Thursday, January 23, 2014

CrossFit: An Updated Perspective



Back in September I wrote about my CrossFit experience thus far. I had concerns, but was committed to giving it my all. At the time I was literally forcing myself to walk through the door after working up the courage to steer my car in the direction of the studio. And I was only going three days a week. I hadn't found my groove, nor had I established my place in the group.

Then, along the way, a shift happened. I wish I could pinpoint the day. CrossFit was no longer agonizing. I felt much more comfortable in my own skin, and found kindred spirits in the 9a and noon classes. Going every day felt as routine as brushing my teeth. Although the tides had turned, I still felt like something was missing. In early December I started establishing my one rep max weight in different weight lifting moves, and began feeling like the missing piece was in place. Instead of floundering during the strength training portion of the workout, I started to get a glimpse into what my body is capable of doing. I wasn't the only one surprised by what I could do, and my name is now on the record board in three places: front squat, back squat and deadlift. I also became comfortable with modifications. In lieu of pull ups, I do ring rows. Instead of handstand pushups, I do wall walks or hold in plank pose. Anything and everything can be modified. And my body responded. Sometimes from one workout to the next.


My head space changed, too. I stopped caring about being last or not being able to keep up with the more experienced athletes. I compete with myself with the end goal of feeling better. Stronger. To not have to squeeze into my pants. I also abandoned the scale. I touched on this the other day, but discovering what my perceptually imperfect body can do for the first time in my life is a pretty amazing thing. I'm strong. Broad hips and shoulders can do a lot of heavy lifting. Running, jump roping, and burpees, while still unpleasant, are doable. I did thirty consecutive burpees during a WOD the other day. Two months ago I could barely manage five in a row.

There have been days that I just didn't have it in me. It hurt or took forever or my body wouldn't respond to my requests. Where everyone else was done and rallying around me to finish even though I wanted to quit more than anything. But once I walk out that door, I pat myself on the back for a job well done. Regardless of my time or the weight I did or didn't lift. I've been working on my strict pull up for almost two months and haven't improved much at all. I simply move it over to the next month on the goal board and keep plugging away. I scarcely recognize this girl. The girl who has always expected way too much of herself. It's kind of awesome.


This is not to say my CrossFit experience is now wrinkle-free. I pushed Mario to find a physical outlet of his own, and knowing what CrossFit has done for me, I encouraged him to attend their month-long Foundations course in November. I verbalized my concerns about sharing a workout, but assumed my fretful nature was to blame and things would be fine. By the second session, his competitive drive kicked into high gear. He is an extrovert who enjoys attention, while I shy away from it. And I'll be honest: I couldn't handle it. He could do things I couldn't and was very open about showing me (he should be proud!). For the first time, the attributes that made us work so well as a couple, well, weren't working for us. In that particular environment, anyway. A more emotionally evolved person would have been happy for his success as he was mine and better able to separate his journey from my own. But I couldn't. And boy did I try. His competitive behavior wormed its way into my psyche and began to sour CrossFit for me. Part of it was his unwillingness to step away despite knowing I had grown uneasy. (In all fairness, I didn't ask him to. Nor should I expect him to read my mind.) Part of it was that my physical outlet no longer felt like an escape. Mostly it was more complicated than that. I came to realize how much I'd gone through to get where I am. Two months spent mustering up the courage to sign up for an intro session. More mustering to sign up for Foundations. Overcoming feelings of insecurity, insufficiency, and fear in order to keep going after the bubble of Foundations burst. Coming back after a two month summer hiatus was hard and I was fairly sure I wasn't going to be able to stick with it past the month of September. I had to work through some deep-rooted issues in order to be successful. And the work paid off: for the first time in my life I enjoy working out. That's right, I used the word enjoy. I've found my niche. Husband walked in the door and instantly became obsessed with the culture. I'm jealous it was so easy for him. What took me months and months and months took him what seemed like moments. I acknowledge that it was more complicated than that for him, but from where I stood it appeared that way. After feeling rather miserable for a over a month, I finally had to ask him to find something of his own. I felt guilty. And selfish. I was afraid he'd stop working out altogether. But I came to realize that burden is not mine to bear. I'm his wife, not his mother, and he has to find his own path. I had created this whole mess by micromanaging his life. I want to be able to talk about my progress and vice versa. To have separate interests. Perhaps one day I'll be comfortable CrossFitting with him. Just not today. And you know what? He was totally cool with it. A little bummed, maybe, but he respected my feelings. What felt like a huge marital hurdle ended up being a valuable life lesson.


I recently had another revelation: I need balance. CrossFit is adrenaline-pumping, strenuous and singularly focused; my body also needs to move in more calming ways. So after an 18 month hiatus, I walked back into a yoga studio. What was once an escape from anxiety became monotonous for me, so I stopped. Still, it was there waiting for me when I needed it again. But CrossFit isn't an inexpensive endeavor, and I felt bad paying for both. I got over it. There are so many things I could cut back on (lattes, for example), but something that improves my health and well being shouldn't be one of them. Today I converted Kiddo's Y membership to a family one. Mario will have a place to go, Kiddo will maintain his activities, and I can mix up my routine. I've always wanted to try Zumba and I have a friend I can go with. I can take a class instead of waiting in the lobby while Jared is in fencing. My point is this: CrossFit can be all-encompassing. And while my journey with it has just begun, it is important that I do other things, too. Perhaps Mario and I can find another form of physical activity to do together in the process.


The last component has involved what goes in my gullet. I can honestly say I don't participate in traditional diets anymore. (Been there. Done that. Been miserable. Quit. Lather, rinse, repeat.) But CrossFit promotes a Paleo lifestyle and I was willing to give it a go. So I joined a month-long Paleo challenge back in October and actually liked it. After just a couple weeks it less resembled a diet and did indeed seem more like a way of life. I was better able to examine what I ate and how it made me feel. This month I recommitted to the Paleo way of eating. The eczema on my hand cleared up after a year spent battling it. (This morning, during a regular checkup, my doctor attributed this to going dairy-free... something I know I am sensitive to. But I couldn't quit you, Cheese.) My fingers are less puffy. I feel better. But my weight has been creeping up and my pants were feeling more snug. In a moment of weakness I pulled out the scale and experienced total and utter discouragement last week. My muscle mass is increasing steadily, but what about the pudge? While I've yet to find total resolution with this issue, I'm sticking with it. Perhaps adding in other activities will help. Paleo has me feeling better, and that's more important than pant size at this juncture. I ordered the two Well Fed cookbooks and love them. The boys do, too. (For the record, I'd buy them again even if they weren't Paleo.) If I feel deprived, I eat a scone for goodness sake. Just not every day, or even every other day. Self control is a good thing, after all. If nothing else, Paleo has helped me learn to enjoy cooking. I don't shy away from recipes that require chopping a bunch of ingredients. I made my own mayo from scratch and mayo has notoriously made me want to gag. This stuff doesn't. I meal plan, complete with a list on the fridge. We make our own nut milk which Kiddo drinks by the glassful. If you had told me a year ago I'd be making my own nut milk, I would have scoffed at you. (I giggle every time I say "nut milk". Because clearly I am a 12 year old boy.) Good things, as Martha would say.

So there is my rather lengthy explanation of where I am at now. I imagine my perspective will change again with time. Our trip to Rio next month will be a good test of my devotion. Eating Paleo on vacation will be tough. Waking up early to work out will be, too. I know enough now to create my own WODs, but will I? I say yes, yes I shall. Only time will tell. 

6 comments:

  1. Sarah, I love this. What a perfectly honest account of real life. I can relate to so much of what you shared. I started crossfit three years ago, it was hard but i eventually fell in love with it - it was so exciting to actually experience progress and to see my body change and get really strong. I had always wondered what it would have been like if my husband joined me. I invited him, but to be honest, I was relieved he never took the bait. After two committed years I had to make some changes. I don't have a crossfit gym now but try to apply the things I learned about heavy weights and high intensity - and that it is okay to feel miserable for a few minutes - to my workouts. Plus, I make an effort to do a variety of things. I still TRY to eat Paleo but you are a much better cave woman than me - your own nut milk?!? Sounds awesome. I'll admit that some days I still have to remind myself that I live a healthy life and my body is strong and capable of amazing things, and I should be proud of that, no matter what the scale or the voices in my head say, but I'm grateful to have experienced all this in order to know that. Thanks for sharing. See you in Rio.

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    1. Hear! Hear! I read and reread your lovely comment. Then I read it again. I aspire to one day have your devotion to fitness. I can't wait to talk in person next week.

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  2. Hi, I'm Lindsey. Long time reader, first time commenter! I'm so glad you wrote this post. I'm so curious about CrossFit because I have heard that its so challenging, yet empowering. It's nice to read this perspective. Especially about how hard it was for you to start out. I am still too scared to even Google it to see if its even MADE it to Fargo yet! You rock!

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    1. Lindsey who wrote the nicest card I've ever read?! I'm so glad you reached out! We MUST exchange emails or find each other on FB. I'd love to chat. Thank you for the card and this sweet comment. Perhaps one day we can CrossFit together...

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  3. Hey Sarah,
    What a transformative journey you're on--thanks for sharing it. CrossFit is not for the faint of heart--it can even be competitive to a fault. How wonderful that you have created your own path there and it's working for you. There's nothing like having strength to draw from, whether it's physical, emotional, or mental--sometimes this world requires us to draw from a certain toughness to excel. Keep kicking butt!

    Namaste.

    Shelly

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    1. Thank you, Shelly! You are so right... but sometimes it's hard to remind yourself of these things. Thanks for the reminder. What an eloquent comment. I've come back to it a few times already.

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