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Category Archives: AMRAP

CrossFit, Cancer and 3 July WOD

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20140626_190312This is Tony, and according to the hospital, where he had his pre-operative appointment yesterday, he’s the healthiest 55-year-old they’ve seen ‘apart from the cancer’. The ‘apart from the cancer’ is a pretty big caveat!

His appointment is 14 July – which is quicker than we were led to expect and that’s great. The no quite so great is that it will be about two months, maybe longer, before he can train again. In total that will be nearly four months out of serious training for him, and he’s not happy about it. But he is the picture of health and we need to remember that – he couldn’t be better placed to deal with cancer mentally, physically or emotionally.

I’ve been re-reading Primal Blueprint Fitness, and focusing on the proportions of exercise Mark Sisson recommends. 2- 5 hours a week of easy exercise such as walking is eminently possible for him after his surgery and I could probably participate in that a couple of times a week if I do some rescheduling … actually it’s quite interesting because although I’d have said I do 5-8 hours a week of easy exercise, looking at his definition of 55-75% of heart rate for 2-5 hours a week, I haven’t. Not by quite a long shot …

10448222_10152121214201360_1076709911877495884_nI’ve probably been doing mid-range exercise, including light-ish weights (not sure what a full watering can weighs, let alone two full watering cans, let alone two full watering cans multiplied by about twenty journeys up and down a 250 metre allotment) and digging, and taking out tree stumps for 8-16 hours a week …. I might not have been calibrating my exercise very sensibly, is the point, and perhaps this is a great opportunity to step back and look again and what I actually do. Even though many people apparently overestimate their exercise levels as reported in the The New York Times, it appears I might have been substantially underestimating mine!

Which brings us to yesterday’s WOD. I felt like crap before I went down to the box to train. Had a stinking cold at the beginning of the week, couldn’t breathe, rotten headache, the whole shebang. By Thursday I could breathe properly, more or less, but still had the headache and hesitated about training. And then I saw the board … AMRAP burpees.

WOD whiteboardSo I got 88 burpees in seven minutes. I’m happy with that, although the plank was pretty feeble at 1 minute 15 seconds. The snatch sequence was rubbish though – completely rubbish. I have a lot of catching up to do in that regard; it’s months and months since I’ve done snatch and it really showed!

The truth is, I really enjoyed the WOD – for seven minutes I could simply try and remember to breathe and hope that the horror would stop soon, and that’s the kind of WOD I love the best!


Scaling Crossfit

Wod photoWhile those around me were wincing their way through 14.4, I was spending two hours a week under close supervision from physio Paul tensing my left glute and trying to establish if I could get any feedback. It’s hardly comparable, is it?

I always want to forget that my starting conditions are different. When I began Crossfit it was easy for me to be delighted by my progress, but after nearly two years I often fall into a particular trap. Because I spend a lot of time with other Crossfitters it’s easy to slip into their mindset and that means I end up wanting to do the things they do. Bluntly speaking, I’ve watched loads of people arrive at our box, roar past me in the skills development and become part of the ‘elite’. I trudge along trying to get more than two double unders and wondering if I will ever manage another box jump, which can demoralise me.

So focusing on what I can do is important, particularly now I’m back to basics with Paul and trying to build basic neurological feedback mechanisms from areas of my body that currently don’t report anything. I’ve discovered that it does seem likely that I will get some more feedback and also that the way Paul is helping me locate my body in spatial terms could assist with basic motor movements – but it’s knackering. And I have to do exercises at home a couple of times a day, which is both boring and knackering. Meh. I really want to be experiencing the hell of 14.5 but that’s never going to be my reality, I don’t think.

I went back to main class at 06:30 on Wednesday with quite a lot of fear – wondering if I’d be able to manage any of the movements with the scrambled brain I’m currently enduring. The focus was to get a new three rep max back squat which I did – 52.5k (aka bodyweight for me) after failing to get the final squat of the first attempt and dumping the bar forwards over my neck. Funnily enough, that didn’t worry me at all although Coach David came sprinting over! Second attempt he spotted me and I got it fine, although my knees were all over the place.

So this week’s WOD was a fifteen minute AMRAP of:

    3 bar muscle-ups
    6 OH squats
    9 burpees
    12 kettlebell swings

I had to band the muscle-ups and my OH squats were a horrible mess: I started with a 15k bar, dropped to 12 (which was too short for the correct grip) and ended up with a 9k, partly because my glutes and quads are wrecked from the physio and partly because I’m getting a lot of neurological misfires. I am in a gap between using my old system to script a movement and developing new systems based on what Paul’s teaching me and so half the time I just can’t work out how to move at all! I used a 8k kettlebell which was too light, I could have moved to a 12 but I’d already stopped twice to change my bar so I just couldn’t be arsed to lose more time. So essentially I scaled this WOD until it was almost unrecognisable.

I got six rounds and four burpees which wasn’t too bad, considering. All in all, I’m happy with progress so far. Still wish I could do what other people do though …

Physio and Crossfit

zombie stanceSo after two sessions of physio I am definitely feeling it! That’s good news, because part of the process is to try and re-engage areas of my body that have been neurologically adrift. It’s pretty painful though …

I seem to spend most of my time lying on my side doing knee raises or on my back doing knee raises or on my feet with a band round my waist doing knee raises and sometimes there’s another exercise that I’ve named The Zombie F**k, much to my physio’s amusement, which involves opening the hips whilst leaning forward slightly with the arms raised but the hands relaxed. Try it, you’ll see what I mean.

What’s happening is my quads are loading up quite a lot, which is unexpected but so are my glutes and that’s the aim apparently, to get my glutes firing. That means that my quads hurt and my glutes hurt.

Why am I doing this again?

So on Friday after physio, which was excruciatingly painful, involving a 100+ kilo man finding my pressure points and then putting what felt like ALL his weight on them, I decided to do a 7 minute amrap of
8 burpee box stepovers (24″)
20 kettlebell swings (8k)
60 and skips.

I got three rounds and one burpee, which is four burpees below my pb but after an hour of physio, I’m okay with that.

Not an Open Crossfitter

paleo rhubarb custardWith my new resolve to ensure Crossfit works for me, I’ve wodded twice this week but with major modifications.
WOD 1 – Seven minute AMRAP

8 burpee box jumps
12 wallballs
30 double-unders

Modified to

8 burpee box step-ups
12 kettlebell swings
60 skips

That worked quite well, five rounds and three burpee step-ups

Second WOD

1 mile run
1 mile run

Modified to

1 mile jog
30 STOH @ 15k
1 mile jog.

The only problem is that both times my knee has swollen back up again. I guessed it would with the running but didn’t expect it on the first WOD.

And of course I’m not doing the Open, and because there’s no pressure I can really enjoy (a) hearing about the successes of the athletes I train with and (b) this, which is paleo rhubarb custard with maple pecan crumble. I might have to modify WODs but I’m still committed to eating clean, which is (supposedly) 80% of fitness. If that’s true, the whole other 20% must reside directly behind my left knee-cap!

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!



19 November – 100 day challenges and what they teach me

Well, herecommitment’s what I learned from the 100 Day Burpee Challenge, which coincidentally ran in synch with me reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest – basically a 100 Day literary challenge in itself!

1. There’s a narrow window within which constant practice improves performance before it becomes overtraining and delivers injury.
2. Mental toughness is not a problem for me, apparently.
3. Once you do reach the injury window and it opens wide, you’ve got two choices – flake or force it. I chose to force it, although I had to adapt my practice to classic straight arm burpees without a chest dip, as the injury I picked up was tennis elbow.
4. Burpees no longer frighten me, at all. I even did them in the Cotswold Shop to try out my new hiking boots!

So, what does that add up to?

As the inimitable David Foster Wallace points out, once you become a ‘phenom’, or even aspire to be one, your life becomes totally dedicated to the process of phenomenalisation – making yourself into as much of a prodigy as you can be. This includes things (for DFW’s character Hal) like squeezing a tennis ball all day, every day to develop the arm muscles (I’m considering adding this to my day, as I still don’t have a strict pull up). Hal also takes a nicely balanced cocktail of recreational drugs, which I’m not considering adding to my repertoire, instead I’ve taken out all non-natural sugars, tea, milk and potatoes

In other words, challenges become a way of life, if they continue long enough, and we invest in them fully enough and the habituation to difficulty spreads through other areas of life, so that a step change happens … a step change towards excellence.

I took a week off after the burpee challenge, now I’m doing 100-1 squats and sit ups. It’ll run until February 2014. It amazes me that I’ve embraced all this, and paleo, without any real intent to change my life. I came to Crossfit because I couldn’t run through injury, and 18 months on, I have changed my shape, my size, my diet, my goals, my training programme (entirely) my vocabulary and my view of the world. Most women look a bit skinny to me now, I live in hoodies, have been known to do burpees in shops and on other people’s living room floors and squats in trains, in other words, I am obsessed with seeking the excellence I desire and I don’t let convention get in the way.

WOD – 15 minute A18 nov 13MRAP

400 metre run
5 power cleans
5 push press

I felt like rubbish when I got to the box, and didn’t fancy this WOD at all. In the end I got 4 rounds and 5 power cleans, which was considerably more than I thought I would, given that I had a stitch after the first round and was blowing snot the whole way through. Think I might have a bit of a virus …

Also got 5×3 at 80% of my one rep max in back squats – pleased with that.

• Bruises – back squat
• Wishlist – still the pull up, and to get consistent in more than one double under
• PB – nope.

Feeding the inner athlete: WODs, goals, and grim discoveries

103 psb 23 mar 13Took purple sprouting broccoli to the box this morning – I think it was all gone by 10am, as various Crossfitters took it home with them. I just can’t imagine dropping off a veg box at the average globo gym for people to pick up fresh veggies as they choose! Anyway, we’re eating psb four or five meals a week right now, and still have some to spare, so it was great to be able to give some away.

We’re back on Wendler. Woo hoo! I really like the Wendler cycle: I’ve been through it twice now and seen huge gains, but with the calf strain I think I’m going to be pretty limited this time around. I benched and equalled my previous one rep max so that was cool, but I don’t think I’m going to risk squatting for a couple of weeks, as I (probably) won’t get the pain message from the calf until too late if it does start to tear again and I don’t want another six weeks of rest. I might try a deadlift but that could also put strain on the healing muscle so I may just possibly be super-restrained and stick to bench and strict press. Can’t believe I’m typing that, to be honest!

Then the WOD. A fifteen minute time-capped ladder of:

•    Thrusters
•    Toes to Bar

One of each in f29 apr 13irst minute, two of each in second minute etc until you can’t get them done before the buzzer, rest a minute, start again at one of each until time cap.

Men 50 kilos
Women 25 kilos

Men 40 kilos
Women 25 kilos
Knee raises

Men 30 kilos
Women 15 or 20 kilos
Knee raises or sit ups

Bronze for me, at 16 kilos and knee raises. I was nervous about thrusters, as it’s really difficult to get a good thruster without using the calf fully, but I managed to get to nine of each in the minute  – although by the end I could feel the muscle starting to burn. Actually, that was amazing – a year ago I wouldn’t have felt that sensation at all, so Crossfit really is improving my neurological feedback.

Thing is, I watched Louise doing toes to bar and while it looked horrible, it also looked doable. So I asked Coach David afterwards and he suggested I might be ready for toes to bar, given my progression towards a strict pull up. So I booked in for an Open Gym to try it out.

Then I watched this video. I am sooooo screwed! When Carl Paoli says something is “Proprioception 101” I know I’m in trouble. I have little or no proprioception at the best of times, and when my feet are off the ground I often have no idea where the rest of my body is, which makes gymnastics work terrifying. I get feedback from both hands, my right foot and all down my right side, some intermittent feedback from my left foot, nothing from my left arm, hip, thigh or calf and only sporadic feedback from the left shoulder. On the plus side, this is a symmetric movement, so I can have reasonable confidence that if my right side does it, my left will follow (probably).

I really, really, really, really, really want to get one gymnastics type movement to RX by the end of my first year of Crossfit. I’m still working on the pull up but I don’t think I’m going to make it in time, so I had everything crossed that I could achieve toes to bar. Carl’s comments are a reality check – I’m going to try it in Open Gym but I expect to discover that I’m going to need a lot more drills than I’d thought to learn the sequencing which is disappointing, but I’ve got a clearer picture what the movement entails and I know what I’ve got to work on.

  • Bruises – only my dreams
  • PB – equalled bench at 27.5 kilos
  • Wishlist – Let me see: 100 push ups (on hold because of calf strain), a strict pull up (still working the pull up programme) toes to bar just got added … so the list gets longer and the moment when I might be able to tick something off seems no closer!

22 April, this WOD is brought to you by the colour red

red bandSo … more rowing, more kettlebell swings and more bloody strict presses!

But not like Thursday – today’s experience was a lot more positive. I got a 1 rep max in my strict press, thanks to a tip from Jon about how far back I’d been leaning to get the weight up and trying instead to get my head activated so that I was lifting straighter. Not a great 1 rep max – 22.5 kilos, but I’m happy with it.

And then the WOD – as RX

  • 5 wall walks
  • 10 kettlebell clean and press (half on each side)
  • 15 toes to bar
  • 1 bar muscle up

I knew I was going to be taking the bronze level because my calf strain would stop me doing the wall walks, which I can just about do, and the clean and press.

Bronze was:

  • 5 Box pikes
  • 10 Clean and press (lighter kettlebell)
  • 15 Knee raise
  • 5 pull ups (purple band for me)

12 minute AMRAP. I got two rounds, working with an 8k kettlebell and doing swings to guarantee I didn’t strain my calf and then when I went for the third round of pull ups I was pretty sure I had more in the tank than usual, so I swapped my purple band for a skinny red one.

 It took me three minutes to get the last 5 pull ups on the red band, but I did it! Three rounds flat …

Whether I’ll be able to stick to the red band when I’m wodding at silver level again is an interesting question. If I’d been doing wall walks and clean and press with 12k I wouldn’t have had that feeling of extra power to bring to the pull ups, so I learned something today about how I may need to calibrate wodding if I’m trying to master a bodyweight exercise … veddy interesting!

11 March WOD – a cold day in hell

whiteboardIt was snowing when I got up. It was snowing when I drove to the box. It was snowing when we did the two x 200 metre runs that were part of the warm up.

After that it got warmer, with Sumo deadlifts and straight leg deadlifts and then it got fiery with ring dips (with a band for yours truly) and finally it was a truly, positively blistering 12 minute AMRAP of:

•    1 power clean
•    2 front squats
•    3 push jerks
•    6 burpee bar jumps

I opted for bronze (15 kilos) because I am accepting that I’m never going to be RXing weights. Also, I was looking at the ‘jumps’ with a lot of fear which turned out to be somewhat appropriate – I managed the jump part of the burpees but only by turning around each time so that I was jumping with my right side to the bar. It worked but it made me dizzy on top of being knackered!  I got ten rounds and two front squats of the eleventh round which I was pretty happy with.

I have to be honest, I do sometimes wonder how long I can keep going when the basic movements are sometimes beyond me. Not being able to initiate jumps on my left hand side, and not being able to do box jumps at all at present is frustrating, and sometimes shaming and having to do daft things like spinning round to do bar jumps just adds to the problem – scaling is one thing, but improvising is another!

snowIt was still snowing when I got home and it’s snowing now … I hope it clears before barbell club and mobility WOD tomorrow.

•    Bruises – nope
•    PB – not a hope
•    Wishlist – for a decent gluten-free protein powder now I’m blessedly back off the gluten.

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