Strength In Depth – just what is fitness racing?

At the beginning of November (yes, I know I’m late!) I was invited by European Fitness League to get an understanding of their flagship event “Strength in Depth”. I literally had ZERO idea what to expect, so I was keen to see how what I described to my mum as “competitive tyre flipping” shaped up.

I met with Harry, Managing Director, for a behind the scenes look at what was going on. This basically meant I got to understand the practicalities and logistics behind an event like this, as well as sneaking down “competitor-only” corridors, meeting some of the event and media crew and basically getting an all-access pass.

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The Format

I was there on Day 1 of the Finals weekend. Teams had been competing in qualifiers for a good few months beforehand, culminating in the end event for the top 40 over the period. As a team, you basically divide and conquer the numerous events over the weekend. There are various rules about which combination you can compete in, but basically, not everyone is good at everything, and this is the opportunity for each individual to play to their strengths. There’s a live leaderboard on display as teams go through the rounds – which means it is super easy to find out how you (and your competition!) are getting on.

The Events

At first, I couldn’t quite work out what was going on or where we were in the schedule – but was directed out to the outdoor spectator balcony where you could see people starting to get ready for event #2 – the Spartan Race. I’ve heard rumours of huffing and puffing about the amount of running that was needed for this event, but it says something when the teams start in reverse qualifying order and the first-placed still managed to take a couple of minutes off second!

The whole team has to complete the event, which led to some impressive shows of sportsmanship– carrying team members round, giving a helping hand over obstacles, leaving no man (or woman) behind. There were a couple of the expected mishaps (the usual rolled ankles on landing) but the fact that the guys got 40 teams off at 2 minute intervals timed to the second is a huge credit to the organisation skills of this event.

Next up, they moved back inside. There was a lot of waiting around as a spectator, because as you can imagine, getting 40 teams around the muddy course – and then through showers – is quite a feat. However, they were already setting up for event 3, and passed the time with a demonstration from two Rio medal winning rowers and then Crossfit Kids. This was frankly terrifying and inspiring in equal measures (mainly because they can do proper pull ups and lots of functional moves that I can’t). I was also able to peruse the stands (lots of supps, stash and foam rollers) and contemplate getting my hair braided. Oh, and watch some of the Wales Australia game on TV.

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Events 3 and 4 took place concurrently, with 3 in the main hall and 4 being a pool-based event (who knew swimming would be involved?!)

I mainly watched Event 3 – which was a mind boggling displaying of skipping skills, lifting and some VERY strong bar muscle ups…which I can only dream of. And things like 50 toes to bar…where I can do about 5 before I get tired. It worked well having a male team, a female team AND a mixed team that all had to get through it (a sub-team doesn’t start until the previous has finished their workout, which means maximum support and pressure to get it done within the rules so you can move on)

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For full details of each of the events that took place when I was there – click here

The Teams

Teams HAVE to have 7 male and 5 female, plus one from each gender has to be over 40, which means it really promotes a blend of abilities, ages and genders, which you need when you start to understand the varied activities that the teams have to participate in. People had travelled from overseas and all around the UK – which shows what a pinnacle event this has become.

The team spirit works well across a lot of the events i.e. if you need to get 15 bar muscle ups, you can work out between you who is going to deliver what rather than expecting each individual to have the same ability. Big cheering teams are very much the centrepoint of this competition, with lots of supporting children and families!

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The Venue

As a Loughborough girl, I have a slight inbuilt hatred for Bath, but you can’t deny what fabulous facilities they have! There is tons of space, both indoor and outdoor, and it is set up well for a multi-sport event, without having to make people traipse between venues all day. The warm-up area was particularly impressive, with enough space for all the competitors to have their own little corner and adequate space to warm up with a range of equipment.

Also note – the café is pretty top notch if you are looking for a decently balanced meal.

The Experience

As a first time spectator of this kind of event, I was wowed. Any sense you have of weightlifting events being individual is quickly thrown out of the window and there are some true tales of battle to get there. It’s also incredibly inspiring to see what people are able to do with their bodies…I left late afternoon and, I have to say…I actually went to the gym that evening! There’s something about watching people throwing their bodies around that makes you feel like you need to get training.

Strength in Depth ISN’T just for Crossfit fanatics – in fact, they aren’t affiliated, although a vast proportion of athletes and teams will come from a Crossfit background, because it’s the type of thing they are used to. It’s a real show of determination, team spirit and an absolute bucketload of pure physical ability which can’t help but get you thinking….could I do that?

A big thanks to European Fitness League for inviting me down and providing me with some of their fabulous imagery!

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