the spaz of fitness has arrived

Past, Present, and Future

In General, WOD on October 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm

This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for a while, but I’ve never found the “perfect” time to post it. So, keeping in mind that I am a work-in-progress, that I have learned a lot but have much still to learn, here goes nothing.

We will start, as we usually do, with a story.

I was a little nervous about today’s workout. I would start by finding a new one rep max for my split jerk, then follow that with some higher-volume repetition work at 80%, then 3 rounds of 10 power cleans @ 90lbs + 400m run. Afterwards, I also planned to row 500m x 3.*

*Caveat: I hesitate to describe my workouts in detail here because they’re part of a larger plan written and monitored by a knowledgeable coach, and I don’t want them taken out of context– so let’s keep that in mind ūüėȬ†

For reference, 90lbs is twice what my 1 rep max clean was when I started CrossFit. I hate rowing, and I generally fret before finding new one rep maxes because I’m a basketcase and am scared of discovering that I haven’t “made progress.” So, I was anxious.¬†Fortunately, it was a good day. I PR’d my split jerk by 10lbs, I didn’t miss a clean, and somehow, afterwards, I rowed all three sets of 500m at my PR pace (with 3 min rest between efforts).

Afterwards, I slid off the rower, sat down, breathless, on the floor of an empty gym, and I felt… spectacular.

CrossFit jokes a lot about “embracing the suck.” In fitness, we talk a lot about how much it’s supposed to hurt (“no pain, no gain,” etc.) And to a degree, that’s true. We push ourselves to our limits. We find new limits. We break those limits. But I’ve discovered there’s a huge difference between healthy, productive “pain,” and the self-destructive-awfulness that I’d put myself through for my first months– maybe even full year– of CrossFit.

I’m a little embarrassed of these, but let’s go to some pictures… visual aids are helpful, yes?

Jo circa 2009

Jo circa 2010

present-day Jo: a work in progress

That first photo is Jo before she cared about fitness, before she thought about health, before she thought about bodies or physical beings really. She was a happy Jo, who spent most of her time reading, restaurant-ing with friends, playing video games, etc. She also had pretty bad asthma, which she used as an excuse to avoid general movement. She had mysteriously, perpetually low blood pressure that gave her dizzy spells and occasional blackouts. She’d been unhealthy in odd, mildly annoying ways for all of her life and she just assumed these small things– wheezing, sudden bouts of weakness, fatigue, or nausea– were part of being human.

The second photo is Jo less than a year later, though the majority of that transformation occurred in just three months. It is what happens when small things become big problems– when inattention to fitness becomes full-blown, foolish disregard for health. Honestly, I had a difficult time finding a picture of myself in this period– and there are none that actually show how terrifyingly small I’d become. I didn’t like photos or mirrors– the waifish, fragile thing that stared back at me did not match that image I had of myself. In that picture, I’m 88lbs and so small that they don’t even make clothes that fit me. ¬†For about a year of my life, I couldn’t eat without crippling stomach pain and was thus constantly underfed and… somehow decided that I could live with that. At this point, I simply knew I was small and weak and I wanted to be bigger. Instead of fixing my nutrition and my baseline health, I started CrossFit and tried to lift all the things.

Working out is always the way you get fitter, right? And beginners can get fitter doing pretty much anything, right? So I stumbled into CrossFit without any knowledge of proper scaling– or moderation. I didn’t understand the monumental significance of diet and recovery. I figured lifting heavy things was enough. I slogged through workouts with weights that turned sprint-efforts into max lifts, I did hourlong metcons with insufficient fuel. My body was in a constant state of breakdown and some of it felt truly¬†terrible. I wanted so bad to get¬†better— to be stronger, faster, more coordinated for god’s sake. I loved the idea of CrossFit– where a community of people got together and had fun with their fitness. But my reality was awful. Everything hurt so bad… ¬†everything from running to lifting to box jumps was so damn hard or just plain out of reach that I felt like I was playing a different game. I wanted to be able to wod with the big kids and hold my own. But every day, I felt like I was just floundering on the sidelines. And in my desperation, I continued to ignore the way my body begged for help. I didn’t think about “strategy” during workouts. I didn’t bother to pace myself. Every single workout was a flat-out, frantic flailing to the finish. Ten minutes or forty, it felt like I was just trying to stay alive. I know it’s stupid now. I should have recognized it. I was so weak and sick that I had trouble climbing stairs. I was literally fucking blown over by the wind. There were so many things about my health that I needed to fix before I should be tackling hourlong workouts. But, again, living¬†in my body, I didn’t realize my own experience was so far from the norm. I didn’t realize that the overwhelming exhaustion I felt two minutes into a workout was a cue that I was doing something actually¬†wrong rather than just “embracing the suck.”

But that was no way to live, and eventually… enough time living in an absolute fog of weakness and frailty was enough to prompt me to take better control of my health– seeing doctors, fixing my diet and finding foods that didn’t make me ill, resting appropriately and allowing myself to recover. It still feels like a miracle to me that I wake up every day with energy. That I can eat without pain. That I don’t feel perpetually cold. Something I wish no one had to experience, but I wish everyone could understand: there’s a tremendous difference between the pain of a tough workout when you’re prepared to handle it and the pain of you tearing yourself apart.

Today, when I climbed off that rower, yeah my legs were on fire, my lungs burned. But all of that faded in moments. Afterwards, I could stand and walk back to my apartment. I will feel fine and happy and energetic for the rest of the night. For my first year of CrossFit, I couldn’t have completed such a workout without being wrecked for the remainder of the week. I’m starting to see more and more of a problem in the way we glorify physical exertion that kills you. You shouldn’t be crippled by your workouts. They shouldn’t ruin the rest of your day. If, for god’s sake, they’re supposed to make you healthier– you should at some point¬†feel healthier.¬†

And as I left the gym today, I remembered– as I do often these days– how fucking grateful I am to feel good.The best part of my workout wasn’t my jerk PR or discovering that 90lbs felt light… it was the fact that I could move one of the benches out of the way all by myself–without thinking about it– a task that I couldn’t complete two years ago. It was the fact that I warmed up to that 90lbs with weights I couldn’t clean when I started CrossFit. And it was that, after all of that, I feel freaking fantastic.

I know… I have a long, long way to go as an athlete. But I’ve achieved a few things I’m proud of– with the exception of the squat and bench, I’ve literally¬†doubled¬†all my lifts since starting CrossFit (squat and bench are about 20lbs short). I went from ring rows to being able to do strict chest-to-bars, from being afraid to kick up to the wall to deficit handstand push-ups. But really… most of all, I feel unspeakably blessed every day that I can do all these things and feel¬†good afterwards. Yeah, I get the fun of “terrible” workouts– trust me, my favorite WOD is The Seven, and I’m a sucker for any AMRAP over 30 minutes– but there’s a very important distinction between productive exertion and blind self-destruction.

Sometimes, I’m still annoyed with myself because the large majority of my physical progress has taken place in the past year. For the first half of my CrossFit career, I engaged much more in breakdown than building-up. I was so obsessed with getting ahead, I completely neglected the very foundational basics of my health. But I try to remind myself that that regret is as much a waste of time as my bits of anxiety about screwing up a lift today or rowing too slow tomorrow. These are small things, and I’ve got bigger plans for the future. (I didn’t want to call those “before” and “after” pictures because I’m not even close to done yet.)

I remind myself now– you have to crawl before you can walk before you can run. But really, now that I’m starting to find my stride, I’m trying to let go of past mistakes and enjoy each new step– and the fact that I can make them at all.

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