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WOD love

Crossfit diaryThere are very few things I dislike about my box, although I spend a lot of time talking about how much I hate cross fit!

One of the things that can sometimes annoy me is the need to keep WOD secrecy until the end of the day. That’s just what we do, and I completely approve because it stops cherry picking (I’d never do a WOD with double unders in, from choice, for example) and that means functional fitness is integral to everybody’s training.

Sometimes it does frustrate me. Yesterday I ended up with full on WOD love – came home, drank bullet proof coffee in the garden with my LoveEnergy breakfast bar, realised I need a new CrossFit diary, which will be my third, and really wanted to blog about how euphoric I felt.

But I couldn’t, because it was only 11am. Last class is 8pm and until then I couldn’t WOD spill – so here it is:

Before the WOD I did my Lift It Up which was deadlifts:

  • Warm up  -5 reps at 40, 50 and 3 reps at 60% of one rep max
  • Lift – 3 reps at 70, 80 and 90% of one rep max.

I didn’t get a really clean third lift at 90%, felt my shoulders round out, and Coach David commented it had happened too, but I was glad to get it done.

12 minute AMRAP

  • 5 wallballs
  • 5 hand release press ups
  • 1 powerclean.

I got 13 rounds and 5 wallballs.

I picked too light a weight for my cleans, at 15 kilos, but I felt so tired when I got to the box that I underestimated what I could actually lift – lesson learned.

And I loved it, every single minute of it!




Meh and then some!

lavender ice creamSo the twin carbuncles in my life right now are Tony’s cancer treatment, which is noxious* and Lift It Big, which I find cumbersome. I’m just not a natural lifter.

Yesterday Tony got home at 4pm and I went straight out to lift. Unspoken agreement – I stay home until he gets home on treatment day, just in case he needs to be fetched, feels ill, needs extra care etc.

Everybody is at different stages in the Lift It Big programme, and I’m at the second phase which is 3 reps at 70%, 80% and 90% of 1RM (one rep max, for any non-lifters still reading). My lift of the day was strict press, possibly my second worst lift behind bench. I hate strict press.

The interim exercise between lifts is pistols. I cannot tell you how much I loathe pistols. Cross Pol Pot with a giant slug and that’s pistols, to me. If you have balance issues, pistols are evil.

I’m also doing (no, I’m not ‘doing’, I’m ‘attempting’, as I’ve missed two days out of eight so far) Ido Portal’s 30 day hang challenge – 7 minutes a day. I despise dead hangs – it’s just a way of feeling pain streeeetch out!

So I got it done, but it was meh. The only word for it is meh, or maybe the good old Pshaw! which Wodehouse’s characters used to express derision and disgust. Meh. Pshaw.

Went home, ate lavender ice cream. No it’s not paleo, but it’s great for cancer (seriously it is: lavender is immune system boosting, the other ingredients are free range and organic and when you’ve just had live TB vaccine pumped into your bladder it turns out you don’t always feel like eating substantial food, so home made ice cream is one of the things that Tony’s finding helpful) and that was the best part of the experience.




*I originally wrote ‘gnarly’ rather than noxious, which shows CrossFit has invaded my brain at the synaptic level, quite disturbing for a writer. I might end up with a whole novel in which everything is described simply gnarly, epic or awesome.**

**I note this blog has developed footnotes and footnotes to footnotes – jolly good! I may be channelling the wildcard talent that is Terry Pratchett – and I cannot think of anything I’d rather do.


2014-05-30 11.53.26Just finished week three of the four week back squat programme. As a ‘senior’ CrossFitter (can’t call myself a Master!) I took a week off after the first two weeks because four weeks of heavy lifting in a row tends to bring back RSI from decades of muscle overuse. So I just got a two rep of 60 kilos. My previous one rep was 55 kilos! The first rep was barely to depth but the second was better and I’m delighted.

I didn’t want to lift today. I woke up with a migraine, the dog was ill, I had a sudden deadline … loads of reasons not to get to the box and do the necessary work. I didn’t think I’d get the 60k because my head was pounding and my depth perception was off, but I made myself go down and try and the results exceeded my expectations – again.

The thing I’ve really taken away from CrossFit is not to listen to the voice in my head. It wasn’t the best lifting I’ve done, but it was adequate to the task and I got a better result than I’d dared to think possible. I don’t have to feel good about stuff to do stuff, and when I’ve done stuff, I often feel better than before I started. It’s a good lesson. I am going to crown myself a winner as a result. Actually it’s a crochet tiara I made for a little girl I know, but it’ll do for today.

Now I’m going to comfort the dog and meet the deadline!

Challenging times

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Tony and Rebus enjoying this weekend's barbecue at the box

Tony and Rebus enjoying this weekend’s barbecue at the box

I haven’t posted for a couple of months and here I am posting again within a few days. It hasn’t been the best week or so of our lives, but CrossFit has been integral to everything that’s happened.

About ten days ago my other half, Tony, came home from a heavy wod and said he felt out of sorts. Four hours later we were staring at a toilet bowl full of blood …

First thought, of course, rhabdo. Why? Because it’s part of the CrossFit landscape, because Tony often wods at RX level and because we’re that bit older than the average and more aware that we’re not immortal.

It wasn’t rhabdo. We don’t know what it is yet, but it’s not rhabdo. Whatever is causing this intermittent weirdness that leads to him urinating rivers of blood, CrossFit didn’t cause it. Since then it’s happened several times. We’ve spent a few hours in Accident and Emergency (along with bottles of water and bags of healthy food, because he’s ill, but we’re not stupid, and we know the wait will be long and the vending machines will be full of crap) and what we know is interesting:

1. He’s not anaemic
2. His blood pressure etc are fine
3. Our diet and exercise habits make doctors blink with surprise and admiration.

So he’s been training again (told to avoid ‘vigorous’ exercise he decided double-unders would be okay, I think I managed to convince him not to repeat that thought process!) and so have I. I’ve been up to London, leaving him home alone, and detoured to A&E on my way home for another prolonged pit stop with the charming and dedicated hospital staff there. I’ve been training again and managed to get 8x my previous 1 rep max in the back squat.

So what’s the point?

Without the structure CrossFit offers, we might be more dismayed and upset than we are. Tony is in the best shape of his life and so am I. Whatever’s coming, and we discovered today that he is classed as Code Three (life-threatening medical emergency), we’ve never been more ready to deal with it. But we’ve been able to scale and train at an appropriate level given that he is now ‘the man who pisses blood’ and I am ‘the woman who sleeps but lightly’. We’re still maintaining functional fitness.

Without the support CrossFit offers, we’d definitely be more frightened and alone than we are. The offers came in immediately – people volunteered to walk the dog, run errands, bring food etc. Coaches and CrossFitters alike have sent good wishes, rung us, messaged us, worked out alongside us, talked about their own health scares (mental and physical) and generally showed us that we’re right inside the circle. It’s been an amazing experience of what a community can deliver.

CrossFit taught us to adjust, then do our best. Scaling is a way of life if you’re fifty-something and you came to CrossFit late after a life that didn’t fit you to physical performance. Faced with this peculiar situation, we scaled our lives to suit. One thing we’ve decided is to totally change our plans around our thirtieth wedding anniversary this year. We weren’t going to mark it in any way, but we are now. In October we’re going to have the biggest, craziest, most laid-back Pearl Anniversary celebration ever … so watch this space!

What we’re hoping is that this will turn out to be nothing much. Some kind of burst blood vessel, a rip, a tear – just one of those things. What we know is that it might not be nothing. We’ve lived lives that tend to lead to prices being paid – we can’t shut our eyes to that, but we can maintain our current level of health, mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, while we wait to find out what we’re dealing with.

We have a lot to celebrate – and CrossFit is going to help us do it.

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 …

Tomorrow is another day …

Tomorrow is another day …

motivational posterAnd it’s the day on which I’m going to attempt to WOD. I haven’t wodded for a while – maybe a month and I’m quite freaked by the idea that I’ve committed to doing it tomorrow morning.

Fortunately, synchronicity is on my side. I came home from lifting on Wednesday and discovered what is almost certainly a Baker’s Cyst behind my left knee. It’s not painful and it’s easy enough to treat, but having taken advice from one of the two doctors (at least two, maybe more) with whom I Crossfit, and my utterly excellent physio Paul, I’m going to take tomorrow’s WOD very gently. Weirdly, I would have felt compelled to push myself really hard if my only problem was the neurological/proprioception one, but now I have a physical limitation too, I’m much happier to accept that I must scale as necessary to accommodate my ability. There is clearly a lesson for me to learn about how I de-prioritise what is a genuine (dis)ability.

I also went to mobility this week and had a really good time. I’m not bad at mobility anyway, and the long lay-off seems to have helped me become even more appreciative of what I’m good at, because the whole class was a blast.

So, with a bit of fear but a lot more confidence than I expected, I’m getting back into the ring with the Workout Of the Day … let’s hope I’m still here to report on it next week!

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!



Four things that a month of paleo has taught me …

spine musclesWow, a month since I posted. It’s been busy! The big thing that happened was I finally finished writing the novel I’ve been working on for 2.5 years and sent it to my agent. I’m not happy with it but I can still play around with it while she reads it and gives me her views. It feels a bit like a death, sending off a novel …

I’ve done my usual wod/mobility/open gym pattern, except I haven’t had time to post about it. Today is the last day of strict paleo and I managed to get through the whole thirty days. What I learned:

1. I’ve been living in sleep deprivation for decades, replacing necessary and potentially restorative sleep with rich and fatty foods
2. I was a total sugar junkie, and when the cravings wore off, real food started to taste incredibly sweet
3. Even supposedly healthy food is full of unnecessary or unwanted ingredients – I went to Holland and Barrett to buy dried fruit and at least two thirds of what they had on the shelves had added sugar. Why?
4. When you eat paleo for the first couple of weeks, it’s good not to be too far from a toilet!

So … I’ll do my weigh in and measurements tomorrow morning. It will be interesting to see if I’ve lost much weight as I’d actually hoped not to – I was 54.4 kilos a month ago, which is about the heaviest I’ve managed. I was 56k for a couple of months last summer, but that was drinking 2 litres of raw milk a day etc and I just couldn’t keep up the calorie load.

Several people told me last week that I looked really good – which was nice to hear. My back has definitely got a bit more defined in 30 days! Yesterday we did Crossfit Total 1 and I pb’d in both my backsquat and my deadlift, and equalled my one rep max in strict press, which is definitely my weakest lift, so whatever else a month of paleo has done, it has helped my lifting!

And the burpee challenge .. day 97. Still going. Can’t wait till it’s over.

And then there was P …

Paleo. I’m going to try 30 days of Paleo from Monday 7 October.

I feel weird just typing that. No dairy (no dairy!) no sugar, no potatoes, no beans …

I think I might last till Thursday.

I just can’t imagine that radical a change to my diet – which is odd because when I cut out wheat, about ten months ago, I couldn’t have imagined that either, and yet now I don’t miss it or think about it at all. So we’ll see …

allotment cropsI estimate about thirty of us were present for the Plan P chat that Coach Barney gave us today. It was fun and thought-provoking, although the main thing it provoked in me was doubt. Can I really do this? I’m certainly not going to be short of provisions, given the harvest from the allotment this week …

The other thing I’ve started doing is personal training, with Coach David. That feels really weird. I’m just not good enough to merit coaching so I think of it as remedial studies – and having established very quickly what was wrong with my squat (poor ankle mobility) and what was wrong with my bench (poor positioning, poor breathing and no proprioception because my feet weren’t properly on the ground) I got painful exercises to do at home and a 1 kilo pb on my bench in the first twenty minutes of the training session. Bench feels a lot easier now I know to put 2×20 plates at the end of the bench to put my feet on. A very simple thing but it makes all the difference to my position, and my confidence about the lift.

Still only one double under though. Despite skipping for what felt like forever, I can still only get singles! I suspect that double unders will be turning up in my pt sessions for a while to come!

As for WODs, well I haven’t actually got photos of the last few – we’ve moved house and I’ve lost track of a lot of stuff (I didn’t lose track of training, but I did lose track of tracking training, if you take my meaning) and I need to get back on top of it.

• Bruises – loads from double unders
• Wishlist – more than one double under
• PB – 1 kilo bench
• Burpee Challenge – Day 66 – still going.

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~Cruising through my Life~

journey since 1989...