Wednesday, June 17, 2015

CrossFit Update: 7 1/2 Months

Back on May 30th, I last gave my CrossFit-only update at 31 weeks in and on the cusp of a major change. Here's that post. Today, only 18 days later, lots has changed and everything is looking really good. I'm taking a break, actually, from the box for a week to rest, recharge, see new sights, and spend time with my family so this time is letting a lot soak in and give me time to think.

Rest and Relaxation Week
For 7 months, I tried on a new routine which was a strong departure from days prior. I had been running 200+ miles per month and felt another injury lurking should I continue. I tried a running streak where I took no days off for awhile and I had lofty goals for 2015 that included a return to the 100 mile race, several 50Ks, a 50 miler and even a 24hr race in Cleveland. Well, that 100 mile race took place over a week ago and obviously, I didn't go. In fact, many goal races for 2015 got scrapped and I've only gone the "ultra"distance once, a marathon once and a few half marathons. I suppose I could still do the 24hr race in September...considering it. So during those 7 months, instead of running the country roads early before sunrise, I've thrown around weight, climbed ropes, chewed up my hands like never before, got my heart pumping like never before and changed my physical body drastically. Gone is the typical running body that does nothing but run...strong legs but weak everywhere else. Instead, I can still run but have a strong upper body and have burned the majority of the fat there and replaced it with muscle definition like I've never seen before in my 42+ years. I'm not saying I'm some powerhouse (far from it!) but guess what...there really are muscles in there, contrary to popular belief! I've also made some great friends during these 7 months. At the end of May, though, as the 7 month marker followed a few days later on June 4th, change was imminent as a new CrossFit box opened closer to home and offered a completely different approach to the "sport" of CrossFit. (in quotes as that's a highly debated statement!)

For months, I never tried things like dips or handstand push-ups or even a chest-to-bar pull-up. I showed up, did what the coach told me to, got some instruction, did the workout and went home 60min later. When things like these movements showed up in a workout, it was just assumed I couldn't do them so I scaled it to something lesser that I could do. While I saw rapid gains in the first several months of CrossFit, my gains certainly tapered off over the last 1-2 months. I simply wasn't getting any stronger or adding muscle. If I didn't get stronger, I'd never be able do a hand-stand push-up or dip. I was at a plateau and nothing I was doing nor being told to do would change it. Then there is my crappy form. On Day 1 at CrossFit 881 (my new gym/box), my coach had me squat which was awful. I was curving my back in a nasty way as I neared the bottom of my squat which limits what I can lift and opens me up to injury. That set me up for lots of work on my squat AND a break from Olympic lifting, except for push presses and dead lifts that have continued. In the meantime, a HUGE concentration on strength has commenced.

A typical day: Disclaimer first: I'm not saying what I've been doing the past 7 months has been wrong. This is a fluid and constantly changing activity...that being CrossFit. It is subject to limitless interpretation. I have seen huge gains in the past 7 months and I'm thankful for it! However, the before and after are very different in what a typical day holds. BEFORE: It was a typical class environment with 10-25 athletes, involved lots of warmup, something gymnastic, a strength component, and a WOD. Classes last 1 hour and often follow immediately by another class. At most...two coaches for the class and most often, one coach.  

Today, I rarely spend only one hour in the box and if often 75-90min. A warm-up usually consists of some running, rowing, or maybe even some kettle bell swings. It's also a solo workout and is much more reflective of a personal training session vs. class environment. I'm sure this may change over time as CrossFit 881 grows but for now, it's very one-on-one. After warmed up, instead of 10min or so being spent on strength, it's more like a half hour or so and may follow 2-3 different movements. Higher reps, lower weight and then increased weight and lower reps...then back down again. A huge focus has also been on body weight strength work via pull-ups and dips then more of those with a weighted vest (20lbs) or even a small kettle bell chained around my waist for added resistance. I'll be honest: when I see my coach bring out the weighted "options" (not options at all!), I shake my head and consider it "not possible so why even try?" That's been my real learning curve. I have learned that I AM far more capable. Case in point: A week ago today, my coach wrote the following on the whiteboard: 200m run, 7 burpees, 7 pull-ups for 3 rounds, then rest 3min, then do it for 2 more rounds, rest 2min and finally one last round. Given that all 7 of my tears on my hands healed, I didn't shy away from this. What he DIDN'T write was I was to wear a weighted vest for all of it. Cue the head-shaking left and right and total self-doubt. Enter bad attitude. "I'll be here all day," I believe I said. I sucked it up and did the first round and that vest was way loose so he tightened it up and I charged on and a crazy thing happened...I WAS able. As I went, I actually got a hunger to fight and work harder and ended up getting faster. Crazy, isn't it?!  In the end, I loved it and made a huge mental break-through and thinking back to the "Murph" WOD that calls for a vest, it made me believe that the day is coming when I'll do Murph as prescribed. (video below shows one set of those pull-ups with the vest on) The other crazy mental thing has been the kettle bell. Up until June 1st, I never touched a kettle bell greater than 45 pounds. Most WODs that have a KB in it prescribe 53 or 55lbs for the men. The video below was the first day I swung a KB at 881. The KB on the floor is 55lbs...the one I'm swinging is 70 pounds! I'm pretty sure I muttered "whatever..." when he pulled that out. More self doubt...more being WRONG. Now, swinging this KB is becoming more common which will make future WODs with the 55lb seem...."easier." Go figure!

The first time doing dips - no band!
So while I haven't been doing a bunch of bar work, I am getting stronger and starting to believe in myself more. Dips, pull-ups (vest, too), and I even did my first chest-to-bar last week.  I also would be wrong to not mention the added benefit of having someone believe in me, deal out some "tough love" when necessary and push me out of my comfort zone. What happens in the gym has lots to spill out into daily life and as someone who is stupid hard on myself, I could even chalk up my workouts to a form of mental counseling! I've said it many's not just about moving weight or feeling like death is imminent during a workout! There is much more to apply to life if you're willing to let that happen. :)

Moving forward, both my wife and I couldn't be more confident in our decision to change CrossFit "homes." We both need a lot of work in the fundamentals and need to grow much stronger from head to toe in order to grow in the other areas of CrossFit that we really struggle with. We also really appreciate the climate we find ourselves working in now and the constant push and positive reinforcement received. Icing on the cake is being a part of a brand new community from the beginning. (CrossFit 881 is only a few months old!) In the very short term, we are looking forward to our first competition coming up on June 27th at CrossFit Steeltown outside nearby Pittsburgh, dubbed the "Metcon Games." Down the line...who knows...but I am really looking forward to returning to Olympic lifting soon and what I can accomplish in that area. I need a lot of help there and I know I'll get it. I know I'm far more capable than I've shown so far.

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