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Posts Tagged ‘olympics’

Fitness and Perspective

In General, Training, WOD on August 4, 2012 at 3:25 pm

Because I mentioned this today in conversation, I must follow through and post it on my blog. I attribute this discovery to Madeline at Good Gravy who posted a very articulate response to the Reebok CrossFit commercials that I had blogged about recently. This morning, after 31 Heroes, we were sitting around talking about the many varied forms of fitness, and the different ways in which it can be defined, and I recalled this photo shoot of Olympic athletes. It’s presented here as a reference point for artists, so that they may diversify the body types in their illustrations, but it’s also just a fantastic reminder of how widely fitness can vary, how differently it manifests when we put different demands on our bodies.

It’s funny that CrossFit defines itself as “the sport of fitness,” which I understand– as we’ve incorporated competition, community, and intensity in what we traditionally term the practice of “fitness.” However the actual embodiment of “fitness” is not so easily defined. When the Olympics began, one of the CrossFit clothing companies (RokFit, I believe? But don’t quote me on that) posted a photo of Sarah Robles, currently the strongest female Oly-lifter in the country, and asked the question “Fit or Fat?” which many (including myself) found particularly offensive. For one, they pitted her weight against her fitness as if the two were in opposition with each other. And secondly, I found it troubling that they even questioned the fitness of this immensely dedicated, powerful athlete based on her appearance.

Let’s think about the word for a second: “fitness.” What does it mean to be “fit” for something? To suit, or be appropriate for the occasion. Her occasion is hoisting metric shittons of weight from ground to overhead. And she does it at heavier weights than any other woman in this country. Is she suitable for the task? Fuck yeah.

Speaking of Olympians, I’ve (like everyone else) been glued to my television for London 2012. What I’ve noticed most is the dramatic range of attitudes in different athletes? Did anyone catch the male gymnast from Ireland? He may be the first-ever gymnast from Ireland to participate in the Olympics. Either way, he knew he had no hope of reaching the podium; he knew his single floor routine would be his minute of Olympic glory, and he executed the entire thing like it was a celebration. It didn’t matter if he wobbled or if he skipped forward a step; every inch of his body exuded overwhelming happiness. He was just glad to be there. He’d already won, and the opportunity to perform his sport in front of this audience was his prize.

Then compare that to the top athletes– some of whom fell short of personal expectations. Though I’m rooting for Team USA, I felt a little terrible for d Victoria Komova when she fell to second place during the women’s all-around. The moment those numbers went up, she was instantly crushed. Even on the podium, with a silver medal against her chest, she was in mourning. She’s the second-best gymnast in the world… according to this single competition. She’s earned her place at this global memorialization of sporting and goodwill, and she’s forever etched her name in gymnastics history. But she’s devastated. And I don’t mean to detract from her grief. With how much she’s trained, how hard she’s worked, she’s earned that heartbreak. And I’d be just as broken. But… it’s so easy to lose perspective in a moment like that. With the lifespan of most gymnastics careers, it’s quite possibly her only Olympics, and she wrapped it up with a beautiful floor routine. She’s seventeen years old. When I was her age, I was waiting tables at a sports bar, caffeinating all afternoon/evening beside stacks of history books, and sneaking home at 2:00 in the morning. She should be damn proud… and hopefully she figured that out when the cameras swept away. (Also, if I were one of those athletes, I’d be so tempted to punch the reporters who absolutely must ask “so how do you feel now that you saw four years of hard work go down the drain and you completely disappointed yourself?”)

Anyway, now to today’s WOD.

31 Heroes

AMRAP 31 minutes (As Many Reps As Possible)
8 Thrusters (155/105#)
6 Rope Climbs (15 ft. ascent)
11 Box Jumps (30/24″)

Partner 1 chips away at the movements while Partner 2 runs 400m with a sandbag (45lb/25lb). Our sandbag was 30lbs, but much preferred to the 1pd kettlebell we hauled around last year when we didn’t have any sandbags. Also, at some point we got the sandbags mixed up and I wound up dragging 45lbs around the block. I made the mistake of trying to put it down on the last leg of the run, and pathetically could not hoist it onto my back again.

But the WOD went well. Awesomely, I partnered up with the Mean Machine (who I’m told cursed me out during our last partner WOD– but it’s her own damn fault for picking a non-runner :p). Though we didn’t actively strategize at all, we wound up playing to our strengths. She did all the thrusters (rx’d– what a beast), I wound up with the bulk of the rope climbs (inner-thigh rope burn… I don’t recommend it), and split the box jumps pretty evenly. I’ve mentioned that I love hero WODs, and honestly I really do enjoy the long ones. For some reason, these are the workouts during which I don’t think about the ending, when I’m not wishing or waiting for it to end. I just hit a rhythm and keep going.

For those of you unfamiliar with 31 Heroes and its origins, here’s the website explanation:

This WOD was created specifically to honor the 30 men and one dog that gave their lives for our country on August 6, 2011. It is 31 minutes long—one minute in remembrance of each hero. The rep scheme is 8-6-11—the date of their ultimate sacrifice. Finally, this is a partner WOD. The men who gave their lives were from multiple branches of our military, working together as a team.  In the workout you and your team member will constantly be taking the load from each other providing much needed support and relief. We realize that no physical sacrifice made during a workout can come close to the sacrifice our brave heroes made, but we consider this WOD a CrossFitters ‘moment of silence’. This is how we can honor those that gave all in the name of freedom.

It’s a paltry comparison, but– that story about the Irish gymnast?– this is why I love hero WODs. I may not be able to do everything RX’d (105 thrusters? Someday, I hope…) I may feel like collapsing on the pavement beneath my misbegotten sandbag, but I can’t fail this workout if I’m putting my all into it. It’s not for a personal record, not to affirm anything to myself or others about my fitness. It’s in honor of individuals who gave literally all they could in the name of duty, protecting the comforts and liberties we too often overlook. A perfect way to start the day.

Gymnastics: the Anti-CrossFit?

In Rhetoric, Training on July 30, 2012 at 11:15 pm

I assume that you all are as captivated by the Olympics as I am. Particularly gymnastics. I remember the first time I saw a gymnastics competition on tv as a kid. I couldn’t even conceptualize these athletes as normal, everyday people. What they achieved was so far beyond my understanding of human physical potential that it was akin to watching a superhero movie or a fantasy epic. These were real-world heroes performing superhuman feats. And I think the broadcasters underscore that same drama in their presentation. Have you noticed the melodramatic biographies and narratives? The way they demonize the opposing teams, and the hopeful bildungsroman-esque backstories that they build for each American competitor?

For those of you catching up, I’ve mentioned how my dissertation work regards the cultures and values we enforce or produce in our physical practices… so my thoughts wander into that territory a lot even while watching the Olympics in my basement cave, on summer vacation, with a bowl of coconut mousse. This morning, I also read this article by Dvora Meyers, writer, blogger, and (I believe) former gymnast, which furthered my meditation. In the post, Meyers discusses how the nature of gymnastics distance the athletes from the spectator. Whereas we can watch sprinters and sympathize with the feel of running (albeit much slower), most viewers cannot even conceive of how it would feel to perform acrobatic twists off a high bar, above a balance beam, or suspended from gymnastics rings. The gymnast becomes the Other– so entirely alien from our own perspective. In this way, gymnastics is a bit of the anti-CrossFit. Though we’ve appropriated certain gymnastics elements (the kip, the muscle-up), we’ve only stolen the basics (and they become some of our most difficult movements), and we market the sport as “universally scalable.” Accessible to anyone. I’m thinking of the sledgehammer WOD in this year’s Games. Who hasn’t swung a hammer before?
But there’s another way in which CrossFit appears to be the polar opposite of gymnastics.

Gymnastics strikes me as a sport of perfectionism. Routines are made or ruined by tenths of a point. I marveled last night at how the reporters could remark on so-and-so’s “HUGE mistake” when she took a big step at the end of her dismount. Yes… it was a step. But all I could think about was “wow, this girl launched her body into midair, managed several twists and flips at a speed at which I can’t even count, and didn’t die.” I noted on Facebook how I was surprised that teammates congratulated one another with half-hugs and offhand “good jobs” whereas I wanted to leap up and down with sheer delight at the remarkable, impossible sh*t they were doing. A friend who happens to be a gymnast and capable of said impossible feats commented on my post that gymnasts were expected to perform with precision. Good scores were a given, mistakes were catastrophes.

Not to be too inflammatory, but… I think this is where CrossFit sits on the opposite end of the spectrum. (For more on problematic CrossFit rhetoric, see this post). We have mantras like “Death before DNF” (DNF = Did Not Finish), implying that an athlete would/should do anything rather than leave a workout incomplete– anything at the potential cost of form, technique, safety, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I was awed by the tremendous talent, strength, and endurance of the athletes at this year’s CrossFit Games, but did anyone notice the very, very sloppy ring dips during Elizabeth? Or perhaps the myriad of discussions afterwards regarding the number of no-rep pull-ups overlooked during Fran? We’re criticized widely for bastardizing the Olympic lifts, and yeah… there were some very hideous snatches performed by strong, but exhausted athletes. In CrossFit, we have two ways to measure our workouts: everything is done either “for time” or “for rounds.” This places emphasis on speed or quantity. But what about quality?

I’m not arguing that gymnastics should be suddenly gentler on its athletes, or that CrossFit should change its format. I’m just asking how understanding these values can help us in our training. Perhaps “Elizabeth” should be done for time in a competitive setting, but in training… even when shooting for time, that time should involve quality cleans and dips. By demanding perfection of ourselves in training, we can minimize injuries (and the dreaded no-rep) in actual competition. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, we can be attentive of when perhaps our perfectionism prevents us from celebrating what we’ve already achieved. Yeah, perhaps that Elizabeth time took longer than it should have– but hey, you cleaned 25lbs more than you could last month, for 21-15-9 reps, and followed them with ring dips with precise form.

Just Jo’s thought for the day 😉

As for my own training… The squats are starting to stall out again. I got my first set of five for only four reps on Sunday. I’m not too crushed about it this time because I felt it coming… the weight on Sunday was my former one-rep max. Jefe estimates that I may have reached the end of my linear gains for squat. However, my bench continued to increase, and I deadlifted 190 for 5 reps today. So… I feel like I can milk this program for just a tad bit longer. I may just have to play around with my squats in the meantime. But soon, I will have to make a decision about what to do next with my strength training. I’ve been oggling Outlaw CrossFit’s programming for a long time, but I’ve enjoyed participating in the box’s normal classes again and following Outlaw would prevent me from doing that. I do, however, enjoy CrossFit Strength Bias’s methodology and doing so would allow me to program my own conditioning, which would let me continue to use the box’s WODs. I still realize, though, that this would be a less efficient approach as the box’s programming would not quite align with my different strength days… I’ll think more about it, and am open to suggestions.

Oh! Also, I retested my “baseline” today. For our box, that’s: 400m run, 40 air squats, 30 sit-ups, 20 push-ups, 10 pull-ups. Rx’d at 4:04. I shaved 6 seconds off my former PR, but I won’t celebrate it too much because I feel like those 6 seconds could come from anything such as having my abmat and pullup bar closer to the door than I did during the last test. But I am relieved that it’s not slower. Next time, though, I’m hoping for a sub 4:00.

(and even as I type this, I realize, I was disappointed that I didn’t hit below the 4-minute mark this time… but neglected to realize that… a year ago, I was doing this workout with banded pull-ups and this time I did them unassisted, without dropping from the bar… I should listen to my own advice more often, huh?)

Today’s message: you do crazy awesome sh*t every day. Revel in it.