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Fergus Crawley: Lifting and Mental Health

On July 26th, Scotland’s own Fergus Crawley became just the second athlete in history to back squat 500lbs and run a sub 5 minute mile all in the same day. (Well, at least the second athlete in history to record and document it.) The 24 year-old Crawley rounded out his endurance showcase by running a full marathon mere hours later.

However, even more impressive than his physical accomplishments is how he overcame his own issues with mental health. After struggling with depression for a number of years, Crawley attempted suicide in May of 2016.

“I didn’t want to reveal the fact that I was suffering as I feared it would expose me as weak or overly vulnerable or let down people’s expectations of me,” said Crawley, in a recent podcast with BarBend, which you can listen to below.

Now, Fergus is lifting and running for a cause much bigger than personal glory, and the work he’s doing to raise awareness for mental health issues is the true highlight of our conversation.

If you or anyone you know are struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255 as well as online.

We want to take a second to give a special shoutout to our episode sponsor, Transparent Labs. If you want clean, clearly labeled supplements with ingredients backed by science, Transparent Labs has you covered. (Seriously, no hidden ingredients, no proprietary blends, and nothing artificial.) That includes their uber-popular BULK pre-workout, with ingredients we love to see for focus and energy PLUS vitamin D3, boron, and zinc. All the good stuff, absolutely no fillers. Use code “BARBEND” at checkout for an extra 10% off your order.

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Tao talks to Fergus Crawley about:

  • The inspiration behind Fergus’ back squat/mile run challenge (2:10)
  • Fergus’ training leading up to the challenge (6:10)
  • Fergus’ existence across strength and endurance sports, training for a powerlifting competition and ultra-triathlon in the same year (12:30)
  • His personal battle with depression that included a suicide attempt (15:40)
  • Attempting to squat 500,000 kilos in 24 hours (17:30)
  • Opening up about his own personal struggles and challenges in order to help others (18:10)
  • Responses from within the strength community (22:01)
  • The community aspect and support that comes from strength training (27:00)
  • “The Western world is so grey in terms of measures of success” (28:00)

Learn more about our sponsor Transparent Labs and get 10% off your order with code “BARBEND.” (We may receive commissions on items purchased through links on this page.)

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Relevant links and further reading:

Fergus Crawley’s Strength Journey

Crawley began his athletic career as a rugby player but was sidelined by a series of concussions right before he had a chance to play professionally. Once rugby was off the table, he knew he would need to find a new way to fuel his competitive spirit.

“I immediately just found myself sort of trying to improve my running times, trying to get a little bit leaner,” said Crawley. “Then I got into competitive powerlifting.”

As a powerlifter, Crawley was roundly successful. He took first place in 5 of the 8 events he entered, including a Gold medal in the Junior division at the 2016 Global Powerlifting Committee (GPC) European Championships with a 600kg/1,322.7lb total.

“Powerlifting was always an anchor for me throughout that period of time.”

After surviving the suicide attempt, Crawley committed to combine his love of strength training with suicide awareness. The result was a 2018 event where he attempted to squat 460,000kg in 24 hours in an effort to raise money for the Harlequins and Movember foundations.

“About 128,000 kilos and 5 hours in my knee snapped,” said Crawley. “I raised about 25,000 pounds in the process and ended up sharing my story publicly. Got a load of positive messages from people saying thank you for doing this because I’d always seen you as this figure of strength, but you saying this has made me more comfortable with my own situation. Which was really amazing and that’s kind of what’s carried me through.”

Despite the injury, Crawley wasted no time planning his next move. He began biking and swimming again almost immediately and by May of 2019 he was competing at an Ironman event in Lanzarote, Spain.

“I basically just found myself in this big mix of training for lots of different things but just really enjoying the variety.”

Crawley said he had been aware of the infamous 500lb squat / sub 5 minute mile challenge for some time but didn’t feel compelled to take a shot at it until a powerlifting meet he was training for fell through. In fact, he was gearing up to train for an ultra triathlon when he decided to pivot.

“I didn’t drastically reinvent the wheel, I just kind of adjusted a few things,” said Crawley. “A lot of those sessions didn’t go as planned because I was balancing so much fatigue. On my Saturdays, I was still spending four to 8 to 10 hours in the Scottish mountains. So, there was a lot of volume to deal with.”

Crawley admitted that seeing American CrossFit athlete Adam Klink complete the challenge first was a bit discouraging. However, he credits his success with making constant adjustments to his training on a daily basis.

“Completely honestly – I did not expect to get the squat done on the day when I did it,” said Crawley. “I probably had another 15 kilos in me – based on how I’ve been able to grind things out in the past. But I’d failed 220 a few weeks beforehand because I was under a lot of fatigue.”

But Crawley is quick to point out that the weight on the barbell and the time on the stopwatch are all secondary to emotional well being.

“The Western world is so gray in terms of metrics for success. Metrics for wealth, standing – basically the components of day to day life,” said Crawley. “It’s all a massive gray area. And strength, fitness training, how fast you can run a mile, how much you can lift with a barbell on your back, etc. is a very, very black and white metric. And black and white metrics help give people sort of really obvious moments of success, moments of achievement. Which is really important for us all in our lives, and I think that’s why strength training was such a pivotal component of me getting well.”

Transcription

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

Strength, fitness training, how fast you can run a mile, how much you can lift with a barbell on your back, etc., is a very, very black and white metric. Black and white metrics help give people obvious moments of success, moments of achievement, which is really important for us all in our lives. That’s why strength training was such a pivotal component of me getting well.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Today I’m talking to hybrid athlete, Fergus Crawley, one of the UK’s most inspirational fitness figures. After a series of concussions ended his hopes at a professional rugby career, Fergus pursued powerlifting and today is also an ultra-endurance athlete.

 

Earlier in 2020, he became just the second person in history to run a verified sub-five-minute mile and back squat 500 pounds on the same day. Fergus is lifting and running for a cause much bigger than personal glory. The work he’s doing to raise awareness for mental health issues is the true highlight of our conversation.

 

I do want to take a second to give a special shout out to our episode sponsor, Transparent Labs. If you want clean, clearly-labeled supplements with ingredients backed by science, Transparent Labs has you covered.

 

Seriously, no hidden ingredients, no proprietary blends, nothing artificial. That includes their uber-popular BULK pre-workout, with ingredients we love to see for focus and energy plus vitamin D3, boron, and zinc. All the good stuff, absolutely no fillers. Use code BarBend at checkout for an extra 10-percent off. Now, let’s get to it.

 

Fergus, thanks so much for joining me today. We had to coordinate the time zones. We’re recording remotely across two different continents but still very cool.

 

You’re about a month, maybe a little bit more, removed from the 500-pound back squat and a sub-five-minute mile on the same day. Adam Klink in Virginia, in the United States, is someone who did that first, and you responded in short time with your own accomplishment there. Tell us about that. Is it something that you just decided to do once you saw Adam do it?

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

Yeah, so it was a post on Garratts Gym reviews. I think it was about the end of April, maybe. I got tagged in it a few times. I’d known about this elusive 505 for a long time. It had always been in the back of my mind as something I might give it a go at some stage.

 

I never really thought, “You know what? I’m going to pull a trigger and give this a go.” Then I saw Adam tagged a few times as well. Just put it at the back of my mind. A few days later, I messaged my coach, been like, “I’m off the back of training for a powerlifting competition that never happened.

 

“I’m training for an ultra-triathlon as well, but I’m sure we can quickly turn that running volume into a bit of a faster mile. Does this fit with the program for the second half of the year?” He said, “Not really, but I feel we can make it work.”

 

Then once I decided that, I went back to the page to see if anyone else has been thrown it at. I saw Adam [indecipherable 3:26] post saying, “I’m going for it.” I thought this is fun. [laughs] I sent him a message there…Actually no, what I did the following week was I thought, “You know what? I’m going to test my squat under fatigue.”

 

I squatted 220 kilos in Olympic lifting shoes, which is my weakest stance. It was an absolutely brutal, horrible, 12 out of 10 RPA, but it was 220 kilos under fatigue. I thought if that’s what I’ve got in me now, that’s encouraging for the squat further down the line. That was on the Wednesday.

 

Then the following Saturday, I tested my mile and ran a 5:07 on the road. There was a bit of a tailwind behind me. I don’t know what it would have been like, but it was a little bit assisted. Put it that way.

 

Then I thought I’m going to give this a go. Confirmed. I sent Adam and Dane a message, being like, “You know what? I’m chucking my hat in the ring. It’d be awesome if we keep in touch on this as we go.”

 

I did not get a response for a little while, but it ended up just checking in here and there and seeing how everyone was getting on, really. To answer your question, I knew Adam was going for it the whole time. I think he knew that I was going for it at the same time. It just happened at different times.

 

I think that the Bannister Effect maybe doesn’t hold us through here. It wasn’t like I’d failed, failed, and couldn’t do it, and then Adam did it as well. It’s possible. It was more just that the timelines didn’t add up in the way that they did. Yeah, I’m glad I went through it when I did. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t commit to it a few weeks earlier. That’s just the way things go, isn’t it?

 

It was good fun having that. It wasn’t competitive, but it was good fun having a bit of a race mentality going into it because it meant when I had those more brutal sessions, there was somebody somewhere that I knew was committing to the same thing.

 

I thought, “Push as hard as you can because they’ll be pushing as hard as they can.” It was a nice, little, happy balance. A little bit of a competitive spark in me just to see if they get there first, but it was all good fun in the end.

David TaoDavid Tao

I love hearing about new styles of training for new feats. For example, a few years ago no one was sure this was possible. This was a challenge that Dave Castro had put out during some certifications and people have been chatting about it, but no one knew that you could confirmed run a sub five-minute mile and back squat 500 pounds on the same day.

 

Now multiple people have done it. We know it is very much in the realm of physical possibility, though maybe not something that’s easy to do by any circumstance. I’m curious though because when we hear about this, it’s like how do you train for that?

 

Two different people have done this. I’ve talked to Adam actually a little bit about his training style for this which wasn’t super specific. He just continued with his normal CrossFit training, but ran a bunch of extra miles and made sure he got in some good squat sessions.

 

What was your training like leading up to this in the weeks between April and when you actually attempted this some months later?

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

Similar to Adam, I didn’t drastically reinvent the wheel. I just adjusted a few things here or there. At the end of the day, it’s just being a bit more specific to the goal at hand.

 

The way I like to program and the way I like to be programmed is on the Monday my intensity is at its highest. On the Saturday my intensity is at its lowest. Volume, lowest Monday, highest on Saturday, so that inverts as the week goes on.

 

That didn’t change because at the back of my mind, I was still basically starting my prep for a big 8 to 10-day long ultra that I’m doing in November, which I still can’t go into too much detail on, but that was Plan A.

 

All we really did was basically make my Monday lower body session much more squat focused. Then because we thought let’s just get all the really specific volume in on the Monday. It was basically a standard periodized Monday lower body session — two four-week blocks followed by two four-week blocks of sprint training.

 

It was a test followed by 1,200 week one, 800s, 400s. Then we went off the data and the feedback and how I was feeling for the next block, and reassessed a little bit.

 

I’m not going to lie to you, a lot of those sessions didn’t go to plan because I was bouncing so much fatigue on my Saturdays. I was still spending sort of 4, to 8, to 10 hours in the Scottish mountains so there was a lot of volume to deal with.

 

There were some sessions I went in, and I was just getting crippled and split in half by the squat. I’d do two 400s and just knew today it wasn’t going to happen. The real challenge was knowing what to do next and mentally figuring out how to bounce back.

 

Completely honestly, I did not expect to get the squat done on the day when I did it. I probably had another 15 kilos in me I reckon, based on how I’ve been able to grind things out in the past. I’d failed 220 a few weeks beforehand because I was under a lot fatigue, and I just got inside my own head.

 

Part of it because Adam had done it first. I thought what’s the point anymore? It’s gone. It’s out of reach. I got inside my own head, but it was just sticking to the plan really. It was Monday, heavy lower and sprint. Tuesday upper resistance. Wednesday was either a tempo run or a sort of 45-minute bike interval session.

 

Thursday was squat assistance and a steady run. Friday morning was a steady five-mile run with 10 by 50-meter sprints to finish, but then that inverted to 5 by 100-meter sprints as well, but that was on the road. Then Saturday it was always my big volume days in the hills or long road runs.

 

That was the structure throughout. There was a lot of chopping and changing depending on how I felt, how I responded, because it wasn’t this time a case of here are the numbers and hit them. There was a lot of falling short on sessions. A lot of changing my low and trying to figure out amongst the different variables going on.

 

Ultimately that’s the challenge, isn’t it? It’s balancing those things. That’s why it’s difficult. It was stressful but we got there in the end.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll get back to that in just a moment, but first another quick word from our sponsor, Transparent Labs.

 

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Now, not everyone is a six-foot nine inch Icelandic world record holder, and you probably don’t eat 8,000 calories a day. I’ve sure tried, not sustainable for me. But Transparent Labs has the goods for every strength athlete, clinically effective doses, nothing artificial, and a label you can actually read.

 

Now let’s get back to the conversation. Just to give folks a sense of your size, I want to dive into your athletic background in a second because it’s super interesting. It’s a big reason I asked you to be on this podcast, so thank you for taking the time.

 

For folks who might be interested at home and in training for this 505 challenge, we got to figure out the right term for that. What’s your height, weight, heading into this challenge? Did your weight fluctuate during the training for this?

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

Yes. I’m 182 centimeters, which is basically one centimeter short of six foot, which is a shame.

David TaoDavid Tao

So close. So close.

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

 …I’m six foot though, nobody needs to know. I weighed 206 pounds on the day. That’s my optimal athletic weight. I’ll vary from anywhere between 195 and 210, depending on what I’m training for.

 

I try and always eat just above or just below my maintenance so that I’m never really hindering my performance or gaining too much body fat, so that when I eat to perform, I have to be in a deficit for too long period of time, if that makes sense.

 

That’s my consistent way. There’s probably an ideal frame for this. At the end of the day, my squats have always been my best lift. I’ve got short femurs. If you see me run, which I assume you might have done from the video, it doesn’t look particularly gazelle like.

 

It was very much a [laughs] just send it and see what happens. Ultimately, I think I’m probably better suited in terms of my frame for this sort of thing. Ultimately, squats have always been my strongest lift, which meant that what the squat took from me was probably less than it might do from other people, for example.

 

It’s working with what you’ve got and figuring out what needs to be done to improve those weaknesses so that you can show up on the day really is the challenge. Always between the 195 to 210 range, and my height stays the same as [indecipherable 11:53] .

David TaoDavid Tao

You never know because I’ve heard people…It might be apocryphal, but I’ve heard stories of people going on like the Smolov squat program and they’ll gain a half inch in height because they’re standing a little straighter. Their spinal erectors have gained some [indecipherable 12:08] . I don’t know how much I actually…

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

..training like a bro and then suddenly they get their [indecipherable 12:13] back.

David TaoDavid Tao

I don’t know how much I actually believe that. I’ve heard people being like, I did the squat program and I got taller.” OK, cool. Sure. Maybe.

 

You said something earlier in the podcast that I do want the earmark because it’s easy to just rush through it. It’s really I think an important component of you as an athlete.

 

You were coming off training for a powerlifting competition that didn’t happen, I assume due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

Right, yeah.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I know you can’t talk too much about it. You were planning on going or you’re heading into an ultra triathlon or ultra marathon.

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

I was training for the Celtman, which is part of the Extreme Triathlon World Series. That was due to be in June, but that’s now happening next year. Now I’m training for my own ultra in November.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

There aren’t many people who you’ll talk to on a podcast, who in the same sentence, or in the same paragraph, or in the same podcast, will talk about training for a powerlifting competition earlier, at one point in a year.

 

Then the same calendar year, they’ll talk about doing an ultra marathon, an ultra triathlon, a multi-day race. Who are you? How did you come to be an athlete training for these things that seem like they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum?

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

My background as I was younger, was actually as a rugby player. I was a very keen rugby player. I was quite heavy as a child. At 15 years old, I was 102 kilos at the same height I am now.

 

On a rugby pitch — that’s just physics — I was a decent rugby player for a few years because of that. Then ultimately, just as it started to get a bit more competitive, there started to be discussions around playing representative stuff, I had three concussions in four weeks, which was the end of any competitive rugby moving forwards.

 

I quickly had to fill that gap in terms of a competitive outlet, a way of challenging myself. I just found health and fitness. I immediately just found myself trying to improve my running times, trying to get a little bit leaner, and still training like I was a rugby player in the gym, really.

 

What I quickly learned was that you need to balance those things rather than doing all of those things at once. I did what most people do, which is I said 100 percent of a running program, 100 percent of a rugby strength and conditioning program, bolted them together, lo and behold. I was ruined after a couple of weeks.

 

I ended up training through training for a few triathlons when I was younger, tore my calf, never actually did one. Then got into competitive powerlifting for five years almost, and that became a pretty big part of my life.

 

I’d always do just high intensity…I’d say high intensity. It probably wasn’t as a powerlifter. It felt like high intensity at the time, but I was just doing interval sessions at the end of my lower body and upper body sessions here or there, no real structure to it. As a rugby player, that was always something I was used to, so I just kept it up.

 

Then in 2018…My last powerlifting competition was in 2017. I got to the end of it, I just didn’t have the same buzz that I once did. Just trained like a strength/bodybuilding athlete for a year. I was enjoying it. It underpinned my life in some ways, and the training was something that I felt like I should be doing, should always be doing. It was a good way to keep you grounded.

 

In 2018, I felt like a bit of a loose end. I actually suffered quite severely from depression for almost two years when I was younger, and kept completely silent about that. As a man, I didn’t want to reveal the fact that I was suffering, as I feared it would expose me as weak, or overly vulnerable, or let down people’s expectations of me.

 

The standard masculine stuff that I’m sure a lot of us can empathize with. That ultimately actually ended up in a suicide attempt in May 2016. It actually took me another six months after that before I even told my family what happened. That’s how close I was holding my cards to my chest. That’s how ashamed I was of the situation I was in

 

Ultimately, once I opened up about that, I became a lot more comfortable with it. I could just confront the reality of the situation. Powerlifting was always an anchor for me throughout that period of time.

 

In 2018, I was working in London. I was faced with this white noise when I was sitting at my laptop. I just thought, “You’ve been here before. Do the right thing. Acknowledge it. Address what the problem was last time, which was a lack of fulfillment. What do you need? You need a form of fulfillment.”

 

I thought, “What are you good at? You’re good at squatting. What can you do to do something meaningful, important, and actually to try and have an impact out with your day-to-day life?”

 

I thought, “I’m going to do some form of squatting challenge to raise awareness for Movember,” which is men’s health charity focused on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, men’s mental health and suicide prevention. Recently, they focused a bit more on just getting people active and moving. It’s all sort of part the same circle there.

 

I actually — stupidly — decided to attempt to squat half a million kilos in 24 hours. I, on my 22nd birthday in 2018, I attempted to squat half a million kilos in 24 hours. I got through 2,100-and-something reps at 60 kilos, which is 125 pounds, give or take, and about 128,000 kilos in just over five hours, and my knee snapped. [laughs] That was the end of that.

 

I raised about £25,000 in the process, and ended up sharing my story publicly. Was overwhelmed with positive support. Got a load of positive messages from people saying, “Thank you for doing this because I’d always saw you as this figure of strength. You saying this has made me more comfortable with my own situation,” which was amazing.

 

That’s what carried me through. That gave me the confidence to keep working towards these things. I was in crutches. I had a bad knee. I thought, “Right. What can you do soon? You can get on a bike soon, and you can get in a pool soon. Logical thing do, sign up to Ironman.”

 

I signed up to Ironman in May 2019, did Lanzarote. It was my first real endurance endeavor. Obviously, as part of training for the squats, I had to get my aerobic base way up here. I got back into longer running again and found quite early on I was running 7:50 miles, 145 beats per minute heart rate. I was quite efficient from the word go. I got the Ironman done.

 

Then November 2019, which was last year, my second big campaign, I bodyweight lunged 6,819 meters — again, lower body, it’s what I’m good at — to represent the suicide rates in the UK. In 2018, on the 17th of November, I did a 13-hour workout with 13 men to represent with 13 male suicides every day in the United Kingdom.

 

At the end of the month, I ran 94 miles from Loch Lomond to Edinburgh, which will mean nothing to a lot of people, but it was 94 miles. I ran that in 22 hours and 14 minutes. That represented the 94 male suicides a week in 2018.

 

I basically just found myself in this big mix of training for lots of different things, but really enjoying the variety. A big part of it has been I had that injury in 2018, but that allowed me to focus on endurance for a little while.

 

As soon as I was out of the way with the Ironman, I got the strength back. Because of the motor patterns, because the efficiency, because of all the time I built up in the years gone by, it came back really, really quickly.

 

Only since January, since I’ve been prepping for this powerlifting competition that never happened have I really got back to my previous levels of strength.

 

Now it’s just about me maintaining where I am without getting injured. It means I’ll be able to stay at these levels where within three months, I’d like to say I could probably specify for almost anything I’d like to take on, obviously unless it’s like cycle the length of America.

 

Within three months, I should be able to take on whatever I feel in ultra, in speed, in strength. I feel like within three months, I can always improve off the back of the base that I’ve got. That was a very long-winded explanation of how I’ve got to where I’ve got, but hopefully, that fills in some of the gaps.

David TaoDavid Tao

It was detailed, but it was eloquent. I think that was a necessary explanation because the underpinning of what you’re doing to raise awareness, to raise money, and to be a figure that people can see that welcomes, that welcomes the public eye to say, “Hey, I’ve gone through this.

 

“I want to talk about it. I want to confront it, and I want to encourage other people to be more open about their struggles and to engage in those conversations.” You can’t talk about that separately from what you’re doing in the athletic realm because they really are connected.

 

I know the public support and the outpouring of support you’ve received from the general public has been immense. It’s been absolutely immense for these physical feats and for your awareness campaigns, as it should be.

 

I’m curious as to specifically within the strength community, specifically within the powerlifting community where you were already plugged in, where you were already known and knew a lot of people because you’ve been competing in powerlifting for around five years, what was the response from those within the strength community?

 

I ask that because the strength community is diverse. It is not like a homogenous blob, and people have differences of opinions, but there is this underpinning of hide weakness, show strength in the strength community.

 

I think that sometimes the stereotype is strength athletes will grip through an injury, or they won’t talk about the suffering that’s going on in that part of their life in their training. Was it a different response from within the strength community, compared to the mainstream as you started being open about mental health struggles and raising awareness?

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

 Absolutely. It’s a really interesting question. It’s also never addressed in that much detail. Thinking about it, my initial network when I shared my story, and especially what I was doing as it was squat-focused, was basically my friends, family, and then the powerlifting community, and the rugby community, really.

 

The messages and the input that I got from all the strength athletes that I’ve competed with over the years was really, really positive. The overarching takeaway was that everybody found their solace in the community that the strength community gave them.

 

The training helped mask things that they didn’t necessarily want to confront, but then all that did was potentially perpetuate those feelings by making them feel like they had to portray this image of strength at all times, whilst in reality, there were certain things that they wanted to address that maybe weren’t, in their head at the time, such a strong thing to talk about.

 

At the end of the day, I think my initial project helped show that showing vulnerability, showing that you’re suffering isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness. It’s actually a mark of strength. I think being able to couple those two things together was really important.

 

I actually ran a competition during the 24-hour squat challenge where I got as many people as I could to squat their body weight 24 times. I got Terry Hollands involved, Laurence Shahlaei, Adam Bishop. There was a whole bunch of really high-profile people that got involved, which was great. It was brilliant.

 

They all jumped on it without a second question because I think they saw some affinity in what the challenge was trying to achieve. There were about 230 people that took part in that, which was great considering I’d literally started an Instagram for the event and just sort of used the network to make that happen.

 

There was a girl that took eight and half minutes to do it, or something. Then Adam Bishop did 145 kilos [snaps fingers] like that. It was amazing to see the difference, but also the fact the people were fighting through something that was important to them for a cause that was also important to them.

 

It was marrying those two things together that was great. I think the strength community now is actually very, very open about how important the gym, the community, the training, the competition is for their mental health. Especially over in the UK. I can’t speak for the US because it’s obviously been a bit more disparate in terms of how gyms are closed, etc.

 

In the UK, it’s principally been the strength community online I’ve seen struggling the most with the fact that gyms are being closed. It’s almost given them a sense of identity, a sense of belonging, a sense of community, and some like-minded people to get involved with that they’ve had taken away from them as a result of something out of their control.

 

As a powerlifter, it’s much harder to adapt to training at home than it is for certain other sports. I can’t think of another sport, other than maybe swimming, where you can’t really adapt unless you’ve got a barbell and weights. There’s no real way of training. You can do as many air squats as you want, but it isn’t going to improve your top-end strength.

 

What this has done is actually really, really hammered home how important our community is and how powerful the balancing of strength mentally with strength in the gym is. I think the positive output I got from the first challenge, the second [indecipherable 25:57] moving forward is actually that it’s a really powerful community that’s capable of really looking out for one another.

 

Whilst yes, there’s differences of opinion, yes, there’s different modalities within the umbrella of strength, the commonality is that everybody’s fighting the same battles and expressing it in the same way. Whilst the Internet is full of hate for this, that, and the other, and that squat’s high. Those knee sleeves don’t count, they’re nine millimeters. This, that, and the other. All that stuff.

 

Everybody’s fighting the same battles and using exercise as an outlet for something that potentially they need to confront within themselves. I’m not speaking on behalf of everyone here, but I think there’s a lot of consistency across the board. The fitness community in general has got a really good foundation to work from to really impact people’s lives positively by having these discussions.

 

That’s ultimately all I’m really hoping to do is, as you’ve said, make it impossible for people to decouple the athletic stuff from the mental health stuff because if they’re interested in the athletic stuff, they’ll need to confront mental health stuff. That’s what I’m hoping to put across. Again, a long-winded answer, but that sort of covers my take on things.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

The weight on the bar is secondary to you choosing to squat it. I have a friend who’s a power lifting coach who loves waxing poetic. They say that, and it hits home for me more and more. I think during the COVID era, it’s hit home for me in an especially potent manner.

 

We all want to squat heavy weights. We all want to clean and jerk a house. We all want to be able to run a four-minute 56-second mile. That’d be great, but at the end of the day, it’s our decision to engage in physical self improvement. That is really the most important thing, because if you don’t have that, then you don’t have anything.

 

You’re not going to show up unless you make the conscious effort to work towards something. The social component of that is huge. I think it’s something, during a time when gyms are closed, people are being reminded of, that yes, these can seem like solitary activities, but what gets people going back, and back, and back is often the community aspect.

 

Sometimes you don’t appreciate those things. Sometimes you don’t appreciate the support that you get from that community until it’s temporarily taken away from you.

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

Absolutely, and with strength as well. The Western world is so gray in terms of metrics for success, metrics for wealth, standing, all this stuff. All basically the components of day-to-day life. It’s all a massive gray area.

 

Strength, fitness training, how fast you can run a mile, how much you can lift with a barbell on your back, etc., is a very, very black and white metric. Black and white metrics help give people obvious moments of success, moments of achievement, which is really important for us all in our lives. That’s why strength training was such a pivotal component of me getting well.

 

I ultimately suffered through depression for a long time. It didn’t end the way it should have done.

 

I only suffered as long as I did without attempting suicide as soon as I did because I was so anchored down by that black and white metric of achievement in the gym. I’m not advocating anyone at all not to be silent, just mask your feelings through training or anything like that.

 

All I’m trying to highlight is that we need to acknowledge and understand what why we train and take those little wins from when we do achieve. I mean progressive overload very simple. It’s very simple scientific development that we can all tap into. It’s a black and white metric we can all make use of, and it was something that kept me grounded whilst I was suffering.

 

I should have spoken out a lot, lot sooner than I did. Had I done it, it probably wouldn’t have ended with the suicide attempt because I would have had a much more aware support network nearby.

 

Ultimately, the only thing in my life at the time that gave me any sense of achievement was how much I could squat, how much I bench. If I could squat 130 kilos, if I could bench 130 kilos one week, and then 130 and a half kilos the other week, in my mind, I wasn’t a complete failure.

 

That’s a negative way of looking at it, but it’s a good way of highlighting how important these things are in our lives and why we need to focus on the communities in which we feel like we belong.

 

To use those communities to make sure that you don’t get into a similar situation I did — use training, strength training as a way to mask a bigger issue. Use it as something that you enjoy, not as a form of distraction. Whilst it might serve as a very useful distraction, distractions only last so long. Take me as an example of how that can end badly.

 

My big focus now is to try and share that story and share the mistakes I made so other people don’t have to.

David TaoDavid Tao

Fergus, thank you so much for sharing your story, the lessons you’ve learned, and, in many ways, the lessons we’re all still learning along the way, through your work and through the light you’re shining on a lot of these topics that people are all too hesitant to broach in many communities, not just the strength community these days.

 

Thank you for that. Where’s the best place or best places for people to keep up to date with the work you’re doing, the initiatives you have going on, and, let’s call a spade a spade, the very cool athletic feats you potentially have coming up?

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

 @ferguscrawley on Instagram, @fstcrawley on Facebook, but that’s basically just what’s on Instagram posted on there.

 

Then Fergus Crawley on YouTube as well, which I’m trying to be much more consistent with now as I’m trying to document every aspect of how I’m training for certain things, why I’m training for them in that way, what I’m eating to do so, etc, etc. If you’re interested in that sort of more hybrid style of training, then please do head there.

 

I’ll be happy to answer any questions you do have over on Instagram as the easiest place to contact me directly. Any questions still, please do send them over.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s Fergus Crawley. Thank you so much for joining us today, and I really appreciate you taking the time. A lot of important discussions.

Fergus CrawleyFergus Crawley

Much appreciated. Cheers.

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