The Open, RX’d

Another Open has come and gone! Quite unexpectedly, I decided to RX every workout. This decision was, in itself, my major 2017 Open victory. I did not have any PRs or remarkable scores, but I did take on some movements that I couldn’t do last year (chest-to-bar pull-ups, handstand push-ups). I also identified several movements that need additional work (double-unders, snatches) and, of course, I’m still on a quest for that first muscle-up. But the Open has reinforced some of the most salient lessons I’ve learned from Crossfit:

  1. Be humble. I was very enthusiastic about 17.1. I felt super prepared because last year a shoulder injury resulted in a great deal of single-arm snatching. I was confident that I would crush that workout right up until the fourth round of snatches when my vision began to narrow and I started gasping for air. My cockiness melted onto the floor in rivers of sweat as I fought for every rep and realized that I had a long way to go both in the WOD and in my Crossfit journey.
  2. Laugh at yourself. I laughed during the 17.2 announcement because I knew it was going to create an uproar among both scaled athletes who were still working toward pull-ups and RX athletes desperate for a muscle-up. I love a good uproar. Following 17.1, I was feeling quite philosophical and decided that I would RX the workout (why waste those toes-to-bar I’ve tried to master all year?), but not worry about the muscle-ups and have fun. After all, I’ve lived 31 years of my life without a muscle-up, so what was one more day? I relished those first 78 reps and then did my best swinging, kicking, and flailing to try and get up and over that bar. My husband stood nearby, vacillating between chuckling and offering encouragement. Eventually, my coach came over and gave me a helpful boost so I could hang out in a muscle-up for awhile and feel happy to be part of such a fun group of people.
  3. Try hard things, fail, and try again. I’m not good at snatches. My 2016 goal was to get all of my lifts at or over 100lbs, and I succeeded with everything except snatches. Indeed, I entered 2016 with a 1-rep max snatch of 75lbs and concluded the year with a 1 rep max of 80lbs. So I suspected 17.3 was going to be brief if I RX’d, but I had worked very hard last summer on chest-to-bar pull-ups so I was certainly not going to give up my chance to show them off in the Open! I mustered my way through the round of 65lbs with only a couple of no-repped snatches. I reached the 95lb snatch with just over 30 seconds to spare and failed twice before reaching the time cap. So I took ten pounds off the bar and got a few reps at 85lbs– a small but real PR!
  4. Trust the process. 17.4 repeated my favorite 2016 Open workout, and I was super excited! Last year I scaled this workout and got a few deadlifts into the second round. This year, I RX’d and pushed through as fast as possible so I could try a few of my newly-acquired handstand push-ups. My reps were significantly lower this year, but 17.4 showed me that my overall fitness has definitely improved. This workout was a great reminder to trust my coaches and the programming they have planned, even when it’s painful. I’m very excited to work hard for another year and then try this workout again!
  5. Surround yourself with positivity. In a painful workout with both double-unders and thrusters, the positive community at my gym really shined. I loved watching my friends take on 17.5 with gusto and celebrate each other’s successes. I am grateful that this atmosphere is not exclusive to the Open; the joyful energy that radiates around the box buoys the athletes every day. It accompanies us in our jobs and homes and gives us courage to face life challenges beyond thrusters. I feel a great comfort in knowing that I get to visit such an uplifting space and such inspiring people daily.

Happy end of the 2017 Open, everyone! Onward!


Ignorance is bliss?

As someone whose full-time job is in academia, I’ve always felt that ignorance is better equated to torture than bliss. I enjoy gathering information, examining nuances, pondering anomalies, and debating perspectives. It perhaps naturally follows that I spend every Sunday obsessively refreshing Wodify to see whether the coach has posted the upcoming week’s WODs.

Once the refresh button finally yields a page with text under “Monday” I feel a delightful stomach-churning anticipation. I review the week’s WODs much like I used to review my assigned readings as a student– first quickly, trying to gulp in the important information, and then more slowly, absorbing the details and developing a reaction to each element of the workouts. Throughout this process, I have two simultaneous one-sided internal conversations: one with myself and one with my coach.

The conversation with myself sounds something like this: “Oh dear, we’re supposed to find a heavy one-rep? What if I don’t PR? I’ll be the only one who doesn’t PR. How many double-unders? Ugh. I’m never going to finish that. Oh here’s one I can do! Yay rope climbs! Thrusters might aggravate my shoulder. Should I skip that day? No, of course not. I really hope R doesn’t beat my time on the run again. I hope she’ll be my partner. Let’s strategize; what’s going to get me through these WODs?”

The imaginary conversation with my coach runs along these lines: “Seriously? This is cruel. OH YAY SOMETHING I CAN RX! Oh goodness, what is Thursday, you crazy sadist? Wait we’re squat cleaning again? Is this all part of some larger training plan? What else are we doing that’s part of a larger plan? How can I work within a plan if I don’t know what the plan is? Are you God?”

After my internal dialogue concludes, I have conversations with real people (I’m not crazy). I typically first consult my buddy E, whose reactions often complement my own. We’re at similar skill levels, but she’s a PM crossfitter, while I’m solidly in the AM group. So we enjoy both planning for the WODs and debriefing, comparing the different advice we got and the different challenges we faced. E is a great person to share nervous energy with on the Sunday before a new crossfit week.

I also chat with  my husband, who only occasionally does crossfit, but is legally obligated to sympathize with me.

And that brings me to today’s WOD. I had been dreading it since Sunday. The workout included dumbbell thrusters (women’s RX: 35lbs); the last time I recall doing dumbbell thrusters, I remember struggling with the 25lb dumbbells and feeling exceedingly sore for days. It also featured double unders and their accompanying whip burn, followed by chest-to-bar, a slowly developing and exhausting exercise. The whole workout concluded with single-arm snatches. I’m actually at peace with those, but they were small consolation for the rest.

I dwelled on this WOD more than any of the others this week, even those I was looking forward to. I thought about my healing shoulder and wondered if I shouldn’t just skip. I wondered whether I was going to hold my partner back for the entire WOD. I berated myself for not working more on chest-to-bar. And, as it turns out, all of this fretting and self-deprecating was entirely unnecessary. Was it a fun WOD? Not especially. Did I RX? No.  Did I work through each round at a painfully slow pace? Absolutely.

Did it kill me? No. I had a tough thirty minutes, got a little stronger as a result, and then I went about my life.

So I write this as a reminder to myself and others that knowledge is only beneficial to the extent that we can appropriately contextualize it and allow it to bolster our understanding of the world and ourselves. The next time I’m repeatedly refreshing the Wodify page on a Sunday, I plan to recite a positive affirmation with each click. Instead of berating myself or blaming my coach inside my head, I will remember that every workout is a chance to improve a little and that no one expects any more than my best effort. Finally, instead of looking at WODs as giant ugly monsters that I need to battle, I will look at them as reflections of my capabilities and my growth because at the end of the day all I want is to be able to look myself in the eye and smile.

Sunday reflections

One of the questions I repeatedly grapple with is how often to go to Crossfit. I’ve asked my coaches about it and they’ve told me that it’s safe to attend every day and, indeed, that regular attendance is the best way to improve. But I’m also instructed to listen to my body, scale as needed, and even take a day off when it feels right. But I’m never totally sure where to draw that line, which brings me to today, lying in my couch, suffering fatigue and aches in every muscle in my body, and wondering if I’m getting sick, or if I pushed a bit too hard last week, or if I’m sore because I haven’t pushed hard enough in the past.

This past week I went to regularly scheduled classes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. On Thursday, I had a personal training session instead of class. Today (Sunday) is my rest day. I felt pretty decent Monday through Thursday, but Friday and Saturday were definitely a struggle. I know I’m not old, but I’m also not in my twenties anymore, and I wonder if I should scale back a tad to accommodate my current body/life?

I try to keep Crossfit in perspective in my life. After all, I need to be awake and pain-free enough to perform my real job and do all the other things I enjoy. But I do have terrible Crossfit FOMO. What if the class I miss is the one that really focuses on things I need to improve? What if that’s the class I could have learned something that would change my whole lifting technique for the better? What if I could have PR’d? What if I want to eat ice cream later without worrying about its effect on my body? Somewhere in this thought-spiral, I usually decide to just suck it up and go to the box.

How often do you Crossfit? What are your tips for recovery? Do you know how to turn off the FOMO voices? Any advice is greatly appreciated!

Dispatches from the edge of RX

My Scaled to Perfection friends were kind enough to ask if I wanted to contribute to this blog “from the RX perspective.” My first response was “but I’m not really RX.” Every now and then I’m gifted with a workout that plays to my strengths, and I’ll proudly tap the RX button on Wodify. Those are great days. More often than not, however, my RX WODs are the result of a stubborn refusal to go backward. My mentality is something like, “Even if I have to do these handstand push-ups one at a time, I will do them if it takes hours.” I will whip my shins for twenty minutes before giving up on double-unders. This persistence can be both rewarding and ill-applied but, in the long run, it serves me well.

At other times I scale because there are so many skills I’m still learning and so much strength I’m still gaining. I think of those as building days. They make me feel like I’m on the right path, and I appreciate progress even when it’s slight. I’m comfortable on scaling days because they are how I’ve spent the majority of my Crossfit time thus far.

Finally, there’s the third kind of day, the day I feel discouraged because I can’t do something I think I should be able to do, or I’m injured, or my coaches tell me to do something that I’m afraid to do, or I’ve had a bad day and it’s seeping into my workout. On such days I’ve been known to throw very restrained tantrums, call my coaches undeserved names like “dream killer” or “sadistic [expletive]”, and threaten to quit and take up a less frustrating hobby. These are dark days but they are rare. The only cure is to drag my grumbly self back to the box the next day, smile big, dance a little, and try again.

So that’s where I am in my Crossfit life– on the edge of RX, remembering that fitness is a journey and not a destination.