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).

 

Bimodal Sleeping: The END

I am incredibly relieved to not have to keep this sleep schedule up. (If you are new to the blog and have no idea what I’m talking about, you should probably read this and this first.)

It was an interesting experiment but ultimately, bimodal sleeping is just not for me. First of all, it drastically cuts down the hours during which you can expect any sort of social interaction. It’s also a little inconvenient if you share a bed/room/house/planet with anyone. The first few days, I really enjoyed the solitude and reveled in driving around town on empty streets and working out in an empty gym. That honeymoon period might have persisted had I not had to deal with physical symptoms of my sleeping schedule, which, despite getting the suggested 8 hours of sleep, seemed strongly similar to sleep deprivation.

Now that I am back on the more typical 8-hour schedule, it’s by no means smooth sailing. I still wake up a lot–every hour and a half according to my sleep tracking app–and I probably spend closer to 9 hours actually in bed, which is what it is.

I look forward to a bright future when I don’t have to worry about getting enough or sufficient sleep.

Bimodal Sleeping: Day 6 of 14

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I hate everything. Okay, not really. Despite being insanely productive in waking periods (painting crap that needs to be painted, stringing pearls on twine to wrap around a candle for no real reason, yoga, yoga, and more yoga, practicing handstands, a little bit of terrible treadmill running and crappy real-life running, cooking bulks of quinoa which has since gone bad because apparently you can only refrigerate cooked quinoa for like 3 days, hot gluing rocks onto felt to make place mats that turned out to be too heavy so they became trivets, replanting some succulents, making one-person desserts, and some light reading about God that semi-infuriates me) and mostly sticking to the no screens rule, this schedule feels like it’s starting to take a toll. In fact, it feels a lot like jet lag that I can’t seem to shake.

I have no trouble falling asleep early and it’s not any harder to wake up either time than it is with a normal, continuous eight-hour schedule, but I feel generally more run down. The past few days, coffee has had no added benefit, although I don’t know why I was expecting it to. I’ve also started getting a headache right above the inner part of my right eye brow. It’s random and irritating.

I have a few things in mind to try in order to make this process easier:

  • Things to try: I might lay off the nighttime workouts, but that does restrict my potential running opportunities quite a bit.
  • I also am trying to work a 10-minute nap into the middle of my day.
  • A friend of mine who had the misfortune of a graveyard workshift recommended that I try pounding a glass of water whenever I need a boost of alertness.

So Retro: Ronnie Tries Bimodal Sleeping

Bimodal Sleep: Day 3

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We sure do love our throwbacks. The word “vintage” is probably enough to justify jacking up the price of any item on etsy. “Retro” is a good thing. And #tbt is a hashtag that exists. I would even argue that we’ve just been rehashing other eras of fashion since 2000 (e.g. the hippie bell-bottom look of the 70s, leggings and tunics of the 80s and 90s, and now Gatsby). Don’t even get me started on today’s pop music.*

Who knows why we have this preoccupation with the past? Perhaps there just aren’t any more original ideas and we have to recycle old ones in new combinations…

Regardless of the why of it all, the same recycling of ideas happens in fitness. The entire foundation of diets like paleo and barefoot or minimus running is that they harken back to a simpler time of prehistory when humans were supposedly healthier and happier. I even read an entire book on how to “beat” depression “naturally” (i.e. without drugs) and its thesis was very much the four tenets of recapturing the past:

  • Go outside into the sun more often to do the Vitamin D thing
  • Eat more greens and omega-3s and less sugar and carbs (apparently carbs contain serotonin or whatever and that’s why you crave them when you’re sad, because you’re self-medicating)
  • Exercise
  • Sleep
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The reasoning was that cavemen never had to deal with depression, so what were they doing that we modern humans aren’t?  We should just start doing that and all the chemicals in your brain will magically rearrange themselves and that bad depression will just go away, right? This makes sense at a high level, but telling me I should imitate a lifestyle that we can’t or don’t know a lot about seems a little silly.** How do we know that cavemen didn’t get bummed out from time to time? It’s not like they could have left emo selfies or cries-for-help status updates in their cave paintings. (Perhaps anthropologists reason that depressed cavemen would not have faired as well in securing food because they wouldn’t have wanted to leave their super duper comfortable beds and wouldn’t have survived or something…)

Of course, those four suggestions are totally reasonable regardless of their relevance to historical lifestyles, so I went for it anyway. Plus, I was pretty much willing to try anything, including self-help books. Just like when I watch Hollywood versions of science films, I am fully capable of suspending my skepticism long enough to try something new–or when I am desperate.

And that’s what happened when I heard of the idea of segmented or bimodal sleep. According to the dude who wrote a paper on the topic, this more “natural” way of sleeping essentially spreads out one’s sleep in a couple 3- to 4-hour bursts over a period of about 12 hours. And it’s supposedly the way our ancestors did it until that whole electricity thing caught on, according to some random references in literature and religious texts. Now, I still think this is a little far-fetched, especially the suggestions of what people got up to during those nighttime waking hours, like go visit neighbors or read (because I’d definitely leave my warm bed and go out into the cold to talk to people I see during the day anyway, and we all know that literacy rates in the Middle Ages or whenever were second to none, not to mention how plentiful reading material must have been). But since I tend to wake up about 4 hours into the night like clockwork and then have trouble getting back to sleep again, I figured, why not embrace it and actually get up and be productive?

So I am embarking on a two-week trial of segmented sleep. My sleep schedule, depending on the day of the week, will look a little like this:

  • 8:30 PM – 12:00 AM Sleep
  • 12:00 AM – 2:30 AM Wake Up and Do Stuff
  • 2:30 – 6:30 Sleep

That gives me about 7.5 hours of sleep. During the waking period, I am doing yoga and some light, stretchy cardio (my gym has virtual classes that you can put up on a projector and although they only have one short straight-up yoga class, they have a ton of yoga and pilates “fusion” classes), doing some grocery shopping at a 24-hour grocery store, and trying (for the first time) some basic meal prepping.

So far, it’s been a lot easier than I had expected to fall asleep the first time even though it’s earlier than usual. The biggest downside is that I tend to have a hard time leaving my warm, comfy bed with a normal sleep cycle, and now I have to do it twice. The period of waking seems to be of a good length because I start getting sleepy again right about the time I’m meant to hit the sack for my “second sleep”. I’m not really sure how active to be during the waking period, so I’ve been sticking to low-impact stuff, dim lighting, and no bright screens or technology.

This schedule is probably not for everybody. Some even say that disrupting the REM cycles of sleep interferes with the body’s hormone production, and that being awake during the night leads to high production of cortisol, a hormone produced in response to stress that may contribute to weight gain. Yes, cortisol is a hormone related to stress—but it’s also the hormone your body produces at certain points in your circadian rhythms to make you feel more awake—it’s like your body’s self-made caffeine. So it would make sense to have higher levels of cortisol when you’re awake. It doesn’t necessarily follow that redistributing, not increasing, your waking hours would produce excess cortisol, but I’m not an expert.

Either way, it’s just two weeks. Wish me luck!

* I love pop music.

** The most recent take on the paleo diet proposed by Dr. Loren Cordain includes a higher proportion of meat (i.e. meat with pretty much every meal) than cavemen likely had available to them.  Turns out real cavemen might have eaten a little differently. I can’t wait for this diet to catch on!

 

 

Numbers

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So it’s no secret to anyone within texting distance that I’ve been struggling with some more-acute-than-usual body images issues the past few weeks. As I’m not a holiday-weight worrier, the only explanation I can point to is a recent, significant weight milestone: I am now officially 20 pounds heavier than I was exactly two years ago.

Although I believe in being open about this sort of thing in theory, just as I am open about that brief period when I dealing with disordered eating (because I do not think poor mental health is anything to be ashamed of), when talking of pounds and fat, I can’t help but feel a teensy bit shallow.

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Rationally, I know that comparing my weight two years ago to my weight now is like comparing apples to oranges. Yes, I was thinner, but I also couldn’t climb stairs, run a half marathon, or lift pretty much anything. I was also thin because I spent about 12-15 hours a day sleeping and therefore not eating. Do I think I’ve just gained 20 pounds of pure muscle in those two years? Of course not, but the point is, no matter how unreasonable I know it is to connect the numbers on the scale to my overall health, I still feel like shit when the numbers go up.

I’ve talked about qualitative and quantitative goals to death already. I still think it’s important to have a mix of both, but the fact is that the latter are a lot easier to track. You can see it numbers in the weight of the dumbbells you’re lifting, the amount of reps you can do, Calories you’re burning, your heart rate, running pace, mileage, and yes, pounds on the scale. These are all numbers that we have given meaning to, for better or worse. On the qualitative side, you can really only judge your progress on how you feel and how you look.

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Unfortunately, the types of goals that I am not interested in tracking are the ones tracked by everyone surrounding me. You can’t follow a fitness personality or hashtag or even check your feed on social media these days without being bombarded with progress pics, fitspiration (i.e. cute or clever sayings somehow revolving around pushing through something, overcoming laziness, or how the reasons you’re exercising are better than the reasons other people might be exercising, and lots of toned-but-not-bulky girls with six packs and full make-up), and people posing with weights or fitbit readouts.

I should say something here about how I don’t care what goals other people have. If you don’t want to be “skinny”, sure, that’s fine, whatever, I’ve already put in my two cents about that. If before-and-afters pump you up, who am I to rain on your parade? When you’re proud of how many Calories you’ve burned, is that really that much different than my being proud of breaking a running distance PR? You made a goal and you achieved it, and I am proud of you for that. Daaaawwww hugs.

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However, as isolationist as I try to be (browsing my Instagram feed notwithstanding), other people’s goals can still affect me positively and negatively. Fitness is first and foremost an investment, and where my self-loathing comes in is when I feel like I’m not getting a return on that investment. But an ROI according to whose investment? Yeah, so I’ve gained a few pounds seemingly overnight (maybe I’ve been a little too moderate on my whole eating crap in moderation thing…) but I don’t have a clear weight loss goal, I don’t track my Calories in or out, I don’t care about target heart rate, and I don’t care about muscles (although I’m generally pleasantly surprised to notice them). The point is, I feel like a loser only when I evaluate myself on the same metrics that other people value. When I stick to what I care about—how I feel—I’m generally on top.

Moral of the story: Sometimes there’s more to an obsession with weight gain than simple vanity. The lesson I’m slowly learning (and not very well) is that the hardest thing about this health craze is staying focused on what is important to you and if that’s not what you’re bombarded with day in and day out, well, just try not to feel craptastic.

Rant post #1 of ~24,597,309

I promised myself that this blog would not devolve into a repository of my often ill-conceived and barely-articulated rants. But since this is my blog, I can do whatever I want, so I am temporarily suspending that promise in order to talk about the ladyfolk.

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  1. Try, try, try to relate to me on a level beyond our diets. There is so much more to me than what I choose to put in or not put in my mouth. (That’s what she said.) If you think that I am flattered by your comments that I’m “lucky” that I don’t need to worry about having a few holiday treats, I am not. I just feel awkward. Jokingly-but-seriously excluding me from even considering joining the office Weight Watcher’s group is not cool.
  2. At the gym, if I’m feeling ambitious and pick a weight that is waaaay too heavy for me and I fail, don’t snicker at me. It’s rude. Likewise, if you think my tiny free weights are cute, maybe don’t show it on your face, unless you want me to punch you. I don’t have much upper body strength but I’ll give it my best shot. One type of exercise is not better than another, just different.
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Very much the thesis of this post is that women should be supporting and respecting each other as individuals in all facets of life—the working world, the physical fitness world, the social world, etc. I mean that, even though I just hypothetically threatened to punch a chick in her face. We women are our own worst enemies, and that’s dumb. We are constantly putting each other down, if not to other people, at least in our own minds. And if we’re not putting each other down, we’re evaluating. I can say with 85% confidence that there is no woman living or dead who has never evaluated her physical appearance against that of another woman. Perhaps we get a confidence boost when her boobs are smaller or her hands are bigger. Perhaps we vow to diet until we too have tiny waists and thigh gaps. Ugh. The circumference of another woman’s thighs should have no bearing on our present moods. Why can’t we just see each other as people and not as potential competition? We’re never going to rule the world if we keep stabbing each other in the backs.

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Unfortunately this manner of interacting based on physical appearance is as ingrained in us as blessing someone after they sneeze. If I don’t know a woman well and am trying to find some common ground, complimenting her shoes or hair is a pretty normal icebreaker. I don’t bother to delve deeper than that because I’ve already filled the silence. At the gym, I feel like I’m constantly being evaluated or am evaluating others (but mostly because I either have no idea what I’m doing or because the whole full-makeup-hair-did-matching-lululemon-workout-clothes thing just kind of baffles me).

What’s interesting is that when I think of my coworkers one by one, I know next to nothing about the married females (except stuff about their kids) but I have a go-to topic to talk about with the men—band, dogs, hockey, or running. I even have female friends with whom the majority of our interaction is based on fitness.

I feel like this is so socially accepted that there’s no incentive to form other types of relationships. Even I need to work on being supportive and not lumping women into unrelatable wife-mom categories. So this is what I’m going to do:

  1. Find something out about my female coworkers that is not related to diet or weight loss.
  2. Smile and/or nod at the other ladyfolk at the gym. We already have something in common—we like to work out. No point in being unfriendly or allowing my self to intimidated. I’m not intimidated by the dudes, so why should I be intimidated by the ladies?
  3. Steer conversations into realms other than diet and exercise. I am (clearly) not a skilled conversationalist, so this might require some practice. I might have to talk about myself more. I might lose a lot of friends that way…

I take back that BS about not stopping

I posted a loooong time ago about pushing yourself and keeping yourself going, something that I have and probably always will struggle with. I painted a picture of runner who never stopped, not for aches or side stitches thirst or distraction.

And I’m full of crap. Forget that. If you’re running recreationally, there is never a reason to push yourself through pain (beyond the discomfort of just being out of shape). Pain means that something is wrong and running is the type of repetitive activity that can make it worse.

I’m guilty of pushing through pain. I did it even on the day I typed this post. Because even though I said you shouldn’t do it at all, there’s probably never going to be a day when everything is functioning properly. The trick is, find the balance. I’ve said “quality over quantity” so many times to myself that I should just tattoo it somewhere.

So if that means stopping to walk off a side stitch or stretch or tape up something, I’ll do it. If that means running 6 miles instead of 8 because I just don’t feel like it’s happening for me that day, I’ll do it.

I doubt my athleticism is going to suffer greatly because of this. I’m not interested in running any sub-4:00 marathons anytime soon. And you know what, if I absolutely need activity but I can’t run, that’s what cross-training is for.

As a recreational runner, I want to enjoy my runs. I want quality miles. I want running to be something that I do forever, until I can no longer put one foot in front of the other.

A new year

Me: “I think I’m gonna do some hill sprints once I’ve digested breakfast.”

Boyfriend: “I’m not.”

Incidentally, I spent the better part of the morning playing with a new sketching app, and I think I’ve really created a masterpiece. Or at least if I was 7 rather than 27, you’d think so. I think at this point my lack of artistic skills is just endearing rather than pathetic. I can tell myself that.

Anyway, it’s always amused me that I seem to take so much longer to get reday for a run than my boyfriend. While he’s literally just pulling on the first boardshorts he sees and cramming his toes into his Five Fingers shoes, I’m finding my inhaler, putting on sunscreen and deodorant, tracking down clean compression socks, any handy sports bra, and a hat and sunglasses. If it’s nighttime, I have reflector bracelets, reflective tape, and a headlamp. Is my phone charged so that I can run my RunKeeper app? Where are my armband and headphones? Where will I get water during the run? WHAT DO I DO WITH MY BANGS!?

Either I’m just a lot better at accessorizing or I bring too much things. Too. Much. Things.

Here’s a visual representation of everything I just wrote.

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Going out with a bang

A few months ago, I posted about The Blerch, a notion conceptualized by The Oatmeal’s intimate blog post describing the author’s personal trials and triumphs in distance running.  If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out–after you’ve read this blog post. 🙂

Naturally, The Blerch was a concept that many runners identified with. My own Blerch manifested less as the fat, lazy angel that taunts/distracts The Oatmeal dude, but kind of a prick whose favorite word is “can’t”. My Blerch loves to hold me back, loves to remind me that I’m slow and usually physically or mentally broken.  But that didn’t stop me from wanting a Blerch T-shirt.

Lo and behold, what do mine hands unwrap on Christmas Day but my very own “I Believe in the Blerch” running T-shirt! It automatically made the cut for my next running outfit selection.

I showed off the shirt in a rather out of character selfie on Instagram with yet another example of my pitiful attempts to understand and maximize the marketing potential of hashtags, including #theoatmeal….AND THEN THE OATMEAL LIKED MY POST AND I DIED INSIDE I DIIIIIIIED.

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And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a great, if not totally fangirlish, way to end a year. Happy New Year!