Hit By a Truck

Have you ever heard that Shiatsu massage can bring up emotions and make you want to cry? I used to hear this from a friend a long time ago who recommended Shiatsu massage. Just the idea of it made me nervous and I never had one. Start crying during a massage? No thanks! Anyway, I thought of this last night after a long workout left me feeling like I could cry at the drop of a Kleenex. I wasn’t feeling bad emotionally—not angry or frustrated or in pain. I was proud of working so hard. But I had this funny feeling in my chest as if I were going to cry. My whole system was so revved up that it was hard to fall asleep, even three hours after we got home. I’m saying “we” because Tom joined CrossFit this week and was there last night.
The workout had two parts. First, five rounds of the following:
25 squats to overhead press with a slightly weighted PVC pipe (it has sand in it)
15 wall-ball sit-ups (sit up and fling the medicine ball at the wall, catch it and do another sit-up)
10 one-legged kettlebell deadlifts each leg (like a one-legged squat, lifting a KB)
Rest for the amount of time the above took, then do three rounds of:
20 pull-ups (I used a rubberband)
30 push-ups (I did them 10 or 5 or 2 at a time)
40 sit-ups (I tucked my feet under something)
50 squats, unweighted
Then gymnastics.
I had a couple of problems. The first workout took me 27 minutes. If I’d rested for 27 minutes, I wouldn’t have had time to do the second workout before the gymnastics section started, so I started the second workout after only getting a few drinks of water. I could have used more recovery time.
My second problem was that I conveniently didn’t notice we were supposed to do three rounds of the second workout. I did it once and gleefully announced I was finished. Then somebody pointed out I still had two rounds to do. I was mortified. Recovering from my denial, I got back into my rubberband to start the second round of 20 pull-ups. I slowly got through round 2 and started round 3. My arms felt like loaves of bread. Mercifully, halfway through round 3—right after I’d completed my last 30 push-ups—Dave said I should stop to “leave something in the tank for gymnastics.”
Tom and I had nothing but fumes left in the tank (hmmm—where is the tank located?) but we wanted to stay for gymnastics anyway. Now that the gymnastics coach has moved away, Dave has been running that class very ambitiously, and last night there were more drills written on the board than we could complete in an hour. I thought we were never going to get out of there! Of course, we could have left whenever we wanted, but did not want to miss anything.
We practiced the kip, which I’m still nowhere near able to do. Other people are making more progress and it’s fun to watch them. Everybody’s very enthusiastic and full of advice for each other.
Then we did some tumbling, starting with cartwheels. I managed a couple of one-handed ones and I’m finally starting to improve my righthand cartwheel. Everybody agrees that for cartwheels you have a good side and a bad side, and when you lead with the bad side, you feel like a complete spaz and get a lot dizzier than on the good side.
We practiced some handstand rolls. On my third time, I messed up two of them in a row, somehow forgetting what I intended to do and collapsing at random out of my brief handstand. I was so tired my brain was no longer cooperating. I stood around for a while and watched the others.
Apparently not thinking we were worn out enough, Dave wanted us to practice L-sits, the bridge position (which I always knew as the back-bend) and hanging leg-raises. Please! I tried L-sits on the parallettes, on the pull-up bar, and on the bar against the wall, and I couldn’t hold an L-sit for five seconds. I tried it several times for a quick count of five before giving up. On the back-bend, normally I can start on the floor and push up into that position, but my shoulders were so tired that I gave out as soon as I lifted up. I did some hanging leg-raises two at a time, fast and sloppily. The whiteboard said to do 20 of them “slow and perfect.” No chance of that!
Today, I’m still tired. Holding the phone up to my ear makes my arm shake.

CrossFit Workout

Last night’s workout was deadlifts. We worked up to our max for the second time. My max last night was 198 pounds, added up for me (as I was braindead) by the same coach who piled on all that weight and told me to lift it.
This seemed like a significant increase from my last deadlift max of 182. Dave reminded me that beginners tend to make “quick apparent gains” because of the skill we’re acquiring, not because we’ve already built lots more muscle. Fine with me. I wonder how much I will lift in several months when maybe I will have gained some actual, and not “apparent,” muscle. I don’t know how ambitious to be.
It’s fun to just try whatever they suggest and see what happens. When I try to deadlift a load that’s too heavy, I counterproductively start to giggle, because the weight feels comically not so much heavy as stuck to the floor. Meanwhile Apparent Gains has turned into a standing joke for me and Tom when we talk about working out. (“Don’t mind my Apparent weakness and lack of skill; I will soon make some more Apparent Gains.”)
After the deadlift we had to do five rounds of:
10 kettlebell snatch with each hand (mine weighed 12 KG)
100-yard (I think) sprint
I tried hard not to pace myself, but to go right back into the kettlebell snatches as soon as I finished the run. But in reality I took several gasping recovery breaths before picking up the kettlebell. It was remarkable how much my run slowed down between the first one and the last. I was happy to be done with all that, though I really like that kind of drill, involving a lot of movement as well as weight.
I’m stiff today in my upper back from the snatches, am tired in my lower back from the deadlifts, and have pink bruises on my forearms from the kettlebell swinging over my hand and landing there at the top of each snatch. But I’m glad to say that gripping the moving handle of the bell no longer makes a blister on my palms. (An Apparent Gain!)

Internalizing the Harangue

Today I wore myself out lifting weights and doing bodyweight stuff on my own, without any of the usual friendly haranguing from the CrossFit guys. I went with Tom on a day pass to the gym he belongs to through his work. I planned to use their huge free-weight room. Having recently tried back squats with push-press, which hurt my shoulder a bit, I wanted to try that move again with an empty 45-pound bar and then also to see what my max weight would be on the back squat (without the push-press). First I warmed up with a 500 meter row (in 2:02), a few push-ups, and some medicine-ball thrusters, throwing it straight into the air from a squat and descending into the squat again upon catching the ball. It was wall-ball without the wall, a good way to warm up the knees and hips. I did some push-ups too, hoping to get my shoulder as limber as possible.
The back squat to push-press went pretty well with the empty bar. I went all the way down into the squat and then jumped up by popping my hips forward, getting under the bar at the same time and straightening my arms under it. Then I lowered it slowly down to the top of my back. My right shoulder did not object as much as it had before, when I was already fatigued and Dave had weighted the bar a little. So today I just did a few sets of three to five reps with the empty bar to test the shoulder. It definitely has some weakness. I need to practice this empty-bar lift until it’s comfortable before adding weight.
Then Tom came into the weight room and offered to spot me on the bench press, since I was standing next to it and using its bar already. I was cockily certain I could bench press my body weight, silly considering I’d never tried a bench press. My max turned out to be 85 pounds. It was fun to try.
Then Tom went to work out on his own and I claimed a squat cage. I’d heard that normally one can back-squat more weight than the front-squat, and my max front squat recently was 158. So I started with three reps at 95 pounds. I added 50 pounds and did one rep, then started adding tiny increments of weight.
I had neglected to check the height of the low safety bars with the empty bar, so I didn’t know exactly what would happen when I reached beyond my max weight. I’d squat, not be able to get up, and would have to set (hopefully not drop) the bar onto the safety bars to get out from under it. This was new to me because at CrossFit we just drop the weights onto the mats if we can’t lift them. I was feeling a little flustered because I really didn’t want to have to drop the weights noisily onto too-low safety bars and look like a dummy. Luckily then Tom came back into the room and suggested I move to another rack temporarily and test the safety-bar height with an empty weight bar. Doing that showed me that I needed to raise my safety bars to put them as close as possible to the height of my lowest squat. Then I could confidently release the weight bar if I needed to without making tons of noise.
Tom went away again and I continued adding weight. I remembered to hold my breath and create a lot of abdominal tension at the top, hold the tension all the way down, go low, and drive up immediately. This worked well, and I felt comfortable adding weight (while thinking, “Dave would be so proud!”). This went on until I got to 175, which I couldn’t lift out of the squat. I set the weight down on the safety bars and ducked out from under it, planning to remove enough weight to be able to re-rack the bar and try again. Just then the guy using the next rack persuaded me to try using a belt and to let him spot me. I put the 175 back on the bar, wore the belt, and squatted the 175. He stood in back of me with his fingers under the bar in case I couldn’t lift it, but I lifted and racked it just fine. Whew! My legs were tired. The guy then asked me all about where I was learning to lift and whether my coaches “know what they’re doing.” He said he’s seen CrossFit and isn’t into it because “they don’t give you enough time to rest.” That’s for sure! Fair enough, there are plenty of fitness routines to choose from.
I extricated myself from the conversation, eventually, without offering to spot him if he needed help. I feel sort of rude, but he was way taller than me and I assumed that it would be like a joke for me to offer to spot him. I need to learn the etiquette of these situations.
Tom and I practiced some handstands and handstand rolls until we got tired and knocked the wind out of ourselves—oof! (Maybe I should speak for myself only.) I then rowed another 500 meters (in 2:06) and headed off to the deluxe locker room. I sure wish spouses got free membership at this place!
I’m pretty stiff now, but considering my weekend, I’m really glad I worked out today. I’d had migraines and/or migraine hangover since Tuesday night. Migraine hangover is my word for the nagging discomfort, physical weakness, and depletedness I feel while the migraine is trying to come back. It usually tries to come back for three days, but this time it just nagged for three days and came back on the fifth day—Christmas Day, when I had plans to bake for the neighbors’ party. Instead I took my Imitrex (migraine pill) and slept until 2:30 PM. I hate and love that drug for knocking me out and for taking away the headache pain after what feels like a bloody internal battle. We did make it to Christmas dinner, without the homemade bread I was planning, and I could tell the migraine was really gone. No more hangover. Today I was back to normal.

Army PFT Attempt No. 2

Today I slept in instead of getting up to be at the gym at 9:00. I decided my exercise for today would be to try the Army physical fitness test again: push-ups, sit-ups, and two-mile run. (Not that I have fantasies of joining the Army! It’s just that these benchmarks come in handy for checking progress.)
I managed 45 push-ups in two minutes, 70 sit-ups in two minutes (on my second try), and a two-mile run in 17:47. These all represented small improvements over my first attempts (here and here). I gave myself a second try at the sit-ups today after the run because on my first try I only made 55—worse than last time.
For the run, I was by myself, instead of with Tom like last time, and I felt as if I was going very slow. I was surprised to see that I ran each of the first 4 laps in 1:59 for a 7:56 first mile. Then I wimped out. After completing the fourth lap, I walked about 50 yards before starting to run again. My lungs were burning—but really, probably not enough to warrant slowing down to a walk. I did that again after the fifth round, then ran the rest of the way, slowing to a jog instead of to a walk when I felt I had to. I was surprised and happy to beat my previous time of 18:22, but taking two walk-breaks makes me disappointed in myself. Still, it was only my second try.
I hope I can learn to pace myself properly to run the whole thing. If I could run each lap at 2:07, I’d make the 100% (of the army test) time for a female of my age. Surely with practice I’ll be able to do that.
Last night we were talking with a 10-year-old neighbor who’s a big soccer player. He said his fastest fourth-grade friend ran a mile in something like 6:30, and I think he said his own mile time was something like 7:20. Wow! Can I possibly catch up with the local fourth graders? I actually felt envious! But in any case I know I can get faster, even though I’ll never get as fast as that young man is going to get.

What’s a Rocking Pistol?

Chris commented about wondering where to learn to do some of the exercises I mentioned after last Friday’s long workout. Javascript slideshows or Windows Media movies of some of them are posted on this page, down the righthand side. Some of the drills I’ve mentioned recently that are posted there include wall ball, Tabata squats, clean and jerk, thrusters, push-press, front squat, kettlebell swing, pull-ups, and knees to elbows.
Last Friday’s drills that are not posted there are the handstand, rocking pistol, bearcrawl, hanging leg-raise, divebomber push-ups, and assisted ring dips.
Here’s a detailed article on how to do a handstand. One key to getting up high enough is to concentrate on shifting your upper body weight forward and getting your hips over your shoulders. Keep trying. It’s fun!
Rocking pistol: Put a mat on the floor and stand with your back to it. Crouch and rock back as if to do a backward roll. When you get back onto your shoulders with your rear in the air, forcefully rock forward. Extend one leg forward and press the other foot flat on the floor. Stand up onto that one foot. Continue, alternating feet. I think the idea is to use the hamstrings and glutes to press the heel into the floor and rise up as if out of a one-legged squat (and not to use the quads as if springing forward). If not ready for the one-leg version, use both legs.
Bearcrawl: Go from here to there with your hands and feet on the floor, crawling like a bear. No matter how short here to there is, it seems long! According to the gym guys this is because with your body pushing down on your lungs, you can’t recover. The first couple of rounds of this made me quite lightheaded when I stood up.
Hanging leg-raise: Hang from a bar or rings. Extend your feet and body backward to get a swing going. Lift your straight legs all the way up until your feet are as high as the bar or rings. When you swing back down, extend your body back again. Use the rhythm and momentum for the lift. According to CrossFit, it’s better to use the whole body this way than to try to isolate specific muscles. The hardest part of this one is keeping the legs straight. My question was, how is this different than knees-to-elbows? The answer: In knees to elbows you bend the legs and curl the body to try to touch the elbows with the knees. To me the two drills feel pretty similar once I get the swing going. I like to do them on the rings because it feels more natural to my hands.
Divebomber push-ups: Start in a pointed top push-up position with your rear pointing up in the air and your head down between your shoulders. Lower your body while pushing it forward as if going under a low wire. Get your chest and hips really close to the floor. Arch your back and straighten your arms, hips still close to the floor. Then reverse it, lowering your body as much as possible to go back under the imaginary low wire. Push back up into the top position, which is like the downward dog pose in yoga.
Assisted ring dips: It’s hard enough to do dips on parallel bars, let alone on rings that won’t stay put. I can’t even do one ring dip. The modification last Friday was to use rings that were lowered to hip level. Stand between them and hold them away from the body, then give a little hop to get into the top of the dip position and try to stabilize the rings and hold yourself up. Let yourself down and do it again.
Here’s a non-CrossFit site that talks about some of the same kinds of workouts.

CrossFit plus Boxing

Last night we did back squats. The barbell is supported by the “meat” of the upper back just below the neck, plus the hands. It was the first time I’d tried back squats, so I used an unweighted, 45-pound bar.
21 reps bottom-to-bottom squats, rest 5 seconds at bottom
21 reps taking 5 seconds to descend then exploding up immediately from bottom
21 reps resting 2 seconds at bottom, exploding up and finishing with a push-press.
I could have used more weight on the first two rounds in order to make it hard to finish the last few reps. But it was better to experiment with just the bar for my first attempt at back squats. “Resting” at the bottom is not really a rest because you’re supposed to hold all the tension that’s going to allow you to explode up with the weight.
The only problem I had last night was with the push-press at the end of each rep of the last set. I like the power and dynamics of popping all the way up from the legs and getting under the weight while it has that instant of weightlessness. But upon getting the arms fully extended, then you have to lower the bar onto the top of the shoulders to go down for the next rep. This is scary. I felt, naturally, as if I was in danger of chipping myself in the back of the neck with the bar, hitting that top vertebra that sticks out at the base of the neck.
It’s necessary to control the weight as it comes down, of course, and to place it on the top of the back, which should be flexed between the shoulder blades to create a sort of shelf for the bar. (The bar does not rest on the neck.) It is natural to flex the back this way for squats since the hands are reaching back to grip the bar. The problem I had was in controlling the bar on its descent. Lowering it slowly and gingerly, feeling out the best way to bring the bar down onto my back instead of my neck, caused my right shoulder to hurt in a way that nothing else has. I need to warm up my shoulders and practice overhead presses with a light dumbbell, I guess, to see if I can strengthen that shoulder.
Tonight at boxing I found that I’ve improved at floor-to-ceilings, doing 23, 22, and 21 reps in three 30-second intervals instead of the 18, 17, 16 I used to do. Floor-to-ceilings are a drill where you stand up, squat as low as possible and touch the floor near your heel, and then spring up extending your arms toward the ceiling as you jump. They’re pretty tiring.

The Twelve Days of CrossFit

For the first round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
A hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the second round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Two bearcrawlers and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the third round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
A three-second handstand, two bearcrawlers, and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the fourth round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Four clean and jerks, three-second handstand, two bearcrawlers, and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the fifth round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Fiiiiiive diving pushuuuups!
Four clean and jerks, three-second handstand, two bearcrawls, and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the sixth round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Six knees to elbows, fiiiive diving pushuuups!
Four clean and jerks, three-second handstand, two bearcrawls, and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the seventh round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Seven kettlebell swings, six knees to elbows, fiiiive diving pushuuups!
Four clean and jerks, three-second handstand, two bearcrawls, and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the eighth round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Eight hanging leg-ups, seven kettlebell swings, six knees to elbows, fiiiive diving pushuuups!
Four clean and jerks, three-second handstand, two bearcrawls, and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the ninth round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Nine assisted ring-dips, eight hanging leg-ups, seven kettlebell swings, six knees to elbows, fiiiive diving pushuuups!
Four clean and jerks, three-second handstand, two bearcrawls, and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the tenth round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Ten easy squat-thrusts, nine assisted ring-dips, eight hanging leg-ups, seven kettlebell swings, six knees to elbows, fiiiive diving pushuuups!
Four clean and jerks, three-second handstand, two bearcrawls, and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the eleventh round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Eleven assisted pullups, ten easy squat-thrusts, nine assisted ring-dips, eight hanging leg-ups, seven kettlebell swings, six knees to elbows, fiiiive diving pushuuups!
Four clean and jerks, three-second handstand, two bearcrawls, and a hundred-yard sprint down the hall.
For the twelfth round on Friday, the whiteboard said to do:
Twelve rocking pistols, eleven assisted pullups, ten easy squat-thrusts, nine assisted ring-dips, eight hanging leg-ups, seven kettlebell swings, six knees to elbows, fiiiive diving pushuuups!
Four clean and jerks, three-second handstand, two bearcrawls… and a hundred-yaa-aard sprint down the haaaallll.
It took me about 52 minutes. I was proud of getting through this one. If I’d known about this long workout in advance I might not have shown up. I’m glad I did, because it was the most fun I’ve ever had in a gym. I liked the repetition. It allowed me to see how much I could recover between sets of the same drill, and to practice using good form and technique when I was tired. I managed to focus on each moment to an extent I was really pleased with. The focus saved me from thinking ahead and psyching myself out about whatever insanity was coming next. With each round being longer than the previous one, it was good to avoid looking ahead.
The holiday party at the gym was last night too. Within about 30 minutes of everyone finishing the workout, people whisked out tables and decorations, plugged in strings of lights, and brought out all the potluck food and drinks. It was one of the best parties we’ve been to. What a friendly and interesting group of people. At the gym you just have no idea what you’ll learn when you ask somebody what they do or where they’re from. Several people have been in the military, which seems to create an interesting perspective on life as well as some interesting careers. We talked with someone who works in security and could tell us very little about what she does. Intriguing!
Other people we talked with are very knowledgeable about exercise, how to get strong, and how to avoid injury. I found myself digging for information about that. I’ve never had a knee or back injury and I’d like to think I can avoid them for life. But the more people I meet and talk with about active lifestyles, the more it starts to seem as if everyone but myself has had one or more knee surgeries.
I’ve learned that one of the riskiest moves for the knees is an uneven or off-balance landing. Gymnastics training articles warn coaches to make sure gymnasts complete any aerial twists before they land so that they don’t contact the ground while still rotating. People at the gym say to step down off the box-jump instead of jumping off; jump up, step down. I love working out with people who push hard, but the downside of that is the risk of injury when you’re tired and getting sloppy but still trying to push. I definitely reserve the right to tune out the “push” if I feel like I’m about to give out.
I also watch my balance and stability carefully when doing yard work on our sloped areas. They’re full of plants, dead leaves, and uneven stepping stones, besides being uneven to start with. I tiptoe up there and bend down, pull weeds, turn and toss them away, carry water buckets, or use tools, and then I turn around to step off the slope, over the edging logs, and onto the grass. In my daily life I think that’s the place where I’m most likely to fall and hurt myself if I’m not careful. Staying fit is an investment in my health for life, and I’d hate to sabotage that by developing a chronic problem or injury.

Learn To Do a Handstand

I looked up some tips on handstands. All of these articles were interesting. A couple of them emphasize the need to hold your body stiff. Find the balance and hold it with the whole body, making only small adjustments. I need to remember to practice finding the right position and stiffening my body instead of kicking up any old way, barely feeling the balance, and coming straight down again.
“After an extended break from childhood gymnastics in Japan, Masako Kardos, age 43 of Laguna Beach, California has mastered the handstand…”
Look at your hands from underneath your eyebrows. Push up from the floor so you extend in your shoulders. …”
“Kicking up against a wall can help give you a feel for being upside down but should not be used for practicing a handstand. …”
“To test to see if you are strong enough to hold your body straight, lie on the floor on your back, with your arms down by your side. Tighten your body, keeping it straight along the floor. Then, have someone lift only your feet about 3 feet into the air. If you are still tight, your legs, hips, and torso all should still be as straight as they were when you were still flat on the ground. …”
Our hands become our feet, so you have to think about it in the mechanics of the way you walk on your feet. …

CrossFit Workout

Front squats in sets of 5 reps, 5 reps, 3, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1. Add weight each time to find the max you can lift.
Then dumbbell or kettlebell military press, same pattern and increasing load.
It was the first time I’d tried to find my max front squat weight, but I’d practiced them more than most of our other lifts. Although I don’t like the unusual grip (or non-grip, as the bar rests on forward-rounded shoulders and fingertips instead of in a fist), at least the move was familiar. I started with a 40-pound bar and 20 pounds added. Next we made a big jump by adding 20 kg to it. Smaller jumps for several sets, and finally my heaviest load was 158 pounds total. It’s almost 30 pounds more than my body weight, but according to Dave, I may be able to work up to twice my weight eventually if I focus and train for that. Whether I will or not is another story. I’m goal-deficient. I look at workouts and fitness as an experiment—what rewards will I get for practice? Rather than wanting to practice to get a chosen reward.
The second part of the workout was a fiasco for me. My sets were:
5 reps each hand, 8-kg (17.6-pound) kettlebells
1 rep each, 12-kg (26.4-pound) kettlebells with a spotter.
3 reps each, 30-pound dumbbells
3 sets of 3 reps, 25-pound dumbbells
Totally not systematic!
Next we had our gymnastics session though our usual coach wasn’t there. Dave and a woman gymnast (who considered her skills rusty) had us practice cartwheels with a focus on delaying putting the hands down. This is the way to work up to an aerial, apparently. Dave said, “I’ve never done an aerial. We need to!” which I guess means we’ll be practicing that at the gym quite a bit. I loved doing this and occasionally I could get by with only putting down one hand. That’s a skill-relic from grade school. The farthest I ever got in gymnastics was a one-handed cartwheel.
Then we practiced handstand rolls. These were so much fun once I got the nerve to do them. I was afraid I’d land flat on my back. They spotted me for my first one and then I did fine on my own. It was funny to try and not fully commit, ending up in a sort of headstand instead of rolling on through. I felt like I was practicing a break-dance move.
She suggested we try to learn a handstand pirouette, which seemed to deserve its elegant name when she demonstrated the move. The rest of us flailed. It was fun to try going into a cartwheel and stopping it in a handstand position. I found that if I went slowly, instead of throwing the cartwheel momentum into it, I could often arrest at the top—but I couldn’t stay up for long. I’d try to “pirouette” by moving a hand and turning my body, but it was actually more of a “falling and catching myself” than a pirouette. A fun workout.
I sent email to Dave expressing all of my concerns about the consistency and quality of the workouts. He responded with a long and thoughtful explanation of the progression I should expect with weight training. He also addressed all of my concerns specifically. I need to organize my own thoughts next and figure out how I’m going to do my part to get the most consistency and progress out of my workouts. Hopefully my next post will be about that.
P.S. I want to add that after doing that heavy front squat, just a single rep, when I completed it and racked the weights I felt as if my body was floating up off the ground for the next minute or so. Not from euphoria, but from the release from underneath the weight.

CrossFit Fine-Tuning Ideas

Poking around the links from the APFT calculator page, I skimmed the PDF of the suggested training workouts a person should use to improve APFT results or to get ready to take the test. The workout schedule is followed by a list of training principles (page 4), two of which really struck me: “Progression: To achieve a training effect, the intensity and/or time of exercise must gradually increase” and “Regularity: One must exercise consistently. Minimum is three times per week.”

As hard as the boxing and CrossFit workouts can be, I don’t think I’m getting progression and regularity. Boxing was so hard right from the start that it improved my fitness level significantly within the first several months. Then for the next two and a half years, I’ve enjoyed the workouts and stayed fit—but I’ve wondered what, if anything, I should do to get beyond the plateau. That was one reason I practiced doing doubles when jumping rope and got to the point where I could do more of them in a row than anybody else at the gym. (Now I’m convinced I have Achilles tendonitis from all those doubles.)

Wanting to get off the plateau was also one reason I joined CrossFit. I thought it would provide a “training effect” by being more intense. That has happened to a small degree in that I can tell my core is stronger and I can do more push-ups. But long-term, I’m not sure CrossFit is systematic enough to provide progression for a non-elite athlete like myself. A related problem is that I’m only getting the minimum regularity, as I work out at CrossFit twice a week and at boxing once a week.

Suppose I start going to CrossFit three times a week and stay with boxing once a week. What do I need from CrossFit in order to progress? The most obvious need is to have enough training on the barbell weightlifting techniques so that I can lift confidently and explore my maximum lifts. Without consistently exploring the max, I don’t see how I will progress. I haven’t had enough personal training on the barbell lifts.

Additionally, to progress in strength training I also need more frequent dedicated strength workouts (barbells) as opposed to the usual, varied workouts. Those are done for speed and tend to combine combine dynamic weight training (such as kettlebell swings) with cardio and body-weight drills (rowing; push-ups; sit-ups).

The problem I’ve experienced related to weight training is that when they mix some barbell lifts into one of the varied workouts that are done for speed, I’ve needed a full refresher course on whatever barbell lift we’re doing. That interruption takes away from the quality and speed of the overall workout. I want to know exactly how to do whatever each workout calls for so that I can concentrate on the workout instead of on learning the basic skills.

It is possible I need to have patience, ask for the training I need, and expect a longer learning curve before I look for systematic progression. That’s not unreasonable. But I’m concerned also about the scalability of CrossFit to large groups. They tout the workout’s scalability to different ability levels, but I don’t see how they would teach, say, ten people at a time on lifts like the clean and jerk. As it is, the group is usually small and the training is individual, face to face, and as needed. But when the group is bigger, it can be hard to learn or refresh a skill, as I experienced recently.

If CrossFit is going to catch on to a larger market, I think they should offer six- or eight-session classes in lift techniques for a group. They could start with light kettlebells and empty barbells and work everyone up to the confidence to find out how much they can lift. They could finish the course by making sure people feel confident enough to try heavier weights when appropriate to ensure (and test) their progression. The Seattle gym offers kettlebell classes—maybe I should try those. But I think my first step should be to tell one of the coaches that I need more help with learning the lifts thoroughly.