the spaz of fitness has arrived

CrossFit, Compassion, And Chilling Out

In General, Training on February 3, 2013 at 5:39 pm

So! A few observant readers may notice the gigantic strikethrough in my last post after I’d claimed to settle on a “new training program.” I feel bad posting a revision so shortly after– as I am notorious for program-hopping– but I do think this is for the better. In the past week, I’ve had a few truly heartening conversations that have reminded me of why I so love this community and how lucky I am to be surrounded by such generous, compassionate people.

I’ll start off with a statement I made in that last post: I am a plan-based mammal. I’m so plan-based, I’m fairly certain that it borders on some degree of OCD. I try not to let it affect too much of my daily life, and more importantly, I try not to let my small paranoia and aggravations impact the much more easygoing folk in my life– though I readily admit that oftentimes I am less successful than others. Regardless, I’m so plan-based that I cannot sit still for as long as I have a to-do list (which is always). I must always be working on or eliminating something on that list– getting groceries, getting my car fixed, planning lessons, grading homework, studying, working on a paper, a short story, an essay, querying agents, training, reading about training, planning for training… etc. I map out my days ahead of time and weeks ahead of time and I wish it were something I could even say I enjoyed, but it’s really something I do to keep myself sane… to placate the frantic, neurotic Jo in my head. It’s for this reason that I grew so dependent upon “training plans.” Also, common wisdom tells us to have training regimens, right? The internet is abound with “plans” for your first 5k. We have Starting Strength and Greyskull and 5/3/1 and Catalyst Athletics’ huge archive of Olympic training cycles that are all “plans.” So… as much as I am a CrossFit devotee, there is something about the unpredictability that scares the bejeezus out of me. Going to bed without knowing what workout I’m going to do the next day makes me more anxious than it should any sane individual.

Add all that to the fact that, for my first six or eight months of CrossFit, I actually made little to no progress. My strength numbers didn’t go up, my endurance didn’t get any better… I was in the gym for hours every day (longer than I should have been), but I was just hopping through WODs at random and breaking down more than I was rebuilding. So… I’m terrified of spinning my wheels again, of wasting my time… of putting all this work and dedication and heart into something and disappointing myself– or worse, those that have supported me.

But perhaps I’ve thrown myself too far into the opposite side of the spectrum.

Zebrapants was kind enough to sit down with me and chat this morning, and something he said really stuck with me: “This isn’t supposed to be stressful. Have fun with it.” It’s something I tell others all the time– have fun with your fitness! Enjoy it! And I do. I enjoy every minute I’m in the gym, but I spend too much time outside of it agonizing what I should be doing, overanalyzing why certain numbers have dropped or why others haven’t increased as they should. Truth be told, I have it so easy compared to someone like Zebrapants. I’m not competing. I have no Games-related ambitions, and the only reason I would ever compete is just to participate and to enjoy the community. There’s a little bit at stake for me in being “good”– in that I’d like to cultivate a certain respect from my athletes, but I’m not trying to get to outpace Rich Froning or dethrone Iceland Annie. 

So… have fun with it. I believe that CrossFit works. Hell, I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen it transform individuals not just physically but mentally. I need to trust that it can work for me without overthinking, without overplanning– that constantly varied movement in all modal domains will stimulate growth and self-improvement without a meticulously plotted roadmap.

So, Zebrapants suggested that I take one heavy powerlifting day a week, one heavy Olympic lifting day, and do three of the box’s programmed classes. And two rest days. Perhaps this time around, since I won’t be programming my own random 20 minute amraps throughout the weeks, I’ll actually see some progress. I also hope that, by now, after having tried and researched all these different strength programs, I’ll have a decent intuition for what I should and can focus on depending on the week and the other wods I’ve had. Is it the optimal way to train if I were trying to become a competitive firebreather? No. But I just want to be a more active, capable participant in this community, and I hope this is a step in the right direction. Also, I’ll note that my “heavy” Oly days are going to involve weights I can handle with good form… I’m sick of letting my ego get the better of me and landing shitty cleans at 95lbs when I should be catching them smoothly at 85.

So… my days will be up in the air, but I think I’ll probably do Monday and Friday as strength days, WOD with the classes Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and use Thursday and Sunday for rest, mobility, and technique.

On a related note, I wanted to share with you a reader question that I received via email (who graciously allowed me to post it here). Actually, for those of you that find me somehow via the internets, I can’t tell you how flattered and grateful I am that you read my random musings. It still makes me a little giddy to receive emails and messages sometimes, so… keep ’em coming! Anyway, Kelly wrote me an email with the following question:

“Since I read so much good stuff about crossfit on your blog and others I decided to try the crossfit gym near my house but its been a week and I don’t feel like I fit in. I’m in okay shape (went to the globo gym 6 days/week  before this. did yoga, pilates, bodypump), but all the moves are new to me and I can’t use the same weights as most of the other women and it seems like they already have formed cliques. I haven’t seen the big deal that everyone keeps talking about. I just feel left out and demoralized after classes.”

First off, Kelly, I’m sorry that this is anyone’s experience in a new gym, and I’m sorry that other members and coaches haven’t taken their time to make you feel welcome. I think it’s admirable that you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone and decided to try something new. As for the movements themselves– they’ll come… because CrossFit is so varied, chances are no one’s good at everything the moment she steps in the door. Make sure you establish a good, safe foundation first– learn a proper squat before you ever load an overhead squat… do one push-up with a tight core and good form rather than 10 sloppy flops and half presses. Honestly, the grand majority of the people I’ve met in the CrossFit world have been genuinely invested in helping others. Perhaps if you spoke to your trainers, they would be willing to help you with the areas in which you feel lacking. Same with trying to approach the other members at the gym. Give it a little more time. Most people really couldn’t care less if you’re lifting the same weight on the bar– if you take five minutes or fifteen. It’s just a matter of showing up with the right attitude and putting your all into it– and enjoying it! If, after a while, you still feel as if this environment isn’t for you… you won’t have lost that much. You could try something else or return to your former routine. But at least you’ve ventured into new territory, absorbed new knowledge and experience :). Good luck, Kelly!

I think the above is why I’m really glad I’ve tried all these different strength programs and spent so much time researching the many different methods CrossFitters have adapted to their programmings for different biases– olympic lifting, powerlifting, endurance, etc. I was speaking with one of the girls at the gym earlier this week– a natural-born athlete (the anti-Jo) who joined last year and picked things up so quickly. She hopes to participate in local competitions by this time next year… and honestly, I’d love to be coaching by that time. Being a competitive athlete doesn’t have much of an appeal to me, but I’d love to help others get there– and to help any one reach his or her goals be it making regionals or just running a complete mile.

Something I really appreciated about my talk with Zebrapants: He didn’t patronize or belittle my ambitions. I know I sound a bit like a crazy person when I obsess over the minutiae of my training… and I feel like it probably sounds even crazier when I talk to someone who’s actually training to make Regionals… But he treated my concerns as absolutely legitimate and worked with me and my compulsions to figure out what I could do that’s both productive and adaptive to my neuroses. I think that’s key to maintaining the spirit of CrossFit as this sport becomes a larger phenomenon. CrossFit is a big deal because it made fitness both fun and accessible to so many people– because it was “universally scalable” and it acknowledged that our physical needs differ by degree and not kind. Somewhat paradoxically, I want to stress the “individual” in that universality. Because we can cater to such a wide-ranging population, I think CrossFit should keep in mind the many different needs of its participants and continue to cultivate inclusive, accepting environments. So coaches like those at Kelly’s gym should remember that a new member might feel uncertain, and take the time to work with her on the basics so that she’s comfortable with the foundational movements… so that she doesn’t feel lost amid the flurry of thrusters and clean and jerks and toes to bars and etc…

Anyway… Thank you for paying attention to my ramblings. I’m sure I’ll fret about something or other again soon, but hopefully I’ll also start to chill out a bit. Next week, I’ll be attending a Level 1 seminar in King of Prussia. Expectedly, I’m excited and nervous as hell. I’m sure you’ll get a full report!

… also enjoy the football or something that appears to be happening today.

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