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Archive for July, 2012|Monthly archive page

Anthos vs CrossFit: A Quick Briefing

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2012 at 8:05 pm

 

There’ s a topic causing a bit of a stir in the CrossFit world, a and I feel the need to update you all on it. I’m still trying to find my bearings on the issue, but here’s a rundown to the best of my understanding:

Greg Glassman (the founder of CrossFit) happens to have a vengeful ex-wife who owns 50% stock of the CrossFit company. She’s currently threatening to sell that share to a venture capital firm called Anthos. If the exchange happens, Anthos will own a controlling share of CrossFit (depending on who you ask– other stories just say 50%, an equal share, but enough to make a difference?). Now, the details are a little shifty because most of the information I’ve read is from the Glassman/CrossFit side of things. But their pitch is that Anthos would like to turn CrossFit into a cookie-cutter franchise type deal, which pimps out their their chosen brands of supplements, etc. Glassman has quoted Brian Kelly (a managing partner of Anthos) as saying: “Every time I go into GNC, you are losing money.” Glassman remarks: “Bryan Kelly sees 4,000 independently owned and operated gyms as 4,000 potential points of sale. The Anthos approach is short-term, rapacious, dishonest, entirely destructive of our culture, and toxic to the affiliates.” (See original post here: http://www.board.crossfit.com/showpost.php?p=1081919&postcount=85)
I think, though I’ve only received this from secondary or tertiary sources, Anthos’s claim is that they want to introduce more quality control to the CrossFit system. While I actually support the idea of more quality control for CrossFit gyms, I understand the squeamishness about CrossFit being owned and controlled by an outside company– particularly one that has expressed interest in using it as a platform for selling products.

I think Greg Glassman hopes that if enough CrossFit affiliates express disgust at the idea of Anthos ownership, and express that they would de-affiliate rather than be controlled by an outside firm, then Anthos might be dissuaded from this move. If you want to read Brian Kelly’s perspective on the matter, it’s here: http://www.board.crossfit.com/showpost.php?p=1081983&postcount=109
Since I still feel ill-informed on the matter, I’ll refrain from injecting my own opinion. I don’t think the CrossFit system’s perfect– and I would like to see a lot of improvements made in terms of coaching standards and just the education of trainers. But I don’t think this is the solution, either. If you want to read the whole discussion on the CrossFit forums, it’s here: http://www.board.crossfit.com/showthread.php?t=76936

 

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Gymnastics: the Anti-CrossFit?

In Rhetoric, Training on July 30, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I assume that you all are as captivated by the Olympics as I am. Particularly gymnastics. I remember the first time I saw a gymnastics competition on tv as a kid. I couldn’t even conceptualize these athletes as normal, everyday people. What they achieved was so far beyond my understanding of human physical potential that it was akin to watching a superhero movie or a fantasy epic. These were real-world heroes performing superhuman feats. And I think the broadcasters underscore that same drama in their presentation. Have you noticed the melodramatic biographies and narratives? The way they demonize the opposing teams, and the hopeful bildungsroman-esque backstories that they build for each American competitor?

For those of you catching up, I’ve mentioned how my dissertation work regards the cultures and values we enforce or produce in our physical practices… so my thoughts wander into that territory a lot even while watching the Olympics in my basement cave, on summer vacation, with a bowl of coconut mousse. This morning, I also read this article by Dvora Meyers, writer, blogger, and (I believe) former gymnast, which furthered my meditation. In the post, Meyers discusses how the nature of gymnastics distance the athletes from the spectator. Whereas we can watch sprinters and sympathize with the feel of running (albeit much slower), most viewers cannot even conceive of how it would feel to perform acrobatic twists off a high bar, above a balance beam, or suspended from gymnastics rings. The gymnast becomes the Other– so entirely alien from our own perspective. In this way, gymnastics is a bit of the anti-CrossFit. Though we’ve appropriated certain gymnastics elements (the kip, the muscle-up), we’ve only stolen the basics (and they become some of our most difficult movements), and we market the sport as “universally scalable.” Accessible to anyone. I’m thinking of the sledgehammer WOD in this year’s Games. Who hasn’t swung a hammer before?
But there’s another way in which CrossFit appears to be the polar opposite of gymnastics.

Gymnastics strikes me as a sport of perfectionism. Routines are made or ruined by tenths of a point. I marveled last night at how the reporters could remark on so-and-so’s “HUGE mistake” when she took a big step at the end of her dismount. Yes… it was a step. But all I could think about was “wow, this girl launched her body into midair, managed several twists and flips at a speed at which I can’t even count, and didn’t die.” I noted on Facebook how I was surprised that teammates congratulated one another with half-hugs and offhand “good jobs” whereas I wanted to leap up and down with sheer delight at the remarkable, impossible sh*t they were doing. A friend who happens to be a gymnast and capable of said impossible feats commented on my post that gymnasts were expected to perform with precision. Good scores were a given, mistakes were catastrophes.

Not to be too inflammatory, but… I think this is where CrossFit sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. (For more on problematic CrossFit rhetoric, see this post). We have mantras like “Death before DNF” (DNF = Did Not Finish), implying that an athlete would/should do anything rather than leave a workout incomplete– anything at the potential cost of form, technique, safety, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I was awed by the tremendous talent, strength, and endurance of the athletes at this year’s CrossFit Games, but did anyone notice the very, very sloppy ring dips during Elizabeth? Or perhaps the myriad of discussions afterwards regarding the number of no-rep pull-ups overlooked during Fran? We’re criticized widely for bastardizing the Olympic lifts, and yeah… there were some very hideous snatches performed by strong, but exhausted athletes. In CrossFit, we have two ways to measure our workouts: everything is done either “for time” or “for rounds.” This places emphasis on speed or quantity. But what about quality?

I’m not arguing that gymnastics should be suddenly gentler on its athletes, or that CrossFit should change its format. I’m just asking how understanding these values can help us in our training. Perhaps “Elizabeth” should be done for time in a competitive setting, but in training… even when shooting for time, that time should involve quality cleans and dips. By demanding perfection of ourselves in training, we can minimize injuries (and the dreaded no-rep) in actual competition. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, we can be attentive of when perhaps our perfectionism prevents us from celebrating what we’ve already achieved. Yeah, perhaps that Elizabeth time took longer than it should have– but hey, you cleaned 25lbs more than you could last month, for 21-15-9 reps, and followed them with ring dips with precise form.

Just Jo’s thought for the day 😉

As for my own training… The squats are starting to stall out again. I got my first set of five for only four reps on Sunday. I’m not too crushed about it this time because I felt it coming… the weight on Sunday was my former one-rep max. Jefe estimates that I may have reached the end of my linear gains for squat. However, my bench continued to increase, and I deadlifted 190 for 5 reps today. So… I feel like I can milk this program for just a tad bit longer. I may just have to play around with my squats in the meantime. But soon, I will have to make a decision about what to do next with my strength training. I’ve been oggling Outlaw CrossFit’s programming for a long time, but I’ve enjoyed participating in the box’s normal classes again and following Outlaw would prevent me from doing that. I do, however, enjoy CrossFit Strength Bias’s methodology and doing so would allow me to program my own conditioning, which would let me continue to use the box’s WODs. I still realize, though, that this would be a less efficient approach as the box’s programming would not quite align with my different strength days… I’ll think more about it, and am open to suggestions.

Oh! Also, I retested my “baseline” today. For our box, that’s: 400m run, 40 air squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups, 10 pull-ups. Rx’d at 4:04. I shaved 6 seconds off my former PR, but I won’t celebrate it too much because I feel like those 6 seconds could come from anything such as having my abmat and pullup bar closer to the door than I did during the last test. But I am relieved that it’s not slower. Next time, though, I’m hoping for a sub 4:00.

(and even as I type this, I realize, I was disappointed that I didn’t hit below the 4-minute mark this time… but neglected to realize that… a year ago, I was doing this workout with banded pull-ups and this time I did them unassisted, without dropping from the bar… I should listen to my own advice more often, huh?)

Today’s message: you do crazy awesome sh*t every day. Revel in it.

Home Sweet Basement

In Uncategorized on July 29, 2012 at 8:36 am

Okay, I confess: I’ve been a delinquent Jo. I’ve been negligent of my blog posts and have left you all in the dark for far too long. My last few days have been consumed with moving-related activities, which are even less fun than they sound. I’ve officially transitioned from my former, spacious, overpriced one-bedroom to a cramped, dimly-lit, basement studio. I like to say I did it in the name of CrossFit. The amount of money I’ll save each month is the rough equivalent of my CrossFit membership– hopefully a bit more, but it depends on how frugal I am with electricity and water usage, I think. Overall, I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable in the new space. It’s significantly smaller, which I don’t mind too much. It’s just the lack of natural light that gets to me… that, and my allergies and asthma– both usually fairly benign– have been acting up anytime I stay in the apartment for too long. I’ve purchased a used air purifier, but I need to buy a new filter for it before I can see if it alleviates my symptoms.

Anyway, my quest to lift heavier things is going well. I’ve hit PRs on all my lifts… To be entirely honest, though, that makes each day more terrifying. I know, since lifting is such a mental game, I should swallow that terror and approach the bar with so much more badassery, but a lot of the time the little Jo in me quivers with fear before I unrack the bar. Lately, to quell this fear, I’ve been repeating the mantra given to me by a certain very forthright powerlifter at the box: “I’m going to make this weight my b*tch.” Honestly, I don’t think I could ever pull off those words in real life, but the recitation of them through my head puts me in at least a less fearful headspace before the lift :p.

Also, I’ve discovered the delights of improvised fractional plates. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been struggling with my press– most likely because it’s the weakest lift, and I’ve read that it stalls quickly with most women. But I could feel that I wasn’t really stalling so much as not developing quickly enough to meet each weight increase. So… I found giant, industrial-sized flat washers, made by fastenal. Very fortunately, they have a specialty store here in town, and I picked up a pair. At .66lbs apiece, they allow me to boost my press by even smaller increments. It worked last week; I just hope it keeps going.

I recently enjoyed this post by Dave Chesser, the owner of Formosa Fitness. His reflection here resonated with me. I think it’s the reason that I was never made to be a competitive athlete. I enjoy all of this most when it’s at my own pace, for myself, without having to compare myself to the athletes around me. But this doesn’t mean that I should abstain from working out with other CrossFitters– actually, it means that I enjoy the company even more. I mentioned that I’ve returned to doing a lot more of the gym’s scheduled WODs as part of my conditioning, but it’s a very different experience this time around. When I first joined CrossFit, I embraced the competitive aspect of it. Even though I never wanted to beat any of the other athletes, I felt this anxious need to race the clock or to push my rounds at the cost of everything else– form, technique, sanity… Now, especially because we have classes focused around specific skills, I can pinpoint specific, personal goals for each WOD. For example, Friday, we had a 10 minute AMRAP involving med ball cleans, false-grip toes-to-rings, and EMOM air squats. I knew I wanted to work on my false grip and my form on the toes to rings… so I pushed through the med-ball cleans and air squats as quickly as possible while maintaining good form, and then I paid careful attention to technique when I reached the rings. I was also determined to maintain my false grip throughout the entire WOD. So instead of switching to a normal grip when I tired, I dropped down, shook out my arms, and restarted. I like this approach thus far… it means that I get a solid workout each time, and I feel like I’ve furthered a skill set. I can push myself and be inspired by the effort of those around me, but concentrate on my personal objectives so I can further my own development as an athlete.

That said, I also enjoy throwing in the occasional day when I just go in and do things by feel, with nothing scheduled. Today, I stopped in for snatch pulls and snatch balances and rounded out the day with prowler pushes and a game of CrossFit dodgeball. It was nice being able to just take things at my own pace, and just… kinda felt like a morning hanging out with friends– and who could complain about that?

Anyway, thanks for your patience and hanging out during my silence. I leave you with pictures of my new digs… the space is actually too small to get a good shot from any angle, but I tried.

The “bedroom”

And, the “living room”– by far the most photogenic space in the apartment. Fortunately, it’s not a true “basement” space in that the house is located on a hill so the back actually has a full window and its own door. Unsurprisingly, I spend 99% of my time in front of these windows.

(the shots are so close because I can only back up so far before I hit the wall… in fact, I’m standing against the wall in each of these pictures) But yes, home sweet home! Send me some sunlight 🙂

Burpees and Small Blessings

In Training, WOD, Writing on July 23, 2012 at 7:00 pm

So I recently discovered CrossFit Games athlete Linsdsey Smith’s website.  I love that so many CrossFitters are active in the online community. I’m even more charmed that so many of them are articulate individuals who come across as compassionate, thoughtful trainers and athletes and friends. In trolling the archives, I ran across a fun post by Lindsey. It was 10:00pm, and Lindsey still hadn’t done a workout. But lucky for her, Rebecca Voigt was around to send her a quick, “no-frills” BURPEE WOD.

The following conversation then transpired between Lindsey and her husband (via gchat):

me:  u there?
webster.m.smith:  yeees
me:  did you workout today?
webster.m.smith:  nope
me:  any desire to do a burpee wod with me in the living room?  becca voigt sent it to me today.  burpees are the only movement, its the rep scheme thats tricky
webster.m.smith:  huh? when?
me tonight…. now…. whenev
webster.m.smith:  what is it?
me:  Burpee Madness
webster.m.smith:  ok living room?
me:  yeah, we can move the ottoman out of the way
me:  ready when you are
webster.m.smith:  ok

 

The workout is this:
Minute one: 10 Burpees
Minute two: 20 Burpees
Minute three: 5 Burpees
Minute four: 11 Burpees
Minute five: 2 Burpees
Minute six: 18 Burpees
Minute seven: 6 Burpees
Minute eight: 15 Burpees
Minute nine: 4 Burpees
Minute ten: 8 Burpees
Minute eleven: 17 Burpees
Minute twelve: 3 Burpees
Minute thirteen: 13 Burpees
Minute fourteen: 9 Burpees
Minute fifteen: 12 Burpees
Minute sixteen: 14 Burpees
Minute seventeen: 16 Burpees
Minute eighteen: 7 Burpees
Minute nineteen: 19 Burpees
Minute twenty: 1 Burpee

At this point, I quite easily concluded that I’d love to  be Lindsey Smith. Not only would I be a CrossFit Games competitor, I would have randomized burpee WODs impromptu delivered by Becca Voigt, and I could gchat my husband for a 10pm burpee date in the living room. How. Awesome. Is. That? I realize I’ve had a lot of posts about programming and directed, focused programming, and this WOD seems like just a randomized bit of AWESOME, but still… I think I intend to try it sometime– as a tribute to Becca and Lindsey. Maybe even at 10pm in my living room. In PJs.

While I’ll never be a Games competitor, will probably never be on a first name basis with Becca Voigt, and may forever be awaiting my burpee date… I can console myself with one small triumph. Lindsey lists among her goals to one day acquire a master’s… I’m at least the somewhat proud owner of an MFA in creative writing… I mention this because I’m always taken aback by the interesting configurations that different individuals’ dreams and aspirations take. I think it’s an innately human quality to reach for more– which is a good thing. That way, we have goals, we work towards them, we become teachers and writers and athletes and coaches and we continue to influence and inspire others. It’s just so easy (perhaps just for me) to get caught up in what we want and still don’t yet have that we forget what we have achieved. Yeah, becoming a CrossFit coach sometimes seems like an impossible pipe dream– slipping further and further out of reach. I’ve been so busy worrying about this training and starting my PhD and wrapping up my novel, I never took a breath to realize that… I finished my MFA. Ultimately, the degree’s just a sheet of paper in my closet that doesn’t have much bearing on the real world… but for just about 21 years of my life, I dreamt of attending an MFA program, of joining a community of writers, of challenging myself as a writer and discovering topics about which I had something worthwhile to say. And, by so many small miracles, with so much support and encouragement from truly beautiful family and friends and mentors over the years… I did that. And today, I’m grateful for that.

You know what else I’m grateful for?

5 reps of a 185lb deadlift.

Felt good about it. Unfortunately, my limiting factor really seems to be my grip. The bar just about slips from my left hand when I reach the top of the pull. My back felt good throughout the lift, though, which was a relief. But I’m going to try working those farmer’s walks some more… I’ve also decided that I’m going to try participating in more of the box’s regular programming from now on. I’m still sticking with my linear strength program, but I would like to finesse more of the box’s regular WODs into my conditioning work. (This may take some very clever CrossFit planning…) I have several reasons for this. First of all, the programming’s becoming more structured, with each coach designing larger blocks at a time with concrete goals defined in each week. Second of all, I do push harder in the company of other people. And I also miss the guidance of having someone more knowledgeable watching my movements. I also like being able to put my trust in someone else’s programming– the confidence of knowing that someone well-informed and experienced has put a lot of thought into each aspect of this workout.

Today’s WOD:

Skill: False Grip & Hollow BodyWOD:
10 minute AMRAP
-5 Burpee Box Jumps
-10 False Grip Ring Rows
-15 DUCash Out:
25×2 Sit Ups for Time, Rest 3 Min b/w

I loved the way the skills transfer into the actual WOD and the congruence that knits the whole session together. Also, the WOD was a blast. It’s actually a rather rough combination of movements, but each of them work different areas in different ways that I never felt fatigued to a point beyond movement. It was just… enjoyably rough (let’s not pretend CrossFitters don’t have a dose of masochism).*

[*For a more serious discussion on CrossFit masochism, see here]

I officially move on Wednesday, so my apartment’s a disaster right now. I keep discovering useless things I’ve stored away and realizing there’s no point putting them back, but not wanting to “pack” them neatly because I’m moving all of four blocks away and it seems like more effort to wrap everything just to unwrap it all a mile away… Ah well, wish me luck.

Happy Monday, everyone.

Practical Programming

In Rhetoric, Training on July 22, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Some days are “heavy gravity” days– when the bar feels heavier than usual, when your limbs have turned to lead, when each movement feels stiff and unnatural. Today was, very fortunately, not one of those days. Perhaps it a was a “light gravity” day? I’m not sure how I managed this, but I PR’d my squat, my bench (and my supplementary dip sets), and managed to link four butterfly pull-ups today. I’m actually most excited about that last one. Despite the fact that I’m actually somewhat proud of my strict pull-up numbers*, my kips are awful. My sense of rhythm is off, and after 3 or so, I start swinging at the wrong pace and I have to stop just to keep from flying off the bar. For some reason, the rhythm of butterfly kips feels a lot more organic to me. I can feel when I’m supposed to pull. The movement’s a little harder, and I think actually somewhat more demanding than the gymnastics kip (though it could be because I’m still relatively new to it), but I like how much smoother it feels (at least, when I can get the rhythm right). To keep from absolutely blowing out my arms and shoulders, I jury-rigged a harness system so I could work on technique rather than brute strength. I just wrapped a band several times around the bar and hooked it below both arms (so that the band went across my upper back and just below the armpits). I went back and forth between the harness and unassisted versions to preserve my strength. It’s really tempting to practice these all day, but the problem I have with practicing kips is that they’re such high-impact motions that they’re really rough on… well, everything. Even at my (increasing!) mass, my joints don’t like all that impact, and we all know how kips shred the hands…

[*well, I was proud… ever since the weight gain, those numbers have been fluctuating and sometimes I suck more than I should]

Anyway, afterwards, I stuck around because our box has introduced yoga classes on Sundays. Honestly, I think this is a wonderful addition. We have too many un-bendy folk around the box, and though we had a good number of people for the class today, I hope more members take advantage of it. And the discount we get for being members of the box means that I can finally afford yoga in State College. I’ve never been very flexible to begin with, but I think the CrossFitting has made me even more tense in some areas (Hamstrings of Shame). Admittedly, I felt less stretched-out during this session than my one-on-one torture routine with Gumby, but it was still a worthwhile experience. The pacing is obviously vastly different from that of a CrossFit workout, and holding awkward positions entails an entirely different tolerance of suck than heavy thrusters. Mainly, the yoga session reminded me of the myriad of ways we can know our bodies– the multiplicities of very different “fitnesses” and how it’s humbling and healthy to venture outside our comfort zones (or discomfort zones, as the case may be).

I’ve undergone a lot of thought about what makes an effective trainer these past few days. I mean, as an English instructor, I’ve spent years now taking courses on, studying theory of, and engaging in debates about what makes for effective teaching. I find that a lot of our principles apply to physical training as well– learning how to adapt to the needs and learning mechanisms of each student, engaging with the personality of each class, etc. One of our box’s interns has a fantastic opportunity to become a coach at a well-respected affiliate in Philadelphia. In fact, he’s interviewing today (good luck!). I hate the transience of State College, and I’m always sad to see people leave, but honestly this job would be wonderful for him, and he’s so well-suited for it that I can’t help but wish the best for him. Anyway, on Friday I got to play the fun role of pretend student as he rehearsed the class he would be teaching for the final part of his interview. First of all, I’m impressed that the box has that thorough of a hiring process for its trainers, but I also noted the many thoughtful ways in which he prepped for the process. His entire course was well-structured, and he took care to explain why we did each movement and how all the warm-up, preparatory exercises translated to the workout itself. He also explained the methodology behind the programming and why we did each movement– when to work certain muscle groups and when to let others rest. This helped me during the actual WOD as I knew what I was trying to work during each movement rather than moving for the sake of moving. As someone very preoccupied with the “why” in my training, I really appreciated this element.

I’m in the middle of reading Practical Programming right now, and it’s fascinating. I’ve developed so much admiration for individuals who can develop effective programming. On the surface, it seems like a fairly simple task. And to be honest, I think a lot of people are so un/undertrained that almost any matrix of activity would spark progress. Even overtraining is easier for a novice to overcome and is significantly less devastating than it is to an intermediate or advanced athlete. So there’s a lot of room to play around/screw up with people who just step from couch to gym. But once the trainee progresses beyond the “novice” stage, training becomes so much more scientific. What really caught my eye was that the book provided a method to quantify exercise “intensity” (a term we throw around abstractly all the time):

volume/repetitions = average weight used

average weight used/1RM x 100 = % intensity

It allows us to consider each workout relative to the athlete’s capabilities. Now… what I wished the book addressed (or hope it does later in the volume) is what percentage training intensity would be good to shoot for how many times a week. But even just with this, I assume we want some days at lower and higher intensities. Because weight numbers are deceptive, it’s easy to flirt with that overtraining territory by just doing higher reps at a lower weight. Eventually, you’ll push your “light” day into a “heavy” day. This also puts the demands of a linear progression program into perspective for me. After your initial ramp-up, you’re eventually lifting former one rep maxes for sets of five, 3-4 times a week… pushing at possibly above 100% intensity? No wonder these things only work for novice lifters. It also explains pretty well why I shouldn’t be WODing heavy on my rest days (as much as I ache to do so).

Anyway, I may write more about it when I finish the book. Right now, my “leisure reading” involves that and Sporting Rhetoric (which is actually part of my dissertation research), a relatively new anthology about the rhetoric and performativity of sports. I’m loving the overlap between my research and my extracurricular interests.

Oh… before I wrap up this post, I have a question that’s been driving me crazy. It seems that the most accepted notation for sets/reps is:

(for example):

shitton lbs x 3 x 1

Here, you would be lifting a shitton (technical measurement) for three reps for one set. This is the way that Catalyst Athletics programs and the way a lot of Oly-lifting notation is prescribed. They use this format for O-lifts and for power lifts. HOWEVER, for nonweighted workouts, they write something like “Pull-ups – 5 x 10” to indicate five sets of 10 pull-ups. The numbers have been switched around. Okay… so I could get on board that different exercises have different configurations (as confuddling as it is)

BUT! CrossFit Football uses the following notation:

Bench 3×5 (add 2.5 lbs to last workout)

indicating that the trainee should bench his selected weight for three sets of five.

Outlaw Crossfit follows the same protocol as CFF. (Speaking of Outlaw, I’ve become a bit of a blog stalker of theirs in the past month, and shall post more about this later).

Is there any standardization for this notation, or do we just have to re-learn the standards for each gym/coach/program wizard?

Why We CrossFit: Redemption

In General, Training on July 19, 2012 at 3:05 pm

After my last post about the CrossFit 2012 Games commercial, I’d like to append a new one that restores my faith in the CrossFit world. Again Faster, an equipment supply company that caters specifically to CrossFit, has discovered an exponentially better advertising angle. At the 2012 Games, they had a photobooth where they asked people why they CrossFit. Sure there are some facetious answers like this, but also ones like this. I even enjoy shots like this one that involve people simply enjoying and celebrating their fitness. It shows such a fantastic range of athletes, from first-responders to wounded warriors  to kids. This series of images shows CrossFit not as the “hardcore” pursuit of the elite, nor another vanity-driven exercise fad. It’s a way to understand and enjoy our bodies; it’s accessible to people of all backgrounds and fitness levels, and it’s remarkably human.

As disappointed as I am with Reebok’s commercial, I’m glad the actual practitioners of CrossFit have not lost sight of why we do what we do.
Why do I CrossFit?

– After a lifetime with asthma, with IBS, with weight “issues” and general lack of athleticism, it’s allowed me to make peace with my body– to accept its weaknesses and adapt to them, fortify them accordingly. It’s helped me discover my strengths (the oddities that they are– burpees!) and embrace them.

– It’s meditative. Through CrossFit, I’ve come to understand much about my mentality. I’ve learned to recognize when I’m trying to take the easy way out, to analyze why, and to approach the problem from a new angle. I’ve learned the difference between something I can’t do and something I’m afraid to do and I’ve gained confidence in my ability to approach and conquer those fears.

– Through it, I’ve found such a beautiful, encouraging community. From firebreathers to introductory athletes, I’m continually inspired by those around me, and moved by the strength of their will.

– Did I mention burpees?

Anyway… I think my message is that Reebok definitely made a misstep with its commercial, but that doesn’t speak for the CrossFit community itself. And this sport is still doing wonders for its athletes; it’s still empowering individuals inside and outside the box, and hopefully a television ad devised in poor taste isn’t enough to debase all that we are.

CrossFit: Sex Sells…

In Rhetoric, Training, WOD on July 18, 2012 at 6:21 pm

So… I need to address the puzzling CrossFit ad that appeared during the games. After Reebok obtained its monopoly on CrossFit, they started a fairly aggressive television ad campaign. I’ve never been stunned by any of these commercials– most of which just feature close-up shots of those ridiculous Zig shoes that I’ve never seen a CrossFitter actually wear (which is also odd because they produce plenty of shoes that CrossFitters do wear– the oly lifters and the nanos…)– but one of the ads during the 2012 Games caught my attention. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a high-quality version of it online, but here’s the idea:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4wuGiBL7TI

Basically, it involves a lot of close shots of a female athlete, and eventually the words “Turning sevens into tens.”

Okay. The close-ups are obviously to show off the woman’s physique, and let’s face it, elite CrossFitters have bodies worth showing off. But to me, this runs counter intuitive to CrossFit’s functional fitness angle. Do CrossFit because it makes you stronger, because it makes you hardier, because it makes you capable. Do CrossFit because it makes you harder to kill. Don’t do it for the perfect ass.

In a generous interpretation of this ad, I could see that we’re turning a “7” in effort into a “10.” Or raising self-esteem from 7 to 10. But… given the visual focus of this commercial, I really doubt that that was the ad’s intent. I know sex sells, but if CrossFit is out to make itself a respectable sport, I think this is a questionable route to go. No one tells you to put your kid in football because girls will love the way his butt looks in tights. Or do ballet because dancers have killer legs. Dancers do have killer legs, but that’s not the intent of the sport. There’s so much more to it– body awareness and control, embodying an art with your entire physical self. If CrossFit is to garner any respect as a sport, it should do more than give you a nice ass. I’m pretty sure your LA Fitness step aerobics class could do that too.

Woo… okay I just needed to get that off my chest. Some fun WODs to share with you. Yesterday’s:

2 Rounds of…
3min AMRAP
5 Chest-to-Bar pullups
5 Switching lunges
5 Ring pushups
*rest 1 min

4 AMRAP
10 KB
10 Situps
10 Box jumps
*rest 2 min
I’m a big fan of AMRAPs and even more so of divided AMRAPs. Movements like chest-to-bar pullups are fun but too challenging to continue for, say, 15 minutes straight. So breaking them up into small chunks like this is a really effective way to work them into a WOD.

Due to the possibility of tubing tomorrow, I went in this afternoon and did tomorrow’s scheduled lifts today. I was nervous that they’d feel weak due to inadequate rest, but I’m actually pretty happy with them (*knocks on wood*). My squats are back to the last point I reached before failure…. so… lots of eating and rest before Sunday. And praying. So today:

Squats: 3×5

Press: 3×5

Pull-ups : 3 sets to failure

And then a WOD borrowed from CrossFit Football (I loved it)

10 Rounds:

1 power clean to strict press (use the weight from your sets of five)

6 walking lunges with bar on back (3 per leg)

50 yard sprint

I think I want to keep this one in my arsenal for press days. It’s short, hard, and it has built in accessory work for both my squat and my press.

In other news, my new landlord finally got back to me and, this coming Wednesday, I shall be migrating from my spacious, luxuriant, all too expensive 1 bedroom apartment to a basement studio with no air conditioning, living beneath 4 Penn State undergrads…  The funny part is that I’m happy I’ll have more space for my punching bag, but irked that I have nowhere to hang a pull-up bar. If, however, I truly am here in State College for 4 years… I’m considering investing in a rower. We’ll see.

Daily Foodstuffs and Swole Jo

In Food, Training, WOD on July 16, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Thank you to everyone who read my last, very emo post. I’m so grateful for all the supportive feedback I’ve received and reminded of how lucky I am to be part of such a wonderful community. Really, you guys rock… and I promise not to overrun you with the sappy stuff too often.

Did everyone catch the CrossFit Games this weekend? To be honest, I was a little disappointed to see last year’s heroes take first repeat their wins this year, but I admit that it’s unfair for me to begrudge them their hard work. My heroes this year, however are:

Matt Chan– the oldest competitor to take the podium, and this year’s second-place finisher.

Chris Spealler– the only competitor to participate in all six CrossFit games. At 5’5″ and 151lbs, he’s almost 60lbs smaller than a lot of the male competitors. The commentators loved that. But it was so inspiring just to watch him keep up with the other athletes. And never does he blame his performance on his size difference.

Talayna Fortunato– The women’s third place finisher. From my limited research, she seems to have burst out of nowhere. Just a spectator at last year’s games, she arrived full force this year. She discovered Rudy’s Outlaw Way programming via some other CrossFitter’s blog and began following it without knowing what it was. Eventually, she started making a splash in her region, and someone informed Rudy about it, whereupon he offered to coach her (distance coaching– lots of videos). Outlaw was already recruiting a small following before the Games. After Talayna’s incredible finish, and the success of many of their other athletes*, I expect it to explode soon.

[*Full list of Outlaw Games athletes:
Individuals –
-Talayna Fortunato – 3rd
-Elisabeth Akinwale – 7th
-Candace Hamilton Hester – 27th
-Candice Ruiz – 29th
-Alicia Gomes – 32nd
-Christen Wagner – 41st
-Rika Diederiks – 43rd

-Chad Mackay – 9th
-Patrick Burke –16th
-Justin Allen – 26th
-Austin Stack – 34th
-Kevin Simons – 37th
-Jason Hoggan – 38th
-Brandon Phillips – 42nd

Teams
-CrossFit Central – 13th
-CrossFit Champlain Valley – 18th
-Team Butchers Lab – 23rd
-CrossFit CDR – 24th
-CrossFit 7 Mile – 41st]

I was also crushed to see Kris Clever miss the podium by a single spot. She put up an incredible fight all the way through Fran, but couldn’t hang onto the bar for the last set of pull-ups. That’s where Talayna took the lead. I also find it interesting how strength seems to be the deciding factor for men (Chris Spealler, admirable as he is, just couldn’t keep up when the weights got heavy), but for the women the fight seems won or lost on gymnastics skills. All top three women were college gymnasts. Actually Annie (first place) and Julie (second place) were both gymnasts and pole vaulters. Some strange, magic combination there? Power, flexibility, body awareness…

As for my own training, the deadlift went well today. I actually had a revelation that I can drop the bar from the top of the lift and not guide it back down– thereby saving my strength for the next pull. I’ve probably been wasting energy this entire time doing it the other way. Anyway… I’m really aiming for a 200lb max before the end of August… fingers crossed. Not much more work today– just pull ups, a few rowing sprints, and some GHDs. I also played around with the reverse hyper, which made my lower back feel delightful. I need to look up some videos on proper usage though and make sure I’m not just flailing around on it like an idiot.

I’m also playing around with going to the gym later in the day. To be entirely (and again, all too) honest, I used to stick with the morning because 1) I’m obsessive and I like to check things off my “to-do” list ASAP… and even something as enjoyable as working out becomes part of that to-do list… but also 2) because my IBS used to be so awful that the morning was the only time I wasn’t in pain… Fortunately(!) eating mostly paleo has led to a major, major improvement in all of that. I suppose I haven’t given you an update since I started experimenting with the reintroduction of foods. Here’s what I’ve discovered thus far:

Dairy: OMG NO. … I knew I reacted poorly to dairy, but I’ve been on-and-off with yogurt for a while, so I decided to take a leap off the stupid cliff chance and try 1/3 a container of Greek Yogurt. That took about three days to fully recover. Never again. I was a big dairy fan as a kid so every now and then I have a lapse in judgment and think “maybe I can try just a little…” But really, if you see me ever thinking about reaching for something that comes from a cow-boobs again… slap me. Bad bad bad.

Wheat: Not great… some discomfort, but bearable… as in I don’t need to be crazy paranoid if there are wheat contaminants if I’m eating out, but still something I’ll avoid for my daily comfort.

Peanuts: Not an issue (HOORAY!)

Whey protein: Very much so depends on the brand. I’m guessing that some supplements have different percentages of lactose that may or may not upset my system. I’ve been very happy with Nitrean+ from AtLarge Nutrition. The owner, Chris Mason, is very active in the CrossFit community and answers all my obnoxious little questions about nutrition.

As for the other stuff… to be honest, once I eliminated it, I haven’t felt the need to bring it back– aka spend money on finding out whether I’ll feel horrible. I know that I react poorly to soybeans… I’m wondering if tofu will have the same effect on me (should be easier to digest, since it’s fermented), but I haven’t bothered to go out and buy tofu yet. Garbanzo beans seem acceptable. Not sure about other legumes.

I’ve also been caffeine-free for… what is it, almost a month now? I haven’t bothered to discover if it upsets my stomach because I don’t want to reintroduce the stimulant to my system. It’s pretty easy to stay off it now, but I’m pretty sure that if I had a taste, I’d go back to my cup a day. I may return to it once the semester starts up, but until then, I’m enjoy my days without energy crashes.

I’ve received a few emails asking about my daily foodstuffs, so I guess I’ll address that here. Keep in mind, I’m far from a nutritional expert, and what works for me might not work for you.

Breakfast: Usually an egg scramble of some sort (they used to be omelets, but I got lazy and stopped making them look pretty). Eggs, frozen veggies, and leftover meat. Roasted chestnuts.

Lunch: Turkey, homemade guacamole, and roasted or sauteed vegetables of some kind. Sweet potatoes.

Pre-workout: Deli meat wrapped around almond (or peanut) butter. Don’t knock it ’til you try it. Also, sometimes I have a few pieces of non-dairy cheese (not at all paleo, I know. But the soy additive doesn’t seem to bother me and I have a bunch left over from before I started the paleo experiment. Seems to be just the soybeans themselves that I shouldn’t have. I’m curious about soy sauce)

Post-workout: Nitrean+ shake, sweet potato

Dinner: Meat (beef, chicken, turkey, pork… thinking about trying lamb sometime), veggies (roasted or sauteed in coconut oil), mashed sweet potato dressed in coconut oil and smoked paprika.

Dessert: Avocado Mousse… also peanut butter.

Snacks: I snack a lot, despite the common paleo advice not to… Usually spoonfuls of peanut/almond/coconut butter, slices of deli meat, veggies with guac, frozen berries, that sort of stuff. Also, reheated sweet potato fries. Or cold sweet potato fries. In front of the fridge, straight from the tupperware. I’m classy like that.

I also drink a lot of almond milk, which is supposedly not paleo because of some additive or another… and coconut milk, even the stuff with guar gum because I really can’t bring myself to care about minutiae like that. As long as I’m not crippled with stomach pains, it’s fine by me.

As for portion sizes, I usually go with 1.5 to double the protein recommendations per meal, unlimited leafy greens, fist-size for all starchy carbohydrates, and unlimited fats. Keep in mind, I’m also a bit of a physical weirdo so this is probably only useful to small women trying to get swole :). That said, the scale reads 109 today. That’s fucking incredible. Unfortunately, I’m not lifting quite as much as I’d hoped to be around this weight, but I’m hoping that will come with time. Also, disappointingly, this means that my 200lb max won’t quite be 2xbodyweight as I’d hoped, but let’s just count on those lifts continuing to rise…

The Naked Jo: A Confession

In Rhetoric, Training, Writing on July 12, 2012 at 7:47 pm

So, the gloves are coming off, and this blog is about to become way too personal. I actually returned to the gym today, itching to exorcise something angry and resentful in the form of sweat and screaming, but… I didn’t quite. Because I’m trying to take this strength training thing seriously and if I subjected myself to 7 minutes of burpees (which I willingly would), I wouldn’t be able to hit my power cleans tomorrow… so I will expel my demons in the only other way I know how: in writing. I will disburden unto you, my dear readers, my far-too-revealing thoughts. And you can judge me or not. Or stop reading and go back to those reruns of The Walking Dead (speaking of which, if anyone in State College has the second season on DVD to lend me… I’ll be your best friend? Or buy you a beer? Or be your best friend who buys you beer?)

Anyway… let’s start with a story. I’m good with stories.

By the eighth grade, I weighed 136 lbs. The doctors had been telling me to lose weight for years. Between ages 13 to 21, I weighed between 136-139. At my heaviest, I’m pretty sure I went over 140, but I avoided scales like the plague. Not because I cared, but because my parents cared and were constantly (well-intentionedly) urging me to lose weight. In my senior year of college, feeling stir-crazy from the demands of writing my honors thesis (a ~100pged short story collection now left to rot away… I’m a bit ashamed of it now– as we all of early works…), I embarked on my P90x adventure. Over the year, I lost about ten pounds… (and was told to lose more), but after graduating a semester early, I moved to New York City. I’d sent out graduate school applications, but wouldn’t hear back for six months. In that time, I interned for $15/day at a literary agency and waited tables at night. These were 15-18 hour days, and I didn’t really make enough for… anything. Meanwhile, I worried that three and a half diligent years of study had earned me nothing– that my parents were right, my major(s) (English and Theatre) were useless, and I had, in fact, chosen a path with no future.

I got sick. It happened in such a way that I didn’t even really notice. Between these two demanding jobs and the tremendously unhealthy (emotionally, physically… generally) relationship I was in, I learned misery as a way of life. It simply made sense that my body rebelled. I couldn’t keep food down or in. I never slept for more than an hour at a time. I had a persistent cough that lasted for months. I was taking four prescription-strength antacids and two painkillers every morning, though they did nothing. I was always, always cold. I remember dreading the walk to the subway every morning because I was too weak to really climb the stairs. I think the truly lowest point of my life was one evening, running from agency to restaurant, I just collapsed on the subway steps. My legs simply crumpled, and I lay there trying not to recognize what a disaster I’d made of my life. I was terrified to call home– to tell my parents that I couldn’t hack it on my own… Because I was so miserable and so used to being miserable, I didn’t realize how much weight I’d lost– about 30lbs in three months. I knew my clothes had stopped fitting, but I just tied a belt around my waist and didn’t think about it much.

Finally, I heard from the Javits Fellowship– administered by the Department of Education. I’d submitted an application out of blind hope. Every year, the government funds (or, funded, the program has since been disbanded due to budget cuts) exactly one MFA student in the country for all their years of graduate study. I didn’t think I had a shot in hell. I’m still convinced that I only received it by blind luck. Anyway… outside my literary agency, between hours eight and nine of another long day, I cried, overwhelmed by sudden hope. Afterwards, I received a few offers from MFA programs. Bolstered with the idea of a future– a life beyond these dreadful day to days– I finally called home, told my parents I was sick, made doctor’s appointments, and ended a three-year relationship that had become exponentially venomous over time.

Everyone here in State College only knows the post-NYC Jo. Small Jo. Weak Jo. The truth is; my body had collapsed so quickly, it took me a long time to even recognize how small I’d become. I didn’t believe people when they told me I was tiny. I didn’t believe that I was weak. Yeah, I had quite a bit of chub at 136lbs, but I was also “weirdly strong” for my size (not my words). Just this past summer, during my visit to Taiwan, several members of my family remarked that they never knew I had a small skeletal frame since I’d always seemed “big boned” (and in fact had been referred to as such all my life… nicknamed, even, in Chinese). When I started CrossFit, my body was an alien thing. I didn’t know how to inhabit this 93lb, shivering wreck (at my worst point, I think 88). I didn’t know how to walk on legs that could barely hold my weight. I didn’t know how to clothe a frame that didn’t have enough flesh to warm itself.

Now, about 104lbs, I’ve accepted the fact that I’m small. I’ve also gained enough weight that I’m no longer constantly cold (or I’ve adapted to these inhumane Pennsylvanian winters…). But… lately, really culminating in today, I was just overwhelmed by how fed up I am of being small. Of being weak. It’s funny… now I can deadlift 1.85x my own bodyweight. I can do 8 strict pull-ups. I can power clean 85% of my body. That’s decent on paper. But because I’m still fucking small, women come in for their on-ramps and are soon push-pressing my back squat.

Here’s the thing. I’m not competitive. No one believes me when I say this, but it’s true. When it comes to athletics, I have no competitive urge at all. Yes, in academics or in my job, I can definitely get worked up. But I do fitness for relaxation– for sanity– for the thing that takes me away from the books and computers and the dark, lonely, uncomfortable desk. I do it for the camaraderie. I don’t want to be able to lift more than these women. I just want to be able to keep up with them.

Jefe asked me again today: “what are your goals.” I want to be a “competitive” CrossFitter– not because I want to compete, but because I want to play. I want to be able to pace the firebreathers so that I don’t feel like I’m dragging them down when I work out beside them, or that I’m playing an entirely different game. When I was in middle school, the first year I tried out for the softball team, I didn’t make it. Well yeah– I was overweight, asthmatic, (always) uncoordinated, and definitely slow. But I wanted so badly to participate that I volunteered to be the team manager– just to be around the game. For a season, I tracked all the players’ stats, I helped them strategize their hits… I figured out the habits of the opposing teams’ batters and pitchers and fielders and relayed the information to the actual athletes. It was rewarding at times, but also torturous– a constant reminder of what I wanted to be, but could not . Sometimes… sitting around the box, I still feel like I’m pacing the sidelines. I’m 24 years old, and I’m still being picked last for kickball. Being relatively strong for my bodyweight is awesome for Cindy, but Fran would slaughter me, and I still don’t think I could finish Grace. And, of course, I do still want to coach some day. And I couldn’t dream of it until the thought of a 95lb clean and jerk doesn’t make me want to cry.

I… need to be patient, I know. I’ve gained a lot of strength on this program. My deadlift has climbed by 50lbs since I started. What used to be “heavy” cleans for me are now part of my warm-up sets. But it’s still somewhat demoralizing to be scraping the bottom of the strength barrel after so much hard work.

It’s just that… I wasn’t exactly athletic before I started, so it’s not like I’m focusing on strength because I’m an endurance rockstar. My run times were embarrassing before I stopped running. I hate that I can feel my endurance ebbing away each week. I hate that I can’t WOD for longer than 15 minutes without jeopardizing my strength gains. And I hate that after so much effort, after shoving my face with everything my goddamned IBS-ridden stomach will let me eat, my press still stalled out this week and I can’t run a fucking mile without feeling winded. I dread that after all this work, I’ll barely be able to do Rx’d weights and suddenly all WODs will feel hellish because I can’t survive anything longer than 10 minutes.

I know so many fitness blogs are about celebrating our bodies and our unique strengths right now, but today’s not one of those days. You know the slogan “Strong is the new skinny?” Yeah, I like the idea. I love that we’re promoting strength in women rather than skeletal, Hollywoodized figurines. But I’m fucking trapped in the old skinny, and I’m tired of it.

I suppose there’s no quick solution. I just embarked on this strength programming without perspective– not knowing exactly how long of a marathon it would be. More slow lifts. More peanut butter. More avoiding metcons…

Jo smash.

Bottoms Up!

In Food, Training on July 12, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Are there any sights sadder than the bottom of a peanut butter jar?

Fortunately, I was consoled by this shipment of rich, buttery sweetness:

I’m a pretty huge fan of iHerb (www.iherb.com). They carry a huge stock of supplement/hard to find “health foods,” their prices are almost always lower than actual stores, and they ship for free on orders over $20. Here, I found coconut butter for almost half the price that they were at our grocery store. Yes, I bought two. Don’t judge me. Also, if you’re a first-time customer, you can receive $5 off with the promo code: SOD407 . They also send you free samples of stuff with your shipment, which is how I discovered a pretty tasty, Whole 30-condoned hot cocoa called CocaoCeps (you can search for it on the site; wordpress won’t let me link it).

But enough about food. The training. I was actually very happy with today’s squats. I’ve received a lot of tips from lifters far more experienced than I about the importance of a full squat, but today was the first time that really clicked for me. I’m definitely squatting deeper than I ever used to, but sometimes I’m still a little high. I’m reaching the point where I can feel the difference though. When I hit the optimal depth, the lift feels significantly easier– as if there were 25 fewer pounds on my back. It’s funny… because my brain is afraid of dropping the full depth as if that would make the lift harder, but in actuality (as the Archeologist explained to me today), reaching that bottom position allows you to engage the proper muscle groups, which 1) propels you out of the hole faster/stronger, and 2) protects you from injury (aka tipping heavy, above-bodyweight loads onto smaller, ill-prepared muscles).

It’s a mind game. One I lose frequently. If I’m not “scared” before I lower myself into the lift, I can hit the bottom position just fine. If I psych myself out, I start back up too soon and end up making the lift harder on myself. As one of my favorite, curmudgeonly Marines reminds me, “Don’t be a pussy.” I think this means that I’m going to have to start asking for a spotter for all my work sets… It’s something I’ve avoided if I’m fairly confident that I can survive the load because usually people are busy with their own things at the gym… but having spotters there gives me the confidence to engage the full range of motion. So… apologies to people who might be around when I’m squatting now. 🙂

Despite the good news on the squat, I’m ticked off about my press. I broke my plateau last week, managing 62.5 for 3 sets of 5. This week I failed after two reps with 65, and only managed four reps a set for 62.5. I know that women often struggle with the press… but this is now the third time I’ve stalled out at this weight, and I want to do something about it. I’m going to look into more supplementary work for shoulders and incorporating shoulder movements into my workouts… I just don’t want to overtrain the muscle group either.

Anyway… it’s a reminder that I’m nearing the end of this linear progression. My deadlifts are almost at my goal of 200lbs. I think my bench still has a tiny bit of room to grow, and we’ll see about those power cleans… but the squat and press are piddling out pretty damn quickly… though I’m hoping I’ll at least be able to break this old plateau. I’ll have to do something thinking about what comes next. For now though.. a trip to Wegman’s. One can’t live off coconut butter alone!