The Sternum Checker, Height Discrimination And Other Horrible Injustices In Obstacle Racing
The reasoning goes like this: the sternum checker is obviously easier for taller individuals, and harder for shorter individuals. Men, on average, are taller than women. Hence, this obstacle is harder for women. Injustice!
An average American male is 5'10, while an average American female is 5'5. So yes, men have a significant height advantage.
But, unless this disadvantage is somehow female specific, we cannot claim gender discrimination. In this case, the sternum checker would also be easier for taller women (compared to shorter women), and harder for shorter men (compared to taller men). Some mentioned that having breasts puts one at a disadvantage, as it can be painful to slam the breasts into the log. That indeed would be a more female-specific variable, however I will dismiss that argument entirely for two reasons.
1. Height plays much more of a role in one' ability to tackle this obstacle than breasts.
2. Size of breasts would have to be taken into account, because, arguably, smaller breasts would be less problematic in this case. And then, if we take into account breast size, we might as well take into account femur length, the relative length of torso to legs, and million other things that are only marginally relevant to the discussion at hand.
Also, do not forget that male racers have their own unique disadvantage. Two words: testicles + walls. Careful, gentlemen. Careful!
Gender is then an extraneous variable that just happens to correlate with the actual variable of interest - height. Which brings us to the possibility of height discrimination.
Height discrimination refers to discriminatory treatment against individuals based on their height. Examples would include treating individuals based on their membership in a certain group and restricting individuals from opportunities that are available to another group.
Excluding individuals based on height (or some other characteristics) is not necessarily a bad thing. Do I go to Laura Petites (women's clothing store) and complain that nothing fits me? Probably not.
Athletics presents another interesting consideration, as certain amount of height (and other types of) discrimination is built into the very nature of sports.
It is easier to shoot a basket if you are taller. And anyone, who claims otherwise, has never played basketball.It is then hardly a surprise that the average height in NBA is 6'7 (compare that to an average male at 5'10). Yet, we are not arguing that the basket should be lowered, every time a shorter player is about to take a shot.
In obstacle racing, the walls are, of course, easier if you are taller. Because the arm-span is proportional to one's height, taller racers probably benefit on the rig and the monkey bars.
If you are shorter, you HAVE TO rely on technique more. Let's consider the factors that go into conquering this obstacle for shorter racers. There are FOUR.
1. Vertical jump.
Because the log you are aiming for is so much higher than the base log, you will need to propel yourself upwards.
2. The point of landing.
The name "sternum checker" is actually misleading, and screws up the racers who are not familiar with this obstacle. You think you should land on the log with your sternum. In actuality, if that's how you land, you are way too low - so you will have trouble holding on, and reaching around. There is practically no way to salvage yourself at that point. Let go and try again.
That's what happened to me on the first attempt, and after hanging onto the log for a little while, I fell to the ground like a sack of potatoes. With some coaching from a fellow racer, I realized that you have to land on the log much lower - with your belly button, or even better, your hips.
Some racers blamed the lack of grip strength. In truth, if you land high enough, you do not need your grip at all - you'll simply be pushing into the log with your hands to get your legs up.
Because of the distance between the two logs, you will need the momentum to generate enough horizontal displacement. Check out the video below (over an hour of footage at the Sternum Checker) - I have included direct link to the point in the video about four minutes in, where you see couple of racers struggle.
Invariably, these are the racers that hesitate once they reach the bottom log. If that happens to you, get off the log and restart. You NEED that speed and momentum. Otherwise, you'd be as successful as you'd be trying to leisurely walk up a quarter pipe. Remember Everest from Tough Mudder?
4. Mental strength.
Yes, the sternum checker is much more of a mental obstacle than people realize, especially so, for shorter racers. It's literally a "leap of faith". I have seen and heard from many racers who are of average height, and should have no problems completing this obstacle, who struggled, because they simply could not bring themselves to leap.
And yes, there IS a height that would render this obstacle impossible (I'd estimate that height to be under 5 feet). Yet, the above three factors address about 95% of the height distribution.
YOUR TURN: Is there an obstacle that you are disadvantaged at because of your height, weight, body structure? What is it? What are you doing to compensate? Liked this post? Check out my essay on what a real burpee look like.