Love You Hate You Love You CrossFit

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with CrossFit for the past 6 months. The love part usually involves rest days. (Which I’m currently stringing together 6 at a time.) The hate part involves pretty much everything else.

Yes, there have been brief resurgences of passionate longing for wall balls and lusting after rope climbs during that time, but they faded fairly quickly.

Couples therapy for CrossFit and me

So there I was at my Level 1 Cert, the butterflies doing a manic tabata in my stomach having less to do with excitement and more to do with a fear of squatting in public.

I’d spent the month before studying my Level 1 manual. I love studying! I’m good at studying! And the chance to curl up in bed at the end of a long day with a box of coloured pencils and a hunger for knowledge was … is it overkill if I use the word “orgasmic”?

Every day I learned a little more about CrossFit. About the beauty of CrossFit. About the way it changes your body and challenges your mind. About what makes it special. And as my mind wrapped itself around the exquisite, glittering beads that are artfully strung together to create this unique, amazing thing we call CrossFit, so did my heart. In bed at night, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars in my ceiling, I could finally imagine a future for CrossFit and I again.

Until I actually walked into B4C for the cert! It didn’t take long to figure out that I was the slowest, weakest, clumsiest, chubbiest girl there. Perfect! It was like being back at the box, consistently bringing up the rear. And sure, people will tell you that it’s always me vs me in the WOD, but those people generally aren’t putting up single figure AMRAP scores while everyone else’s are way up in the doubles.

Yes, I was at the cert wearing my best CrossFit gear, wondering if my inov-8s would work just as well in a Zumba class.

Look everyone, I squat like a llama

Full points and a minute off your Fran time if you picked up that llama don’t squat. What they do is stand around looking awkwardly surprised, then fold forward on bent legs, neck and head down like shaggy parallelograms. And in between they spit. That’s pretty much me. Which is why I avoid squatting whenever possible. (Show me something you need to squat to pick up and I’ll show you something I can deadlift or hang-clean.) It’s also why I knew Jobst was going to use me as the how-not-to example of the basic squat in the first group exercise of the day.

As I huddled there in front of everyone – in what, if you look at it creatively enough is the lesser known yoga position “Pose of the Llama” – I thought to myself that there must be more to CrossFit than this! At some point all the beautiful theory I mastered and all the limb mangling movements I haven’t, must intersect.

And then it struck me: I’ve been trying too hard!

Woo me like you want me

For as long as I’ve done CrossFit it’s been about the WOD for me. About ditching the PVC for the barbell. About packing on weights. About PBs and benchmark times. And that means I’ve been going through the motions, forgiving the poor squat or the laboured box jump in favour of banging out a few more reps, figuring that at some point they’d fix themselves. Not because the coach told me to, but because I didn’t want to keep being the one who considered lying about her score on the whiteboard.

And then I thought to myself (on account of lacking in the split-personality department and therefor having no one else to think it to) I thought: what if I just forget all of that? What if I take it right back to the basics? What if I start all over again, working on my squat? What if from now on, my focus in every class is finding the magic in the movement? Finding that moment when my body feels light and the movement just flows. What if my mantra is “core to extremity core to extremity” instead of “faster heavier faster heavier”?

After all, CrossFit didn’t start with a list of WODs. It started with basic, functional movements. It started with the simple realisation that if you give your body the freedom to move the way it was designed to move, and you help it move well, then fitness and health will follow of their own accord like eager puppies.

I look beautiful in chalkdust

So yes, in Saturday’s Filthy Fifty WOD (which I scaled to a Dirty Thirty) I still squatted like a Llama when I did the wall-balls. But I just took it, one slow rep at a time. And I paused a lot, marvelling at how incredible my body is. How it bounces back from a box jump. How my feet can fly over a rope moving too fast for my eye to see. And how in between the fumbled lifts and broken kips, there are always a few moments when my body just glides through a movement. When my self-doubt is suspended in the arc of a kettlebell. When my heart feels light. When my body feels beautiful.

And I suppose that’s what I really want in a relationship. Not tokens to tell me how amazing I am. Not little scribbles of affection. I want something that makes me feel beautiful! Think this CrossFit thing might work out after all.

Fran Ate my Sugar Butterflies

I don’t like Cindy. She can be a bitch! I don’t like Fran. Or Jackie. Or Murph. They don’t tell me the things I really want to know. My CrossFit ladies include Caileigh and Lisa. My heroes have names like Shane and Marcus. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them, if you’re not from my box you probably wouldn’t have.

And I’m happy to say that this past Saturday I added Storm and Ray Robertson to my benchmark list.

Would you like to see my pain face?

It took me 2 hours to get to CrossFit 10 Star, Ray’s box. I arrived; wearing what probably looked like my pre-WOD fear face, but which was actually my need-to-pee face. Not the look I was hoping for walking into a box full of new faces for the 1st time.

But hey, that’s what happens when you drink your litre of workout water while you’re lost on the highway. Suddenly you find all kinds of new and hidden meanings in unwritten CrossFit rules, like: “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”.

Yes I’m late! Damn, I’m not!

I admit; as I pulled into the parking lot to see a row cones marking out shuttle runs; part of me was a little glad I was late. I’d been so preoccupied with my bladder I’d forgotten to remember how much I don’t enjoy CrossFit WODS. I’d also forgotten that when Ray decided to celebrate his birthday with a WOD he figured he could get more love into 48 minutest than, say, a respectable 6. 12 x 3 min AMRAPS with a minute between each set to glug some water and contemplate how much CrossFit sucks sometimes.

But as I sprinted to the bathroom, realising that I was not in fact late (“expect the unexpected”) I did remember. And I wanted to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Which is why, when Storm split us into heats, I volunteered to go first. Because I’m brave that way; like the guys on the front-line in a military assault.

Just me and GI Jane

The other heat 1 volunteer, who for the duration of this blog shall be known as Kick-Ass, was an enthusiastic looking girl in a lot of pink. I like pink. I thought this was a good sign and maybe we were more or less on the same level. Turns out not so much. Turns out girls who wear light colours to CrossFit are the ones who know they won’t get blood all over themselves from falling off boxes or dropping kettlebells. So what actually transpired is that while I worked on turning every 3 min AMRAP into 3 X 30 second AMRAPS with a liberal sprinkling of rest time thrown in, Kick-Ass just kicked ass.

Fries with your Fran?

Then came the best part of the WOD: it ended. And the high 5s and hugging began. And soon, thank the Paleo gods, the box party became a Spur party and I was RXing a cream cappuccino. Sometime in the afternoon it all finally ended with visit to a sugar art shop. I stood there between the sparkle of edible “emeralds” and rainbows of sugar sparkles and felt a warm tingling in my fingers and heart.

I know this warm, glowing feeling by now: it’s what the magic of CrossFit feels like.

Love you more than cupcakes

I always feel vaguely guilty admitting it, but I don’t enjoy CrossFit WODS very much. (Unlike Olympic Lifting where I’m happy to train for 2 hours and keep going until the coach throws me out.) Which is probably why I don’t do them very often. The WODS are just my entry ticket to the box; on account of the fact that simply loitering in the box will at some point be considered stalking.

But I love CrossFit! I love the people. I love the community. I love that I can walk into a box as a stranger and leave as family. That I went to Ray and Storm’s box and came home feeling like it was my box.

I probably have as much chance of RXing Fran as I do of doing her in Jimmy Choo stilettos, but that’s ok, I’m not here for Fran. Or Cindy. Or Jackie. I’m here for Lynda and Tanya and Mike and all the other people who give CrossFit its magic. And when it comes to squeezing all the love and wonder and miracles I can from this amazing community, I’m PBing every day.

Teaching the Puppies to do Double Unders

On Sunday someone asked if I was my 28 year old friend’s mother. I suppose I could be. If I had her around the time I had my braces off. So this week I’m feeling … what’s the word … starts with an “o” …. At my age it’s so hard to remember things.

Fading like a … that thing with a stem and petals and nice smelling centre

So it’s been one of those weeks! When the woman in the mirror looks a lot older than the one who was there a few days ago. I can’t exactly say I have a double chin, but it’s definitely at least a chin and a half. Maybe even three-quarters. The “melons” are looking more like “pears”. And although I tell people I’m a natural brunette, that hasn’t been true for several years; snowy-grey not being a shade of brown on even the most adventurous colour chart.

Yes. This week I’m feeling faded and old.

Young of heart and fleet of skipping foot

Except when I’m skipping! It’s impossible to feel old when you skip. Well, unless you forgot to put on a sports bra and one of the pears is flung from its packet. When I skip I feel like a kid again. And when that skipping turns into double unders I feel like Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons.

Double-unders were thoughtfully added to CrossFit by Coach Glassman for women such as me. Women who fall and drop and cry their way through WODs feeling far more Cross than Fit. After a year and a half I still can’t do pull ups. I still come last in runs. I still feel kettlebells would work better if they had little bells tied on with ribbons like my one at home. But I can smash out 30 double unders in a row on a good day! (In fact they make me feel so young I slipped the word “smashed” in there as if I was a 21 year old box bunny.)

I can pick up boys … if they lay like planks

I can also deadlift 110kg. The fact that most of the small melon-chested girls I know can’t, makes it seem like 220 kg. With everything else slip-sliding down the gentle slope of the years, I’m stronger now than I’ve ever been. And I expect I’ll be saying that next month. And the month after. Especially now that I’m focussing on my Olympic weightlifting.

Lifting makes me feel young! Somehow having that heavy weight overhead makes me feel light inside. Maybe it has something to do with discovering new ways to use my body. You know: sit, crawl, walk, lift. Or maybe it’s about challenging my preconceptions and doing this thing I always thought only young people could do.

Or maybe it’s just because when you enjoy something so much that you lose yourself in it, then your soul sings and your heart ends up bopping to the beat like a delirious teenager.

Pouncing on life like a puppy

Of course, I’ve considered that the cure for this week’s feelings of aging inadequacy is to simply stop playing with the puppies. Start running (or walking, or maybe just sitting and playing scrabble) with the old dogs. But then I had to admit that when they’re not making me feel old, the puppies keep me feeling young.

So maybe the secret to eternal youth isn’t avoiding anything that highlights my age, but seeking out those things that fill me with all the giddy feel-good energy I took for granted when I was young and a natural brunette.

And maybe I need to hang my skipping rope in the bedroom. So that every time I wonder idly if I could make charcoal rubbings of my wrinkles, I can spend a few minutes skipping in the passage. And maybe then I’ll skip until I feel I feel frisky enough to pounce. Because I’m still young enough to run with the puppies, chase butterflies, and get my clumsy muddy paws all over life!

13.4: I’m Gonna Lick You Like a Lollipop!

When you’re lifting overhead, every extra 1kg weighs about the same as a bear … juggling Atlas stones … on the back of an elephant.

So this morning when the 13.4 CrossFit Open workout (45kg clean and jerks plus toe-to-bars) was unleashed like a virus it spread fear and panic of epidemic proportions.

45 Kilograms is heavy! Luckily so am I, so I might make the lifts. But if I do then I’ll need to haul my very ample ass up to the rig for toes-to-bar. It’s going to be an interesting and expletive filled 7 minutes.

I was feeling nervous about it this morning. And when I get nervous the little voice in my head bitches like a snotty teenager. So it’s surprising that I heard Antoinette over all that mental-door slamming and foot-stamping when she said: “Forget about the weight.”

Damn these thoughts are heavy

She’s right of course! It’s what Andrew, our Olympic lifting coach, is always saying. That you’ve got to focus on what you need to do to get the bar up and not psych yourself out focussing on how much weight is on that bar.

But it’s one of those ironies of CrossFit isn’t it? When you load the bar, the part of your brain that can count shuts down. Presumably because it’s rerouting energy to the part that deals with gross motor coordination and not losing a finger to a stack of bumper plates. (Which means you think that loading two 10kgs on a 15kg bar gives you 25kgs.) But when the bar is in your hands you’re suddenly hyper sensitive. Suddenly you’re calculating extra grams of chalk dust and lint and the exact measure by which it’s going to throw off your lift with the accuracy of a cyborg.

That weight is often much, much heavier in your mind than it is in reality. And the longer you stare at it, the more times you add up those bumpers in your mind, the heavier it gets.

So yeah, that’s what you need to do: remember everything you’ve learned about lifting and forget about the weight for a while.

I love the bar lots like Jelly Tots

Ok so what if that doesn’t help? What if no amount of thinking or crying or swearing is going to get that bar up? Here’s my plan …

Do you remember being a kid and having a toffee apple or candy cane or giant lollipop that lasted for days? Do you remember licking it until the sweetness coated your brain, then hiding it in the fridge for later? Well that’s how I’m going to take on 13.4. I’m going to get through it bit by bit.

I don’t know what that “bit” will involve. Maybe I’ll be slamming out toes-to-bar with such grace I’ll run away to join the Cirque de Soleil. Or maybe it will involve 7 minutes of enthusiastically transferring chalk from the bucket to the bar.

Either way, at the end of it I’ll have 13.4 licked! Like a lollipop! And you know what? Courage tastes just as sweet as success.

Skin-the-Cats and the Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies-Run

In our house massacring zombies has been the main form of physical activity for my 12 year old son. Until recently that is.

Our kids are growing up in a world where “go play outside” means moving your Minecraft character from the underground tunnels of your fortress to a field of oddly cube-shaped cows.

Last year, in an effort to encourage more time with his imagination and less time with flame throwers and machine guns, I hauled my son off to Exclusive Books. He interpreted my instruction to “pick a book” a little more loosely than I’d planned and chose an audio book. For the next few weeks he prowled the landscape of X Box Live hunting for the living dead while listening to detailed instructions of how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

So you can understand that if getting him out of the bedroom was and into the real world was a battle, getting him onto a sports’ field was an impossibility!

Argh! The soccer ball! It burns!

My son hates sport with as much passion as he hates losing his last life to the lurching dead. Maybe even more, because there are no power-ups out there on the field. Out there it’s just you against the blistering sun, a vicious expanse of knee-grating grass and a coach who trained in a Russian labour camp.

As someone who spent my childhood hidden in books, I felt his pain. But as a mother I also felt it was my duty to inspire/coerce/cajole/bribe/threaten him into some kind of physical activity.

Working your thumbs doesn’t qualify as sport

Then came CrossFit Kids! I watched in amazement as my son – who apparently lacks the flexibility to bend down and pick up his dirty clothes – hung upside down from the rings, legs stretched backwards over his head, performing a very beautiful “skin-the-cat”. There was my little zombie slayer, hanging and squatting and running and jumping and rolling. And it wasn’t even because he was fleeing a marauding bloodless horde with automatic weapons. He was doing it because he liked it. Because it felt good! Because it was fun!

 Which is of course why he continues to head off to CrossFit Kids Jozi week after week, with a kind of enthusiasm that was once reserved for placing land mines and using invincibility cheats.

Catch me if you can

And that I think is the key to getting kids to exercise: give them the kinds of things they love doing naturally. The kinds of things they did spontaneously when they were little. Because those things feel like fun, not work. And those are the movements their bodies instinctively want to do; need  to do.

So they go from hanging upside down on the jungle gym to doing it on the rings. From hopping over puddles and up stairs to jumping onto boxes. From hurling Teddy around to swinging a kettle bell. From tumbling on the grass to doing forward rolls.

And if there is a Zombie Apocalypse my CrossFit kid is going to be well prepared. His head is crammed with vital information … that zombies can’t jump, for example. Which means a quick pull up onto the garage beam followed by an inchworm crawl across to our emergency supplies is all we need to survive.

Yup, that’s us, killing zombies one skin-the-cat at a time!

Visit CrossFit Kids Jozi on Facebook

We Don’t DO CrossFit; We ARE CrossFit

 Smells like CrossFit

I wish we had a secret handshake. All the great and enduring cults – no of course I mean “groups” – in history have one. And we qualify as such a “group” right?

 Let’s go through the checklist I found online shall we?

    • The group displays excessively zealous commitment to its leader. Check.
    • Mind-altering practices push the body to     the extreme. Pukey says “check”
    • The group is elitist. Check. Unless we’re forging pedestrian fitness now.
    • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality. Check. Unlikely to change unless we bring Zumba into our warmups.
    • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. Check. Tia and I are considering printing little leaflets saying “Have you Found CrossFit?” and handing them out at Virgin Active
    • Members devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. Check; I’m writing this in between practicing pull-ups from my security door.
    • Exclusive rites and ceremonies. Check. We like to call  ours “burpees”

I’m joking of course. Cult members don’t eat as much cream as we do. (Paleo; I love you.) And they don’t have our killer T-shirts.

Nope, we don’t have a secret handshake. Possibly because no one wants your bleeding palms covered in sticky Friar’s Balsam touching them. What we do have however are T-shirts. And we wear them wherever, whenever we get together with other zealots, whether in our box or not.

Why? Because CrossFit isn’t only about the WODs, it’s about the people, about our attitude, about the big values we embrace and the small things only other CrossFitters understand.

The 5 min flash lunchtime CrossFit workout

Last week someone told me she was doing CrossFit. I mean, “CrossFit”. She described her non-certified trainer and non-affiliated gym with enthusiasm while hobbling like someone who got a little extra loving from Fran. It made me angry. And sad. Angry because her coach is robbing our community. Sad because he’s robbing her of the full, true CrossFit experience.

It’s like this: you can take antioxidant pills, but you can’t duplicate the lip-puckering tartness of fresh berries staining your fingers with their sweet-sour deliciousness. You can WOD anywhere, but you can only feel the heartbeat of CrossFit in our boxes.

It is impossible till it’s not

My new CrossFit shirt arrived yesterday; it’s the ones Rika Diedericks had made when she went to the Games. In the accompanying letter she says: “CrossFit is about community and I definitely experienced this in a big way at the Regionals where it literally felt like I was being lifted through the rings by the amazing support of the CrossFitters in the arena.”

We all know what she means right? How we prove to ourselves, again and again, that we’re better and stronger than we think we are; not because we believe it but because our fellow CrossFitters do.

Maybe T-Shirts are better than a secret handshake after all because, let’s be honest, none of us are particularly secretive about this beautiful thing we’ve discovered. This thing that’s not a sport. It’s not an exercise. It’s not even a cult. In fact it’s not something you can pin down with words. It’s something you feel. Like love. Like happiness. Like power. It’s infectious and it binds all of us with our individual lives and hangups and aspirations into one magnificent community.

And it’s never, ever just something you do. It’s something you are. Something we all are.