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.

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.

We Go Together Like Rips and Friar’s

 

I don’t do CrossFit for the WODs
 
Hard to believe I know. But it’s true. I don’t do it for the thrill of flinging myself upside down only to realise that puke comes out easier that way. I don’t do it for the tingling exhilaration that comes from recapturing my kettlebell mid-flight on its way to bowling the coach down like a skittle. And I definitely don’t do it so I can brag about how I’ve given blood this week … and probably some skin too.
 
I do CrossFit for the people.
 
Alone like a broken bar
 
“When you ask people about love they tell you about heartbreak. When you ask them about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded. When I ask people about connection the stories they tell me are about disconnection.” I read this achingly brilliant bit of wisdom by Brene Brown in bed yesterday.
 
(I apologise for not being able to put the little accent sign above the second “e” indicating it’s pronounced “ay”, but my knowledge of word only stretches as far as punctuation I can use for smileys. Plus, it annoys me when a letter acts like spoiled single child, wearing the linguistic equivalent of a plastic tiara and refusing to make pretty sounds by playing with the other children.)
 
So back to Brene-pronounced-Brenay. She’s right isn’t she? Not only about us feeling sense of disconnection. But that we believe we’re unique in this regard. That we’re alone in feeling that we’ve never quite belonged. Isolated in our conviction that somehow the world doesn’t quite see us for who we really are.
 
Yet here we are, all of us, telling ourselves there must be something bigger to be a part of, if only we could find it. All of us feeling all the while that if life really is a cabaret we’ll always be the shmucks outside parking the cars.
 
If I follow you to your box will you keep me?
 
It’s true I think of most of us that we spend a large part of our lives, whether we’re conscious of it or not, looking for that place where we belong. For people we connect with.
 
And then we find CrossFit!
 
But according to Brene the finding is just the first step. “For connection to happen we need to let ourselves be seen, really seen … vulnerably seen.” Yes I realise she means emotionally. I didn’t get through a language degree without being able to find 3 levels of meaning in a simple “Please Call Me”. But I think that when it comes to CrossFit it’s about more than that.
 
I style my hair with chalk
 
You know those pictures in National Geographic showing flood, famine and quake survivors looking like supermodels? Well we look nothing like that. I’ve seen many pics of myself training and I look pretty much the same as I have since becoming a mom: larger than I seem in the mirror, eyes glazed with too little sleep and even less sanity.
 
Most of us do. Except the girls from CrossFit Platinum. At the end of their workouts they look like they’ve been kissing Rich Froning in the rain, not splashing in other people’s sweat. But that’s because Julian splices his athletes’ genes with the DNA of wild mustangs. It’s true. If you don’t believe me you haven’t seen Beatrix run.
 
So this is how CrossFit allows us to be seen as we really are: terrified, elated, exhausted, sweat soaked, crying, panting, puking. And more than that, seen as we are when we’re pushing harder than we knew we could. Lifting heavier than we thought we were capable of. Seen as the amazing, capable beings we sometimes forget that we are.
 
Help! I got pinned doing a back squat
 
But while we revel in our strength here we also submit to our vulnerabilities. In the box we learn it’s ok to ask for help. To say we can’t do something. To say we’re not perfect. That we’re not strong enough to do this alone. Really all the things we’d never say out there where to show vulnerability is to show weakness and to show weakness is to expose your jugular to a vicious world. And unfortunately, in the real world men in body glitter aren’t queuing up trade you eternal life for a chance to rip into your veins.
 
Smash it to Linkin Park
 
Yes, I’ve smashed out thrusters to “I’ve become so numb” hoping that at some point it might actually happen and anaesthetise my chest cavity as my lungs try to make a break for it through my ribs. But apparently, if Brene is right (and I think she is) “You cannot selectively numb emotions. In our moments of most intense joy, we are often at our most vulnerable.”
 
And that sums it up for me I think. Here in my box my emotions run riot. Sometimes I leave shattered by the intensity with which they strike. Here I find my agony and my ecstasy. Here I find a family. And they see me as I really am. But more importantly, they help me see myself as I really am.
 
And here with them, I sometimes feel vulnerable … but I never, ever feel alone.