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Monthly Archives: October 2012

Halloween WOD

Well, not very scary – just tough. I had to scale everything:

200 skips (cos I can’t do double-unders)

4kg medicine ball for the wall balls

12kg kettlebell for the swings.

My time was 16:04 which wasn’t the slowest in the 7am group, but was well down towards the bottom end of the leaderboard. I’m happy though: my form was good for the wall balls and this was my first day back skipping after 6 weeks off with a calf strain so it was just fabulous not to have to row! One problem was counting – I was trying to chunk the wall balls into groups of ten so it was easier to remember how many I’d done, but I kept doing seven and having to stop, then eleven, then six, then forgetting to add them together etc. I may have done more or less wall balls than I should, but if I cheated, it wasn’t deliberate!

Also, we had power snatches for the focus and I’d worked on them through the weekend, so I actually managed to get a couple with good form although I’m still pulling too early. All in all, I came out feeling I couldn’t have done more which is the only way to feel after a wod!

No, we didn’t dress up – although I would make a brilliant witch!

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End of month Crossfit report

What I need to work on: 

  • power snatches,
  • Turkish get ups,
  • crocodile crawls and . . .
  • pull-ups of course!
  • My abs,
  • My tight hip flexors – as ever!

What I achieved this month:

  • box jumps,
  • strict press-ups,
  • adding 17.5k to my deadlift PR.

What I learned this month:

  • My core strength is still low, after five months of Crossfit – how did I manage to get through the day then, given how much stronger I am now?
  • If you do Crossfit for five months, your shirts start to rip whenever you flex. I have three less shirts than I did at the beginning of the month, and four T-shirts have gone to the charity bag. Coach David commented on my back development at the beginning of the month and Anthony mentioned at the end of a WOD last week, so I thought I’d try and see what was going on and . . . wow. I have muscles!

What I really want next month:

  • A pull-up!
  • Work-out gear that’s appropriate for me – I do love pink, don’t get me wrong, but I’d like something a little more subtle sometimes.

Crossfit for the neurologically challenged

Bear crawls – that’s me behind the guy in the seaweed wig

I don’t want this to be a whiny blog, but probably it will be, more than I would wish.  It’s not fun having a neurological impairment and even the teeny, tiny, minor problem I have can be a bitch where physical activity is concerned.

My issue is proprioception – the ability to balance and coordinate without looking at the bit of the body that is being moved. It takes place in the cerebellum, which is where I sustained an injury as a small child, and all my life I’ve found ways around the fact that I can’t quite do what most people can. It’s worse on the left side of my body, and some of the tricks I use to overcome it are simple: when I am stirring a saucepan, for example, I hold the spoon in my right hand, the handle of the pan in my left but I turn the handle so my right and left hands are both on the right side of my body – when I can see my left hand next to my right hand, I can coordinate left hand grip and right hand movement much better than when the hands are further apart. It works for me, but it looks weird!

Symmetrical actions are easy – my right side is well-coordinated and my left side mirrors my right, with a tiny neurological time-lag. A couple of weeks ago I learned box jumps more quickly than I expected because once I trusted myself to jump without looking at my feet, the symmetry of the jump took care of all the other problems I thought I mighthave.

Today’s workout was a beast (literally) because it contained duck walks, crocodile crawls and bear crawls. Duck walks are tough on my sense of balance and both the others challenge the fact that I don’t have good coordination when I can’t see my body with peripheral vision. My habit is to use visual survey to check where my limbs are, before I move them, because the feedback I get from limb extremities isn’t particularly reliable. Any activity that requires right/left differentiation while looking at the floor knackers me!

For thirty years, yoga was my solution to the proprioception issues I experience, and running was my route to fitness – but after I had major abdominal surgery I just kept getting running injuries and my physio suggested that if I didn’t build core strength and improve my proprioception I would lose mobility and function as I grew older. That was scary enough to make me change my ways. Crossfit has been the toughest experience I’ve ever had – and the most rewarding. I’ve made massive improvements in strength and (for me) miraculous changes to my balance problems – but sometimes I am just a whiny, pathetic wimp. Today was that day.

Today I met Turkish Get Ups (TGU). The encounter was bruising (both knees, right buttock, right instep) but more than that, I gave into my weakness in a way that I am now ashamed of. The aim was 5×8 TGU, increasing the weight if possible. I didn’t manage to increase the weight, except for two TGU where I did manage an 8k kettlebell rather than a 4k.  But what I realised, somewhere around 3.5×8 was that I was using the same movements whichever arm was locked out with the kettlebell – it was always my right leg doing the work and my left leg supporting the right and after I spotted the problem I bailed on trying to correct it.

It was stupid, because this is exactly the kind of thing I came to Crossfit to resolve. But I couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong, and I knew that something even more challenging was coming up (power snatches) and so I didn’t aim for virtuosity.

And then when it came to the power snatches (which I find tough because the sequencing makes no sense to my brain: this woman’s cerebellum has no intention of ‘controlled falling under a weight’ having spent all its life trying to prevent ‘uncontrolled falling’) I’d already bailed once, so I had no confidence I could find a solution to my difficulties the second time around and the whole process became a humiliating eleven and a half minutes of talking myself through ‘shrug, drop under, lock out’ and only getting it right about 50% of the time.

However, there is always an upside – today I learned that I love Russian Twists! And I am going to be working on those TGUs until I can do them on both sides. And on the power snatches. And the crocodile crawls …

Five things I learned by taking a break from Crossfit

1 – it is a cult

Well, maybe not. But when I booked my holiday I wasn’t doing Crossfit and it turns out that booking a cottage about two and a half hour’s drive from the nearest box was a BAD IDEA! Two and a half hours was definitely too far to drive, but just close enough to constantly obsess over being just too far away … so I spent a lot of my holiday regretting a decision made before I even knew Crossfit existed.

2 – it owns me

Well … yes it does.  I wodded twice in the ten days I couldn’t get to the box – a modified Jason and a modified Angie. And walked miles and miles every day. And went indoor rock climbing: twice. In other words, my body wanted to work more than it wanted a holiday and I wanted a happy body more than I wanted a lazy holiday, so I ended up sweating my arse off because that’s what I’ve got used to doing and that’s what makes me happy. If you’d told me a year ago that I would be doing workouts on holiday I would have said you were insane, now I know I’m the crazy one!

3 – I have become mighty fierce

Yes I have. You see there was this stile, and as we walked up to it, a gent put out his hand and, deep in conversation with my OH, I nodded to said gent, put my hand on the stile post and vaulted over. It wasn’t until I landed and looked back that I realised he had put out his hand to help me over the stile, not to hold other people back out of the way so I could jump it! Compared to box jumps it was a doddle, but compared to what he obviously expected of hiking ladies, well – let’s just say his face was a picture. I spent the rest of that hike giggling like a maniac with the words ‘What’s the matter, Danny, never taken a shortcut before?’ running through my mind.

4 – Food is more than just fuel

The one day I broke was the first time we went rock climbing. After a nerve-wracking, nail-wrecking first ascent I was hungry. After a second, equally nerve and nail destroying ascent, I was starving. There was definitely nothing Paleo, and nothing I would call healthy on offer (in a rock climbing centre – what were they thinking?) and my choices came down to crisps, coffee and walnut cake or fruit cake. I went for the coffee and walnut cake – a big slice! Five hours later, I was sorry I had, and the next morning I found the horrible bloating result to be shocking: wheat, one more time, proved it was not my friend.

 5 – Crossfit has not made me smarter

I am still capable of doing stupid, health-destroying things. My kind of stupid wasn’t a beer binge or a texting while drunk incident, just shoes. Or to be more accurate, boots. The last two day of my holiday I went to a posh do, and I wore some boots that I hadn’t worn for a year. After an hour I could feel that my leg was locking up a little but hey … it’s only boots, right?

And the next day I decided to wear the boots again, in the evening. Result? My iliotibial band made its own decision and spent the next four days screaming at me, despite foam rolling and physio three times a day. And the day I did get back to the box, and got on the rower, my itb let me know that those stupid, health-destroying boots are going in the bin!

What it’s like to be crap at Crossfit

Double unders – can’t do ’em

Scene 1

Middle-aged woman walks into Crossfit box at 06:50 am. Her posture suggests confidence and expectation, she looks like she’s going to enjoy this.

She looks at the WOD on the board. Her face drops…

Scene 2

Crossfitters stream out of the box for a 200 metre warm-up run.

Cut to: our woman, rowing while the others run.

Cut to: other Crossfitters streaming back into box, grabbing medicine balls and starting 15 medicine ball cleans.

Cut to: our woman, muttering silently to herself as she gets off the rower, and, later than everybody else, starts the cleans. She fumbles. Stops. Straightens up. Closes her eyes. Starts again, slower …

Cut to close up of whiteboard – OHS 7×3

Cut to our woman, grimacing her way through the rest of the warm-up.  Each time the rest of the group head out for her run she gets back on the rower – each time they come back she is more behind-hand and being later to start, is later to finish.

Cut to tighter close up of whiteboard OHS 7×3

Scene 3

Fade to our woman, trying to overhead squat a 12k bar. She has no depth

Fade to our woman trying to overhead squat a sand-filled pvc pipe. She has no depth

Fade to our woman squatting against the wall, Coach George correcting her form, while everybody else is lifting solid amounts. Her depth is still crap.

Fade to our woman squatting, at last, with the 12k bar, but onto a box topped by an ab mat. She looks pissed off.

Scene 4

Scan round the room, Crossfitters are setting up with weight-loaded bars for thrusters, medicine balls for slams and skipping ropes for double unders.  Tight focus on our woman whose set up looks different. No weights on her bar, no skipping rope, instead she has a 12k kettlebell.

Cut to clock. Countdown begins. Red numbers flash.

Cut to our woman, she looks nauseous.

Sound of buzzer. The room erupts into movement. Our woman is slower and she’s talking to herself again. Twice in the first set of thrusters she stops and resets, although it doesn’t look like she’s tired. She continues to talk to herself through the medicine ball slams, which Shaun is doing with such ferocity it feels like the floor is jumping each time his medicine ball hits it, and looks pained right through the burpees. When she picks up her kettlebell she does three swings and stops, then three more and stops. Each time she stops she closes her eyes, says ‘concentrate’ and starts again. She continues this way through the first round, by which time all the other Crossfitters are done with their double-unders and onto their second round of thrusters. The other woman present, Marta, has a loaded bar and is squatting to depth.

Cut to our woman. Tight focus on her mouth. She is saying ‘For God’s sake let me get something right!’ She is not squatting to depth.

Second round. This time she stops once in the thrusters but twice in the ball slams.

Tight focus on her mouth. She is saying ‘Squat, stand, slam, squat …’

Other Crossfitters are well into their double-unders before she gets to her burpees. She picks up her kettlebell, manages two swings and walks across the room to get an 8k. She is talking to herself. Tight focus on her mouth. She is saying, ‘You’re new to this, you’re old. It’s okay to be crap.’ She doesn’t look like she believes it.

Third round. Pan the room. Dean is slamming out burpees – it sounds like somebody running a cold V8 engine he’s so fast and metronomic. Three sounds are coming from our woman: harsh breathing, the soft bang of knees on matting as her burpee form collapses and pathetically slow handclaps at the top of every burpee.

Scene 5

Pan the room. As each Crossfitter finishes they shout their name and Coach George writes their time on the whiteboard. Soon there is only one sound left.

Cut to our woman, wheezing her way through burpees.

Cut to all the other Crossfitters, relaxing.

Cut to our woman, wheezing her way through burpees.

Cut to all the other Crossfitters, relaxing

Cut to our woman, wheezing her way through burpees.

Cut to all the other Crossfitters, encouraging her.

Cut to our woman, wheezing her way through kettlebell swings. She is scarlet in the face and dripping sweat.

Cut to all the other Crossfitters, encouraging her.

Cut to our woman, gasping ‘time!’

Scene 6

Pan out as our woman leaves the box, gets in her car, drives out of sight, parks, sits for a while and cries, and then wipes her eyes and drives home.

Cut to black.

Some days are bad Crossfit days for me. Some days I just can’t get past my (very minor) neurological problems to put movements together. On those days I am crippled by awareness that I’m not doing it right and that I’m not getting the physical feedback from my body that would help me do it better. I know I look like a fool for having to talk myself through even the simplest movement and I hate my mind for refusing to cooperate with my willpower to drive my body on, because if willpower alone would do it, I’d be doing it, believe me!

Those are the days I try to remember that it’s okay to be crap at Crossfit and I hope that it will be easier next time. And then I cry.

Why do Crossfit?

Hand stand press-up – not me!

Well, good question. To start with, I’m not sure it’s anything to do with wanting to do it – at least for me.

My short observation of a limited number of people who Crossfit (yes, I am slipping into using a noun as a verb, so bite me!) and a larger number who blog/tweet etc about it suggests there are three basic types of Crossfitter:

  1. fit and active people with natural ability who find Crossfit’s brand of functional fitness training meets their needs. These are the vast majority of those I come across – they are healthy, husky, largely extrovert folk who are comfortable in their own skins and have a high degree of confidence in their physical performance – they’re gregarious and competitive and enjoy working out.
  2. strong people who have/have had health/weight issues. This second group is smaller but still a substantial proportion of the Crossfitters I’ve met/seen on social media. They are naturally built for weightlifting but often came to Crossfit because they wanted to lose weight or have more mobility and the combination Paleo/Crossfit diet and exercise system works well for them.
  3. injured wimps. This is a much smaller group, into which I fit. Largely introverted, often distance runners or some other solo sport enthusiast, we show up underweight, underprepared and carrying a range of long-term long-nursed injuries and the grim determination to master this ‘core strength’ thing so we can get out of this hellhole and go back to our solitary sport without getting injured again (and again … and again … and again). And then we get hooked by the adrenaline charge and the way we can build muscle and lift weights and the camaraderie seduces us into staying and we check our training log one day and find it’s four months since we even thought about our old sport/activity.

Lifting weights – not me!

The problem, for me and others like me, is that unlike groups 1 and 2, I brought nothing with me to Crossfit. I wasn’t fit and I wasn’t strong I was just determined. Leaving aside being older than the average, my successes are constantly amazing to me, but usually turn out to be the starting conditions of most other Crossfitters. So I added 17.5k to my 1 rep max deadlift, which sounds pretty impressive, until you realise that most people who show up at a Crossfit box would probably be able to start at the point I’ve reached after 4 months. So why would I stay if I’m so unsuited to Crossfit?

What happens to all of us, I think, is a combination of results and challenges which Crossfit is uniquely constructed to deliver. The results are clearly measurable, like losing an inch from my waist and hips whilst increasing my calorie intake massively (I don’t think there’s a woman in the Western world who wouldn’t see that as a result, even a woman like me who only weighs herself once a year and can still get into clothes she had as a teenager) while the challenges are structured and terrifying, like double-unders or pull-ups.

Double unders – not me!

As for whether it’s gender related … nah, I don’t think so. The answer to the question ‘why do Crossfit’ is not general but specific, but the specificity is met by a general set of conditions, within the box, around a paleo-type diet and via the high level of commitment and friendliness delivered by Crossfit training, that swiftly turns the specific back into the general.

In other words – we show up in the beginning because we have an intensely personal reason to try this insane activity and we stay because this insane activity becomes an intensely personal pleasure.

Old enough …

… but maybe not wise enough, to be your crossfit mother!

Yesterday I completed the 30/30 challenge at Reebok Crossfit Connect Hove. From the moment I heard about it, I had a horrible hollow feeling that added up to fear. Although deceptively simple—row for thirty seconds, rest for thirty seconds, for thirty minutes—it added up to everything that terrifies me. The cherry in the cocktail of my terror was that the aim of this challenge was not simply to survive it, but to try to row 5km in that time.

I watched for a couple of days as people posted their results on the Facebook page and my fear grew and grew. And then I said I wanted to attempt it myself and felt the fear become something else.

Adrenaline.

Every time I thought about the challenge a surge when through my body: mild nausea, increased heart-rate, the vague desire to run. It sounds like fear but I knew it wasn’t fear, because this response was related to a specific event and it wasn’t fear of the unknown but fear of the known. I had a pretty good idea how this was going to feel, and I wasn’t at all convinced that I was going to get through it without disgracing myself.

So why did I say yes?

Well, I turned fifty last month and I’ve been doing Crossfit (I’m too old and too much of a pedant to turn that into a verb and say ‘I’ve been Crossfitting’) for four months. When I started it was out of fear – fear that if I didn’t do what my excellent physio Paul suggested, I might never get to run again, because I had such long-term injuries I might never make it back to the track. When I stayed with Crossfit it was out of fear – fear that if I missed even a single booked class I would never come back because I was terrified of the WODs, the weightlifting, and the sheer physical ease of the other box members. When I’d completed my first 12 weeks and looked at my results, a different kind of fear kicked in.  I’d put on four kilos – and I looked better. I’d increased my 1 rep max deadlift from 47.5k to 65k and it felt relatively comfortable. I hadn’t though about running for at least a month, because the WODs consumed my waking hours and the aches from the WODs disturbed my sleeping ones to the exclusion of all else. I was scared to stop, because I didn’t want to go back to who and what I’d been.

I hadn’t achieved the goal I set in my first week: three unassisted pull-ups, but somewhere along the way I’d passed a whole set of goals that I hadn’t ever thought to set: the one about losing two inches on my waist and an inch on my hips; the one where I learned to do a strict press-up; the one where I picked up a 25 k bag of sand and carried it to the car without even thinking about it.

So the 30/30 challenge was going to own me until I owned it, and as soon as I set a time to try it, the fear became purposeful and so it was no longer fear – it was apprehension (From the French: 1. Fearful or uneasy anticipation of the future; dread. 2. The act of seizing or capturing; arrest. 3. The ability to apprehend or understand.) Apprehension can always be worked with, but fear is generally disabling, disempowering, disenfranchising.

And the main sensation I had, during the 30/30 was . . .  boredom!  This experience, this thing that had owned my thoughts, disturbed my work and possessed my concentration for days on end turned out to be boring!  The 30 second breaks were okay, but during each 30 second row I was peripherally aware of other people in the box – lifting weights, laughing, joking and I couldn’t interact with them, couldn’t join in, because I was tied to the countdown on that little digital box. It was annoying, and boring.

And the feeling I had at the end was . . . irritation. I rowed 3876 metres which was way more than I’d hoped for in even my wildest dreams, but after the moment of exhilaration that I’d made it through, I became instantly furious that I hadn’t tried just a little harder all the way through, so I could have hit 4k. What most surprises me about the whole experience is that I seem to have been the only person who doubted I’d complete the challenge – everybody else was completely confident I’d make it.

What does that say about me and my physical performance? That my biggest weakness is between my ears and that my results in just four months prove I can achieve waaaay more than I predict, or even dream. I lack any insight into or wisdom about my own capacity and have always limited myself to what my mind can accept, not what my body can achieve. So I’m aiming to enter more challenges, try more new (and frightening) activities and find out just what I’m capable of.

And to get those three unassisted pull-ups in a row, of course!

MPLS MAMA BEAR

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

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Elizabeth Merritt Abbott

Short posts by a midwestern, writer, reader, and occational crossfitter.