Ryan Crowley's devastating pec tear
Could It Have Been Prevented!? What Can We LEARN From This?
Alec Enkiri | 3/22/21
This past weekend a bunch of people linked me the clip from Larry Wheel's YouTube channel of bodybuilder Ryan Crowley tearing his pec (do not click if you are squeamish) in a pretty gruesome injury he suffered while trying to incline bench press 220 kilograms, or roughly 484lbs. First of all I just want to say that I wish Ryan the best. I hope his surgery was a success and that he's able to recover from this injury, learn from it, and continue on with a successful career in bodybuilding.
All that being said, what can we learn from this? Could this gruesome injury have been prevented in the first place? And can we take away something helpful from this unfortunate event and use it as a teachable moment so that injuries like this can possibly be prevented in the future?
And I know it's easy for me to sit here right now and kind of Monday Morning quarterback this one for you guys, but there are some pretty big red flags right there in Larry's video for everyone to see that give a pretty strong indication of why this occurred and how it could have been prevented. So I'm just going to break down the major indicators that jumped out at me when watching Larry's video, and if I'm missing something or you guys picked up on any other big red flags then please feel free to chime in in the comments on my YouTube channel.
So first of all, I don't know much about Ryan. I don't pay any attention to bodybuilding or bodybuilders, I don't know his history, and because of that, prior to seeing this injury video I had never heard of him. Just all that in the interest of full disclosure. I think this allows me to analyze this incident from an unbiased viewpoint though. So I watched the full video posted on Larry Wheel's channel and I checked Ryan's Instagram page as well. He's 23 years old at the moment, and according to Larry he's weighing in at about 330lbs. And that's 330lbs definitely at sub 10 percent body fat (we'll just call it 10 right now for the sake of ease), meaning this guy at 23 years old is carrying around approximately 300lbs of lean mass.
This blog post in video format on my YouTube channel.
Red Flag #1
That is a SHITLOAD of lean mass and this guy is still a kid. He's young as hell. To accrue this much lean mass at such a young age indicates he has likely been using a hefty dose of anabolics for several years now and his body has probably blown up in size relatively quickly, just over the course of a few years. The thing about this is that when using large amount of anabolic drugs muscle size and muscle strength are able to increase very rapidly, but tendon strength and integrity are not able to increase so rapidly. So when you are using large amount of performance enhancing drugs at some point the strength of your muscles will far outpace the strength of your tendons. The tendons simply cannot keep up and thus outright ruptures such as this one became far, far, far more likely to occur. So that's red flag number 1.
Red Flag #2
Then we watch the start of the training session and the very first thing Ryan does is warm-up with the empty bar, which is fine, but in doing so we can see that his shoulders and chest completely lack normal levels of mobility. He cannot even come within probably 4-5 inches of touching his chest with the empty bar. That is a pretty drastic and abnormal level of tightness in these structures. There is some sort of massive, underlying instability there that is causing that area to seize up and the last thing this guy should be doing is loading up the area with ultra heavy weights right now. And this becomes more and more obvious as he increases the load on the bar. Even at just 2 plates his arms and shoulders begin to shake a fair bit as he receives the weight; by 3 plates he's quivering; and by 4 plates he's practically having a damn seizure. These are all warnings from the nervous system that the body is not ready to be handling this weight at this moment in time. That's red flag #2.
Red Flag #3
Next we see that in the middle of the training session Larry actually advises Ryan to widen his grip slightly. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with using a wider grip here as Ryan has a very large frame and was pressing in a slightly inefficient manner (narrow grip for his bone structure), however, the problem here is that he is already incredibly, incredibly tight around the pecs and by widening the grip you introduce greater amounts of abduction at the humerus which is going to stretch that already suuuuuper tight pec tendon even further as he lowers the bar. So now he's overstretching a tendon that's already practically begging NOT to be stretched, and he's doing it under massive amounts of load. Red flag #3.
Red Flag #4
If we continue watching the video we hear Ryan mention that he hasn't been training with free weights in recent history because of a shoulder injury he's been battling. He says, and this is a quote, "I haven't incline benched in over a year." He also mentions that he hasn't been doing any sort of dumbbell bench pressing either and has really just been focusing on machine variations, specifically the pec deck machine, where he can focus on contracting the chest muscles really hard. So his body is completely unaccustomed to this type of training stress in general. Red flag #4.
Red Flag #5
Next we see that by the time he gets up to his set with 4 plates (180kg) he adds in a pair of Larry's elbow wraps to the mix, which we can ascertain from the rest of the context of the video is something he's never done before. So now...
We've introduced a piece of unfamiliar equipment
That allows you to lift more weight
In an unfamiliar movement pattern
That his body is not adequately prepared to execute.
And the involved tissues are not conditioned for.
Red flag #5.
Red Flag #6
The next element that needs to be discussed is fatigue. Prior to injuring himself attempting to lift 220kg, Ryan performed a very difficult set with 180kg. He knocked out 7 reps unassisted and then attempted to grind out an 8th rep for approximately 7 seconds before Larry took the weight from him. So now his body is going to be highly fatigued at this point after that immense grind, and the very next thing he does is attempt to lift 220kg, which is where the injury was sustained. Red flag #6.
Red Flag #7
Finally, it's pretty obvious Ryan does not typically max out on this exercise. He's a bodybuilder and it's not his training style to max out, never mind the fact that he hasn't been lifting with free weights on pressing movements for at least a year, so we can say conclusively that he hasn't attempted a max bench press of any sort for at least that time period. But judging by the way bodybuilders typically train it's probably also a safe bet to say that it had been longer than that, and its certainly not something he does with any sort of regularity or with a proper preparation period because that's not a part of bodybuilding training ever. So this is simply a type of stress that his body is not accustomed to in general. Red flag #7.
The full training video where all the red flags can be found for those who are looking.
Now add in the accumulated fatigue from the training session, trying to max out while in a fatigued state on a movement that you haven't performed in over a year, with a pre-existing injury that is likely to lead to compensations during that movement pattern, using a wider grip than what you are comfortable using and further stressing and overstretching an already ultra tight, guarded, unprepared, and unconditioned tendon, WHILE using equipment that is going to allow you to lift supra-maximal loads. Add all that to the fact that steroid users are more susceptible to these types of ruptures in the first place and you simply have a perfect storm for something catastrophic and gruesome like this to occur.
It's unfortunate, and it sucks, and I truly hope Ryan can come back from it and still do what he loves, but to be perfectly honest, after reviewing the footage, it's really not surprising at all that something like this happened here. Ryan is just lucky that it was Larry frickin Wheels behind him there to grab that weight before it could come crashing down onto his chest and make things ten times worse than it already was.
Lessons To Be Learned
So what can we learn from this? I think we need to take a step back and remember that HOW you train is really fucking important. There are a myriad of factors here that likely led to this gruesome injury and they all added up on this day to create a perfect storm which caused the tendon to fail absolutely, so we should use this as a reminder and as a cautionary tale.
Do not attempt to max out on movements that you have not adequately prepared your body to handle, there's simply no point in doing that. It accomplishes abso-fucking-lutely nothing, and it's easy enough to spend a mesocycle working an exercise submaximally - honing your technique, building inter and intramuscular coordination, and gradually increasing the load and tapering the reps as the tissues acclimate to the stress - in order to be able to safely go heavy on that exercise in the near future.
Do not attempt to go heavy on exercises that you can't even perform correctly in the first place. If your joints and tendons are so inflexible that you lack the ability to move through essential and basic human movement patterns then perhaps loading those same movement patterns with supra-maximal weights is really not a good fucking idea.
Do not train haphazardly. You don't just max out on a particular day because you fucking feel like it. Most people don't even need to max out at all honestly, especially bodybuilders, but if you decide you want to max out, for whatever reason, then it should come at the culmination of a proper training mesocycle that has prepared you for that, both physically and mentally. The weight is titrated up slowly over the course of several weeks as the reps and volume taper down. Fitness is slowly revealed as fatigue dissipates. And you test your max by working with weights you absolutely know you can handle, using low reps to keep fatigue accumulation to a minimum, and making appropriate jumps in weight until you hit a tough, but manageable personal best. A 40 kilogram at that stage, like what Ryan did, is not an appropriate jump in weight. Doing that after grinding out 8 very difficult reps is even more ill advised. Never mind the rest of the factors already discussed in this article.
So basically, just don't be dumb and don't let your ego take over how you choose to train in the gym. Follow a tried and true program from a reputable source. If you have a coach then listen to your damn coach. If you don't have one then make sure you understand the basic principles of programming and lifting technique, how to manage cumulative fatigue properly, how to ramp up training loads properly, etc. etc. All that shit. And follow those principles when you put together your training programs. And if you cant perform an exercise correctly in the first place then the last damn thing you should be doing is haphazardly maxing out on it.
We cant avoid all injuries in the gym, but we can certainly take steps to drastically reduce the chances of something catastrophic like this happening to us. Just remember to be smart and always be safe guys. Best of luck to Ryan during his recovery! And if you found this article helpful or informative then please be sure to share it around so that more people will be able to take something beneficial away from this unfortunate incident. Keep training hard and I will catch you guys next time.