the spaz of fitness has arrived

Archive for the ‘Rhetoric’ Category

What You Have

In General, Rhetoric, WOD on July 17, 2013 at 3:33 pm

On Monday, I did 5×5 heavy back squats, followed by high volume speed pulls for the deadlift. Yesterday, I was rocking the post-squat-soreness waddle. This morning, when I woke up, the muscle soreness had burrowed in and piped battery acid through my legs. Everything felt leaden and useless. But today was “Jackie,” and I’ve actually lucked out of attempting Jackie for months now despite how often our box programs it. I worried that my soreness meant I couldn’t perform as well today as I otherwise would have. I worried that the 7 sets of handstand push-ups to failure I performed yesterday meant that my overhead strength would suck today. I worried about the fact that I had work in the evening, which meant that I had to train in the morning, which meant I’d have to wake my stiff and aching body much earlier than usual… and everything would factor into a generally sucky workout. Then I remembered something Coach told me when I visited her.

She programs a lot of shoulder work for me each week. I pretty much never go a week without handstand push-ups, sometimes in several variations. That, in addition to the fact that every week has an upper body max-effort day, and the fact that the box obviously programs WODs with overhead work means that sometimes I second-guess when I should schedule all my skill work to maximize my performance. I asked Coach about this, and she pointed out that… the conditions will never be perfect. Part of why CrossFit constantly varies is, in fact, so that we don’t get too entrenched in our habits, so that we test ourselves with new challenges and new conditions. Sometimes I’ll test my HSPU’s fatigued, and I’ll just have to live with it– no “could’ve/should’ve/would’ve” done better if I’d been fresher or hadn’t lifted the day before. None of that matters. What I need to do is make the most of this workout on this day. All I can ask of my body is what it has to give me in its current state– if I’m at 80%, then I’m going to get the best damned workout I can with that 80% and feel good about it. I won’t tear myself apart for not being able to do 100% all the time, and I’m not going to drag my feet at 60% just because I’m feeling worse today.

So, knowing that I was a little more beat up than I’d like to be, I got to the gym early to make sure I’d be extra-warm for the work out. I dedicated more time to warming up and my mobility. I made sure I didn’t lift until I felt loose, and comfortable, and knew I wouldn’t be overexerting tired muscles.

I PR’d my push-press. Not only did I push-press my old 3RM for 5 reps, but I added 5lbs to that and managed 4 reps. Then I took 3 minutes off my previous “Jackie” time. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I’ve tested the WOD, and admittedly, I still have a bit to go before I give the firebreathers a run for their money, but I’m making progress.

Yeah, I think I could’ve done better if I’d woken up feeling like superwoman– if I hadn’t stayed up working on lesson plans last night, if I’d gotten to work out in my usual evening time slot, if I hadn’t been sore, if my quads didn’t still hate me for Monday. But, if we waited for the “perfect” conditions to train, we’d probably never train. Every day is an opportunity to make the most of what you have with what you can. Give it your all– even if today’s all is not as much as tomorrow’s. Tomorrow, too, will come, and you can celebrate that with just as much vigor, and regret nothing.

Of Scars and Healing

In Food, Rhetoric, Training on March 7, 2013 at 4:17 pm


There are two quotes about scars that I really love:

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before.
There’s a name for it on horses,
when it comes back darker and raised: proud flesh,
as all flesh,
is proud of its wounds…
– Jane Hirshfield “For What Binds Us”
And one recently quoted in a CrossFit magazine:

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

 Ernest Hemmingway

One of the many highlights of my recent trip to Houston was that I got my first tattoo. I’ve planned this one for years now. In the first months of my CrossFit career, our box programmed the “Filthy Fifty,” which starts with fifty box jumps. On box jump number one, improperly warmed up, my hips refused to fire, my knees did not rise, and I crashed shin-first into the corner of a box. As a silly, stubborn Jo, I proceeded through the workout anyway. I tipped the box to its scaled height, finished the next 49, rounded out the jumping pull-ups, whirred through the kettlebell swings and walking lunges and knees to elbows and push presses, back extensions, burpees, and double-unders. And finally,  after the WOD, sweat-dampened and panting, with my adrenaline finally draining, I realized my leg felt wet. I was bleeding through my shin sleeve.


Poor Jefe helped me peel the sock from my leg– and half my shin came with it. We cleaned up the wound, studied it, and decided meh… I could afford to not go to the hospital. Wrong.


Silly Jo went home and tried to apply liquid bandage on the injury. Silly Jo quickly discovered three facts: 1) Liquid bandage stings like a motherf***er; 2) Liquid bandage is not made for large wounds; 3) Liquid bandage congeals and solidifies very quickly. I left the strange, translucent caulk in my injury for a few days, but was troubled by the fact that the wound never stopped bleeding and had started to discolor. I tried removing it with nail polish remover, with soap and water, with rubbing alcohol and every other solution found via the internets. Eventually, out of frustration, I carved the remaining bits of solidified bandage out of my leg with an xacto knife. The scrape never stopped bleeding. Two weeks later, I went to university health services, whereupon they informed me that the wound was infected, that I needed antibiotics, and that I should have gotten stitches when the injury first occurred. For the next two months, I needed weekly or biweekly visits to the hospital to treat the and inspect the wound. Since then, I’ve had a darkened scar on my shin.


Anyway… this particular vignette of Jo’s stupidity is symptomatic of one of the repeated ways in which I screw up. When my IBS problems first started in New York, I refused to see a doctor, or to admit that I was sick for so long that I let my body waste away while I worked myself to skin and bone. By the time my box-jump injury healed, I’d only started to gain back the weight I lost with those six months of digestive illness, and I liked the idea of tattooing over my scar– of commemorating the process of healing, of reminding myself that sometimes I screw up and hurt myself and I need to be responsible for the process of recovery.


Since then, I decided I wanted the image of a CrossFitter performing a rope-climb up the scar. The Cookie Monster was also planning on getting a tattoo during my Houston visit, and I happened to love the linework of the artist he picked, so I contacted Chris Sparks of Article 91, and he promptly drew up a design for me. The process itself was entirely bearable. The parts directly on top of bone (skinny girl + shin tattoo = lots of bone) sucked a little. But… when you’ve hand-carved plastic bits from an infected injury over that exact same area, a few needles aren’t that bad.


Anyway, that relates to a recent small revelation I’ve had. I’ve been a bit frustrated with my recent plateau. My lifts have stalled out and my maxes have stayed where they were half a year ago… at best. Some of them have dropped. As a blind stroke of luck, I contacted a very prominent professional CrossFitter/CrossFit coach (one of the Level 1 Seminar staff, as well as a general superstar and totally sweet human being), and she wrote me back and offered to look over my nutrition and give me guidance. Again, I’m stunned by the generosity and approach-ability of the CrossFit “elite.”


I sent her a bunch of questions (being me) and a diet log and she wrote back with a recommendation for a zone-paleo protocol (as she follows) and gave me a block prescription based on my training schedule, weight, height, and bodyfat estimate. I’ve resisted the zone for a really long time because… well, I hate the amount of time and effort it takes to weigh and measure, and I’ve assumed that… being a recreational CrossFitter, I don’t need to be that precise with my diet. Which I don’t. But unfortunately, I also just plain suck at feeding myself appropriately for my activity levels. Even with my IBS under control, my hunger cues are frequently wonky, my stomach gets screwy anytime I’m busy or stressed, and I react abysmally to dairy and don’t do well with much gluten, and if I accidentally ingest too much of either, it takes my system a week to process food normally again. So… basically, my body’s a fragile bitch.


When I told Zebrapants that I’d stumbled into wonderful, free advice, he told me to weigh myself the next morning and again in two weeks to gauge progress and to adjust accordingly. So… for the first time in a while, I stepped on the scale again this morning. 100 lbs. Which… to me tells me I screwed up again. Since I’ve been following the box’s programming more, I know I’ve been lifting less and metcon-ing more… but apparently haven’t kept track of what that’s done to my body composition. The weight loss, of course, explains the corresponding stall and drop in my lifts. I’m actually lucky they didn’t drop further.


Anyway, when I received my Zone block prescription, I thought it didn’t look like much. I plugged it into an excel sheet and figure out my daily meals and wondered at the fact that it didn’t look that different from my usual meals, except with fewer spoonfuls of almond butter. However, yesterday was my first day actually on “the Zone.” The day started easily. I weighed and measured everything, and it all felt consistent with my usual experience except that I couldn’t let myself snack anymore. However, then I wound up trapped on campus for the entire afternoon, surrounded by archival materials for one of my seminar papers. My professor had left me in his empty office with the instructions to lock up after him when I left, so I couldn’t run home to eat, and I couldn’t leave his office empty. I then violated one of the bigger rules of the Zone– and one of the specific pieces of advice given to me by the CrossFit coach who’s been so kind as to answer all my emails: don’t go more than 5 hours without eating. I worked as late as I could stand it before going home to eat, and realized that I still had nearly half a day’s worth of food to fit into the last three hours of my day. On a normal day, I would’ve just eaten dinner, shoved down a few spoonfuls of almond butter and collapsed into bed. But because I’d been tracking everything, I sat down and diligently consumed three meals until I crossed all my blocks off the list. Then I slept. Of course, that’s not at all ideal, and still a far cry from how I’m supposed to be eating, but it helped me realize what I’ve been doing wrong. The last few months, I’ve been getting busier and busier. Trying to balance teaching, student-ing, CrossFit-ing, a long-distance relationship, family, and friends both near and far, I wind up with long afternoons and evenings when I don’t eat until I get home at 9:00 or 10:00pm. By then I just shovel down what I can and crash. So while my days usually start well and balanced, I end up at a deficit by sheer nature of the fact that I have these gaps in the middle of the day when I don’t slow down to feed myself. It’s aggravated by the fact that it’s hard for me to find quick pick-up-and-go items that are dairy and gluten free. SO! New resolution: carry food on self. Feed self while out and about. Stay in “the zone.”


I still feel silly measuring and weighing everything, but I hope this’ll teach me to take better and more consistent care of myself. I hope it’ll help me break my plateau, and I feel comfortable and confident knowing that both this generous knowledgeable CrossFit expert and Coach Zebrapants are willing to help me reevaluate once I’ve given this an earnest effort and see how to progress from here. Also, I’m hoping that after a good period of doing this, I’ll have a better innate sense of how much and how often I should be eating and I can be more lax about things… and won’t need the scale for every meal.


I’m learning that healing and recovery is a process… but not one that I have to undertake alone. I’m grateful for the supportive people around me who’ve helped me pry bloodsoaked socks from my legs, who will help me tally my almonds so that I’m eating enough to grow, who will listen to me as I weep over a failed clean or a frustrating seminar paper, or a troublesome student. Inevitably, we will fall, we will scrape and break and shatter. But hopefully we come back together stronger, wiser, more resilient than before.

The Jomad’s Journey Continues

In General, Rhetoric, Training, Writing on January 3, 2013 at 12:52 am

Jo bought Jobot Coffee! New wonderful indie coffee discovery in downtown Phoenix.

Activities witnessed in the LA Fitness squat rack, December 2012-January 2013:

– Bicep curls with a straight bar

– Bicep curls with dumbbells

– Bicep curls with an EZ curl bar

– Calf raises

– Unweighted calf raises by the woman that glared at me until I rushed through my good mornings and vacated the squat rack for her. Apparently she can only perform her calf raises while lightly caressing the frame of the squat rack.

– Shoulder shrugs with a straight bar

– Dumbbell shoulder shrugs

– Half squats

– Quarter squats

– Dude-are-your-knees-even-bent squats

My actual favorite:

– Pull-ups (by racking the bar at the highest possible position), since the gym has no actual straight bar available for pull-ups

… long story short, there’s a (un)suprising lack of squatting in the LA Fitness squat racks– the frustratingly limited amount of LA Fitness squat racks, that are somehow, confoundingly, frequently occupied by people who use them for unneccessary exercises.

You’re getting this wrap-up because this morning marked my last LA Fitness visit for a while. Tomorrow, I shall fly for State College and return to home-sweet-box where squatting is a part of everyone’s vocabulary.

Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to fit a workout in tomorrow (literally traveling from 9am to 9pm), I did my Max Effort lower body work today. It was a deadlift week, but I was really reluctant to deadlift from the floor with the obnoxious decagonal plates that roll off their corners each time they hit the ground. Even when I did dynamic effort work these weeks, the plates really screwed me up– either banging into my shins or rolling away from me before I could set up for the next rep. So… I tried rack pulls for the first time. Unfortunately, the very lowest position I could set up a rack pull was just above the knee, but youtube tells me that’s a legitimate training position, so I tried that and managed to pull 255×3 for a new max. It was an interesting experience– just to hold that much weight in my hands. I don’t think I’m going to keep it in my repertoire though because I’m pretty sure my back is the stronger part of my lifts, and I have more trouble getting my deadlift off the ground than locking out at the top.

I’ll be happy to be back where I can train with familiar equipment and familiar resources– even more happy to be among friends. I’ll even enjoy the small comforts of my little basement space, assuming it hasn’t iced over due to two weeks without heating with all the snow that’s hit PA in the past couple weeks. However, I get melancholy every time I have to leave Arizona. It actually works both ways… I’m always reluctant to leave State College, then I remember how much I love my hometown and want to cling to its security, then our little pocket of Pennsylvania eventually reminds me of all its small joys. It’s really the distance I hate– the fact that I feel constantly incomplete. And that’s a fault of my mindset rather than my situation, I feel…

Honestly, that’s what I’d like to change most about 2013. I want to feel more comfortable with where I am (physically, emotionally, professionally, etc). On the one hand, I’m more determined than every to prove my worthiness. I want to become a better, more capable CrossFitter– one deserving of a coaching position. I want to settle in as a PhD student and really dig into my niche of scholarship. I want to be a better teacher…. I want to structure this creative writing class that I’m teaching so that the students really get something from the experience– so that they walk away with at least a new appreciation/understanding of stories and why we tell them, and how and why they matter. I want all of that and I’m determined to work my damnedest for all of that. But at the very same time, I know and I really want to be able to chill out more. I’m… really, very tightly wound too often. I know. I know. I know. I spent too much of last year– too much of the last two and a half years feeling like I’m madly flailing just trying to keep my head above water. If that’s all life is, it’s not worth living, right? I need to be able to sit back and enjoy. That’s strangely difficult for me. I need to be honest with myself about my faults, but also be able to accept that– for now, they’re there, and I can work on them, but I can’t frantically punish myself for them either. I need to continue striving towards my goals but at the same time learn patience… be satisfied with working towards and hoping that’s enough. I also need to spend less time hoping and more time enjoying the doing because– let’s face it– the PhD is a 5 year degree and after that there’s finding a tenure track job, working towards tenure, etc… even if that’s just an isolated metaphor for all the other aspects of life, we spend more time journeying than we do at the destination, so we must learn to embrace the journey. 

Even just thinking about my neuroses makes me want to apologize to those of you who put up with it all the time. Thank you! Here’s hoping the Jomad’s journey continues with a little more grace, and a little more calm this coming year. Here’s hoping you’ll journey with me– a few steps, or vast distances, your company is always appreciated 🙂

Happy New Year, friends.

Wrong, Again

In Rhetoric, Training on November 5, 2012 at 9:29 pm

So now that I had my fluffy, happy, post-competition reflection, I need to follow up with perhaps a little less fluffy Jo-rant. I intend to continue training with a Westside-based template; I enjoy the variation it gives me, and how I can theoretically customize according to my weaknesses– assuming I can correctly diagnose those weaknesses, and wisely configure the correct matrix of exercises to remedy those weaknesses (that’s a lot of assumptions, I realize…). Saturday night, I drafted a new regimen, and Sunday morning, I went into the gym chomping at the bit. In my defense, I wasn’t planning a on a max-effort day– mostly assistance work and testing out the accessory exercises that I wanted to implement on my lower body days, but I did still know that most people would advise against lifting the day after a powerlifting meet. Zebrapants arrived at the gym and confirmed my suspicions and told me I shouldn’t be lifting at all. So I unracked my bar and rowed a very bitter, slow, 20ish minutes.

Sidenote: I think the reason I dislike long, slow cardio is that it gives me too much time inside my own head, and it’s a scary place in there. Spurts of intense activity– sprints, short metcons, bursts of heavy lifting– are all so demanding that they, for a few seconds, can obliterate the mind chatter. Long WODS, the beautiful hero WODs that become slogs through bodyweight and barbell activities feel entirely meditative to me. I reach a state where I can clear my mind, where I just move and the burn is cleansing. But I can’t find that rhythm in cardio; I know plenty of people do, but at least the first ten minutes of slow cardio are miserable for me– and I mean that in an emotional rather than a physical sense. I descend somewhere angry and unhappy and bitter and and just loathe the world for a good while. After that, I actually begin to enjoy runs or rows… somewhat, but there’s a weirdly dark passage that I have to traverse to get there. I realize this is symptomatic of something entirely unrelated to physical activity and much to do with my own insanity… and is probably something I should address, and is probably inappropriate for this blog, so we shall move on. Anyway!

Anyway… today I went back to the gym, assuming (apparently wrongly) that it was an appropriate day to start lifting heavy again. And I did. I hit a 235lb deadlift– a 10lb PR and 15lbs more than my final attempt at the meet on Saturday. I was psyched, of course. I finished with the new accessory lifts (which I like so far, we’ll see… I’ll post an updated schedule when it’s finalized), and then a few 250m rowing sprints and prepared to call it a day, feeling perhaps a little too proud of myself.

I’ve screwed up enough times, and have enough self-destructive impulses that I’m intimately familiar with Jefe’s “You’re -doing-something-wrong” look. When I naively announced to him my PR, I got that look x 5. In retrospect, with all the reading I’ve done on exercise theory, I really should have known that anyone would balk at a max effort day two days after a powerlifting meet. But… here’s what’s been troubling me all weekend and today:

On Saturday, I lifted 85% of my max squat (poorly) three times. I benched, poorly, less than 85% of my max– albeit with a pause, once, and then screwed up the next two attempts. I deadlifted, yeah, three times within a max-effort range. But on the Westside template, “max-effort” days involve lifting above 90% of your max for seven reps– which is more volume than my entire day put together (or at least damn close). Prior to my day of competitive half-assery, I rested for a full week. I did not lift anything above 85% of my max. I reduced my dynamic work, and limited myself to only assistance exercises. I did absolutely no metcons, and any conditioning was under 15 minutes and at probably 50% effort. And I still… relatively… sucked. Then, today, when my system is supposed to be “taxed,” when I’m supposed to (apparently) be “resting,” I feel fantastic and hit a 10lb PR.

I guess the root of my frustration is that I want/expect this science to be a science. I want my body to respond as the literature says it should. I want to PR (or at least lift well) when I’ve deloaded. I want things to make sense. The first time I squatted 142.5, it was a 7.5lb jump from my last sticking point, and it was literally two days after I’d last tested my squat. Any time I abandon a lift for more than a week, my numbers drop substantially. Everyone else raves about the restorative effects of proper rest, but for some reason it feels like my body forgets that it can lift these weights.

I worry it must be a mental thing– that I just shed all confidence that I’m capable of these things if I don’t remind myself every so often. But I’ve also been shocked by these drops in lifts… After not squatting for two weeks, only two weeks, my max decreased by 15lbs and I was stunned by the gravity of the bar on my back. So if it is a mental thing, it’s buried deeper in my subconscious than anything I can easily access.

I also wonder if all these principles of rest and restoration apply better to people that truly lift heavy. Yeah…  squatting 400lbs even once probably does a hell of a number on your system, but I’m so damn small that I feel like the sheer mass of what I’m moving can’t compare to those of the test subjects in these tried and true methods. That’s probably me rationalizing irrationally though. The final point is just that… because it’s me, because I’m the only one for whom everything just seems backwards and wrong, it makes me feel like I’m fucking up somewhere. It taps into all those insecurities that there’s just something wrong with me or that I’m stupidly bumbling around in my ignorance… but if I am, I can’t pinpoint the source of my wrongness.

I’m just whining now. I will feel better tomorrow. I feel better after writing this… and I will update you with my new gameplan for my training. But for now, thanks for your patience, and for fielding my frustrations 🙂

Happy Monday…

Something Different

In Rhetoric, Writing on November 1, 2012 at 7:03 pm

I’m always grateful when people show an interest in my work. I’m entirely stunned when people find it worthwhile to publish my work– to see something in it worthwhile enough that they’d like to share it with others. I think I’ll always be overcome by gratitude each time it happens (and god I hope it keeps happening). That said, a recent piece of mine has appeared in the Fall 2012 edition of Kartika Review— a journal I’ve long admired and with which I’ve hoped to collaborate. This is a work of nonfiction. My only work of creative nonfiction, and possibly the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. It has nothing to do with CrossFit and nothing to do with paleo, so if that’s all your here for you can wait until after my Saturday update on my powerlifting meet ;). I actually deliberated for a while whether I would share it on this blog. It’s personal– possibly more about Jo than any of you would want to know, but I’ve also grown tired of silence… I’ve considered that it may be cowardly, or weak, to thrust my stories onto others. But I also admire the act of openness… that fearlessness to be unapologetic about yourself and your shadows. I’m still not sure how I feel about publishing this piece, but for those of you who read it– it may illuminate a bit of the Jo that showed up in State College two and a half years ago, ragged with insufficiency, uncertain of everything. I’ve gotten over a lot of the crap featured in this essay– with many thanks to my patient, loving friends. These days,  I generally feel pretty good about the world (as evidenced by my super-fluffy posts recently), but I don’t think my demons ever totally disappear. Now and then, when I least expect it, they emerge at 3:00 in the morning, when my basement studio seems the last, lonely place on earth. Sometimes they emerge-mid WOD, when I realize I’ve stopped lifting to work out, I’ve stopped lifting for reps, I’m just lifting for annihilation– hoping all that pain will get my brain to finally… stop thinking. But it doesn’t. So I write. And this is what I came up with:

If the automatic viewer thing on the page doesn’t work for you, you can download the pdf via the “Download” tab. I start on page 67. If you’re feeling super generous, I’m sure the lovely folks who work for Kartika would love for you to buy the issue (there’s a tab for that too). I usually love the writers they choose, and they always have a wonderful selection of writing.

As always, thank you for reading.

Skeletons and Personal Demons (Happy Halloween?)

In Rhetoric, Training on October 31, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Remember my post about George’s struggle with bulimia? Well, he took it upon himself to tell his story in his own words, on his own blog: here. The post is beautifully written and refreshingly honest. I told him, and I will tell you all now, that I admire him so much for his courage and his candor. I aspire to approach the world as he does– to be as honest with myself and with others as he is. It crushes me to know that someone with so much heart can suffer from such self-doubt and self-deprecation. But I find hope in knowing that he overcame it all, and is now encouraging others to make peace with themselves.

I’m always surprised to find the skeletons locked in others’ closets– not because I think less of them for it, but because I (and I assume others) often have that feeling that… everyone has it all together and here I am struggling with the pieces of myself, everything crumbling apart like dessicated clay. But that’s not the case at all… people put on brave faces for the world because they feel as if they must– because they’re afraid of who they might burden with their troubles, or because they’re afraid even of even acknowledging for themselves the demons that lurk in their shadows. The fact that someone who seems as “together” as George– an active duty Marine with a flourishing caveman/paleo-expert alter-ego, a successful CrossFit competitor and talented photographer, a chef extraordinaire, etc– can still feel self-doubt reminds me that we’re all… strangely human. You don’t know what the firebreather athlete at your box thinks when he finishes the WOD five minutes ahead of everyone else… Sometimes he’s second-guessing his own pace, wondering why he didn’t push harder through the second round, or questioning his conditioning routine. That straight-A student in the desk beside you may agonize over each of her assignments, may crumble when she realizes she picked the wrong argument or chose the wrong tack. What I’m discovering more and more is just that… the world is so much more beautiful, more complex, more worth living in when viewed with an open mind– just a willingness to understand all the many ways in which people feel and think and live differently than you do. At the end of the day, no one’s really out to get you (or rarely, anyway)… everyone’s just wrapped up in their own neuroses. Perhaps instead of looking inward with self-criticism, we should try looking outward, with acceptance… 🙂




On a much lighter note, it is my absolute pleasure to follow up on my pull-ups post with a few fantastic responses from the CrossFit universe. Particularly, this video made my morning:

I’m pretty in love with the girl who starts off with a strict muscle up. The weighted pull-up was also a lovely touch.

And, though this video existed long before Weir’s silly article about how women can’t do pull-ups, I’d like to share Annie Sakamoto’s “pregnant pull-ups”:


Happy Wednesday, everyone. Hug someone today– and do a pull-up! 😉

Raise the Bar

In Rhetoric, Training on October 27, 2012 at 3:23 pm

I know this has been floating around the blogosphere for a couple of days now, but I still must respond to it–even if I’m late on the bandwagon. I must reply to this post that appeared on Yahoo. Primarily, it was a reaction to a study published in the New York Times about why “women can’t do pull-ups.” A group of exercise researchers selected 17 “normal weight” women who couldn’t perform a pull-up, trained them (bi’s and lats, it seems) for three months, and found that at the end of those three months, only four could do a pull up. An exercise physiologist then chimes in about how it’s biologically more difficult for a woman to do a pull up. I’m not too bothered by any of this– it is significantly more difficult for a woman to do a pull up, and I was just remarking to Jefe the other day how it’s fascinating that we have female members who join in peak physical condition, unable to perform a pull-up, and men who’ve been out of shape for years who can still hoist themselves up to the bar. There’s a significant gender divide in terms of upper-body strength– it’s how we’re biologically built. What bothers me, is that Susan B. Weir from Yahoo! took this as an opportunity to tell women to “lower the bar.” In her short article, she explains that we’re at a biological disadvantage when it comes to pull-ups, so perhaps we can just accept that this is something we can’t achieve.

Bull. Shit.

I’m pretty sure it took me more than three months to get my first pull-up. In fact, if we start from before my CrossFit days, way back when I was fumbling along to P90x dvds, it probably took me years to achieve my first pull-up. But it’s not impossible. If this formerly overweight, out-of-shape, wheezy nerdkid could work her way up to 10 dead hangs (got my first set of 10 strict perhaps two weeks ago), than I’m pretty sure Susan B. Weir has no excuse– if she wants a pull-up. It’s fine if she doesn’t, but she also shouldn’t be out there telling women “well you’re naturally disinclined, so don’t bother trying!” What drives me even crazier is the comments at the bottom of this post. One girl even wrote:

“Men you can test your strenght while we women go shopping.” (yes, she misspelled strength all on her own there)


I work out alongside a whole host of women who can do pull-ups. I’ve watched almost all of them earn that first pull-up with months of assisted pull-ups and negatives and jumping pull-ups. I know a delightful lady in her 50s who, four times a week, dutifully puts a step stool next to the pull-up rig, loops her legs into a resistance band, and works on her daily reps while chattering about how she looks forward to getting her first unassisted pull-up someday.

Overcoming genetic difference isn’t just a matter for women, either. One of our gym’s most gifted athletes (often referenced here as “Zebrapants”) stands at about 5’3″. For him, wall-balls, box jumps, and rowing understandably suck. The first time he did Karen (150 wall-balls), he barely finished within the time cap. A month later, he finished in under 6 minutes. Just to reach the pull-up bar, he has to do a vertical leap, but that hasn’t kept him from a two-minute Fran.

Yeah… there are inequities in life that sometimes makes things harder– but that’s never a reason to lie down and accept your condition if you’re unhappy with it. Weir’s message is one of defeat; if it’s hard, it’s okay to stop trying. I refuse to accept that, and I find it offensive that she thinks women would prefer that– would want the easy way out. Yeah… sometimes life sucks. Don’t lower the bar. Raise it– and pull yourself up.

Dear World,

In Rhetoric, Training on October 25, 2012 at 2:20 pm

This post spawns from many recent tidbits of my life , so I may meander a bit… but if you trust in me, I promise I won’t lead you too far astray. We will eventually return to CrossFit– there’s metaphorical cheese at the heart of this labyrinth, or perhaps a paleo-friendly, irresistibly delicious, pumpkin butter cup.

This semester, I’m enrolled in a cross-disciplinary seminar about social justice. We just read James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. I can’t call this book a novel, or a work of journalism… it cannot be contained by the term “art,” nor is it a study of truth. Our professor described it as “an experiment,” but I like to think of it as more of a response. In the 1930s, the privileged-born, well-to-do reporter James Agee spent 8 weeks living among white tenant farmers in the deep South. From it, he produced this haunting book that accounts, in loving detail, the many intricacies of these families’ lives. Agee agonizes over the human condition, over the painful impossibility of ever truly understanding another person, but also the unrelenting will to try. He reminded me so much of why we write– how sometimes the awfulness of everyday life feels so unbearable that it must effuse onto the page– or how, amid all that terribleness, you can find these surreal, wondrous miracles, and how you want to eulogize them, screaming, with every breath in your body.

I’ve been told often that I think too much–and it’s true. I can have a perfectly mundane, otherwise harmless day, and be suddenly struck and broken down by the tiny ways in which we wound one another. Sometimes I feel irreparable with the epiphany of how often and easily we break and how unrecoverable it all seems (yes, that seems hyperbolic and hopeless… I promise I’m not actually moping around all the time, but sometimes, I’m struck by these things). But I found it oddly uplifting to know that Agee has felt this way too– has felt that the world was too much, that it needed to be sung about, even if that singing does nothing but echo life’s miracles and miseries.

Now here’s where you’ll have to stick with me. I’ve told you about my little podcast addiction, and my fondness for George Bryant. He made a recent appearance on an episosde of Live. Love. Eat. in which he gives just this beautifully candid interview. I won’t go too in-depth into George’s history since he tells it much better himself (on his website and in the podcast), but he’s an active-duty Marine who’s been everywhere between 150lbs-250lbs, who spent a year in a wheelchair and the subsequent years relearning his body. In the podcast, he discusses– I think, for the first time– his history with body issues and with accepting himself. As a bit of a sidenote, I’ve always been a bit irked by the gender bias in terms of body image. Yes, women get crapped on in terms of societal constructions of body and physical “beauty,” but men do too and there’s so much less out there supporting self-acceptance in men because we’ve stigmatized the need for reassurance as “weakness.” But I suppose that’s a topic for a different day. Anyway, George had issues (as we all do). George, like a real man, dealt with his issues. He said something in this podcast that really resonated with me– how he’s had a hard time forgiving himself for giving anything less than “everything.” And how he needed to address that to find peace.

I know I struggle with that as well. I’ve said that I’m not competitive, and I’m not in the sense that I don’t compete against other people… but I’m a basketcase when it comes to self-comparison. For example, I have this powerlifting meet coming up in a week and a half. Last night, the PSU powerlifting coach briefed me and the two other members of my box who will be participating (Jefe and Zebrapants) on what we should expect from the meet. Basically, we shouldn’t expect overall PRs. We’ve never lifted under these conditions– technically, what we’ve done in our box isn’t comparable to what we’ll do next Saturday, and we have no real powerlifting-meet-standards PRs, no extant records to which to compare ourselves. We should just go and do our best and those will be our numbers. Of course, I’d been hoping for at least a deadlift PR– to beat my previous 225… but I’ll be lifting with foreign equipment, after a full day of competition, in a strange environment, adhering to new standards and technicalities, etc. I know myself, and I know that… if all the other women in my weight class go out there and lift a gazillion pounds (technical measurement), and I hit 230, I’d walk away pretty happy with myself. But if all of them eeked out 150, and I failed at 200, I’d be beating myself up all evening for missing a lift I know I’ve made before.

When I allowed myself to take CrossFit seriously– to investigate and implement my own programming, to give a damn about how I fuel and recover, etc… I told myself that I’m doing this for self-improvement. I’m doing this because I enjoy it. I’m doing this because it’s good for my health– physically, emotionally, mentally, and I will only continue doing it so long as I keep that in mind. I will not let my own neuroses get the better of me. I will not let a bad day or a failed lift or a bad time eat away at me because I “could have done better.” And I need to remember that again– next weekend, and all the many weekends that come afterwards with all the many other things I try. If I don’t… if I continue beating myself down about these minutiae, I not only rob myself of the experience, but I get so trapped in this absolute meaningless bullshit that I don’t have the mental or emotional space that I want to devote to the ones I care about in my life.

What I loved so much about George’s interview is that, like Agee, he reminded me that… I’m not alone. We live in a world that’s afraid to talk about “feelings”– that’s embarrassed by them. Adults suck it up and get shit done. But you know what? Here’s my declaration: you’re not fucking alone. Sometimes the world sucks… sometimes it pounds on you. Sometimes, life thrusts upon you something truly monumental and seemingly insurmountable, or sometimes it’s just the little things that you know you should get over and can’t. But no matter the case, your suffering doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t make you lesser… If you reach out and speak about it, you’d be surprised who’s willing to listen. And you’d be surprised what catharsis you find in the process– and by who you might help or touch along the way (thank you George and James).

George ended his interview with a touching portrait of CrossFit– and one with which I agree. I’ve mentioned a lot how this sport attracts a certain type. I refuse to believe I’m the only relentless perfectionist in the gym– we’ve all got a dose of masochism in us somewhere to return to these WODs day after day. But what’s so wonderful about the CrossFit gym (at least in my experience) is that members are never really competing against each other— they’re striving to improve themselves. The firebreather next to you doesn’t give a damn if you’re lifting two tons or a training bar– s/he’ll congratulate you regardless when you finally drop the weight and slouch, huffing, against the wall.

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men reminded me how terrible it all is– the quiet ways in which we suffer, but also… that there’s hope in there too– that we, as human beings, are capable of reaching out and sympathizing– perhaps never truly understanding– but connecting, sharing the indescribable burden it is just to breathe in this bizarre little universe.

So… in summary:

Dear World,

You’re not alone.



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

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.