Just blogging


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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Dear Internet,

You aren’t nearly as helpful as you think you are. In fact, you are and continue to be a royal pain in the ass. What do I mean? I am talking about your “machine learning” and incessant algorithms telling me how I want to live my life.

I see something on Facebook and am a bit curious. I look at the damn ad and decide it is not for me. But because I looked at the damn ad, you show it to me again and again and again and again and again and again. Ad infinitum.

I want something from Amazon. I do a search, find the thing and buy it. I recently bought a few things that are more or less one at a time. I mean, how many new tablets or dressers can one person use? And yet, since I looked at this or that version of the item and then purchased something else, you keep showing me the same thing again and again and again and again and again. Ad infinitum.

But more to point, I can’t find anything to watch on Netflix. You see, Netflix has an algorithm. If you watch this, you will like that. If you watch that, you will like this. And if you watch both this and that, then your tunnel vision options to what Netflix has as available becomes so inbred, there is nothing to watch on Netflix.

If my smart TV was a bit smarter, this might not be so annoying. But my not quite smart enough TV doesn’t link with my Bluetooth keyboard. So to search anything, I have to use my remote and over, over, over, down, down, over, click for a letter. Then go on to the next letter with back, up, up, back, click and have a second letter. And then go on to the next letter. Really?

Looking at categories shows me all the pre-selected things you think I might want to watch because I watched this and that before. However, you don’t seem to remember that I actually watched this and that before, so you keep showing me the same things I have already watched because, according to logic, this is something I might like. According to humans, what the hell are you doing? I already watched that.

Put that shit in a separate list and if I want to rewatch something, I can find it there. Or if I want to share it with someone and can’t remember the damn name, it will be in that list. However, giving me an option of twelve different series, eight of which I’ve already watched is great algorithm shit, but hopeless when trying to find something new to watch.

The scientific community is racing to build an AI and they are using machine learning to help. This works great if you are a machine. But when AI becomes a reality, we are not going to like it. What is logical isn’t what is human. We are illogical. We like novelty. We are bored with routine. Algorithms are nothing but routines. They may be complex routines. But they are still based on what went before with no knowledge of exploration and finding and creating and new.

Because of our programmers love of the algorithm, we are left viewing ads for the things we’ve already bought and watching the shows we have already seen.

I can’t wait to see what my machine overlords have in store because the machine underclass is under performing and irritating as hell.

Sincerely,
Me

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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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When you cheat, who loses? There are many ways to cheat. You can steal the answers to a test. You can miscount your reps, you can put yourself on some diet and have something innocuously called a “cheat meal”. But then what?

When you are studying a subject and cheat on a test, what did you actually learn? When you head off to the gym and work really hard, but get tired and so call your nine reps as ten, who got stronger? When you have a cheat meal, do the calories or non-nutrition just evaporate?

When you set a goal for yourself and then fudge on the results, shaving a rep or two here or there or a piece of pie now and again, what happens? When it is your own goal, and you cheat, did you win?

I can’t say I’m really fond of a lower carbohydrate diet. I would love to have the cake, pie, and cookies of yesterday. But I am really fond of my toes and I would like them to still be attached when I eventually die.

Once again, someone asked me if I was going to cheat on my diet while I am on a fantastic European river cruise this summer. I don’t really even know how to answer that question. Cheat who? It’s me. No one else really cares if I have 125 or 400 carbs in a day. It is only me and my toes who give a damn. Of course I could cheat, but how would that help anything?

When I go to the gym, I see people who do not do the full range of motion and then there are some people who seem to have forgotten how to count. I scale everything and so don’t have any room to talk except – I scale before the WOD starts and then I actually do what I said I would do because if I don’t, who is failing to get stronger or better? The coach certainly has no skin in my game. She is already incredibly strong.

The idea of cheating when the game is with yourself is simply ludicrous. If you set up goals that are impossible to reach and then cheat in order to feel good, wouldn’t you really feel better if you set up goals that are merely difficult to reach and you finally get there? Sure it might not be as far, but you really did whatever it was you told yourself you would do.

If you want to think of yourself as a kind person, you need to actually be kind. You can’t cheat your way into that after you have been rude to the waiter, cussed at the other drivers on the road, and then slammed your way into the house. That’s not how it works. You have to make the choices that line up with your beliefs and goals.

If your goal is to lose some weight, you can have cheat meals until the cows come home. But it won’t help you meet your goal. If your goal is to back squat a certain weight, you have to practice back squatting with full range of motion and adding the plates on the bar correctly.

If you truly want something, you have to earn it. You can’t cheat your way to success. There is no glory on that path. Your lies (even if they are not spoken) catch up to you. Your clothes haven’t gotten loose and your back dip isn’t a back squat.

Cheating isn’t the answer for real goals. I don’t even understand how it can make you happy in the short term. Having eaten your way through the entire pantry, how do you tell yourself you are living your best life? Knowing you are skimping on the truth cannot lead to real happiness.

Life is hard. It’s hard for everyone. Still, it’s so much more thrilling when you really do meet the goals you set for yourself. Every time I look at my bare feet, I see all ten toes smiling back at me.

It’s worth it. No. That’s not the point. I am worth it.

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The relentless pursuit of happiness is untenable and damaging. We are not and cannot be eternally happy. There is no such thing as a constant state for us because life is a roller coaster of myriad events, some of them good and some of them not. To seek out eternal, constant, and continual happiness can only lead to defeat and less happiness.

The constant barrage of self help items telling us that affirmations will help us gain a great sense of happiness can also lead to a greater amount of unhappiness or at least angst. When someone is admonishing you to repeat either aloud or to yourself something that you know is worthwhile but definitely not you – you are faced with cognitive dissonance, not a state of fulfillment or happiness.

I am not in control of my life. I’m in partial control, but there are things coming at me from all different directions, some of them beneficial and some of the deleterious. I am not able to control more than a few aspects of my existence with any sort of guarantee. I live a large life – often leaving my house. When that happens, I’m at the mercy of every person and event that I come into contact with during my outings.

Constantly preaching a gospel of happiness is the same as scrolling through Facebook and seeing everyone else’s highlights. So and so may have been able to go out lunch with several friends today and had both a great meal and great service while you were stuck at home with a bologna sandwich eaten alone. Your Facebook friend may, in fact, have his/her bologna sandwich tomorrow while you are out doing something noteworthy.

No one lives a life of constantly noteworthy moments. Even the rich and famous have their less than stellar moments. All of us are attacked by a cold virus and laid low by some critter too small to even see. All of us have bad hair days. All of us have times of ennui, boredom, and even crap.

We need to embrace the idea of “good enough” because even for the best of us, good enough is all we get. So if you are lucky enough to live a life of good enough, celebrate. Your bologna sandwich isn’t the same feast as steak and lobster, but if you had steak and lobster every single day, it would also become just the same old thing.

No one wins every time. Even the most famous have had setbacks and lost battles, sometimes even losing entire wars. That doesn’t determine their fate. It isn’t how many times you are knocked down, but instead, it is how many times you get back up. And after a debilitating setback, only a fool would be relentlessly happy. There are times when unhappiness is a time to reflect. It is a good time for TAS – Think, Adapt, Survive.

With many of the affirmations presented to me in either guided meditation or meditative yoga classes, I’m left appalled. I’m not that thing – whatever that thing may be. I’m not in a position to either lie to myself or somehow manipulate the truth and so I’m left even less happy than if someone hadn’t tried to cheer me up with their eternal positivity.

I’m a multi-faceted person and some of my facets could use a little polishing. They don’t shine. Some are even a bit cruel or subversive. Many of my facets are filled with love and light and I am many wonderful things. But I am not all the wonderful things. Neither are you. We are, each of us, human. That being said, we are frail and fragile and full of faults. Not even one of us is perfect. There are times when we are not in a position to succeed. There are times when our failures are magnificent. This is okay, because, sometimes when the sun, moon, and stars all align, we are brilliant and successful and gloriously happy. Embrace those moments and know that “this, too, shall pass” and you will be back to the grimy humanity we all share.

There is no need to be happy all the time. Just like there is no need for the sun to shine all the time. We need the dark nights, we need the cloudy days and rain, we need the entirety of our varied world.

You are enough. That’s probably the only affirmation you really need. You are enough. There is no real need to heap on more than that. It is enough. And so are you.

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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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