Tom Joins the Muscle-up Club

Tonight my brilliant husband, Tom, got his first full, unassisted muscle-up. He stepped up onto a box, grasped the rings with the false grip, stepped off the box and pulled up from a dead hang until he’d pulled his elbows and hands down next to his chest. He slowly but surely switched his wrist position so that his palms pushed straight down, first the right, then, concentrating really hard, the left. I was jumping up and down yelling “Push! Push!” like a crazed Lamaze coach, sloshing drinking water all over myself. Tom rose up without further ado and locked his arms straight. The room erupted in cheers, whistles, and applause. Tom, swaying way up there, grinned a sweaty grin and let himself down to be congratulated. I’m as proud as if I’d done it myself! It looked really smooth for a first one, with a minimum of struggle. The whole thing took less than 10 seconds.
And that was after the workout. Tonight’s workout was so contrary to all of my preferences—if I can choose my grueling torture, this would not be it—that it made me feel kind of sick.
The workout was 3 rounds, for time, of:
• Row 500 meters
• 15 push-press (I used 12-kg kettlebells until round 3 when I switched to 16 kg at Nick’s suggestion)
• Run around building (400 meters)
• Lunges for 2 lengths of the room (with 1 pressed-overhead dumbbell—I used 15 pounds)
My first round wasn’t terrible. I was fresh for the row and finished that in 2:00. I managed the 15 push-presses with two 12-kg kettlebells without breaking the set. The run felt just slightly slow. The lunges got difficult in the middle, but I never felt like coming to a complete stop. Most of the time I lunged straight from one leg to the other, like taking giant steps, without pausing (feet together) in the middle of the rep. So that was decent.
On the second round, I think the row took about 2:10. I broke the set of push-presses into 10 and 5 reps. Nick came over and said I looked strong enough that I should probably be using 16s. I said “okay” noncommittally. The run was really hard to maintain at even a jog. My throat felt kind of tight in an uncomfortable way. I was happy that I didn’t slow to a walk but maintained my pitiful-feeling jog. The lunges were just slightly harder than in the first round. I was breathing really hard while trying to lunge deep, hold the weight with a locked arm and solid back, and keep my balance.
The third round of rowing took me about 2:20. My legs were weak, my back was curving in at least two directions, and my brain didn’t care. I was just glad to be able to stand up when I was done. I was hating the way rowing crunches up my body when I’m longing to breathe normally and to straighten my legs for a second of relief. Then came the final round of push-presses, this time with 16s. The first time I picked the kettlebells up from between my feet and tried to clean them to the racked position (handles held in fists in front of the throat, upper arms supported by chest or lats), I didn’t even manage to get them up there. I had to swing them back down between my knees and try the clean again.
Whew! Made it to the starting position. Then I managed to do 5 reps before I had to put them down and take a long pause. I was getting lightheaded and had that tightness in my throat, more persistent this time. “Hmm, I’ll never finish the workout as long as I stand here—might as well do one more rep.” So I made it to 9 before taking an even longer pause. I was wondering if that lightheadedness and tightness was ever going to go away. I must have stood for a whole minute, slightly afraid to bend down and swing the weights up again. Finally I did 4 more reps, paused again, finished the final two, and jogged out for my final run.
I was breathing so hard that it was as if I couldn’t catch up with myself no matter how slowly and gingerly I jogged (and, of course, I should have been sprinting, considering the workout was timed). It was as if I was using air faster than I could breathe it in, and my throat felt like it had shrunk to a pinhole. My lungs were demanding air but it wouldn’t flow in; I had to concentrate and pull hard to suck air in. Just short of halfway around the building I sat down on the curb and pushed my head down toward my knees. Pretty soon I felt better and resumed my jog, still miserable and slow. That was the first time at CrossFit that I’ve paused during the run. Yes I’m slow, but I’ve never actually stopped before. Oh, well. I jogged back in and completed the lunges, slowly recovering my normal level of heavy breathing without the constricted feeling.
My time, surely the slowest of anybody who worked out tonight, was over 34 minutes.
So—what is that tightness in the throat and lightheadedness? I don’t have asthma, I don’t wheeze, and I didn’t have any pollen allergies today. I wasn’t so lightheaded as to see black spots, but enough so that I thought I might start seeing them if I didn’t take a break during the push-presses and the run. What is it that made me feel I couldn’t pull in enough air? Surprisingly, Tom said he felt the same way.
I think was triggered purely by the workout, which was more demanding than most in the cardio sense (with both rowing and running). The combination of that with the dynamic push-presses created a huge deficit (of what, though? Just oxygen?). A pause of 15 seconds to a minute, breaking up sets, and so on, had much less of an effect than it would in a different workout. But what is it that actually causes the sensation of my throat trying to close up and choke off half of the air? I suppose maybe this is an illusion—surely my throat wasn’t physically tightening up. I have so rarely experienced that and I’d love to know what’s behind it.

3 thoughts on “Tom Joins the Muscle-up Club”

  1. First off, please congratulate Tom for me, as I’m in awe of this ability. You could just as well say, “Tom can fly!” It’d have the same effect.
    Regarding your breathing, there’s an article somewhere (have to google around, I guess) that talks about something called fitness induced asthma. I might have the name wrong. But look around and you should find something to read. There are occasions when you can have actual asthma symptoms during exercise, especially when it’s vigorous as yours.
    I hope you’re well.

  2. Thanks Chris. Yeah, Tom is a hard worker! How’s your rope climb going?
    I’m going to read up on exercise induced breathing stuff – apparently it occasionally can induce an allergy. Mine wasn’t in the chest like asthma.

  3. My rope was shipped from Pacific Fiber on Tuesday, so I won’t really know until early next week. Once I get that mess started, though, I’ll surely be bugging you more about it.

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