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Posts Tagged ‘Training’

On Integrity and Intensity: Comparing Two 300lb “Grace”s

In Training, WOD on February 13, 2014 at 5:26 pm

I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to an astounding video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VF3rIHZ-GHc&feature=player_detailpage

The most impressive part of this video is not the fact that Zach Krych completes 30 clean and jerks at 303lbs in just over 18 minutes– though yes, that’s a feat that most mere mortals cannot even imagine.

The impressive part is this:

Note how, despite the fact that Zach clearly fatigues during his monstrous Grace-on-steroids, he still hits these five key positions. We provide a lot of excuses about how, when intensity ratchets up, form naturally breaks down. Don’t let it. Yes, to a certain degree, your movements will get messier when you’re “going for time.” However, maintain the positions that matter. It’s easy to black out in the middle of a WOD, to miss entirely the cues that coaches call out, but a smart coach is prioritizing the points of performance that ensure that you’re moving safely— and these same positions will also help you move the most amount of weight efficiently.

I stumbled across this video because Columbus Weightlifting posted it in comparison to Rob Orlando’s 300lb “Grace”– a video that impressed me waaayy back in my early days of CrossFit. However, with a few more years of scrutiny and CrossFit screw-ups under my belt, all I can see now are the many breaks in Rob’s form. Don’t get me wrong– he’s a phenomenal athlete. But as he tires throughout the WOD, his feet spread into a hideously wide catch position. He doesn’t fully extend on his jerks. He hyperextends his back. All that kicking the wall probably doesn’t help either. Also… Rob’s final time? 33:07.

CrossFitters tend towards an impatient mentality. We want to be good at all the things right now, and sometimes it can feel frustrating to slow down, to scale down, to reduce everything to make sure we hit all our performance points. However, Zach’s performance proves that ultimately such attention pays off– maybe not for this one workout, maybe not tomorrow, but for your growth as an athlete and your health– well, as a human.

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This is CrossFit

In General on November 11, 2013 at 10:14 pm

I’ve been an English teacher for most of my life– in large and small capacities, for formal students and family members. I love language– its nuance and intricacies, its dynamism. I live for stories– the way they make worlds, and rend them apart. I will always be a writer. It’s not a job or a hobby. It’s a way of being, of thinking, of interpreting the world. I think I’ll always be an English teacher too. I’ve experienced very little in this world more rewarding than witnessing a student become more of herself through language. Watching a student discover that she has something to say…  and then seeing her develop the confidence to pitch that voice into the world– it’s magic. But there are days when my job exhausts me. When it takes everything I have.

Coordinating and teaching for the graduate writing center this year has been more demanding than I expected. Beyond the 15 hours of actual in-office teaching, I didn’t account for the sheer emotional labor. I should’ve expected it. The stakes for my students are high. They come with dissertation chapters, grant proposals, and job applications for tenure track positions. They’re not English composition students trying to please their first semester teacher. They’re adults trying to build careers. They’re full of anxiety and self-doubt and stress and frustration. Sometimes, they cry. Often, I feel limited. I feel frustrated by how little I can do in single hourlong sessions. I feel angry at the institutions that don’t offer enough to support a lot of these students. And sometimes, I feel entirely trampled over. Understandably, these individuals have a lot of their own concerns. They’re overrun by their present situations. Sometimes, they get angry at me if I try to turn a session more into a “pedagogical” moment. They want to hear what’s “right” or “wrong.” They want me to “fix” things instead of discussing the principles behind why we need to reorganize one section or another. It’s not their fault. It’s the way we’ve constructed language as if it’s a science. As if it can be right or wrong. But after enough of these sessions, I feel less like a person. I feel like the copyediting device they visit week after week… this thing that sits behind a door and reads page after page and spouts “corrections” because my students feel so pressed for time they can’t slow down for a conversation.

It doesn’t happen too often. I promise my days are more enjoyable than not. But today was definitely one of the worst. And I went home… with nothing left. I couldn’t read or apply myself to my own work. I couldn’t find enough space in head to think or feel much beyond the stress of others that I’d been hearing about all day– uncompromising advisers and professors… the pressures of the job market, the terrors of being unable to find one’s place, the loneliness of being so far from home– fears and stresses and terrors very applicable to my own life as well.

… but then I get to coach CrossFit.

I get to walk into the box where friends greet me with enthusiasm and ask about my day and listen. I get to talk to them about their days and their lives and their interests… the insignificant little minutiae that seem to mean nothing but really make up who we are. We talk not because we have to– not because business or study or social advancement puts us together. But because it’s enjoyable. We work slowly through the warm up and methodically through the lifts. When I count down and start the metcon, the athletes work their asses off. Heels skid on wood and rubber. Sweat spatters and pools. The air is a concert of burning lungs and steel ropes. And when it ends… it ends in laughter. In more conversation. In shared relief.

This is CrossFit.

When you look across the top CrossFit athletes, you will find every possible configuration of training programs and diet protocols. Rich Froning does whatever the shit he feels like that day while Talayna Fortunato diligently logs every workout programmed by her coach. Katie Hogan eats strictly low-carb, high-fat while Kris Clever chases her four-a-day WODs with post-workout beers. Like the principles of CrossFit, its athletes are highly varied. However, the one common thread I can find in nearly all successful CrossFitters is community. To much notoriety, Dan Bailey camped out at Rich Froning’s house and became his semi-permanent training partner. Before he opened his own box, Ben Smith gathered his friends and WODed in their neighborhood streets. For a significant while, Valley CrossFit housed Katie Hogan, Becca Voigt, Kristan Clever, Lindsay Valenzuela, and a wealth of regionals-level competitors. It’s no coincidence now that NorCal CrossFit boasts Jason Khalipa, Miranda Oldroyd, Pat Barber, and Molly Biss. Don’t get me wrong– the sheer adrenaline rush of thrusters and burpees does have its own appeal, but it’s a hell of a lot better in the company of good friends.

I have my reservations about CrossFit. I don’t like how certain manifestations sacrifice safety or technique for the sake of ego. I don’t like the lack of standards or regulation across the board. I love its inclusiveness. I love the way that it has made fitness social and thus more appealing and accessible to a broader population. People ask me why I would rather go to the gym than the bar after work. Because it just feels like playtime with my friends. Because there amid the clatter of iron and steel, amid the laughter between gasped breaths, amid the conversations before and after the 3-2-1 go… I get to feel human again.

Past, Present, and Future

In General, WOD on October 13, 2013 at 8:14 pm

This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for a while, but I’ve never found the “perfect” time to post it. So, keeping in mind that I am a work-in-progress, that I have learned a lot but have much still to learn, here goes nothing.

We will start, as we usually do, with a story.

I was a little nervous about today’s workout. I would start by finding a new one rep max for my split jerk, then follow that with some higher-volume repetition work at 80%, then 3 rounds of 10 power cleans @ 90lbs + 400m run. Afterwards, I also planned to row 500m x 3.*

*Caveat: I hesitate to describe my workouts in detail here because they’re part of a larger plan written and monitored by a knowledgeable coach, and I don’t want them taken out of context– so let’s keep that in mind 😉 

For reference, 90lbs is twice what my 1 rep max clean was when I started CrossFit. I hate rowing, and I generally fret before finding new one rep maxes because I’m a basketcase and am scared of discovering that I haven’t “made progress.” So, I was anxious. Fortunately, it was a good day. I PR’d my split jerk by 10lbs, I didn’t miss a clean, and somehow, afterwards, I rowed all three sets of 500m at my PR pace (with 3 min rest between efforts).

Afterwards, I slid off the rower, sat down, breathless, on the floor of an empty gym, and I felt… spectacular.

CrossFit jokes a lot about “embracing the suck.” In fitness, we talk a lot about how much it’s supposed to hurt (“no pain, no gain,” etc.) And to a degree, that’s true. We push ourselves to our limits. We find new limits. We break those limits. But I’ve discovered there’s a huge difference between healthy, productive “pain,” and the self-destructive-awfulness that I’d put myself through for my first months– maybe even full year– of CrossFit.

I’m a little embarrassed of these, but let’s go to some pictures… visual aids are helpful, yes?

Jo circa 2009

Jo circa 2010

present-day Jo: a work in progress

That first photo is Jo before she cared about fitness, before she thought about health, before she thought about bodies or physical beings really. She was a happy Jo, who spent most of her time reading, restaurant-ing with friends, playing video games, etc. She also had pretty bad asthma, which she used as an excuse to avoid general movement. She had mysteriously, perpetually low blood pressure that gave her dizzy spells and occasional blackouts. She’d been unhealthy in odd, mildly annoying ways for all of her life and she just assumed these small things– wheezing, sudden bouts of weakness, fatigue, or nausea– were part of being human.

The second photo is Jo less than a year later, though the majority of that transformation occurred in just three months. It is what happens when small things become big problems– when inattention to fitness becomes full-blown, foolish disregard for health. Honestly, I had a difficult time finding a picture of myself in this period– and there are none that actually show how terrifyingly small I’d become. I didn’t like photos or mirrors– the waifish, fragile thing that stared back at me did not match that image I had of myself. In that picture, I’m 88lbs and so small that they don’t even make clothes that fit me.  For about a year of my life, I couldn’t eat without crippling stomach pain and was thus constantly underfed and… somehow decided that I could live with that. At this point, I simply knew I was small and weak and I wanted to be bigger. Instead of fixing my nutrition and my baseline health, I started CrossFit and tried to lift all the things.

Working out is always the way you get fitter, right? And beginners can get fitter doing pretty much anything, right? So I stumbled into CrossFit without any knowledge of proper scaling– or moderation. I didn’t understand the monumental significance of diet and recovery. I figured lifting heavy things was enough. I slogged through workouts with weights that turned sprint-efforts into max lifts, I did hourlong metcons with insufficient fuel. My body was in a constant state of breakdown and some of it felt truly terrible. I wanted so bad to get better— to be stronger, faster, more coordinated for god’s sake. I loved the idea of CrossFit– where a community of people got together and had fun with their fitness. But my reality was awful. Everything hurt so bad…  everything from running to lifting to box jumps was so damn hard or just plain out of reach that I felt like I was playing a different game. I wanted to be able to wod with the big kids and hold my own. But every day, I felt like I was just floundering on the sidelines. And in my desperation, I continued to ignore the way my body begged for help. I didn’t think about “strategy” during workouts. I didn’t bother to pace myself. Every single workout was a flat-out, frantic flailing to the finish. Ten minutes or forty, it felt like I was just trying to stay alive. I know it’s stupid now. I should have recognized it. I was so weak and sick that I had trouble climbing stairs. I was literally fucking blown over by the wind. There were so many things about my health that I needed to fix before I should be tackling hourlong workouts. But, again, living in my body, I didn’t realize my own experience was so far from the norm. I didn’t realize that the overwhelming exhaustion I felt two minutes into a workout was a cue that I was doing something actually wrong rather than just “embracing the suck.”

But that was no way to live, and eventually… enough time living in an absolute fog of weakness and frailty was enough to prompt me to take better control of my health– seeing doctors, fixing my diet and finding foods that didn’t make me ill, resting appropriately and allowing myself to recover. It still feels like a miracle to me that I wake up every day with energy. That I can eat without pain. That I don’t feel perpetually cold. Something I wish no one had to experience, but I wish everyone could understand: there’s a tremendous difference between the pain of a tough workout when you’re prepared to handle it and the pain of you tearing yourself apart.

Today, when I climbed off that rower, yeah my legs were on fire, my lungs burned. But all of that faded in moments. Afterwards, I could stand and walk back to my apartment. I will feel fine and happy and energetic for the rest of the night. For my first year of CrossFit, I couldn’t have completed such a workout without being wrecked for the remainder of the week. I’m starting to see more and more of a problem in the way we glorify physical exertion that kills you. You shouldn’t be crippled by your workouts. They shouldn’t ruin the rest of your day. If, for god’s sake, they’re supposed to make you healthier– you should at some point feel healthier. 

And as I left the gym today, I remembered– as I do often these days– how fucking grateful I am to feel good.The best part of my workout wasn’t my jerk PR or discovering that 90lbs felt light… it was the fact that I could move one of the benches out of the way all by myself–without thinking about it– a task that I couldn’t complete two years ago. It was the fact that I warmed up to that 90lbs with weights I couldn’t clean when I started CrossFit. And it was that, after all of that, I feel freaking fantastic.

I know… I have a long, long way to go as an athlete. But I’ve achieved a few things I’m proud of– with the exception of the squat and bench, I’ve literally doubled all my lifts since starting CrossFit (squat and bench are about 20lbs short). I went from ring rows to being able to do strict chest-to-bars, from being afraid to kick up to the wall to deficit handstand push-ups. But really… most of all, I feel unspeakably blessed every day that I can do all these things and feel good afterwards. Yeah, I get the fun of “terrible” workouts– trust me, my favorite WOD is The Seven, and I’m a sucker for any AMRAP over 30 minutes– but there’s a very important distinction between productive exertion and blind self-destruction.

Sometimes, I’m still annoyed with myself because the large majority of my physical progress has taken place in the past year. For the first half of my CrossFit career, I engaged much more in breakdown than building-up. I was so obsessed with getting ahead, I completely neglected the very foundational basics of my health. But I try to remind myself that that regret is as much a waste of time as my bits of anxiety about screwing up a lift today or rowing too slow tomorrow. These are small things, and I’ve got bigger plans for the future. (I didn’t want to call those “before” and “after” pictures because I’m not even close to done yet.)

I remind myself now– you have to crawl before you can walk before you can run. But really, now that I’m starting to find my stride, I’m trying to let go of past mistakes and enjoy each new step– and the fact that I can make them at all.

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.

CrossFit Lawrence: Refuge and Rage

In General, Training on June 4, 2013 at 2:59 pm

People throw around the word “community” a lot lately. Your neighborhood is a “community.” Your classroom is a community. Your workplace would like to be a community. One of the many things I love about Crossfit is that, in this claim—and all claims—it is honest. The CrossFit community is a tangible, palpable, reliable thing. And, fortunately for us, the proliferation of boxes across the country means that the traveling CrossFitter is rarely stranded.

As most of you know, I’m in Kansas for the week for a professional conference. Because I didn’t want to throw away an entire week of training, I spoke with Coach and she programmed a week of travel workouts for me. I emailed Thomas Thatcher, the owner of CrossFit Lawrence, to ask if I could obnoxiously impose and use his facility for my own pre-programed workouts. He responded with two words: “Come rage.” I liked him immediately.

Despite my frequent travels, I still feel a bit of anxiety about visiting new boxes: what if I get in the way? What if I misrepresent my box or my coach? What if I trip over my own two feet again and faceplant on their plyo boxes? Yet always, I feel silly for these thoughts within five minutes of visiting a new box. The coaches always welcome me into their space. The members are friendly and help me find the equipment I need. They don’t judge me, or watch to evaluate how much I lift or how many skills I can perform; they just encourage me to WOD on beside them.

Every time I visit a new box, I also try to take in everything about their procedures, their coaching process, etc… to see what I can smuggle back to my own box. Thatcher runs a fantastic facility. Given: the space is expansive and has more toys than I can name—tires, a full rig, a bouldering wall, kettlebells, and dumbbells, and a yoke. They have indoor and outdoor lifting platforms.

But, more importantly, Thatcher runs with his box with thoughtful attention and an infectious enthusiasm, and just an embracive love of people and movement. The daily workouts are balanced and carefully planned. Today, I witnessed a group warm-up, focused strength and skill work, an intense metcon, and a cool-down—all packed into an hourlong class. Though Thatcher circulates the facility throughout the workout, twirling a PVC, shouting at his athletes, he keeps a critical eye on everything. Between enthusiastic whoops and Kelly Clarkson lyrics, he corrects form and technique and advises athletes on how to scale. He maintains a keen awareness of when athletes need to be spurred on, and when they need a moment to breathe. And somehow within all that, he has the time to visit a back-squatting Jo, to tell her to power through the bar for her last set.

Next week will be my first week of trial-coaching, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to conduct a few classes. I’ve been working towards this moment since I tripped over my first plyo box—since the first time I dragged my scrawny, asthmatic butt through a 400m run and bruised my collarbone on 50lb cleans. I’ve grown a lot since those hapless days, but I know I still have far to go. I will never stop learning, and I want to apply that education to help others find their own way, perhaps even to save them from some of my mistakes. As a coach, I want to be able to promise my athletes the same things I pledge to the students in my English classes: I will never ask you to do something without knowing concretely why and how it will benefit you. I have done and will continue to do my utmost in self-education and experiential learning so that I can provide you with the most comprehensive understanding of your own plan for self-improvement. We are in this together, and I will not abandon or give up on you. I’ve got your back.

As I become even more of an active member of the CrossFit community, I remain conscious of the ways I can draw from and give back to this world. Regardless of my silly anxieties, I will continue visiting new boxes and putting myself in strange environments to force myself to grow and learn from this newness. I will observe more experienced, more knowledgeable coaches like Thomas. I will eventually become a model from which others can learn. I will provide a refuge for athletes and traveling CrossFitters looking for a place to sneak in a pre-conference WOD. I will add to this network of compassionate trainers and athletes and humans out there that support one another, hundreds of miles from home. Thanks to this very solid, very real community, and Thomas, and the folks at Crossfit Lawrence…  at 6:00am before a full day of professionalization and headache-inducing conversation, I get to listen to the Kansas rain, watch the dawn crest the horizon, bury my thoughts beneath the barbell… and rage.

Lessons from an Injured Jo

In Training on May 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Brace yourselves: Jo’s angry again. Mostly at herself, a little at CrossFit. A lot disappointed in both.

It’s been about three weeks since my injury, and the recovery has gone well. The referred pain has stopped, as well as the obnoxious aches that accompanied daily activities. Now it’s isolated to a single muscle that I must have abused terribly on that last deadlift. I’ve learned a few things from this experience that I think bear repeating:

1) Treat mobility as part of your training. We all have time for 20 minute AMRAPs or two-a-day WODs but somehow that time disappears when it comes to foam rolling, stretching, and flexibility work. Stop making excuses. If you’re serious enough about your training to commit to “going hard” 5-6 days a week, you should be serious enough to treat your recovery with equal respect. I’ve done a minimum of 30 minutes of mobility work every day since the injury and the difference has been phenomenal. I’m positive that it’s helped my back recover, but beyond that… I’m not nearly as sore as I used to be. The daily pains that accompany being a CrossFitter have diminished… If I push myself particularly hard and think that I’ll regret it the next day, I devote some extra mobility work that evening and am pleasantly surprised the next day when I wake with minimal soreness.

2) Taking a few weeks off won’t turn you into a pile of useless slush. You all know I probably have even more of a psychosis than the average CrossFitter, where rest sounds like a condemnation. I won’t lie– having to respect the fragility of my back has been frustrating. I haven’t deadlifted, squat cleaned or snatched close to my max for three weeks. I’ve slowed down all of my metcons to avoid aggravating the injury. But as I slowly ramp back up with my recovery, I’m finding that my “fitness” hasn’t really suffered– and, in fact, might actually benefit from the extra attention to movement virtuosity.

3) Virtuosity. This is a big one for me– something I harp on a lot. This is also the source of my anger. Let me explain.

I had a short session with a strength coach today, who generously offered to look over my deadlift form after the injury. So, as it turns out, I’ve been doing it all wrong. One of my few points of “pride” in my CrossFit career is a deadlift above 2x my bodyweight. But I’d like to retract all my boasting. My lift, it seems, involves mostly levering up the weight with my back. I use pathetically little legs in my deadlift. Though I’m pretty confident that I can (or could– past tense) lift over 230 with train-wreck form, with “proper” form, I couldn’t even get 145lbs off the ground. Because the first part of the lift actually should rely much more on the legs, and because my legs are so tragically understrong, I couldn’t even get the bar to my knees today. Granted, my back felt a lot better. I actually felt a lot more stable than I usually do during my deadlift. But… my “best lift” is now suddenly my worst lift. I wonder how long it will take to train back up. But this explains how my deadlift numbers could skyrocket without affecting my squat… I’ve just been pulling with all back. Apparently I’ve been unconsciously “skipping leg day.”

I’m furious with myself because I should have known to rebuild my foundation long ago. I’m frustrated with CrossFit because I feel like we’ve cultivated a culture in which this can happen. Again, I know I’m in the minority. I stumbled into a CrossFit gym as a sedentary idiot who had no idea what she was doing. Most people already knew how to breathe when they lift things… most people in tune with their bodies probably accumulate tension naturally when they approach a bar. My body’s an idiot. It never occurred to me that breathing was a crucial component of lifting. I never thought to build tension in places other than the muscles directly affected by the lift.

I’ve been a very vocal defender of CrossFit– speaking out against all the criticisms that we’re a bunch of reckless morons running ourselves into the ground. But there is a sort of worrisome culture of that in CrossFit. I’ve had the fortune of visiting a few powerlifting and weightlifting (Olympic) gyms, and from what I’ve seen of their methodologies, they would have never let a bumbling trainee like me add weight to the bar before perfecting my technique. There’s a reason the CrossFit movement standards are laughable to most powerlifters and weightlifters. If you watched the judge’s instructional video for the Open, the “snatch” didn’t even have to be a snatch– it should more properly be defined as “any way overhead.” An embarrassing video circulated over YouTube during the Open, promoted by the Games Facebook page, of a CrossFit athlete performing a “snatch” in which he fell onto his knees and then stood back up with the weight. “Good rep!”

I understand that the movement standards for competition are designed so that judges can very clearly and easily count reps. And I also understand that it’s actually not that harmful a choice in most CrossFit competitions because the professional athletes at the top of their game perform these movements with fantastic technique 99% of the time and only get sloppy sometimes at the end of workouts in competition. However, it does send a poor message to the general population. Is HQ really that surprised that there were so many disqualified videos this year if we create a world in which our “standards” endorse sloppy movements?

Training with Coach has opened my eyes to a lot of this. I’m trying to clean up everything that I’ve done messily for years– unfortunately, everything is messy, from my kips to my barbell work– let’s not even talk about the Olympic lifts. But it’s also eye-opening what a difference it makes. Coach has been trying to get me to do my butterfly kips with straight legs. “Straight legs?” you say, “but Chris Spealler teaches it with a bicycle kick! And it looks so pretty!” And it does, and that was how I learned it. It’s been frustrating trying to wrestle my uncoordinated self into submission and to maintain a tight body throughout the butterfly kip, but I’ve discovered how efficient the movement becomes that way. It’s a lot less fatiguing, and… a lot less jarring. One of the big problems I had with learning any kipping movement in the beginning was that they made my shoulders ache– the weight of your body crashing down on your shoulders again and again is just a lot to handle. But smoothing out the kip to eliminate excess movement also reduces that impact– at least, that’s my inexpert analysis.

So here’s the thing… I still maintain that CrossFit is fantastic, fun, and healthy done correctly. But because we’ve made a “sport” of fitnessing, we also get caught up in the competitive spirit of it. We want to see those numbers go up and the times go down, even if we’re just competing with ourselves. I think by making fitness a game, CrossFit really opens up the world of fitness to a lot of individuals who would otherwise never touch a barbell. But I think we also need to emphasize the importance of movement virtuosity even as we encourage the classic firebreathing CrossFit state-of-mind.

I’m… relieved, mostly, that I didn’t injure myself worse before realizing that my technique was all wrong. I’m appalled that I’ve been wrenching up 200+ pounds on a regular basis with a curved spine. I’m so angry at myself for being completely blind to all this, and for ignoring the importance of movement integrity. I’m also concerned about CrossFit as a sport in that it creates some environments in which these things are passable– not all CrossFit gyms, mind you… there are many fantastic, knowledgeable, and attentive coaches in CrossFit… but because we’re based in community and most of our learning happens in group environments, it also falls upon the individual to recognize when s/he needs help. In turn, responsible coaches and facilities should be sure to stress that– the importance of self-monitoring… and, in an ideal world, they could offer  opportunities for members’ self improvement– I like that some gyms out there have “office hours” where members can come in and consult a coach on personal weaknesses, or others offer specific seminars to address each of the many niches that CrossFit has consumed– weightlifting, gymnastics, powerlifting…

I don’t mind sucking. But I hate wasting time, and what crushes me most about this is that I’ve spent years digging my own grave– not just stagnating, but actually establishing negative habits that I now have to break. I’m trying to be patient through all this… at least I’ve figured it out now, at least I know where I need to progress from here– even if “here” is more of a “square negative three” than “square one.”

Addendum: If you really think about it, this is what CrossFit is supposed to be: functional fitness. At its core, we’re supposed to be teaching people how to move things and themselves safely and efficiently… Let’s not lose sight of that.

High Stakes and MIStakes

In Training on April 16, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Right now, I’m teaching the short story in my creative writing class. Fiction is my favorite unit; it’s my genre, I’m comfortable with it, and I feel like I have actual kernels of experiential wisdom to share with my students. The mistakes I see beginning writers make are all ones I recognize from my own initial stumblings; they’re not even so much “mistakes” as just a necessary part of the learning process.

When I respond to student rough drafts, I find myself asking “What’s at stake?”

I often see stories on either end of the spectrum– ones that are all risk and ones that are afraid to take risk. In the first category, there are narratives of high-speed-car-chases after an airplane crash after the protagonist lost his starcrossed lover to brain cancer. In the second, nothing happens. The writer has created a nice, pleasant character who lives a nice, pleasant life and is sometimes even too attached to this character and her nice life to dare damage it. Worse yet– conflict is hard to write… you have to shape the tension, mold it into something productive, and figure out how to resolve it.

It took me years, and I’m still learning, but I began to balance the stakes in my short stories– to take measured risks without letting the narrative run away from me on the page. In life… it’s harder.

A cue every coach has given me over and over again is: “explode.” More power. More force. More commitment. As the Marine said– I kip like a pussy. I do everything a bit too timidly. I’ve spent my life in a body I’ve never trusted– that’s failed me often, that’s always been a little weak, a little broken, prone to injury and mishaps and genetic slips. My parents explained that they actually never wanted children because the genetic cocktail of chronic, hereditary conditions would just be too awful (true story– makes a kid feel wonderful, too).

For this reason, I’ve been hesitant to put anything at “stake” in my CrossFitting. I don’t compete. I don’t like to perceive of myself as competing. I want to not care. I want to just enjoy. But I’m not good at not caring. And, of course my ambitions of becoming a coach necessarily put something at stake in my abilities and achievements in the gym. But I’ve told myself to be patient with that… to accept this as a long journey. But… it’s also been nearly two years and I wanted to take a larger step– a bigger risk, a larger investment, in the blind hopes of reaping bigger gains.

I wrote that post a little while ago about finally starting to work one-on-one with a coach. For me, this “exploded” the stakes. The fact that someone else is invested in my progress– that someone else puts thought and work into my ability–suddenly makes it matter. In many ways, it’s been good for me. For the past two weeks… I’ve been absolutely diligent about every aspect of my training– moving when I’m supposed to move, resting absolutely when I’m supposed to rest. Stretching, foam rolling, hydrating regularly. I follow a diet plan that’s both time consuming and tedious, but I’ve stuck to it and had much more consistent energy and strength levels. But damn it, I cared. And when I care, I fuck up.

This morning, I was supposed to perform a max effort deadlift– to find my five rep max. I shot for 200lbs, which would have been a 5lb PR, which would’ve been roughly 2x bodyweight for 5 reps. I made it four reps in… Past-Jo would have let the bar rest and stepped back. Safe-Jo-who’s-trying-not-to-care would have admitted defeat and tried again another day. Stupid-J0-who-cares-before-she-thinks tried for a fifth rep. Near the top of the lift, I felt a pop in my lower back. I immediately dropped the weight, then dropped to the floor and lied there as my lower back spasmed.

I sent Scotchy, my morning lifting buddy, to find Jefe, who came in and asked me if I could stand. And honestly, at that point I hadn’t even turned or moved my legs because I was scared to try. Everything felt shaky and sore, and I couldn’t tell if it was from the extreme abuse to which I just subjected my central nervous system, or if I’d seriously injured myself– the very reason that heavy deadlifts have always scared me: their ability to seriously fuck you up.

When I do max-effort deadlifts, I regularly experience a momentary vertigo after I release the bar. The first time I lifted 235, my vision blacked out for a good two seconds. I’ve attributed this to just the severe exertion your body puts into picking up and putting down that much weight. So, while I lay there trembling, too disoriented to know what hurt, I had no way to gauge how badly I was injured. Eventually, when I pried myself off the ground, Scotchy, Jefe, and I surmised that I was okay-ish. Disorientedly, I tottered home and informed the Coach that I had fucked up, and apologized, and felt terrible for failing. I iced my back. The Scotchness, in his ever-wonderfulness, delivered me ice packs since I was trying to soothe my back with a package of frozen butternut squash.

For the rest of the day, my back hurt enough that I didn’t want to risk walking to campus. I made a doctor’s appointment. I iced and gently stretched and iced and laid down to take the strain off my back. I stretched some more and I panicked that I had seriously screwed up– that I had taken a promising development in my life and training and just thrown myself backwards by at least a good few months. My poor students sat through an hour of me grimacing and trying to explain narrative technique before I walked to the university health services.

A blessing: the doctor told me I didn’t show signs of nerve damage. He prescribed me anti-inflammatory painkillers and sent me home with instructions to stretch some more and ice some more. I basically spent the entire day alternating between ice, rest, and stretches, praying pretty desperately that twelve hours of mobility could compensate for a second of piss-poor judgement. I spoke with the Coach and she had her usual soothing effect. She reassured me that she was with me for this, no matter what… that we would rebuild my deadlift from the basics. She also  gave me a small admonishment that I need to ensure that someone is making sure I’m safe since she can’t be here to watch me. It never occurred to me that I should have a coach watching my form on heavy deads, but… well, duh.

After going to bed early, I woke up feeling miraculously better (*knock on wood*). The pain in my legs had disappeared and the aching of my back had reduced to recognizable soreness– a familiar, day-after-deadlifting feeling rather than the surreal, nervous-system panic attack I’d been experiencing all day in which I couldn’t deduce where the pain was coming from or how to dull it. The Coach wants me to take it day by day this week… each morning I’ll notify her with how I’m feeling and she’ll update me on whether or not I’m allowed to train and what movements to do/avoid. Today, I did a WOD of rope climbs and wall-balls, and took it at more of a walking pace. Afterwards, I iced and stretched and rolled some more.

I’m hoping for a speedy recovery. I’m hoping that this episode is just a bad scare and will be another lesson learned. I struggle with the fine line between recklessness and being a “pussy.” I never know when to risk or retreat. Sometimes I abstain from that last rep and wonder later if I could have gotten it… But this time I definitely should have stepped back. My biggest takeaway from this, however, is that I want to fix my deadlift form once and for all. Jefe has observed that my back arches whether I’m lifting 235 or 100. I have no idea why… I can’t even really feel the shift. I set up in the proper position and then my spine always pops up before the weight leaves the ground.

But the silver lining to this whole ordeal is that a wealth of fantastic resources have popped out of the woodwork. The Coach has a friend who trains out of Hershey and suggests that I visit his facility when I can so he can help me with my form. Another friend via the CrossFit networks, who’s an experienced powerlifter and powerlifting coach, trains in Virginia and has invited me to his facility as well. And, locally, an experienced trainer has also graciously offered his expertise. I’m surprised and touched and grateful for everyone’s time and generosity– obviously, I need the help, but these people certainly have better things and more important people to whom to devote their time.

Hopefully I will learn and grow from this and “pass it on,” and someday be able to apply my experience and wisdom to another scrawny chick trying to overcome her own damn smallness. Hopefully, I will become a better, more patient athlete. Hopefully  will learn to temper my eagerness and expectations (and fear of others’ expectations) with wisdom and maturity. I raised the stakes because I believed I could rise to the occasion. In order to do that, I need to remain calm… level-headed. I need to accept small setbacks and keep the larger goal in mind.

The next few days will reveal the severity of my screw-up. At least I’ve learned from the box jump ordeal enough to consult a doctor immediately, to rest, to actively promote recovery through nutrition and mobility. Thank you, everyone, for your concern. I apologize for the scare– I terrified myself a bit too much for a moment there. Here’s hoping your days have been much more peaceful.

When One Door Closes: The End of the Open and New Beginnings

In General, Training on March 28, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Well, it’s officially that time– when I must graciously (gracefully?) (gratefully?) bow out of the CrossFit 2013 Open. I knew this was an inevitability when I signed up. Eventually, in order for the events to be competitive, they’d need to raise the weights to something respectable for women like Annie and Kris and Talayna– something that would try the limits of my pitiable strength. For the record, I almost predicted 13.4 exactly — admittedly, I thought it would be 13.3, but I definitely speculated about a clean-and-jerk/toes-to-bar infinity ladder. The weight for this ladder, unfortunately, is 95lbs. I’ve cleaned 95 lbs less than ten times in my life. I’ve jerked it once. I’ve never jerked it directly following a clean, and the last time I cleaned it, I weighed 108, it was just before the powerlifting meet, and I was a tad heavier than I am now (and avoiding all metabolic conditioning like the plague). It seems to me ridiculous that someone as small as I am can shed muscle, but my body never ceases to surprise with its strangeness.

Anyway, after the workout was announced, I decided to go in today to see if I could even manage my former 1rm. Admittedly, I’m a bit beat up from deadlifting 215×3 (PR!) yesterday, but still… I stalled out at 90lbs and that took everything out of me. I’m not going to ask a judge to sit and watch me try (and likely fail) to clean 95 for seven minutes just to stay on the leaderboard. The members of our lovely community have asked me if I’m going to attempt the WOD, and they’ve expressed their condolences that I won’t be able to participate, but while I appreciate their compassion, I really don’t find it necessary. It’s not a big deal to me. I knew this would happen– I don’t feel left out, and… most importantly, I’ve fulfilled my goal of the Open: participate without psyching myself out, without worrying about disappointing anyone, without investing too much in the competition. It was just fun. That said, I’m also disappointed with where I am right now. Last fall, when I cleaned 95lbs, I wanted to be able to Rx Grace by this spring… which obviously hasn’t happened. I take full responsibility for that backsliding… I didn’t take into account how returning to metcons would deplete my muscle gain– in fact, having never made that shift (metconning to strength training to back again) I didn’t anticipate how my body would shift and adapt.

So… I have an announcement that I’ve been keeping under wraps for a bit. For an experimental period– at least the month of April, I will be working with and individual coach via distance-training. I have my reservations because of the limitations of distance, but she’s a professional CrossFit athlete and coach and Level 1 seminar staff member whom I respect greatly. In fact, she was my first-ever CrossFit hero. And the opportunity to work with her was too great to pass up. She’s also willing to work with me so that I can still participate in some of the box’s WODs, which was vital to me– I want to remain a member of this community, and she understands that impulse. For April, she’ll be programming my strength work, some skill work, and my nutrition, and my conditioning will remain with the box’s programming. It’s not optimal, but I hope it will work and allow me to grow as an athlete and future coach– to learn from one of the best– and still remain a constant at LionHeart.

If I can be blatantly honest.. I’m terrified that if I fall short here it will be a sign that I’m really as hopeless an athlete as I think I am… that even with the guidance of one of the best, I’ll still go nowhere. But… I look forward to this opportunity, and I’m doing my best to quell the insecure little squeaky Jo inside my head. This is an incredible opportunity… and one I need right now. I’d like to stop overanalyzing my training… I need to learn, once and for all, how to eat like an athlete and not like the asthmatic, entirely sedentary kid I used to be. And by experiencing this side of the coach-to-individual-trainee relationship, I’ll hopefully also be better and more capable of becoming a coach in the future.

As for how my Zone diet experiment went? Meh… it was definitely interesting. I know more about how my body responds to different foods in different proportions. I still feel like the prescription given to me was too little food. I didn’t lose weight on it, but I didn’t gain either. Admittedly, proportionately, I was/am stronger. I have a 3/4 bodyweight press and a bodyweight bench now. My deadlift is well over 2xbody weight– approaching 2.5 I’m five lbs short of a 1.5xbw back squat. However, the numbers themselves are pitiful because my weight is so damn low… and while I’m sure there’s a way to tweak the Zone to help me get up there, I don’t think that’s what I’ll be trying next. I’ve since abandoned the Zone and returned to drinking almond butter from the jar. I’ve put on a few pounds that seem to be sticking around… though I’m not any stronger yet for it. Mostly, I’m just biding my time until I start with my new coach April 1st. I intend to follow her prescription to a T– if there’s anything I can do in this world, it’s “homework” ;).

Oh! Since I won’t be participating in 13.4, I’d like to brag a little bit about the awesome people in my life who have and will. The Cookie Monster, despite having only been to a CrossFit gym a handful of times in his life (though having strength trained all of his life) did a very respectable 60 reps this morning– and it was his first time ever trying toes-to-bar. Coach Zebrapants, our resident firebreather, beasted out 105 reps, which I’m confident will be very competitive for our region. And I want to wish a special good luck to the Mega-tron, who will be attempting this WOD with a 1rm of 105… which means the clean-and-jerk portion will achieve new levels of suck. In fact, I think we hit our 95lb clean PRs on the same day last fall… clearly, she’s outpaced me, and I’m damn proud to see it happen.

Good luck to the rest of you as well. Be safe, have fun, and stay awesome 🙂

CrossFit, Compassion, And Chilling Out

In General, Training on February 3, 2013 at 5:39 pm

So! A few observant readers may notice the gigantic strikethrough in my last post after I’d claimed to settle on a “new training program.” I feel bad posting a revision so shortly after– as I am notorious for program-hopping– but I do think this is for the better. In the past week, I’ve had a few truly heartening conversations that have reminded me of why I so love this community and how lucky I am to be surrounded by such generous, compassionate people.

I’ll start off with a statement I made in that last post: I am a plan-based mammal. I’m so plan-based, I’m fairly certain that it borders on some degree of OCD. I try not to let it affect too much of my daily life, and more importantly, I try not to let my small paranoia and aggravations impact the much more easygoing folk in my life– though I readily admit that oftentimes I am less successful than others. Regardless, I’m so plan-based that I cannot sit still for as long as I have a to-do list (which is always). I must always be working on or eliminating something on that list– getting groceries, getting my car fixed, planning lessons, grading homework, studying, working on a paper, a short story, an essay, querying agents, training, reading about training, planning for training… etc. I map out my days ahead of time and weeks ahead of time and I wish it were something I could even say I enjoyed, but it’s really something I do to keep myself sane… to placate the frantic, neurotic Jo in my head. It’s for this reason that I grew so dependent upon “training plans.” Also, common wisdom tells us to have training regimens, right? The internet is abound with “plans” for your first 5k. We have Starting Strength and Greyskull and 5/3/1 and Catalyst Athletics’ huge archive of Olympic training cycles that are all “plans.” So… as much as I am a CrossFit devotee, there is something about the unpredictability that scares the bejeezus out of me. Going to bed without knowing what workout I’m going to do the next day makes me more anxious than it should any sane individual.

Add all that to the fact that, for my first six or eight months of CrossFit, I actually made little to no progress. My strength numbers didn’t go up, my endurance didn’t get any better… I was in the gym for hours every day (longer than I should have been), but I was just hopping through WODs at random and breaking down more than I was rebuilding. So… I’m terrified of spinning my wheels again, of wasting my time… of putting all this work and dedication and heart into something and disappointing myself– or worse, those that have supported me.

But perhaps I’ve thrown myself too far into the opposite side of the spectrum.

Zebrapants was kind enough to sit down with me and chat this morning, and something he said really stuck with me: “This isn’t supposed to be stressful. Have fun with it.” It’s something I tell others all the time– have fun with your fitness! Enjoy it! And I do. I enjoy every minute I’m in the gym, but I spend too much time outside of it agonizing what I should be doing, overanalyzing why certain numbers have dropped or why others haven’t increased as they should. Truth be told, I have it so easy compared to someone like Zebrapants. I’m not competing. I have no Games-related ambitions, and the only reason I would ever compete is just to participate and to enjoy the community. There’s a little bit at stake for me in being “good”– in that I’d like to cultivate a certain respect from my athletes, but I’m not trying to get to outpace Rich Froning or dethrone Iceland Annie. 

So… have fun with it. I believe that CrossFit works. Hell, I’ve seen it work. I’ve seen it transform individuals not just physically but mentally. I need to trust that it can work for me without overthinking, without overplanning– that constantly varied movement in all modal domains will stimulate growth and self-improvement without a meticulously plotted roadmap.

So, Zebrapants suggested that I take one heavy powerlifting day a week, one heavy Olympic lifting day, and do three of the box’s programmed classes. And two rest days. Perhaps this time around, since I won’t be programming my own random 20 minute amraps throughout the weeks, I’ll actually see some progress. I also hope that, by now, after having tried and researched all these different strength programs, I’ll have a decent intuition for what I should and can focus on depending on the week and the other wods I’ve had. Is it the optimal way to train if I were trying to become a competitive firebreather? No. But I just want to be a more active, capable participant in this community, and I hope this is a step in the right direction. Also, I’ll note that my “heavy” Oly days are going to involve weights I can handle with good form… I’m sick of letting my ego get the better of me and landing shitty cleans at 95lbs when I should be catching them smoothly at 85.

So… my days will be up in the air, but I think I’ll probably do Monday and Friday as strength days, WOD with the classes Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday, and use Thursday and Sunday for rest, mobility, and technique.

On a related note, I wanted to share with you a reader question that I received via email (who graciously allowed me to post it here). Actually, for those of you that find me somehow via the internets, I can’t tell you how flattered and grateful I am that you read my random musings. It still makes me a little giddy to receive emails and messages sometimes, so… keep ’em coming! Anyway, Kelly wrote me an email with the following question:

“Since I read so much good stuff about crossfit on your blog and others I decided to try the crossfit gym near my house but its been a week and I don’t feel like I fit in. I’m in okay shape (went to the globo gym 6 days/week  before this. did yoga, pilates, bodypump), but all the moves are new to me and I can’t use the same weights as most of the other women and it seems like they already have formed cliques. I haven’t seen the big deal that everyone keeps talking about. I just feel left out and demoralized after classes.”

First off, Kelly, I’m sorry that this is anyone’s experience in a new gym, and I’m sorry that other members and coaches haven’t taken their time to make you feel welcome. I think it’s admirable that you’ve stepped outside your comfort zone and decided to try something new. As for the movements themselves– they’ll come… because CrossFit is so varied, chances are no one’s good at everything the moment she steps in the door. Make sure you establish a good, safe foundation first– learn a proper squat before you ever load an overhead squat… do one push-up with a tight core and good form rather than 10 sloppy flops and half presses. Honestly, the grand majority of the people I’ve met in the CrossFit world have been genuinely invested in helping others. Perhaps if you spoke to your trainers, they would be willing to help you with the areas in which you feel lacking. Same with trying to approach the other members at the gym. Give it a little more time. Most people really couldn’t care less if you’re lifting the same weight on the bar– if you take five minutes or fifteen. It’s just a matter of showing up with the right attitude and putting your all into it– and enjoying it! If, after a while, you still feel as if this environment isn’t for you… you won’t have lost that much. You could try something else or return to your former routine. But at least you’ve ventured into new territory, absorbed new knowledge and experience :). Good luck, Kelly!

I think the above is why I’m really glad I’ve tried all these different strength programs and spent so much time researching the many different methods CrossFitters have adapted to their programmings for different biases– olympic lifting, powerlifting, endurance, etc. I was speaking with one of the girls at the gym earlier this week– a natural-born athlete (the anti-Jo) who joined last year and picked things up so quickly. She hopes to participate in local competitions by this time next year… and honestly, I’d love to be coaching by that time. Being a competitive athlete doesn’t have much of an appeal to me, but I’d love to help others get there– and to help any one reach his or her goals be it making regionals or just running a complete mile.

Something I really appreciated about my talk with Zebrapants: He didn’t patronize or belittle my ambitions. I know I sound a bit like a crazy person when I obsess over the minutiae of my training… and I feel like it probably sounds even crazier when I talk to someone who’s actually training to make Regionals… But he treated my concerns as absolutely legitimate and worked with me and my compulsions to figure out what I could do that’s both productive and adaptive to my neuroses. I think that’s key to maintaining the spirit of CrossFit as this sport becomes a larger phenomenon. CrossFit is a big deal because it made fitness both fun and accessible to so many people– because it was “universally scalable” and it acknowledged that our physical needs differ by degree and not kind. Somewhat paradoxically, I want to stress the “individual” in that universality. Because we can cater to such a wide-ranging population, I think CrossFit should keep in mind the many different needs of its participants and continue to cultivate inclusive, accepting environments. So coaches like those at Kelly’s gym should remember that a new member might feel uncertain, and take the time to work with her on the basics so that she’s comfortable with the foundational movements… so that she doesn’t feel lost amid the flurry of thrusters and clean and jerks and toes to bars and etc…

Anyway… Thank you for paying attention to my ramblings. I’m sure I’ll fret about something or other again soon, but hopefully I’ll also start to chill out a bit. Next week, I’ll be attending a Level 1 seminar in King of Prussia. Expectedly, I’m excited and nervous as hell. I’m sure you’ll get a full report!

… also enjoy the football or something that appears to be happening today.