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Posts Tagged ‘Goals’

Goalsetting and Girly Tunes

In General, Training on July 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm

I’ve been around a lot lately to see Coach Singalong and his country-music-loving-buddy work out together. You haven’t experienced all that CrossFit has to offer until you watch two men with the collective work capacity of a Spartan army clean and jerk a couple hundred pounds while singing along to Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.” Despite their un-hardcore (softcore? No…) taste in music, they’re both undeniably phenomenal athletes. And, if you compared their scores on the whiteboard, you’d assume they’re evenly matched. But what I find fascinating about watching the pair is that they’re two entirely different trainees.

Coach Singalong is… well, a coach. He knows others will model themselves after his movements. He aspires to competing at the Mid-Atlantic Regionals. He wants to make CrossFit a profession. Most of the time, his every movement is precise. His last push-up is as clean as the first one, even if he slows  between them. Every single squat hits well below depth and he hits full extension at the top. CountryBoy, however, is a totally different beast* (*actually, beast is probably an understatement. This man can bench press a small truck– or a large tractor… for reps). More often, CB is clearly just there to get a workout. A few of his squats miss full depth. If he loses a lift right before full extension, he might not necessarily try it again. That’s not to say that CB can’t hit those lifts perfectly, or that he’s being a dishonest ass that day. It’s just that day, that moment, he’s just working out for himself and doesn’t give a damn. In a stereotypical CrossFit setting, the “hardcore” coach would be “no-repping” the shit out of CB. Would be screaming at him to reach a higher intensity, with more precision. But… sometimes that’s not the point.

As much as I love the CrossFit culture– its passion, its commitment– I think that some participants lose sight of the difference between “training” and “competition.” In “competition,” you want to go all-out… you want to give that 110% and your judges are going to hold you to that precise standard: hips below parallel, chest touching bar, head through the window. From the competitor’s perspective, things look a lot more black-and-white. You want high intensity, and there are clear standards for each movement– from point-A to point-B. With training, there are so many different factors that make a mess of things.

In general, if you’re training for self-improvement, to work on your movement patterns, to work on your health, to become a better athlete– you want the best movement within your range of motion. For some trainees, that’s not a squat to full depth yet. For some, they shouldn’t pull a deadlift off the floor until they have that mobility. For most, that also means that some workouts shouldn’t be for the fastest-damned-time or the most-fucking-reps you can get in that workout. Yes, during competition, that’s important because you’re trying to win by the numbers on the board. But in training, perhaps your personal “win” is a clean where you hit all three extensions, or a kettlebell snatch where you don’t beat the shit out of your forearm. I had a member ask me during our on-ramp if all the “in-between steps” mattered during a Turkish get-up, or if he could just stand the Kettlebell from Point A to Point B. The “in-between” steps matter. They’re not only the most efficient, most stable, safest way to get from point A to point B, but actually the in-between steps of that particular movement also ensure you engage all the muscles that such a full-body exercise intends to train.

You’d think that makes training also black-and-white. In competition… we want intensity and any way from point A to point B. In training, we want perfect form. But it’s not that easy. We’re all so far from perfect. And we have different reasons for training– even from day to day, week to week. And what’s different about CrossFit is, well, we’re really not quite a “sport” in the same way as others… it’s not like a powerlifting gym where every day people come in building towards their next meet… or like Football or Soccer where you’re preparing the team for the game. For a lot of recreational CrossFitters, this is a fun way to get their fitness on and in good company. For CB, sometimes he just wants to get a good sweat and have fun with his training buddy, which I would ruin by telling him he’s missing his lockout on this or that rep. For some of our beginner CrossFitters, they would be entirely demoralized if we “no-repped” every time they didn’t hit all the points of performance. Some of them would never get any reps. It would’ve taken me several months of CrossFit to even be able to write my name on the whiteboard. This means that coaching requires a large amount of compassion and intuition. You have to understand an athlete’s goals, present mood, current motivation, and balance all those things to ensure that he 1) stays safe, 2) progresses, and 3) feels satisfied with his workout. On some days, that means letting CB get away with a few missed reps. On some days, that means slowing a new member down– fixing the second pull of the clean but acknowledging that she’ll need to work on depth and wrist mobility another day.

I’ve had such lofty and faraway goals for myself as a CrossFitter for so long that, for a while, I reached a point where all of my workouts felt hopeless. If I didn’t PR a lift, I wasn’t getting stronger. If I did PR a lift, I wasn’t getting stronger fast enough. If I PR’d one lift but slowed in my metcons, I was getting stronger, but my conditioning was suffering, etc. The way I’ve managed to change this– how I got back to getting excited about every workout and being able to leave the gym each day with some degree of satisfaction– is by setting a small goal for each training session, and adjusting that goal as the session progresses. If I show up at the gym and my bench is just not happening and I missed the strength PR I wanted to set for that day, then I end the day with some technique work. Yes, I didn’t get stronger that day. But I improved my kettlebell clean and the speed of my elbow transition.

Admittedly, too, sometimes like CB I just want to get a good workout without fretting too much about my form. I went to the gym last weekend, during open gym hours, just frustrated with a lot of external bullshit that I let get to me. And I just wanted to rage. So… I didn’t make a plan, didn’t give myself set reps or a time, or whatever. I picked movements that were relatively safe and not technically demanding, and I just bear-crawled and burpee broad jumped and slam-balled until the feels went away. And that was what I needed– nothing quantifiable, nothing on a whiteboard, nothing but the sheer adrenaline of the moment. That was my training goal for those ten minutes of that day. The following day, I came back and drilled my olympic lifts with a PVC for precision. As coaches, we may do well to keep such flexibility in mind when working with clients. Some days, it’s not the time to scream at your athlete to go-go-go. Sometimes he needs to slow down and work on technique. Other days… if he’s not hurting himself, maybe you let him go wild. No one wants to come back day after day to have his form nitpicked to exhaustion. Also, the workout on the whiteboard is not engraved in stone. Perhaps this particular athlete needs to cut the AMRAP to ten minutes. Perhaps she can do this weight but for fewer reps. Maybe she should work on double-unders by doing attempts for one minute instead of counting “reps” so that she can fit in skill-work without A) getting stuck on the movement and wasting the entire WOD getting a “good rep” or B) replacing them with single-unders and not really training that skill at all.

So, takeaways: Coaches should consider the different needs of their athletes on different days, athletes could find greater motivation in making small goals for their workouts, and – most importantly – sometimes big, burly badasses throwdown to really girly tunes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Walking

In General, Training, Writing on January 26, 2013 at 12:06 am

I would like to share with you all this post by Juli Bauer of PaleOMG (a host of fantastic recipes for those more culinarily inclined than myself… all her food looks fantastic, but I never try any of it because it looks complicated and I’m lazy :p). Anyway, Juli is a major figure in the paleo world, and a rather accomplished CrossFit athlete. Last year, she placed 8th in the Southwest regionals. However, this blog post announces Juli’s hiatus from competitive CrossFit. She says:

I noticed that I hadn’t been happy for a while. I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. And for me, that is very important. I started competing because it made me happy. And made me confident. I never cared if I did poorly, I never worried about not finishing a workout. I just tried my hardest and tried to smile through it. But when disappointment began to appear on others faces, I knew it was absolutely time for me to take a step back. I never want my performance in the gym to disappoint someone. That is not why I work out. I work out to better myself. To improve myself physically and mentally. Not to upset someone because I didn’t do all my wall balls unbroken. Or because I didn’t set a PR.

This has been a hard thing for me to come to terms with. I haven’t wanted to admit it, but I don’t want to compete right now. I don’t want to train to the point that I’m spending hours in the gyms, aching constantly, and gaining 15-20lbs to be able to keep up with the amazing CrossFit ladies in my Region. That’s not what I want nor is it what my body wants. And since I’ve stopped training to my max every day, I feel better. Even though I’ve lost a ton of strength and endurance, I’m happier. I feel better in my own skin and I’m finally not crying on a regular basis because I was unhappy with how I looked. Yeah, I cried because of that. No fun. I’m an emotional mess without that crap on my mind.

I have the utmost respect for professional athletes– for the discipline they have, the dedication, talent, and exceptional masochism– but Juli’s above post is one of the many reasons I could never become one. I actually enjoy CrossFit too much to turn it into something so laden with anxiety and pressure. We know I’m anxious enough… when I underperform or when my progress backslides, I somehow feel like I’ve failed my coaches who probably really don’t give a damn if I lifted 5 lbs more or less this morning beyond whether or not it makes me gripe at them for the next ten minutes. Moreover, I wouldn’t want to go so far beyond that line between training for health and training for competitive performance.

Interestingly (I’m playing it fast and loose with the term “interesting”), I kept thinking about Juli’s post in conjunction with a book I’d heard about: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, written by a palliative care nurse, drawn from her experience with terminal patients. According to nurse Bronnie Ware, the top five regrets of individuals at the end of their lives are:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

I’ll be frank… there’s a lot of shit I want to do in life. I want to write– I want to write things worth reading, things that move, things that challenge the boundaries of language. I want to teach– in a way that provokes and inspires. I want to travel and see and experience and try to understand. I want to coach and to help people find their bodily potential… to help them feel more confident and capable. I want to love– to care and to be cared for, to protect and be protected, to give so much of myself to communities and friendships and the power of human interaction. But of course it’s easy to say all of this– a lot harder when I look at the long, daunting list at the end of a day when it was an accomplishment just to don all my winter-wear and trek to my classroom.

So the only way I’ve been able to continue caring about these ambitions yet maintain my sanity and still live my daily life is to try and keep things in perspective. There’s no end to the things I could do in pursuit of all of these goals… I could spend day after day planning lessons, and still fall short of helping my students find their potential. I could dedicate an entire life to writing, and still have so many stories untold. I could train until everything hurts and everything aches, but there would still be an infinite number of ways that I’m doing things inefficiently… ways that I could tweak my schedule and my diet to be better.

So… I’m taking things one day, one step at a time with the longer journey in mind. I continue to work hard each day because it matters– because I think the extra time I spend lesson planning here might help my students write a better story, or because I think these extra ten minutes on the pull-up bar might improve my form. But also, I try to keep the scale of things in perspective… will the two hours I spent talking to a friend instead of working really ruin my career in the long run? Will one extra rest day or one bad WOD prevent me from becoming an effective coach? It’s helping me arrange my priorities… I will need to sacrifice things in pursuit of others. Not everything will be happy or perfect or even pleasant… but I’m trying to figure out which sacrifices are worthwhile, and which I would regret… what will I care about when all is said and done? Chances are, that two hour phone conversation will mean more to me than the perfectly-researched essay. That friendship will carry me further than the right transition between paragraphs. I can’t be the best writer, teacher, student, athlete, friend, girlfriend, daughter… human being all at once, every single day. I can do my damnedest and apply myself to what’s important, pray that those who love me will forgive me when I slip up, and just… keep walking, and hope  it’s enough.


Also, today’s WOD– just because it was fun and, I think if there were a “girl” WOD named “Jo,” this would be it…:

21-15-9 Pull-ups and Burpees. 6:27… I had to drop from the bar more times than I would have liked. By the end, I was doing them in sets of twos. I started with 12 kipping pull-ups, so I’m guessing I need to work on muscular endurance… Ah well, something more to add to the list!

Fear and Faith

In General, Training on January 15, 2013 at 7:16 pm

My new classroom disciplinary method

Hello readers!

So… it’s a certainty. My strength has definitely declined. My squat is where it was months ago, my press and bench have both stalled out at one rep of my old three rep max… I’m terrified to test my deadlift on Thursday because– as we know– that’s a point of pride for me. Worse yet, my pull-up numbers are down.

Strangely, I’m not feeling nearly as crushed I normally would be. Don’t get me wrong– there was lots of blasphemous swearing today when I dropped my old 3RM push press for the second time. The wonderful Scotchy bore the brunt of my verbal sacrilege, and laughed at my general frustration. But I think that’s the key. Thankfully, the past few days ,I’ve been around people again. Saturday, I got to join the class for a normal WOD (I won’t lie, I sort of deviate from my should-be template so I can sneak in a Saturday WOD because that’s the only time it can fit in without royally fucking up my training schedule). Sunday, there were a few friends around the box, and generally the box has been more lively. I’ll diligently slog away at my lifts every day if I have to, but this whole get-Jo-fast-‘n-strong endeavor feels less hopeless when there’s company.

I am very disappointed in myself for losing a month’s of progress… I feel I work too hard and spend too much time on this to be that careless. Part of it, I think, is the creatine. As terrified as I was to try it, and as much as I still don’t trust/like introducing supplements to my system, I think its sudden absence might be partially to blame for my sudden decrease in strength. I also blame my nutrition for the two weeks I was home. Even though I was ingesting overall a lot more food than usual, my post-workout nutrition was… nonexistant. I didn’t bring any protein powder to Phoenix, and I was usually on the run directly after a workout. Because I respond so poorly to whey, buying more protein powder is both expensive and inconvenient, so I didn’t bother… thinking (apparently mistakenly) that two weeks wouldn’t make that big an impact. Next time I’ll know better and at least invest in some fruit and jerky to throw in my bag for a post-workout refuel.

All that said, I’m not feeling too discouraged just yet. I’m going to reintroduce creatine, and be more diligent about my post-workout nutrition. I’m limiting my WODs to one or two a week, and I’m hoping to get my strength numbers back up. If everything’s still stagnant in another two weeks, I’ll have to reassess.

Whereas my strength numbers are down, my 5k row time was a bit faster Monday than it has previously been. I did the “Polish Crippler” today with Jefe (yay WOD company!), and completed it in 7:57. I don’t absolutely remember my last time for it, but I know it was over ten minutes… For those who don’t know, the Polish Crippler is:

100 Burpees for time

10 Double-Unders EMOM

I’m learning to make peace with the fact that not every day at the gym will be perfect. There will be bad days, bad weeks, (and right now) even bad months. But… if I go and commit 100% of how much I can give that day (even if that 100% is 90% of my old 1RM), I can’t demand anything more of myself… and if I dwell on it, I’m just wasting energy– energy I can devote to my courses, my students and this wonderfully encouraging creative writing class that I’m teaching. I’m reminded again this semester of how lucky I am that I’m paid to do this– to spend my days planning to teach thoughtful young writers… to have time to investigate my own academic interests. I’m surrounded by intelligent, thoughtful, compassionate people… Sure, life has issues– I have more deadlines than I can bear to write down, less money than I’d like to feel secure, and miss so many people that I can’t see and haven’t seen for so long every day. I wonder often if, after six years of graduate school, I’ll have a job or a place in academia– if I’ll love this enough to live and breathe it for the rest of my life. I wonder if I’ll ever be a CrossFit coach– if the work I’m putting in at the gym will take me in the right direction to becoming a trainer. Sometimes life seems like a continual stream of work for a distant and possibly unattainable future. But… for now, I have a small yet steady candle-wick’s gleam of faith. I will put all I can into this strange little journey I’ve started and follow it to where it takes me.

The Nineteenth Grade

In General, Training on January 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Technically, I’m about to start the second semester of the 19th grade. After elementary, middle and high school, college, a Master’s of Fine Arts, and the first semester of my PhD… I still get anxious about the first day of school. It’s worse when I’m teaching… I don’t worry about public speaking, but I worry that I’ll fail my students. That all the good intents I have for the class will be jumbled by poor delivery and somehow I’ll ruin their creative writing experience (that’s what I’m teaching this semester). I’m particularly nervous this semester, though, because I’m not yet certain if I’ve taken on too much to do it all well. But I hope not… I hope with enough discipline, I’ll survive.

In addition to the classes I’m taking (which includes yet another dreaded pre-1800 requirement), I’ll be taking a Teaching with Technology course (which shouldn’t be all that demanding) so that I can teach online courses (which I think will be useful in the future). As I mentioned, I’ll be teaching creative writing, which I love, though from past experience I know I spend exorbitant amounts of time researching new material for the class, reading and rereading my students’ works, etc… I need to start setting a wall clock and grade “for time” or AMRAP in a limited time frame… perhaps an EMOM (Every minute on the minute)? :p. Anyway… in addition to that, I’ll be working with my adviser for an extra two credit hours, editing the special issue of Rhetoric Society Quarterly. And, finally… I’m going to get bigger, stronger, and become an overall more detail-oriented, virtuous CrossFitter…

Anyway, given all that, I’ve been getting frustrated by the technicalities of my training schedule– how to work my lifts around open gym hours, to avoid crowding class hours, how to still remain a member of the box’s community while following my strength/endurance template and participate in a few WODs without burning out. I’d like to continue doing my lower body lifts on Thursday and Sunday because they take so long and then I have the day’s worth of open gym to use the facilities. Also, I like doing ME lower body on Thursday because then I have a better chance of finding someone to spot my squat– though now that we have access to the general Lionheart facilities, I can also use the safety rails on the squat rack, assuming it isn’t occupied by someone else. But also I like isolating my lower body days because they take enough out of me that I can’t (and shouldn’t) WOD afterwards, so if I do them on Thursdays and Sundays I won’t be tempted to jump in with a class.

Anyway… my tentative, very tentative schedule will look like this:

Monday: “Long” run or row (2-3 miles running, or 5k rowing). I’m going to have to do this early morning because I then teach and have a grad seminar until 9:35pm… which really means I’ll get home around 10:15pm, and I have to wake up for another class at 9:00am, which means waking by 7:30am (I need waking-up/breakfast time). Really I kind of worry that my nutrition and rest/recovery will go to shit in this time frame… but I will be diligent about that.

Tuesday: Max Effort Upper Body and skill work, or recovery run, or light (skill-focused) wod (depending on how I feel)

Wednesday: Off

Thursday: Max Effort Lower Body, sprint work (uphill tabatas on a treadmill or rowing sprints)

Friday: Dynamic Effort Upper Body, Running form drills or WOD

Saturday: WOD or short pace run/row (also want to do technique drills on oly lifts on this day)

Sunday: Dynamic Effort Lower Body

I’m not sure how I’ll feel waking up early for endurance work before a longish day of school, but we’ll see. If it doesn’t burn me out too much, I’ll keep it. If it does, I’ll need to figure out some way to rearrange my schedule. I’m also really going to focus on getting a muscle up, but I’m not sure how to do that– should be concentrate on weighted pull ups? On strict chest-to-bars? Should I do pull-ups on the rings more? Negative muscle-ups? Transition drills? I’d love any advice from all you lovely, better-informed folks out there. I’ve been doing the Armstrong Pull-Up progression for my pull-ups, which helped enormously and brought me up to ten strict dead-hangs. However, I frustratingly lost a huge amount of that capacity in the past two weeks of vacation (when I lost regular access to a pull-up bar), and now I’m not sure whether to continue because I know that doing more muscle-up skill work will also train the same muscles and I don’t want to overwork them… Thoughts?

That’s the Jo-update the night before the start of her next adventure. I had a lovely, relaxing day yesterday, catching up with State College friends after the holidays. I’d also like to do that more… As much as I love my work, I need to remember to be a human being outside of it more often– otherwise, I develop this awful, hollow feeling and I lose myself in day after night after day of writing and research. It becomes difficult to put my work aside, and I develop this miserable tunnel-vision that feels isolating and hopeless. SO! Let’s not let that happen this semester.

Good luck to those of you also starting your new semesters. Happy Monday to those of you with those fancy, stable, secure jobs. As always, thank you for reading.

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.


In Training, WOD on May 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm

As of June 1st, I will have been CrossFitting for a year. With my impending anniversary, I’ve been thinking a bit about where I’ve come and where I’d like to go. Since last summer, my strict press has nearly doubled. My deadlift has actually doubled. I’ve gone from band pull-ups to eight strict or twenty-some kipping– though I’m not sure if I can count the latter as entirely unbroken since I do weird half-swings between every two or three kips. I conquered my fear of box jumps and heights rope climbs. I’ve begun to string together double-unders in clusters of ten or twenty… managed pistols, handstand pushups, and switched from a 10lb wall ball at an 8 ft target to Games-standard 14 lbs at 9 ft. Actually, typing this list in itself is pretty rewarding. But the point is that I want to figure out where I want to go from here. I think I’m going to continue my strength emphasis through the summer. Here are my goals for the end of the summer (~August sometime…):


2x bodyweight deadlift (just repped 1.65x for 5 last time, so… hopefully not too far)

1.5x bodyweight squat (did bodyweight for three sets of five across this morning and it felt light… again hoping not too far)

85 lb clean and jerk (right now doing 5×3 at 75, but so much of this is technique-based, that I’m not sure how far I have to go…)


Muscle-up (not sure how far fetched this is…but I can pull chest-to-rings and can dip on the rings. I should work a bit more on strength in both movements, but hopefully most of what I need is to master the turnover)

Smooth out my kips so I can link them more fluidly in all kipping movements (pull-ups, knees-to-elbow, toes-to-bar)

Butterfly pull-ups


Discover the hiking trails in this area!

(If I’m to be a responsible scholar, I should probably think about the non-CrossFit goals like completing my novel revisions and assembling a comps reading list for my PhD… but that requires activating the half of my brain that’s dormant right now)

After August, if I meet my strength goals, I’d like to start working on my endurance again. I’m addressing my strength problems now because it’s very obviously my greatest weakness. But I think, just due to my size and build, it may always be my weakness and once I establish a foundation for that I’d like to cultivate my strengths so that I can be at least the tiniest bit competitive. That goes to bodyweight exercises and endurance. When I first started, the one advantage I had was just that I didn’t stop moving… not because I was masterful at anything or more physically adept than anyone, but because I’m stubborn like that. Unfortunately, flailing skilllessly around wasn’t that useful, so we’re working on strength now. Hopefully this will eventually translate into more dextrous, powerful flailing 😉

I think, theoretically, my ability to persevere should make me an okay runner if I can rehab my IT band and strengthen my legs. So… hopefully I’ll continue to build that explosiveness throughout this strength period and then work on my ability to sustain it in the fall and winter. Granted, this scheduling is not altogether ideal. I’d much rather be running right now, while the weather’s lovely, but there’s pretty much no point for me to work on endurance while my strength has so far to go.

Right now I’m a little irked that, just as I’m about to reach PR territory in these lifts, I’m going to leave on vacation. I mean, one can only be so irked about vacation, but I have no idea what 3 weeks without access to weights will do to my strength gains. I hope to do a 10% reset (decreasing lifts by 10%) when I return and progress back up from there… I welcome any other suggests if this doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Yesterday was a rest day. I went to the gym and rolled out and jogged a few 800m loops. Again, I’m reminded of how much my endurance is suffering because 800m didn’t used to get me winded– especially not at a light pace. But… I’m reminding myself that it’s a sacrifice I’ve chosen to make to address greater weaknesses in my fitness.

Today’s strength work was:

Back Squat: 3×5

Press: 3×5

3 sets of strict pull ups to failure (8,7,6)

Now I’m going to do some reading about material rhetoric until tonight’s striking class. I’ve considered cutting striking from my schedule because it falls on heavy lifting days, but I enjoy it too damn much that I just can’t. Fortunately, the WODs are usually fairly short, and I try to pace myself through them. I know striking is a bit of an anomaly in the CrossFit world and that a lot of gyms actually don’t offer striking, so I’ll write a longer post explaining it next time. In short, it’s MMA-meets-CrossFit. I call it “stress relief for CrossFitters.” Our first class, the Cyborg noticed that I brought a different type of intensity to these workouts, and I consistently find that I naturally adopt that “intensity” when I’m told to hit something… (remember the always angry post?)

I’ve noticed that some people tend to set tangible, concrete goals and work towards those while others just progress casually. I used to shy away from articulating my goals for fear that I wouldn’t hit them… but I’m accepting that, even if I fall short, they give me something to aim for. And I’m not naturally gifted enough to intuit what will help me progress and what will not… What about you? Let’s hear some goals for the summer. Click that comment box!

Olympic Weightlifting: or, the Opposite of Burpees

In Training on April 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm

I may have mentioned that I love burpees. I really love burpees. Burpee smashballs, burpees over bar, burpee pull-ups, they’re all good too me. The reason, however, that I’m so fond of burpees is that they play to my strengths. I’m 5’3″ and easily the lightest athlete at my box. I’m not particularly coordinated, not agile, and not strong in comparison to anyone (aka everyone) who has more than 10 lbs on me. Thus: Burpees. Burpees require virtually no physical grace, and only the strength to move your body from floor to vertical. I can look like an idiot all I want as long as I get my chest and hips to ground and back up, fully extended.

If I had no goals, I would do most of my workouts with burpees. Death by burpees. EMOM burpees. I did 12.1 twice and would happily do weekly burpee amraps if it didn’t get in the way of actually improving at other CrossFit movements. Now… the other CrossFit movements. I struggle with a lot of them. Again, predictably, I’m fond of the bodyweight stuff. Handstand push ups? Star jumps? Dips, sit-to-stands, etc, I’ll do them all day. Weightlifting, however, I’ve struggled with. The first time I did Nancy, I stuck with a 30lb bar. It took me my first five months of CrossFit to clean over 50lbs.

I see Olympic weightlifting as… well, the opposite of burpees. They require strength, agility, precision. They require the athlete to be much more in tune every joint, every muscle, every movement than I am. Right now, I’m working on improving my O-lift technique, hoping that the way it forces me to think about coordination, and on hip drive will transfer to other aspects of CrossFit as well.

Open gym days used to baffle me. I never really knew how to use the time. I would go in and conduct a metcon that I’d cobbled together myself or adapted from another box’s website. But, ever since I decided to concentrate on my olympic lifting, that decision has given my open gym days more focus. Mostly, assuming I’m not too worn out from the week, I take Thursdays and Sundays to work on O-lifts. I intend to have one heavier day (Thursday, probably because it’s right after my rest day) and one lighter day (Sunday). Before this week, I’d just snatched 3×5 and then cleaned 3×5, gradually increasing weight. But it didn’t seem “constantly varied” enough to be entirely beneficial.

Thanks to the MM (see previous post: the Mean Machine)’s recommendation, I looked at and found some of his basic programming. I’m obviously skipping all of the supplementary work, but I like the basic design of his original program. It incorporates a variety of cleans and snatches at different heights, power and squats, and–my favorite part– it prescribes a few exercises with just a portion of the lift. So today, for example, after snatches and a combination of power-clean, hang-squat-clean, and clean, I did snatch pulls. For someone as uncoordinated as I am, it’s useful to experience the moves divided into their basic components. That’s also something I’ve enjoyed about the box’s programming this week. We’ve spent a week focusing on the Burgener Snatch progression, as well as the transfer skills, with just a pvc. Doing these, with light/no weight, allows us to just concentrate on the minutiae– on the already demanding intricacies of each small step.

Sometimes, mastering a CrossFit movement feels a little bit like problem-solving. You have to attack the movement indirectly, from different angles, try new approaches. Break it into parts or try something else that trains the same muscles. When I started learning kipping pull ups, the coaches first taught me the hip drive from the ground, then we tried a band-harness thing, we tried ring-ups, but the movement didn’t make sense to me until I tried it with my foot through a band and allowed it to carry me over the bar. From there, I shed the bands within two weeks. I know other people for whom the band entirely throws off their kip and makes the movement impossible. We all learn differently; what works for me won’t necessarily work for the next athlete. Finding these solutions– experimenting and venturing into unknown territory not only pushes us closer to our goals, but better acquaints us with our own learning mechanisms, our physical quirks and mental blocks, and we learn to adapt and work around them.

— at least, I think that’s how it works.

Happy Sunday, all.