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The Final Word

In Uncategorized on June 11, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Hello wonderful readers,

Exciting things have happened in the world of the Jomad, which may be why I have not posted sooner. Balancing blogging with grad school and life has become more difficult this year with coaching, and my comprehensive exams (which I passed!), and coordinating the graduate writing center. More significantly, one of my frustrations with this blog is that I have been limited largely to my own experience– which, while entertaining for a handful of readers, is not necessarily the most informative. But a fantastic opportunity emerged this summer when I returned to East Valley CrossFit and chatted with August– coach and gym owner, who also runs a weightlifting company called Iron Athlete. He invited me to become the content producer and editor for the Iron Athlete Blog– which means I now get to borrow from his resources to speak to and disseminate information from people with a lot more experience and knowledge than I. So, knowing that time and attention are limited and precious resources, I’ve decided to close this chapter of my life and direct my efforts to creating the best material for Iron Athlete. Thank you all so much for reading and for the encouraging emails I’ve received along the way. I invite you (beg/plead/coerce?) to please continue with me as I discover a much larger world of strength and conditioning and weightlifting and fitness and general awesomeness through the folks from Iron Athlete. My first post is up now on the new Iron Athlete blog. I also just completed an interview with Olympian weightlifter Norik Vardanian, which will appear on the page very soon. So, stick with me, friends– my wanderings are about to become a whole lot less aimless, but a hell of a lot more interesting.

Where Monsters are Made: Visiting CrossFit CSA and East Valley CrossFit

In Uncategorized on January 5, 2014 at 4:46 pm

Recently, a friend posted this article to his Facebook wall.

I believe this quote sums it up best:

“I think the name CrossFit now tells you about as much as saying ‘I’m going to go out and get a burger,’” says Werner. “It could mean grass-fed, pull out the stops, try to make a great burger. Or it could be mass-produced like McDonald’s or something. It could be some truly awful hole in the wall.”

After the many blind panegyrics or equally ignorant tirades I’ve seen for and against CrossFit, this one was a welcome, more even-handed assessment of the current state of CrossFit. Because CrossFit has taken such a hands-off approach in the management of its brand, for the uninformed individual choosing a new CrossFit gym, it’s kind of like playing fitness roulette. Just a couple days ago, my mother introduced me to one of her coworkers who tried CrossFit for a day, sustained a shoulder injury, and vowed never to return.

“We’re not all like that,” I found myself saying. Though, in my travels, I’ve also seen too many gyms “like that.” CrossFit has introduced me to some of the most passionate, gifted, and attentive coaches I’ve known. It’s also thrown me into some of the most disastrous “fitness” settings. To extend that burger metaphor—right now, if we’re trying to discuss “injury rates” in CrossFit, it’s like trying to assess incidents of food poisoning in all people who ate burgers. I’d be much more suspicious of the plastic-wrapped, lukewarm patty from a gas station than a gourmet platter from a Michelin starred restaurant.

So with such diversity in the experience of CrossFit gyms, I’ve found myself wondering a lot lately—what makes a good gym? What defines a good gym, even? Without much guidance from HQ, where does a new gym look for inspiration?

CrossFit CSA in the early A.M.: the calm before the storm

EVCF: the weightlifter’s dream. CrossFit rig visible in the back. Not pictured: strongman equipment to the left, an ample supply of sleds, GHDs, KB’s, rowers…

Something I’ve observed from both CSA and EVCF (my home-gym-away-from-home): good leadership helps—someone with a clear vision of what s/he wants the gym to be and to do for its athletes. Coach told me a while ago that CSA took really good care of its athletes, and I got to witness this firsthand when I visited. The owner conducted regular meetings with the competition team to check up on their needs and progress. He promotes the shit out of them, constantly updating their social media and getting their names into the public. Meanwhile, CSA also takes care of its tremendously diverse clientele. There are designated spaces for the powerlifters, the MMA fighters, the CrossFitters. There are coaches with clear programs that manage all of these clients and their unique needs. The coaches know how to coordinate a busy class and still tailor to the individual—diagnosing the needs of each person before the session and scaling everything to his/her ability. While visiting CSA, I had the immense fortune of working out alongside the competition team as well as dropping in a normal class. With the competitors, intensity reigned and I saw the ferocity we admire so much in our Games-level athletes. However, with the regular classes, I saw a much wider range. There was a regionals-level competitor who completed each round with 100 unbroken double-unders and decided to challenge herself on unbroken ring push-ups until her shoulders gave. But right beside her, there were much more everyday exercisers who got in a good workout with a different pacing. These were people who, after the workout, had to clean themselves up and go to meetings or classrooms, etc… who CrossFit for wellness rather than competition… who might need to be able to lift their arms later in the day and wouldn’t benefit from shoulder-failure. And that was okay. Despite the wide range of objectives and work capacity in the participants of the CSA CrossFit class, the environment was such that every individual felt comfortable working at his or her own pace—and the coach that managed each class was skilled and comfortable enough to coordinate all these differences at once.

I saw that same balance at EVCF. My favorite Phoenix gym has gotten even bigger since the last time I was in town. They have the broadest offering of classes I’ve ever seen—from a massive weightlifting program with world-class coaches to a dedicated mobility class, a kettlebell class, powerlifting, sprinting… There’s separate programming for normal CrossFit and for EVCF’s rather successful competition team.  On Saturday mornings, their competition team trains together, there’s a mobility course and the kettlebell class, as well as the “Big 3,” which focuses on the major powerlifting movements. There’s also two weightlifting classes—one at 11:00am and 12:30pm. In addition, there are sometimes a few drop-ins doing their own thing, or private coaching sessions. With that much going on, I expected it to be chaos. But somehow EVCF has enough space and confident, authoritative coaches that everything proceeds smoothly.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve loved watching the EVCF competition team train. They actually work, well, as a team. Perhaps because CrossFit began with a certain individualized spirit (for the lone warrior who could train in his sparse garage gym), I’ve sometimes felt that some of the “team” efforts feel strangely detached—more like separate people working out beside each other than an actual team endeavor. But EVCF’s head coach, August, tailors his programming so that the athletes have to work together. They often go through the day’s workout in pairs and, though they need to train at different times throughout the week, they carve out that Saturday morning slot to come together. Like Kirian of CSA gym, August takes care of his athletes. He stresses to them the importance of recovery and mobility and oversees their individual needs. I’ve seen him sit around to direct his clients through specific stretches or assistance exercises—and I’ve seen him do this for everyone from his veteran athletes to the newbie who just walked through the door.

With a lot of younger gyms, I see such concern over labels and regulations, over what “is” or “isn’t” CrossFit. We do or don’t do certain movements. We must warm up or not warm up a certain way. We have to go at a certain intensity or we have to offer only these sorts of classes. But the success of CSA and EVCF shows that the spirit of CrossFit isn’t about any of that… it’s not about introducing all your members of Pukie. Not every class needs to follow the traditional metcon structure; not every CrossFitter needs to or wants to follow a standard “CrossFit” template. Part of the beauty of CrossFit is that it adapts to so many different individuals—and for that reason, we should remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all program. CSA and EVCF have shown me what a diverse group of people and needs and training methodologies can come together in one place while still maintaining a tightly-bound community. Yes, there is definitely the danger that certain gyms will become too scattered trying to pursue too many shiny new interests at once– but CSA and EVCF have expanded their offerings (and their fitness-ings) without becoming chaotic by providing what can help their members rather than just what’s shiny and new.

Just there’s no single training approach that will build a great CrossFit athlete, there’s no single approach to creating a fantastic CrossFit gym… and it seems to me the most successful gyms recognize this. They aren’t afraid to experiment—to think, well, “outside the box.” Leading a successful CrossFit team involves treating them as such—as a group, yes, but one composed of unique individuals that must address disparate weaknesses and learn to work together. Creating a truly standout CrossFit box requires fostering an environment that encourages members to “go hard,” but also cushions them on the off-days—makes it okay to fail, and encourages them to come back the next day hungry for something better. For boxes that claim to welcome a wide range of skill-levels, they must juggle the needs of professional athletes and weekend warriors, and meet these needs on an individual basis rather than shoving everyone into a single mold.

I think because CrossFit began so simply—with Mainsite posting a single WOD for all the people—some gyms forget the unique guidance that their box can offer. If everyone would get the same quality workout doing burpees and pull-ups in their garage, no one would pay the $100+/mo gym dues at a CrossFit gym. We have the opportunity to treat members as individuals even as we create a larger, supportive community. I can’t imagine that meshing an MMA gym with a CrossFit gym with a powerlifting gym was easy for CSA… I can’t imagine that EVCF thought it would be easy to run a kettlebell class alongside a powerlifting class just as the weightlifting class begins warming up… But they’ve done so, maintaining a strong vision for what would best serve their community and their members. Though CrossFit CSA and East Valley CrossFit are very different places, what they share in common– and what I think makes them such effective powerhouses in their respective regions– is that they’re led by committed, level-headed in individuals that aren’t concerned with trends or what Rich Froning is doing in his garage. They aren’t trying to follow some paradigm of CrossFit, nor wasting their time trying to see what all the other gyms are doing. They’re concerned with the members of their own gyms who are already there and working their butts off day in and day out. They prioritize giving these people the best return for their hard work, and cultivate the most supportive environment for these specific individuals in their specific contexts.

Happy New Year, readers! Let’s make this one better than the last.

Bonus footage of CSA’s competition team training

(ignore the scrawny Asian interloper)

Some days, you lose

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2013 at 7:11 pm

Forgive the melodramatics. Sometimes, the Jo needs to wax poetic.

I fold my fingers around the barbell—my hands stretched between knurled grips designed for an armspan much longer than my own. I push my hips back, bringing my body towards the ground in a low squat. The metal is cool for mere seconds before it leeches the warmth from my palms. In a world that is just, I think, my rage would be tangible. In a world that makes sense, all the hurt I can’t contain thickens to a shell—an armor. In this world I conceive, emotion can scar and heal in the same way that flesh repairs and grows back stronger. I think these things and I draw my breath, imagining my 5’2” frame a cathedral. I am filling it: the vastness that is me. In my world of sheer fantasy, I am robust. I am powerful. Untouched and unbroken. I tense my shoulders, feel the earth beneath my feet, and I push. Metal clicks. For a moment, the weight leaves the ground and my heart lifts with it. But my shoulders scream and the bar wrenches me forward. In reality—in this world that we live—I’m pitched onto my toes. In this world that does not forgive, gravity wins and iron strikes the ground with more force than my pull. When I collapse, I am not a cathedral, nor made of stone. I am flesh and folded limbs and imperfection. I am small. And regretful. And so very human.

… tomorrow, I will fight again.

Here’s hoping you’ve all had better days 🙂

Competitiveness, Ambition, and Peace

In Uncategorized on August 3, 2013 at 8:10 pm

In these last weeks of our dwindling summer, I’ve been blessed with enough time to write again– which is… life-giving. I forget, sometimes, when I ‘m caught up with studying and teaching and micro-managing that I became a writer because I literally don’t know any other way of existing. My experiences become ruminations, become reflections (wise or unwise, insightful or insipid), become emotions that must become words that must reach a page and a reader or else I feel… incomplete. And unfulfilled.

I’ve started a small piece of nonfiction– not sure if it’ll evolve into much of anything, but right now it is the best catharsis. And it has made me human again. It has also led me to some thinking that I believe I can relate to CrossFit.

I’d like to draw a distinction between petty competitiveness and personal ambition, which I think is often conflated.

For the purposes of my discussion, I’m going to use “competitiveness” to describe the will to compare oneself to others– that need to prove oneself against others, to “defeat” the competition. Ambition, on the other hand, is more the impulse to fulfill one’s own potential– or to push that potential. The former is externally motivated, the latter more internally so.

In CrossFit, the externally “competitive” athlete is the one tempted to cheat reps– to be discouraged by others’ achievements. He’s not necessarily mean-spirited, and certainly not by definition a bad person, but he cannot help but define himself according to the rise and fall of others. The ambitious athlete is much more stable. He evaluates his progress based on his own abilities and aspirations. He will repeat his rep if he knows he could have done better. He will go home satisfied, even if he finished last, if he finished with all he had to give.

It’s a blurry distinction, and one that doesn’t manifest all that differently sometimes, but I think it’s a necessary one to recognize because it changes so much about our attitudes. The petty competitiveness that I’m describing, I believe, originates not from malice, but from crippling insecurity. It appears (and I think it appears in all of us, at one point or another) when we feel less confident in ourselves, and when we need the validation of others… when we haven’t defined for ourselves our personal standards for our own satisfaction, and instead rely on others.

By contrast, ambition occurs when we have the self-confidence and determination to define our goals and to pursue them– the rest of the world be damned. Individuals feeling competitive can be made small and downtrodden by others’ accomplishments. They may even resent these achievements. The ambitious individual can see those achievements as apart from his own actions, and can applaud them– even as he experiences his own setbacks.

I’ve noted this more because I feel like, when I was younger (not that I’m alllll too old or wise now), I was much more frequently “competitive.” I wanted to be “better”– not out of ill will, but because that seemed like… well, the thing to do. It seemed like a way to mark my progress in life– that I was doing something worthwhile. In recent years, I’ve realized that’s no way to live at all. Much too anxiety-inducing. And, even those moments in which I “beat” others felt… empty– because they weren’t based off any standards I set for myself, or any goals tailored to my own dreams… They were just meaningless external representation of some sort of superficial milestone.

I’ve found a lot more peace trying to build my personal ambition. It doesn’t matter what the fuck the other girls deadlift if I can manage to get through this workout in good positions– if I can push myself while improving my form. If I can get the damn weight off the ground without injuring my spine again.

As the summer semester concludes, I’m getting a lot of emails from my students, asking: “How do I get an A on this paper?” “Will you read this an tell me if it’s an A.” “Did I get an A on this assignment?” And I am dismayed. Because, all semester, I work on building them as writers… I try to broaden their minds, their thoughts, their ability to think critically. Honestly, I don’t think about how many points this is worth or what grade this assignment will apply to until later. That’s not my purpose.

But, of course, I understand. I was grade-obsessed as a student. I was the Asian stereotype crying in my seventh-grade classroom when I saw a B+. And I’m not denying my students their worldview… there is significance to grades, and ultimately the underrepresentative letters they accumulate each semester will possibly mean something somewhere when they try to take their ambitions out of the university and into a larger world. But it’s not everything. It’s so far from everything. I want my students to ask me if this paper has thoroughly explored the topic. I want my students to ask if they’ve effectively captured the emotions they tried to express in their narratives. I want my students to ask how more they can learn. How more they can grow. I want them to understand their progress when they leave my classroom not by the stupid letter I have to turn into the office, but by their understanding of language– before, and after. By the fact that, hopefully over this semester, their world has become a little bigger. A little more complex. Possibly even a little more scary.

I know I can’t live in a dream world. We do live in a universe that operates by these external validations and, for most of us, these predetermined standards and external comparisons will need to happen at some point. But I think we can survive them with much more sanity– and possibly perform better through them if we orient ourselves to our own abilities and our own landmarks. The Regionals athlete who fell a few places short of the Games can’t help a little external comparison. These other athletes advanced before him. But he started from a different place, with different abilities. He has a life with different challenges. He can be disappointed. But he can also know that he now squats twice what he did a year ago, or that he halved his Fran time, or that he took himself to Regionals with a year of experience, and that he has another year of training and another year to cultivate his potential. Hell, he can know that outside the Games, he has a career and a family. Perhaps the best moment of his year was watching his kid graduate elementary school, or spending a week with his family away from the rest of the world. Having those things– knowing those things, and knowing that they matter more so than any outside validation– will keep him sane, and will carry him to whatever his next goals are.

Setting our own standards rather than relying on those of others is harder. It actually involves more self-assurance– the belief that you know what’s best for you, and the confidence that you can pursue it with everything you have. But I’m coming to believe it’s the only way to survive this world and the disappointments it will inevitably throw at you. For me, it’s actually allowed me to smile and shrug at shortcomings that would’ve crushed a much younger, much more insecure Jo.

The “distinction” I’ve created here is false… of course. There’s probably more a spectrum between petty competition and entirely self-assured, self-driven ambition. But I’m going to try to keep leaning towards the latter… and hopefully, keep smiling.

Nutrition and Self-Experimentation

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2013 at 11:20 am

As a child, I accused my mother a lot of hypochondria-by-proxy. She sent me to the doctor for every kind of test at every possible opportunity. Obviously, she was just a concerned parent– and with good reason; I was often sick and battled a myriad of chronic conditions. Everything runs in my family– heart trouble, high blood pressure, diabetes, morbid obesity, cancer… Both my parents have had cholesterol problems in the past few years.

I’ve also mentioned that my mother is a clinical dietitian. She’s actually a damn good one, and I’m very proud of her and what she has achieved in her practice. Her specialty, however, is dealing with the already unwell and prescribing palliative nutrition for those who require intravenous care. She does not specialize in everyday nutrition. So when it comes to how we should eat… as I’ve been seduced by the more paleo school of thought… we’ve disagreed with increased frequency. In order to remedy her high (LDL) cholesterol, my mom turned to whole-grains and a more vegetarian-based approach. She’s also warned me often about the dangers of the coconut milk I pour into my morning coffee. All my research and my mother’s advice have given me two conflicting ideologies that have made it difficult for me to commit to any methodology.

However, since I started working with a Coach, she took my nutrition out of my hands– which I needed. But it means that, for the past two months I’ve been consuming amounts of saturated fat that would make my mother faint. Egg yolks, bacon, and coconut oil every morning. About 7 tablespoons of coconut oil every day. Tons of red meat (over 1lb of meat a day…). For the months leading up to this, I’d been slowly ramping up to this style of eating– so I’d say it’s been about a good year that I’ve been trying a more fat-based diet… I just really threw myself in headfirst for the past couple months because I was sick of straddling the line, unsure of whether to believe all the new advice I got from the ancestral-based movement or to trust in the “tried-and-true” “whole-grains” type wisdom.

I want to make the caveat now that I think the way I’ve been eating for the past two months, specifically, is rather extreme… it’s completely designed for me to grow as a CrossFitter and not for much else. In the future, in life, when eating more for enjoyment, I will probably stop consuming raw coconut oil by the spoonful and just use it to cook delicious parts of cow. But ANYWAY… I decided to get a lipid panel to find out how my nutrition was affecting my insides. Externally, I’ve felt great. I’ve had more energy than I ever had (and reduced my caffeine consumption to 25% of what I used to have). I’ve recovered much faster and been getting stronger and have been putting on weight. Internally, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just clogging my arteries.

So… (drumroll please) my doctor messaged me this morning. My HDL (good cholesterol) is through the roof and my LDL (bad cholesterol) is well within the acceptable range. My HDL was so high that the note says :”verified by repeated testing, sent to Quest labs for verification”)… so I guess I puzzled them a bit. The doctor told me to keep doing what I’m doing; I chose not to mention that I’ve been on the steak-and-bacon-diet.

I don’t want to give nutritional recommendations to anyone. I’m positive that it’s a very personalized thing. I know fantastic athletes and just-plain-healthy individuals that are paleo, paleo-zone, vegan, vegetarian, carnivorous, or on the Nabisco eating plan. I just know that, at least for now, I’ve found what works for me. After having so many small but obnoxious health problems, I was relieved to hear the doctor use the term “healthy”… So, for you all, I encourage a bit of self-experimentation. And a bit of bacon.

Stay healthy!


In Uncategorized on April 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm

This was not the post I intended to write today. In fact, I did not intend to write a post today– or tomorrow, or probably in the next week as I attempt to keep my head above the insurmountable tide of deadlines and meetings and responsibilities, and how-am-I-supposed-to-be-an-adult-nesss. The day’s been chaotic and somehow I’ve managed to not even sit at my desk and it’s already nearly 8:00pm. BUT I’m writing a post. Why? Because I’m pissed.

I suppose that’s not entirely accurate. I’m overwhelmed.

Today, our box hosted the third annual Warrior Games– a yearly event to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, to commemorate a truly inspirational hero by performing the “Murph.” I love this event– it’s, in many ways, the embodiment of everything I love about our community at the box. It gathers a supportive, passionate, motley amalgam of misfits for a good cause. Every year, we get together, raise (and experience) a little hell, and celebrate an exceptional man while attracting attention and resources to a good cause.

This year was a rousing success and an improvement on its predecessors. The PSU veteran’s organization, and the box, and all their efforts raised twice what the event did last year. I’ve never seen the box so full, and the air– even this cold, drizzly Saturday morning– was electric. Again, PSUVO and LionHeart moved me with the spirit and strength of a community– how a passionate few could become a powerhouse many… how a small idea can erupt into an astounding achievement.

I want to congratulate and thank again all the wonderful people at LionHeart and at PSUVO and Omega Delta Sigma who put together the event and ensured that it ran so smoothly.

Mostly, I’m so proud and grateful that I know these people and that I’ve had a chance to be a small part of the Warrior Games. But also, today I overheard a conversation that disgusts me. One that seems to spit in the face of all these individuals and their diligence– that disrespects the day and all it was meant to honor. Now, there were a lot of people at the box today– many of whom came from far reaches of the city, state, and country to participate so I don’t want to cast judgement on individuals that I don’t know… Even still, the conversation enrages me. So much that I can’t stop thinking about it.

A couple people were discussing the day’s “prizes.” Of course, it was a CrossFit event so there was a competitive element. Usually this is part of the day’s fun… just to add to the excitement and energy. However, these people were talking about the competition. How it’s all about the competition. How if you didn’t participate to  compete, you weren’t doing it right and might as well not do it at all… How they regretted not strategizing better so they could have “beaten” other participants– so they could “kick everyone else’s ass.” But the thing these people missed entirely was that… the “other participants” wouldn’t have given a shit if they got their “asses kicked.” In fact, all the wonderful, supportive people in that box would’ve freaking cheered you on to kick their ass harder– if you had it in you. Yeah, there’s a time and place for competition. There’s fun in it too. But today, that box, among veterans and students and teachers and athletes and beautiful souls who had donated money, time, and sheer heart to honor a man’s absolute selflessness… today was not the time. That box, our box, was not that place. And I feel freaking violated to have overheard such disrespect. And I’m furious that they would try to take away from others’ experience and participation by disparaging those who chose a half-Murph, or a quarter-Murph, who scaled the movements… or just attended and supported the event in any way.

That is all.

Again, thank you to LionHeart, PSUVO, and Omega Delta Sigma. Congratulations to all the participants who took part in the event– who, for a punishing hour of their day– were part of something bigger– a collective act of respect, of honor, of integrity. Remember that feeling, and don’t let the selfish, the narrow-minded, and those wretched with their own smallness drag you down.


In Uncategorized on January 24, 2013 at 12:10 am

As someone frequently failed by mind-body coordination, I often overlook the abiding connection between the mental, the physical, and the emotional. When I plot my training regimen, I weigh the stress of each workout– evenly spacing upper and lower body, scattering core work, trying not to overburden or neglect any muscle group. When I wake more sore than anticipated, when the DOMS takes too long to fade, and when unplanned tweaks and twinges appear, I wonder why– I planned, I scheduled, I rested– why does my body rebel?

What I often forget is the other factors that tax our bodies… mental and emotional stress– the hour of sleep missed one night, or the impending deadline in class. For example– the recent decline in my lifts. I did make sure to get my butt to the gym and follow my Westside training template, but my schedule became a lot more hectic. I spent more nights out with friends– took in more empty calories, and didn’t refuel with good ones when I should. I slept less, and (much to my dismay) had a few holiday family blowups– which have thankfully since been resolved. Regardless, I took none of these things into consideration when planning my daily lifts and when anticipating my daily performance. It’s quite possibly that all that stress plus the travel was enough to upset my body and keep it performing well below its potential.

Conversely… and thankfully, I’ve found a better rhythm these past few weeks. I’ve since PR’d my deadlift 3 rep max as well as my floor press 3 rep max. At the same time, my 5k rowing time has continued to improve. Because of that month of backsliding, I’m not nearly where I’d like to be. My cleans are still well below my former max, my pull-ups are creeping back up but still not where they used to be, but it’s nice to see my numbers moving in a positive direction again. 

I don’t want to get too sappy on you guys, but I think I’m finding my rhythm again because I feel… at peace lately. My students are wonderful, engaged, and inquisitive. My classes are challenging, but at least thus far I don’t feel like I’m drowning. I have delightful, supportive friends who make sure I don’t spend all my time holed up in my basement (which has spent far too much of the past 3 days in the 50 degree rage… though thankfully, I have a much more powerful heater now). I’m also learning to treat myself better. 

I’ll readily admit that I have lazy days at the gym. I have awful, unproductive days at work where I spend more time reading blogs than articles– days when the only things I write are facebook statuses bemoaning my lack of writing. However, as a WOD-addict and a grad student, I’m also a glutton for self-flagellation. The more behind and stressed out I feel, the more I feel like I’m failing, the more destructive I become. When I’m frustrated by my lack of progress at the gym, I train past the point of pain, past productive muscle breakdown and into a zone of just exhaustion for the sake of venting physical fury. When I’m trying to write for a deadline, I’ll attach myself to a desk and abstain from food and rest and uncaffeinated drinks for too long. I become angry with myself for being “not good enough,” and I become monomaniacal about trying to “fix” it/me.

This semester (the few weeks of it we’ve had), I’ve been better about that. If I have a bad workout, I finish up and tell myself I’ll do better with rest, recovery, and a clear mind next time. If something stressful or unexpected (like no heat in single-digit weather) happens, I figure it out with a level head. I’ve been better about foam rolling and stretching and doing mobility work. I’ve been taking walks just because I feel like it… letting myself forget deadlines for just brief periods of time. I’ve even called and caught up with old friends with whom I’d lost touch. It’s strange, but I owe this a lot to a new presence in my life. Blogging about my relationship status feels a little too “high school,” but I can’t get through this post without mentioning that a good (fantastic, phenomenal, just freaking incredible) friend and I decided that, despite the trials of long-distance, we should be more-than-friends. I’m superstitious and nervous and terrified of so many things that could go wrong, so I don’t want to say too much, but really I’d been so convinced that I was an emotional wreck that I’d decided just to be broken forever. As it turns out, there are some people whose jagged edges fit yours… and make you feel   whole again. I don’t totally know what it means that it took someone to care about me for me to care about me again. But I’m so grateful for it. I’m grateful for someone who not only puts up with and tolerates my oddities, but embraces them, and knows how to reassure me through them– someone who will debate with me the merits of different literary eras (sorry, babe, I still want to set fire to all things Joyce), someone who understands that sometimes I need to be melodramatic about the fact that I failed to lift some amount of weight some amount of times, and someone who will remind me that I matter, even if I failed to lift that weight or meet this deadline.. even if today all the words are ugly and all the iron is too heavy. 

Growing up, I wanted to think that I could do everything alone. That I could always stand alone… that I would hold myself up on my own. And I can– I can support myself, I will take care of myself… but it is so much easier to do so, to be good to myself when someone cares

So that reminds me of my friend George (of Civilized Caveman) who so often tells his readers never to underestimate how they can change someone’s life with small kindnesses. You never know what an impact you can make with a gentle word, or a smile… how you can uplift someone just by taking a few minutes out of your day and addressing her as a human being– seeing her, listening to her, treating her as a person who is worthy of respect and consideration.

I don’t wanna jinx it now (*knock on wood*), but I’m beginning to feel balanced… Nothing’s perfect, and I don’t expect things to be. This semester will eventually become more stressful… frustrations and insecurities will creep back in in strange ways… I’m sure something else in this apartment will ambush me in good time, but hopefully I’ll be able to field them with a measure of grace… 

The Jomad’s journey continues, and though I still can’t see the road ahead, I walk with optimism. Thank you all for your company. Thank you for reading. Don’t forget to take care of yourselves.

Much love,


Just DO

In Uncategorized on January 11, 2013 at 5:47 pm

At long last, Alex Viada published part II of his hybrid strength and endurance program: here. The article is very thorough and provides sample training schedules for varied goals– a CrossFitter looking to reduce her mile time (like yours truly), a competitive powerlifter looking to complete a 5k, a CrossFitter who’d like to run a marathon, and a powerlifter who endeavors to do a triathalon (why, God, why?). Anyway… it doesn’t change much of what I’m doing. Unfortunately, since I’m a pansy when it comes to this drippy, gross, sleet-ish, wet Pennsylvanian weather (god, weather… what a hassle. Arizona requires no forecast. Dry. Hot. Done.), I’ll be prioritizing rowing for the winter… which means my long “run” and intervals will be on the rower. I figure, at the very least, it’ll increase my aerobic capacity in the winter, which will hopefully transfer a bit to my running. Rowing is equally important in CrossFit, and I suck at it just as much (possibly more) as I do at running…

Yesterday was my Max Effort squat day. It’s been about two months since I last tested my squat 1rm, so I tried that… I’ve regained my old max, which really means it only went up 2.5 lbs in the last month. I mean, I’m glad it hasn’t gone down as my upper body lifts have… But I still wasn’t too thrilled. This morning, I did the box’s prescribed WOD:

15-12-9, Overhead Squats and Pull-ups.

There was no set prescription for the WOD, but rather weights were chosen at the coach’s discretion (possibly the best approach). Since I couldn’t attend a class time, however, I decided the weight for myself. I went with 65– which is the prescribed weight for Nancy. Actually since I never practice my OHS, I’ve never even overhead squatted 65 before. But I managed to finished the WOD within the 12 minute time cap (barely– 11:11). Again… you’d think I’d be thrilled, since I technically PR’d a lift and did it for reps and time. However… I guess I’m still feeling a bit down.

I’ve been doing this for a year and a half, and my squat-based lifts are hitting markers that many women reach within their first few months. The only lift I’m proud of is my deadlift (which, btw, now matches that of CrossFit Games women who have over twenty lbs on me). But… my clean is still 2.5 lbs short of that 100 mark, which means it’s now over 10 lbs less than body weight (the scale reads between 108 and 110 right now). My snatch is abominable… My press has been teasing 75% body weight for like six months, just as my bench keeps approaching the body weight marker, but never quite gets there. Unfortunately, my pull-ups have dropped down quite a bit in the past month, though I can’t explain why. I feel like a mess. On the more positive side, I managed to string together 45 double-unders over break (again, a milestone that many better-coordinated athletes reach within months)… I uploaded a video of my attempt at a strict muscle-up to the CrossFit forums, and I received encouraging feedback. Most people seem to agree that I’m damn close… This sums up the general response:

I have seen transition work fron the knees so you can use your feet to push you through the transition. I think that would be good too as you get the feel of what it is like and know the movements.

To me you have the MU you juts need to do it. YOu looke that close

(I’m going to forgive Nik’s typos because I appreciate the response). Anyway… I should be practicing transition drills, so I’ve been doing those when I can and letting up when I’m sore. But… the problem with “You have the muscle up you just need to do it,” is I can’t just do it. People make these statements in CrossFit as if it comes naturally, but none of this comes naturally to me. My body doesn’t just do. It doesn’t respond as it should. It fights me every step of the way… I couldn’t land a freaking box jump for months because my knees just would not lift into the air. It didn’t matter how hard I willed my legs to bend– they just wouldn’t. And I don’t know how to force that other than to keep trying and failing and getting beat down by my own incompetence.

In a way, I understand… I’m working on being a more understanding, more empathetic writing teacher, but when I first started I struggled with explaining a lot of things that I naturally just did. Some sentences sound “better.” Some words resonate more. Some images leave you trembling. I believe a lot of writing is practice and discipline, but that practice and discipline also hones a sort of natural intuition– one I believe most people have, but haven’t honed their ability to listen to it.

But for me, the physical is the polar opposite. Nothing feels intuitive. I’m trying to get a strict muscle up because I worry I’d never find the natural kip and at least working on it through brute force gives me a strategy…

But it’s the fact that nothing comes intuitively that also makes me worry about this new training schedule. My agenda is such that I can’t really make class times if I want to maintain a strength focus. My lifts take longer than the class’s usual strength component, which means I have to complete my lifts sometime outside of classes.. which means the only class I can is attend 4:00pm if I want to lift before the WOD. I teach until 3:30, which doesn’t give me enough time to complete my lifts before class (it takes me 20-30minutes to walk home, then I have to drive to the box, and my lifts + accessory work take about 45 minutes). Technically, I could also make the 8am class and try to get to the gym by 7 to lift… but unfortunately I’m much weaker that early in the morning and I’m afraid that I won’t make as many gains if I do that… also, I’d have to wake by 6 to get food in me before lifting… and then I’d have to get to bed early enough to recover well enough for all of this work to even have any impact. I know a lot of these restrictions are my own damn fault. If I weren’t so concerned about paring down my weaknesses, I could just attend the classes, and not give a shit about my own programming. If I wanted to miss a bit of sleep and train a little tired, I could start waking really early in the morning (which I may do if this continues to frustrate me). But… this is my blog so I’m whining while I have a captive audience ;). Anyway…. the reason I worry about it so much is because 1) training alone kind of sucks. It’s so much less fun than hanging out with the lovely members of our box, and I actually really hate that I never get to see anyone right now since I’m always working out alone. 2) training alone means I don’t have a coach watching my movements. With this in mind, I’m trying to remain hyper-vigilant … Today’s overhead squats had to be rock-bottom or else I didn’t count them, but we know that I lack body-awareness. I may start videotaping just to be sure. course, this whole time, I’m still not sure of any of this programming is right for me… if this is the ideal, most efficient way to help me become a better, more capable CrossFit athlete. I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining because I know I’m damn lucky to have the box’s open gym hours to use the equipment when I can. I just… miss people, and something small and needy and all-too-easily wounded inside me tends to wilt when I spend too much time training in an empty gym with just my headphones on. I do love CrossFit for its interactive potential, after all.

I don’t want to use “I’m not an athlete” and “I suck at this as an excuse.” It’s not an excuse. It’s not acceptable. I should be doing better than I am; I just don’t know how. I have this constant terror that I’m screwing up and just unaware of the ways that I’m doing it. For now, I feel I have no option but to keep trying what I’m trying and see adjust if I’m still dissatisfied. But right now, I’m very disappointed in myself.

Bleh… Okay I think the lack-of-interacting-with-people-outside-a-classroom setting is probably also contributing to the grey cloud over my head– that and possibly the actual grey clouds overhead right now (damn you Pennsylvania weather). But I’m glad to get that off my chest. Thanks for reading… I hope you’ve all had a lovely week.

… in a small attempt to counterbalance the negativity of my post, here are three things for which I’m grateful:

1. Brief moments with good friends– the passing conversations I’ve managed to have this week…

2. Letters in the mail– who doesn’t love snail mail? 😀

3. A possible paper idea for my Milton class (though this is a large stretch and will require a lot of generosity and leeway on the part of the professor… I foresee much groveling in my future)

Self-Sabotage: even the pros do it…

In Uncategorized on January 9, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I read a very good post recently by Joy Bruening, a CrossFit Masters athlete (which is totally what I dream of being after a fulfilling imaginary career as writer extraordinaire/beloved professor/CrossFit Coach). An accomplished, experienced, very capable athlete, Joy still gets in her own way sometimes– like us bumbling amateurs. She explains that she has her own insecurities– about her conditioning, etc– and sometimes in an effort to remedy her shortcomings, she screws up her training. A few days ago, instead of taking her rest day, Joy decided to deviate from her personally-designed program (as a professional athlete, I believe she has her own coach if not a team of them). She participated in “Chelsea” with the rest of her box. She decimated her legs and set back her training by about ten days (her estimation). On the larger scale of things, she’ll be fine. If this is one isolated incident, then it’s a lesson learned (or a reminder made) and she’ll regain her place in her training schedule. However, I feel like most of us (maybe just me?) do this too often. Before I started my big 70’s Big adventure, I jumped from strength program to strength program, probably giving them all up before any of them had a chance to work. Or, I just played with too many factors at once– diet, protein powders, workout regimen. It’s so easy to become impatient, especially when a lot of what we’re developing requires gradual change.

Joy’s post lingered with me because I’ve been rather frustrated this past week. Since my return from my vacation, I’ve had a few rather discouraging days at the gym. My numbers have definitely backslid. Both my strict press and bench have gotten weaker… I can do actually only half the number of dead-hang pull-ups I used to be able to do (well, 60%). My clean is down by at least five pounds… I’m terrified of testing my squat tomorrow. Weirder still, my body weight is up by four pounds– though that explains why I’m sucking at the bodyweight movements.

Part of it could be the holidays… though I did make it to LA fitness for all my strength days, the equipment was unfamiliar, and I’m sure I got lesser workouts than I otherwise would have. Of course, it must have something to do with diet since I always eat entirely differently when I go home. It’s also possibly related to creatine? I started creatine about three months before the holidays, so I decided to cycle off for a month just to be safe (though the trend now seems to indicate that creatine’s safe for continual use, I figured… better safe…) Anyway, I didn’t feel an extreme difference while on creatine, but my numbers were going up… and now they’re not so much. I’m considering starting the creatine this Sunday again, which would be a week early. But it only takes two weeks to clear your system, from what I understand. I haven’t entirely made up my mind yet, but I’ll be interested to see how that goes…

At the same time, I’ve also been adding more carbs to my diet and I actually haven’t done a metcon since Saturday. Could that be playing with too many things at once? I struggle to reel in my own impatience.

As for the rest of life. I’m feeling pretty positive about my courses this semester. The stakes seem rather high for one of them, but I’ll be grateful for the productivity I get out of it. The pre-1800 seems less demanding and more flexible than my last, which I appreciate. I feel rather fortunate that my own class– the one I’m teaching– is populated with engaged, thoughtful students (at least that’s how they are this early in the semester– ha!) though… even now that means I’ve spent over 75% of my work time finding new reading material and writing and revising my lectures. It’s still too early in the semester to tell how busy I’ll really be. I just want to settle into the rhythm of things.

Anyway, I hope 2013 is looking great for all of you! Drop me a note with how you’re doing if you get the chance.

Two Days of Conjugate: Two PRs…

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I’m officially two days into my very experimental conjugate-based program, and loving it. Here’s what’s happened so far:

Day One [Max Effort Leg Day]

Squats 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1
(hit a new one rep max at 142.5)

Assistance Work:

Sumo Deadlift 3×10

Glute Ham Raises… I only managed 10, 8, the 6. These are harder than I anticipated.

Pistols 2 x 15

I also did the box’s WOD, which was:

Sit Ups
American Swings (24/16)

It was a quick one, but I loved it– the triplet equivalent of a full-out sprint.

The following day, my lower body was smoked. I was sore in places I’d forgotten I had– but it was a good soreness… the feeling that results from a good workout, but not the debilitating exhaustion that renders you incapable of climbing the stairs.

Day Two [Max Effort Upper Body]

Press 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1
(Also hit a new one rep max here)

Assistance Work

JM Presses: 3 x8

Barbell Row: 5 x 5

Kettlebell Press: 3 x10


3 Strict Pull Ups
6 Power Snatch (75/50)
9 Dbl Squat Box Jumps (24/20)

Another really fun one… perfect length, and the right amount of reps for each movement so that I could go mostly unbroken, but still feel appropriately fatigued.

I’m still trying to figure out my timing– when to arrive at the gym so I can work in my strength without disrupting class, and when I can get away from the office to do so… it’ll be harder when classes start next week. However, I’m really enjoying the fact that the conjugate system is forcing me to learn these different movements. I hope it makes me a better-informed, better-equipped CrossFitter. Also, I’d planned to use the squat and press as my primary movements for the first three weeks, but Jefe recommends that I not repeat them if I PR’d this week… so I may shoot for 2 or 3 rep maxes on the same movement next week just to introduce a small variable.

I don’t want to get too cocky too soon. But I’m hoping it’s a good sign that switching up my programming was a step in the right direction.

Today’s a rest day so I can have the prescribed 72 hours of rest between Max Effort and Dynamic Effort days. (Lookit me, resting like a good Jo)

For those of you who might have never heard of a JM Press, fear not, I hadn’t either. Prior to attempting the movement, I consulted this video. My favorite part about this video is the first comment: “My gym told me to stop doing this dangerous exercise. They said people have been killed using this bad form.” It reminded me a bit of how many fitness practices are overlooked or eliminated due to poor education. Yeah… the risk of injury increases when you don’t know what you’re doing. Be smart, educate yourself, get a spotter if you need one… but don’t write off unfamiliar movements for lack of knowledge. Lessons of the day: JM Presses kill. Also, they’re pretty effective for working your triceps– you know, if you’re feeling “dangerous.”