Mount St Helens by Image Editor

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:


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

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