First Post-Vacation Workout

We got back from a partly active, partly sedentary vacation last night. We spent three days bike riding across part of Missouri on the Katy Trail (a former railroad) and spent the rest of the time doing easy hikes and being extremely well taken care of by our fabulous home-cookin’ relatives.
Tomorrow I’m going to CrossFit and I’m afraid I’m not going to remember how to do anything. In reality I think that’s an exaggerated nervousness. For a little practice, I improvised a home workout tonight:
Three rounds of 20 floor-to-ceiling and 8 pushups
6 pullups, 3-2-1
3 minutes of weighted walking lunges with a 10-pound hand weight held up to each shoulder
Three rounds of 8 pushups
2 minutes weighted lunges off the stepper, thrusting the 10-pound weight out forward at top of each lunge
2 minutes one-hand deadlifts to overhead position with the 10-pound weight, alternating hands
Three rounds of 6 pushups
2 minutes practicing clean and jerk with the two 10-pounds weights
3 pullups
This took about 21 minutes.

CrossFit Workout

For the first time, today I showed up for the CrossFit class instead of personal training. I was nervous. I didn’t know the structure of the class or what I’d do to get attention if I didn’t know how to do something. Nancy was helpful, telling me what to expect and pointing out a 45-pound bar I could use for the push-presses.

The workout consisted of three timed rounds of: pull-ups, push-press 40 percent of body weight, rowing, and push-ups. In other words, do as many of whichever exercise as you can (or row as far as possible) between Nick’s calling “start” and “stop.” After each one he collected scores and put them on the board. I don’t know how much time he was giving us.

By the time I got out my pad to write down my scores, Nick had averaged the scores for all three rounds of each drill.

My averages were 3 pull-ups, 14 push-press, 233 meters rowing, and 16 push-ups. On pull-ups, I started with my usual four, then managed a few more before the time was up. On the second and third rounds, though, I did 2 and 1 pull-up respectively. I spent the rest of the pull-up time hanging from the bar and concentrating on lifting myself an inch. Nancy later told me you can do them any old way, and it’s not necessary to shoot for perfect form. Even so I’m not sure I would have added very much to my score.

The push-press is more demanding on the lower body than the upper body, so I was able to do it more consistently than the pull-ups in all three rounds, doing about 20, 12, and 11 presses. Still, when I’d done as many as I could, I found myself standing with the bar hanging down at my thighs and unable to lift it to chest level to rack it when Nick called stop. I had to set it on the floor or a low rack at ankle level. I thought I could lift it, but I quickly found that it went all lopsided to the left—my weak side, apparently—and I couldn’t counteract the tilt because I was so fatigued.

Rowing is much easier for me and felt almost like a break. I went as fast as I comfortably could and my times did not vary too widely.

Push-ups are really hard, but not as hard as pull-ups. I think in the three rounds I did something like 20, 16, and 12 push-ups for the average of 16—much better than pull-ups.
After all three rounds of scored drills, we had a non-scored cool-down that was a workout in itself: three rounds of rope-climb, 15 back extensions, and 15 sit-ups. I climbed halfway up the rope the first time, a quarter up (maybe) the second time, and I couldn’t get more than two inches off the ground on the third. I tried to use the right technique of gripping with my feet, but in my last two attempts I couldn’t seem to pinch the rope with my feet. In hindsight I think I was probably trying to support myself (in a slight panic) by pinching it with my thighs. I didn’t slide or get burned, but I also couldn’t get my feet to cooperate. I’m just glad I was able to control my descent enough to avoid hurting myself. Back extensions and sit-ups were surprisingly hard on top of all that!

My upper body—shoulders, lats, back—are so tired that I feel like a pair of legs with these loose, useless appendages balanced on top. I had to rest a couple of hours before I felt like typing. This is exactly what I had in mind—a hard workout that lets me feel that I tested myself and accomplished something at the same time.

I’m glad I got my first class over with. I’m not going to be able to go back for a little while, but I’ll be able to look forward to it more now that I’ve done it once. The workouts will always be unpredictable, though.

CrossFit Workout

I loved tonight’s workout: five rounds of 12 kettlebell clean-and-jerk and 5 pullups. I’m tired from my upper back down to the backs of my knees, plus my forearms are wiped out from learning to control the heavy bells as I lower them from the top position back down to chest level. This is my favorite kind of exercise. Like the wall-ball on Tuesday, it involves weight, movement, control, and speed. I like to feel my whole body working for strength and cardio at the same time, and I like feeling drained afterwards and just a little sore the next day.
Plus, now I know what the clean and jerk is. (Are?) I found the jerk move to be surprisingly complicated at first. I overthought it and continually forgot the final dip in which I was supposed to straighten my arms under the weight. Dave had me using 12 kg kettlebells and after I had problems with the move he let me practice for a while with lighter ones. But when we went into the “real” workout—as opposed to warming up and learning the moves—he had me go back to the heavier ones. For my first round I did two sets of 6 reps, for the second through fourth rounds I did four sets of 3 reps (some with the lighter bells), and for the fifth round I did four sets of three.
Also in each round I had to do 5 pullups, and a big rubberband was hung from the bar. I tucked my feet into it and it allowed me to do 5 chest-high pullups fast in each of the five rounds. Without the rubberband I couldn’t have pulled up so high and I would only have been able to do four pullups (or less as I got more tired from the weights).
Midway through, as I put the kettlebells down, I discovered a sudden burst blister on my right hand at the base of my first finger. We put some tape on it, which came loose almost immediately but offered some protection. And, possibly related, by the end I had tweaked my left elbow several times while lowering the bells and rotating them inward toward my chest, coming down from the top position. I’m thinking I got a blister on the right because I used my grip to control the weight, saving my elbow, while on the left I didn’t grip hard enough to get a blister and instead lost control and twisted my elbow. It made the 12 kg kettlebells seem so intimidating that I was tempted to ask if I could finish the workout with the lighter ones, but I was pretty sure I hadn’t inflicted a lasting injury. I have to remember next time to really grip hard with my left hand as well as my right, and maybe wear gloves. My elbow feels fine now.
So this was my last of four personal training sessions, and next I’ll start coming to their classes twice a week. I’m going to feel self-conscious at first, but everybody seems friendly so maybe it will not make me too nervous.

How to Climb a Rope

  1. Stand close enough to the rope so that it touches your body.
  2. Wrap the rope partly around your shin, starting from outside the knee, so that it rests on or drapes over the top of the foot.
  3. Reach up and grasp the rope. Keeping the elbows close to the body, flex the lats, pulling down and inward to lift your body.
  4. Bend the knees upward and pinch the rope between the top of one foot and the side or bottom of the other foot. Adjust your grip and repeat.

Expert rope climber Dave at CrossFit North says ten rope-pullups, grasping the rope high and pulling up until your hands are at your chest, equals one rope-climb. I’m going to practice this until I can climb all the way up.

CrossFit Workout

Yesterday was my third personal training session with Dave at CrossFit. I told him I felt that I hadn’t done enough last time, when we focused almost entirely on front squats. He said strength training can be more mentally tiring than physically. I guessed that was why I felt tired and crabby last time, later in the evening, even though I paradoxically felt like I didn’t work out. I couldn’t tell if I was crabby because I was worn out or because I was not worn out enough.
I asked Dave if a strength workout like my last one burns a lot of calories. I had a feeling it didn’t. Dave said that although some strength-training devotees claim that it burns a ton of calories by building additional muscle, in fact that effect is pretty small, so a strength training workout doesn’t meet that particular goal of mine. He believes in the major athletic benefits of strength training, though, and tries to make sure everybody does a strength workout once a week. That’s fine with me as long as plenty of other workouts are more intense and leave me tired. He said not to worry, that I’d be working hard this time.
My workout was to do three rounds of the following three drills as fast as I could: sprint a lap around the outside of the building, about 440 yards; do 50 wall-ball throws; and do 20 medicine-ball crunches.
I ran off to circle the building, not having tried to run faster than a jog in longer than I can remember, and by the time I turned the first corner I wanted to walk. I wish I could see a graph of my speed dropping, but it would be depressing. How come I can tolerate high-speed jumping rope longer than running? I guess it’s mostly about practice. So I pretty much hated the run, and I staggered back into the gym all out of breath and off balance. On the bright side, maybe since my running is so bad, I’ll improve fast.
Next came wall-ball, a multiple-focused challenge similar to some drills at Cappy’s (the boxing gym). By multiple focused, I mean that it was aerobic, a little plyometric, required flexibility and agility, and taxed lower- and upper-body muscles. It consists of this: squat (weight on heels) and pick up the medicine ball; explode (more or less) out of the squat by thrusting hips forward; straighten arms upward and use leg-power to fling ball at wall several feet overhead; catch ball and continue back down into squat. Repeat.
I moved on after 50 wall-balls to the medicine-ball crunches: do a crunch, bounce the ball off the wall, catch it, and go back down for another crunch. Doing 20 crunches and no other abdominals work felt like a joke, to be honest. It was tiring but much too short. At Cappy’s we routinely do 200 or more crunches in sets of 25 of many different kinds, with good technique always emphasized.
Run, wall-ball, crunches, start over. Run—painful. Fifty wall-ball—fun and tiring. Twenty medicine-ball crunches—what, that’s all? Third time around: run around the building. I don’t think I went any faster than a jog this time. Wall-ball and crunches—tiring, but no problem. Done.
My whole workout, three rounds, took 22 minutes. Again comparing this to Cappy’s, at Cappy’s we’d still have almost 40 minutes remaining in the workout, some stations very challenging (moving and punching with a partner holding a pad), some moderate (speed bag). I know I can get a lot faster at all of this, but what will that lead to—twelve-minute workouts? I hope instead to add in many other things so that I can work out for close to an hour as I’m used to doing.
Next I clamored to try a rope climb. Tom and I had gone to CrossFit on Saturday to watch their competition, the CrossFit Championship, and we were struck by how much more easily people could climb the rope if they used their feet properly. Dave showed me how to do that. Before I knew it I was a third of the way up and my upper body was fatigued. I wanted to climb higher just to see if I could, but I was more worried about burning my hands and my bare legs on the way down, so I stopped there and slowly let myself down. Controlling the descent meant doing it more slowly than the climb, which made it seem more difficult. I wanted to try again but I decided I was too tired.
It’s gratifying to do reasonably well at some of the new drills I’m learning. I also feel ambivalent, because I’m going to CrossFit looking for a harder challenge.
I’m not saying (yet) that I don’t believe I’ll get that. Based on what I see on the CrossFit websites about their exercises and results, and based on what Dave and Nick have said, I think the challenge will get as intense as I like. I should be able to work out longer if I want to as well, if I’m not satisfied with their version of a “short but intense” workout philosophy. I’m accustomed to “kind of long but intense,” from Cappy’s one-hour classes.
Based on my own very limited CrossFit experience so far, Cappy’s is a much more effective workout with the exception that it doesn’t offer pure strength training. Does weight training make CrossFit worth the money? By itself, it wouldn’t. I need that plus lots of variety and intensity. I’m reserving judgment because, for now, my goal should be to learn the drills I’ll need when I start doing their daily whiteboard-posted workouts. These sessions are supposed to enable me to work out more independently starting next week. That’s what Dave says. I believe him, but I’m impatient to work harder as long as I’m spending the time and money to go up there.
My intention isn’t to compare gyms and say one is better than the other. But it’s natural and helpful to me to compare my experiences and how I benefit, both because it’s an ongoing learning process and because gym dollars are limited.
Wall-ball and rope climbing video demos linked here.