Boxing Workout

I can tell my back and my “core” have gotten stronger already from the weightlifting and other things at CrossFit. I hadn’t been to boxing in eight days, and tonight when I was hitting the focus pad that my partner was holding, I could tell I was punching harder than before. I felt somehow more solid around my middle.
Before we got to that drill, we’d had our butts kicked. Some painful highlights: three minutes alternating variations on the push-up position—15 seconds with one leg off the floor, 15 seconds other leg, 15 seconds one arm, 15 seconds other arm, and so on for three minutes. I was shaking all over by the end but lasted through it without sagging or putting down the fourth limb. It’s the first time I made it all the way through that one. CrossFit has not only made me stronger, but more willing to push myself, to decide that although it hurts I can hold out for the short time remaining.
That round was followed by jumprope, alternating 30-second intervals of crossovers and doubles. I’m not as good at fast jumprope drills as I was when I was boxing several times a week. There’s an element of coordination in fast jumping rope that requires regular intensive practice. I liked being good at that, but right now I’ve been having so much fun learning new stuff at the other gym that I don’t mind slacking off a little on jumprope.
After that cardio spike, as if that wasn’t enough, we went into two minutes of burpees: squat-thrusts with a push-up at the bottom and a jump at the top. I did a few and then switched to slow squat-thrusts with the jump but usually without the push-up. Spending all my energy on the previous round and then giving out on the burpees made me feel not quite up to par. I was so fatigued I could hardly talk. Never mind, there were still plenty of three-minute rounds to let me try to redeem myself.
Next we had 30-second intervals of jumping over a line as fast as possible from side to side (feet together) alternating with running in place with the hands behind the head. I managed not to take mini-breaks at the 30-second bells, but went without stopping into the next interval for the whole three minutes.
Next we went on to two or three more rounds of jumprope until we’d spent 20 minutes on all that cardio torture. Then we moved on to ten or twelve different kinds of crunches in sets of 25. As always, I gave out repeatedly on crunches. I tried to keep in mind that (1) this is only a workout—even if it hurts, I’m not actually being hurt and (2) a whole set surely can’t last longer than 30 seconds and I should be able to suck it up for that long. Next time I’ll try to be stronger on crunches. My difficulty has got to be more mental than physical. My core being made stronger from the other workouts has got to mean I can do more crunches than before, if I can make myself work through the tiredness.
After the endless series of crunches, the workout was only half over and we still had 30 minutes of punching on the heavy bags, focus pad, and speed bag. At the end of class, I picked up the Lysol can to spray inside my gloves, and it felt so heavy I wanted to put it down instantly. Now I’m kind of leaning back with my arms supported by the sides of the folding-chair-back so that I can type without extending them. Tom and I kid around that we love to go to these nutty classes and get tortured because it feels so good when we stop.
How do you like my new site layout? I had fun obsessing over the stylesheet and I learned a lot in the process. I hope it looks okay on other monitors and browsers.

CrossFit Plus 17 Miles

Tom and I went for a 17-mile bike ride down to Boeing Field, around its south end and back home, and later on he came with me to the CrossFit workout. He’s eventually going to sign up for regular workouts, but today was a drop-in because he had the day off work. He’s been working out independently in the evenings at a regular gym, doing a not-so-regular program from a book called Stew Smith: 12 Weeks to BUD/S. The program is designed for guys who want to become Navy Seals. Tom is having to spend longer than 12 weeks on it because of vacations, late nights at work, and all the other life logistics. I think he’s getting a little antsy to have it done and start working out in a group again, which is a lot more fun. I admire his self-discipline for sticking to this difficult program all by himself. (He’s not planning to join the Seals!)
Tonight at CrossFit the workout consisted of one round:
Tabata reverse squats; Tabata medicine-ball situps against the wall; and either row or run 800 meters in under 4 minutes.
Before we started that, we had a challenging warm-up of kettlebell jerks: one jerk every five seconds for four minutes, holding the bells in the rack position for the five seconds’ rest.
Tom had never done kettlebell jerks before, so right off the bat he had something brand-new to get accustomed to at a very fast pace. He was game for it and a good sport. Dave and an assistant coach, Michael, were helpful in reminding everybody to use their legs for the lift instead of turning the jerk into a press. I’ve been scrutinized for the proper form on the jerk several times and although far from consistently good, my technique at least allowed me to finish the four minutes without really distressing fatigue setting in. (In other words, I didn’t have to quit early!)
So what do all these funny-named exercises look like? I can’t find a good slide show of the kettlebell jerk so I’ll try to describe it:
Take an 8-kg kettlebell in each hand and swing them up so that they’re held in your fists at your collarbone, close enough together to clank. Assume a posture, with arms against the body, that allows this hold to feel well enough supported by your body so that it’s more or less a resting position for the arms. This is the racked position. For the jerk, dip down with a straight-backed knee bend, fairly deep but not a full squat, and pop your hips forward so that you pop up. Extend your arms overhead. The kettlebells fly up, weightless for an instant, as you pop your hips and dip down under the weight and lock your arms. In the same motion, stand straight, bells overhead. Immediately lower them in a controlled descent into the racked position. The coach calls “Jerk!” every five seconds for four minutes and you keep repeating this move. (Yikes! That’s just the warm-up!)
Tabata reverse squats: Tabata is the name of a Japanese exercise researcher. Reverse squats start in the bottom position, not at the top. “Tabata” means go as fast as you can for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, go fast for 20, rest for 10, for eight rounds (4 minutes). Count your reps. The score that’s recorded is your lowest one out of the eight rounds. So, Tabata anything means the same pattern for whatever exercise. Go 20, rest 10, eight rounds, take the lowest score as the measure of your performance.
See the video here of Tabata squats (warning: headbanger music). This athlete starts and rests in the standing position, but we had to start and “rest”—not a rest really—in the squat position without rounding backs, resting weight on heels, etc. It was painful! My low score was 16, which surprisingly was the highest low score of the group. I had to shake out my legs a few times but then each time I started up I was surprised how fast I went. I concentrated on using the hip-pop technique, like in the jerk, to stand each time—popping my hips forward hard enough to lift my feet slightly off the ground—instead of focusing on my thigh muscles. Nevertheless they were burning like crazy, of course.
Tabata medicine-ball sit-ups against the wall: We tucked our feet under heavy barbells, did sit-ups, and fired the ball at the wall at the top of the sit-up. The aim is to think of shooting the ball through the wall for a good hard bounce. For the 10 seconds of rest between each 20 seconds of full-on performance, we were to sit straight and hold the ball overhead on locked arms. I blew it on this one, never sitting straight enough in the rest periods, burning out my hip flexors by using them to hold myself up in a tilted position. I then needed the hip flexors for the sit-ups, which meant I was resting flat on my back in between reps. My low recorded score was only 6 on this drill, the lowest in the group.
Next we rowed 800 meters, which took me 3:30—slow! Oh, well.
Tom and I then practiced some dips on the parallel bars. I was really hoping Nancy or Dave would configure the bars so that we could try kips, but the place was busy and this wasn’t gymnastics night, so no kips for us.
To my relief, during the Tabata squats, my kneecap didn’t hurt like it did on Wednesday night’s workout and yesterday’s and today’s walking around. We went for a 17-mile bike ride today and it seemed to work the kink out of my knee. I’m going to focus on warming up my knees before each workout from now on.

CrossFit Workout

Last night we worked out in partners, doing 3 rounds of: 15 deadlifts, 15 bent-over rows, and wheelbarrow walk from one end of the gym to the other and back. The pattern was for each partner to do all three drills once, then the other partner, until we had each done all three rounds.
My partner and I lifted 104 pounds (64 pounds on a 40-pound bar) (I think) for the deadlift and 60 pounds for the bent-over rows. The wheelbarrow walk is when somebody holds your ankles up and you walk forward on your hands.
As soon as I lowered myself for my first deadlift, I felt a pain in my right kneecap. I went up and down without the weight a couple of times to try to limber it up. (We’d already warmed up with some medicine-ball throws and sit-ups, but I don’t think that had warmed up my knees.) I didn’t say anything but went on to do the lifts, and my knee felt better. Today, though, when I squat down and rise up I feel the same kneecap pain. It’s not really bad, but I don’t think it’s a good sign. I had a feeling, with the heavy deadlifts I did last Friday, that I might have been pushing harder with my right leg than my left. I bet that was the case and so I put some wear and tear on the right knee. I have to really concentrate on using both legs equally from now on.
The wheelbarrow walks after the weightlifting were really hard. I could make it to one end of the gym without feeling too weak, but coming back, my upper legs were shaking from trying to help hold my body in the hollow position. We were told to use the hollow position and not to let ourselves sag. I was glad when all three rounds were over.
Then we went on to practice gymnastics drills, as Wednesday is the regular night for that. As usual we all spotted each other for handstands several times. Then we practiced cartwheels, a little handstand walking, and the pommel-horse drills that we tried last time. On the pommel horse, I tried to focus on shifting my weight from arm to arm on the straddle-swings, and then picking up one hand for an instant, as a way of building up to swinging one leg over between my hands. I made a little progress but I’m looking forward to getting a lot better at that weight-shift.
Next we practiced the kip (definition and slide show). One person who was there is a competitive high-school gymnast, and it was really helpful to watch her kip. You could see how her initial jump at the bar gave her the momentum to whip out, fully extend in front of the bar, snap back, and rise up above the bar. I tried to imitate her jump and it helped me a lot with momentum, but I think it’s going to be a long time before I “get my kip.” The gymnast said it took her about four years of on-and-off gymnastics practice to get the kip, and our usual gymnastics coach has said it took him 1,000 tries. It’s fun to practice it and to appreciate the strength and precision of gymnasts.
Another person working out last night is a guy who seems pretty experienced with the general workouts but less so with gymnastics, like the rest of us. He seemed as hesitant as we all were on both the pommel horse and the kip bar, but his determination was amazing. After several tries on the pommel horse, he succeeded in hoisting himself up high enough, straight-legged, to put his feet on the horse between his hands. My impression was that it was new to him. Similarly on the kip bar, when we were pretty much finished and putting our shoes back on, he was still practicing. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see him whip out perfectly and snap back, almost getting a kip. It was stunning to see how his determination and focus allowed him to progress so fast. He may have more experience with gymnastics than I realize, but I think he is just an especially inspiring beginner who’s in really good shape to start.

CrossFit Workout

Today we had a strength workout.
Deadlift 5 – 5 – 3 – 3 – 2 – 2 – 1 – 1 reps, building up to the max you can lift once.
Dips 21 – 18 – 15 – 12 – 9 – 6 – 3 reps, adding weight for the final 3 reps.
The warmup consisted of rowing 500 meters, medicine ball squats with overhead swings, and overhead squats with PVC pipe. I lowered my 500m time by two seconds and hit 500 right at 2 minutes.
I’d never pushed to find my max deadlift before. It turned out to be 182 pounds. I was happy with that—it’s several pounds more than my husband weighs! I added three pounds and could not lift it more than an inch off the floor. My lower back is tired but feels good.
I used the narrower rubberband on the parallel bars to do assisted dips. It was the right amount of assistance. The dips were hard, and I divided up all sets except the last two into smaller sets. For my final three, I held one knee barely in the rubberband and left the other leg free for 3 reps, adding weight to my dip by using less assistance. Dave suggested I try doing two or three unassisted, and I managed to do one and a half, twice. Then for good measure I did five pull-ups on the rope.
I enjoyed the workout and would have worked longer. But the place was getting crowded and I wasn’t inspired to try any particular thing, so I left.
When my workout partner and I were alternating sets on the deadlift, I hesitantly observed that maybe she could squat a little lower before starting the lift. She’s a sort of assistant coach and very experienced, so I wondered if I should just keep my mouth shut. But I’ve seen that people are encouraged to observe and help each other, so I pushed myself to speak up. My partner said she appreciated the observation and didn’t seem to find me out of line, and then, perversely, I felt more self-conscious and embarrassed at having said anything.
I feel reasonably confident in a gym setting these days, compared to ten years ago when I was too intimidated to go to the YMCA and find my way around the place. But a gym is still the place where I’m more likely to fear the ridicule of grade school, where I was mocked not for being unathletic but for never knowing the rules to the games. CrossFit and the boxing gym are both like gym class in school could have been if there had been actual teaching and attention to individuals. At the workout gyms, a coach will always notice what I’m doing, when appropriate, and help me get the details right. I’ve found that I’m capable of following those kinds of instructions well and internalizing them reasonably quickly. That’s very rewarding and confidence building, and it makes me wish I’d had good gym coaches as a kid. But it’s never too late.

CrossFit Workout

Tonight’s workout was once through on the following.
800m row
21 kettlebell thrusters
21 hanging leg raises
500m row
15 KB thrusters
15 hanging leg raises
300m row
9 KB thrusters
9 hanging leg raises
I was a slowpoke at 21 minutes because I had to take breaks during all sets of thrusters and hanging leg raises.
Rowing at first didn’t seem so hard, and I thought jumping rope was a lot harder. But now I see how hard it is to row fast and how much the effort increases with speed—more than I expected! By my final set I was rowing pretty slow.
Thrusters are a way to explode out of a squat, weights held in front of shoulders, and spring into a standing position with the weights fully up overhead like in a press—but instead of pressing you use the force of the hips coming forward to pop the weights into the air and get under them. The feet should come off the ground a little from the force of the hips. Video here (Windows Media; warning, headbanger music). I started out with kettlebells cryptically marked with two vertical lines like the pause button on a CD player. Did that mean 11 or 2? I couldn’t tell. For my second and third set I went to the next smaller ones.
Hanging leg raises means hang from a pull-up bar and bring your straight legs up to the bar, contracting the torso completely and extending fully at the bottom, poking the stomach out so that the abs actually stretch before contracting completely again. I did it pretty well on my first set of 21, which I broke up into 3 sets of 7. I bent my legs a little but I kept my arms straight and brought my feet up close to the bar. On my second set, I bent my knees a lot more but I tried to concentrate on full contraction. On my third set of 9, which I divided into sets of 5, 2, and 2, I just tried to lift my knees to my shoulders and contract as much as I could.
I rested for ten or fifteen minutes and then we did some gymnastics—a regular Wednesday thing with a different coach than the rest of the workouts. We practiced handstands and the hollow position that he said is fundamental to gymnastics. He had us pop up from flat on our backs into the hollow position as fast as we could and hold it for five seconds. We did that 10 times. He said the thing to focus on is contracting the body with the higher abdominal muscles that are right below the sternum.
We did a couple of difficult exercises that are used to build up to the planche, including doing a planche on parallettes with feet in a rubberband hung from overhead. I did well at that one for some reason—I was surprised. I guess the rubberband was pretty strong and I wasn’t as heavy as the guys who tried it. These exercises required us to use the same high-abdominals focus. I’m going to be ridiculously sore tomorrow, and Friday, and …
Later we used the pommel horse. We started out by grasping the handles and jumping up to hip level, then raising the hips as high as possible by pressing with the shoulders. I got high enough so that my ankles were at the top of the horse. A few people could get their feet over it. We practiced swinging with legs in a V, first with hands in front of us and then with hands behind. Some of the more experienced people were able to build momentum and height enough to swing a leg over the horse, pick up a hand, and get the leg between the handles. Some of the time, a few people were even able to swing the leg in, keep going and more-or-less gracefully swing the leg right back out again without sinking down onto the horse.
On my turn, I didn’t even have the nerve to take my hand off the handle at all! I had not focused on the sensation of my weight shifting from one hand to the other when we were doing the swings, and I never built enough swinging momentum to get that instant of weightlessness. So I just tried to concentrate on exaggerating the weight shift. I need to practice that some more. I don’t want to be the only person who won’t pick up a hand and swing onto the horse. Next time I go to the gym, on Friday, I’ll practice that swing as my warm-up.
A friend read the Suffer on Saturday post and asked me what a kettlebell looks like. It looks like this:

CrossFit Workout

Friday night’s workout was fun. I partnered with a woman I hadn’t met before. The drills were:
Medicine ball overhead toss, 10 each
Kettlebell sit-ups, 5 each hand (hold a weight straight up toward the ceiling, arm locked, and sit up until aligned with the straight-up arm)
Run around the building, taking turns tossing the medicine ball to each other from a squat position
L-sit 1 minute
Pistols (one-legged squats), 5 each leg
We were to do that three times through for time. My partner and I were not fast, but we had fun. I found that because of sore abdominals from the gymnastics on Wednesday, I couldn’t lift more than the smallest kettlebell while doing a sit-up. It was comical as I progressed down through lighter and lighter weights until I was holding about four pounds.
The outside run and medicine ball toss was fun—it felt great to go outside when we were all heated up. The gym is in a World War II–era hangar on a former Navy base, so to go outside and run around it is to be in a deserted and quiet environment. One side of the building was not well lit, as well as having uneven pavement and wet fallen leaves, so we had to slow down there. But it was a lot of fun to run past each other and turn around to catch the medicine ball and then to judge the other person’s trajectory before squatting and rising up to throw the ball.
The L-sit is the one where you hold yourself up between parallel bars with your legs straight out in the air in front of you—impossible for any but the strongest athletes. We had to support each other’s feet, so really we were only working out our shoulders on that drill. I’m not sure how a person could build up to doing a real L-sit using a spotter, because if you can’t hold up your legs at all, you’ll put the whole weight on the spotter and not build any strength. I think I’ll have to build up to it by struggling to do the full L-sit, if only for a second at a time.
The pistols are a good one to do with a spotter. My partner held onto my hand as I sank down on one foot with my other leg straight out in front, and instead of my collapsing, she helped me rise back up for a powerful hamstring/glute workout. I’m looking forward to trying that one again.
After we completed our partner workout, which took us a leisurely 45 minutes, I wasn’t ready to leave. It’s fun to be at the gym on a Friday night thinking of nothing but what else I can try before I get too tired. So I did 15 bell-ball (throw the medicine ball straight up, from a squat, to hit an overhead jinglebell on a string on the way up), three rope-climbing attempts, 4 sets of 10 dips assisted with a big rubberband, row 500 meters in 2:02, my best time yet, and 20 box-jumps on and off of the stepper (not the highest box, which makes me too nervous when I’m tired). I need to work up to doing box-jumps only on the high box.

CrossFit Workout

Yesterday I went to their gymnastics workout, taught by a former college gymnast. First we practiced handstands, taking turns having him spot us. That was a lot of fun. I’ve been practicing handstands with a support, but being spotted by a person was much better. It allowed you to try harder to balance yourself, because no matter which way you started to tip, he’d apply just enough pressure to let you regain balance again—until you started tipping the other way. I tried to focus on adjusting various parts of my body to hold the balance: put my legs together, tense or relax my stomach or shoulders, tip my head or hips.
Then we had a handstand contest. The guy who won, staying up for 6 seconds, wiggled his toes the whole time without realizing it. His feet held still but his toes flapped like he was waving at somebody.
Next we tried to learn to do a forward roll in the rings while being supported in the harness. From the stepper, you got into the harness, grasped the rings in the false grip, and jumped up into a muscle-up. Then you ducked your head and rolled forward, trying to keep the elbows at waist level. (The instructor made it look easy and natural, like an underwater somersault.) The hardest part came when you got completely upside down and stalled to a dead halt.
I expected that when I reached that point, the momentum of my rear end being straight up in the air would carry me through the somersault, but no! It was a struggle to keep the rings/my hands in the proper position at waist level and pull my body through the ropes. Eventually I did it, but only once. On my other attempts, I got upside down and suddenly reversed direction, unwinding from all that effort and swinging down into a hanging position with a lot of force. To accidentally let go of the rings at that chaotic moment would be a catastrophe!
Our final drill was to try to learn the kip, which is one way gymnasts mount the parallel bars, I think. We had to grasp the bar, set at shoulder level, and sort of fling ourselves under it until the body is fully extended on the opposite side of the bar—then fold up the legs at the hip into a pike while pulling back toward the bar. We could see that Ben used the initial “fly-out” and return to build momentum that he converted into upward motion until he was over the bar with his hands on the bar at hip level. I couldn’t even get the initial motion right. And this is something that, when gymnasts do it in the Olympics, you hardly notice because they immediately do something much more spectacular.
Just from doing those three things I was sore and tired later in the evening.

Home Workout

Three minutes of each, taking short breaks as needed:
Overhead squat (started out with 10-pound weights and switched after 15 to broomstick)
Pull-ups (couldn’t do any! Improvised with partial ones, negatives, hanging leg-raises, etc.)
Floor to ceiling (jumping as high as possible from a squat to hands overhead)
Push-ups (36)
Clean and jerk with 10-pound dumbbells (about 36)
Overhead squat (same as above—did 39)
Front squats, with or without 10-pound hand weights (51)
Overhead squat with broomstick (60)
A lot of the drills I do in at-home workouts are too easy because I don’t own heavier weights than 10 pounds. But drills like the overhead squat are challenging in that I’m struggling with a lack of back flexibility. I don’t know if it’s possible to regain that or not. Pull-ups are always hard, and today they were impossible—I guess because I was still fatigued from the Suffer on Saturday workout, strange as that seems.
I finally got a timer so I can do three-minute rounds. Maybe I’ll get some 20-pound dumbbells soon. But I don’t really like working out in the basement and I’ll probably never get myself to do it more than once a week in between visits to the gym.

Boxing Workout

I love the boxing gym! I hadn’t been there since early October. We were on vacation for two weeks and then I went to CrossFit or exercised on my own a couple of times since we got back. It was so nice to see everybody at Cappy’s, and I had a great workout. The hardest thing out of the hour was the three minutes of alternating 30 seconds of mountain-climbers with 30 seconds of push-ups. We’d just done three minutes of various cardio with our hands behind our head so the shoulders were already tired. I had to stop several times during the mountain-climber–push-up round. Later we did the usual tons of crunches.
Boxing and CrossFit complement each other well. CrossFit feels like 95 to 100 percent of possible intensity for a short time, or sometimes like a nerve-wracking strength workout where I’m learning moves that still seem complicated. Boxing feels like maybe 80 percent intensity for a whole hour, with intervals of 95 to 100 percent just to make sure we’re challenged and exhausted. Every gym thinks they’ve got the best workout around. I say these two workouts are equally serious. If the fittest people from each gym traded places, I’m sure they’d find challenges even at their high level of ability.
A friend at boxing who knows I’m going to CrossFit asked me if my legs are getting stronger from it. So far, the main thing I notice is that my lower back is stronger, not necessarily my legs at this point.