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Category Archives: proprioception

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 new beginnings but back to basics?

The Baker’s Cyst had a message for me. I took it to my excellent, if somewhat pain-causing physio, Paul Keenan, who confirmed the likely diagnosis, told me what exercises I should and shouldn’t do and began to unkink the hideous pain in my right hip and glutes. While he was causing me immense pain, he pointed out that the right-hand side of my body, which is the side on which I get piriformis and itb pain, was in much better shape than the left-hand side of my body which was, as he put it, ‘a wreck’. But because I feel no pain on that side, I’ve never bothered much with physio, rehab or rolling it. Hmmm….

actions proveThat was Tuesday. Friday when I went to row (about all that’s possible right now) he was at the box and helped me work out a scaling for the day’s wod, which was:

100 double-unders
10 cleans
80 double-unders
8 cleans
60 double-unders
6 cleans
40 double-unders
4 cleans
20 double-unders
2 cleans

I can’t do multiple double-unders and cleans would put too much pressure on the Baker’s cyst, so as the double-under scale was three times the skips, I opted for strict presses in place of cleans so I did 300 skips, 10 strict presses, 240 skips, 8 strict presses etc which meant I was only cleaning once each round (and I was only using a 12 kilo bar!)

I had to stay up on my toes for the skips, which was a calf killer and – being a female – needed to run to the loo in the 240 skips round which cost me some time! My overall time was 13:26 which I’m not unhappy with, allowing for the toilet break and the sheer horribleness of that much skipping, especially as I’m injured (again).

But while I was stretching, after, Paul and I got to talking again and it occurred to me that actually I might be getting completely accurate pain messages from the left hand side of my body – but my weird wiring reports them as being on the right! And as we talked Paul suggested that it might be possible to do some intensive remediation work, focusing fascia release as a way of getting more accurate feedback/muscular control.

Suddenly that’s a major new commitment, a potential change for the better, but a substantial requirement to start again with basic movements and to re-learn just about everything … and it will be cost and time intensive. I can feel myself getting tired just at the prospect. I mean, really? Don’t I have enough to do already? Can I even begin to re-educate a body that, at best, has intermittent recognition of its extremities? Do I want to engage in yet another round of how weird and crap I am at normal stuff?

On the other hand, I just can’t carry on picking up injuries at this rate. The idea that I might be able to regain some feedback from areas that currently have none, and the idea that I might not have to have physio ALL THE TIME just to keep going … well that’s attractive.

Thinking … thinking … thinking.

Also, and I probably shouldn’t post this, but there’s a pull-up challenge doing the rounds, for charity. I’m so glad nobody’s nominated me!

Finished the WOD … did not die!

Finished the WOD … did not die!

finished a wodActually it was a bit better than that. I’d already decided that as the box programmes light, medium and heavy weeks, it would be good to get back into wodding in a light week. When I got to the box, and looked at the whiteboard, I really did want to throw up. A ladder 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 of box jump overs and chest to floor press ups.

All I saw was the box jump overs. I can’t even do box jumps. But when it came to the WOD, having done my lifting tech with a pvc pipe so as not to put too much strain on my knee, I looked at the board with new eyes. Because of the knee swelling I would have had to do box step overs even if I could do box jumps, so suddenly the sense of shame about having to scale was gone. Not only that, I could do them at the gold height (20”) and chest to floor press ups are not a problem for me; in fact I do them anyway, as that’s the easiest way to get body position feedback so my press ups are quite strong.

crossfit whiteboardMy time was 5.29 and I’m happy. I had substantial feedback problems with the box step overs, but I was able to keep going except twice, when I had to stop and reset my position momentarily. I’d done all the things I committed to doing before the WOD – got an absolute horizon, worked on my proprioception, ensured I wouldn’t be distracted by anybody else in my sight-line … and it worked. Whether I’d have been able to complete a 20 minute WOD is another question, but I only needed to be able to do this one, and I did – allowing for the small scaling for injury my first WOD back after a month was Gold!

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!

New beginnings (maybe)

New beginnings (maybe)


nelson mandelaIt’s been a tough month.

My weird brain wiring has been playing a lot of tricks on me – maybe because I’ve been unwell, maybe the time of year, maybe just because it happens from time to time, but I reached a point in January where I couldn’t face going to the box. I’d had a total neurological freeze-up during an open gym session where there was virtually nobody else in the box, and while I got myself out of the immediate problem (it’s a bit like mental catatonia – I send signals but they don’t arrive at the muscles they’re aimed at) I just couldn’t face Crossfit again.

After a week off, I asked, on our box members’ page, for help. I didn’t make clear what the problem was, just sought some motivation, and got offered loads, but it wasn’t that helpful because most people assumed I was just demotivated (which is, after all, what I’d said I was) and so there was loads of support and encouragement but none of it reached where I was at – in fear of the box itself.

I finally agreed to speak to Coach David, and we had a one-to-one where I finally talked about the actual extent of my problems, to the best of my understanding, and as a result got given some excellent advice, including taking another week off!

During that week I thought really hard about why I find the new box so difficult to train in, and whether I was willing to make the commitment to finding strategies what would work for me. I talked to two people who are also Crossfit Connect members, and who’ve been amazingly supportive, and to my husband, who knows my neurological issues better than anybody else. It turns out that this is the first time I’ve spoken to anybody about what happens in my brain when I do Crossfit … no wonder I wasn’t getting help; I wasn’t communicating about the problem!

For me there’s a lot of shame in my inability because for 35 years I was told I must be either lazy or stupid not to be able to do certain basic activities. I was in my mid-thirties before anybody realised that the traumatic brain injury I suffered in a car crash when I was a year old had permanently changed the way my brain functions. So I have 15 years of knowing there’s a real problem compared to 35 of being ‘lazy or stupid’. Talking about it makes me feel ‘lazy or stupid’ and that’s my problem, not anybody else’s – I need to get over my inhibition if I’m to get help.

So I have four new strategies:

1. Talk about the differences between my ‘wiring’ and other people’s so that people understand if I drop out of activities

2. Find an absolute horizon before and during training to try and maintain my balance – this was easy at the old box as the sea was right outside the door. At the new box I’m taking Rebus training with me because then I have to walk to the beach first, and so I get a sense of absolute horizon that I can (hopefully) take into training with me

3. Focus on my progress, not my problems. I’ve done pretty well with the strength programme and my squats have improved – I need to spend more time having fun at the box and less training my many, many, many goats

4. Stop disenfranchising myself. When I can’t train or feel I’m not making progress I simply cut myself off. As an example, a member of my box has recently started her own blog, Living Little and Fierce and I read it regularly but I never comment because I don’t want to be identified – this blog has been a largely anonymous way of exploring my own relationship to Crossfit. Clearly anonymity is not serving me well any more, so hi Joski! (Also, she has a cute picture of Rebus on her blog so I feel he deserves a link!)

Two other potential strategies have been suggested:

– Take more time off on a regular basis – coach David says he takes a week or more off several times a year; until January I trained every week for 18 months because part of my problem is that I have no body memory so things I don’t practice, I don’t remember

– Stop wodding. Which terrifies me. I didn’t come to Crossfit to lift, I came for functional fitness and the idea of not doing wods is really disturbing – that’s so far down my list it’s about Plan W and I’m still putting Plan B into practice. I don’t want it to come to that.

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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Elizabeth Merritt Abbott

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