How Coaching and Community Affected My Fitness

Sand, kicked. Muscles, added. Bully, defeated.
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At some point in my post-adolescent development, I must have expressed an interest in weight lifting – or perhaps my parents thought I had expressed an interest, or maybe they hoped I would develop that interest – because one Christmas morning I trudged downstairs to find a Sears weight bench, bar, and about 230 lbs. of those plastic weights filled with concrete. You can find them all over Craigslist and Ebay now. It was fine as an introductory weight set. Especially for one that saw as little use as this one did.

Looking back on it now, I can see that there were three basic problems that I had with this weight set. And in thinking about it more, I can see the ways that, were it not for CrossFit, I would still be a sedentary lump on the couch.

The first problem was basic: I didn’t know, and had no real access to learning, the proper techniques for any of the more advanced lifts. The weight set came with an “instruction manual,” which consisted of a few 11×17 sheets of paper, saddle-stitched (a nice way of saying stapled) together, with illustrations showing the essential 2-3 steps to completing the movement. Example:

Dead Lift
1. Bend down, grasp bar.
2. Lift while straightening back.

You get the idea.

Curls were the easiest thing to do, so that’s pretty much all I did. Occasionally ventured into the realm of bench presses, but never experimented with some of the more explosive movements like snatches or cleans. If I did, I’m certain that I didn’t do them correctly.

And that’s where CrossFit, and good coaching, have made a world of difference. Now, I know CrossFit gets a lot of flack from non-CF’ers because there’s a lack, or perceived lack, of accountability and training for its coaches. As a CrossFit enthusiast, I am well aware that not every CF coach is as well-trained and knowledgable as others – in fact, some are downright shitty at what they do. I am also aware that even amongst those who are highly trained, not all are blessed with the one skill that coaching requires: the ability to actually coach.

Fortunately, the coaches with whom I interact on a regular basis all have both the training AND the ability to actually coach a room full of people, all of whom are at different places in their fitness journey, with skill and patience and candor. One coach, in particular, stands out among the rest. He is engaging, excited about sharing his knowledge, and is able to coach and relate to athletes of all levels. He is CrossFit Level 1 trainer and USAW Level 2 National coach, with additional CrossFit Specialty Seminar training including the Coaches Prep Course, Olympic Weightlifting, Gymnastics, Movement and Mobility and Rowing seminars. He knows. His. Shit.

I truly believe that, had I been privy to this level of training when I was a teen, that cheap Sears weight set would have soon been replaced with Olympic bars and plates as I progressed in my training.

But lack of coaching and access to real training wasn’t the only barrier to my success.

The second problem: surroundings. I was alone, in my parent’s basement, with just enough room carved out in and amongst the junk and detritus that accumulates in one’s basement, for the bench and weights. Every once in a while, one of the neighborhood kids would join me in a joint session, but seeing as the other kid knew about as much as I did regarding technique, neither of us were of much use to the other. With no one to truly “work out” with, I soon lost interest altogether.

Once again, CrossFit > training alone. Why? Community. Plain and simple. You’re not working out alone. You’re surrounded by a group of like-minded (some would argue, snivelingly, that we’re hive-minded) people who are all well aware of their own limitations, and pretty soon know yours as well. And amazingly, all of these people want you to succeed with your goals as much as they want to succeed with theirs. And so you cheer one another on. You clap when a goal is reached, you push and urge and goad each other through those tough lifts or that never-ending chipper WOD, and you celebrate together when it’s over and scores are noted on the whiteboard.

Yes, I know – no everyone wants or needs to work out with other people. If that’s you – great. More power to you. Some of us need that extra bit of encouragement that we can only receive when we work out together in a group.

The third issue – and one I still have a hard time with – is because I wasn’t seeing instant results, I got discouraged and gave up. If I do curls and bench presses a couple of times a week, by the end of the month I should look like Charles Atlas, right? Well, it wasn’t happening (big surprise). Do a little work → no instant results → get discouraged → give up.

In this case, I can’t really say CrossFit has done a whole lot. However, because I am now receiving the training that I need, by people who know what they’re doing, and with people who help me by cheering me on and occasionally spotting me on the weights or whatever when necessary, it’s easier to continue going back 2, 3, 4 times a week and over time, you realize that suddenly, you’ve got muscles. You’re stronger than you used to be. You’re healthier than you used to be. You’re willing to take on more difficult challenges, even those outside the gym.

It’s all about your mindset. Training + community = desire to continue = progress.

Baby’s First Mud Run

Team Misfits - Warrior Dash 2014
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A few Saturdays ago I participated in my first mud/obstacle run – The Warrior Dash.

It. Was. A. Blast.

A group of current and former CrossFit gymmates and I created a team – The Misfits (a play on the CrossFit name and the fact that a few have apparently forsaken CrossFitting for other exercise regimens) – and ran (walked? trotted?) the 3.1 mile course in the North Georgia mountains.

Meanwhile, a few of my other, more seasoned mud-run friends reminded me that, when it comes to mud/obstacle races, the Warrior Dash might as well be called “Baby’s First Mud Run.”

Apparently it’s not as difficult as some/most/all of the other mud runs out there. But as an intro to the genre, I found it more than acceptable. The obstacles were difficult, but not insurmountable. The mud was copious, and cold. And the water obstacle (the lake on the property) was like ice water. The beer was good and the turkey legs were over-rated. And the place was packed.

I have no idea what time we started, and no idea what time we finished. By the roughest of estimates I figure it took us about an hour and fifteen minutes to complete, simply because there was no running – there was the occasional trotting, but mostly it was walking, because the course was too crowded. And each obstacle had a line of participants waiting their turn. And there were times when we stopped to mug for the ubiquitous cameras.

I’ll probably do this one again because it was fun. But I’ve already pre-registered for next year’s Spartan Race and will be investigating others as they come into view. Because I’m now hooked on mud runs.

Finishing Up with the CrossFit Open – 14.4 and 14.5 WODs

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I’m going to make this short and sweet — the last two workouts of the Open were brutal. I finished, but was disappointed with my overall results on both WODs.

CF 14.4 opened with a 60-calorie row. No sweat. I set the resistance a little higher than I normally would, set a nice, even pace, and got through the row in short order. Toes-to-bars was a different story. I got 28 reps before time was called. I really had hoped to get through the T2Bs and on to the wall balls, but between some nagging shoulder twinges and grip issues, I squeezed out 28 and was done.

CF 14.5 was, simply put, a bitch. 21-18-15-12-9-6-3 reps for time of 95-lb. thrusters and burpees-over-bar. No time cap. It takes however long it takes. Well, it took me 38 minutes and 56 seconds. I think there might have been one other person still working when I finally dropped to the floor and panted like a dog for five minutes.

I can’t wait for next year’s Open.

CrossFit Open 2014: 14.3

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Now this was a WOD I could get into! Eight minutes of dead lifts and box jumps. I got this. Except, wait – box jumps get me winded pretty quickly… how am I going to get through multiple rounds of box jumps and dead lifts? If I kill myself on the box jumps, I won’t do well on the dead lifts, and won’t get many total reps.

And then it was told to me that step-ups and step-downs were acceptable. And at that point, I knew the only thing that would restrict me would be the weight on the dead lifts. I got this.

I got through three full rounds + ten dead lifts at 275lbs, for a total of 100 reps. Those last 10 were hard, to be sure.

Lift, drop, shake it off… repeat.

My tie-breaker time – the time I completed the last full set of box jumps -  was 5:53. So the last 2:07 was spent on 10 dead lifts. If I had powered through, I might have gotten another 4 or 5 reps. But I’m happy with 100.

Tomorrow night at 8:00, CrossFit will announce the 14.4 workout, and I smell burpees…

CrossFit Open 2014: 14.2

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Hooo-boy, 14.2 was a bitch. First of all, I’m okay with overhead squats, but 1 OHS at 95# was a PR for me; it took 2 of the first 3 minutes to get those 10 overhead squats. That left a minute to get 10 chest-to-bar pull-ups. Now, I have not yet accomplished C2B pull-ups, and I didn’t expect to suddenly master them during 14.2. But I was hoping to get at least one.

I did not.

So my score for 14.2 is 10. I’m happy with the PR on the overhead squats but now have something to work on in the form of C2B pull-ups.

CrossFit Open 2014: 14.1

Power snatch @ 75#
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CrossFit Open 14.1 is in the books. I got a score of 88, which equals one full round of 30 double-unders and 15 power snatches, plus 30 double-unders and 13 power snatches. This places me firmly at 450th place in the Southeast region and 4,467th worldwide. I had accomplished maybe 3-4 DUs total before performing this WOD, and spent most of my time working to get to 30 each round, 1 and 2 at a time. I managed to string together 3 in a row once, and nearly hyperventilated. The last 5 ground-to-overheads were performed as push presses rather than power snatches, and on my last two, I was no-repped on one for not being fully overhead, and time ran out as I was mid-press on the last. So if not for a no-rep and time running out, I would have completed two full rounds for a score of 90.

Overall I’m happy with an 88. I accomplished a couple of things with this first WOD: first, I’m much more proficient with double-unders now than when I started the WOD (but still have a long way to go); second, I got more total reps than I did with 13.1; and lastly, I beat self-doubt by getting out there and doing better than I thought I could.

Wednesday, 4:30 AM

Stray Cats
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Two feral cats outside our window, singing to us the song of their people. It started as a call-and-response, but ended with them both harmonizing on a high note.

Kitten Watch 2014 has begun.

The CrossFit Open Experience

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Overhead lunges. Not part of the CrossFit OpenThe 2013 CrossFit Open competition is now pretty much over. It is for me, anyway. When I first signed up and paid my entrance fee, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I knew the workouts would be hard. But I guess I expected to be able to scale the workouts or something.

The results: I’m pretty much dead last in the Southeast Region. The only folks below me are those who didn’t submit scores for all five workouts. To say that this is discouraging is an understatement.

However, I’m not letting this discourage me. In fact, these games have taught me a lot about myself.

Before the Open, I scaled every WOD. Now I know I can go Rx’d if I want to.

Before the Open, my 1-rep max jerk was 135lbs. In the second WOD of the Open, I did 15 split jerks at 115lbs. In the fourth WOD, I did 8 split jerks at 135lbs. I’ve grown stronger in the last six months that I realized.

Before the final WOD, I had never done a pull-up without the assistance of a resistance band. For 13.5 (the final workout), I was unable to get a full chest-to-bar pull-up as required by the workout standards. But before time ran out, I was able to get four unassisted chin-over-bar pull-ups. Achievement unlocked!

CrossFit is as much about mental strength as physical strength. The progress I achieved during this year’s Open is something I can be proud of, and continue to build on.

Bring on 2014!