Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The One about CrossFit

By Jenn Casey

So anyway, I started up with the CrossFit at the end of September. I have friends who have done it for a while (one of them gave a CrossFit lecture and short class at last year's MiniCon) and it has always sounded fun to me.

But. It had been years since I'd done any kind of real exercise, you know, like at an actual gym. I have a treadmill and have gone through fits and spurts with that, but other than that and walks around the neighborhood and chasing and lifting up and carrying small kids (which I do think counts for something), there had been no real exercise to speak of.

I wanted to get going on something more though, for lots of reasons, not the least of which was that I was approaching a birthday that ends with '0' (in case you hadn't heard!). I've been working really, really hard in the last few years, and particularly in 2010 to get into better shape and health, and I'd been fairly successful--I'm down about 40 pounds from this time last year (woohoo!).

I'd accomplished this weight loss mostly through changes in my diet (The Paleo), and had made an extra effort to be more physically active. But I was frustrated when my progress in losing weight stalled over the summer. Now, as it happens, I've apparently got some kind of hypothyroid thing going on, which doesn't help in that department (and I'm seeing an endocrinologist for that, maybe I'll write up a post about that sometime just for posterity). But hypothyroidism aside, the time had come (the Walrus said) to get me to a gym.

Okay, CrossFit looked fun, and that's mostly what appealed to me about it. Swinging kettlebells? I mean, it's a little strange, and FUN. And who knew there were "medicine balls" around any more? I thought those were some kind of old-timey thing from the turn-of-the-century (and maybe they are). Anyway, I'm usually up for some kind crazy--I can't ever just do anything the quote-unquote-NORMAL way (just ask my parents).

The other appealing things about CrossFit were that it seemed like a good mix of weight-bearing exercise and cardio, and that the workouts are different every single time. I am easily bored with stuff like treadmills, and even walking around the neighborhood--I need some intellectual stimulation! Or at the very least, intellectual confusion--when things get changed up all the time, it forces me to stay focused on what I'm doing. No lapsing into cruise control.

Also, CrossFit is very scaleable, meaning it's easy to adapt the exercises to the out-of-shape, just-getting-back-into-working-out likes of me. I love that the workouts are measured and tracked, because I'm a measurey kind of person (essentially, measuring and improving processes was a big part of my pre-Mommy career, and a focus in grad school). Because of the scaleability and measurement, it helps me remain focused on my own progress and while I can admire what someone else can accomplish, I'm not constantly beating myself up for not measuring up to someone else's time. I can focus on me, and that's really where my focus needs to be.

I checked out a couple of places near me (we seem to have many CrossFit gyms in my area), and then Kellyfound a gym about halfway between us and suggested we go together. I loved the idea of having a workout buddy, especially someone who is already a bestest friend. She'd already gone to a class there and talked to the owner/lead trainer peopleguy about us and said he seemed pretty nice. She has more experience with gyms and CrossFit gyms, too, than I do, and she was looking for a gym that would be pretty welcoming of women who were not super-fit and not in their early 20s. Not that there's anything wrong with super-fit women in their early 20s, or men, for that matter. But gym atmosphere/ambience/whatever-you-want-to-call-it makes a difference. If you feel out of place, it can be discouraging. Anyway, she found us a good one.

I signed up for the Introduction to CrossFit class--6 classes in 2 weeks. It was designed to teach you all of the basic moves and get you somewhat used to the feeling of kicking your own ass until you can't stand up any more. Kelly decided to take it with me as a refresher since it had been a while for her.

Our first Intro class was HARD. Running, squats, sit ups, dips, lunges, etc. Conceive of my surprise when I learned that we hadn't yet begun the actual workout! I completed the first workout, which was Run 200 meters, then do 21-15-9 Squats, Push Ups, and Ring Rows (three rounds of each, 21 in the 1st round, 15 in the 2nd round, 9 in the 3rd round), then run 200 more meters. I finished in 12:34. Holy Smokes.

And boy was I in pain the next couple of days! OWWWW...Turns out I was turning my knees to the front during my squats and so that caused my quads to hurt lots (whereas, when you do squats in the proper form, your ass and hamstrings hurt). But I felt good about completing the workout and taking the first steps toward getting fitter.

Each Intro class was just the same--killer warmup, then Even More Killer workout. But I went. I'd committed to myself to at least completing the Intro classes. At the last Intro class, we repeated the workout from the first class--and the second time I completed it, I did it in 9:34, three whole minutes faster! In two weeks I'd already made tons of progress!

I bought a punchcard and started going two times a week. This is one of the advantages to this gym, the punchcard thing, which allows for flexibility. With three kids, and Brendan's terrible Atlanta rush hour commute, sometimes I can't get there when I want. (Though I have to say I have a great husband and babysitters who have made all of this possible, thanks!) And at the beginning twice a week seemed to be more than enough self-ass-kicking for this beginner.

The Owner Peopleguy, Chris, is super great. He is very encouraging, and really helps me focus on form. I decided going into this endeavor that I would focus on form first, then intensity, as I'm eager to avoid injury (which would seriously derail all of my awesome progress). Chris really watches and gives helpful advice about how to improve my form, and he's good at breaking down the more complicated maneuvers. And he didn't even laugh when my chest got in the way of the bar during a clean and jerk lesson (though I did, 'cause it was pretty funny!).

The other people at the gym--they are awesome! I'm always amazed at what they're able to do, and it's really inspiring to think that I, too, might, one day, maybe be able to do an unassisted pull up (that day is lightyears away). And they are really nice and encouraging of us newbies, too. One night when Kelly wasn't there, we did the Lumberjack 20, which is a killer workout (my lifting weights are much lower, of course). I'm nearly always the last one to finish any workout, but as I was completing the last few rounds solo, the other people were so encouraging, saying stuff like "You can do it!" and "You're almost there!" and then we all applauded ourselves at the end! (Incidentally, this is a great example of encouragement versus praise--I'd have hated to be on the receiving end of praise in this situation, but being on the receiving end of encouragement, feeling like others are pulling for you, feels great!)

Kelly and Aaron and I went yesterday, since the gym was closed on Thanksgiving (normally it would be open, but Chris was running a half-marathon or something). Both Kelly and I noticed something remarkable--we could run 800 meters without feeling like we're going to pass out--AND while talking to each other the whole time!

I can definitely see an improvement in my fitness in only two months. I am stronger and my clothes fit better (still haven't lost much weight, but there are lots of reasons for that, including that I'm adding muscle as I'm getting rid of fat). I am lifting heavier weights than ever--I did 20 thrusters yesterday with the 35 pound bar. Okay, I know that might sound wimpy to you veterans, but that's great progress for me! My form is better and I haven't injured myself.

And somehow, even though I'm still new and way out of shape, I feel like this is something I'm good at. I'm getting in touch with my athletic side, a side of me that lay dormant for so many years. I'm super flexible still (thanks to all those years of gymnastics I think) and any time there's something that calls for flexibility, I rock on it. Somehow, I'm pretty good at rowing, too. And the lifting stuff, while somewhat scary (for I really REALLY do not want to injure myself!), is coming along, too. For the record, I am NOT good at pull ups or jumping rope. My jump rope skills have declined horrifically since my elementary school days, let me tell you. It's shameful, really. (Though I did catch myself chanting "Cinderella, dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss a fella..." Heh.)

And mostly, it's lots of FUN. I'll be picking up a weekend workout for a while because somehow twice a week just isn't quite enough as it was before now.

Since doing CrossFit, I am stronger, healthier, and really, just that much more awesome. :) Now when I need to encourage myself to do something hard, I say "I can do this....I not only survived three c-sections, I made it through the Lumberjack 20 in 32 minutes!"

Originally posted at Rational Jenn.

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