Friday, December 27, 2013

Crossfit and Me or What I did in 2013

I cannot finish 2013 without a post on crossfit, because this was the year I started crossfit, in a desperate attempt to get fit again.  Over the holidays last December, I accepted the fact that running maybe once a week was not cutting the mustard, and that the joy of running was not scheduled for a return anytime soon.  I had struggled to acknowledge that for 2 years, possibly because running had been such a big part of my life previously. It governed what I ate, what time I went to bed, in short everything. Not running anymore left me with a void and lack of motivation, both of which seemed difficult to address. 

I started crossfit on January 1, 2013 with "Murph", or rather a variation thereof.  Having always loved doing circuits, this was enjoyable, and it was an easy decision to sign up for the Foundations Course.  Prior to starting cross fit, all athletes must do the introductory skill and conditioning 4-week training course.  I found it challenging, especially as there were 2 other rather fit, and extremely fit guys on the course with me.  Right from the get go I had to decide what I was aiming for with this course, as we were all at very different levels.  But it was also interesting to see strengths and weaknesses: cross fit is premised upon the idea that there are 10 areas of fitness we all have to work on:
  1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance - The ability of body systems to gather, process, and deliver oxygen.
  2. Stamina - The ability of body systems to process, deliver, store, and utilize energy.
  3. Strength - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply force.
  4. Flexibility - the ability to maximize the range of motion at a given joint.
  5. Power - The ability of a muscular unit, or combination of muscular units, to apply maximum force in minimum time.
  6. Speed - The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement.
  7. Coordination - The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement.
  8. Agility - The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another.
  9. Balance - The ability to control the placement of the bodies center of gravity in relation to its support base.
  10. Accuracy - The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity.
These are the key skills any runner or triathlete needs.  Furthermore, all this training is HIIT (high intensity interval training), and it's very hard to see the point of all this training because you are not training for anything.  I had numerous conversations with my coach about HIIT.  Apart from explaining the obvious - that you train at a high level of intensity, have a short recovery period and go again - and that this allows your body to get used to training at a high level and recovering quickly, it was very hard for me to understand the 'value' of what this meant.  After all, I was doing cross fit and no other activity.  However, the 'value' of all this HIIT training became immediately apparent when I was able to run back to back half marathons without any training, and without any injury or pain.  I was totally blown away - never in all my years of running was I ever able to do such a thing.  But this runners have been doing HIIT since forever - after all, what is fartlek, if not HIIT?

I won't lie and say that cross fit was all fun and games and that I enjoyed every second of it.  I found it tough - both physically and mentally.  Physically, because I was in such poor shape, and also it's tough being in a class with people who are pretty fit (and much younger!).  Mentally, because I enjoy the solitude of running, and do not function well in a group environment.  Having said that, the coaches I worked with are wonderful, and run excellent classes.  They were kind and patient with me, and my conditioning really improved.  My team mates are also friendly, sociable people - and therein lies the rub.  Much has been written about cross fit being a cult, and cross fitters socializing together etc etc.  Well, some do, some don't - but you can if you would like to.  And they are a great bunch to hang out with.  I did not need that, though this needs some clarification:  runners are different from cross fitters in that they generally eat everything but in moderation.  Cross fit eating is paleo - eating like one's paleolithic ancestors.

In all honesty, I have never adhered to any eating regimens having always been as thin as a rake.  I realize that now I can't eat any old thing, and just looking at cupcake makes me put on 10 pounds.  However, paleo was never going to be something I embraced.  I need to sort out my eating but what worked for me is the Mediterranean diet - I was probably not as fit when I lived in Europe, but I was the healthiest I have ever been, and weighed 119 pounds when we moved here  years ago. On the down side, I certainly could not do any pull ups, let alone deadlift 150 lbs (at the last attempt).  So this was another aspect of cross fit that I really struggled with as well.  Paleo or nothing.  But I will be the first to admit that perhaps I did not understand it well enough to make an informed decision.  Based on what I know works for my body, paleo did not seem like the option for me.

Many were the times that I wanted to give up, and questioned whether this was really for me.  I had signed up for cross fit 3 times per week, and sometimes found going 'hard' all the time just overwhelming.  The first time I ever cried was quite recently, and that was the day I wanted to walk out.  We had a double workout: so cross fit starts with 2 rounds of a warmup that in our class usually includes 20 burpees at the end.  This is followed by a strength training portion, and finally the WOD - Workout of the Day.  An example might be a timed workout, like the one below: 

One hundred double unders (or 300 singles if you can't do DUs), 50 hand stand holds, 40 toes to bar, 30 shoulder to overhead presses with rx at 65lbs for women (I do 55) and 90 ft front rack walking lungs (which I think means with the barbell racked and stacked against your chest).  For time means all out effort.  Alternatively you could have the same workout for 5, 8, or 10 rounds which means that you will do that set of exercises 10 times - however long it takes.  

At a certain point we started doing double workouts: 

I won't go through it all, but as you can see we do 40 burpees in the first round plus all the other stuff. The day I felt like walking out, and was actually crying was the day we had a whole lot of other stuff, plus 120 burpees. But it was also a turning point - in what universe had I ever done 120 bupees?  And I certainly could not have finished them without the support of my team.  So cross fit is good like that.  It pushes you beyond your boundaries and far beyond what you imagine you are capable of.  I would go as far as saying that it trains both body and mind.  

For every positive there is a flip side negative and vice versa.  With cross fit it is no different.  It is addictive, and I have been thinking of trying something else for this very reason.  It is unlike anything else I have experienced to date, and I am going back and forth each day as to whether I should leave next year or not.  I don't like the feeling of being addicted to something.  But if it's good for you, how can it be bad, right?  However, it also takes a lot to stay in that environment, especially if your natural default is not a group.  It also takes a lot to identify your goals and why you are doing cross fit and stick to those.  I had no particular goals this year, I was just in a desperate situation.  Still, I did start developing those over the last 3 months of the year, and even then, I found it hard to keep those in mind when I was struggling to do 30 burpees.  

The jury is still out, but I am considering other options, as I would like to focus a lot more on my running next year.  If anyone else has tried or is doing cross fit, I would love to know what your take is…..

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