Proper technique eases back pain, leads to CrossFit Games

craig.hill@thenewstribune.comJuly 14, 2013 

When it comes to serious exercise, one of the South Sound’s fittest 55-year-olds says “technique is everything.”

Thanks to good technique, Don King is doing things a younger version of himself never would have tried.

He deadlifts 375 pounds. He can clean and jerk 195 pounds. And from July 22-28, the Tacoma resident will compete in the CrossFit Games in Carson, Calif.

The games are the world championships for CrossFit, the fitness program with intense and varied strength and conditioning workouts.

“If you told me I’d be doing some of these things five years ago, I would have said you were giving me some pretty good humor,” said King, vice president of sales for Business Interiors Northwest.

King learned the hard way about the importance of good technique while playing linebacker at Olympic College in 1977.

It’s a popular football axiom that “the low man always wins.” In a collision, the player who gets his shoulder pads the lowest is most likely to win the play.

During a practice game against Pacific Lutheran University, King attempted to tackle a Lutes running back. He was not the low man.

“I took the beating on that play,” King said.

He ruptured several discs in his back, ending his football career. Once he healed, King went on to have a pretty typical relationship with fitness.

He cycled through various levels of fitness and dealt with occasional nagging injuries. In his 40s, his old back injury bugging him, doctors told him he needed to stop running, leaving King to look for a new sport.

He stumbled across CrossFit and, at first, thought there was no way it was for him. The Olympic weightlifting alone just didn’t seem like a good fit for somebody with a delicate back.

“They were doing things I wouldn’t have dreamed of trying since I was a kid,” King said.

Researching the maneuvers, he realized that if he learned good form, he could participate safely.

“Everything requires good form,” King said. “Even running. There is a lot of technique in running. The source of a lot of tweaks and injuries is poor technique or just doing the same thing over and over again.”

About three years ago, King joined Tacoma Strength, a CrossFit gym run by Morgan Blackmore.

“Morgan is great about understanding your history and bringing you along slowly,” King said.

Tacoma Strength also hosted open qualifying for the CrossFit Games. To qualify for the games, participants from around the world are given workouts they need to complete in front of a CrossFit judge. Score high enough and you move on to regionals (held at the Showare Center last month), then the CrossFit Games. Masters-level competitors such as King get to skip regionals.

King came up short in the 50-54 age group the last two season, but qualified this year after moving into the 55-59 group.

“It helps being the young guy in the age group,” he said.

It also helped that King was getting stronger and was dominant in the qualifying workouts. Of his five qualifying workouts in five weeks, all ranked among the top 26 in the world.

In one workout he did 150 wall balls (throwing a 20-pound medicine ball at a 9-foot-high target on the wall), 90 jump rope double-unders and eight muscle ups on the rings in 17 minutes. His score was fifth best in the world for his age group.

King is excited to compete at the CrossFit Games even if he’s not quite sure what will be thrown his way.

That is, after all, one of the aspects of CrossFit that makes it appealing to so many. Workouts are rarely the same, and at local gyms participants typically don’t know what they are doing until they arrive.

At the Games, King says he’ll get a week’s notice. Sometimes the workouts require Olympic weight lifting, sometimes they call for beating something with a sledge hammer, flipping massive tractor tires or doing gymnastic type moves requiring strength and flexibility. One year, the event started with an open water swim.

“If they ask for something like walking handstands or pistols (one-leg squats) I might have to do some cramming,” King said.

As for expectations or dreams of standing on the podium at the end of the games, King is trying not to think that way as he completes final preparations with Blackmore and kettle bell specialist Nic Anderson.

“It’s pretty intense,” King said. “My goal will be the same as it always is, to finish. To do my best and see what happens.

“... Really, I’m just grateful to be there. It’s a great opportunity.”

Craig Hill: 253-597-8497 @AdventureGuys

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