I started Crossfit last year, on September 6th. As I type this post, that means I have been doing Crossfit for 9 months.
In the year before starting Crossfit, I had done a few marathons and half marathons (5), some open-water swims in the S.F. Bay (brrr!), and a Olympic distance triathlon. The year before that, I did an Ironman, because I wanted to do an Ironman before turning 50.
This might sound like it makes me a bad-ass. Far from it. Look, someone has to bring up the back of the pack in the dark – that’d be me. Sure, I’ll agree with you – there are a lot of folks out there that don’t get off the couch to do anything . . . and in fact, if you look back in this blog going way, way back, you’ll see that was me. (This blog chronicles my “Couch Potato to Ironman” journey if you go back far enough.)
But here’s the thing. After having some health issues, as my birthday came around last year (September), I found myself in the unenviable position of being almost 40 pounds overweight. I didn’t fit in any of my clothes, and all the biking/running /swimming in the world wasn’t budging it. I’d like to pretend that it was all “muscle,” but last Fall I had a fat “dunk test” (that I blogged about back there somewhere) – and I was 30% fat by weight. Oh and believe me, you knew it – my muffin top had a muffin top.
I have recently been reading some great blog posts about gals who were transformed by Crossfit. HERE is one by a Crossfit franchise owner and competitor (Talayna Fortunato), HERE is one about “regular” Crossfit women by a gal who started out overweight (it’s long, but well worth the read).
When I read a lot of these articles now, I actually get a bit depressed. Why? Because here I am nine months along, and I’m nowhere near where everyone else is. In fact, I started Crossfit just two days after the gal who wrote the “Crossfit Women: The Truth” post linked above (the long one). And look at how remarkable she is now. I still can’t do a pullup, a proper pushup or burpee, or innumerable other things.
Okay, so she is young enough to be my daughter. But here I am, 9 months later, and I don’t have some dramatic “Before and After.” I go to Crossfit 3-5 days a week (yes, really), rain or shine, and you can’t really tell, compared to all the other “Before and Afters” – including the one at the top of this page (which is not me, by the way).
But that’s what I’m here to talk about. Oh sure, when I’m snuggled up in my bed and the alarm goes off, I think two, three, ten times about actually swinging my legs over the side and putting on my athletic clothes. But I do it. Because, dramatic “Before and After” or not, Crossfit is about community. And besides, I will not lie to you, it feels pretty bad-ass to lift a big metal bar above your head – even if it weighs a tenth of anyone else’s.
I suppose that we’ve all felt “community” at some point in our lives – whether it’s folks at Bingo who would rib you if you didn’t show up, or your Book Club, or even a Zumba or Jazzercise class you did for a while in your past. But the Crossfit community is a bit different.
Here’s an example: One of our coaches, Amanda Norton, recently made it to the Crossfit Regionals. You don’t need to know what that is, just know it’s huge. She wound up having a hard time on the second day of competition, though she had worked her way up to 11th in our Region the day before (awesome!). During this workout, she was only about 3/4 of the way through when the top 10 women (who were competing in her same Heat) were already finished. Did they leave the field? Continue to lie panting on the mat, after their own enormous efforts?
No. They surrounded her and cheered her on, coaching her, cajoling her. I talked to her about it afterwards – some folks might hate that and, like Garbo, ‘Vant to be Left Alone!” – but she said it was awesome. Here she is, surrounded by “Crossfitters whose names are known” – Crossfitters who compete for a living – giving her “Atta Girls” when she feels like giving up.
Crossfit is also the only sport where the entire audience generally actually does the sport. While a very small percentage of the audience of, say, a football game has ever had experience on the field, just about everyone at a Crossfit competition is doing their best to do the exact same movements that the competitors are doing.
That’s amazing, when you think about it.
If you’re over 40 and you’re considering Crossfit (or over 50, like I was), here are a few things that I researched before I went that I think you should know – and a couple of things that I didn’t know but I wish I could tell my “about-to-be-Crossfitting” self now, 9 months later, before she started. In no particular order.
1. Crossfit has a “lingo.” You’ll want to familiarize yourself with it before you go.
Being a lawyer, a Virgo, and a “Year of the Ox,” this is something I looked into before I started. Like any other sport or endeavor, Crossfit has its own language. HERE is a great article that discusses the “lingo” that you should probably understand, HERE is another one that gives you a pretty comprehensive Beginners Guide to Crossfit. Last but not least, HERE is an article by a gal who does a blog I have followed for a while – she’s fun to read. ;-)
What do you need to know? Well, you’ll likely have an On-Ramp or Beginner’s Introduction at the box (gym) you choose, and they will give you the basics. But I’d say that, while coaches will continue to patiently show you the difference between a Shoulder Press, a Push Jerk, and a Push-Press months later, you’re expected to understand acronyms like AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible), WOD (Workout Of the Day), RFT (Rounds For Time), and EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute) pretty quickly. Do familiarize yourself with the lingo before you go – just like you’d probably listen to some language CDs before you flew off to travel in a foreign country. Knowing just a bit will go a long way, trust me.
One way to do this is to download and listen to podcasts in your car – this will introduce you to some of the “lingo.” Just know that when I first started, I had to keep a running list of words I didn’t understand, to “translate” when I got home. “Globo” gym? “Swole”? The place I Crossfit doesn’t use these terms – but the Community does. Just put “Crossfit” into the Search box in iTunes or (if you’re Android) DoubleTwist. HERE is Barbell Shrugged, probably the best known one; another is The WODCast Podcast. HERE is one just for women that I like – if you’re my age they’re young enough to be your daughters . . . and in fact, you’ll hear that they refer to “Mom Sandy” now and again. Yes, that’s me.
And, as an aside – since I just mentioned coaches – not all Crossfits are equal. It’s all run by humans. So if you walk into a Crossfit and you don’t feel comfortable there, leave! There’s likely another Crossfit somewhere near you. I actually “quit Crossfit” (never to come back) after my first month at a different box (gym), but then a Groupon led me back to where I work out now, where I fit right in. As I also knew I sucked at Crossfit (after being told that innumerable times by the coach I’d had at the first box I tried), it was important to my ego that I knew no one at the box I chose. I didn’t want to look like a complete idiot in front of people I knew, when the workout was too much for me. I just detested the idea of one of my Crossfit-obsessed friends saying kindly, standing over my prostrate body: “WOW, you were in the Marines/did an Ironman/did 5 marathons and a triathlon last year/swam from Alcatraz, but you are having trouble lifting that PVC pipe over your head?” There are lots of articles about choosing the right box for you – HERE is an article I liked, but there are lots out there. Learn the Lingo so you don’t feel stupid – and Find The Right Box For You.
2. Face It – You’re Older Than Everyone Else. And You’re Broken.
The owner of our Crossfit box and I were chatting the other day. While I’m still older than most of the folks that go there, it’s not as if I’m so much older that I could be their mother. (In this ONE THING they haven’t lapped me . . . ha ha.) Our box is “known” to have an older (meaning, over 30) crowd, and what that means, according to the owner, is that “everyone is walking through that door with something wrong with them.”
This is so true! For me, I’ve had a shoulder and knees issue for decades now. My husband (who is now doing Crossfit with me when he can) has back issues. We’re both heavier than we should be. But the beauty of this is that the coach leading your Crossfit workout has been trained by Crossfit to “scale” the workout for you.
Here’s one thing I will tell you though – don’t be too attached to your injuries and aches/pains. Because if you are cautious – if you don’t go too hard, but you do go hard enough, you might wind up losing them.
When I started Crossfit, I couldn’t squat down unassisted with my heels on the ground (called an “Air Squat” or “Third World Squat”) more than a few inches from standing. As in, I could go down maybe 4″. (And I’m over 6′ tall.) The coach had me start by holding onto a vertical steel post, walking my hands down and back up, because otherwise my big bootie would pull me backwards, and my ankles/hips/knees didn’t have the range of motion to support me. I worried about my chronically painful knees. I wondered what I was doing there. I cried behind the building on more than a few runs, where I was so last that folks had already lapped me before I turned the corner.
But now – 9 months later – though I haven’t had the dramatic changes detailed in that article I linked above from the gal who started on almost the same day as me, I can squat down to 13″ from the floor, with my heels flat, and not holding on. (I squat down to a stack of weight plates, “touch and go” – and given the fact that my legs are so long, I’m right at the point where I’m actually squatting and my femur is parallel to the floor. A ways more to go – but not as far as I’ve come!)
People are supposed to be able to squat. We were not made to be sitting in chairs! The thing is – after 50 years of sitting in chairs, it’s hard to get back what you could do as a child with no effort.
I’m also, to some extent, “lifting heavy things” while squatting. All those months squatting down while holding onto the vertical, or squatting down to lower and lower wooden boxes while holding a PVC pipe, I almost gave up hope. But this past month, I’ve been doing Front Squats (a squat while holding a barbell across your chest/shoulders) and Back Squats (a squat while holding a barbell across your shoulders behind your neck) down to about a 15″ stack of weight plates, with about 30kg (about 60 pounds or so).
When I read about the weights “other girls” do these exercises at, I can still get depressed. I can’t help myself. But if you’re reading this, I’m here to tell you that if you feel depressed, Hell, don’t give up – WRITE ME. I am the poster child for perseverance in the face of NO Crossfit ability. I don’t say that with some sort of false humility, believe me. I have been at this 4-5 times a week for 9 months, and I still can’t do most of the moves at “Rx” (Crossfitspeak for “the way it’s supposed to be done,” as opposed to “Scaled”).
But I keep at it. And, before I did those marathons and such? Nada. I was the girl who – constantly – tried to get her doctor father to write her notes so that she wouldn’t have to go to gym class. Seriously.
3. Once You Start Crossfit, You’re Going To Talk About Crossfit – And Face The Haters.
Before you tell me what “everyone says” about Crossfit being the easiest way to kill yourself, HERE is a great post that addresses that issue.
But as for talking about Crossfit . . . I swore I wasn’t going to be one of those people who’s life revolves around the box. The thing is, that once you get into it, you sort of can’t help yourself. You’re going to be doing some outrageous things, working super hard. So you’re going to laugh (cackle…) at all those articles and memes that have to do with burpees (sort of a tortured jumping jack/pushup combo), peeing during double-unders (passing the jump rope 2x under your feet in one jump – I still can’t do this consistently, though as an old lady, I have the peeing thing down…), double-entendres about “snatches,” etc. I don’t talk about Crossfit in “real life,” but I do have whole Pinterest boards filled with Crossfit photos that inspire me, including funny Crossfit memes, and, of course, the inevitable Paleo Recipes board. That leads me to the next thing . . .
4. You’re Going To Want To Know The Difference Between Paleo, and Primal, and Zone, and . . . Crossfitters are, as a breed, inveterate bodyhackers. But, on the most basic level, because you’re working out so hard (or maybe to keep your mind off it), time before and after the WOD (Workout Of the Day, remember?) often revolves around food. There are vegan Crossfitters, Paleo Crossfitters (probably most of them), “Primal” Crossfitters (Paleo + Dairy), Zone followers, Bulletproof Coffee aficionados . . . but in general, if you’re doing Crossfit, just trust me on this: it will become less and less easy to drive through McDonald’s or graze through a box of Oreos.
Crossfitters, in general, are really interested in getting the optimal “bang” from their food – because if you eat crappy, you lift crappy. Some are more obsessed than others – but that goes for anything. The thing that I have found is that people often “back into” healthy eating after having done Crossfit for a while. Sometimes boxes (gyms, remember?) have Challenges that have to do with healthy eating, sometimes it’s just becoming more curious about how what you eat is fueling you. If you have some weight to lose and you’re just beginning, I’d say from personal experience not to change too much until you ‘re a few months in. Then, see how eating “cleaner” or at least “differently” affects your workouts. Don’t do it all at once – you’ll quit. Trust me. Remember, this is going to be a lifelong thing. (Right?) So get Crossfit down first. Then, get your eating in line.
Again, there are some GREAT “thought leaders” in this area. If you just go to one website, I’d suggest Nora Gedgaudas – she is AMAZINGLY knowledgable, her book is fantastic, her podcast is spectacular. HERE is the link to her website.
Two of my other favorite podcasts are HERE and HERE.The first one (Dave Asprey/Bulletproof Executive) talks about himself a LOT – he’ll ask the guest a question and then talk about himself for five minutes. You have to sort of get around that (sometimes I can’t stand it), because he has amazing guests (and, sometimes, he even lets them get a word in edgewise). If you really like one of the guests, you can write down their name on your “things to look up after this podcast” list, then follow them on their podcast, or get their book on half.com (cheapest on the internet). It’s a good way to tiptoe into the rabbit hole that is this area, if it’s new to you.
The second podcast I linked, Jonathan Bailor/Smarter Science of Slim & The Calorie Myth has a LOT of episodes, and I would suggest you start with #1 and “work your way up.” (With Asprey/Bulletproof Executive, you can jump around and just pick a guest or topic that interests you.) Why start all the way with the first one on Bailor’s podcast? Because the old podcasts actually detail everything that’s found in his new book (The Calorie Myth) – then you don’t have to buy it. ;-) Again – pick and choose – but if you start with these two guys (as both of them do a lot of interviewing), you will be able to branch out into folks who interest you, when you hear them interviewed. But take it from me – this whole area is really interesting. You’ll discover how messed up what we have been told about “Calories and Exercise” is. Sometimes, I look up at the clock and realize an hour or two has passed when I’m listening or kanoodling on the internet, following up on notes I took while listening. As I said to a friend the other day after one particularly deep dive: “Gee . . . it’s dark down here. And there are a whole lot of bunnies.” (You figure that one out ;-) )
5. You’re Going To Die At First. Then, You’ll Get Better. Then, You Will Feel Better. Look. There’s just no fun way to say this. No matter how “scaled” your first workout or two is/are in Crossfit, you’re going to wake up the next day, and you may not be able to make it down the stairs, or out of your car, or lift your arm up to brush your teeth. (Though THIS VIDEO is about the day after a Marathon – and is one of my favorite laugh-out-loud videos – it could easily apply to Crossfit.)
Crossfit, even scaled Crossfit, is hard! My husband often can’t make it to the Crossfit workout (though he tries to go once or twice a week), and so he seems to just perpetually bounce from his muscles feeling “heavy” to being actually sore all the time. It’s going to happen to you. Unless you’re coming from being a crack athlete and gymnast, you’ll be sore. But go back – it will get better as you get better. I’m rarely sore-sore any more, though my muscles often do feel heavy. More importantly, I’m never “ache-y” any more, which was the hallmark of my existence before Crossfit. My shoulder ached. My knees ached. My hip ached.
Now, 9 months later, I not only haven’t “hurt myself doing Crossfit” (as many, many people have, generally because they do something over a coach’s objection) but I have “healed myself.” I haven’t lost a lot of weight, but I walk differently. My shoulders are “back and down” – I don’t tilt forward in that pre-dowager’s-hump/computer-sitter posture any more. I also have lost what a friend used to tease were “bags of dead mice” hanging off the back of my upper arms. Oh sure – I still have back fat, and front fat, and cellulite, and grey hair, even. But I feel better. And things are looking up.
This is a long post! I probably have missed some stuff – maybe things that are more important. But if I come back to one thing – it’s the Community.
I’ve now done Crossfit while travelling – and it’s such a great experience. Once you’ve mastered the lingo and have some idea of what you’re doing, visiting other Crossfit boxes can be a great way to meet folks almost anywhere you go.
But – and I really gotta wrap this up! – if you’re starting Crossfit, I’d love to be part of your Community. If you’re considering Crossfit, and you have some questions – I’ll Reply to any Comments as best I can. I’d be happy to help, if that’s possible. Remember – there are no “stupid” Questions – only unasked ones.
Why ask me? Because I really am not very good at Crossfit. But I love it, I love the people that are involved in it, and I seem to think that it will be part of Me for a long, long time.
If you’re a Crossfitter, What is the best part about Crossfit? Why do you keep coming back? What would you tell your “just about to start Crossfit” self?
If you’re not a Crossfitter, What is spurring you on to do this? What excites you about the idea? What scares you?