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Category Archives: Crossfit women

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!




Oh frabjous day!

jabberwockyAnd other Carrollisms for those who like them (callooh callay! are the ones that spring to mind) and for those who don’t – tough. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I don’t really care, you can Google it.

So yesterday I RX’d the WOD (sort of) and didn’t die (but felt like I had).

It’s one of those Benchmark WODs – other workouts in my diary.

Christine (on the run)

• Run 500 metres
• 12 bodyweight deadlifts
• 21 box jumps 24/20 inches

Three rounds.

The bit I didn’t RX was box jumps. I really don’t know if I will ever be able to do box jumps again. I did box step ups, and apparently that counts.

It took for-flaming-ever! 17 minutes and 15 seconds to be precise. I hated every single second. But I did it.

15 aug 13I weigh 52 kilos. I really really know exactly how much I weigh!

So … that was tough. Today was even tougher, as it’s day 16 of the 100 day burpee challenge and every damn one of those sixteen burpees hurt! Mental toughness and all that aside, it’s excruciating to burpee when you’re all DOMS.

But I’m happy – I can see I’m making progress.

Defo no mofo mojo wodding

wounded tommy in trenchIt’s a couple of weeks since I posted. I have lost my crossfit mojo. Totally.

It’s not a surprise to me, although it always comes as a shock. And it probably comes as a shock to many people who train with me and didn’t know that I even thought I had a mjo, but I did, and it’s gone.

The question of why we crossfit comes up a lot, not so much inside the community as outside. I know that in that outer world my choices rarely match up to my appearance, and people are often puzzled as to why this very feminine-looking middle-aged woman has spent the entire day digging up potatoes or claims that her black eye came from lifting a heavy weight over her head thirty times as fast as possible (thanks, Grace!)

The reason is my business, as it is for all of us, but unlike the average strong but slow, or fast but weak crossfitter who turns up hoping to train their goats, I arrived with the slow and weak goat troupe, bascially, I’m just all goats, and knowing exactly what I wanted – which I got. The mindless physical exhaustion of the WOD.

I’ve found it other ways at other times: running did it for decades, yoga, performed intensively, did it too. Martial arts most definitely did it, but were too dangerous for me and anybody who had to train with me. Hard manual labour, basically, does the job, which is why an allotment is an absolute necessity for me to sustain my creative life. I need that mindlessness, the muscular exhaustion, the slow seeping burn of DOMs because without it I can’t write well. But with it, I write very well indeed.

CIMG0143So, in the end days of drafting a novel, which is where I am now, living eight hours a day in 1917, dreaming my protagonist’s dreams, feeling her dread and – with her – wondering if the War to End War will ever end, my mind is rarely present in the present. There’s a buzz to the end days of a novel, which maybe only novelists, epic poets and symphony writers can know (although I’m willing to be persuaded that other forms of creative life deliver it too, not attempting to be exclusive here, simply reporting what I hear from other folk) which is like white noise in the head. It will never be quite like this again. When ‘this’ ends, there will be crafting and shaping and ruthless excision and revisions and rewrites and sharing my writing with others … but there’s never ‘this’. This moment when you can see the end, and you are going to set your characters down, at that end, and walk away, leaving them to have no future outside of the tales you spin in your head for them (unless there is a sequel, which is a whole different and weird experience for a writer). You are about to kill some darlings – or if not kill them, at least nail them to the page so they can bleed interestingly for public entertainment. It’s an odd place from which to try and get physical.

I am, frankly speaking, a crap crossfitter. This often infuriates and humiliates me. It did today, when my Crossfit 2 Total was less of a total and more of an accommodation with the inevitabilities of age, injury and my head being in 1917. But without something like crossfit, that gives my body something to do while my head does the other stuff, I would not be a writer.

End days are just strange. I woke at three to listen to the rumble of thunder and wasn’t totally sure, for a little while, if it was thunder or my imagination supplying the background noise to my protagonist’s final chapters. Her name is Dorrie, by the way, and she, like a surprising number of other women, was at the Front during the Great War, as a volunteer. I spent the whole of yesterday hunting down the starter system for a WWI ambulance, so that I could imagine how it felt to sit in a cold leather driving seat at dawn, feeling the vehicle warm up around you, as you waited to be told where you were going to collect the shattered bodies of boys who had been officers just an hour ago, and were now the wreckage of war. As I say, end days are strange.

And my crossfit mojo, such as it was, has departed, as usually happens in end days of a big project. Today had nothing good in it – no fluency, no endorphin rush, a pb (but given my appalling previous one rep max, less of a pb than a public apology for previous poor performance) and none of that glorious surrender of self to the exigencies of the WOD.

Tomorrow … barbell club. More public goat training. Why do I do this again?


Edit – just found a fascinating article over at The Sport In Mind which encapsulates how I feel about my crossfit performance:


Female perfection

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It’s a beautiful piece of synchronicity that this blog post appeared today. Female perfection is a big issue for me in crossfit terms and today – the day I gave myself a black eye without even knowing I’d done it – was a day when I was starting to really think this journey might be over for me.

  • Last week of Wendler and I only just equalled my previous 1 rep max in strict press. With bad form.
  • We did Grace. but GTOH rather than strict. I was the slowest. Again.
  • And the black eye, naturally.

So I came home feeling as if I was slipping backwards and there was no point. My box has capped membership because it’s so popular and there’s not enough space for everybody who’d like to be a member and I feel like I should give up my place to somebody who would be able to make better use of it than me.

So Stephanie Vincent’s post was inspiring. Somewhat. But the truth is – I ONLY feel this way about crossfit. I am happy with the way I look. I am thrilled by my career, a profession in which I experience a lot of rejection and a lot of success and affirmation and I cope with both pretty well. I like my relationships.

It’s just crossfit – and I don’t want to be perfect, I just want to be good enough to feel that I’m a part of that world, not a hanger-on. Not sure how I get there from here, but I’ll start by going back on Friday …

Wodly Wonderland

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23 may 13Not because there was anything wonderful about the WOD, but because the temperature when I drove to the box this a.m. was 5 degrees. That’s ridiculous! I almost expected to see snow.

It was also a chilled out Wendler, with Coach Barney’s new platinum bonce shining like the sun and some kind of weird hippy music going on (don’t ask me, all I can tell you is it’s the stuff I turn off if I’m nearest to the volume dial) but I managed a 57.5 kilo x 6 max out which I’m happy with as it’s above body weight. Hoping for a bit of an increase in my one rep max on deadlifts too, at this rate.

As for the WOD – couldn’t have been simpler:

•    20 weighted lunges
•    100 metre sprint
x 5 (2 minute rest between rounds)

Calf strains and lunges are not good company, so I knew bronze would be my maximum and that even a paltry 7.5 kilo baby bar was going to really weigh heavily. I also knew I was going to jog, not sprint.

Well, I knew that until round two. Then I got fed up with jogging while everybody else sprinted. I didn’t exactly sprint because I could feel the calf muscle crepitating (a writerly word if ever there was one) but I found a pace between jog and sprint where the muscle stopped crackling and I used it for the next run. Then I got back into the lunges and discovered that I’d developed a neural misfire and both my legs were trying to step forward at the same time. (Want to know what that looks like? It looks like a really naff broad jump.) I could get my left leg to step forward and my right to stay still, but not the other way round, so the fourth round I had to do lunges entirely on one side.

I will admit that I was downed by this. In my head I was imagining ‘losing’ lunges the way I’ve ‘lost’ box jumps and not getting the neural script right ever again, but I ran the 100 metres, came back in, picked up the bar for the last round and boom! – straight back into alternate leg lunges.  My time was slow, my weight was light, I got DOMS within about 3 hours of the WOD, but I’m a profoundly happy wodly bunny today – there’s nothing like thinking the worst and having it disproved to raise your spirits.

Sooooo … back home, whilst whacking my way through the undergrowth of the Skills and Employment Report to find something meaty for a client’s blog (oh yes, my life as a ghost blogger is SUCH fun!) I diverted to Facebook during my tea break and came across this profoundly (to me) interesting and unimaginable point of view. Balpreet Kaur is not only one of the most honest and large-spirited individuals I’ve come across for a long time, she’s clearly also a world-changer in the best way, in that the best way to change the world is one person at a time. However (and isn’t there always a however?) I’m completely at sea with the philosophy she lays out so simply.

I don’t actually have problems with my body (image), never have had. I was blessed with a physical form that other people liked, it was attractive enough to earn me money just by my standing still draped in garments (okay, really small garments, but hey … still garments) and it wasn’t just that other people liked it, I did too. If I could have got through life standing still I’d have been blissfully happy. My problem is that my physical appearance and physical capacity have a mismatch: I’m clumsy. I fall over a lot. I can’t do basic things like connect a bat/racket/hand and ball. I don’t remember physical skills.

I’ve always tried to ‘improve’ that aspect of my physical being, or, as Balpreet so delightfully puts it, body-tool because I always felt that I was letting myself down and that if I worked hard enough I could get my movements to match my appearance. And the truth is it never happened. Crossfit is the closest I’ve come to normal coordination  and I’m still a considerable distance behind ‘average’ and a massive distance behind ‘Crossfit average’, which seems to me to be almost superhuman. But I strive and strive. So Balpreet’s assertion that changing the body is a form of rejection (regardless of one’s belief in any given divinity) is fascinating.

Do I reject my body? No, absolutely not. At the age where many women are supposed to be hating the way they look more than ever in their lives, I accept and like the way my body is changing: grey hair, wrinkles, sagging bits and all. I am very happy in my own skin. Do I reject my physical form though? Ah … that’s a nasty one. Yes, in truth, I do. I hate being clumsy, I loathe being unable to pick up techniques and follow along with exercises, I despise my own inability to remember physical performance patterns.

And so, although I know I’m not going to stop striving to achieve a more graceful, swift and powerful way of being, because the alternative is not stasis, it’s degeneration (failure to maintain neural pathways leads to degradation of physical performance, ask any stroke victim) I’m opening my mind to a new idea that my approach to this is to face my own body with hostility and shame, and that nobody ever performed well under the eye of a hostile watcher, even if (especially if?) that eye is their own.

•    Bruises – both knees
•    PB – nope, but I don’t care, happy bunny etc
•    Wishlist – nope, Balpreet’s given me more to think about than just my wishful thinking, for once!

And today’s (Thursday) WOD …

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rower… is brought to you by Run To You (Bryan Adams) only partly because we’ve been having a facebook debate about playlists at our box and some brave soul is putting together a Canadian one.

When you get to the box and Coach Barney begins the session by apologising you know it’s going to be an unpopular WOD. And so it was – today’s workout was simply a 5 kilometre run – for those that can run.

‘Was I going to row it?’ he asked. My response was non-verbal and non-positive.

Fortunately, Sean turned up, so I knew I wouldn’t be rowing alone. Doubly fortunate, I’d put my sunglasses in my bag so I could row outside again without getting eyefuls of grit this time. Still, the prospect was considerably less than thrilling.

I pressed for the Wendler, and as I’m on the second week, got a max out of 17.5 kilos x 9 which is respectable for me. I think I’ll get a nice one rep max at the end of the cycle.

By the time the runners were poring over the route map, I’d found out that Rob was rowing too. Both guys opted for an indoor row while I took my machine outside in the hope it might convince me that I was going somewhere. It was at this point, as the ten second timer was counting down, that I realised I had no water, no foam pad for the rower and Barney suggested – at the top of his voice – that I might enjoy listening to some Nina Simone. I used objectionable single-syllable language to reply.

I was not thrilled at the idea of a 5k row and at 1.5k was feeling like I was going to hurl. Barney appeared beside me at that point and said, ‘Go to 2.5 kilometres so you get a time for your 5k’ and I grimaced at him and rowed on. No more foul language, although I can’t take credit for restraint, I just didn’t have any breath left.

imperfectionsTwo things I discovered during the row:
1.    It’s a lot more fun to row with sunglasses on
2.    Said sunglasses start to steam up pretty quickly and eventually it’s as if you’re rowing through a tropical sea fog – like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean but with less Johnny Depp and squawking parrots and more Coach Barney yelling encouragement and van drivers from the next door unit passing comment on my performance – in truth there wasn’t much to choose between them and a parrot. Possibly the parrot would have had a better vocabulary.

Then I hit my second wind. I’ve never had a second wind when rowing before. It was exciting.

I rowed 95% from my legs, so bite me! If I’d had to row predominently with my arms, I’d never have made the distance – which I did, and I think I even had a negative split from the 2.5 kilo point. My time was 24:49 which I’m totally stoked about. I managed to finish the row before the last runner was back, which felt like an awesome achievement to me. I may pay for it tomorrow but I don’t care – it was like being one of the 300!

Falling in love again …

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13 may 13What am I to do?

Double your money, double your fun, today, two WODs being posted in a row, as I’ve trained but not blogged – life’s been too exciting.

So, Monday’s WOD was a monster:

Pull ups
Kettlebell swings

1 kilometre run

Pull ups
Kettlebell swings

•    Bronze – 15-12-9 12 kilos for men and 8 for women and an 800 metre run
•    Silver – 16 kilos for men and 12 for women
•    Gold – 24 for men, 16 for women

And, just to annoy Coach David, I messed up the scaling by doing 8 kilo kettlebell swings, a 400 metre run (scaled for the calf strain) but 21-15-9 and 9-15-21 on the burpees, pull ups (red and purple bands) and swings. My time was 24:45 and I was very happy to get it.Sometjing happened to the WOD after the morning class (I don’t know what) which is why the 06:30 class names are bracketed together – like I said, a monster!

I also did back squats for the Wendler lifts and got a max out of 15×30 kilos which is waaaay below where it should have been but still felt good given the calf strain and the fact that I haven’t squatted for …. oh, about two months.

The big deal though, isn’t that I got a time I was happy with or that I was finally able to run (jog) again after so long, but that I went into the box feeling utterly demoralised and pretty well ready to give up because I still haven’t, after nearly a year, managed to Rx anything and came out as somebody who can do 5 strict press ups. It might not sound big to more accomplished athletes but it’s a huge achievement for me. Next target: toes to bar!

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