Alec Smith Grips: Banned by Boz

by David Newman | Rx Smart Gear CEO

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In early June, just before going onto the competition floor, several athletes at the North America East Semifinal were told that they couldn’t use their Alec Smith grips.

Grips can be about as personal to a CrossFit athlete as a pair of running shoes are to a marathon runner: They’ve been chalked to perfection and worn to fit their hands perfectly. More importantly, the athletes know just how they will feel doing the highest-level gymnastics movements. So, telling these elite competitors that they couldn’t use grips that have been problem-free for the past six years was like telling Usain Bolt he would have to run the 100m without his running shoes.

The judge’s explanation was that the Alec Smith grips violated two parts of the 2024 CrossFit Games Rulebook: 

  1. Gymnastic grips shall be made of a material that maintains a consistent thickness.
  2. The grips cannot contain a dowel and the grip cannot be sewn into a fold.

Banned by Boz Alec Smith Grips

WHAT HAPPENED DURING SEMIS?

Interview with Athlete Jorge Fernandez

It’s true. These grips have a finished edge, meaning it’s folded over and stitched into place like the hem on a pair of pants. But does this provide an unfair advantage to the athlete?

Absolutely not. The fold in question should hang approximately 1 to 2 inches below the athlete’s fingers. And if it accidentally shifts under the athlete’s fingers, the fold bunches up and actually makes it exponentially harder to grip the bar.

If CrossFit really wanted to eliminate unfair advantages, it would enforce the following rules:

*Athletes may cover their hands and fingers in tape, gymnastic grips or gloves for the purpose of protecting their hands from tearing, but these resources may not be used in a manner that provides additional grip assistance.

*The gripping surface of the hand may not be tacky or sticky.

Multiple grip brands being used in competition claim that their product is so sticky that athletes don’t even need chalk. 

That obviously violates the spirit and letter of the rulebook, not to mention the safety implications. I’ve seen athletes try to dismount from the bar, but their hands are literally stuck to it, injuring their wrists as the full force of their body weight drops to the ground.

So why is the folded edge on the Smith grip even there?

Rx Smart Gear teamed up with former high-level gymnast and CrossFit Games athlete Alec Smith back in 2017 to design the perfect gymnastic grips for high level athletes.

At the time Alec was using typical gymnastic grips with 3 finger holes intended to secure your fingers to the palm flap of the grip. Alec found himself never using the finger holes and just flapped the material over the bar allowing it to hang down several inches below his fingers. 

By not having to remove his fingers from the holes allowed him to have quicker transitions to other movements where grips were not needed. So, in 2017 Alec and Rx Smart Gear were the first to introduce the Free Finger gymnastic grips to the market and named them the Alec Smith Grip.

These grips were also cutting edge in that they included neoprene padding sewn into a 1 ½” wide wrist strap to double as wrist support on handstand push-ups and barbell movements. 

They also contain an elastic grip keeper that allows the grips to be neatly tucked out of the way whenever the athlete is performing movements such as double unders or handstand walks. 

The folded edge served multiple purposes.

Hand Grips Menu

First,

it provided a rigid place to pinch the grip before throwing it over the bar.

Alec Smith Grips

Second,

the double thickness prevented the likelihood of “grip lock up” as it would be harder for the grip to fully circle the bar and get caught up under the palm locking the hand in place. This is a very common occurrence in gymnastics that can cause severe injury.

The 3rd and final purpose

is that it simply provides a finished, curated look as with all other products that Rx Smart Gear is known for.

Every other grip brand on the market just terminates at the top edge leaving an unpolished look.

So, if the Alec Smith grips don’t provide an unfair advantage and actually provide safety for the athletes why did Competition Director Adrian Bozman and his team decide to ban the Alec Smith grips?

We were told because they simply do not meet the letter of the law as it is written in the rule book.

Bozman explained they have the difficult task of creating blanket rules to prevent the possibility of anybody trying to “game the system” and create an unfair advantage. It is obvious they wanted to prevent someone from stitching a strategic fold in the center of the palm to create a pseudo dowel effect. Unfortunately, their blanket wording inadvertently disqualified Alec Smith grips from CrossFit sanctioned events. The most frustrating part of this is the inconsistency in which athletes were targeted about their grips.

While several athletes were flagged and prevented from using their Smith Grips, quite a few other athletes were allowed to use them in the very same competition. 

In fact, Alec Smith grips were allowed in every single CrossFit Semifinal event around the globe in the preceding weeks until the East Semifinal. The Alec Smith grip has also appeared at the CrossFit Games 6 years in a row most recently highlighted by current champion Laura Horvath who loves her Alec Smith grips. Adrian Bozman did assert that consistency among all judges across all events has been a problem and is something they are working to improve.

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So where does that leave the Games-bound athletes who are avid Alec Smith grip users?

RXSG has created a limited supply of Smith grips without the folded, finished edge.

We’re sending these legal grips free of charge to athletes invited to compete at the 2024 CrossFit Games. Meanwhile, we’ll continue lobbying CrossFit to adjust the wording of their 2025 rulebook. While these guidelines are well-intentioned, in this case they’re poorly executed. Stay tuned for the next chapter of Banned By Bozman.

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