My 6-month Adventure in Fitness

I did my first bar muscle-up tonight. It was my first attempt at one. I also hit the 100 double-under mark. Unbroken. I also keep feeling like I’m injured, or at the very least, banged up. There are knots in my muscles, aches & pains in my joints, and little feelings of “is that really hurt or is that just CrossFit.” I don’t think I’ve been truly 100% since the day I started.

Lately I’ve been contemplating the pros & cons of all the serious work I’ve been putting in. Is it really worth it? Could I be doing damage to my body that I’m going to regret 20 years from now?

I’m not even going to try to answer those questions. I don’t think I could even if I wanted to. I’ll let ya know 20 years from now.

The question I would like to answer tonight is:

What kind of role has CrossFit played on my fitness?

A Quick Disclaimer

Please don’t mistake this post as an opportunity to brag about my accomplishments, talk myself up, or anything of the sorts. That’s not at all what this is about. Sure, I’m proud of how far I’ve come in my fitness journey, but I’m humbled every single day when I walk into that gym. I have so far to go, so much to learn from so many amazing athletes & friends, and I truly believe that CrossFit, at its core, is about so much more than physical fitness.

So this is not me gloating. But I do hope this article helps with 2 things:

  1. A benchmark for where I am, physically, right now. So I can compare to the future and check progress.
  2. A real-life, fact-based example of the efficacy of the CrossFit concept of fitness

My Previous Training & Background

I played team sports from age 5 all the way through college. In high school & college, I worked out at the gym. Not much with weights, but every bodyweight & crazy weight/cardio combo you could think of. After college, I got into distance running, and completed a few shorter triathlons.

I don’t think there’s any one word to accurately define my “CrossFit background,” but now you have an idea where I started.

Enter CrossFit

I started CrossFit in September 2013. I went through 20 classes of a Groupon deal in about 6 weeks. After that was over, I resumed marathon training, and ran the Richmond marathon in November. I picked up with CrossFit again in January 2014.

When I started CrossFit…

  • I couldn’t do a double-under.
  • I never even tried a muscle-up.
  • My flexibility was slightly above average for a dude who’s run multiple marathons & ultras.
  • I could hold myself up in a handstand, but only using the wall. Maybe for 3 seconds off the wall… before I came crashing down into my coffee table.
  • I can’t remember the last time (if ever at all) that I did a deadlift, power clean, front squat, overheat squat or snatch.

Today…

The criticism, concern and sometimes just outright nastiness towards CrossFit is going to continue. I think some of it is presented well, and should be seriously considered. On the contrary, some of it is just plain hogwash. Regardless, here’s where I am today, after 6 months of CrossFit.

  • 100 double-unders, unbroken
  • Handstand walk 30ft
  • I can jump up, onto & over a 24″ box, repeatedly, nearing the speed of light
  • I can do both bar muscle-ups & ring muscle-ups
  • Front squat 210lbs
  • Power clean 180lbs
  • The fact that I have done even one successful snatch with good form is a miracle. Those things are insanely difficult.
  • I’m about 3mm from touching my heels to the ground in a downward-facing dog pose. Sooo close!
  • I can touch my heel to my butt (without looking like a pretzel) & can touch my toes with ease
  • The fastest pace I’ve maintained in any running race was during a 4-mile race a month ago, in which I sustained a 6:36/mi pace. Faster than my best 5k time, when I thought I was in peak running shape. And with no running-specific training.

Have I beat myself up & gotten injured (a few times) in the process of getting here? Yep. Sure did. — Hmm, I wonder what I could do if I actually felt 100% healthy… — But I have a hard time denying that the fitness I have achieved, nearly 100% due to CrossFit, is substantial.

People might define fitness in different ways, but one of the ways CrossFit defines it is (and I have a hard time arguing against any of these skills as counting towards improved fitness):

  • cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
  • stamina
  • strength
  • flexibility
  • power
  • speed
  • coordination
  • agility
  • balance
  • accuracy

All of the progress I have made fits very well into one, or several, of these areas. I’ve improved in all of them. Without a doubt.

CrossFit Makes You Better

If I continue to write about ALL the ways CrossFit has made me better, it’d be wayyyy past my bedtime. And we’d be getting into so much more than the physical. That’s for another day. (maybe even a book someday…)

But if you’re not sure if CrossFit can help you get better at something, take a look at the list above. Do you want to improve in any one of those 10 areas? Perhaps a couple of them? Well then yeah. CrossFit works.

But please do be careful. Take it slow. Learn proper form. Practice the movements. Listen to your coaches. And listen to your body. If you do all that, I think you’ll be pretty satisfied with the results 🙂

My Drug Is My Love

Ke$ha almost had it right.

—–

Shannon asked me tonight, “What did you eat before you came in tonight?”

A seemingly normal question under most circumstances. However, she asked me this because I was bouncing, jumping, bobbing and weaving all over the place during our warm-up. This is a fairly regular occurrence for me, especially when I’m doing some kind of physical activity, but we’ll come back to that in a minute.

Shannon is not the first to notice my not-so-random bouts of… well, randomness. It also comes in the form of, “What are you on (as in drugs)?” It’s a question I’ve been asked many times over the past 15 years… and today, I answer it.

L.O.V.E.

Baseball

I remember when my club baseball teammates in college asked me this, while I was running all over the outfield collecting batting practice balls. NO ONE enjoys retrieving BP during practice. No one. Except me.

So what was I “on” that made me enjoy that so much? I was high on my love for baseball.

Running

How about when I’m caught violently lip syncing The Spice Girls while running the Vita Course at Byrd Park? Truth be told, I used to have a crush on Sporty Spice, but that’s not why I’m jammin’ out. I LOVE to run, and the sound of “Wannabe” just gets me in the mood.

Sorry I’m not sorry. But who are we kidding? I saw you laughing. You liked it.

CrossFit

So, tonight at CrossFit, once again, I got caught dancing and frolicking around like a tweenage girl who just met One Direction. Guilty as charged. I LOVE CrossFit. Especially when I’ve been semi-injured this past week, and haven’t done a full workout in a while.

My energy, excitement, goofiness, dance moves, lip syncing and pure happiness have nothing to do with the food I eat, the supplements I DON’T take or the drugs I’ve never done. It’s about passion.

When I genuinely love what I’m doing, I’m truly happy. It just so happens, my happiness manifests itself in unique ways.

PS. Happiness does not automatically make you a good dancer. I cannot be held liable for lost dance battles or embarrassing karaoke performances.

But you should totally sing “Wannabe” next time they fire up the jukebox.

PPS. I love a whole lot more than just baseball, running & CrossFit. The list is too big to include here, but we all have things that we love, and none of us get to do them 100% of the time. So… when you do have the opportunity to do them… smile, and embrace the moment 🙂

CrossFit: On resting, scaling & ultimately, doing neither

Sometimes, and only sometimes, I have insightful things to say. My ramblings can be absorbed by another human being, and they might actually benefit them.

And then there’s the other times. When I completely ignore everything that is logical & reasonable, and do stupid things. Well, today… it was a stupid day.

I went into today pretty sore. I worked out hard on Saturday, and even harder on Sunday. The rest of my weekend was a blur, and I barely had any time to rest. On Saturday, we ran 6x300m sprints before we even started the teamer. Needless to say, when it was over, I could feel my calves burning (and that doesn’t happen often, as my legs are used to taking a beating).

Sunday was team practice day. Lindsay, Sam, Phil & I are competing in Battle of the Boxes this coming weekend. So we ran through the workouts, each doing 2 WODs with about 15 minutes rest in-between. And we pushed it… hard.

Enter Monday

Clearly, today should be a rest day. My legs knew it. My shoulders knew it. My left tricep knew it. And even I knew it. I woke up looking forward to a day off.

Annnnnnd then Danielle posted the workout. Wall balls, box jumps & toes-to-bar (which we often scale to hollow rocks). It was almost too easy to scale, so I talked myself into it. Stupid me.

Rest means rest. As in, do nothing.

Scaling is not the same as rest. And more often than not, true rest will deliver more benefits to your fitness than scaling a workout when you’re tired. Especially when it’s obvious that your body needs the rest & recovery time.

Scale all or scale none

Just as rest means do nothing, if you’re going to scale, you scale THE ENTIRE WORKOUT. Not part of it. Not just the things you don’t like to do. Not just one body part or muscle group. You scale the entire workout.

So here is my stupid self, scaling wall balls to air squats (high five!), toes-to-bars to hollow rocks (nice, safe choice)… and then I set my box up for 30 inches (MORON!). “But I love doing box jumps, and I’m really good at them, so I should totally be jumping 30 inches.” Wrong. Dead wrong.

Long story short, I strained my right calf 12 minutes into a 15-minute workout. And it had nothing to do with the jumping. It was because I stepped down with my right foot every time, and put a lot of strain on that calf because of the 30-inch drop, and the angle it created on my lower leg.

It doesn’t matter how I did it. The point here is that I was an idiot. Well, aside from that, the point is to listen to your body. You’ve heard it a million times. And by now, most of us have a pretty good understanding of our bodies, and know when it’s telling us to chill out.

Do as I was too foolish to do on this particular day, and listen to it. Find the self-control to say no to the workout, and yes to your body.

So, yeah, about that competition this weekend. Well, with 4 entire days off (and yes, I mean true, 100% days OFF), I should be well-rested 🙂

Inner Toughness vs. Outer Toughness

I hesitated on the title for this one. Not sure if “toughness” is the right word, but let’s roll with it for now. I also considered titling this, “Lessons learned from losing an intramural football game 79-6.” True story. That just happened.

Outer Toughness

It’s pretty obvious to spot.

  • Big muscles
  • Loud voices
  • Aggressive demeanor
  • Sometimes violent, physical behavior

If you’ve got any combination of those things going on, you’re tough, right?

Well, you think you’re tough. And you think that the people watching you think you’re tough. But all that really means is that you’re being loud, aggressive & violent. And very few would argue that’s frequently desired behavior.

The Instigator

We actually started our football game winning 6-0. I caught a long pass that brought us close to the endzone, and we scored on the next play. But it’s what happened after I caught the pass that I want to talk about.

[I should mention that it’s a two-hand touch, social league, that’s just as much about drinking beer as it is football.]

The opposing team member who caught me from behind, forcefully shoved me to the ground while we were both running full speed. I didn’t ask him directly, so I’m technically assuming here, but… let’s be honest, it was intentional. He caught me from behind at a 45° degree angle, cocked his arms at the elbow, then fully-extended them, sending a 170lb man flying through the air. 100% unnecessary.

He didn’t come up to me to see if I was OK. He didn’t seem apologetic. He actually started walking right back to the line of scrimmage to get ready for the next play. If it weren’t for me popping up quickly & extending my hand to shake his, he would’ve turned his back like it was no big deal.

No. Big. Deal. See, therein lies my issue with this. Sure, I could blame that one dude for what he did. But the problem stems from the picture our society has painted on toughness.

Duke students recently launched a campaign called “You Don’t Say?“. It’s goal is (from their official Facebook page):

The “You Don’t Say Campaign” seeks to raise awareness around the misuse of language that relates to the LGBTQ community and gender issues. These words dehumanize and marginalize many within the Duke community and beyond and it is important to understand why.

And while it is aimed at the LGBTQ community & gender issues, one of their posters reads:

I don’t say “MAN UP” because strength is not defined by sex or gender.

I agree. But it’s also not defined by aggressiveness, physicality, tone-of-voice or violence—whether it comes from a man, woman or someone who identifies with another gender.

Inner Toughness: Who Really “Manned Up?”

Do you think it was easy for me to pop right up & extend my hand to him? To shake his hand while saying, “It’s all good, man.” Heck no! I wanted to sit him down & figure out why he felt the need to do that, and explain to him there’s a much better way to handle himself in that situation. (Mom alert!)

But that’s inner toughness. The toughness to do the right thing, even when your emotions tell you differently. The toughness to show compassion. To understand a larger issue at hand, and not take it out on one person. And to hold back when you know your words and/or actions will only make a situation worse, no matter how relevant & sensible they are.

A Small Moment of Change

Any small retaliation on my part could have led down a slippery slope. The entire mood of the game could’ve changed for all of us. Aggression on my part could’ve led to even more aggression on the other team’s part.

I’ll never know how my actions truly impacted change—for the rest of the game, or for the rest of their day. But maybe, just maybe, someone on their team realized that true toughness comes from within.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/gbm1QS

Getting Started with CrossFit: Is It For Me?

I just officially started CrossFit a few days ago. I have been doing some workouts on my own for years. I did 20 workouts with a gym a few months ago as part of a Groupon. But I just started the first full month of my new CrossFit membership.

I’m going to create a series of posts about my experience. I plan to cover the following topics:

  • Is CrossFit for me? (this post) –  I’ll help you make the decision whether or not you’ll enjoy CrossFit, and if it’s the right type of workout for you.
  • Evaluating gyms – No 2 CrossFit gyms are the same. It’s important you find the right one. I went to 4 before making my decision. I’ll tell you what to look for.
  • CrossFit Fundamentals – Most CrossFit gyms will require you to take a few intro classes & an assessment before you start taking classes. Here’s what to expect.
  • Your first few weeks – I’ll answer common questions related to your first couple of weeks. Discomfort? Soreness? Injury? Proper form? Is this normal?
  • TBD… I’m sure they’ll be a few more, but until I get more into it, I can’t predict the future.

Getting Started with CrossFit

Just because tons of your friends are talking about CrossFit, and your workout buddy wants you to join him, doesn’t mean you should go sign up right away. As with any exercise routine or fitness program that you partake in, you should enjoy it. If it isn’t fun, you’ll eventually stop doing it, and lose the benefits.

So before you get started, let’s talk about what CrossFit is, and see if it’s for you.

CrossFit Style Workouts

CrossFit defines itself as:

Constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement.

So… what does this mean?

CrossFit workouts…

  • are performed at high intensity
  • are very different from day-to-day
  • include all different types of movements
  • work every muscle in your body
  • include a combination of weightlifting, gymnastics movements & cardiovascular exercise
  • will have you running, jumping, rowing, jumping rope, doing pushups, pullups & situps, using medicine balls & kettle bells, lifting heavy weight… just to name a few
  • are done in a group setting, occasionally with a partner
  • last anywhere from 3 minutes to 30 minutes (but you’ll likely practice other movements during a 45-min to 1-hour class)

If you want to get started with CrossFit, there really isn’t any way around these things. But if these kinds of exercises appeal to you, then you’ll fit right in.

Cost of CrossFit

You’ll hear plenty of people tell you that “CrossFit is expensive.” Because the cost of everything is subjective, I don’t agree with saying that CrossFit is expensive (to some people, it’s chump change).

CrossFit costs more than a typical gym membership. But it also costs far less than a personal trainer. In my experience so far, the return on investment is high.

If you pick a high quality gym, the service, instruction, community & results you’ll receive are definitely worth it.

CrossFit pricing is based on a few things:

  • How many times per week you go to a class (2x/week, 3x/week, unlimited, etc.)
  • How many months you commit to (month-to-month, 6-month, 1-year, etc.)

I’ve seen CrossFit memberships range from $100/mo. to $250/mo. Most fall within the $150-$180 range for 2-3 classes per week, and at least a 3-month commitment. I recommend you go at least 3 times per week for 3 months, otherwise you’ll see very little results. (which is the case with ANY fitness program)

Most gyms let you drop-in for a single class, and those typically cost $15/class.

Most gyms also offer a free, introduction session. Sometimes these are one-on-one; sometimes they’ll have you participate in an actual class.

CrossFit Mobility

This one isn’t as important to consider as workout-style & cost, but I think it’s worth mentioning. Quite a few movements require a fairly flexible range of motion. If you do not have great mobility in your joints, you might struggle with some of the movements. Prepare to be frustrated at first.

But for most people, it’s something you can fix. If you don’t want to put the effort into increasing joint mobility & becoming more flexible, you might have a really tough time progressing.

CrossFit Injury & Risk

If you’ve done any kind of research on CrossFit, you’ve likely read about “how dangerous it is.” And you’ve probably heard about Rhabdo. I respond in a similar way to when people bring up the “expensive” argument.

Sure, CrossFit is dangerous. But so are a ton of other workout programs. And not working out at all is even more dangerous (and expensive… in the long haul).

Everything that provides great benefit also comes with a certain amount of risk.

The truth is…

  • the heavier the weight,
  • the faster you run,
  • the higher you jump,

the more dangerous it becomes. But that’s with anything, not just CrossFit. And if you want to improve your fitness, you’ll need to learn how to lift more, run faster & jump higher. Again, that’s consistent with any program though, not just CrossFit.

I encourage you to do your homework. Be aware of the risk. Learn about common mistakes people make. Be careful. Start slow. Err on the side of caution.

But I’m not saying you still won’t get injured. Sometimes you do everything right, and it still happens. Injury happens in all sports, at all levels.

CrossFit Diet (Paleo)

You’ll hear many CrossFitters talk about the Paleo diet (it’s short for Paleolithic). You can read more about it on Wikipedia, but don’t let it influence your decision. Some CrossFit athletes follow a strict paleo diet, while others don’t follow one at all. And there are all kinds of CrossFitters in-between.

You can be paleo, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, have an obsession with Thai food, or just eat everything in sight (within reason). You can still be a CrossFitter.

And if your gym gives you a hard time for not going Paleo, you just need to find a different gym.

Bottom line: Just don’t put crap into your body, and you’ll do just fine.

Final Thoughts on Choosing CrossFit

Workout-style & cost are the two main components you should evaluate when deciding if CrossFit is for you. Mobility, injury & risk should also be considered, but those ring true for other workout programs, too. Just like all workout programs, you’ll get out of it what you put in. You need to be consistent. You need to eat well. And you need to be careful.

Next up, I’ll talk about how I decided on which CrossFit gym to join, and take you through the questions to ask before joining a box.

WOD – July 28, 2013

For time…

  • 100 double-unders

Then:
21-15-9 of:

  • Pullups
  • Decline pushups (feet above hands)
  • One-handed dumbbell ground-to-overhead (30lbs)

17:25

Notes

I got the double-unders in about 2:45. Started round 3 of 21-15-9 at 15:15. Once I learn how to do kipping and/or butterfly pullups, I think I can get this under 15:00. I also know I can do the double-unders closer to 2:00 flat.

Pole Dancing Lesson

If you didn’t know by now, I like to do things that many might consider, uh, a little “out of the ordinary.” But then again, the title of my blog is “An Alternate Route,” because I like to take a different path through life. So this should come as no surprise.

I had a private pole dancing lesson with my friend, Nia. She’s an instructor at Studio X, a Richmond pole dancing studio. Currently, they only offer classes for women, but when you’re fortunate enough to know the instructor, you get the hookup.

I’m not going into much detail, because let’s be honest, I know you just want to see the pictures & video. But I will say this…

  • I expected it to be fun. But I had even more fun than I initially thought.
  • I expected it to be hard. And it was. But, based on feedback from Nia & the other instructors that saw me, I was doing moves that I shouldn’t have been doing my first time out.
  • I had no idea it would hurt that much. I had serious bruises for several days.
  • I learned that my flexibility is not nearly as good as I thought it was. Working on it…
  • I loved the challenge of trying to do new moves, and to do them with more grace, smoother, etc.
  • We didn’t even get to any spinning tricks or dance moves/choreography… and I still find myself wondering, “When can I get on the pole again?”

If I had a pole in my house, I’d use it several times per week. And I’d love to continue practicing. My dilemma is the same as it always is when I learn something new. When/where can I fit this into my life? There’s just not enough time to regularly practice all the things that I want to. And that’s because I think almost EVERYTHING is interesting. But I can’t do it all, so I’m still not sure where this may or may not fit in.

But, like I promised, here’s some proof that it actually happened.

Today’s Run: Storms, Frogs & Girls

In an effort to document my thoughts while I’m out running (because that’s always the big question when someone learns that you run distance), here’s how it went down today.

I began the run excited to get rained on. It’s been a while since I ran in a nice downpour, and I was looking forward to it.

Early on, I got passed by a group of about a dozen mountain bikers. I thought it was awesome they were out there, too. I’m not the only crazy one who loves the rain.

I started to notice little frogs jumping out of the way, off the trail into the brush. I’ve seen a frog or two out there before, but never this many. Maybe a dozen in my 7-mile trek. Unusual. Is it just the time of year they like to come out & play? Is it something about the weather patterns? Did they just stop using protection?

After that last thought, I realized I didn’t care enough to spend any more brain power on the topic.

I’m wondering how my feet are holding up. It sounds awfully squishy down there, and my socks are not the greatest. I don’t want to get blisters with a big hill workout tomorrow.

Then I passed two dudes walking from the parking lot of North Bank Trail, heading back into their cars. I thought about the bill that was being discussed in the Supreme Court today about same-sex marriage. I wonder if they’re gay? If they are… good for them. If they’re not… good for them.

I saw some late teen-early twenty kids walking through the parking lot. They were probably hanging out at Texas Beach… possibly up to no good, but perhaps just having a good time, like teenagers do. Who knows? And who am I to judge?

Ooooh, my favorite section of North Bank Trail. Let’s see how fast I can run it…

Dangit. Cramp. B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Relax. Get yourself together. … OK, now turn back on the jets…

I got onto Belle Isle and passed that same group of mountain bikers I saw earlier. And now that it was downpouring, I connected eyes with several of them, and we just smiled at each other, as if to silently say, “Doesn’t get any better than this!” 🙂

While at the top of Belle Isle, I reminisced about a conversation I had about myself, in regards to a previous relationship I was in. Also got me thinking about my current girl situation. No big revelations here, just a few minutes of simple contemplation.

I should probably head home. Don’t want to push it too much today. I’ve got a massage, hot yoga & a hill workout tomorrow.

Some of the water splashed down from the Lee Bridge as I ran along the pedestrian bridge. It was really warm. Wonder where exactly it traveled before reaching my face. Kinda nasty… but the heavy drops of water felt great.

A girl came down from Oregon Hill, and started running in front of me. I passed her on the flat. We exchanged pleasantries. I thought I was running past her at a pretty good pace, but sure enough, a few minutes later, she was right on my tail.

I kept my eye over my shoulder. If she was getting too close, I’d either move off to the side to let her pass… or just run faster. That kept my attention almost the entire way back.

Once returning to the parking lot, I let out a few claps & whooo’s, and a “That was awesome!”

THE END