Ryan Crowley Pec Tear
Recently while maxing out on the incline bench press, bodybuilder Ryan Crowley suffered a massive pec tear. It was one of the worst I’ve ever seen.
The Tear Itself
To set the stage a bit: Ryan Crawley was training with Larry Wheels, one of the strongest powerlifters on the planet who also has a truly massive social media following. They started out with the incline bench, gradually warming up and adding plates.
Larry Wheels did four plates (180kg) for an incredible seventeen reps, then Ryan did the same weight for seven reps, with the eighth being a long and agonizing effort, which Larry eventually helped him get the weight on.
Then, Ryan decided to go up and see if he could do 5 plates (220kg) for a single, maximul rep. Larry helped him unrack the weight, and Ryan slowly lowered the weight, down, down…down…
…until suddenly and shockingly the weight bit back, his entire right pectoral muscle migrating to the middle of his chest as the tendon was torn clean off of the bone and the muscle was torn off of the tendon, Larry grabbing the weight and somewhat miraculously holding the bar as Ryan rolled out from under it, yelling in agony.
The video at the end has a clip of it, if you want to see it. But I won’t include pics of it.
Perhaps there is value in analyzing why this happened. Intelligent men learn from their mistakes; wise men learn from the mistakes of others.
Factor #1: Preexisting Injury
During the full video, Ryan talked about how he’s been dealing with a shoulder injury over the previous few months. According to research by Greg Nuckols, the single best predictor of acute, catastrophic injury is chronic injury.
Injuries can take a long time to heal, and even if they feel 100%, they might not be. Best to err on the side of caution for movements and exercises that stress an area that you’ve had trouble with.
Factor #2: Lack of Mobility
Most people during an incline bench press touch the bar to their chest lightly each rep, with some even pausing in that position. This is more difficult, but also takes stress off of the joints because you are not reversing the weight at the angle that puts the most stress on the shoulders. Unfortunately, this was a deep as Ryan could go, with just the bar or with heavier weights.
You don’t need a million mobility drills and prehab before you lift. But being able to use full range of motion is very important.
Factor #3: Anabolic Steroids
Natural lifters cannot grow muscle quickly, growth is a very slow and painstaking process. The good news is that this gives the tendons and ligaments time to catch up to and grow with muscle, giving a much lower risk of injury.
Enhanced athletes can gain massive amounts of muscle very quickly. This means that they can use weights that are appropriate for their muscles, but that will leave them at risk for injury.
Factor #4: 1 Rep Max
Doing a single, maximal repetition leaves little room for error. It’s do or die. There’s no biofeedback rep by rep, no slowing of the bar as the set goes on.
It’s just that one rep.
For a bodybuilder, there’s no benefit to maxing out, and a lot of risk.
Furthermore, usually when trying to lift heavy, you want to make small jumps in weight. Perhaps 5% of your maximum per set, 10% at the very most. For weights above 80%, you’ll want to be on the lower side of that range, probably around a 5% increase per set.
Ryan went from 180kg to 220kg, or roughly a 20% jump, going from 80% to 100%.
Factor #5: Heavy Absolute Weight
Heavier weights demand more respect. It’s not just a question of percentages, which are unique to each person based on their level of strength. It’s also a question of absolutes. Heavier weights are inherently more risky.
If you look at the top powerlifters, a history of injury is the norm, mostly just due to the superhuman weights that they are lifting being too much for their structures.
Factor #6: Competitive Environment
You grab your popcorn, and open YouTube. You want to see some interesting and engaging content, so you scroll through your feed.
“10 scientifically backed ways to gain muscle”
“Survivorship bias in training explained”
“Bodybuilder hits new 1 rep max PR!”
Social media is brutal on content creators. There’s a lot of pressure to perform, pressure to stand out, incentive to do something unique and different. Doing 400lbs+ for 7 reps isn’t enough, you have to add an exclamation point to the workout.
Not for yourself, but for the viewer. When the cameras start rolling, training changes from what it usually is: just training. It’s now a competition.
Factor #7: Technique
Technique and injury are tricky, with the link between being rather tenuous. However, injury is cause by mechanical stress. It doesn’t happen for no reason. Thus, an analysis of why a certain structure failed can have some value.
First, there was the lack of mobility highlighted above.
Second, his elbows were quite flared out. This puts extra stress on the chest muscles (maybe good) but also on the tendon (not so good).
Third, he actually changed his grip halfway through warming up. He started with a closer grip, and widened it when Larry said it would help. Now, Larry was right, in an absolute sense. After all, most people would be stronger with a wider grip. It just caused too much strain on Ryan’s tendons due to maxing out with form that was alien to him.
Factor #8: Gear
Ryan was using wrist wraps and elbow wraps. These help support the body, providing stability and allowing more weight to be lifted. Normally that’s not a bad thing. However, if you aren’t used to using them — this was apparently the very first time Ryan had tried them — then going for a 1 rep max maybe isn’t a great idea.
You can effectively lift supramaximal loads due to the added support, which overloads the muscle but maybe also the joints.
Factor #9: Imbalance, Instability, Fatigue
Let’s tackle that last one first: fatigue. He attempted a max after doing an all-out effort with 180kg. If you plug 220kg into a rep calculator, you get around 7 rep. So while 180kg for 7 reps might suggest a 220kg 1 rep max, due to the fatigue, it wasn’t a realistic goal.
Furthermore, if you haven’t actually trained for a one rep max, and have mostly done higher rep training, you can’t expect to be “as good” at a one rep max compared to for reps. So 220kg was never in the cards.
As for instability and imbalances, you could actually see him shaking as he unracked the weight, and twisting slightly as he lowered it. His left and right sides were not in balance.
Factor #10: Relatively New Exercise
This is a biggie. Ryan had not incline bench pressed in over a year. He was neurologically very unfamiliar with the movement, and while his chest muscles were very strong due to doing lots of machines and pec dec with “hard contractions” of the muscle, that does little to train the tendons due to differing strength curves.
Plus, the stabilizers aren’t trained at all, and he hadn’t been doing dumbbell work even due to the shoulder injury he had sustained.
This is NOT Normal, Do NOT Be Afraid
One thing I’m seeing on social media a lot is fear. People saying they’ll never do incline bench press again, or never lift at all.
That’s silly. Go through this checklist. It took ALL of these factors combined to cause this injury.
The average person in the gym has very, very little to fear.