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

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

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