Thursday, February 10, 2011

CrossFit is Fun for All Personality Types!

By Jenn Casey

This post was jointly written by Jenn Casey of Rational Jenn and Kelly Elmore of Reepicheep's Coracle. It's just one of their many joint ventures. :)

Kelly and Jenn kick ass--but in different ways. Kelly wows people with her fiery personality, passion, and energy; Jenn wows people with her style of writing and telling a story and with her determination and drive. Since we've been going to CrossFit, we've seen our individual strengths and weakness play out in a whole new forum, and part of the fun of going is watching how the other one approaches the workouts. We've been going (Kelly says: "How long have we been going, Jenn?", and Jenn says, without hesitation: "Since September 28.") for only a little while, and we kind of mostly sort of suck, but we are making definite progress.


You may be familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (if you're not, you are missing out on both useful information and a super fun way to psycho-analyze your friends and family!), but it's a personality test you can take free and in your spare time. Jenn is an INTJ, which means that she recharges her energy alone or in small groups, likes the big picture over the details, likes distance from problems to analyze them, and likes structure, predictability, and plans. Kelly is an ENFP which means that she recharges in groups and social situations, likes the big picture over the details, likes to be right up in the problems having big feelings about them, and plans make her break out in hives.

We're different people and approach most things very differently; CrossFit is no exception. What we have found is that we both love CrossFit for different reasons. Just like in all areas of our lives, how we approach CrossFit and what we get out of it is heavily influenced by our personality types. There are advantages and disadvantages to all personality types; no type is inherently better than another. We're gonna explain some of the pros and cons of our particular types as we talk more about our CrossFit experiences.


In general, CrossFitters tend to track their progress in terms of time, rounds, how much weight lifted, and improvement over time.

Jenn: I love this aspect of CrossFit! I generally love measurement of any sort, and I actually get a little thrill every time I write down the Workout of the Day (WOD) in my iPhone. I love knowing how much weight I lifted last time, how much more I can do now, and I look forward to lifting more in the future. (I felt like such a badass the time I did a #95 back squat, and I can't wait for the day when I will do #195!) I even like the counting and tracking when we are in the middle of the workout; I love measuring my progress as I erase each little hash mark off of the whiteboard. In short, I love all the numbers and the measurements and think it is the most super fun thing ever.

Jenn, looking excited and intentionally psycho: "I can't wait to see how fast I can go through all these hash marks!"

Kelly: I don't keep records. Not at all. I couldn't care less how much I did last time or how much I will do next time. I take great pleasure in what I did this time, but the pleasure is the same whether I lifted 20 lbs. or 120 lbs. If I had to write anything down, I would quit, like tomorrow. We did some benchmarks not long ago, and our trainer actually asked Jenn to write down my times in her iPhone, which she was happy to do, cause she is obsessively fond of that record-keeping app. He didn't even mention it to me, observant man that he is.

"How many rounds have I done tonight? Jenn! How many rounds have I done tonight?"

The advantages of being Jenn and keeping records are that she can easily measure her progress, make changes if it isn't enough for her, and really celebrate her achievements in concrete ways. But it's easy to get caught up in the numbers, and sometimes her focus on the numbers keeps her from enjoying the experience and the afterglow of a good workout. She might not stop when she should, if the workout is too hard or she's in a little pain, because she wants to complete that next round. The advantages of being Kelly and not keeping records are that she can focus completely on the moment and the experience and not feel nickeled and dimed about her workout. However, she can sometimes miss patterns in her progress or her lack of it because she is without data.


Jenn: In addition to specific weightlifting goals, I love the idea that one day I might be able to do an unassisted pullup. My goal before the pullup was to do real-live man pushups, a goal I recently accomplished! I amazed myself--and all the friends for whom I demonstrated my pushups. I like thinking about the things that are now within my reach because of CrossFit.

"Hooray! The WOD! I hope it's harder than last time!"

Kelly: I don't really set goals for CrossFit, though when Jenn mentions hers I sometimes say, "Yeah, me too!" I enjoy seeing the results of CrossFit, but planning ahead about what I want to achieve makes me feel bossed. When I found that I could jump up into a front support on a much higher bar at work (Kelly teaches gymnastics coaches), I was super pleased, but I didn't rush out to set another goal for the future. I'll just wait until the next time I do something new and cool and be happy to be surprised.

"Today, I'm going to . . . ooh, look there's a butterfly!"

The advantages and disadvantages of goal setting are pretty much the same as the record keeping. Another disadvantage for Kelly is that she might not always push herself hard enough since there isn't a goal she's working toward; whereas sometimes Jenn feels disappointed or impatient about the time it takes to reach goals.


Usually, at least during the warmup, if not also during the WOD, we do either running or rowing on a machine.

Jenn: Whenever I see rowing on the whiteboard, I'm pretty pumped. The machine has lovely little numbers all over it that tell you how far you went, and how many strokes per minute you are doing. I watch the strokes per minute as I row, and I try to make it go from 30 s/m all the way up to 40. Every once in a while (usually when Kelly is rowing next to me) I pretend I am rowing Frodo and Sam on the River Andouin, but usually I just watch the numbers. I focus on my rowing form and try to pay attention to how it affects the numbers. As a short-legged person, running has never been my forte or interest, and while I enjoy it more than I ever thought I would pre-CrossFit, the only way I can actually enjoy it is if I count my steps (1, 2, 3, 4) and time my breathing with my steps. I guess adding numbers to my activities makes them more fun for me!

Jenn, trying to get that strokes-per-minute number ever higher.

Kelly: I hate rowing. You sit in one place on a boring machine with all these F-ing numbers, and no matter how hard you row, you never go anywhere. I try to make it fun by singing in my head, but it never works. I do like the running, a lot in fact, way more that I ever thought I would. I enjoy going outside of the gym at night in the cool air, imagining myself on some kind of adventure. Sometimes, I pretend that I am Aragorn, running after the captured hobbits, never stopping no matter how tired until I find them and slay some orcs. Sometimes I am a Homo heidelbergensis running after a tired antelope until it collapses and I can eat it for dinner. Sometimes I repeat poems in my head, and sometimes I just look at trees and grass and cars and feel free.

Kelly, chained to the rowing machine, like a slave to the galley.

Jenn's disadvantages are that she doesn't have that fun "I feel free" experience. But she probably runs harder and rows faster, since Kelly's leisurely fictional workout is a disadvantage in intensity. Jenn has a lot of drive and intensity in her workouts, but sometimes she might be a little light on the fun.


CrossFit sometimes demands skills that are new and intimidating for a lot of people; it's scary to put big weights up over your head and to jump up on boxes that look likely to trip you and to throw yourself hard to the ground in a burpee.

Jenn: CrossFit is my first real experience with any kind of weightlifting at all; I'm a total newbie. Also, I'm not a young whippersnapper anymore and don't want to hurt myself! I appreciate the fact that our trainer Chris teaches me new skills in a way that makes me feel safe. I prefer to work at lower weights for a longer time until I feel like my form is super great. Only after a longish period in my new comfort zone will I move up in weight. Fortunately, Chris is patient with that. Even so, sometimes it's scary and I have to just do it. I'm especially nervous about snatches (well, any time I need to hold something heavy over my head) and box jumps because of my huge hobbit feet (can we work the word hobbit into this post any more?). Part of the reason I am nervous about the overhead stuff is that I am afraid that I really might not let go and get out from under the weight (a downside to being so determined to follow through with every exercise, perhaps).

"I can do this; I've had three c-sections!"

Kelly: I am kind of a jump-in-er. I swashbuckle through our workouts, like a pirate, and I like to try new, hard skills. I love to add weight, though I make sure that I get the form right, and I don't feel afraid of lifts over my head. I know I can just let go and jump out from underneath if I have to. I have never once worried about hurting myself at CrossFit. I very well might; I just don't worry about it. Doing the fancy Olympic lifts makes me feel super tough and full of adrenaline. I find the challenge of holding good form and doing the complex lifts correctly under heavier weights intellectually satisfying.

"Woo-hoo! Bout to be a rockstar!"

The pros for Jenn are that she will likely avoid injuries, keep good form, and build confidence slowly. She also may not progress as fast as she could on the complicated lifts. Kelly progresses quickly on these lifts and learns new skills faster, but she is more likely to jump into a situation that is too difficult for her skill level. She's pretty good about realizing when she's in over her head, though, and because it won't get written down anyway, she can back off without shame.


Jenn: I get most excited about the workouts in which I improve on something I have done in the past, either more weights, better time, more rounds, etc. This the vertical progress we are talking about. I wish we repeated WODs more often so I could see more of this kind of vertical improvement.

Kelly: I like to learn new skills more than I like to perfect the old ones. I would rather do a new lift than an old one with more weight. This is what we mean by horizontal progress. I love the variety of CrossFit, and if we did the same things a lot more often, I'd probably quit. I can face 20 hard minutes if they are a different 20 hard minutes than the last time.

The advantage of being a vertical progress person is that what you get good at, you get really good at, but you can get stuck in a rut or forget to appreciate the experience of learning something new. The advantage of being a horizontal progress person is that you acquire all the varied components of fitness in the CrossFit system, but you can be too much of a generalist and not push to our limits on specific skills. We both enjoy both kinds of progress; the difference is only in which kind keeps us coming back to CrossFit.


Jenn: I think I'm pretty determined and intense for most of the workouts. I try to stay focused on what I'm doing, monitor my progress (hash marks, rounds, time), and push through to the bitter end. Sometimes when I lag in the middle of a WOD, I motivate myself by thinking about ObamaCare (because I need to be strong and healthy now, the better to withstand the inevitable shortages and rationing!). I try to remember that my goal is to be healthy and that keeps me going to the end. Sometimes I'm too serious, and working out with Kelly reminds me that part of the fun of CrossFit is . . . fun! It's super awesome fun to move and lift things and be a bad-ass person!

"1, 2, 3, 4 . . . "

Kelly: I definitely work at a less intense level than Jenn overall. I can be pretty intense about the stuff I really really like, such as snatches and sprints. It's not that I go leisurely through the workouts, it's just that I don't push to my limits very often. It's motivating to me to look over and see that Jenn is going faster or harder than I am, and then I remember to think about whether or not I could go any faster. It just doesn't occur to me until I look at her to think about pushing harder. I'm mostly motivated by fun and so I do mind games with myself if I need to work harder, such as when I'm doing deadlifts, I imagine that I'm Pa (from Laura Ingalls Wilder) on a handcar, where you have lift up and down and up and down to move the car. The social atmosphere is also really fun for me. I like to see what everybody is doing and feel like I'm in the middle of a bunch of action.

"Cinderella, dressed in yella, went upstairs to kiss her fella . . . "


Jenn: After a workout, I go over the numbers and progress in my head, and am usually already thinking about what I'll do next time. Sometimes I feel a bit disappointed and need to remember that my goal here is to move around and get strong and have fun, too. Sometimes I am in awe of my bad-assedness--I get so pumped when I realize that I really did 100 squats during a particular workout! I always have to tell Brendan (my husband) all about what I did, and sometimes demonstrate, too!

Kelly: After the workout, I immediately call Aaron and tell him every single thing we did and how awesome I am and how lucky he is to be with such a rock star! Then, I promptly forget everything that we did and don't think about CrossFit until the next time I go except when something particular happens that I want to blog about. Unlike Jenn, I don't think about the future. Each workout is an end in itself.


Jenn: Our gym is great, and the gym owner, Chris, is awesome to work with. He is great at teaching the skills as I mentioned before, and he lets me make progress on my own schedule. At the same time, he motivates me by saying "Yeah, go for it!" when I am slowing down during a WOD or am undecided about whether to move up in weight. I trust that he wouldn't push me too fast or too far. During the WOD, he notices if I'm questioning how I'm doing and doesn't hesitate to encourage or reassure me. Even when I come in dead last, which is often, he finds something encouraging and supportive to say. In fact, everyone at the gym encourages and supports each other, and I think it's because of the way Chris has modeled this as part of the way he runs his business. It's a great atmosphere.

Kelly: I like Chris because he's relaxed and fun and doesn't make me feel bossed. He gives me advice and guidance, but doesn't try to alter my basic approach. He's fine with me only coming in two times a week (which is all I've got, right now). He doesn't seem to care that I don't do recording. He doesn't try to have goal-setting sessions with me. Also, the music is fun (he plays Beastie Boys for me), and the atmosphere isn't like a muscle magazine. There's not a lot of super-loud grunting and there are no calendars with women and cars. Chris encourages me in a different way than he does Jenn. He sees when I'm slacking and gives me The Look that means "Get your ass in gear!" He's also really willing to answer my technical questions about the biomechanics of skills. Basically, he doesn't go all School Principal on me, asking where I was at the last workout or what I've been eating. And he doesn't make me feel like I'm too old or too out-of-shape to do CrossFit.

So there you have it! Two different people bringing different things to CrossFit, getting great results, and enjoying it, too! And that's the whole reason we wanted to write this post.

We have a mutual friend who was a little (maybe more than a little) turned off from CrossFit by reading Jenn's post about it, mostly, we think, because they are so different that it was hard for her to imagine that there were things she might like about CrossFit, too. Had Kelly written the same post, it would have been completely different, and probably have turned off a whole other set of people.

Now that we've (hopefully) shown that CrossFit offers different values to different kinds of people, we have one final point we'd like to discuss. Our different personality types make us excellent workout partners. It's because of our our differences that we motivate each other and make the experience more enjoyable. For example, when Kelly's wall balls start to look a little chill, there's Jenn throwing with all her might, reminding Kelly to throw a little higher, squat a little deeper. When Jenn is frustrated by tripping over the jump rope for the zillionth time, she looks at Kelly who is chanting "Cinderella, dressed in yella " and trying playground tricks, and remembers that once upon a time jumping rope was fun, and decides that maybe it could be fun again today. (Although jumping rope is much harder to do with boobs--and way more embarrassing--we have photographic evidence of this which you will never see!)

So if you are a structured person, go out and find yourself a flake to take to the gym with you. And if you're a free spirit, find somebody with an iPhone app and a couple of minor neuroses, and invite them to CrossFit! You'll each find something to enjoy on your way to becoming a bad-ass rock star. Like us.


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