and their masking agents. 

If you have any questions or want to check out the equipment give me a call 253-686-9994 or shoot me an e-mail at rainiercrossfit@comcast.net

I apologize in advance to the folks I told this contest would be in September. I am retiring from my job to run the gym full time this month and we started moving into our space about 3 weeks ago and still have some work to do to get it ready.

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6 comments on this entry

1. Tom wrote...

Great story about Kurtis and certainly a great event in November! Congrats to you and Laurie on the bigger box! Go RCF!

2. Mike wrote...

Sorry, but where will this event be hosted? I'd like to sign up if it's close enough.

3. Jerome Perryman wrote...

Hey Kurt, this is sweet! I was hoping to compete in something before next years Q's... I'm gonna miss out on the USAW due to my schedule... But this event works out well... Can't wait!!

4. JB wrote...

That is a homerun swing if I've ever seen one!

5. Kurtis Bowler wrote...

Thanks, looking forward to seeing you guys at the Mobility Certification.

The event will be at our gym in Sumner, Washington. The address is 13716 24th St E.

I'm glad this will work for you. Can't wait to see what you pull on the axle!

Except I was never able to make contact with that little ball. I usually ended up on the ground.

6. Holly wrote...

Awesome Story! Kurtis is not only an amazing coach, but an incredible person and has a heart as big as the world.


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