Jan 282015

The callous on my right hand reached failure...The majority of the posts on this blog have documented my successes, triumphs and progress over the past couple years. This is not one of those posts.

This morning at my gym, we repeated a workout from the CrossFit Open last year. It was 14.4, a chipper consisting of a 60 calorie row, 50 toes-to-bar, 40 wall-balls, 30 power cleans and 20 muscle-ups, with a 14 minute time cap. Last year, this was my first workout back after discovering the mind-crushing pain of exertion-induced, acute onset headaches. I approached it cautiously then, careful to keep my heart rate reasonable so as not to aggravate the pinched nerve that we suspect set off the headaches the week before. I finished with a score of 99, completing only 39 of the toes-to-bar before time expired.

This morning, I had it in my head that I could make it through the toes-to-bar and get to the wall balls, and provided there was enough time left, I planned to try and do all 40 of them unbroken. There was still the requirement for caution, as I’ve been nursing two very angry shoulders for the last several months, and I would need to concentrate on maintaining good scapular retraction throughout each pull to avoid aggravating them. Still, I counted on getting through them in plenty of time to attack the wall balls, and maybe even get to the bar for a few power cleans.

I didn’t make it. I failed.

I did complete three more reps than last year, giving me a score of 102, but that was small consolation. I got through the first 20 quickly enough, in bunches of five, but then the wheels started to fall off. I started missing reps, only getting three at a time, then two. With a minute to go, I reached failure, and couldn’t get my toes to touch the bar any more. I was frustrated. Dejected. Mad.

As days at the gym go, this will not be remembered as one of my favorites. But it will be important. Reaching failure is an essential element to any training program. It is the point at which the body is optimally stimulated for muscular growth. It is the benchmark against which future efforts will be measured. It can be, once the bitterness of the moment is overcome, the fuel that will drive you toward greater things. It exposes and brings into focus your weaknesses, so that you can address them with specificity and intensity before your next maximal effort.

In fact, a maximal effort is not possible without at least approaching failure. When you are striving for a personal record in any event, you are trying to reach the nexus of performance and failure. In a running race, the goal is to cross the finish line unable to run another step. In a lift, the goal is to put up enough weight that you couldn’t add another gram to the bar. On the race track, the perfect lap is one where you are just on the edge of control, using every ounce of available power and traction. In life, if you aren’t failing with some regularity, chances are you are not challenging yourself, not growing, not really living.

Before today, I never really considered failure as its own destination. I train and race hard, and flirt with failure on a regular basis, but like most people, have treated it as something to be avoided. In the ongoing battle to maintain the positive feedback loop I find necessary to keep me coming back day in and day out, I try to focus on my successes. That perspective will need revising, for me. It turns out that searching for one’s personal limits, in other words striving for failure, is the surest way to find success.

I’m not happy with how I did this morning. I did not meet my own expectations for performance. But I’ll be back to try again, having learned from the experience and improved myself in the interim. And hopefully, next time I’ll reach failure again.

May 292014


I saw a bad movie once, and now I hate movies.

I tried golf this one time. It was terrible. And I saw all these people slicing balls into the next county. Golf is dumb.

Sound familiar? It should, if you’ve caught wind of the latest viral hatchet job against CrossFit.

For the tl;dr crowd, let me sum up.

  • She tries CrossFit a couple times.
  • She is appalled that other people in the gym aren’t as fit/skilled as she is.
  • She doesn’t do deadlifts. (Wait, what?) Or kipping pull ups. Or kettlebell swings. But considers herself an authority on CrossFit anyway.
  • She was sore after doing CrossFit. And that’s bad.
  • She has never seen a workout like CrossFit. And that means it’s bad.
  • She takes training advice from WebMD and the Huffington Post.

Before denigrating the biggest fitness trend since Sweatin’ to the Oldies, one that has swept the nation and changed tens of thousands of lives for the better, maybe it’s best to at least try to understand it. That requires more than a few cursory classes and a few Google searches for articles underlining your position.

What CrossFit is:

  • Constantly varied.
  • A fitness program that uses a range of exercises and techniques to build overall fitness, including traditional strength training as well as short, high intensity, high volume sessions.
  • A tool that helps a lot of people reach their fitness goals.

What CrossFit is not:

  • Random – There is programming at every box, even if it’s unlike the programming you’re used to seeing. No, there isn’t an “arm day” and a “leg day.” But there is a method to the madness, you just have to stick around for more than a day or two to see it.
  • Greg Glassman – Yeah, he’s not exactly the model of fitness, but neither are architects always good construction workers. He came up with the idea for the system using a lot of existing science, but it’s not as if he’s actively involved in running every box in the country.
  • Dave Castro – We can all agree that he’s a smug-looking weirdo with questionable taste in hats and haircuts. But he also doesn’t run a box.
  • The “fail” compilation videos that pop up now and again. More than half of the stuff they show isn’t even CrossFit.
  • Cardio – Breathing hard does not equal cardio any more than sweating equals exercise. Nobody at CrossFit is claiming that it’s a cardio program.

The article as a whole is so haphazardly researched and poorly constructed from a logical standpoint that I almost didn’t address it, but let me hit a few points.

To begin, the author talks about how she went into a CrossFit gym and received only cursory instruction on a few exercises before the workout began. Then she goes on to talk about how she’s a career athlete and can bang out muscle-ups at the drop of a hat. It’s possible that she was at a gym where the instruction isn’t very good, but it’s also possible that the coaches observed her doing the movements, concluded she was performing them acceptably, and moved on.

Then Ms. Simmons (no relation to Richard) gets all in a tizzy because some CrossFit workouts include a high volume of Olympic or power lifts. That’s bad, you see, because when she was working out in college, they didn’t do that. But I bet what they did do, was train with volume. Study after study has shown the benefits of low weight, high volume training both for muscular hypertrophy (gettin’ swoll, in DudeBro speak) and for proprioception. So whether you do one movement 100 times, or three different movements that target the same muscle groups 30 times each, the effect is the same: volume. And nobody’s asking anybody to do sets of 30 reps at 90% of their one rep max. Are Olympic and powerlifting movements incredibly complex and technique oriented? You’re damn skippy. That’s why you practice them a bazillion times at a relatively low weight for your strength.

Now, it is true that repetitive stress injuries are a concern in CrossFit. And running, and tennis, and golf, and cycling, and football and bowling. Next?

The article expresses the misconception that, because CrossFit workouts are timed, that all emphasis on form and technique ends once the clock starts. I admit, that was my impression as well before I decided to try it for myself. The truth is, if the workout is to do as many reps as possible in a given time, you only get to count good reps. Proper squat depth has to be achieved, the medicine ball has to make it past the line, and you have to lock out your lifts at the top. While typically you are counting your own reps (unless you’re at a competition), the techniques and standards are clearly briefed, demonstrated and practiced before each workout, and it’s up to you to adhere to them. Coaches will circulate throughout the workout, correcting form, stopping athletes when necessary, and telling them to add or subtract weight. Any CrossFitter will tell you that missing a few reps or taking a few seconds longer to complete a workout because you’re getting some coaching happens almost every day, and it isn’t the end of the world.

Another misconception expressed in the article is that since CrossFit’s trademark workouts are intense, the program consists only of intensity and pain, without regard for safety. But that’s not the case at all. In every workout I’ve attended at several different boxes in different parts of the country, I’ll be at the gym for an hour, and only about ten minutes of that is spent at full throttle during the WOD. The rest of the time is spent on warming up, strength and mobility work, and instruction. Boatloads of instruction. In fact, far more instruction than you’re likely to find in any other readily-available fitness program. Not all of us get to train with college football teams (who, by the way, have totally clean safety records, right?).

She mentions screaming coaches at least twice in the post, which I find just laughable. If anything, CrossFit has garnered a reputation of being positive and supportive, a community that cheers for its newest and least skilled athletes as hard as for its heroes. I’ve been screamed at in a lot of athletic situations in my life. High school wrestling and Air Force boot camp come to mind. But at CrossFit, the only times I can recall a coach raising their voice at me was to cheer, or to be heard above the thumping music that accompanies most of our workouts.

Then there’s the familiar strawman argument about the poor quality of coaching and lack of education that box owners have. As Simmons would have it, you can get up off the couch one day, go pay your money to take a weekend seminar for your CrossFit Level 1 certification, and open a box the following week. Except that isn’t what’s happening. The gym I attend, for instance,  is owned by a husband and wife, the former a collegiate athlete, teacher and golf pro (visual and instruction skills, anyone?) and the other a physical therapist. Both had over five years of CrossFit experience before opening their own gym.  So much for the whole medical community thinking CrossFit is dangerous, by the way. I have yet to meet someone coaching at a box, let alone owning one, who hasn’t spent years and years training, studying and learning everything there is to know about fitness and physical training. Do all of them have masters degrees in a related field? Of course not, but then, most personal trainers at traditional gyms only had to pass an online exam to qualify for their position. If that. Kinda makes a weekend seminar look thorough, doesn’t it?

After listing off all of his perceived problems with CrossFit, the author is left scratching her head as to why anyone would do it. Maybe, she concludes, people are just addicted to pain, and want to be part of the group. Or maybe, as I observe week after week at the boxes I attend and follow on social media, people are addicted to getting stronger, to learning new things, and to setting new PRs on a regular basis.

It’s true that the most dramatic gains you’ll see at a CrossFit gym will be from people coming off the couch, but that doesn’t mean those are the only people gaining benefit from it. A big percentage of the athletes I train with at CrossFit are athletes in other disciplines, who were already extremely fit when they walked in the door. I’m talking about triathlon winners, Boston Marathon qualifiers, rugby players and the like. And all of them are getting stronger, faster, and better at their other sports because of the addition of CrossFit into their training regimen.

The author saves her most absurd mischaracterizations for last: that workouts are not individualized, and that every CrossFit box in the country is exactly the same. These two assertions are so blatantly false, that I was convinced by the end of the article that the author had been drinking. It’s as if she thinks that box owners pray at the alter of Glassman each night, receive the gospel of the following day’s WOD, and the faithful arrive the next day to perform exactly the movements prescribed, at exactly the prescribed weight, for exactly the prescribed reps.

The truth is, every WOD is adapted to every athlete, every day. Strong athletes add weight. Mere mortals (like myself) might go lighter. Coaches might have new athletes perform two rounds instead of three, or substitute easier movements for more complex ones. The WOD is only a small part of what we do at the gym every day, and even then, what’s written on the whiteboard is only a starting point. Never, at any point, have I had a coach so much as blink when I said I needed to use a lighter kettlebell, or when I dropped off the pull up bar and substituted ring rows, or when I stopped 2 rounds into a 5 round workout and knocked weight off my barbell. If your coach has a problem with you doing those things, by all means, go somewhere else. But I suspect you’ll have a harder time finding a box that has those problems, than one that does not. My coaches push me, but never to the point of danger. They’ll call me out if they think I’m half-assing it, but that’s because they’ve been watching me for months, and know what I’m capable of.

CrossFit has its shortcomings and challenges, and will certainly continue to evolve over the next decade. But if we’re going to address them as the larger fitness community, then let’s not waste time with strawman arguments, baseless rhetoric and double standards. Unless you have the knowledge and experience on the subject to speak with some authority, maybe it’s best you shouldn’t speak at all.

May 192014


Ah, the hook grip. Joining paleo diets, chalked hands and foam rollers, the hook grip has become part of the canonical gospel of Crossfit. The common consensus seems to be: thou shalt hook grip. Thou shalt use it on the Clean, and on the Snatch, and a higher place in heaven shall be attained by using it on the deadlift. Thou shalt hook grip thy steering wheel, and thy gym bag, and thy breakfast spoon, for good measure.

Except that there are several “maybes” in there. Hook grip, like chalk, is a tool, and a very useful one. When pulling heavy weight from the floor for a snatch or clean, it can allow you to move considerably more weight with considerably more speed than you may be able to with a normal grip. That is, it can, if you have a good hook grip. If you don’t, it can make the movement awkward, uncomfortable and more complicated than it would otherwise be. If you aren’t getting it right, it may even make your grip on the bar less strong or less controlled.

Those who insist that a hook grip is the only way ever to clean or snatch are akin to those who would insist that there is only one proper stance for squats. It’s been proven over and over again that differences in individual strengths and bone structure will dictate what your squat stance should be. Why is grip preference any different? The hand is certainly one of the most complex parts of the body, and differences in bone length, angle and structure can vary wildly from one person to the next. Contrary to what many CrossFit sites may assert, the problems many people experience with hook grip may have nothing to do with “mobility,” and everything to do with geometry.

None of that means that the hook grip is impossible for some people, just that it’s much more difficult to master for them. Difficult enough that it may be useful to sideline it when teaching them a new movement, until the more essential elements are mastered.

If an athlete’s grip is nowhere near the weakest point of their movement, why is there a need to change their technique? The reason often presented is that “well, it’ll help later when they’re lifting really heavy.” But what if that isn’t every athlete’s goal? Maybe not every athlete will get to the point where the power of their posterior chain will exceed that of their grip. Or maybe some athletes prefer to continue to develop their normal grip strength. Or maybe the transition from hook grip to front or overhead rack adds too much unnecessary complexity for some newer (or even more experienced) athletes, to be worth the trouble.

Besides which, there is no one claiming that a hook grip takes an enormous amount of time to learn. By sharp contrast to an incredibly complex movement like snatch, most trainers and coaches agree that hook grip can be picked up (pun intended!) in a couple weeks, so why not wait to introduce it until it’s needed?

None of this is to say that it shouldn’t be taught, or that you shouldn’t learn it, or that it isn’t a useful tool. But it is just that, a tool. You don’t need a 12 pound sledgehammer when you’re driving a roofing nail. I don’t wear a belt when I’m deadlifting 185. The hook grip is a technique that should be honestly attempted until it is mastered, but there are plenty of circumstances, particularly within the realm of CrossFit, where it doesn’t make sense (think low weight, power clean metcons).

If you love yourself some hook grip, that’s great! Just don’t proselytize.

Apr 012014
Pulling 275 for 15 reps almost killed me. And I never felt better.

Pulling 275 for 15 reps almost killed me. And I never felt better.

14.1 nearly broke my left foot.

14.2 damaged my confidence.

14.3 landed me in the hospital with exertional headaches.

14.4 ripped open both of my hands.

14.5 beat me down for more than twenty-six minutes, and left my arms nearly inoperable for four days.

And I can’t wait to do it all again.

My rookie season of the CrossFit Open has drawn to a close. It was five weeks of nail-biting anticipation, brutal punishment, personal triumph, and soul-crushing struggle. I simultaneously performed better than expected and worse than I hoped. I was able to post a score for all five workouts, which is a huge victory in itself. I also found that I have huge gaps in my skills that are impossible to mask with any amount of strength or hard work.

Trying for dubs. Sometimes, even getting them.

Trying for dubs. Sometimes, even getting them.

The final tally shows that I finished 4188th out of 4494 men in my region who submitted a score for all five workouts, and ahead of some hundreds more who didn’t, or couldn’t complete them all. It is not a spectacular result, but it is a result, and that is spectacular in its own way. Given that I only started CrossFit a few months ago, finishing at all is an accomplishment. Come to think of it, given the nature of the workouts this year, finishing is an accomplishment for just about everybody.

In a way, I’m glad that it’s over. Glad that I can get back to some goal work and some “regular” workouts. Glad that I don’t have to listen to Dave Castro’s smugness or that announcer’s screaming, overdramatic athlete introductions (seriously, that guy’s gotta go). Glad that I can take the time to work on some skills again, instead of just pounding through the best I can with what I’ve got.

Now that it’s over, how do I feel about how I’ve done? In a word, unsatisfied. Don’t misunderstand, I did as well as I could. I put in a maximum effort on each workout. But I made some mistakes, and I’m missing some skills, and down on some strengths that I know I’ll have in a few more months. A study of the leaderboard shows that with just a little more work on those skills, I could move up hundreds of places. The game of what-if is irresistible.

Adam has an impressive snatch.

Adam has an impressive snatch.

Unexpectedly, I had as much fun judging as I did competing. There is an intense intimacy between athlete and judge for those few minutes of a performance. While it isn’t the judge’s role to cheer on the athlete, all of their focus and energy is directed at the athlete’s success. The effect is nearly tangible, and when they are finished, you feel as if you shared in their triumph, in a small way. And it has nothing to do with the relative skill of the athlete. I was as enriched by judging some of the our beginners as by the elite athletes at our gym.

There has been no small amount of controversy surrounding this year’s Open workouts. The Open is pitched by CrossFit corporate and at boxes around the world as the “Games for the rest of us,” but this year’s barriers to entry were pretty high. There were several movements required for this year (double unders, overhead squat, toes to bar)  requiring skills that a whole lot of the rank and file simply don’t have.

My mustache is sort of the opposite of Samson's hair.

My mustache is sort of the opposite of Samson’s hair.

One workout required the use of a rower, which is expensive enough that most boxes only have a few, and nobody has in their home gym. One of the founding concepts of the Open was supposed to be that anybody, anywhere, with a minimum of equipment, could compete, regardless of their access to a CrossFit gym. This year, that was plainly not the case.

The athletes felt overwhelmed. The affiliate owners felt betrayed. And then we all muttered something about Dave Castro’s mother under our breath, laced up our shoes, and did it anyway.

Where the 2014 CrossFit Open succeeded was the same place all previous editions did: with the community of athletes. We came together as teams, put out efforts that were beyond what we thought possible, and pushed ourselves well outside our comfort zone. For a collection of people who do something as randomized and intense as CrossFit, that last bit is really saying something.

Chicks dig strong dudes. Fact.

Chicks dig strong dudes. Fact.

The enduring images I will take away from my first Open experience will not be of Rich Froning and Sam Briggs, hammering out in less than 8 minutes what takes us mortals at least 18. I will remember Mike, laughing at himself between reps of toes-to-bar. I’ll remember Julie, hoisting an impossibly heavy bar over her head for one thruster at a time, chipping away at it until she finished. I’ll remember Adam, power cleaning so hard that I thought he was going to die. I’ll remember Katie, digging deep for those last two sets to finish strong. And I’ll remember all the clapping, and fist bumping, and cheering, and the commiserating over huge plates of food when each workout was over.

And I’ll be back, to find out how much stronger I can be.

Mar 202014
Riding the pine. Not where I wanted to be, at this point in the season.

Riding the pine. Not where I wanted to be, at this point in the season.

It happens to every athlete, at some point. When you push the bounds of what your body is capable of, when you’re constantly approaching the limits of your physical system, sometimes your body pushes back. A joint will give way, a muscle will tear, a minor injury will happen. When you push to the maximum, a small area of weakness will yield, and you’ll find yourself on the bench, or worse, in the hospital.

I’ve nursed a variety of large and small injuries over the past few years, as I’ve ramped up my fitness. I had my right ACL reconstructed in 2010 after blowing it playing basketball. I’ve had problems with my left knee and hip, both shoulders, and my upper spine. Most of these minor issues have been corrected by a short period of rest, some Motrin, and adjustments to my training technique or riding position. Of note, none of these problems have caused me to miss or DNF a race, to date.

The last time I was completely unable to train.

The last time I was completely unable to train.

In a way, I’m thankful for these small problems. I’m of the opinion that my body uses them as “circuit breakers,” to force me to take a break before something more catastrophic happens.

That’s it for the positive.

The latest malady I’ve had to deal with is totally debilitating. On Friday, I completed CrossFit Open workout 14.3 at Total Control in Jacksonville Beach, Florida. It’s an 8 minute workout of alternating deadlifts and box jumps/step-ups, with the weight and reps of deadlift increasing with each round. When the clock ran out, I dropped 15th and last rep of 275, and immediately my head exploded. For the next few minutes, I had an almost debilitating headache. It subsided after about 10 minutes, and I didn’t think much more of it.

Monday morning, I decided I wanted to try for a better score. I warmed up and tore into the workout, at a sufficient pace to beat my previous effort. But 5 reps into my set of 225 lb deadlifts, I set the bar down to get a breath and reset, and my head exploded again. I dropped to the floor in pain, and had to abandon the workout. 20 minutes later, the pain had subsided enough for me to function and drive home, but it never really went away for the rest of the day.

I felt better in the morning, but I spent all of Tuesday and Wednesday just feeling off. A hint of a headache would come and go, and I was groggy and had intermittent trouble concentrating. I felt like I needed another big cup of coffee, but coffee didn’t help.

(Not my brain)

(Not my brain)

It happened again Wednesday night, this time without working out. The feeling was like somebody was driving a large ice pick up through the base of my skull. At its height, the pain was crippling. I told Katie I needed to go the hospital, and she drove me to the ER. They did two CT scans of my noggin which showed nothing abnormal (good news), and they gave me some intravenous medicines and sent me home.

It may be some time before I have an actionable diagnosis. One thing for certain in the meantime is that there will be no training or racing until we get this figured out. This weekend was going to be a big one. I was going to race on the Killer Gravel at the Barry-Roubaix in Michigan, covering 62 miles and almost 4000 feet of climbing. But with my head the way it is, it’s just not a good idea. I’m probably out of the CrossFit Open, as well, and next month’s races (a half marathon and a 65 mile mountain bike race) are in doubt.

Setbacks happen in any athlete’s progression. When you’re trying to be the absolute best you can be, sometimes you overreach by just a little, and suffer the consequences. I’m thankful that there is no evidence of anything truly scary yet, but still gutted that I find myself sidelined just as the race season was starting to crescendo. I’m feeling strong, light, fast and ready for the challenges I laid out for myself this year. I’ve been moving weights and climbing hills that I would’ve thought impossible only a couple years ago. But when your body says NO MAS, sometimes you don’t have any choice but to listen.

Jan 132014
Sweat on a kettlebell.

Sweat on a kettlebell. If that doesn’t say CrossFit, I don’t know what does.

For any athlete new to CrossFit, the prescribed (Rx) weights and reps on most of the workouts can be daunting. For me, since I started going regularly late last year, they’ve ranged from “hey, I could almost… no I can’t” to “there is no freaking way.” For several WODs, I’ve been able to Rx two out of three exercises, but not that third one. Many of the overhead movements are just beyond my strength, I don’t have a whole lot of pull-ups strung together yet, and don’t even get me started on double-unders. Those are a long, long way off.

Even if the exercises present are things that I can do, sometimes I still can’t Rx the workout. Sometimes it isn’t a matter of the weight, but the volume. For instance, I can clean 135 lbs without too much trouble. But 45 times? Not so much. I can do pushups, but when the workout is umpteen sets of 20, I end up falling apart before it’s over and having to switch to a different movement to finish up.

All that said, CrossFit is nothing if not variable. It was only a matter of time before the right combination of movements, sets and reps came up together, on a day that I could go. A couple weeks ago, that day finally came for me. I checked CrossFit Dedication‘s site as I was getting ready for bed, and got more excited than a person really should get about an impending twelve minutes of grueling misery. It wasn’t complicated, it wasn’t flashy, but it was doable: ten reps each of kettlebell swings, box jumps and burpees, for as many rounds as possible in the allotted time.

I didn’t walk in the next evening with the idea of Rx-ing the WOD. The prescribed 53-lb kettlebell is still pretty heavy for me for swings, and this would be a high-intensity workout anyway. I figured I’d use the 35 pounder and call it good, but then two things happened: Katie picked up a 35 pounder, and Matt (our coach) mentioned a tweak for my form that suddenly made the KB fly up much faster and easier than I was used to. Just before the WOD started, I swapped my 35 for a 53, and then we went at it!

It's a small thing, but it means more than you'd think.

It’s a small thing, but it means more than you’d think.

I tried to set a steady pace from the outset, but the combination of the increased weight and the dynamic movements had me sucking wind by the end of my second round. Sweat was pouring off of me. My lungs begged for mercy. My joints popped and my muscles complained, but I stayed focused. The possibility of completing my first Rx served as added motivation, and I eyed the clock at the end of round 4, trying to catch my breath a little. There was just enough time for one more round, if I really hustled!

I banged out the swings as quickly as I could, trying to be careful about my form with the increased weight as I got tired. My fatigue became apparent as I started the box jumps. I was really working to make the 24″ height, and I had to pause between the last several reps for air. Things got a little crazy on the burpees, which I had to really hammer out to finish my set. I was breathing as deep and as smoothly as I could, but I wasn’t meeting the demands of my body, and my vision started to blur and swirl! I was basically falling to the ground for the last five reps. It was ugly, but it worked, and I finished my last round with a few seconds to spare!

It’s been awhile since I pushed myself that close to the edge, and while working hard enough to get dizzy sounds extreme, I’m happy to do it. Finding out how your body reacts when pushing it to the limit is what training is all about, as it will help you better understand how to deal with it in competition.

It may be awhile before I Rx another WOD, but I’m glad to have the monkey off my back. It’s a small step, in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one that every CrossFit newbie looks forward to taking.

Dec 282013
Holy crap I made it!

Holy crap I made it!

Today at CrossFit was another team WOD, this time in teams of three. And a good thing too, since some of the exercises were things I wasn’t sure I could do. There were four stations, and each team would have three minutes at each to complete as many rounds as possible before having 1 minute to change stations and get reset. There were stations for deadlift/rope climbs, tire flips/push ups, wall walks/burpees over box, and farmer’s carry/wall balls, all in 3 rep increments.

I had never done rope climbs, tire flips or wall walks before today. The tire flips aren’t complicated, and I figured out wall walks during the warmup, but rope climbs… Well, I was just glad that there was somebody on my team (Emily, a visitor) who could do them.

The clock started and we set to it, blowing through reps with the same rowdy, kid-like fun I’ve come to expect from Saturday WODs. When we got to the station for deadlifts and rope climbs, Emily powered through three of the latter with impressive ease, and I pumped out the deadlifts. When it was time for our second round, Emily lurched up the rope again, but it was clear she was tiring. I had been watching what she did with her feet and decided to give it a go, locking the rope between my shoes and using them to push me up instead of just pulling with my arms.

And it worked! All the sudden I was at the top, and I touched the rafters before shimmying back down, grinning like a kid. Or better, because I could never climb ropes when I was a kid. I’ve never had the strength, and nobody ever showed me the technique before.

Any time you try a new sport, there’s a honeymoon period where everything is new and exciting, and you’re setting “firsts” every time you go out. Because CrossFit has you doing so many different things, the opportunity for that excitement is very frequent, and it’s not hard to see why it becomes addicting. I can climb ropes now! Who’d have ever thought?

Dec 272013
I gotta say, the sound effects are a little disappointing. (It doesn't have sound effects.)

I gotta say, the sound effects are a little disappointing.
(It doesn’t have sound effects.)

Our new cardio room at work has two new row machines, and they are the fanciest I have ever seen! Each one sports this fancy display, a belt drive in place of the customary chain, and servo-actuated resistance internal to the unit. Perhaps its best feature is the seat, which is slightly cushioned. That’s a big bonus when doing longer sessions.

I decided to try it out today, with the intent of grinding out a 10 km row, since I couldn’t make it to CrossFit again. It was just the sort of long, slow cardio I needed to help burn off some of the Christmas goodies I’ve been enjoying over the past couple weeks.

I ended up doing two rows of 2500 meters instead. I spent the first row just trying to figure out the interface and the programs, before starting a second row using the Pacer feature. It’s a neat idea, and a good motivator to maintain pace through your workout. The display tells you how far ahead or behind the pacer “boat” you are, along with a graphical depiction of the race.

I steadily worked up to about a 40 meter lead through the first 1500 meters, before getting a little lazy and letting the computer catch back up a little. But I turned it up again for the last 500 and ended up beating the computer by about 60 meters.

Compared to the standard Concept 2 rowers I’m accustomed to using, this LifeCORE model seems fancy almost to excess. The display is visually attractive, but not as customizable or easy to read as the Concept 2. The padded seat and handle on the LifeCORE did result in less hand and butt fatigue than I’m accustomed to, but something about the seat caused my hips to be a little uncomfortable, too.

I’m undecided on the rowing mechanism itself. Adjusting the resistance level requires you to spin the Select wheel on the display, which isn’t easy to do on the fly. And the resistance itself is just different. The initial pull feels a little closer to what water actually feels like, which is good, but the pace I was able to maintain was substantially lower at a given level of effort. It almost felt like rowing uphill. The caloric output estimate seemed low, although I’d need to do a longer, sustained effort to say for sure. Most confusing, the Watts meter seemed to fluctuate unreliably, sometimes getting stuck at 117, and other times jumping over 300. I know that not every one of my pulls is identical, but that’s a huge variation.

But in all honesty, that’s mostly nitpicking. I’m still happy to go use it, I’ll just need to recage my expectations a little. I do wish it made some nerdy sound effects, though.

Dec 242013
Use this stuff...

Use this stuff…

Christmas falling in the middle of the week this week complicated my workout plans a little. But being unable to make it to class is not an excuse for doing nothing, so today I decided to improvise.

The workout on CrossFit Dedication‘s site was called “Merry 25,” and it was basically half of the benchmark “Filthy 50” WOD. The gym at my work is nicely equipped, but I still had to make a couple substitutions. I replaced the wallballs with thrusters, and since the only jump rope I could find was too short and heavy to even try double unders, I figured I’d do a boatload of singles instead.

I got my equipment laid out, set up the stopwatch app on my phone, and got to it. As has become the trend for most of my CrossFit workouts to date, the first few exercises went well, and I thought I might just breeze through it. I banged out the push press and back extensions in no time at all, before running to the hallway for the walking lunges. I was surprised at how easy those felt, given that I usually hate lunges. I guess I’m getting a little stronger, after all.

Back in the weight room, I… er… jumped right into the jumping pull-ups, completing them unbroken before turning to do box jumps. After my first ten, I finally ran out of breath and had to stop for a second. The jumping pull ups had revved the motor, and now the box jumps were pushing it toward red line, but I was managing.

I turned back to the pull up bar for knees-to-elbows, but had to break them up into 10-5-5-5, just because they hurt my shoulders a little. I was happy to move on to kettlebell swings, but was shocked at how little juice I had once I started. I had only done 10 when I found myself sucking air, and had to break up that set as well.

... to do this stuff.

… to do this stuff.

It got a little ugly on the the thrusters. I had chosen 20 pound dumbbells, thinking that was conservative, but not realizing that it was also twice the weight of the wallball I was replacing. I thought that set would never end, and I kissed my impressive completion time goodbye.

Oh yeah, and then burpees. I had almost forgotten them, reaching for my jump rope before seeing the paper and remembering. I did ten good ones and felt okay, but had to stop after eight more. Then I did two more. Or did I? Did I only tell myself I would do two more? I couldn’t remember three seconds ago, so I did seven more just to be sure I was getting at least the required reps.

Double unders were out of the question for the aforementioned reasons, so I picked up the rope and told myself I’d do 75 singles. Oddly enough, the singles came easily, and I was banging them out unbroken, something I can’t always do when I’m just warming up. I lost count as I clicked past 50, and decided to just keep going until I messed up. I think that was somewhere in the 70s, but whatever it was, it was good enough for me.

I walked over and stopped the stopwatch on my phone, finishing my adapted WOD in 15:40. Not too bad, for having to improvise! It’s not quite as good as being in the class for it, but it’ll do in a pinch.

Dec 212013
It's even more fun if you sing them in your head.

It’s even more fun if you sing them in your head.

Saturday WODs are always fun. They’re not so much about serious weightlifting, or focused training, as just goofing off on the gym and having fun with friends. Don’t misunderstand, they’re still lung-busters most of the time, but I always feel more like I’m in a grade school gym class than an adult fitness center.

And that’s a good thing. Who didn’t love gym class?

Today’s WOD was a special, Christmas-themed edition, variations of which pop up at boxes all over the country at this time of year. CrossFit Dedication’s version is at left, and was billed as a partner WOD, with one person working at a time.

I partnered up with Katie again, and we quickly gathered our weights and divvied up the exercises. I’d do the cleans, she’d handle the snatches, then I’d go do pull ups, and we’d divide the rest on the fly, based on who was more out of breath.

The 12 Days of Christmas workout has the added complication of mirroring the song, a detail we promptly forgot when the clock started. I did my power clean and we started marching down the list of exercises, instead of doing 1, 2-1, 3-2-1, like we were supposed to. We got all the way to burpees before we realized what we were doing, and backtracked to catch up.

Once we were past that mix-up, we got into a rhythm and started really busting it out. It might seem like working with a partner would lower the intensity, but with the low rep counts per exercise, we were still both flying all over the place. With an eye toward speed, we started breaking up even the low rep exercises to get through them faster, clapping and yelling encouragement to each other.

The whole gym was happy chaos, with weights and athletes flying everywhere, barbells slamming to the ground and music blasting. It was hard work for Katie and me, but a couple people took it another step toward crazy and were doing it solo! Maybe next year…

Katie and I finished up in just under 29 minutes, which is longish for a CrossFit WOD, but still short enough that we never got to the misery stage. I was laughing before I even caught my breath, just at the childlike fun of the whole thing!

A sweaty Christmas tree.

A sweaty Christmas tree.

If we do the same workout next Christmas, it’ll be fun to try it solo, or do it again with Katie and compare our results. But even if they change it up, I’ll look forward to it!


Dec 202013
The harder the work, the better we work together.

The harder the work, the better we work together.

Matt and Melissa, the couple who own and run the CrossFit gym Katie and I go to, celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary today. Instead of shipping the kids off to the sitter and going out for a candlelight dinner, they decided to celebrate with their favorite thing, and do a special Couples’ WOD!

Okay, so it sounds a little campy, but I thought it was really cute. And it ended up being a bunch of fun! The workout was, in keeping with their years of marriage,

  • 16 partner wallballs (I throw, she catches and throws, then I catch, etc.)
  • 16 partner pushups (her legs on my legs, we do pushups simultaneously)
  • 16 tandem deadlifts (pictured)

As many rounds as possible, in 16 minutes.

It wasn’t the hardest workout we’ve ever had, but it was fun to work with Katie to get it done. For workout nerds like us, things like this (or the Mud Ninja) end up being some of the better bonding experiences we have together. It’s nice to know that other couples are the same kind of weird!

Dec 192013
Walling some balls. Er, balling some walls? Wallballing?

Walling some balls. Er, balling some walls? Wallballing?

One ritual for every CrossFitter is checking their box’s website or Facebook page each evening to see what the WOD will be the next day. This becomes especially important if you’re training for other sports, as you don’t want to do, say, Karen (150 wall-balls, for time) the day before a race.

It’s not very often that there isn’t a WOD, but it does happen. Usually that means a skill day, or a strength day, or a day to PR a chosen lift. Or a natural disaster.

Today’s “no WOD” was a skill day, athlete’s choice. I was excited for it, since my skills on a few of the core CrossFit exercises are pretty crummy. I want to learn double-unders most of all, so I was pretty jazzed to go in there and have a session just to work on them.

My buddy Kelly led the “warm-up.” Except that it wasn’t a warm up, so much as a mini-WOD. It consisted of stations for shuttle runs, box jumps, kettlebell swings and burpees, and we did two rounds. I initially lined up with Melissa, one of the coaches and co-owners, and my competitive streak had me blasting through the shuttle runs like my life depended on it. She caught up with me, then left me behind as we progressed to the rest of the exercises, as I blew up and she just chugged away, seemingly unphased.

I went hard enough on the warm up that I was a little tired when it came time for the skill work. Oops. I practiced double unders and did some pull-up supplement work, but found that I was wearing myself out just doing that. Then came the auxiliary work.

No WOD, right? HA!

We did wall-balls, 10 shots, every minute, on the minute (EMOM). Bearing in mind how I keep blowing myself up by forgetting the effects of volume, I selected a 14 pound wall ball. But after a few rounds, Kelly decided he’d had enough of that sandbagging, and switched me to a 20 pounder. It was rough, but it was fun, and I finished my reps between Katie and Melissa, grinning through dripping sweat.

So much for no WOD, eh?