the spaz of fitness has arrived

Posts Tagged ‘Healing’

Rebuilding Jo

In General, Training on May 2, 2013 at 3:36 pm

Anyone who’s been even remotely following this years’ CrossFit Games season will have heard of Sam Briggs. In 2011, I had just started CrossFitting, and did not pay much attention to the actual Games. In 2012, when Briggs had pulled out of competition, I was obsessively “leaderboarding”– tracking the big names like Annie (T and S), Kris Clever, Becca Voigt, Julie Foucher, Camille, etc. I was entirely unaware of Sam Briggs. Somewhere in the middle of the year, I stumbled across her blog, where she tracked her daily workouts. She seemed like the usual, down-to-earth, passionate CrossFitter. She mostly just posted daily WODs with little reflection or context, so I lost interest and stopped following. This year, she burst onto the scene and freaking kicked ass. Briggs placed 2nd in workout one and then claimed first place for the remaining four workouts of the Open.

Of course, being me, I began doing my homework. Briggs went on temporary hiatus in 2012 because of an injury– a fractured patella, to be specific. She had undergone serious rehab for the majority of the year, but returned possibly more beastly than ever. Something I’ve hated about this years’ Games season is the poor sportsmanship– the way people have tried to cheat or “loophole” their way through workouts, or the way people have tried to accuse entirely honest athletes of doing the same. Of course, when Briggs jumped back on the scene a serious workhorse, the conversation turned to steroids.

Non-athlete and non-sports-follower that I am, I tend to consult the Cookie Monster on all things athletic… When I asked him about Briggs’ impressive performance this year, he frowned pensively and answered, “I don’t know. Didn’t you say she’d been through rehab? That’s harder than normal training.”

I believe it now.

Though my back has been feeling progressively better each day since the deadlift injury, I made an appointment with a PT/Chiropractor just to get it checked out, and to address some other issues I may have. Though the glamorous life of graduate-student-ing doesn’t pay well, I’m currently the proud recipient of the best health insurance I’ll possibly ever have, so I might as well abuse it while I can.

Though I’d made the appointment for my back, the Doc looked at me for three minutes before he figured out that my hips are grossly misaligned. I mean, I’m not surprised. Jefe figured out a year ago that my hips tweak to the right when I rise from my squat. My right side always pulls the deadlift off the ground first. No matter how I try to maintain my alignment when I squat, I always pivot on the way up. For cossack squats, I can lower my right side fine, but I lack the same flexibility in my left. In fact, though the doc examined my back (I think a facet joint or two is inflamed from bearing unexpected weight? — der, the fifth rep of a 200lb deadlift, perhaps?), his greater concern was the hip imbalance.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize– like with all things CrossFit, this is probably something I should have fixed first, to establish a solid foundation, before I started trying to build on it– before I started pulling 2x bodyweight deadlifts for reps, before I started pushing my squat heavier.

The back is feeling better and better. The last remaining aches and pains have all but disappeared, but for the past few weeks, I’ve been too scared to go heavy. It’s been frustrating as hell– especially when trying to gain mass– refraining from heavy lifts or even hard metcons. Anytime I felt something tweak in my back, I slowed down. I stopped loading weights the moment I felt any strain. But the way I’m trying to look at this– my self-imposed silver lining– is that at least now, my body is forcing me to go back and rebuild my foundation. I can only work for form right now– not max weight, not speed. Coach has been programming my deadlifts and cleans at pathetic fractions of what I used to lift, and so the only way I can maintain my sanity is by using these moments to hone in on the mechanics.

Strangely, too, the rehab must be doing something. I left the doctor’s office feeling fine– not as if I’d exerted or worked anything. We spent 15 minutes with the electric stim machine, some light exercises, a bit of back-popping and I was on my way. But the next day I was sore– not achy in the post-injury way, but sore like I’d beasted out on a long WOD… and all of yesterday I couldn’t figure out why– I hadn’t done more than usual at the gym. Then it struck me (slo(w)-Jo): must’ve been the PT…

I complain a lot about my body. I’ve blamed it a lot for being awful to me– a childhood of steroid inhalations for asthma, an adulthood of treatment-roulette for my IBS… etc. But I’ve also been pretty terrible to my body in return (or, perhaps, more a chicken-and-egg thing). I did nothing remotely athletic or physical until age twenty, and upon discovering the thrill of¬†endorphins, I jumped in 1 million percent without any regard for rest, mobility, or restoration. And now you, dear readers, get to hear about all the backpedaling ways in which I try to make up for it.

All that said, I’m happy with some of the progress I’m still making. Since I’ve been careful with the lower body lifts, I’ve concentrated more on upper body movements. My push-press broke its plateau and I PR’d the lift by 5lbs directly before shaving 4 minutes off my previous “Annie” time. My “Nicole” score yesterday was 68 points higher than my previous PR (granted– that old score was a year ago, from when I just started to do kipping pull-ups, and eeked out a whopping score of 11). At any rate… I’m trying to look at the brighter side of these things– that, though it’s taken me far too long to get around to it, I’m back to trying to establish a solid foundation for all my movements. Though I don’t anticipate a Sam Briggs-esque comeback, hopefully I’ll bounce back stronger and more durable ūüôā

Of Scars and Healing

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


There are two quotes about scars that I really love:

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

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

 Ernest Hemmingway

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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