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Archive for June, 2013|Monthly archive page

Stepping Forward

In General, Training on June 24, 2013 at 9:33 pm

As I travel for work and for CrossFit, I find myself becoming more comfortable in the unfamiliar. In fact, I find myself excited by the unfamiliar– by being immersed in new, daunting environments wherein I have the humbling fortune of meeting people so much more knowledgeable and experienced than I am. This past weekend, Coach let me hang out with her and PowerWOD (her boyfriend/strength coach/elite powerlifter in five different weight classes/nicest guy I know with a 800+lb deadlift) while they were in Virginia to conduct a seminar. Though Coach has helped me a great deal just through video correspondence, emails, and my incessant text messaging, it was so much more helpful to be able to work in person. And just to absorb her knowledge and coaching techniques as well. It also restores my faith in the world to confirm that these athletes and trainers whose careers I’ve long admired are also genuine, down-to-earth people who will readily welcome a neurotic Asian chick as a friend. Furthermore, traveling to CrossFit Annandale, meeting their crew and staff and welcoming community– I’m still stunned by the way CrossFit gives people a shared language with which to connect so quickly.

I insist that, of the many cool things in CrossFit, the best thing it has to offer is the way it brings people together. It took fitness and made it accessible and communal– not that this is new. This has happened in group fitness classes, in yoga studios, in bodybuilding and powerlifting gyms long over time. But I think some athletes and coaches forget to take advantage of the robustness of this community. We become comfortable in our boxes, surrounded by our familiar faces. We’re used to our favorite pull-up bar and wall-ball target and afraid to look incompetent in a new gym. But it’s too easy to stagnate in the familiar– in what we already know. It’s in discovering what we don’t know and pursuing that knowledge that we grow.

Speaking of pursuing knowledge, Coach gave a piece of advice that really stuck with me. It was about the 100’s chipper (event 4). Coach didn’t brag about this during the seminar, but I’ll brag for her here. She took second place in her region. On a 400 rep workout. Her point, during the seminar, was that… during that workout, you can’t think about the 400 reps. You can’t start counting at one and expect to get to 400. All that matters is the rep right in front of you. Similarly, when you’re coaching that athlete, you don’t tell her to get 400. You applaud her one and tell her to get two. Then to do another two. Then get to five. Then six. Thinking about rep 400 at the beginning is soul-crushing. But if you rep it out one by one, you’ll get there.

I couldn’t help thinking about how that applied to my life. Or how I should apply that to my life. Calling myself a graduate student felt like a fantasy. Still, the idea of ever becoming “Dr. Jo” feels impossible and ridiculous. The idea that, at the end of all this, I’ll have been in school for a minimum of 19 years (not even counting preschool)… is beyond soul-crushing. If I woke up thinking about the fact that I still have to finish my coursework, and memorize hundreds of texts and spend days being tested on these texts and pass my comprehensive exams and then write an entire book-length dissertation (along with a second book-length project that my adviser and I have agreed I will try to complete concurrently) and defend that dissertation… and afterwards, throw myself at the mercy of a near-impossible job market and beg for a position at a respectable institution and pray that these 19 years of learning and writing and studying have been enough. Well, fuck, I’d never get out of bed in the morning. I get out of bed by deciding that today, I will get to my classroom and teach my class and hopefully those students will leave a little more excited about the power of language. I will go to my office in the writing center and work with students on individual pages and those individual pages will improve and hopefully they will draw from that something they can apply to future pages. I will get to the gym and I will lift something that will break me a little bit so that I can heal and grow stronger and bigger and lift a little more the next time. I will help coach this class and learn from the coaches and athletes around me so I can be a more experienced, more knowledgable coach tomorrow. And in these small ways, these tiny steps, I will inch my way towards the Jo I want to become.

I’ve noticed that we apply the words “it’s not a sprint– it’s a marathon” to just about everything that matters in life– as much as I love the sprint, it appears that the dreaded long, slow distance is a better metaphor for life. Most journeys towards self-improvement are long and soul-crushing. But despite our dread, we still readily undertake them– and like marathoners, we should approach these challenges not just to cross the finish line, but for every tortuous footfall that takes us there. It’s a marathon. But don’t think about mile 26 right now. Just lift your right foot. Then your left. And step forward.

Growth and Gratitude: reflections on two days of trial-by-coaching

In General, Training, WOD on June 12, 2013 at 9:47 pm

The past two weeks have been a “trial period” for aspiring coaches at our box. I really regret missing the entire first week for my conference in Kansas (despite the absolute awesomeness of CrossFit Lawrence). However, I was fortunate enough to teach three classes in these past two days. Honestly, the experience has just been fantastic and rewarding, very enlightening, and humbling at the same time. For the teacher in me, a lot of it feels familiar: breaking concepts down to their constituent parts, linking them back together in a way you hope will make sense to others. I think the part of it that has been strangest, and that I’d really love more experience in, is just managing the movement element. I’ve been a writing teacher and a stage director. I’ve taught and coordinated people, but only either in sedentary settings or with predetermined scripts. A gym is obviously an entirely different environment. Arranging 15 people and 4 benches for some pre-metcon strength work is a game of strategic navigation that I’ve never played before. Nevertheless, no one died– I think. And no one threw a kettlebell at my head (despite Scotchy’s threats). I’d like to believe that the classes went well. I know I learned something more with each one– about group management, time management, about each of the individual athletes and how they respond to different cues. My favorite part of all this has been getting to spend more time with the community of welcoming, generous people we have at the box. I’ve loved getting to know the new faces when they walk into the class. Additionally, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know my fellow would-be, could-be coaches better. I’ve enjoyed participating in their classes and seeing how they apply their own personalities to the workout– how they analyze and take apart and approach the teaching of each movement. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve felt more energy in this box this past week, and I hope that endures. I’m excited to see where and how we can grow from here. Anyway. I don’t envy The Jefe his decision, and want to express my earnest gratitude to him for having the open-mindedness and faith in people to believe that anyone with his/her heart and mind in the right place has the potential to be a good coach. Of course, there’s much more to the job than the mere desire to do it well. I hope my acts have lived up to my intentions. To those of you wonderful folks that have attended CrossFit à la Jo in the past couple days– thanks for your trust and your time. I hope I have earned it. If not– well, I’m nothing if not relentless. And I will continue learning and growing and improving until I do deserve that faith.

In other (somewhat but not entirely unrelated) news, I PR’d my Cindy today– by almost double the rounds I’d tallied a year ago. My point, though, isn’t to brag about my Cindy score. This particular workout plays to my strengths, and I still have so many areas in which I need to improve. Even today, I know my push-up form collapsed, and I need to strengthen the endurance of my core. But I am improving. I still see myself getting better in small, measurable ways each week as I train. And in just the two days I’ve been coaching, I want to say this to the newer athletes at the box: I get it. To the kid who’s trying to clean too much. To the girl flailing off the pull-up bar. I get it. I get how frustrating it is to feel your body betray your will. I get how infuriating it is to fall so far behind the firebreathers that you feel like you’re not even playing the same game. And worse, how entirely disheartening it is when, afterwards, all the “hardcore” athletes banter about their times and rounds and no one asks you because it’s irrelevant to them. Fuck them. Fuck the weight you can’t yet lift or the pull-up you’re still chasing. You’ll get there. If you slow down. If you stop beating yourself up for what you can’t yet do, and you start encouraging yourself to achieve what you can. Yes, lifting heavy is freaking awesome for you. But sometimes, you need to put down the iron and pick up the PVC again. Retrain the basics. Build your foundation. Allow yourself to progress one small step at a time and applaud those moments. And you’ll be surprised how those tiny, incremental advancements can accrue. And, a month– two months– half a year from now, you’ll be amazed by how far you’ve traveled.

A last note for my State College readers: those of you that have attended classes with the aspiring coaches in the past few days, please do email the box with your feedback– even if you did want to throw a kettlebell at my head. The success of this place is best measured by how it fulfills our members and helps them both define and attain their goals.

Happy Wednesday, all. And, as always, thanks for reading.

CrossFit Lawrence: Refuge and Rage

In General, Training on June 4, 2013 at 2:59 pm

People throw around the word “community” a lot lately. Your neighborhood is a “community.” Your classroom is a community. Your workplace would like to be a community. One of the many things I love about Crossfit is that, in this claim—and all claims—it is honest. The CrossFit community is a tangible, palpable, reliable thing. And, fortunately for us, the proliferation of boxes across the country means that the traveling CrossFitter is rarely stranded.

As most of you know, I’m in Kansas for the week for a professional conference. Because I didn’t want to throw away an entire week of training, I spoke with Coach and she programmed a week of travel workouts for me. I emailed Thomas Thatcher, the owner of CrossFit Lawrence, to ask if I could obnoxiously impose and use his facility for my own pre-programed workouts. He responded with two words: “Come rage.” I liked him immediately.

Despite my frequent travels, I still feel a bit of anxiety about visiting new boxes: what if I get in the way? What if I misrepresent my box or my coach? What if I trip over my own two feet again and faceplant on their plyo boxes? Yet always, I feel silly for these thoughts within five minutes of visiting a new box. The coaches always welcome me into their space. The members are friendly and help me find the equipment I need. They don’t judge me, or watch to evaluate how much I lift or how many skills I can perform; they just encourage me to WOD on beside them.

Every time I visit a new box, I also try to take in everything about their procedures, their coaching process, etc… to see what I can smuggle back to my own box. Thatcher runs a fantastic facility. Given: the space is expansive and has more toys than I can name—tires, a full rig, a bouldering wall, kettlebells, and dumbbells, and a yoke. They have indoor and outdoor lifting platforms.

But, more importantly, Thatcher runs with his box with thoughtful attention and an infectious enthusiasm, and just an embracive love of people and movement. The daily workouts are balanced and carefully planned. Today, I witnessed a group warm-up, focused strength and skill work, an intense metcon, and a cool-down—all packed into an hourlong class. Though Thatcher circulates the facility throughout the workout, twirling a PVC, shouting at his athletes, he keeps a critical eye on everything. Between enthusiastic whoops and Kelly Clarkson lyrics, he corrects form and technique and advises athletes on how to scale. He maintains a keen awareness of when athletes need to be spurred on, and when they need a moment to breathe. And somehow within all that, he has the time to visit a back-squatting Jo, to tell her to power through the bar for her last set.

Next week will be my first week of trial-coaching, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to conduct a few classes. I’ve been working towards this moment since I tripped over my first plyo box—since the first time I dragged my scrawny, asthmatic butt through a 400m run and bruised my collarbone on 50lb cleans. I’ve grown a lot since those hapless days, but I know I still have far to go. I will never stop learning, and I want to apply that education to help others find their own way, perhaps even to save them from some of my mistakes. As a coach, I want to be able to promise my athletes the same things I pledge to the students in my English classes: I will never ask you to do something without knowing concretely why and how it will benefit you. I have done and will continue to do my utmost in self-education and experiential learning so that I can provide you with the most comprehensive understanding of your own plan for self-improvement. We are in this together, and I will not abandon or give up on you. I’ve got your back.

As I become even more of an active member of the CrossFit community, I remain conscious of the ways I can draw from and give back to this world. Regardless of my silly anxieties, I will continue visiting new boxes and putting myself in strange environments to force myself to grow and learn from this newness. I will observe more experienced, more knowledgeable coaches like Thomas. I will eventually become a model from which others can learn. I will provide a refuge for athletes and traveling CrossFitters looking for a place to sneak in a pre-conference WOD. I will add to this network of compassionate trainers and athletes and humans out there that support one another, hundreds of miles from home. Thanks to this very solid, very real community, and Thomas, and the folks at Crossfit Lawrence…  at 6:00am before a full day of professionalization and headache-inducing conversation, I get to listen to the Kansas rain, watch the dawn crest the horizon, bury my thoughts beneath the barbell… and rage.