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Archive for September, 2012|Monthly archive page


In Training, WOD on September 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm


Five rounds for time of:
22 Kettlebell swings, 2 pood/1.5
22 Box jump, 24 inch box/20
Run 400 meters
22 Burpees
22 Wall ball shots, 20#/14#

On paper, it doesn’t look terrible. But if you consult the CrossFit mainsite, it delivers discouraging news: CrossFit titans such as Austin Malleolo and Kristan Clever took 30-35 minutes to complete the workout. Our box listed this morning’s WOD with a 45 minute time cap, which usually implies that… most members will exceed the limit. I went in with the hope of coming in just under 45, but I had no idea if that was feasible.

Caveat: I scaled the KB swings to 1pd. I’m actually rather proud that I can do a full American with 1.5 now, but 22 would take me so long that the swings would have been the bulk of my WOD. Nevertheless, I’m a slow runner and I pause too often in my box jumps, so I figured the workout would still take me a long while. And it probably would have, if it weren’t for a little external motivation.

I started at a comfortable pace– pushing to a point of discomfort, but nothing terrible. Then Coach Cyborg reminded me exactly why my most humbling workouts have always been in his company. Sometime near round 3, he started paying more attention to me– elbows weren’t locked out at the top of that swing, hips didn’t reach full extension on that box jump, squat lower for the wall ball. Something he’s reminded me often, and something I try to keep in mind for every workout– if I want to be a coach, I should perform in a manner that I would want others to emulate. When I was new to CrossFit, I allowed my form to degrade deplorably because I cared more about the clock or the rounds, or the abstract idea of “intensity” than the integrity of my movements. These days, I try to focus on precision and cleanliness. But somewhere in there, I’ve become a little too comfortable. No longer made anxious by the clock, and now strong enough to handle wall balls and box jumps without delirium, I’ve forgotten the vast divide between what our brains think we can do and what our bodies can actually do.

For the 4th 400m, The Cyborg told me to make it in in 1:30. I have no idea what time I took, but it was certainly longer. My lungs were seizing, my legs were shot, and I thought I was moving as hard as I could. But when I stumbled through the door, he told me that I’d taken forever and I should make up the time on my burpees. I’d like to take this moment to retract everything nice I’ve ever said about burpees. Yeah, they’re a delight when you’re 88 pounds of nothing. 30 pounds later, they’re a shitshow. Sorry everyone– you’ve been right all along– burpees suck ass. The Cyborg screamed my reps aloud, remarking every time I slowed down. My asthma, which started during the runs had pushed mucus from my lungs into my throat. My head was a complete fog, and the world shrank to nothing but the five inches of rubber in front of my face each time I flopped to the floor. I was beyond pain– where intensity had exploded into annihilation, and mind was trying to shut itself down. But I managed those burpees. And then the wall balls, and another set of swings and another 22 box jumps. For my last 400m, The Cyborg appeared alongside me and ran just two steps ahead the entire way, calling back to me. I was breathing so heavy that I couldn’t hear the traffic around me. I thought my chest would explode with each inhalation, but he kept on yelling and somehow, my legs, these alien appendages, just pedaled away beneath me. I made it back in the door at 1:35. More burpees. And then the wall balls. Wall balls aren’t nearly as bad for me as they used to be, but at this point, I was spent. I thought those 14 pounds would carry me to the ground each time the leather struck my hands. But The Cyborg was unforgiving. I could not rest. Not now. At 15 reps, I got a few seconds, and then up again. No, not now. No you can’t rest. No you’re not done. Seven more. Don’t put it down. Five more. Three. And done, at 40:01.

I’ve become complacent in the past few months of training. When I first started CrossFit, I was so weak that everything sucked– even 10lb balls with an 8ft target. But as I got stronger, movements became easier and I forgot to carry that same exertion with me. No, I probably should not work to this intensity too frequently, but I should remember that when I think I’m done, when I think I’m tired, there’s so much more left untapped. Your body is smart– it’s made to protect itself… it will want to take the easy way out not because it’s lazy, but because it’s trying to conserve resources. But your body is also resilient. If you demand more of it, it will rise to the challenge.

After yesterday’s post, today provided a truly satisfying reminder. I don’t give a shit what my body was or wasn’t built for. I will beat it into submission ;).

Also, with The Cyborg’s remarks, I’m reminded so much of why I want to be a CrossFit coach someday. I want to help people find these moments– to see in them potential that they have yet to recognize and to rally those resources until they convert weakness to strength and overcome all that self-doubt. We have such tremendous trainers here, and beyond working on the integrity of my movements, I hope someday to incorporate much of what I’ve learned from them. I want to be able to have the Mean Machine’s positivity, and Zebrapants’s raw passion. I want to emulate Jefe’s patient, acute observation, his inquisitiveness, and generosity with his knowledge. And, like The Cyborg, I want to be able to drive people– to know when some athletes require gentle guidance, and when others need to be bitchslapped into high gear. And I’d like to think I’d bring my own individual experience to it too– to know what it’s like to start from nothing, to demand muscle from bone, to unlearn all the awful habits of your body… to do this while watching all the lifelong and natural athletes exceed you… to watch beginners PR with weights well beyond your reach… to want it all so bad that it doesn’t fucking matter, that you will work for it if you have to measure your progress in years.

One more bit of wisdom from The Cyborg. Before every “Hero” WOD, he makes a statement about how these remind him that “life is pretty good.” Whenever we undertake a Hero, I look up the individual after whom it was named. Army Captain Dan Whitten was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. On February 2, 2010, Whitten’s vehicle was struck by an explosive device. He died that same day. I assume the date (2/2) corresponds with the 22 reps in the workout. But as much as I’ve whined about my lungs seizing and my legs flailing until they lost sensation, that’s… all negligible. My forty minutes of “suffering” is incomparable to his sacrifice– to that of his family. And if I’m going to do something like this in “his honor,” then I damned well better give it my all. And… I’m glad someone was there this morning to remind me that my “all” is more than I thought.

Built for Nothing

In Training on September 28, 2012 at 11:22 pm

It is my delight to respond to a recent article penned by a friend of a friend and fantastic blogger, Caitlin from Fit and Feminist. The piece is entitled “Should Women Run? You’re Damn Right They Should” in response to what sounds like an outrageous blog post discouraging women from running. Here are Caitlin’s opening paragraphs:

I’m a runner who doesn’t look like a runner. I am a six-foot-tall woman who has hips and broad shoulders. In fact, I look more like a basketball player or a swimmer. Yet I happen to be a pretty good runner. I regularly finish in the top 10 percent of local races, and I’ve even come close to winning a couple of 5Ks. I love running, and I can’t imagine my life without it.

So when I read a blog post entitled “Why Most Women Shouldn’t Run,” in which the author wrote that only women with narrow hips and flat chests should run, I was confused, because clearly she couldn’t be talking about me. And when she went on to say that the rest of us should just stick to the StairMaster, my confusion turned into unadulterated rage. I would rather strangle myself with the laces on my running shoes that step foot on a StairMaster.

I am, perhaps, Caitlin’s opposite. At 5’3″ and flat and narrow all over, I’ve often been asked if I’m a runner. The truth is, I rarely log distances longer than 400m at a time. Most of my cardio is confined to 100m-200m sprints or 250m rowing repeats. My hours at the gym are spent primarily with barbells and pullup bars. Ironically, I like lifting heavy. My favorite CrossFit movements are the explosive ones– power cleans, kettlebell work, etc… and I also enjoy the slow satisfaction of my max effort days–sets of one to three with long rests, the feel of triumph when the once-impossible heap of iron and rubber clears the ground.

Again, 5’3″ and flat and narrow, I’m not build for heavy loads. And with my aforementioned brain/body coordination issues, I’ve certainly struggled with “explosive.” It took me months to conquer box jumps, and my cleans stalled for just as long because I could not drive the bar with my hips. In fact, if I chose my physical activity based on what I were “built” to do, I’d be confined to a chair… for the safety of world and myself. Actually, because I allowed myself to be limited by my body– to be discouraged by my asthma, frustrated by my lack of coordination and endurance– I spent most of my life avoiding physical activity. One of the many things for which I owe CrossFit: it taught me that it’s okay to suck. I learned to accept coming through the door last, having the lightest weight on the bar, and flailing awkwardly from the rig. I learned to just enjoy it for me, regardless of times or rounds or numbers.

I know that, a year ago, when I started telling people that I wanted to be a CrossFit coach someday, I sounded ridiculous. I was 88lbs; I couldn’t do a box jump or a pull-up. I couldn’t clean 45 lbs. It’s been a little more than a year. I’m 27 lbs heavier, and almost all my lifts have doubled (or more). I can do pull-ups– strict, kipping, and butterfly. I can do chest-to-bars. I can do handstand pushups and rope climbs and pistols… things I never imagined would ever be in my realm of possibility. I have a long, long way to go still I know. And I’m greedy about it. I want a heavier squat. I want a muscle up. I want a faster 400m time, and I want better endurance… but I’ll keep working on it– not because I expect to be the best or even particularly “good,” but because I enjoy it. I find it fulfilling, and it’s good for me– physically, emotionally, mentally (I’m really not fit for human company when I haven’t been allowed outdoors or physical activity for more than 24 hours). I’m grateful for the progress I’ve made these past 15 months… and grateful even more for the patient coaches that have worked with me even when it seemed impossible– when I spent months falling off the same box and dropping the same 50lbs. Sometimes I get frustrated with my training because it feels like I’m fighting my body. I am small, which means my stride is shorter and my pull on the rower is shorter, and the amount of mass I’m throwing against the barbell is… sometimes laughable. I don’t put on muscle easily and I lose it even faster. As I’ve discovered in the past months, if I neglect a lift for two weeks, my numbers plummet. If I engage in endurance-based activities, all my lifts stall. There are many moments when I feel as if my brain is screaming at my body, but my limbs won’t obey, my joints can’t coordinate, and I lose all dexterity. But you’ll still find me at the gym the next day, falling off the rings just before the muscle-up transition.

Caitlin says that running has made her more confident, braver, tougher, and I maintain that CrossFit has done the same for me. My build does make things tougher… I still find myself envying girls that come in and throw 95lbs onto their shoulders like it’s weightless when that same achievement was a long, yearlong slog for me. But I’m not going to let that stop me… because I’ll strangle myself with the laces of Caitlin’s running shoes before I trade CrossFit for half-marathons 😉


In Training on September 23, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Jo is frustrated again. I know I worry too much, and I overthink and expect too much and whine entirely too often on this blog… yadda yadda yadda, now with that self-conscious concession aside, I’m going to whine again. This whole self-composed Westside-Conjugate based training template is driving me crazy. I honestly can’t tell how much progress I’m making or not making on it. In the past week, I PR’d my baseline by about ten seconds (400m run, 40 air squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups, and 10 pull-ups in 3 minutes 47 seconds), and PR’d my power clean by 5 pounds (95 total… still lighter than I’d like it to be, but it was 5lbs heavier than my last PR). I also managed to press my former one rep max for 3 reps on Tuesday. So, yes, I’ve seen some fairly satisfying growth at times on this program. On the other hand, I have absolutely morale-crushing days too. I spent two of my lower body max-effort days figuring out that my deadlift has dropped 15lbs from its former 225… and today, I returned to squats to find that I couldn’t manage 10lbs less than my former one rep max. This morning, I maxed out again and again at 130, failing every time I tried 132.5, which baffles me because I squatted 135 for 3 reps about four weeks ago. I’m definitely going crazy.

What’s been immensely humbling about CrossFit is that it’s something I can’t… out-study. I have a theory that I wound up in academia because school suits my obsessive propensities . My struggles with any subjects could be resolved with more time in the library or online, with practicing problem sets or writing and re-writing over and over again. Yes, there’s a point of diminishing returns (as I discovered during my many undergraduate all-nighters), but there are always returns. The thing about physical training is that… not only do you reach a point of diminishing returns, you can actually regress… rather quickly too. I don’t know if I’m overtraining or undertraining or just plain wrong-training at this point. I can read as many and 70’s Big and Charles Poliquin etc articles as I want, but it doesn’t raise my squat any. If I spend too much time at the gym trying squat variants and pistols and sprints, then I’m actually breaking down the muscle I’m trying to build. If I don’t do the right movements often enough, then I don’t built jack shit and what little strength I’ve managed gain withers away.

I see so many celebratory narratives about CrossFit helping people find their strength and enjoy their bodies and I’ve written quite a few myself– and there are many days when I feel like that. But today’s one of those opposite days… when I just feel like training requires me to fight every bit of my body’s natural inclinations– because I’m convinced my body delights in consuming its own muscle. I’m also so… frustratingly naturally uncoordinated. I’m so close to a muscle-up, I can taste it. I can pull the rings to my shoulders, and I can rise from the dead bottom of a dip, but I can’t throw my shoulders over, and I’m worried that I will just never learn the mind-body coordination to time that kip correctly. Even this morning with the squat– every single time, 130 felt light. I felt like I could rep 130. But the moment I went down with 132.5, my legs just could not rise…

I’m doing something wrong… Well, I’m probably doing lots of things wrong, but I feel entirely lost trying to write my own programming. There are so many theories and methodologies out there that it’s impossible to know what’s right, and the truth is, there’s so much variety because no single person reacts the same to the same stimuli as any other. It’s eating away at me that I have the will and determination to do this– that if I could find the perfect roadmap or a checklist, I would follow it to a T. No excuses… I would get my butt to the gym, I would blend and chug whatever protein-carb concoction I needed to, eat and sleep the times and quantities I should, but there’s no magic roadmap, no miracle solution, just a harrying series of trial and error that– in my case– winds up being mostly just errors.

The Curious Case of Rich Froning

In Training, WOD on September 22, 2012 at 11:57 am

This morning, LionHeart’s team of badass coaches is getting the awesome opportunity to learn from Olympic gold-medalist Tara Nott. She took gold in the 2000 Summer Olympics in the women’s 48kg category. There, she snatched 82.5kg– over 180 lbs. At 48kg bodyweight, she’s smaller than me– a wee 105 lbs. I can’t even back squat 180lbs, let alone hoist it overhead in one absurdly explosive movement. Anyway, because the coaches are otherwise occupied today, the box was closed and we little Lionhearters were left to fend for ourselves. I dusted off the home gym and got to work:

Buy-in: Hill sprints: 10x sprint uphill, walk back down (short hill)

As a general rule, I hate the mountainy Pennsylvania roads here, which make biking anywhere a hellish experience– and ensure that this little English instructor arrives to teach her summer classes in a fantastically authoritative sheen of sweat. However, the many hills around my neighborhood do provide awesome variety for my sprint workouts.

WOD: 12 minute AMRAP

7 Dumbbell thrusters (my wimpy dumbbells max out at 24lbs, so I had to stick with that)

7 burpees

7 knees to elbows– I’m connecting my kips! Finally!

Cash out: 2 sets of 25 hollow rocks


Unfortunately, I’ve reached the point where I really just can’t tolerate whey in any form whatsoever. I’ve suspected that my protein shake has been tearing apart my stomach for a while, but I’ve been in denial about it since I’ve seen such great strength gains on this particular brand, and I didn’t want to undertake the long investigation process of finding a replacement. But… I really just can’t live with this degree of discomfort, so I cut it out and feel at least digestively better. However, as I experienced before, without the post-WOD shake, my recovery is worse. I’ve requested samples from Sunwarrior, which makes a brown rice protein. I know nothing really substitutes for whey, but if it won’t decimate my stomach each day, it’s probably worth the small backslide in progress…. probably.

Recently, I was browsing the latest issue of The Box magazine, which features an interview with Rich Froning (it also contains far more interesting interviews with Katie Hogan and Dave Lipson– two phenomenal CrossFit athletes who fell short of the Games this year for different reasons). But I wanted to focus on the Froning interview because it irritated me a bit. I know a lot of CrossFitters who rail against him  for being “arrogant.” On the opposite end of the spectrum, the reporters and a lot of CrossFit media love to portray him as this “humble,” deeply religious figure. I won’t accuse him of either because I think it’s impossible for us to gauge anyone’s personality from secondhand sources. But… if you’ll indulge me, and if I could be presumptuous enough to speculate, he strikes me as neither arrogant nor humble. He strikes me as a man who has never been humbled. Yes, he works… absurdly hard. The magazine details a “day in the life” of Rich Froning as:

7:30amm Wake up, read the Bible (seriously)

8:15am Warm up on the Airdyne, begin first WOD

9:00am: train with a group of professional motocross athletes (and occasionally participate in their workout)

11:45am: Work with a Tennessee Tech football coach on his big lifts, Then WOD with him

3:00 pm: Practice O-lifts and WOD

Evening: Interval workout on a Concept2.
According to this magazine (and many other interviews), Froning doesn’t have much of a training plan, nor does he follow a diet. In fact, he works out so often, he can only fit in spoonfulls of peanut butter and jelly and glasses of milk and Progenex throughout his day. On the one hand, yes, five workouts a day is a grueling regimen. On the other, it doesn’t sound like effort for this man. He doesn’t plan, he trains as he wishes, and he’s blessed with the genetics that just adapt perfectly to his freeflowing methodology. This is the polar opposite of this year’s second-place finisher, Matt Chan, who has his diet (Paleo-Zone) calculated to a science, who has strategized every bit of his training to whittle away his weaknesses and fortify his strengths. It’s a far departure from most CrossFit athletes. Talayna Fortunato works with Rudy Nielsen from Outlaw CrossFit. Katie Hogan hired a powerlifting coach to prep for this year’s games, and when she didn’t make it, she became Rebecca Voigt’s weightlifting coach. Other athletes have discovered their weaknesses and addressed their demons. What makes Froning a strange phenomenon is that he doesn’t seem to have any. That, I think, will be his Achilles heel. The fact that he can so easily hop into a wide array of workouts so many times a day so many days in a row is what makes him so perfect for CrossFit– The Games, after all, are just back-to-back days of successive WODs. But someday, there will be a talented all-around athlete who has become what he is through self-diagnosis– who has been forced to confront the strange intricacies of his body and to strip it of its shortcomings one by one, who will be able to keep apace of Froning– and I wonder then how he would handle the pressure. I think, only then, could anyone really make a statement about whether he’s “humble” or “hardworking”– or conversely, whether he’s thickheaded and arrogant. Strangely enough, I think the Fittest Man on Earth is just yet untried. I look forward to meeting the athlete who comes along to test him.

Westside Change-up and The New Love of My Life

In Food, Training on September 15, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I need to publicly and shamelessly declare my undying love for The Civilized Caveman. Seriously, if George Bryant ever wants to elope with me and spend our days swinging kettlebells, spreading the good word about functional fitness, and making pulled pork, the offer’s on the table. I’ve been following his website for a while now. He’s a fantastic chef, and most of his recipes are accessible to culinary-bumblers such as myself. Seriously… they’re delicious, but relatively simple. In addition to that idiot-proof pulled pork recipe, I recommend the holiday Lara Bar and the bacon-wrapped tahini and sundried-tomato stuffed chicken breasts (yes it’s appropriate to drool). I’m not much of baker, but for those who miss more baked-good-like things, he has quite the selection of paleo-friendly brownies and scones and other such goodies as well.

But that’s beside the point. The Civilized Caveman is a man of many talents. He also is a US Marine, owns and runs his own photography company, and is a mischievous, covert philanthropist. I listened to his recent podcast on Abel James’s show (which I’d never heard before), and shared a lot about his life philosophy. Apparently he partakes in regular, anonymous acts of goodwill. He’ll buy $25 gift cards for Trade Joe’s and tell the cashiers to apply them anonymously to anyone’s cart at their discretion. He goes into coffee shops and treats strangers to their morning cup ‘o Jo(e). But it’s not just a money thing. He made a point about how… you can tell if someone looks a down and might need a extra dose of kindness for the day– or when someone is walking insecurely and might delight in being told she (or he, you never know) is beautiful. We so often overlook the small, but truly pivotal ways that we can impact someone’s day– or week. A smile, a few words, a tiny gesture of generosity can turn someone’s day around. About a week ago, before I even heard the podcast, I’d had a long and shitty day of work. It was my off day, but I still swung by the gym just to say hi. Everyone was busy, so I didn’t stick around long, but there were a few friends who greeted me with such effusive smiles that I left in a drastically better mood than when I stepped in. After a day of feeling overlooked, mired in my own thoughts and issues I’d magnified in my head, I just needed the reminder that there were people who cared. Small differences.

He also talked a bit about the motivation behind his training: he wants to be a giant, grown-up kid. And honestly, I agree. After a year of CrossFit, I’m proud of where I come, but I also know I’ll never be anything close to a Games competitor– nor do I really have that impulse to compete. I want to be fit so I can celebrate and enjoy my good health–particularly with friends and family. So… I’m trying to keep that in mind, even as I encounter frustrations with my strength gains (or not, as they may be).

About the strength training…

It’s  been perplexing me lately. Since I’ve started my tentative Westside Conjugate programming, I’ve seen some awesome PRs. I quickly hit new highs on my squat and my press, and I tried some variations (safety bar squat, swiss bar press) with positive results. However, my biggest fear in undertaking a westside-based program is that, with only one max-effort lift per week, I’d be neglecting some of the major lifts. After three weeks of concentrating on squat for lower body and press for upper body, I finally returned to deadlift and bench (which were my two better lifts before). However, though I hit my landmark 225 (a bit over 2x bodyweight) right before starting Westside, I could barely manage 205 on Monday– and the form was atrocious. My bench has not moved. I think I’m not strategizing well.

After for too much time perusing Westside templates and more methodology, I think I’m going to try alternating squat varations and deadlift variations each week– same with press and bench. Additionally, I’m going to try a four week cycle so that I revisit the same lifts every four weeks. Jefe keeps pressing me about “variety” and how I should take advantage of the wide range of options that Westside gives me… but the problem with being such a novice at all these movements is that I have no idea whether I’m hitting a PR because I’m getting stronger or a PR just because I’m very unfamiliar with each lift and the learning curve is steep. Revisiting after four weeks will give me a better gauge on things. If it seems to be going well, I might try to extend the cycle by adding more variation.

So… I’m thinking something like this for my max effort lifts:

Week 1: Squat / Press

Week 2: Deadlift / Bench

Week 3: Safety Bar Squat / Swiss Bar Press

Week 4: Deficit Deadlift (or deadlift with chains) / Floor Press (or close grip bench)

I may be naturally adding more variation anyway by switching between 1 rep maxes and 3 rep maxes. I read something about how novice lifters might want to shoot for a 3 rep max as opposed to a one rep max because we need to spend more time under tension. It also appears that common wisdom says that dynamic effort benches should be done for sets of three– as opposed to the two that I’ve been doing– so I’m going to try 3×10 starting next week.

Before I start my next cycle, though, I may spend this week’s max effort day retesting my deadlift. It’s a matter of pride… I wasn’t really warmed-up when I tested and I started my first warm-up weight too high… I was anxious about squeezing my lift in before the group class started… which may be me making excuses for myself, but I’m going to move my lower body Max Effort days to Sundays so I can use the open gym time rather than trying to rush to the box after class so I have enough time to fly through the movements before the group WOD. It’ll throw off my weekly timing a bit, but I’ll still have 72 hours between working the same muscle groups, so I think it should be all right.

That said, I’m not absolutely devastated by the backslide on my neglected lifts because I know that I’m getting stronger. I can consistently add weight on my assistance exercises, and I PRd my power clean at 95 lbs today. Grace– I’m coming after you :p.

Never Forget

In General, Rhetoric, WOD on September 11, 2012 at 7:22 pm

There are impending posts, but for today, let us remember.

Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100

by Martín Espada
for the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100, working at the Windows on the World restaurant, who lost their lives in the attack on the World Trade Center

Alabanza. Praise the cook with the shaven head
and a tattoo on his shoulder that said Oye,
a blue-eyed Puerto Rican with people from Fajardo,
the harbor of pirates centuries ago.
Praise the lighthouse in Fajardo, candle
glimmering white to worship the dark saint of the sea.
Alabanza. Praise the cook's yellow Pirates cap
worn in the name of Roberto Clemente, his plane
that flamed into the ocean loaded with cans for Nicaragua,
for all the mouths chewing the ash of earthquakes.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen radio, dial clicked
even before the dial on the oven, so that music and Spanish
rose before bread. Praise the bread. Alabanza.

Praise Manhattan from a hundred and seven flights up,
like Atlantis glimpsed through the windows of an ancient aquarium.
Praise the great windows where immigrants from the kitchen
could squint and almost see their world, hear the chant of nations:
Ecuador, México, Republica Dominicana, 
Haiti, Yemen, Ghana, Bangladesh.
Alabanza. Praise the kitchen in the morning,
where the gas burned blue on every stove
and exhaust fans fired their diminutive propellers,
hands cracked eggs with quick thumbs
or sliced open cartons to build an altar of cans.
Alabanza. Praise the busboy's music, the chime-chime
of his dishes and silverware in the tub.
Alabanza. Praise the dish-dog, the dishwasher
who worked that morning because another dishwasher 
could not stop coughing, or because he needed overtime
to pile the sacks of rice and beans for a family
floating away on some Caribbean island plagued by frogs.
Alabanza. Praise the waitress who heard the radio in the kitchen
and sang to herself about a man gone. Alabanza.

After the thunder wilder than thunder,
after the booming ice storm of glass from the great windows,
after the radio stopped singing like a tree full of terrified frogs,
after night burst the dam of day and flooded the kitchen,
for a time the stoves glowed in darkness like the lighthouse in
like a cook's soul. Soul I say, even if the dead cannot tell us
about the bristles of God's beard because God has no face,
soul I say, to name the smoke-beings flung in constellations
across the night sky of this city and cities to come.
Alabanza I say, even if God has no face.

Alabanza. When the war began, from Manhattan to Kabul
two constellations of smoke rose and drifted to each other,
mingling in icy air, and one said with an Afghan tongue:
Teach me to dance. We have no music here.
And the other said with a Spanish tongue:
I will teach you. Music is all we have.

Life’s a shitshow sometimes, but each day you can share with loved ones is a blessing. I hate the way people turn this day– and other tragedies– into opportunities to mount their personal soapboxes. We owe the many heroes of this nation– men and women who demonstrated the inconceivable heights of human courage in the face of sudden tragedy– so much more than absentminded, spiteful Facebook statuses.

Workout of the Day:

A One Round 9 Movement 11 Rep. Chipper

2,001m Row


36/24in box jump

125/85lb thruster (deaths @ pentagon)

burpee chest to bar pull ups

175/120lb power clean (AA FLight #175 (south tower))

handstand push ups

2 pood/1.5 pood swings

toes to bar

170/120lb deadlift (Flight 77 and flight 93)

110/75 push jerk (number of floors in each tower)

2,001m row

CrossFit: Lessons in How to Live

In General, Training, WOD on September 9, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Today, a friend of mine was tagged in a Facebook photo. He’s doing a handstand on a bridge in Pittsburgh. Actually, he’s doing a handstand on the railing of a bridge in Pittsburgh. He’s gripping a steel bar, inverted hundreds of feet above the Pittsburgh skyline, with nothing between him and a fateful plummet but 20-odd years as a gymnast. That’s probably enough… that trust, and familiarity with his body and balance must give him the confidence to do such a thing (such a thing that most people would still call stupid). Regardless of how I train, I still don’t endorse death-defying handstands. But the photo looked so carefree, so bold and celebratory, that it reminded me of a sentiment that frequently delights me in CrossFit. This sport hasn’t just taught me how to train, or how to be fit. The athletes around me so often remind me of how I want to live.

I have a strange relationship with my fears. As a child, I was terrified of heights. A memory that I still don’t entirely know what to do with… on a hiking trip with my family, my father picked me up and held me over the Grand Canyon until I stopped crying. It didn’t cure me of my fear. In fact, I shirked from the railings on the second stories of shopping malls for years. I was thrown from horseback at age 12, and decided that that– too– was too high. But as I got older, that fear became an obnoxious impediment. And though my day above the Grand Canyon did nothing to dispel my terror, it’s instilled in me a will to confront my demons. In order to become certified as a stage technician, I had to scale 15′ up a ladder to hang a stage lamp. I did it, hands shaking, teeth clenched, remembering my father’s grip beneath my arms and the way the hard, desert earth gaped open beneath my swinging feet. Even during my first rope climb, my heart skipped a beat the first time I reached the top and looked down. (For those that are curious, I also avidly avoided horses for two years before enrolling as a stablehand at the zoo, where I became a competent rider… and fantastically good at cleaning hooves).

That said… I’m still a very cautious– overly cautious– individual. I plan for everything. I start assignments the day they’re given. I cannot relax unless I’ve checked off my entire to-do list– and, since to-do lists in graduate school are actually neverending, I live in a perpetual, overly-wound psychosis. But the gym allows me moments of reprieve. We did “Wood” on Monday (5 Rounds for time of: Run 400 meters,10 Burpee box jumps, 10 sumo-deadlift high-pulls, 10 thrusters, rest 1 minute between rounds) and– despite the inconquerable mountain of work I had awaiting atop my desk, I felt entirely weightless by my 4th round. I was running through the rain, soaked to the point that I could feel the water splashing off my sneakers each time I landed a box jump, but for those twenty-some minutes, nothing mattered but this moment and the strength of the athletes beside me.

Some athletes like the Gymnast remind me to live, occasionally, with abandon. To shed our fears and celebrate what we have. To break free of my chronic timidity. Others, like Jefe, remind me to live with integrity. Some members were discussing– in good-nature– this coach’s high standards earlier this week, about how he’ll “no rep” anything short of perfect form. But the thing is, he does so because he holds himself to those same standards– or higher. I’ve never seen an athlete more honest about good form, solid reps, refusing to let anything count unless it’s completed 100% in compliance with the spirit of the movement. I think I’ve also (in a possibly tipsy stupor) told Coach Zebrapants that I want to live like he WODs… which is still entirely true. An absurdly gifted athlete, he’s now a hell of a competitor and likely to make a sincere splash in the professional world of CrossFit soon. However, I was lucky enough to be there at the start of his CrossFit career– when he had nothing going for him but sheer strength and dedication. It was actually a hell of a sight to see someone with no sense of technique, no finesse, just plow through workouts with sheer will. (I can say this now, because his form and technique and well beyond anything I could critique these days). But regardless… I want to live like that– to approach the things that I don’t yet have the knowledge of skill for with enough heart and determination to make it, with enough enthusiasm to absorb technique and finesse and the finer details along the way, with passion and wild abandon.

But it’s not just the gifted athletes that are inspiring. I know I mention it lots, but there’s always a soft spot in my heart (or perhaps a shared camaraderie/inborn empathy) for the not-at-all-natural-athletes at our box– for those that have never seen a barbell before, picking one up for the first time. With the wealth of new members we’ve acquired this month, I love seeing the ones that come in during open gym times to drill their power cleans or double-unders, to strap bands to the pull-up bars and work their way to their first kip. I love all that CrossFit teaches us about persistence, about picking ourselves back up after we’ve stumbled, or fallen, or smashed our shins against the plyo box (so many sympathetic hugs for Scotchy who did just that this week).

Anyway… that’s my thought for the week.

Also, this morning, I repeated a WOD I do on a fairly regular basis now:

4x prowler push 40m

25 burpees

4x prowler push 40m

200m sprint

4x prowler push 40m

25 burpees

As I mentioned a while ago, I’m trying to learn to “push through the suck,” so I tried giving myself less rest time this go-around. Anytime I stopped, I only let myself count thirty seconds before I started again– which, if you’ve ever done prowler pushes, you’ll know is fantastically awful. At some point, I may have actually lost the ability to count… my brain was spinning circles in: “twenty-six mississippi… twenty fi-six mississippi… twenty-eight missisipi… twenty— should I be going now?” But I still love this workout. It gets my heart working, but doesn’t leave me trashed for the rest of the day.

Also, a little bit of bookkeeping:

Friday marked the end of my Coconut oil giveaway. Many thanks, hugs, and general good karma to all those who entered. Also thanks again to Tropical Traditions for the fantastic opportunity to share their lovely product. To keep my process transparent, here’s what I did for entirely randomized winner selection: I inputted the number of entries into a “True Random Number Generator” (thank you internets) to determine the winner. So don’t blame me. Blame computers.

As it so happens, 8 is my favorite number. 8 also belongs to a lucky lady named Krista, who’s about to enjoy a wealth of coconutty goodness in her life. Congratulations Krista, do let us know what you make with your delicious winnings!

Scars, Pride, and Gratitude

In Rhetoric, Training on September 2, 2012 at 5:56 pm

Buckle down. It’s time for some more Jomad-oversharing again. Ready? Good.

For the past week, I’ve had a misguided fling of no real consequence with a very sweet guy from whom I think I differ too greatly to actually continue seeing. That’s not really the important part. But at some point, he was frowning at the callouses on my hands, and when I asked him if they bothered him, he hesitantly said, “Not really.” And then added: “But if I could snap my fingers and change it, I would.”

Here’s the thing, I know a lot of the “strong women of CrossFit” rhetoric is silly. It glosses over and simplifies a lot of more complicated issues about strength, body image, and gender. I’ve 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 am of my scars.  They are the evidence of my hard work and dedication.”

I actually know a lot of CrossFit women who are bothered by the roughness of their palms– and I don’t fault them that. But personally? I don’t give a shit. Actually, I am proud of them. I earned these callouses through hours on the bar. I rubbed skin away into rawness and blood into scabs and callouses so that I could progress from ring-ups to pull-ups to butterflies… so that I could double my clean and deadlift in five months.

With all the new members at the box (part and parcel of the start of a new school year), I’ve witnessed again how quickly many new members will pick up skills that took me months (or a year) to learn (or not yet learn). I see lifelong athletes adapt quickly to new movements, already attuned to the nuances of their bodies, accustomed to soreness and strain and heavy burdens. I’ve written of it before– for a long time, I found this a bit discouraging… struggling so hard for things that came naturally to many others. But I think I’ve accepted it now– or perhaps embraced it. I PR’d my power clean today (and snatch as well, actually). At 90lbs, it’s not that impressive… the two women with whom I started CrossFit (athletes I admire, whose strength and adroitness I aspire to one day emulate) have been power cleaning above 85 since our second month. I’ve also seen many new members exceed that number when they first test their PR. But in a little over 5 months ago, 90 lbs was my body weight. The first time I tried Grace (30 clean and jerks, for time), I tried it at 50lbs and spent the entire 20 minutes choking on tears because I could not get the bar to my shoulders. Today, 90lbs felt light. To many women, it is. But to me, it’s a year’s worth of labor. Of compiling articles and videos on O-lift technique, of badgering coaches here and in Phoenix with my incessant questions, of so many mornings of the Burgener complex, of figuring out how to eat and train to put on weight and keep it on, of reclaiming strength my body had entirely forgotten after years of fragility.

So… I don’t hold my nameless fellow’s remark against him, but… I’m afraid it’s not his right (especially not within a week of knowing me) to want to change my hands. If I could snap my fingers and have baby-smooth palms… I wouldn’t. For one, I’m pretty sure they’d tear open the next time I did a 2x+ bodyweight deadlift. But for two, they’re the memory of how I got here.

This is probably a belated revelation. I doubt my story is particularly unique. The lifelong athletes of whom I’ve been jealous might have struggled just as hard, just as long– simply earlier in their lives… not as twenty-something grad students trying to figure out how to not fail at this whole life thing. But, nevertheless, I’ll keep my callouses and be proud of my scars.

So… speaking of progress. I achieved my first monthly goal (over 2x bodyweight deadlift), and then my next monthly goal (sub 4:00min baseline), so now I’m tasked with conjuring new ones. I’m not sure about an end of the month goal, but with this morning’s 90lb clean, I’ve decided on a couple end-of-the-year goals. So… before 2013, I will:

Do Grace prescribed (3o 95lb clean and jerks for time), under 15 min. I still don’t really approve of high-volume, heavy Olympic lifts for time, but Grace has been my CrossFit nemesis for so long that I just need to do this.

Sub 7:00min Fran. I’m pretty sure I could do Fran prescribed now, but it would be a long slog. My shoulder strength isn’t quite there for the thrusters, and my grip would give too quickly on the pull-ups.

I’d also like a muscle-up… but again, because it’s a weird skill that some seem to achieve naturally and that other, perfectly adept athletes struggle with for years… I can’t gauge how far off I am from this. But with this in mind, I should remember to bring ring dips back into my rotation of exercises. I’m also doing the Armstrong Pull-up Program. I only do four days a week– I skip the repeat day because I figure pull-ups will show up in one of the WODs. Right now, I’m doing work sets of 5 and rather enjoying it…. we’ll see how it goes. In order to improve my times on the “girl” workouts, I know I need to work on my power production, and my intensity… for some reason, I feel like my ability to push through “the suck” has decreased over time. Or… as I’ve gotten stronger, the feel of bearing that weight brings significantly more “suck.” Either way, I’m trying to push harder through my workouts– 5 more pounds, one more rep, one more step before I let myself take a break.

Anyway, it’s been a rather lovely Labor Day weekend– plenty of time with good friends, who remind me that life outside the office (and *gasp* outside the gym) is worth enjoying. I’m thankful for that too.