I think that one of the biggest things I am taking away from doing Crossfit is mental toughness. Having run a half marathon, competed in two bikini/figure shows, and left everything behind to move across the country by myself to start life over, I thought that I knew something about mental toughness – I was wrong.
Crossfit has a way of forcing you to come to terms with yourself. I like to be in control all of the time, and I like to be able to prepare in advance for things that may be challenging or scary (it helps me manage the accompanying anxiety). For the first week of going to Crossfit, I would always check the Crossfit Weddington website in the morning to see what that day’s WOD was. If I liked it or thought it sounded like something I could do, I would go. If it was scary, really hard, or a lot of things that I hadn’t done before, I would go work out with my trainer at my regular gym instead.
I realized that I was being a coward. Only going to Crossfit workouts that I was comfortable with wasn’t going to get me anywhere in terms of growth or progress. Besides, isn’t that the whole point of me doing Crossfit? To get exposure to a new style of training?
So, on Tuesday I went first thing in the morning – 6:15 AM. The WOD’s aren’t usually posted that early, so I didn’t even have the option of seeing what we would be doing that day before I showed up at the box. I got there and realized that every workout this week was going to be a Hero WOD in honor of Memorial Day. Hero WOD’s are usually more intense and/or longer than standard WOD’s, and each one is named for a fallen hero. You are supposed to honor that hero with your best effort and complete the workout with their sacrifice in mind.
Tuesday’s Hero WOD was Randy – 75 power snatches (RX is 75 lbs) for time. Immediately after completing Randy, we did a MetCon workout consisting of 21-15-9 overhead squats and box jumps. I had never done power snatches or overhead squats before, so I was immediately glad that I didn’t have the option of knowing what we were doing before I got there, otherwise, I might have chickened out. The coach spent a good amount of time instructing us about proper power snatch technique and let us practice with PVC pipe before we began the timed workout. Same for overhead squats.
I had to scale Randy and only used 35 lbs, but considering I had to knock out 75 reps, I was still proud of myself. Olympic lifting technique takes some time to master, and I know I’m not perfect. But now that I have gotten over the initial apprehension about trying something new, I can’t wait until the next WOD that has power snatches in it so that I can hopefully improve in both strength and technique.
I went back for more on Wednesday, which was, of course, another Hero WOD. This one was DT – 5 rounds of 12 deadlifts, 9 power hang cleans, and 6 push jerks. Again – power hang cleans and push jerks were totally new to me. There were only 3 other people in my class, so we had plenty of individualized instruction on the proper technique for power hang cleans and push jerks before starting the actual timed workout. The RX workout was 105 lbs, but there was no way in hell I could move that kind of weight for hang cleans or push jerks, so I dropped to 55 lbs. I smoked the deadlifts (I usually deadlift 3X that weight), but the push jerks and the power hang cleans in particular were a huge challenge for me. I kept trying to muscle the weight up with my arms. The coach gave me corrections and feedback during the workout, but it just wasn’t clicking for me. I wasn’t initiating the movement from my hips, my elbows were too low in the top position, and I wasn’t being aggressive enough. I was frustrated. But I finished.
So, I’ve learned that power hang cleans are not my forte. In fact, I kind of suck at them…but, I still find myself excited about getting to do them again. I think my Crossfit experiences align pretty well with my approach to life, which is to embrace the things that scare you. Crossfit has this strange way of beating you down, but then making you want to go back for more.
I only went to Crossfit twice this week – partly due to work travel and partly due to the fact that my body was shot from doing those two workouts. The biggest complaint I have about Crossfit is that the programming seems to be pretty random. For instance, Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s workouts were both pretty heavy on overhead movements (my shoulders were destroyed), and then Thursday’s workout had thrusters, another full-body, overhead pressing movement. I didn’t go to Thursday’s WOD simply because I didn’t think my shoulders could handle another workout with so much emphasis on overhead pressing for a third straight day. So, although I don’t want knowledge of each day’s WOD to deter me from attending simply because I’m scared, I do find that I need to make sure that my training is balanced and complete. I think that going to Crossfit 2-3 days per week, and then supplementing those with my more typical, bodybuilding-style workouts to fill in the holes is the best approach to take for right now.
A final note – I have noticed that I am much less preoccupied with how lean I am lately. That is not a sugar-coated way of saying, “I’m eating whatever I want and gaining body fat like crazy.” To the contrary, I’ve gotten some very nice compliments about my appearance since starting Crossfit. What I am saying is that I am mostly content with where I am physically and much more focused on my athletic performance and what my body can DO instead of what it looks like. I am training hard, eating primally and healthfully, but not depriving myself either. Favorable body composition changes are simply a secondary nuance to my primary goals. And that is a very good place to be. I chalk this up partly to my hiatus from all things bikini/figure, but mostly to Crossfit and my nutrition coach, Alli. The only mirror in my Crossfit gym is in the bathroom. Although this sometimes makes learning new exercises hard (hello proprioception, my long-lost friend), not being able to see myself while I’m training has its advantages, namely that I cannot be distracted by or distressed by my physical appearance while I’m training. Alli has done an amazing job of holding me accountable for making good choices with my nutrition, but not holding me hostage to a standard of perfect compliance. She has a great blog (both free posts and some protected posts that require a subscription) and also posts a lot of great information on her Facebook page.
More adventures in Crossfit to come…