Living stone succulent flower Bill Glacey https://flic.kr/p/e5CLvg

Live, Learn, and Love

Live, learn and love… I don’t mean to conjure up any bad Alanis Morissette flashbacks, but she might have been on to something:

You live, you learn.
You love, you learn.
You cry, you learn.
You lose, you learn.
You bleed, you learn.
You scream, you learn.

I’ve always heard those lyrics in my head as implying suffering of some kind, with a resulting lesson learned. I don’t think that has to be the case. Crossfit has yet to make me cry or bleed, but my last couple workouts have made me appreciate the learning process in all of its forms.

Last Friday, my friend Sabrena kindly joined me for open gym to work on deadlifts. They don’t come up often in workouts, and I was curious how much I could lift. I suspected it might be one of my stronger lifts, maybe from all the running I’ve done the last few years. And, since the strength component of Crossfit seems to be my favorite part, I wanted to do more of it.

Those coming to Crossfit with absolutely no prior weightlifting experience (like me) have a lot to learn not only in terminology and proper form for the various moves, but in the capacity of their own bodies. I had no idea how much weight to put on the bar to start with, because I had absolutely no clue what I might be able to lift. The process became, for me:

Add weights. Pick it up. Put it down. Still OK? Repeat.

I surprised myself that day, with a final deadlift of 170#. I didn’t lift to the point of failure, as we ran out of time before the main workout, but I doubt I’d have been able to lift much more. Google tells me that as an untrained newbie, at my weight a woman should be able to deadlift 110#, so… go me! The “novice” level is listed as 195#, but I’m not going to lie. I can see 200# in my sights, and I would love to hit that milestone. I’ll try again in a few weeks, maybe around the new year.

My first real deadlift. 170#

This is me, definitely living and loving and learning.

Another thing I’ve realized through Crossfit is that “losing” isn’t always a bad thing. When I joined Crossfit, I very consciously accepted the fact that I was going to finish last at every workout for a long time. Most people equate finishing last to losing, but – at least in Crossfit – you gain a whole lot by finishing last. She who finishes last has the biggest cheering section – quite literally! Sure, I look forward to being the one cheering on my mates, but in the meantime, yes, please! Count for me! Tell me I got this! Hell yeah, I got this!

The last bit Alanis crooned about was screaming. One more thing I’ve learned about myself through Crossfit is that, while not a screamer per se, I’ve been known to occasionally growl at the barbell. It’s nothing compared to the grunting and groaning going on around me, and it blends right in with the booming music and the laughter and the cheers. Besides, nobody is listening to me, anyway – and if they are, they don’t care what it sounds like, as long as I don’t quit.

I came across an article the other day called “What Lifting Weights Taught Me About Being a Woman.” (I think it was another gem from Sabrena – good stuff). Fourth on the list of lessons learned is:

“Treating exercise as a means to be more, as opposed to viewing it as a never-ending struggle to be less, is absolutely a game changer.”

This is one of the most amazing lessons I’m learning through Crossfit. Yes, one of my goals is to lose weight. But Crossfit has redefined how I frame workouts, because my attendance at each class is not with the goal of losing weight. It is with the goals of completing the workout and increasing my strength. I want to be more – more able, more fit, stronger. Losing weight really becomes secondary or even lower down the line, because when I look at the things I am doing with my body in order to become stronger and more fit, it would be impossible not to lose weight.

My focus on numbers has also shifted. I used to weigh myself daily, hoping to see another .2 or .4 pounds lost. I’ve been doing Crossfit for 6 weeks now, and the scale hasn’t changed much. I lost 5 pounds right away, but gained them back. However, I’ve lost over an inch in my waist, and I can’t wear my usual jeans without a belt – so my body is definitely changing. I don’t mind if the scale gets a bit dusty with no use. I’m gaining a whole side of my closet!

There’s a lot to learn when you go from the couch to Crossfit, but so far, the lessons have been inspiring and empowering and life affirming.

You live, you learn.

Living stone succulent flower photo credit: Bill Glacey

Mount St Helens by Image Editor https://flic.kr/p/5Q9JBY

I Like Helen

“Helen” is one of the benchmark workouts of Crossfit. There’s a series of workouts named after women (thus referred to as “The Girls”). I’ve seen and read a few variations on how “The Girls” got their names. One interview I found showed Crossfit founder Gary Glassman saying, “I think anything that leaves you laying on your back gasping for air wondering what just happened to you should be named after a girl.” Another variation quoted Mr. Glassman as saying that the workouts are named like the US National Weather Service names storms, because they’re so intense that they leave you feeling as if a storm just hit you.

Whatever the inspiration for the names, I met my first one this morning. Her name is Helen, and she looks something like this:

Helen

3 rounds for time of:
400m Run
21 Kettlebell Swings, 1.5/1 pood
12 Pull-ups

I’ve been kind of looking forward to the day I’d meet Helen. I may be out of shape, but even so, running is something that feels like an old friend. Sometimes, it feels like an old friend that I want to punch in the eye (I would never punch a friend in the eye!), but an old friend, regardless. I know how to do it (run, that is). I know how my body feels and responds to different levels of intensity while running, and I’m pretty good at managing my pace and noting my body’s cues. That’s pretty much unlike everything else in Crossfit, where everything is new to me and nothing feels second-nature.

I also kind of like kettlebell swings. I thought I hated kettlebell swings before I joined Crossfit. At my regular gym last year, I took advantage of a free session with a trainer, and she set me up with a strength routine that included kettlebell swings. The form was completely different than they taught me at Crossfit (really, I don’t think that trainer gave me any form cues at all – I just made it up from what I’d seen on The Biggest Loser, and she didn’t correct me), and the move always hurt my back and made me feel nauseous. I quit doing them after a month or so, until I joined Crossfit.

Once I got some proper coaching at Crossfit, kettlebell swings felt good! I had been swinging the bell down near the ground, bending completely over, swinging it way behind me with my hands down at shin level, and yanking it back up with my arms. So, yeah… that’s not the way to do them. I had no idea that kettlebell swings are more of a hip movement than an arm movement. When I took the focus off of my arms and put it to my hips, the kettlebell just glided, and the weird strain in my back was gone. It seems that the hips make all the difference. Never underestimate the power of good coaching.

The last component of Helen is pull ups, and while I still can’t even do one assisted, I can do ring pull ups. So that was my plan.

I headed to the gym in my running shoes instead of my Nanos, since there wasn’t a strength component today and, well, running. It was chilly outside, but the sun was out, so the temperature wasn’t too bad once we had warmed up. My goal was to finish the workout in under 20 minutes, using the blue kettlebell (18#) and the rings for pull ups. I knew I’d be taking up the anchor, because I have to run really slow in order to keep running at all, but I was confident that I could manage my pace and not meet pukie.

The first round went well (except that in my head, I thought we were doing 29 kettlebell swings… hey, I was far away from the whiteboard and my eyesight is atrocious! And obviously my short term memory is like a steel trap *not*). I broke the kb swings into two sets, 14 and 15, and did the first round of pull ups unbroken.

The second round taught me that I should’ve been a little more conservative in my first round strategy, and I had to walk 20 feet or so to catch my breath during the run. It sure will be nice to get my lungs back, someday. I did the same split for the kb swings, and broke the pull ups into 3 sets of 4.

That worked much better, as I felt pretty darn good for the last run and didn’t have to walk. Most of the class was done with the workout by the time I got back for my last sets of kettlebell swings and pull ups, and someone shouted out, “You can do it! 3 sets of 7!” Wait, what? Awww man. It was supposed to be 21 kb swings, not 29. But, woohooo!!! That’s way fewer kb swings! Those went well (maybe I could have gone a little heavier?), and I did the pull ups 3×4 again. Yowza, those last couple pull ups were ouchie.

I finished my modified Helen in 19:04. That puts me somewhere in the bottom 10% of all women, but at least I’m on the list!

I have a long way to go, but I can definitely count on lots of fun new things to learn, and lots of new personal bests to be achieved. And maybe someday Helen will be my BFF.

Photo credit: Image Editor

What a Wonderful World by George

Think It, Be It

Every now and then, something comes along in life that reminds me of the power of visualization.

While I was fighting off The Sickness last week, I spent a lot of time watching Crossfit videos, particularly on basic skills like squats and cleans. I watched the videos over and over, trying to memorize the proper techniques. I spent much of the week in bed, but my brain was doing a lot of thinking about Crossfit.

Then came my return to the gym. I expected to lose what little strength I’d gained, but to my surprise, I was able to clean 5# heavier, and quite a bit easier than 2 weeks prior. What changed? I was still under the weather and hadn’t worked out in nearly 2 weeks, but found the whole process of doing cleans to be much easier.

I think my improvement could in part be attributed to all the thinking I had done on proper technique and cleans.

Now, I do believe there is a fru-fru, coo-coo line when it comes to affecting the physical world with positive thinking. It’s certainly not magic, and thinking things into being takes a whole lot of work and not just flowery thoughts. But I do believe that there can be strong mind-body ties, and I do believe that there’s really no downside to positive thinking.

My experience at the gym yesterday sent me on a google hunt for articles on positive thinking and sports. What do you know – the first article I read cited studies done with weightlifters. Psychology Today had this to say:

A study looking at brain patterns in weightlifters found that the patterns activated when a weightlifter lifted hundreds of pounds were similarly activated when they only imagined lifting.  In some cases, research has revealed that mental practices are almost effective as true physical practice, and that doing both is more effective than either alone.

That sounds exactly like what I experienced, in that the movements came more easily to me, as if I’d been practicing them. But the only practice I had done was in my head!

The New York Times ran an article earlier this year on Olympians using imagery as mental training. They preferred the term “imagery” to “visualization,” as it implied invoking more senses, thereby making the visualization more effective. Rookie athletes described feeling more prepared for their events through practicing imagery, and the imagery process was described as “reassuring and empowering.”

I suppose this is why I look up each WOD the night before I go to the gym. It gives me a chance to envision how I will approach the workout and prepare by looking up and studying any unfamiliar moves. I think about how I will complete the workout, and that definitely feels reassuring and empowering.

What a Wonderful World by GeorgeCall it what you want, but the evidence is strong: think it, be it!

Photo credit: George

road with sign that says 70

The Sickness and Hitting 70

What’s worse than fearing losing your first bit of Crossfit momentum due to travel away from the gym? Spending 10 days post-travel nearly bedridden with The Sickness (and thus banned from the gym).

A day after arriving home from Thanksgiving travel, I came down with the plague. It was just a cold, but one of the worst colds I can remember. Aches, pains, fever, exhaustion, and congestion that still hasn’t completely resolved (it’s day 12!) – it was pretty awful.

For a full week, it took all of my energy to survive work. (Bad week to have The Sickness… couldn’t call in sick). No workouts. As I shook off the zombie state, I did little things around the house, but nothing that could be considered a workout.

To say I was concerned about going back to the gym would be an understatement. I feared having to start over from square one. I barely had 3 weeks of Crossfit under my belt; to go away for 2 weeks seemed like it would doom me.

I returned to Crossfit yesterday, and I overheard a couple people (including the coach) say that it was one of the “easier” workouts. All of the names on the whiteboard from the earlier morning WODs have lovely goose eggs for their scores. Of course, it pretty well slayed me.

WOD: On the minute for 20 minutes

Minute 1 – 15/12 Calorie Row

Minute 2 – 15 Abmat Situps

Minute 3 – 15 Good Mornings (45/35)

Minute 4 – :45second Plank Hold

*Score is rounds missed*

I managed to barely sneak by the first round. Zero points, wheee!

In round 2, I realized there was no way I’d make the rowing distance. I definitely don’t feel like I’m competing against anybody but myself at this point, but to give a frame of reference, the girl next to me was finishing her 12 calorie row as I was hitting 4 calories. FOUR. In the warmup, it took me about 1:15 to do a 12 calorie row.

Because I took so long on the rower, my transition to the abmat situps ate up half of that minute, so I didn’t get all of those in. By round 3, it wouldn’t have mattered how long I had, because my abs were shot and I couldn’t manage more than 8 or 9 situps.

I was looking forward to the good mornings, as I like the strength stuff. The coach asked if I wanted to grab a training bar instead of the 35# barbell, just in case. I almost did, but decided against it. I felt like I was strong enough for the good mornings, and I did manage to finish all 5 rounds of those in time.

The only problem I had with the good mornings was that no matter what I did, the bar wanted to roll up my neck. The coach gave me tips and said my form was correct, but the bar kept rolling. As I thought about it later, I realized I have a similar neck issue in sewing. Sewing is one of my hobbies, and I always have trouble with necklines gaping at the back of my neck. In my sewing research, that typically happens with the elderly when they form a hunch back, but I don’t have a hunch back. The more I thought about this, the more I realized that this is probably related to something I was treated for at my chiropractor in Chicago. After 3 months of 3x/week treatments, I stopped going because I was moving to Virginia, and I didn’t really feel like it was helping me, so I haven’t gone since.

But they used to have me sit at a special chair with my neck hanging off the back of the chair. They’d hang weights off my forehead and I’d sit there for a while. After yesterday’s WOD, I did some googling that refreshed my memory on why I had to sit in that weird chair. It was because I’ve lost most of the curve in my neck. Now I remember! I didn’t (and still don’t) have any neck pain, but I wonder if the lack of curve in my neck results in less delineation between my neck and shoulders, making it harder to keep the bar back on my shoulder and off of my neck. Something like that?

Now, I have to be careful who I tell that yesterday’s good mornings gave me a hickie on the back of my neck. #crossfitproblems But man, it’s pretty bruised up.

Back to the workout: for rounds 3-5, I was close-but-not-quite on the 45 second plank holds. I’m pretty proud of myself for holding the first couple that long, because at home (where it’s easier to give up!) I can barely hold them for 20 seconds. By the end of the WOD, though, I was just out of gas and out of stamina and breathing so heavy that I just couldn’t hold on any longer.

My score ended up being 13 missed rounds – at least that’s what I reported. When I went back and thought about the whole workout, my score really should have been 11 missed rounds, but oh well. I’m sure I set the record for worst of the day either way! And that’s fine with me, because I showed up and I did the work, even with The Sickness hanging on.

Hooray for 70

The strength part of the day was my highlight. Before I left on my Thanksgiving trip, I had done a strength workout that saw me clean 65#. I was able to do 3 reps (kind of… really ugly, barely managed reps). I had a chance to revisit cleans in Tuesday’s strength workout. Unfortunately, I misunderstood how the workout was supposed to go, so I may have limited my results a little bit, but I’m still happy with the outcome.

We had 10 minutes to work up to a heavy clean. (Well, I think the rest of the class was doing clean and jerks, but I’m not there yet). We set up all of the weights we’d need and got to it. I took the workout to mean, do a few reps of each and then move up in weight. I started at 25#, then 35#, then 45#, 55#, and 65#. I had mentally figured I would stop there, but once I cleaned 65#, the coach said, “That looked easy! Try 70!”

I’m not going to lie… every time Coach Lauren suggests I try more weight, I’m doing this in my head:

Lemur

 

However, she’s been right every time so far. I cleaned 70# and while it was definitely heavy, it wasn’t a struggle. For this, I was hugely excited, because after nearly 2 weeks off, I expected to do much worse than my last strength workout – not better!

Where I misunderstood the workout was in the reps. It was supposed to be one-and-done at each weight. Had I gone that route, I would have had enough time to try a few more pounds, but as it was, I was out of time. 70# would have to be it.

And seventy is fine with me! Do cleans have a 1 rep max? If so, I suppose this is my new 1 rep max!

Tomorrow’s workout will be my first named girl, assuming I survive (and I might not…). Helen is up on the board. If you never hear from me again, you know why!

Lemur image source: Tambako the Jaguar

70 image source: Matthias Ripp

Reebok Nano 4

Working Out on the Road

This past week, I traveled to Chicago to visit family for Thanksgiving. With only one full “real” week of Crossfit under my belt (and 2 additional weeks ramping up), I was not happy to spend a week away from my gym. I’m still working on building healthy habits around Crossfit, and a break in the routine before it was even an established routine made me nervous.

I had several offers from Chicagoland friends to visit their Crossfit boxes. I’m not even fully comfortable working out at my own box yet due to the extreme scaling I have to do to (barely) keep up, so while I kept those options open, I never got the courage to go through with it. I didn’t want to take a week off, though, so I looked into some travel WODs. It turned out to be very easy to program an in-room workout that will hopefully keep me ready for Crossfit next week.

It is probably much easier to come up with a suitable bodyweight workout when you’re as low on the strength and fitness totem pole as I am. Since I’m still terrible at push ups and sit ups, those made for likely in-room workout components. Add in squats (which I’m not good at!) and there’s a nice little travel WOD.

I did 5 rounds for time of:
10 push ups
10 sit ups
10 air squats

10:30. I was sore the next day, so I’m calling it a good travel WOD – at least until I build up some strength. Here are some more travel WOD ideas: http://www.noexcusescrossfit.com/2009/12/02/travel-wods/

I did a variation on that workout at home today, substituting a 20 second plank for the sit ups. I fear I’m coming down with the airplane plague, but if Zicam can help me out, I’ll repeat the workout tomorrow, and head back to Crossfit on Tuesday.

In the meantime, I’m awaiting the arrival of a couple new workout gadgets that will hopefully help get me up to speed a bit faster. Let me backtrack a bit… one thing that has showed up a few times in my brief Crossfit career is pull ups. I have never even been able to hang from a pull up bar, let alone do an actual pull up – ever. I don’t think the coach believed me when I said that, but wouldn’t you know – my mom dug up this gem over Thanksgiving. It’s a physical fitness report from gym class my senior year in high school, 1992.

Physical fitness report, senior year of high school, 1992

Physical fitness report, senior year of high school, 1992

I am not kidding! I couldn’t even hang from the bar.

Coach Lauren at Crossfit said that she suspected it was as much a lack of grip strength as anything else, which is probably right. I bought a pair of grip gloves and am awaiting the arrival of a home pull up bar. I went with the Perfect Multi Gym pull up bar after watching several reviews stating that it does less damage to the door frame than its more popular competitor, the Iron Gym pull up bar. Lastly, I ordered some pull up assistance bands, because – like I said – I can’t even hang from the bar, let alone do a pull up! I may need to add a pair of gymnastics rings and do ring pull ups from the bar until I can use the bar, but I’m hoping that with the assistance bands, I’ll be able to start there.

The plan is to work on building up some of my weaknesses at home so that I can bring those improvements to the gym. I also ordered the book Becoming a Supple Leopard. I may be too early in my Crossfit career to benefit from it, but I’m hoping that I can incorporate some of its advice now, and re-read it a year from now and absorb more.

On the shopping front, I also lucked out and scored a half price pair of Nano 4 shoes. I had bought a pair of Nano 3’s in my usual running shoe size (9), and they’re just a tiny bit too small. They’re wearable, but occasionally my right toes hit the front of the shoe. This Reebok Nano 4 sale was only on size 9.5, but that was perfect for me! So I’m good to go in the shoe department.

Here’s to a triumphant return to the gym next week – or at least a return without losing any ground!

Chicken 9912571746_85d61568e8_o

The Day I Wasn’t Scared

Today was my 8th Crossfit class – my second full class after my freebie trial class and my gym’s 5 on-ramp PEAK intro classes. It was the first class I’ve attended that didn’t require me to fight fear on the way in the door.

Last night, I checked the gym’s web site to see what was in store for me today. (The prescribed workout is, of course, NOT what’s in store for me, because everything has to be uber-scaled down to my fitness level, but it gives me a ballpark idea at least). The workout said:

Tuesday, November 18th

Strength

Snatch Complex: Full Snatch + Hang Snatch +2 Overhead Squats (Heaviest Possible)

3xMax Effort Windshield Wipers OR Max Effort L Holds from the Rig

 

Workout

For Time

15 Snatches 115/75

20 Burpees

5 Muscle Ups (10 pullups+10 dips)

20 Burpees

15 Snatches

Next step: google the heck out of this foreign language.

I figured the newbies (including myself) would not be doing snatches, as we haven’t learned them yet. The only overhead thing we’ve done so far is the push press. So I guessed those would be cleans. For the burpees, I figured I’d be doing wall push ups, as I’m still nursing a little bit of a left tricep thing. (It’s so close to being back to normal. I expect to be good to go by the end of the month). For the pull ups, I’d be doing ring pull ups. So, alrighty then. That sounds doable.

I’ve been listening to some podcasts (including Girls Gone WOD) and reading a lot, and there seem to be two camps of people: those who check the WOD in advance, and those who don’t. The motivation not to check seems to be to avoid the temptation to skip an undesirable workout. At this point, my primary reason for checking the WOD ahead of time is to give me a chance to google everything so I don’t walk in to the gym completely clueless. WODs are still written in a foreign language to me. I go through the equivalent of sounding out each word and looking up the definitions. So, looking up a WOD ahead of time is a step of preparation for me. I can see myself groaning at something I don’t particularly like, but I can’t really see myself cherry-picking workouts. For one thing, my schedule doesn’t really allow it. And, no matter what the workout prescribes, I’d still rather be curled up in bed. Sorry. I may come to fall in love with Crossfit as a form of exercise, but no form of exercise is ever going to beat sleeping in terms of the battle for my affections. I recognize the many benefits of working out, so I do it, but, yeah. Sleep for the win. So if I have to work out, I might as well just do whatever is on the whiteboard, because it’s all second fiddle to sleeping anyway.

Man, I love sleep. I will never be that person whose workout recovery suffers for lack of sleep. I am a champion at sleeping. 9 hour sleeper here, w00t w00t!

I digress. After I translated the WOD, I went to bed, slept (aww yeah), got up, put on my hot pants, and went to Crossfit – and somewhere along the way forgot to be totally scared. I think there are a few reasons why I wasn’t scared today (and why it took almost 3 weeks to become comfortable with walking in the door). Being able to envision what the WOD means for me is a huge leap in mental preparation. I’m one of those people that plays through all conceivable scenarios of everything before I make decisions and act. Just ask anyone that has suffered through me mentally tasting every item on a restaurant menu before I decide what to order. Having a clear mental image of the WOD makes me feel ready for it. Also, nearly 3 weeks into my Crossfit journey, my body has started to adjust at least to the idea of being active. I’m still a little bit sore most of the time, but it’s a lot better than being completely sore all of the time. And while I know that every workout will make something hurt, it’s not really any different than training to run a race. You just get used to feeling a little banged up for the greater good. I know it’ll be like this for a while. Once I get 20 pounds or so off of me, it won’t be nearly as bad.

I’m also now confident that even though I only know 1 person at Crossfit, everybody there is friendly and supportive. Let’s be honest – I’m not a social butterfly anyway, and while I do look forward to getting to know the other gym members better, I’m totally fine with being a fly on the wall and just interacting with the occasional “Good job!” or high five. Half of the time, I’m still staring at these amazing athletes with my jaw on the floor. These amazing people are doing amazing things all around me, and they still take the time to cheer me on. It’s hard to be a scaredy cat in an environment like that.

I think a lot of the intimidation factor of Crossfit has waned for me now that I believe that it really is scaleable. That said, I’m still too chicken to do a drop-in class next week while I’m traveling in Chicago for the Thanksgiving holiday… partly because I have yet to believe that all gyms are as friendly and supportive as mine, and partly because I don’t want to put the responsibility of uber-scaling and newbie-teaching onto whatever poor coach I would happen to stumble upon. There are several new people in my class at Rocktown, so the scaling and extra instruction is happening for a few of us – not just me. That makes it a whole lot more comfortable than being the lone n00b.

I made it to class this morning and during the strength portion of the workout, we were working to find the heaviest weight we could handle to complete a snatch complex (or cleans, for the newbies like me). 1 power clean, 1 hang clean, and 2 front squats. Coach Lauren suggested we start low and work our way up, as we would spend 20 minutes working the strength portion of the workout. Last week, I had done the WOD with the training bar + 10# (25#), and after that workout, Lauren said she thought it looked like I could’ve gone a little heavier, and I thought so too. So after today’s warm-up, I started out with the women’s bar (35#). That was fine. I added 5# to each side. Still fine. My friend Sabrena was working out behind me, and I told her I felt like I might be able to go up one more time on weight, but after that, I was probably toast. I’m so glad she lets me bounce Crossfit thoughts off of her, because she’s been at it for more than two years, and has great advice.

I switched the 5# plates for 10# plates, which put me at 55#, and for the first time thought, “Alrighty! That’s heavy!” Lauren watched me do a couple sets, and said, “Let’s put five more on there.” I think I said, “Five what?” somewhat shocked at the notion of trying anything heavier. She replied, “Five on each side! You can do it. Your cleans look good! I wouldn’t suggest it if I didn’t think you were ready.”

Well, hot damn and holy shit, all at once.

Attempt #1 at 65#… success! But ohmygod I could barely do the front squats. I set the bar down (I’m really hesitant to drop it… I don’t want to make noise! It’s so… harsh!) and shook everything out. On my second attempt, the hang clean was ugly ugly ugly. I managed the set, but I know it was ugly. Lauren said it’s because I was too slow on the hang clean and not explosive enough. I’m finding that my slow, deliberate, careful movements (culled over years of doing yoga type workouts) are definitely hindering my Crossfit moves. I should probably keep the careful, deliberate part – but the “slow” part really needs to go. On a third attempt, I couldn’t get the hang clean. On a fourth attempt, I got both cleans, but had nothing left for the squats. So, 2 complete sets and a couple partials. I don’t think I could have completed a full set any heavier, so I suppose I accomplished what I had set out to do.

Crossfit 65lb clean

Cleaning in my hot pants… ha!

Does that mean my power clean and hang clean PRs are now 65#? heh :) I read somewhere that any athlete putting in a decent effort should be able to PR practically every time they set foot in the gym for the first 2 years. I suspect that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I also suspect that just like running, my first year will indeed hit a whole lot of PRs. I look forward to that. Seeing progress is fun.

I did the WOD with 45#, cleans instead of snatches, wall push ups instead of burpees, and ring pull ups/bench dips instead of muscle ups.

Time: 9:19.

As I collected myself in a pool of jello on the floor afterward, I got to watch one of the gym’s rock stars finish up what had to be close to if not an Rx WOD. Beast mode. Strong girls kick ass.

And that’s how my first class as a former scaredy cat ended. No more chicken bok bok for me. Bring it.

Photo credit, chicken image: Karen Jackson

Workout Log

The Log Bog

One aspect of Crossfit that very much appeals to me is fitness tracking. Crossfit was one of the first programs to clearly define “fitness” in a meaningful and measurable way – the degree to which a person can exhibit an “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains,” (source). But what does that mean, and how can I make sure that I’m accurately measuring, assessing, and improving my own personal fitness?

The definition of “work capacity” summons flashbacks to high school physics class *shudder**hashtag**ohpleasemakeitstop*. To practice getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, let’s examine the concept of work as it applies to Crossfit.

In the physics world, physical work (W) equals force (F) times distance (D). Power (P), then, is the amount of work done divided by the time (t) it takes to do that work.

P = (F x D) ÷ t

Your average Power illustrates your work capacity, and your fitness is your ability to demonstrate increased work capacity in as many domains as possible. What is a domain? For the purposes of Crossfit, domains are just a large variety of activities. Vigilante Crossfit describes domains as “sprinting, running a marathon, maximum weight squat, maximum number of body weight squats in 5 minutes, throwing a ball, shoveling dirt, riding a bike, swimming….” You get the idea. Domains are activities you encounter in your day-to-day life, be it through sports or everyday actions.

This is all to say that the most fit person is someone that can capably perform a wide range of activities, over short or long periods of time, at a variety of intensities. It’s the notion that you are ready and able to take on whatever life happens to throw at you.

Sounds great, right? But let’s be honest. I’m sure as heck not going to sit around after every workout tinkering with equations to figure out if my power is increasing. Luckily, there are apps to take care of that kind of number crunching, if you’re interested. Or, for the mere mortals amongst us, a basic workout log may be plenty to demonstrate improvement and facilitate goal setting and achievement tracking.

I enjoy tracking stats. I use a Garmin Forerunner GPS watch when I run to track my distance, pace, cadence, and heart rate. I use a Garmin Swim watch in the pool to track my strokes, laps, and times. I wear a FitBit to count my daily steps. I keep spreadsheets full of running race data and personal records. I track what I eat, and track what I weigh. I track body composition and measurements. I like having numbers to illustrate my progress. While no single number means everything, good sets of data can tell you a lot about yourself.

Unfortunately for my love of numbers and gadgets, there’s no magic device to track my Crossfit progress. I can’t just clip on a bit or slap on a watch. So, where will I get my numbers? How will I know I’m on the right track?

My first instinct was to find an app that I could use to track my WODs (workouts of the day) and personal records (max weights, reps, etc). There are quite a few iPhone and Android apps out there for logging WODs. I found this article on the top 10 Crossfit apps, and tried a few. I found the process of inputting WODs to be cumbersome at best, partly because my gym does not post their WODs in an RSS format that these apps can automatically import. Hand-typing WOD details while still shaky and sweaty from an intense workout resulted in a lot of wasted time yelling at Siri and her awful autocorrects.

I started researching WOD log books – the old pen-and-paper kind. Stone age, right? I searched Amazon and read a bunch of forum posts and wasn’t really thrilled by the results. One name did pop up over and over – the Sport Journals WODBook. It sounded pretty great, so I ordered the Beginner version and received a confirmation email that it would ship out via priority mail next-business day. The communication was fairly awful and non-specific, and it took over a week for my WODBook to arrive, but I was still very much looking forward to receiving it. The front of the book is jam-packed with instruction on the most common Crossfit movements and workouts. It’s got some great reference materials for beginners. The back portion of the book is the daily workout log, and… womp womp. It’s essentially just blank space to write stuff. There are sleep and nutrition prompts, but nothing to simplify the logging of actual workouts.

Sport Journals WODBook

Sport Journals WODBook

Bummer, indeed! I was disappointed. I expected the log portion of the book to be specifically geared toward WODs. It is, after all, called a “WODBook.” Alas, this was not to be the log book of my dreams.

Next, I started searching for spreadsheets and printable logs. There are quite a few out there, many of which look really good. Crossfit KOP in King of Prussia, PA has a nice Crossfit progress log (link to PDF). There are quite a few people out there sharing their own spreadsheet creations, like Jason’s Crossfit PR log and Al’s Crossfit WOD log. WOD@Home has a nice log as well, but none were exactly what I was looking for. Close, but not quite.

So, I made my own. It is bare-bones, but has the inputs laid out the way I want them. I added a %-of-max chart and list of named WODs in the back, and sent it off to Staples to be printed in a spiral bound notebook. It’s bigger than I’d like (8 1/2 x 11″ letter sized… I would prefer a smaller 5×8 book, but that wasn’t something I could easily order from Staples online), but at $9 (52 log pages, plus 5 pages of %-max and WOD charts, plus vinyl front and back covers), I think it will do. I’ll post an update when I get the actual book in my hands to report how it’s working.

WOD Log, epicorganic.net style

WOD Log, epicorganic.net style

There’s a big downside to pen-and-paper logging, though: the difficulties in searching through the data. For example, when a throwback workout shows up on the whiteboard, searching through a log book to find the last time I completed that workout will be a pain. One of the benefits of logging is that data becomes comparable, and you can look back at past workouts and compare them to present to note improvements. Paper log books are just not good for quick data recall.

To account for that, I would need some sort of digital input. I prefer apps that are attached to a web site, so that I can enter data from my desktop or from my mobile device. In that arena, there aren’t too many Crossfit apps to choose from. The biggest name out there appears to be Beyond the Whiteboard. It has a nice data input interface and also does some great data analysis (including calculations of Power and comparisons of your fitness scores to the thousands of users of the site). The downside: it is not free. It costs $5/month or $50/year to subscribe to Beyond the Whiteboard. On the upside, it does offer a free 30 day trial. You have to input payment information to register, but if you cancel before the month is up (and the registration page tells you exactly what day that will be), you won’t be charged.

I decided to try Beyond the Whiteboard. I will use my pen-and-paper WOD log book at the gym to scribble down my workouts, and once a week or so when it’s convenient, I will enter them into Beyond the Whiteboard via the app or the web site. I’ve entered my first few workouts via the web site, and I do like the interface. I’ve got the 30-day deadline on my calendar, in case I decide to cancel the subscription when the free trial runs out, but so far, I like it. I just wish my gym posted WODs in a way that worked with these apps. (They do post each WOD the night before, but it’s in a standard blog post, so the RSS feed contains the full text of the post and not just the WOD).

And so goes my experiences in figuring out the best way for me to log my Crossfit workouts and PRs. What’s your approach to logging workouts? Favorite apps or log books? Please share!

Photo credit, workout log notebook: Angela

Owl Box Jumps - photo credit Bill Gracey

Doggone Fox Humps

The mind is a funny thing.

When I was a little kid, I was sent home from gym class with orders to learn how to skip. That’s right – I couldn’t skip. (Seriously, Mom?!?) I’m sure this was one of many things I couldn’t do. Gym class was always my nemesis. I couldn’t run fast or far. I couldn’t do pullups. I couldn’t reach my toes while sitting with that stupid ruler-box at my feet. Name a gym class benchmark, and I couldn’t do it. The only thing I had going for me was that people liked me enough that I was never picked last for teams – but it certainly wasn’t because I was a performance asset.

The past couple years, as I’ve gazed longingly but from afar at Crossfit, one thought has never left me: I will never do box jumps. Ever. As in, never ever. Never ever ever. Why? Because I won’t. I don’t jump. I won’t jump. I just won’t.

I’m sure there’s some traumatic childhood gym class nightmare I’ve suppressed, but whatever the reason – I don’t like jumping. It scares me. I did a Warrior Dash obstacle course race in 2011, and the photographer caught me jumping down from a box contraption. All of the people around me are smiling and having fun. I’m trying to smile, but I may as well have been jumping off a cliff – that’s what it felt like in my head. I was NOT having fun at that moment.

Me jumping down from a box at the 2011 Warrior Dash

Me jumping down from a box at the 2011 Warrior Dash

Go on and laugh. Is that box even 2 feet high? I hate to over-use the word “terrified,” but, I was! It’s funny, but it’s a very real fear for me.

That night that my friend Sabrena convinced me to try Crossfit, I reiterated my position on box jumps. “If anyone makes me do a box jump, I swear, I will walk right out the door and never come back. I will not do box jumps.” Sabrena assured me that nobody at Rocktown Crossfit would ever make me do anything I wasn’t comfortable with. She explained that there were modifications – step ups onto boxes, jumps onto weight plates, step ups onto weight plates… “OK, maybe I will step up on some things. But I will not do box jumps.”

Today, I attended my first “real” Crossfit class as a member of Rocktown. I completed my series of on-ramp “PEAK” classes (Preparation, Execution, Adaptation, Knowledge) and graduated to Crossfit. I got myself in the door for the 9am class, and behold, the whiteboard:

First WOD Box Jumps

Are ya kidding me, universe? Really?

Cruel, evil world.

But then, something weird happened. No, I didn’t suddenly want to do box jumps. But I did suddenly want very much NOT to be the person that didn’t want to do box jumps. There was still no way I was going to jump on a box… not yet, anyway. (Did I really just say that?) But maybe I would jump on something. I explained my predicament to Coach Lauren, and she set me up with a stack of 2 45# weights. She said, “Try that, and if it’s too much, we can try just one.”

I jumped up like a flailing banshee, and stood there in shock. Holy #&$*. I jumped on something.

We tried a few more times and Lauren showed me where I should be aiming to land, and how to use my momentum to go up instead of forward. I agreed to try the plate jumps in the workout.

When it came time to rock the WOD, me and those plates had some words, mostly in the moments just prior to a jump, when my brain was over-thinking it. By the third set, though, I kind of got a feel for it, and while there’s no way I’m ready to jump any higher, I was able to string a few jumps together without stopping to convince myself that it was OK to jump.

I jumped on things! Who am I?!

What a crazy day! The mind is a funny thing.

Owl photo credit: Bill Gracey – https://flic.kr/p/eSY9x3

My First WOD

My First Crossfit Class: Just Walk In the Door

As promised, I tried my first Crossfit class on October 30, 2014. I woke up with nervous jitters at 7:30am and despite my best efforts, could not stop obsessing over all of the ways I was about to fail and mortify myself. The devil on my shoulder said I deserved mortification, because nobody should be allowed to pack on 50 pounds in 2 years and fly with the angels. Luckily, I’m pretty good at swatting that devil away, but I still couldn’t shake the fear. I mean, I had done my research and was confident in my ability to approach Crossfit in a safe, healthy way – but what if the horror stories were true? I spent an hour getting ready and mapping out different scenarios in my head, and eventually decided I was just going to have to be observant, ask questions, listen to my body, and go with my gut.

I pulled up to the gym at 8:50am, just as my friend texted to say she was inside waiting for me. My instinct was to flee, but not because of Crossfit – more because Crossfit was about to make me face what I’d done to myself the past 2 years. It took sheer force of will to put one foot in front of the other, and as I approached the building, all I could think was, “Just walk in the door. Walk. In. The door.”

So I did – I walked in. My friend greeted me and introduced me to the coach and owner. I signed a waiver that said something along the lines of, if I died, it was all on me, and we got started.

To be quite honest, most of the hour that followed is a blur. I did some active stretching with the class, and then the coach set me up with some rowing and body weight exercises while the class warmed up and did strength work. I did 10 squats and 10 pushups and got advice on form, and then was tasked with doing 2 rounds of a 10 calorie row, a 20 second plank, and 20 butterfly situps. By the time the actual workout of the day began, I was a puddle of Jello (yes, just from squats, pushups, rowing, planks, and situps). I had to focus so hard on my own tasks at hand that I don’t even know what the rest of the class was doing. There were lots of barbells crashing. The few times I glanced up, all I could think was, “Holy shit. That looks hard.” I couldn’t even finish my last set of situps. How was I ever going to lift weights? And this was just the warm-up!

My own personal WOD was to complete 2 rounds of a 20 calorie row, 20 squats, and 20 pushups, with the caveat that if I needed to scale back, I could cut the reps of round #2 in half. I finished my first round, and I knew I’d never finish a second round of pushups, but I felt confident that my lower half was still good to go. I set out to do 10 more of each. The pushups were as brutal as I expected. I have zero upper body and core strength. Even from my knees, the pushups were killing me. By this time, the rest of the class was finished with their workouts. My friend (bless her heart and her triceps) got down on the floor to crank out the pushups with me (after she had already completed her own grueling workout), and the class cheered me on. It took 6 attempts to finish the last 4 pushups; my arms gave out beneath me, twice. The devil on my shoulder said, “Look at that tubby whale sprawled all over the floor!” But I gritted through the last couple, peeled myself off the floor, and accepted some handshakes and congrats. What a kind and selfless group of people! My body was a wreck, but my heart was full of appreciation and hope.

I did it. I survived my first Crossfit class. I’m not going to lie; I overdid it a bit. I was nauseous and shaky for a bit (probably because I had skipped breakfast to avoid the horrible puking scenarios I had imagined), and as I recovered from the experience, my left tricep was a bit more than sore. It reinforced to me the importance of listening to my body. Going from the couch to Crossfit (quite literally) was not going to be easy, and it was first and foremost my responsibility to do it safely. Sure, I would rely on my coaches for guidance, but at the end of the day, I’m in charge of my own body.

I’m going into Crossfit with a few years of distance running experience in the bank. I’ve pushed myself too hard on occasion, and I know pretty well where my limits are. I can usually tell the difference between injury-pain and garden variety soreness. I’ve had those days where I’m 2 miles into a 4 mile loop in 95 degree weather, starting to see stars from dehydration and near heat exhaustion (shhh, don’t tell my mom!). I’ve always been able to slow down or stop, rest, do whatever it takes to remain safe out there. Crossfit’s community aspect makes it a bit of a different animal. I was almost always a solo runner – so when I took a walk break or stopped to rest while running, I was the only witness. To slow down or rest at Crossfit is to do so in front of people who may very well be cheering me on to keep going. I see pros and cons here. While the community aspect will definitely provide support when I need it, I can also see how easy it would be to make a bad personal decision and push beyond my limits so as not to let the group down. I hate to disappoint people. I’m going to have to be very conscious and careful as I go forward – which is advice I should probably give myself in all arenas of life.

My friend grabbed a selfie with me to commemorate the day. I signed up for the on-ramp classes (a set of 5-6 introductory classes required before I would be allowed to join a regular Crossfit class) and snapped my first whiteboard photo. I survived my first Crossfit class, and would soon be back for more.

Kettlebells

The Day I Decided to Try Crossfit

It was late one chilly Monday afternoon. October 27, 2014, to be precise. Three colleagues of mine had planned a late birthday celebration dinner for yours truly, who had turned the big 4-0 six days prior. Italian food – oh, glorious breadsticks and mozzarella and alfredo dipping sauce and pesto pasta… I had just finished telling 2 of my friends that no, I would not be joining them at the gym that evening, as I had decided that I was going to be chubby until the new year. That’s all. No big deal. Pass the breadsticks, please!

Speaking of the gym, I turned to friend #3 and asked how Crossfit was going. She said something like, “It’s great. You should come try it!” We’d had similar conversations before. I would ask a few questions. She would offer a few enthusiastic answers. Then, I would scurry off and ponder for a few more months. “Yeah, maybe… I’m thinking about it,” I replied.

“Come try it. Tomorrow!”

[insert sound of needle scratching across the record here… and if you don’t know what a record is, go look it up, because I’m 40 and, reasons!]

My friend contacted the coach, and we settled on Thursday – 3 days from that fateful, delicious meal. In 3 days, I would try Crossfit.


In all honesty, I thought about trying Crossfit for over a year, probably closer to two. There were (and are) many things to consider. There was also a lot of hype to wade through – a lot of good information, but a lot of misinformation, too. There were logistics and budgets to consider, and pros and cons to weigh. There were also some stereotypes and mental hurdles to get over – all before I could even walk in the door.

One of the highest concerns on my list was cost. A month-to-month membership to a Crossfit gym* in my area costs $120/month, which is not only a significant monthly fee, but is even more unwieldy when I hoped to also continue membership at my traditional gym/wellness center (with its own monthly fee). If I couldn’t swing the cost, all other concerns were moot. I can’t say that I’ve quite figured out the cost piece just yet, but when I looked at just how ridiculously careless I was being with my health (at an age where any minute now, I could find myself in a doctor’s office learning that it’s too late to prevent one of the myriad of diseases being overweight and inactive might afford me), it was clear to me that I had to find a way to carry the financial burden. The risks to my health and livelihood were just too great.

Another reason I wanted to find a way to overcome the cost factor was that I have so many friends that enjoy Crossfit, and seeing their accomplishments on Facebook was terribly motivating. Of course, most of the time, I thought to myself, “I could never do that!” but occasionally, I found myself thinking, “I wish I could do that!” I have never been a gym rat. When I got into running, most people that knew me were shocked. One of my life mottos used to be (literally, I kid you not), “Running is a means of escape! (and that’s it!)” I’ve never been naturally athletic, and I wasn’t a great runner – but I put in the work and met milestones I never could have imagined. One thing I always enjoyed in the gym but never explored in depth was strength training. I made a few failed starts at putting together my own strength circuits over the years, but without someone to tell me what and how much to do, I never saw results and never stuck with it. Crossfit comes with coaches, though, and the foundational concept of scaling workouts intrigued me. It also plays well with my love of tracking numbers and statistics and PRs.

As I dove into the literature online, I quickly learned that Crossfit is an extremely polarizing topic. People either love it or hate it. It’s the best benchmark of functional fitness on the planet, or it’s going to kill you (not just injure you – kill you!). Personally, I’m a middle-of-the-road kind of gal. Yes, I tend to fall on the liberal side of the fence on most things (politics, finances, ethics, behavior…), but I can’t think of any circumstances where I’d be considered an extremist. So I tend to take extremist accounts of things with a grain of salt, and sift through the rhetoric for evidence-based opinions and facts. When I put my sieve down, I was left with this:

It seems to me that Crossfit, like anything else, can be dangerous. Running can be dangerous. Football can be dangerous. Snowboarding can be dangerous. Hell, Zumba can be dangerous (sequin in the eye! GAH! Kidding… seriously, though, I had to quit my Zumba class last year because the constant changing of direction in the floor moves tweaked my knees like nothing else ever had!). My point is, any activity that gets you up off the couch and out into the world has the potential to be dangerous. How do you minimize those risks? A lot of it is common sense, and applies to any physical activity – listen to your body, understand and accept your limits, learn from trained and experienced coaches and mentors, and study and practice the craft.

If I look at the criticisms of Crossfit through that lens, it’s no more dangerous than running or swimming or biking (to this point, my preferred workout activities), and it’s definitely no more dangerous than waiting around for diabetes to come knocking and kick my ass. This is where I feel like it is important – no, absolutely critical – that you find a Crossfit gym with trained, experienced coaches that respect a common sense approach to the sport. The goal of a workout should not be to puke your guts out upon conclusion and spend the next week in the fetal position – and if that was the approach of my coach, I would walk right back out the door. Intensity deserves respect – and you don’t get stronger from working out. You get stronger from recovering from working out. Part of staying healthy in an intense program like Crossfit seems to be a combination of personal responsibility, and coaches that are interested and observant and know when to push, when to toe the line, and when to back off.

Of course, not every gym will have phenomenal coaches. My research indicates that the requirements to earn a “level 1″ Crossfit trainer certification and open a gym are akin to finding a prize in a Cracker Jack box [damn, is that another old-person analogy?], so, yeah… not all Crossfit gyms will be great. Not all Crossfit gyms will be the right fit for you, great or not. But some will. Just like anything else – there will be good gyms and bad gyms, good trainers and not-so-good trainers. I think anyone considering Crossfit should look into a number of gyms before settling on one – even try out the free first-timer class at a couple gyms to find the right atmosphere and the right coaches. Look into the coaches’ backgrounds. Ask questions. Talk to people. There’s a Crossfit gym in the building where I live, and (don’t call me a creeper) I’ve spied on their workouts a dozen times or more to get a feel for the place. I could tell from day one: it wasn’t the right atmosphere for me. I got similar feedback from friends that had worked out there, so, convenient as it might be, it was not the gym for me.

Atmosphere… that was a big factor for me in deciding to try Crossfit. I don’t want to say that I needed to be handled with kid gloves, but my ego was and still is in pretty rough shape. Two years ago, I was running half marathons at my goal weight, having lost 100 pounds in a year and maintained it for another year. Every day, Facebook friends fed me praise and called me an inspiration. Then, life happened. I moved half way across the country. I started a new job with greater responsibilities. I struggled financially with a house back in Chicago that I couldn’t sell, and renters that decided to stop paying rent. I let myself slip, and I fell off the fitness roadmap and gained 50 pounds back. Of course I noticed that the praise and compliments stopped, and the only thing left to think was that – while I never set out to inspire anybody – I was now a disappointment to all of those people. A let down. A failure – not only to myself and my own goals, but to everyone that looked up to me. It was nobody’s fault but my own, and that was a hard pill to swallow.

The thought of walking into a Crossfit gym full of athletes – real, true athletes – was terrifying. I was overweight. Out of shape. I’d never even heard half of the words these Crossfitters were throwing around to describe their lifts and exercises and workouts, let alone ever done most of these things. I hadn’t touched a barbell since high school (yes, 22+ years ago, for the smart alecks that are counting). I feared judgement. I loathed the thought of dragging everyone else down, making everybody wait for me to finish. I feared failure. I needed to find a welcoming atmosphere – one that would accept me as I was, on credit that I would give it my all and improve every day, if given the chance.


I’m nothing if not good for my word. So, as planned, I showed up to Rocktown Crossfit to meet my friend and try a Crossfit class. I wish I could think of a word more strong than “terrified,” because terrified does not even begin to describe how I felt walking through the front door. As the old saying goes, we should all strive to do one thing every day that scares us, and Crossfit was definitely filling my quota that Thursday.

To be continued….

 

* Yes, I know they’re called “boxes,” and no, I’m not ready to throw around the lingo around just yet. I’m still in my on-ramp Ms. Awkward McAwkwardson phase. Give it time. I’ll be spewing the Kool-Aid soon enough.

Photo credit: John Piekos, Kettlebells https://flic.kr/p/9VFQGG