CrossFit


What do I want from the gym? I struggle with this. In the best of all worlds, I would love to RX every single workout and be powerful and strong and have muscles and be fit and athletic. I do not live in the best of all worlds. I live in a pretty great world, but it isn’t the best.

I rarely ever RX anything. I’m not supposed to, really. If they wrote workouts I could do as written, all the other people would scurry away and find some place that actually challenges them. I am strong and I do have muscles. But I am not 25 or 45 or even 65. I’m older than dirt and still manage to get to the gym. Pretty impressive.

I also know my limitations. I know what hurts me and what stops me. I have tried to push the envelope for nearly seven years now and in doing so have increased my capabilities much more than one might imagine – if that one wasn’t me and thought that with a couple years of practice, I could do all the things. That was either hubris or stupidity or both, but that’s the saving grace of naivete.

Doing a half Murph means doing 150 air squats. I did that for Memorial Day and then it took until Friday for me to be able to walk again. I know that is the end result of Murph, and I’m okay with that once a year. Monday’s workout had 60 weighted back squats for the skill and then 150 air squats for the conditioning.

In theory, I could have RXd the WOD. It was a row, air squats, and sit ups. I can do all those things. What I can’t do is that volume and then go on with the rest of the week. There were 210 squats on the board with over a quarter of them weighted (albeit relatively light weights). I should have been able to do that. I could do that. I could have done the entire thing.

And then I would have had to stay home for the rest of the week. I could RX one workout and sacrifice a few more visits to the gym. This is what is known as stupid or ego or just plain wrong.

I chose different. I did 41 weighted squats and 75 air squats. That is still 116 squats and my legs have let me know they worked really hard. There is some indication that my legs have gotten a workout, but I am not crippled. But I was appalled. Aghast. Defeated. Demoralized.

Almost seven years and I still can’t do the things. I’m still too afraid to risk it all. Although it wasn’t a risk. I just did Murph and know I couldn’t walk again until Friday and even then it was ouchy. Adding the 60 weighted squats was going to destroy me. Not adding them destroyed me. Why can’t I be like the other gym rats? (It probably is because I’m not like the other gym rats.)

I wouldn’t even put a score on the board. I was just too ashamed of my pitiful performance. I can’t do the things and survive.

But … why do I care? I did some of the things and made it back to the gym on the following day. I can still walk today and will be able to continue to do so in the days to come. I wasn’t there hauling all the other senior citizens off the rowers to get my chance to row to England. I did the row. I did half the squat. I did the sit-ups. I did the things.

I still felt defeated. I questioned why I keep going. What was I doing?

Well, I like the things I can do. There was a time when I wouldn’t have thought that a 70# back squat was light. It was more then three times what I could manage and my squat wasn’t really low enough to count back then. There was a time when I couldn’t do any of the things I just blithely do day after day now. There was a time when I would have seen me today and been so proud of all I’ve managed to do.

I dragged myself out of bed on Tuesday. I did my morning yoga, working on stretching out my quads. I cried as I got ready to go to the gym.

On the menu was handstand push-ups. I can’t do those because the first step is a handstand. They terrify me. Absolutely terrify me. What if my spaghetti arms collapse and I fall and break my neck and become a quadriplegic for the rest of my life? See? Terrify!

We were asked to list some goals for the year back in January. One of my goals was to do a handstand. Since I was having a sucky week anyway, why not see what else I couldn’t do. Shit. I can’t do anything. (Inside my head is a horrible place to be.)

I told Laura this was a goal. She and Liz helped me kick up to the wall. I held the handstand for 20-30 seconds. I came down, curled into a ball on the floor and just shook like a leaf. Then I did it again.

Then I went on to my scaled version of HSPU, and I did the conditioning portion scaled, too.

I don’t think I have ever done a handstand before in my entire life. There was really no reason to do it as a kid and even less of a reason to do it as an adult. But as a senior citizen, it became possible. That, exactly that, is why I keep going to the gym.

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When I first started doing CrossFit, I was such an outlier, no one actually knew what to do with me. I was unlike anyone else at the gym. I was very old and out of shape and just pitiful. While we all knew I could scale the stuff, it wasn’t the same varied scaling options available to me now, nearly seven years later.

I now know that I can do fewer reps of less intense moves with lower weights or whatever the hell I want. I try to remain coachable and ask for guidance before each workout. I do not do them as written because they aren’t written for the likes of me.

Today, we started with a five minute Tabata. This is an intermittent thing created by Mr. Tabata and usually lasts for four damn minutes. You work for twenty seconds, rest for ten, and repeat for eight rounds. But today, it was ten rounds because – I don’t know why, that’s just what we did. Sometimes it is the same thing for eight rounds and sometimes you switch between two things. Today, we had to do hollow body holds for twenty seconds, ten times or 200 seconds or over three minutes.

Usually, I know going in I have to scale. I can do a hollow body hold. So I did. By the third round, I was telling myself that if I was going to modify the workout, I should do it soon, but each time it was time to begin again, I did. I started making animal noises by then and still made it each and every time.

When Laura asked who RXd the thing, my hand shot up so fast it nearly launched itself. It is the third time I’ve gotten to write RX on the board in all these years. It was hard. It was very hard. It was not, however, impossible. So, I did it. I did not let myself off the hook.

Then it was on to the conditioning portion of the day.

Today, we did four rounds of a 400 m run (¼ mile) and then 25 burpees. That’s a total of a mile and 100 burpees. First, I don’t run. I can run a little bit, but then my heart rate is so high, I can’t do anything else. So I sparingly run and this didn’t have any space for me to run, so I knew I would simply walk half the distance. That’s pretty much just what I do.

But I asked Laura what she wanted from me. She said, “Real burpees.” I often do a version where I walk myself into a plank and back up and then do a little hop. A real burpee is when you crouch/squat down, put your hands on the floor, jump your feet back, lay down completely on the ground with chest and thighs touching, push yourself back into a plank position, jump your feet back into a squat, stand up completely, and then give a little jump and clap your hands over your head.

As you might imagine, the latter version – the real burpee – is far more intense. They are a horrible exercise and use every part of your body in sequence. If I have to do them, I do fewer.

I often only do 80% of the reps the younger people do, giving myself a senior discount. I’m really too old for this nonsense. And 80% would have been possible for my walked in and out plank things, but all that extra nonsense was just too much. I said I would do half. She agreed.

For the first round, I walked my 200 meters, not too quickly and could manage all 13 burpees with just a pause at the top for a deep breath. Then I went out for another walk, but my heart rate was higher. I managed to do the next set in eight and then sat for about thirty seconds and then did five more. I went out for my walk, managed to do seven before sitting and then did five more. It was my last walk, and I made sure my heart rate was a little lower by walking a little slower. I came back in and did twelve in a row. So I walked a half mile and did 50 real burpees. My time was 14.57. I made it under 15 minutes.

Here’s the thing. Back when I first started, the day’s workout was 50 burpees for time. I did real burpees then because I didn’t know better and I did all 50 of them because, again, I didn’t know better. It took me forever. Well, it was somewhere around seventeen minutes. That was just for the burpees. That didn’t include a half mile walk.

I was really happy with myself today. And then I got home and started to try to suck the joy out of my morning. It was only half the workout. It would have taken me at least twice as long to do the other half (the longer I work, the harder it is for me to get my heart rate back down so I can work some more). And I really started to get mad at me and then, something hit me. I was ruining my day for no good reason.

I hadn’t been shoving my way through a crowd of geriatrics to get through the door. It was me and people young enough to be my children and even my grandchildren. And I was there, doing this stuff.

I decided to give myself a gold star for the day because frankly, I earned it.

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I have completed nine of my ten personal training sessions. I bought a package deal and was hoping to switch things up a bit and get out of my defeatist/defeated attitude.

I have learned a few things by doing this.

  1. I am in control of my attitude.
  2. I am not in competition with the entire world.
  3. I’m not in bad shape considering … being a human being.
  4. I really like working in a class filled with my people.
  5. There are many other paths to fitness.
  6. I like the one I’m on.

Jack has been both patient and particular. I have a new set of cues going off inside my head when I approach a movement.

I have had fun with the sled, something I’ve never before done. I have used the sled, but always on blacktop/asphalt and it is much different on carpeting or whatever that stuff is.

I have avoided the GHD for years, but did something similar out in the air conditioned part of the gym and didn’t die or fall off. I will gather together all my courage and attempt something on the GHD the next time it appears on the white board.

It is perfectly okay to say “I can’t” when it is something I can’t do. It is not okay to say it when it is something I don’t want to do or when it is something I’m simply unsure of, but if it has been tried and I can’t, I can’t. This isn’t defeatist, it is reality.

I really enjoy CrossFit. I like the group setting. I like the variety. I like the support. I like the satisfaction of completing some grueling workout and still being alive. I realize this isn’t for everyone, but it is something that I enjoy. I wouldn’t have ever guessed that a decade ago. I hated exercising in any fashion.

Because I know this now, I would encourage everyone to keep trying this or that form of movement until they find something they can actually enjoy. It makes a world of difference. You can’t keep slogging along when you hate the activity. There are way too many options to settle for that sort of self defeating choice. If you don’t like what you are doing, do something else. There are tons of other options available.

No matter what sort of exercise you finally find suits you, you need to care for your body outside of that realm. You have to stretch and tend to sore muscles. You can either get a massage, use a foam roller or other assistive device to massage the soreness yourself, do stretching exercises like ROM WOD or yin yoga, and then most important of all, you have to eat right and get enough sleep.

You do not need a certain number of ounces of fluid in your day, but you do need to listen to your body. If you feel thirsty, drink something or eat something like fruits or vegetables (these things are filled with water). Thirst is a sign to imbibe. Listen.

Trying something and not liking it doesn’t mean it was a failure. There are lessons even in our greatest defeats if we look for them. But simply not liking something isn’t a defeat. It is simply a lesson. Learn from it and seek your bliss elsewhere.

It’s important to keep moving as much as you can for as long as you can. Once you lose it, it is very, very difficult to get it back. Hold on to your health. You need it.

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We have another new person at the gym. We get them in regularly. They stay for a class or two and then after a week or so, they drift off to something else or nothing at all. I don’t really know what they do, but they don’t show up anymore.

The young man who seemed chagrined to not be able to do as much as the old woman wasn’t there this week and I don’t remember seeing him last week, either.

A young woman has started and seems near tears most days. She also seems determined to figure this crap out. I was geographically close to her as we were doing snatches. Snatches! This is the most complicated of all the Olympic lifts. There are so many different parts to the flow of the bar and it is, quite honestly, unnatural.

Coach was helping her individually as the rest of us powered through the five sets of two at 95% of our 1RM. I, of course, had the lowest weight on my bar (except for this new person) and am obviously the crappiest lifter we have. And yet, I was throwing 55 pounds up over my head with a touch and go between the two lifts.

And there she was trying to get the hang of the movement with a PVC pipe. Between the skill and the WOD portion and I went over and talked to her. She confessed that it was all so confusing and bewildering and it seemed like sheer chaos. I agreed. It is all those things, until it isn’t. Once you learn the hook grip, the first pull, the shrug, the hip extension, the snap to get the bar overhead, and if you are graceful enough the squat in which to catch it – it becomes routine. It is muscle memory that gets you from the ground to overhead.

I pointed out to the young woman that we were all new once and all struggled with not only this lift, but all of them. When you are learning something new, you don’t already know it. That’s pretty much the whole point. And when you don’t already have the muscle memory, you have to think through each part of the movement. It is difficult, until it isn’t. And only then can you begin to load some weight, making it difficult all over again.

The reason all this stuff is rewarding is because it is conquering the challenges involved. The first challenge is to actually learn the vocabulary and what it means. To clean or a snatch means something different outside the box. A jerk is also not the same outside as inside. Learning what the words mean is like learning a different language. That, too, takes time.

Then, you can finally read the board and understand what all the letters up there mean and you feel like some sort of champion. But of course, there’s more. You have to actually learn to do the things. You have to learn the lifts. You have to learn the moves. You have to practice. And to do that, you have to keep coming back.

Once you are at this point, you have either decided to commit to this path, or you have surrendered to inertia and I never see you again.

But, I did learn the language, the skills, and have the determination to return again and again. Because of that, I’m the oldest person in the box. I’m not the best person there. In fact, there are many thing I still can’t do. One of them is understanding why saying I can’t do a pull-up is a bad thing. I can’t do a pull-up. I’m working on it. Still. Probably forever. But I used to not be able to do a ring row and now I can do those easily. I don’t struggle with pull-ups. I simply am unable to hoist my own fat ass up there. I simply can’t do them. Maybe someday. Maybe not. But even if I never manage to accomplish this feat, I do them band assisted with relatively good form. So there is that in my favor.

Having a list of things I need to scale doesn’t mean I can’t do CrossFit. What it means is that I’m out there, scaling appropriately while I pick up new skills, add more weight, or just manage to survive.

The only way to not be the new person in the gym, is to keep showing up until some other newbie walks through the door. If you last long enough, you, too, can be one of the regulars. It’s a nice feeling.

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What I really want to eat is a huge piece of fresh baked German chocolate cake with some pecan/caramel/coconut frosting piled high on top of it. What I eat is low carb yogurt. What I really want is a plate filled with butter drenched pasta but what I eat is a salad. What I really want to do is revert to a year ago when eating wasn’t a problem.

But here we are and it is. So I read labels and count carbs and hope that my A1C doesn’t climb even higher. It isn’t like I can eat nothing and usually it is just a bit more annoying. But it is always a concern for me, something I watch daily and think about each time I grab some food.

In the wild past I could eat a whole watermelon over the course of a week or bowls and bowls of cherries. I could consume a pineapple over a few days or mindlessly eat several plums or a bunch of grapes. Now, each of those “healthy” foods is just a bowl of carbs and need to be limited. The watermelon or pineapple will spoil before I can finish them. I know that because the grapes and strawberries do.

I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing wrong, but a friend went on a cruise and ate home made ice cream every day and went out to eat and selected wild things from the menu and then had an A1C come back much lower than the last check. I count and watched and limited my carb count to 100 a day or less and I dropped one tenth of a point. And I’ve dropped 15% of my body weight which is, according to legend, supposed to drop the count all by itself.

I’m already tired of this. I’m tired of watching everything I eat. I’m tired of not eating the things I would love to enjoy. I would love a small bowl of Talenti mint chocolate chip ice cream drowning in Velvet Fudge Sauce. Instead, I eat sensible, healthy stuff.

I don’t know what to do with all this angst, anger, disappointment with a lackluster body, but here I am. I know I could ignore it all and eat whatever crossed my mind, and then I would have to deal with greater things later. Boy, am I going to be mad if some texting teenager rams into me in the next few weeks and I could have had the cake and ice cream.

On a happier note, I’ve been going to a personal trainer and it is far different than just going to CrossFit and doing a WOD that is written for Everyman or everyone else but me. Jack has tailored each session to meet what I said were my goals. So I’m doing many different things and finding some of them far more challenging than I thought I would. Damn.

Yoga has gotten progressively easier as I continue to practice five times a week. The bending stuff is more bent and the poses are more stable, allowing me to sink into the stretch better. I have to tell myself that I’m not supposed to be CrossFitting yoga and remember that there is no prize for forcing myself into some ridiculously ouchy thing. This is for my benefit, not a punishment.

I do miss CrossFit on my personal training days because it is fun to workout with the same group of people I’ve been hanging out with for over a year. Luckily, I’m still there three days a week. There has been no Saturday stuff for the last couple weeks because there have been events off site where many of our athletes were participating and our coaches were off supporting them. I don’t know if there will be a workout this weekend. I hope so.

I know right now my biggest concern is food. I have never really had to worry about food before and quite frankly, it’s both boring and stifling. It is confining and such a stupid thing to fret over. I have enough of it, which is more than many people around the globe can say. But still, I want that cake.

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When I began doing CrossFit many years ago, I thought I would improve rapidly and then be able to do all the things. Instead, I improved slowly and still cannot manage all the things. Some days this makes me incredibly sad. Some days it makes me enthusiastically proud.

Last week, after being totally defeated by double unders, I was ready to quit it all. Just sit and crochet and color and do nothing else. But instead, I made it to the gym on Saturday and managed to do some stuff without too many tears.

Monday came and it was still a struggle to make myself go. What’s the point? I can’t do all the things. There is exactly one thing I do as written on the board. Sit ups. Otherwise, I scale. Everything. Why do I do this?

And then I had to figure out why I do this. It isn’t easy to explain, even to myself. But I do it because it is extremely difficult and there are very few challenges out there at my age. I do it because I actually can. I mean I scale all the stuff, but it is so much more than I could do the first time I tried. I do it because it feels incredibly wonderful to stop. And I do it because I like the way I look and feel when I’m not inside the gym. My posture is better, my stride is more solid, my clothes fit better.

I do this because it is the task I set for myself. I have been tempted to quit over and over again. I have been defeated by the workouts and by the white board. And mostly I have been defeated by the annoying, demanding, demeaning voice inside my head. I do this crap to try to silence that voice. Prove to the voice and to myself that I am stronger than the defeats.

So I went to the gym on Monday still tentative, frightened, unsure, and wishing I had never heard of CrossFit.

We are working on split jerks and that was the skill for the day. I could only manage 60 pounds – a weight I once upon a time would have been thrilled to move in any way, but was unhappy with because inside my head where the harsh critic lives, I know I have been able to move more.

I also know that this not yet a disease but treated like one has left me twenty pounds lighter and not all of that has been fat. I have lost some muscle along the way and I will have to build that back up because physics is like that.

Thankfully, the workout was short and because I cannot do a handstand let alone a handstand push-up, I scaled the movement. I was able to move through the AMRAP and get a decent score on the white board, but knew my scaling and so even when the numbers are respectable, I feel less.

I have tried to get rid of the stutter jump in my double unders since the beginning of the year. I have been unsuccessful. But the only way to get from unsuccessful to successful is to keep working on it. So I got out my jump rope and tried. I was only going to work for five minutes tops.

Amazingly, I got two in a row twice and then three in a row. And then, I decided to head home.

I talked to Craig over the weekend and he pointed out that I’m supposed to be scaling and that my workouts are not dependent on anyone else’s workout or ability. He also pointed out that I may be a bit burned out on CrossFit. He suggested I try some personal training and using some of the machines available on the floor of the gym. Coincidentally, they were running a special on personal training sessions that ended on Monday, so before I went home I signed up for them.

Then I had to show up again on Tuesday. It was less difficult to manage dragging myself in even though I knew we were doing snatches. Again, I only got to 50 pounds on the snatch, mostly because it was also with an overhead squat to follow. It wasn’t as bad as I thought and after the workout I got that damn jump rope out again. I missed. I got two. I got eight in a row. Holy shit! I packed up and went home, quitting while ahead.

I also knew what was coming today. More double unders in the WOD. Today was three rounds with a row, a run, and then 50 double unders. I wasn’t sure if I could manage anything for real without the stutter jump, but I wanted to try. I just didn’t want to try until the cows came home. I spoke with Laura and told her my plan. I would shoot for 20 double unders but if I didn’t get them in two minutes or less, I would just be done for that round. She agreed.

So I rowed and walked and then came in for my first round. I got two and missed. Then I got twelve. In a row! I’m in double digits on double unders. Then I got the last six and was thrilled. I didn’t manage to string that many together in the other two rounds, but I did get all 60 double unders done. On the last round, my two minutes was up and I was at 18 and I finished the last two because I could.

I scaled everything today. Again. But I don’t feel so defeated by it.

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I am not a very good student. I often learn lessons that weren’t part of the curriculum. I learn stuff that was not intended to be taught. I don’t know if other people do this, but it is often how I manage to ruin any hope of joy I might trip over by mistake.

Yesterday’s workout was horrific. There were a total of 300 double unders and 150 dumbbell snatches along with a half mile of running. I was sure this was going to be a partner WOD, but nope. It was each of us for ourselves. My first issue came with believing I could do shit. I do manage to do some shit, but not very much of it. There was a time cap for all this nonsense at twenty minutes, so at least I didn’t have to struggle for infinity.

I’m supposed to work on the damn double unders because the only way to get better at something is to practice. I have worked up to doing half the reps of the normal people. I usually do 80% of the other stuff they do and walk only half the distance. So that was how I set myself up for this WOD. That meant I started with 50 double unders instead of 100 and 40 dumbbell snatches instead of 50.

I have to jump a couple times before I can start the double unders and then put in one single under between each double under. The most I strung together was 14 and I had to stop then because my heart rate was too high. But I had done 30 jumps to get those 14. When I missed on the first or second jump, I was taking 4 or 6 jumps to get 1 or 2 reps. It was horrible. It took me over 8 minutes to get those first 50 double unders.

Then it took me breaking the dumbbell snatches into three because I did 20 and then 14 and simply did not have the heart rate capacity to finish without another rest. Then out for my walk and back to the double unders. Only this time, the most I strung together was four or five. To get 40 double unders took the rest of the time. I finished with three seconds still on the clock but I was too tachycardic to continue. So my score was time cap + 220 reps.

I came home in tears. What I learned was that I shouldn’t be doing this crap at all. I should listen to the Sun City woman and just knit. Why do I put myself through this when I simply cannot manage to do any of the shit. Only two people actually finished the WOD yesterday inside the time cap. That’s just a point of reference.

It took every single bit of strength and determination to make myself go back to the gym this morning. I go on Saturday and it is Saturday and I should go. Why? It’s not like I can manage anything.

I know in my head that I’m SUPPOSED to scale everything. Nothing is written for a 66 year old. Even the super duper athletes at the Games get a nod to their advanced years. If the WOD was written for me, everyone else would be miserable. That’s what my head says. My heart says it is disappointed in me. I’ve been at this for over seven years and I still can’t do shit. I still struggle with every damn thing ever written on the board. I still have the crappiest scores put up on the “leader” board. I’m the loser every single day.

I was still vacillating about whether or not to show up today when it was time to actually leave the house. I forced myself into the car and into the gym.

It was a team WOD and there was no rest in there at all. Person one did maximum number of toes to bar – something I cannot do (big surprise there) while the second person held a barbell in the front rack position (95 pounds for the guys, 65 for the girls), and the third person did 25 wallballs and then ran a quarter mile with said wallball. We drew lots for teams.

There were 21 people there so there was no extra person. I wanted to just leave but was coerced (kindly) into staying. Kylie grabbed me and I just stood there crying. I can’t do the things. I can never do the things. I can be old. And feeble. But I cannot be competent. Kylie wouldn’t let me quit and tried her hardest to make me feel better.

The switching was based on the wallballs. When that person was done, team members switched to the next thing and the score was the total number of TTB. I ended up doing hanging knee raises, held a 45# barbell, did ten wallballs with a lighter med ball, and walked half the distance.

As always, I did something. As always, it wasn’t what was on the board. Years ago, I thought by this time I would be adequate. I thought that by this time, I would be able to do things.

I wrote about framing and how the way we look at things makes a huge difference. It’s also very difficult for me raising all sorts of cognizant dissonance when I try to lie to myself.

I know that 15 months ago I could, on rare occasions do a single double under at a time. Yesterday, I did 90. I know that seven years ago, I couldn’t even hang from the bar. Today, I did 70 hanging knee raises. I know that when I began, I used a six pound kid’s med ball and couldn’t hit the nine foot mark or do more than four or five. Today, I used ten pounds to the nine foot mark and did my ten reps.

I know I am better than when I began. I know I’m better than I was a year ago. I know I’m still the crappiest person in the gym day after miserable day. I have no idea how to make that okay. I know I should. I know it is absolute astounding that I do any of this shit at all. I just thought I was going to be better at it by now.

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