the spaz of fitness has arrived

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.

  1. I can relate on the opposite end of the spectrum. Thanks for sharing. Sometimes we just need to say that we’re frustrated, and that’s ok.

  2. […] posted about the CrossFit Women’s Creed before and you can read more on my opinions here and here. But when he made that remark, I was reminded of the line “I am as proud of my muscles as I […]

  3. Please don’t think for a minute that the struggles you describe would make you less qualified to coach. I’ve been crossfitting almost three years, and the amazing athletes are usually not very helpful as coaches.The 20-somethings who have never had an injury, have never been weak from rehab, or have never been fat- these people have nothing to teach me. But show me a 40-something who is lean and strong and avoids injury- THEY have something I need to know. A coach who knows what it’s like to struggle against their innate, random limitations- that person is inspirational.

  4. […] I have a gripe about “Strong is the New Skinny”– elaborated here and reoccurring here. Another token phrase that’s troubled me is “Death before […]

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