Crossfit has ruined me for other forms of exercise

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Last month, I decided to give crossfit a whirl. I was finding my usual circuit training bootcamp class to be less and less challenging and wanted to step up the weightlifting a bit. Plus, the gym I was interested in had a groupon deal: $68 for one month of unlimited crossfit and yoga classes. In the Bay Area, where monthly crossfit memberships ring up as a cool $200 easy, this was definitely a steal for getting my feet wet. What I didn’t expect was to really friggin’ love it.

I’ve been cautioned not to strength train too hard in the weeks leading up to a big race because it can lead to excessive muscle fatigue and hating your life, etc. However, since I am a runner and not a racer, I didn’t see any harm in tipping the cardio-strength scale a bit more to the strength training side for a bit. My biggest worry, as I’ve said before when it comes to crossfit, is/was injuring myself via the dreaded but all too common too-much-too-soon scenario.

After one month of 4 days/week of crossfit*, here’s my take on my experience at San Jose Barbell in San Jose, California.

The coaches: 5/5

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One of the coaches, Ranbir, teaching me the form for some Olympic lifts with a pvc pipe.

Perhaps I am biased, since I was friends with one of the coaches/founders to begin with, but they’re all awesome, knowledgeable, and encouraging. The ratio of coaches to classmates was 1:4 at the most, so I definitely felt like I was receiving personal attention and I never felt like I was in danger of injuring myself by performing a movement incorrectly. Most of the coaches were dudes, but the gym did hire at least one female intern, who led quite a few warm-ups and demos. Perhaps the coolest part of having these coaches as a resource is that they hear your problems and try to suggest a solution to personally help you. For example, I’ve complained a few times about my tight hips and how they can swell up during longer runs. I’ve tried all sorts of stretching and yoga to some effect, but they’re tight all the time. One of the coaches gave me some other exercises to do, like holding a low lunge and kind of rocking back and forth, and it has definitely made a world of difference. My hips don’t swell up anymore–huzzah!

The classes: 4.5/5

The classes are divided up into sections: warm-up, strength, and conditioning. The coaches go over all of the movements with the group before we even touch a barbell, and absolutely everything can be modified to anyone’s personal fitness level. The warm-up usually includes a jog and some cross-the-floors reminiscent of dance class to get the blood pumping.

During the strength section, we would usually single out a specific move, like strict/military press or front squats, and focus on getting in a few (~3-5) sets of low reps and high weight. Often, this would involve building up to a target weight, so sometimes you’d end up having done something like 8 sets. The down side to this approach is that there is limited time to complete the strength part, because the next part of the workout is conditioning, and that requires quite a bit of time itself. The advantage definitely goes to the person who has a clearer idea of what his or her target weight is–usually measured in reference to your one-rep max, the highest weight with which you can complete a single rep of that movement. If you don’t know your one-rep max, you have to guess and work up or down from there.

The final workout element is conditioning. This would vary from partner work, trading off static movements like wall sits with dynamics movements like bicep curls, to AMRAP (as many reps as possible) workouts, to a laundry list of movements (like a chipper, ugh) with a time cap. There is no room for complacency in crossfit.

I’m personally curious about the thought process behind designing the workouts. It’s different than other approaches to strength training, where you trade off targeting certain muscle groups, since not every person comes every day.

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Are we crazy? Post-workout planks!

The atmosphere: 5/5

I’ve whined before about my fragility when it comes to talk of diets and weight loss. That kind of talk can become a slippery slope for me, so I try to avoid it altogether. What was great about SJBB was that there was a pretty even split between the genders, but I never heard any talk amongst the classmates about losing weight or Calorie counting. There was a transformation campaign going on gym-wide, but I chose to selectively interpret it as being focused on performance. Overall, everyone was super supportive and I felt like I could ask any one them for lifting advice.

Personal Improvement: The biggest challenge was fitting it all in (that’s what she said). I want to do and try everything, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day (that’s what she said, that’s what she said). It is certainly possible that doing so much crossfit detracted from my running time, although I was certainly making some headway in conditioning and it definitely gave my shins a break, so perhaps it all balances out.

One personal milestone I achieved during this month was my very first REAL (unmodified) push-up. Might not seem like a big deal to you, but if your nickname growing up was Scrawny Ronnie, you can probably empathize with my joy and pride.

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Baby’s first crossfit bruise. Can you see it?

All in all, I’m really glad and surprised at how much I enjoyed crossfit. If I am allowed to toot my horn a little bit, I am also somewhat impressed that I was able to do it at all. My biggest disappointment is that I cannot permanently join the SJBB family, as I’ll be moving. And now I feel like I’m ruined for other gyms. But the great thing about the gym is their free Saturday classes and inclusive monthly Fit Mob events! See you at the next one, guys!

 

* My weekly workout schedule consisted of one rest day, 4 days of crossfit, and 2 running days (one short, one long).

 

Crossfit part 1

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My friend Aljay has some major balls guts. Earlier this year, he ditched his 9-to-5 an opened a killer crossfit gym, which has expanded via mostly word of mouth into a gym with dozens of members who attend the regular crossfit and yoga classes. Unfortunately, the gym is too far out of my way to attend as a member; however, I’ve been able to try out yoga for the first time and join in on some crossfit action during the gym’s free monthly Fit Mob events, both of which are open to members of the public.

Going to the first Fit Mob event, I had some reservations. Everyone who was attending had to declare their fitness level on a spreadsheet prior to the event, and although most people claimed to be crossfit “beginners” I was still somewhat skeptical that I’d be able to keep up with them. I was also nervous about the crossfit from a general fear of injuring myself.

Aljay used our self-identified fitness levels to organize us into three- or four-person teams. After everyone did a short 200m run and some cross-the-floors (as we called in ballet and colorguard–I don’t know what they call them in crossfit) to warm up, we found our teammates and did a 16-minute set of circuit training where we did each of 8 stations for 1 minute each, twice through. The bootcamp classes at my gym are also organized in this circuit format so I felt confident that I wouldn’t feel lost. Unlike my gym classes, though, these exercises were much more basic and easy to remember: simple squats, push-ups, pulls-ups, and my favorite, rest!

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Doing all the burpees!

At my gym, it’s not uncommon for me to waste a good portion of the set trying to get into the proper position for that prescribed station or modify an exercise to work for me. However, those exercises tend to be more complicated because they’re compound rather than isolated motions, so there’s kind of a trade-off I suppose. Basically, during the Fit Mob, I reaffirmed my preference for circuit training!

The next component of this Fit Mob was a friendly tournament of sorts. Teams were organized into brackets and the winners of each round would advance to the next, etc. During the first found, two people did wall sits while the third did 10 burpees as fast as they could. Then they would rotate and a new person would do burpees while the person who just finished them did the wall sit. Two teams competed to see how many burpees they could complete in 5 minutes.

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Winning strategy: the whole team pulls together!

The next round involved carrying a shit ton of equipment back and forth across the gym. My friend Matt lighted on the ingenious strategy to put all of the weights on the barbell (like 150 pounds or something ridiculous) and carry the bar across as a team. Round three was similar, except it was using the sled thing (not crossfit terminology) to load up increasing weight loads and push/pull the sled thing back and forth across the gym floor.

The whole experience was capped off with some Psycho Donuts, which, if you don’t know what they are, are like not-so-little bites of heaven.

All in all, I had a great time. I confirmed what zillions of people have told me: that I would really enjoy the camaraderie aspect of crossfit and that I would have a lot of fun doing it. I also confirmed that I have a greater-than-normal tendency to get injured during crossfit: I hurt my right wrist during the burpee round. Apparently you can’t just slam the weight of your entire body onto your dainty lady wrists without risking injury. I should’ve listened to Matt and just belly-flopped instead of trying to actually catch myself. But that’s the risk with crossfit or any timed fitness regimen–especially if you’re a beginner, you potentially sacrifice good form for time. Next time I visit SJBB, I could try to hold back and disappoint my teammates by slowing myself down. A better option might be to practice good form on my own time so that it’s second nature.

Would I recommend Fit Mob events to a friend? Yep. Did I enjoy myself? Heartily. Can’t wait for the next one!

 

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I am consistently inconsistent

So I haven’t posted in a while…and I haven’t gone running in a while. I could make probably 17 different excuses, but none of them are particularly interesting, so I’ll refrain. But it’s been a hard lesson to learn, because now that I’m back at it, it’s less like starting back up and more like starting over. What would have been ridiculously easy for me a month ago is now shamefully hard: I am winded and lethargic and even whinier than usual.

How running with my boyfriend has felt the past few weeks.
How running with my boyfriend has felt the past few weeks.

Getting back into the swings of things hasn’t been as simple as I would have thought, so I’m working on a few different ways to build up my endurance again. I also have to address the source of the problem, which is not having a ton of time to devote to the gym or ┬áthe trail. This is what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Sprint ladders (I love/hate them. I’ve been doing 20-second sprints with varying amounts of rest in between, from 10s to 1 min and then back down to 10s. I think I might try doing a 10-second sprint variation to really force myself to go all out to almost-puke levels, but there are plenty of other options besides sprinting on a track or a treadmill. It’s a little counterintuitive but sprinting actually helps increase your distance pace, so that’s a plus! And no matter what evolutionary biologists say, sprinting feels more natural to me than distance running!)
  • Gym classes (I took a Zumba class at the gym today, which basically combines different forms of dance and some minor stretching in a cardiovascular test of rhythm and endurance. Turns out, my not inconsequential hip and butt endowments did not imbibe me with any rhythmic abilities, and I still sort of look like an epileptic string bean (see below). The down side of something like Zumba is that I think I’d have to do it more than one time to really derive any enjoyment out of it. I spent the majority of the class blindly following the instructor’s movements without regard to form or my stringbeaniness, which could–for someone as uncoordinated as me–be a recipe for disaster.)

    Bonus points to anyone who can identity what this image is from. As a child from the 80s, I knew instantly.
    Bonus points to anyone who can identity what this image is from. As a child from the 80s, I knew instantly.
  • Running at work (I just found a running group at work that runs 2 mi/5 km self-timed races every third Tuesday of the month. That’s awesome, but for those of us with shit commutes, the prospect of sitting at a desk and then sitting in the car is naturally paired with sitting on the couch. I am literally so exhausted from sitting all day long that all I want to do is sit more. But we must not let the laziness set in! I’m starting to bring my running shoes to work, so now, if I finish and it’s still peak commute time, I kill an hour or so doing a run AND STRETCH and then I can sit foooooreeeeeveeeeerrrrrrrrr in traffic or on the couch.)

I would love to know if anyone else has suggestions for fitting in a good run into your busy day! In the future, I’ll try to be less consistently inconsistent about my posting schedule.