the spaz of fitness has arrived

The Jomad’s Journey

This is my obligatory “how I found CrossFit” explanation. I didn’t want to encumber my “about me” page with the long, personal story, but in case you’re interested, this is it:

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve never been an athlete. When it came to physical encounters, I always took the easy way out. I had bad asthma as a kid, so I was excused to sit in the nurse’s office, hooked up to one of those mechanical inhalers for a half an hour while the other kids ran laps during P.E. In high school, I avoided the physical education requirement by taking three years of marching band. And, in college, I fulfilled our “fitness” course requirements with “The Art of Relaxation,” and “The Alexander Technique.”*

In my senior year of college, I discovered P90x. Honestly, I don’t even remember how I came across it, but I bought a set of secondhand DVDs, some dumbbells, and woke up every day an hour before my classes to follow Tony Horton and his happy, smiling cast. At the time, I was also trying to write a short story collection for my honors thesis– my first 100-paged writing project crammed into a semester because I had decided (unwisely) to graduate early. I found that exercising countered the stressful, isolating affect of continual writing, and I learned to rely on these hours of push-ups and jumping jacks and Tony-Pterodactyls to get me through the day.

I was lucky enough at this point to find FitBomb‘s blog just as he finished his first round of P90x. I followed him then through Tony Horton’s one-on-one DVDs and Insanity. When I started grad school, I was probably on round five or six of Insanity– a terrible idea. I was doing something around 6 days a week of plyometric work. My knees were shot, and I couldn’t walk down stairs without them screaming. It was time for a change.

I remembered that FitBomb had moved on from Beachbody DVDs to CrossFit, and– lucky for me– a CrossFit gym was just about to open in the tiny college town where I’d migrated for graduate school.

I was immediately smitten. After two years of working out to DVDs in my own apartment, I was invigorated by the experience of working out with other people. I’d finally moved off the bench and become part of a team– or at least, a motley assortment of central PA students who spent their weekday mornings goofing off with medballs and (at that time) a single rower. The gym has evolved substantially since then. We now have six concept2’s, a fully equipped Rogue rack, two GHDs, many sets of rings, med balls, smash balls, atlas stones, etc… I’d like to think that I’ve grown along with it.

I made (and continue to make) many mistakes when I first started CrossFit. I have never been an athlete, but I’ve always been an excellent student. In life, if ever I wanted to achieve something, I attacked it by applying as much time and effort and research as I could. I translated late-nighters with textbooks and essays into long mornings of instructional youtube videos and mutli-WOD days at the gym. In the classic tale of overtraining, I saw virtually no gains in those first few months. I was exhausted before every workout, and my already pathetic lifts seemed to be getting weaker.

I was lucky enough to have caring, observant coaches who took me aside and forced into my stubborn mind the fact that I was going about things all wrong. That if I didn’t take rest days, if I didn’t train more strategically, I was basically practicing self-defeat. But it took a long while for me to process that message.

A favorite writer of mine told me that proclaiming herself a writer felt like “burning down a forest.” The act of declaring herself a writer, of admitting that she would tackle this seemingly-impossible career, felt at once epic, beautiful, and destructive. (I feel the same way about writing, but that’s a different story.) For me, considering myself an athlete had a similar effect. At least, admitting that I’m trying to become an athlete, felt similarly impossible and grand and… fantastical.

Though my coaches explained the principles of overtraining, I still didn’t fully understand. More was better, right? If I had the will to participate, if I had the heart to throw myself into every metcon until I had to be scraped off the floor, why shouldn’t I? Despite all rationality, I felt compelled to do the workout written on the whiteboard, as if its inscription obliged me in some way.

After months of frustration, I finally discovered the root of my  mental block—what divides the average gym-attendee from the actual athlete. For most of the population, going to the gym is a habitual practice for weight loss or body maintenance. It is part of a routine for general fitness, where blind repetition is the norm. The athlete, however, trains differently—because he has specific goals. After that revelation, I began pinpointing my weaknesses and targeting them. I realized that some mornings were better spent doing a handful of power cleans for technique rather than wearing my body down for the sake of doing so. It still stuns me sometimes, how easy it is to lose self-awareness. I didn’t even know why I wanted to wear myself to the ground everyday, just that that seemed like the “right” thing to do.

That’s where the oft-praised communal aspect of CrossFit comes into play– how it has remarkably encouraged conversation and communication in fitness. When I was flailing around in my apartment with day after day of tuck jumps and suicides, I had no frame of reference, no one to turn to, and no source of wisdom to tell me that I was doing it completely wrong. At the box, however, I had coaches to watch and help me decide when to scale up or scale down– when to push, and when to pull back. I had fellow CrossFitters who needed to confront their own fears and limitations, and together we could commiserate. I even had my blogs– I got to sympathize with FitBomb’s restlessness as he nursed his torn back, choosing caution despite his own impatience.

I hope, by throwing my thoughts and words into the ether, I’ll help further that conversation. Predictably, CrossFit has shown me how strong I can be– how I can surprise myself and breach perceived boundaries– but it’s also taught me to seek help when I need it, to admit weaknesses when I find them, and to reach for others for mutual support. Who knows, maybe I’ll convert a few fitness-dvd junkies of my own :).

Thanks for reading, and keeping killing it,

– The Jomad


*The Alexander Technique is actually kind of interesting in theory. In class, all we did was practice sitting and standing for 40 minutes a day, but I think actual practitioners of it might actually be able to impact our health and wellness…


    I’m the same age as Amanda Allen & what she says at the end of the clip is what I would say to myself if I was in my twenties & had your opportunities. 🙂

  2. Glad you liked it. Not posted where intended. Good blog.

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