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Monthly Archives: December 2013

End of year, beginning of fear?

being an athleteI can confirm that in my case CrossFit doesn’t get any easier. I now have a strength programme. It requires me to train four times a week. That’s another training session more than I already do. It contains deadlift and press, back squat and bench, two lifts I’m happy with and two I hate. Plus another pull up programme – which has bicep curls in it!

1 – I’m not doing curls at CrossFit
2 – I’m scared all over again
3 – I need to get over my fear of failure.

So then somebody posted this article which just drove me bats. Doubly bats in fact because (a)  New Yorker? (okay it’s just a blog, but they’re supposed to be famous for fact checking) and (b) this partial view of the nature of CrossFit is informed by the nature of the observer more than by observation – in my opinion.

Numbering all over again:

1 – I have never heard a CrossFit box called a black box
2 – I have never stood in a circle with CrossFitters and shared personal information – let alone trivia like my breakfast preference
3 – comparing CrossFit to EST or AA completely fails to recognise the difference between a cult and a circle of excellence again, in my personal opinion. Google Kaizen if you want to know where I’m coming from.
4 – he trains once or twice a month in New York and more in New Orleans?  I think that’s what you call an interest, not a hobby and definitely not a fitness regime

So, I reflected on my own motivation. The reason I CrossFit is not so that I can play any competitive sport, outperform anybody of any gender or age, or feel like a better parent and I’m not sure that most people would recognise those motivations – at least, not when they are mid or post WOD, struggling to breathe and wondering exactly what large vehicle just ran them over and left them for dead!

I do CrossFit for specific health and fitness reasons. Just incidentally, and unintentionally, I find that CrossFit is a way of having my arse handed to me on a plate again, and again, and again. Now in my professional life I’m really good at rejection – damn few writers make a career unless they are able to handle copious amounts of ‘No thanks’ or just ‘No’ and get right back to work. CrossFit is the physical equivalent of that kind of rejection. I’m not good enough. Will never be good enough. Have been publicly shown to be not good enough.

So what?

Give up? Walk away? Hide?

As a writer, as a brain injury survivor and as somebody who has perhaps more experience with PTSD than is good for anyone, I know that failure lies not in being ‘not good enough’, it’s in internalising rejection as a judgement. Rejection just is.

I’ve seen work that was rejected three dozen times find a prestigious and lucrative home. I’ve seen my best work rejected again and again (and again, and is just about to be trunked, after talking to my agent and agreeing that there’s nowhere else to go with it, and I still think it’s my best work, to date).

We’re going to be sending out a novel soon. It might be another process of rejection, but that’s not failure, that’s just process.

I don’t have to prove anything at CrossFit to anybody except me. I try hard not to cheat, not to whine and not to fold, because that’s the person I wish to be. If I fall short of any of my chosen ideals that doesn’t make me a bad person, it just makes it a bad day, unless I take that less-than-desired behaviour and make it a part of me. I can mess up on any day, but on most days I don’t. I can write some crappy stuff, but most days I can make it better. Much better.

CrossFit is a strength, fitness and conditioning system that gives anybody the chance to define and move towards their chosen goals. Mr Beller’s goals are meaningless to me. His description of CrossFit as a cult seems wide of the mark to me and his description of his experience is like nothing I have ever seen or experienced in any box I’ve visited. Even so, the very fact that he has some goals and is willing to work towards them on some level makes him just like me and on that basis I applaud him.

I just wish his experience was a bit wider and deeper and less focused on challenges to his masculinity and desire to be young, strong and virile forever. I think his article sells CrossFit short and that makes me sad.


Elites, outliers and identification in Crossfit

WP_001434Influenza is a cruel illness. You feel bad when you’ve got it and worse when you’re apparently recovered from it but every run, skip or jump shows you how far you are from your normal level of health.

The last three weeks I’ve been shadowing Barbell Club because I haven’t been able to WOD (no cardio capacity because of flu) but I haven’t been participating in the actual sessions because … well because I didn’t want to show myself up, to be honest.

There’s a problem with Crossfit which I talk about a lot – it’s the non-specialist elite problem. When I was at school I knew from the first attempt that I was going to be rubbish at javelin, tennis and hurdles. Nobody encouraged me to keep going with those activities because it was manifestly clear that I lacked capacity. It wasn’t clear why, and I’m glad to know now what I didn’t know then, that brain injury can leave you with dodgy neural processing – makes it way easier to know what I can’t do.

But it doesn’t make it easier to know what I can do. Hence Barbells. I am ashamed of my bench and my strict press. I don’t want to do them alongside better lifters. Most women seem to start their bench where my one rep max stops – I feel humiliated. So I do the set class in Open Gym. It works for me. However … last week I thought I had understood the class notes and I hadn’t. I read the board as ‘AMRAP 75% of your one rep max, aiming to exceed 15 reps’ and I couldn’t. I could only rep 11 times on both my back squat and strict press. Utterly demoralised I thought to drop out, but then I messaged Coach Owen (aka The Prof) and discovered that it wasn’t ‘expect to get to 15 or more’ but ‘if you get to 15 or more your one rep max is set too low’. In other words, my one rep max for both those lifts is about right. Yesterday I did the same with deadlift and bench. So … 17 reps at 75% for deadlift but only 3 for bench.

My conclusion was that my bench sucks like a vacuum cleaner. More demoralisation. But because I am learning that I don’t know jack about lifting, I went and researched.

What, I wondered, is a woman of my age actually supposed to be able to bench? It turns out that while I consider my one rep max to be derisory (28.5k) and that most women at Reebok Crossfit Connect Hove do outbench me by massive amounts, I am in the top 25 percentile for women of my age, which is semi-ancient. That’s elite. My crappy bench is actually elite!

Not sure what that makes all the other women at my box – superheroes maybe? But  further research reveals that my deadlift is intermediate and my back squat is advanced, for my age.

So while I’m one kind of outlier at the box, I’m the other kind of outlier in the wider world. I feel like a wimp inside Crossfit, and a weightlifting master outside it. It’s weird.

What’s the point? It’s that identification works well if you’re normative, and normative inside Crossfit is superlatively strong and fast, with rapid recovery times and a sharp learning curve. Normative outside Crossfit is more like sedentary, TV watching, TV dinner eating, gentle exercising behaviour. Measuring myself against those inside Crossfit doesn’t always work and comparing myself to those outside rarely motivates me, so I spend time hovering between the two norms, uncomfortable in either. But honestly – who cares? As long as I have measurable progress I’m thrilled and today I’m an elite lifter … sort of!



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~Cruising through my Life~

journey since 1989...