Ben Hopkins

2011 CrossFit Games

Ben Hopkins: Recovery and Return to Competition

Eight Months After the Motorcycle Accident

Eight months ago, Ben Hopkins lost his chance at the 2010 Southern California Regional while riding his motorcycle home on a busy Los Angeles freeway. A driver hurrying to make his exit changed lanes without looking or signaling, sending Ben into the side of his car, ripping off the mirror and front bumper, before bouncing off a neighboring car and sliding to a stop on the asphalt. Hopkins’ collarbone was shattered, his left shoulder joint damaged, and his body lit with road rash.

Less than a year later, with a plate and seven screws in his newly healed collarbone, Ben has returned to CrossFit competition. He recently placed 2nd at the January 15-16 2011 OC Throwdown, and says that his sights are set on the 2011 Games. We caught up with Hopkins to hear about his recovery, decision to compete, and the recent changes in his life.

Could you tell us more about your recovery?

I had surgery at the end of April, and did my first CrossFit workout five weeks after. I eased back into training with bodyweight exercises, that didn't involve use of my left shoulder. The doctor didn't want me even running, but there was a lot my doc didn't know I was doing.
            I went to physical therapy twice a week, which I highly recommend for anyone with injuries. Not that the physical therapy worked miracles, but what it did do is force me to give my shoulder the attention it needed to rebuild structure, and regain mobility. I did six weeks of physical therapy, and think I should have done even more. Months later, my collarbone felt strong, and though there was some pain with pressing heavier weight, I felt close to how I had previously. 
            My first actual workout back, I believe was "Fran." Of course, I scaled it to 65# and ring rows. It still took me six and a half minutes. My metcon was garbage from sitting around feeling sorry for myself, and eating unhealthy.
            When I finally got back to doing workouts as Rx'd, the joint problems started. The WOD was Isabel, and I decided to do squat snatches. The sixth rep in, and my shoulder dislocated. This has happened twice more since then. I had an MRI, and it revealed that I have a labral tear. This injury occurred as a result of my accident, but since the damage was so extensive on my collarbone, I didn't notice my joint problem. My arm was immobile for nearly a month. It's hard to tell that your joint is out of whack when you aren't moving it.
            I am avoiding surgery at all costs…at least until after the Games. If I had surgery now, I would definitely not be able to compete. Fortunately, I have a great network of educated friends that have been helping me with my shoulder issues. I'm doing isolated movements to strengthen the muscles around the joint, and icing at least twice a day. It is discouraging at times, because the instability of my joint in wide overhead positions holds me back.
            My advice to anyone with shoulder injuries is to take recovery slow and rehab daily. I often make the mistake of coming back too soon because the rest of my body wants to go faster and harder. 

You mentioned that you'd like to avoid surgery on your labral tear so that you may have a chance at the 2011 Games. Have your friends helped you get to know when you can keep going and when you should pull out?

The people advising me on my shoulder are all working with me on strengthening the muscles around the joint and mobility. I know my limitations, and so do they. My shoulder is very finicky. Only specific things irritate it. I either avoid those things completely, or I work with lighter weight in a non-fatigued state to strengthen it.
            Even before the OC Throwdown, I made a decision that if the movements that irritate it come up in a workout, I would take a DNF. It wasn't worth it to have my shoulder dislocate and lose what I have gained back from rehabbing it. I have the same outlook for the Games. I am 26 years old, and I know I haven't hit my prime yet. I have a lot of competitive years left. If I miss competing in the Games this year, I will be back for the next five.

What do you think the risks are in going into competition without surgery? Would you mind sharing how you've balanced the risks and your drive to compete?

Surgery at this point means no CrossFit for months. It would take 6 weeks for the tendons and ligaments just to heal enough to start mobility. By avoiding surgery and doing my best to repair the problem through rehabilitation methods, I at least have a shot. Surgery isn't guaranteed either. In fact, the odds aren't great that surgery would fix my problem.
            Like I mentioned before, risking more damage to my shoulder joint just to get a faster time isn't worth it. I kind of had to learn the hard way with that. I would come back too soon and end up having my shoulder slip out again. Not fun. If a workout comes up for the Games qualifier that could potentially hurt my shoulder, I may have to humble myself, and think about competing next year. 

At the OC Throwdown, you and Ronnie Teasdale competed in a tiebreaker of 20 muscle ups for time. How did your left shoulder feel during the muscle ups? Can you tell us more about what went on physically and mentally for you during that event?

The muscle up tie breaker was a surprise for sure. I didn't know I was tied for 1st. I knew I wouldn't have problems with my shoulder for the tie breaker. Muscle ups don't really mess with it. Often times before an event, my mind is almost blank. I am just anticipating the start, and know what I have to do. Ronnie beat me because he was the better man at that moment. After 6 workouts over 2 days, my body was starting to rebel. My abs and arms began to cramp during the muscle ups towards the end. I even missed a couple of attempts, and usually don't miss muscle ups. Sure, I look back on it and wish I would have brought my rings a little higher so I could get a bigger kip when I was tired, but I couldn't think strategy at that moment. All I was thinking was "just go."

How did your body feel after the OC Throwdown? Did you experience any extra swelling or soreness in your left shoulder?

After the OC Throwdown, I could feel my body needed rest and rehab. The shoulder was definitely sore and inflamed, but I ice twice a day almost everyday, so I think that helps control that a lot. On Monday, the day after the OC Throwdown, I went for a run with my wife, and I felt like my body was saying "What are you doing?!" I tapered back into training from there, but recovered quickly. 

What are your benchmark stats after the accident and rehab?

Fran: 2:05
Grace: 1:51
Deadlift: 455lbs.
Back Squat: 380lbs.
Clean: 295lbs.
Clean & Jerk: 275lbs.
Filthy Fifty: 17:36
400m run: 56 seconds

We hear you’ve changed careers. How’s it going making the switch from furniture design to CrossFit box owner and trainer?

The switch in careers has been awesome so far, partly because I am still doing design work on a freelance basis and making my own hours. I love design. I've been interested in it since I was in elementary school, and don't think I will ever stop. I have been doing more graphic design for the CrossFit community lately. Logos, t-shirt designs, etc. I have done all the branding for Stronger Faster Healthier, the fish oil and protein company.
           Opening a box has been a long process because of the location. We searched all over West LA for months, and it was difficult to find a space where we wanted to be. Finally, we found one in Marina Del Rey, which is great. The downside is it's not available until the end of February. We are willing to wait, but I am very anxious to open.
            I have been coaching here and there, and training at Paradiso CrossFit, my home box, and at a number of local boxes. I think it is important to visit as many boxes as you can. You can learn so much from other people about training, business, what to do, and maybe what not to do.
            CrossFit Marina Del Rey (CFMDR) will be open in late February or early March. I have a lot of confidence in what we are going to do as a team. Great things to come!

We hear you’re recently married. Congratulations. How’s the married life?

Yeah I am newly married. :) I am loving it. Makes you into a better person when you have someone to lift up above yourself.

Rogue Fitness Again Faster Equipment CrossFit Journal

Proudly supporting the 2010 CrossFit Games

Photo Gallery

Ben Hopkins at the OC Throwdown
Follow crossfitgames on Twitter

Follow the CrossFit Games on Twitter

The CrossFit/USA Weightlifting Open

The CrossFit/USA Weightlifting Open

13 comments on this entry

1. Ronnie Teasdale wrote...

Stay healthy Ben,.... I am a fan, and Rooting for you.

2. joe wrote...

First of all congratulations on your recovery Ben and i hope the best for you. i have some of the same shoulder issues i was wondering what do you do to strengthen it if you don't mind offering some insight or tips that would be much appreciated. If you could email me at that would be awesome hope to hear from you.

3. Darren McGuire wrote...

You are such an inspiration to all of us. Your recovery and overcoming obstacles is amazing. Can not wait for CFMDR.

4. Jaala Thibault wrote...

Keep up the great work Ben! You are an inspiration to many people and talking about your rehab and how you have dealt with your injury is very helpful. I hope to see you competing at the Games this year!

5. Stephanie Kennedy wrote...

Ben, you were amazing to watch last year at Sectionals and even more this year at the OC Throwdown. I was pulling for you in our muscle up tiebreaker! :) Can't wait to see what you bring to the Games! Keep up the great work!!!

6. Zeb Pascual wrote...

Great stuff Hopper. Can't wait to see your progress and future in CrossFit.

7. Michael FitzGerald wrote...

Maybe a thought for you Ben... I am 24 years old. I have had surgery for a labrum tear, back in Sept 2009. I first dislocated my shoulder playing ice hockey in 2006, then again doing snatches in 2007, then again doing a frickin sit-up in 2008. I am a competitive CrossFit athlete. I competed in the 2009 Games (with the wonky shoulder), and in the 2010 Games (post-rehabilitation), both times as an individual competitor. I am just trying to give you some insight as to where I am coming from.

In reality, the surgery is somewhat risky, but mine was very successful. And, the down time is less than you imagine if the surgery is successful (2 months in I was rowing, skipping, etc., and 3 months later I was doing strict chin-ups, push-ups, dips, and PBing Back Squats, 5 months later and I was PBing Snatches/C&J's). And, the down time is only specific to your injured limb. Myself and my brother, James FitzGerald, designed programming in a way to allow me to keep as much fitness as possible. You are also young, which is good and bad. Bad because your ligaments and not going to become tighter for many years (i.e. 30-35 +). Good because you have time to make a change.

You have great stats. They can be even better, and more comfortable! I would love to have a response from you as to what you think of your situation. I was looking for someone else in my situation back in 2009, pre and post Games, to relate to. There wasn't anyone besides my Physio and Surgeon. (e-mail address is attached)


8. Ingrid K wrote...

Ya Ben. Get it. Glad to see you crushing buddy. Keep it up.

9. Ingrid K wrote...

BTW... I can't wait to do a WOD at CFMDR with you and Matty. Annnnd I think we made some sort of non-verbal agreement to "see" each other at regionals in 2011, when we were spectating last year. I expect you to exceed that agreement.

10. Asim wrote...

Ben, I have done workouts with you at CFLA and once at Paradiso. As a fellow motorcyclist and CFer, I wish you the best at CFG 2011.

11. Ben Hopkins wrote...

Thank you everyone for your support! Joe: I emailed you brother. Michael F: Thank you for your insight. I will definitely be in touch. Ingrid: I remember out agreement and plan to uphold it. :)

12. Rico wrote...

I've trained with Ben for a couple of years now. One of the classiest people you'll ever meet and a great ambassador for our sport.

13. Kyle wrote...

Seriously dude get the surgery. Your shoulder instability will just get worse and you do more damage each time you dislocate. Find a good doctor and a really good rehab PT.

I had a very similar issue with a posterior and anterior labrum tear and 5 anchor surgery...

I'm fully recovered after 12 months and started training hard again after 6 months.


The 2010 CrossFit Games Official Sponsors

For more information on how to sponsor the CrossFit Games, see the sponsorship page.

  • Under Armour
  • Rogue Fitness
  • Again Faster Equipment
  • MiR Pro Weighted Vest
  • Concept 2
  • Vibram Five Fingers
  • OMG*Omega3
  • Stud Bar
  • Regupol America
  • Mindbody Online
  • Forged Clothing
  • GarageGym
  • Gymboss Interval Timer
  • Inov-8
  • At Large Nutrition
  • LifeAsRx
  • LifeAsRx
  • Undefeated Sports Nutrition
  • Rage Fitness Supply: Leader in Functional Fitness Equipment
  • Stronger Faster Healthier
  • Watermans Applied Science
  • Rocktape
  • DeFeet
  • AquaHydrate