All about today.

Today I arrived at the gym at 5:20 AM, in the dark, looking around carefully for any lurkers as I crossed the parking lot and came down the stairs. In the gym I quickly planned how I’d warm up my classes for the front squat. I made some coffee and had a coconut-date snack and turned on the music. People arrived.

I taught three CrossFit classes, eating a bit of jerky and/or a date snack as discreetly as I could during each hour’s WOD. At 8:30 when the third class was over, I planned my 9:30 AM Fitness Within Reach class and my 10:30 AM personal training session with Amy.

I ate some more jerky and had my second mug of coffee. I often intend to work out at that time, and sometimes I do it, but as an introvert I’m tired after teaching three hours in a row and having more coming right up. So, often I snack and do office work ot surf the internet instead. The 9:30 class went smoothly. I love the Fitness Within Reach class because the trainees find their newfound strength so rewarding. The personal training session was good too — my client was deadlifting today and she has less anxiety about that than about squats. I appreciate her because she supports what I do, and she always thanks me and says the class was fun.

She left just before 11:30, so I had just over half an hour to warm up and work out. The CrossFit classes were doing front squats today. I did cleans yesterday and had limited time so I skipped lifting — I usually don’t skip it — and did the WOD only: 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 each of pushpresses (65 lbs) and toes to bar. I did this “Rx” in … 8:48? I can’t believe I can’t remember my time.

Then the noon class arrived, two guys. We were all chatty and it was a fun class. They squatted heavy and well, worked hard in the WOD, and left happy. One of the two will be in for my Thanksgiving Day workouts and one will not.

I listened to voicemail, fixed a concern with someone’s account, cleaned up my dishes, vacuumed, and left for the grocery store to get ready for Thanksgiving.


Cleans etc

Today I worked on cleans, and did sets of 3 up to 120 pounds. I did about 6 singles. Next time I do cleans, I’ll do 120 again and practice faster turnaround/elbows. I was really surprised when I caught one of them in my hands instead of receiving on the shoulder and fingertips. The rest were better and one felt really fast and fluid.

Then I did the workout that was on the board for today:
7 pull-ups
7 squats with 1 racked kettlebell
7 overhead KB swings
80m farmer walk with 2 kettlebells
5 rounds for time took me 13:something. I used 16 kg kettlebells.

What makes a program a lifelong commitment?

I liked CrossFit so much right away that I didn’t bother to sort out why it was more compelling than the fun boxing workout that Tom and I had done for the previous three years. But within a few months, I had let my boxing-gym membership lapse. There was just something about moving weights around that I found incredibly exhilarating, whether it was light dumbbells, cumbersome kettlebells, or heavy barbells. Even before that, I liked the seemingly endless variety in the CrossFit workouts.

I’ve had no trouble staying with CrossFit for 10 years and counting. I never stopped for any longer than it took to go on vacation. I don’t think I’ve ever even considered quitting. This is despite the fact that one can’t progress forever, becoming endlessly fitter and fitter. It has been a long-term commitment without feeling like one, because it is FUN. That’s something the other training philosophies overlook when they criticize CrossFit as creating a plateau in strength terms. I’ve also made it a long-term commitment because I’ve learned how important it is to maintain my pure strength and muscle mass as I get older.

What about skill? Is there an endless unfolding of new abilities? Well, no. If I focused on weightlifting only (ie, the clean and jerk and the snatch), then yes there could be a lifetime of skill acquisition–but then I’d be in a sport, not a fitness program. So for me, CrossFit is a really good compromise between valuable pure strength, fun basic movement skills, and conditioning that keeps me functional for just about anything else. Those are the values I hope everyone quickly finds compatible with their own goals when they start, so that they will stick with it.

My other organized physical activity is karate. I’ve been doing that for almost a year and a half. That is more highly skilled than CrossFit, by far. The black-belt practitioners don’t swagger around looking like they want you to know they could kick your ass. But they can move with such speed, power, and precision that it quickly became clear to me that this will be a lifetime of skill acquisition if I stick with it, and even if I do, I’m unlikely to get really good by starting at age 49. At this age, I’m probably losing my speed and plasticity. (The “probably” is because I’d like to be in denial!) So for now, I just stick with it one class at a time and try not to have high expectations. All I expect of myself is to pay attention, be serious, and do the best I can even if it’s not so good.

That’s why in my last post I said karate doesn’t count as a workout, and it’s in its own category. It’s a workout for my brain, and a skill practice session. It makes me feel physically not so much worked out as thoroughly limbered up and warmed up, especially in my hips and low back. It feels great. And I love memorizing the movements. I don’t love sparring and I don’t love the self-defense drills. Somebody got hurt during a self-defense drill recently.

Tracey told me last Saturday that she has wanted to quit karate many times. But she’s been at it for 22 years! Somehow despite getting discouraged she never quit. She says she saw it as a one-class-at-a-time thing, too, at least at first — try it and see how it goes. She said if she’d gone into karate thinking it was a 20-year commitment, it would have been too daunting.

I wonder if some people who quit CrossFit could be dissuaded if I could find out how they really feel about it from one class to the next. I think the most important part of “CrossFit” (which consists of so many things) is the barbell lifting for strength. If I had a client who was really serious about strength and just went through the motions on the WODs, that would be fine with me. Maybe some of our clients are that way — but I don’t see them like that at all. I think they all take the whole package quite seriously.

I guess what makes an activity a lifelong commitment is that you make progress, you see and appreciate it, and it spurs you on. Some of the parts of CrossFit by themselves could do that, such as barbell lifting or running, without turning into sports. But it seems like CrossFit as a whole, even if one doesn’t treat it like a sport, has enough sport-like “parts” (such as measurability and competition) that people keep going. Karate is a sport, but its skills alone are compelling enough for me even though I don’t plan to compete.

Disciplined, not driven

My back felt fine today, but my left wrist hurt with pushing or with hanging from the bar. So I deadlifted, up to a set of 5 at 190 and another set of 5 at 175. These felt normal/good. Then my workout of the day was: 15 kettlebell swings 24 kg, 15 butterfly sit-ups, 6 fist (knuckle) push-ups (because these didn’t hurt the wrist), 4 rounds. This took me 6:48 and felt good.

I didn’t feel like working out today. I often can too easily spend too much time in the gym working at the computer or cleaning. Daily I tell myself that if I don’t work out, I’ll be sorry when it’s time to go home and I did not work out when I was between things and had the time. I tell myself that either I’m a lifter and a CrossFitter, or I’m not. You are what you do. “How long ago was your last workout?” is a fair question for a trainer. My expectation is to be able to say that either my last WOD or my last lifting session was within the past two days, unless I had a really compelling reason not to have worked out. Also, saying I worked out in the past two days doesn’t include karate or going for a run — it has to be lifting or CrossFit or both. Running is just a little supplement, and karate is in another category altogether.

I don’t always force myself to do whatever’s on the whiteboard that day or to lift with a certain volume or intensity. I always write out a plan for my workout, on a whiteboard, but on a day like today, with recent back weakness and with current wrist pain in at least two positions, I’ll plan something that doesn’t make me nervous about conditions like those. I can always come up with something challenging enough, and once I get started, I go hard and I never quit unless something hurts in a significant way. For example, I’ll stop doing pull-ups if I realize my palm is going to tear, or I’ll stop doing handstand push-ups if my wrist suddenly hurts.

Sometimes I feel that I’m not fit enough because I’m not as fit as I was five years ago. But it’s not just a hobby any more. That really changes things, even though it’s not an issue of having enough time. I do have time, so I insist on maintaining most of my chosen benchmarks most of the time, but I refuse to try to maintain a standard of some imaginary, impossible perfection.

I was at my fittest in late 2009. Six months after “going paleo,” my weight was down to 123 and I was muscular, skilled, and fast. I clean and jerked more than my body weight and I could do bar muscle-ups. I felt that I looked my best. Today my weight moves between 132 to 135 although I’d like it at 128 or 129 (but really, WHO CARES) and I can’t clean more than 120 or do a bar muscle-up (though I can get those things back if I choose to focus on them). I’m not very self-critical about those things. I have plenty of abilities, I’m a good teacher who helps others, and I maintain my own personal benchmarks so that I’m a good example.

What are my benchmarks? Deadlift and squat over 200 pounds (and deadlift heavier than squat); press 90+; plenty of pull-ups such as 8 dead-hang and able to do at least one weighted pull-up with 35 pounds; cartwheel and handstand, not perfect but confident and competent; brachiate/monkeybar ladder/swing one-handed from ring to ring; pistol on each leg with some sort of weight, though I do have to wear weightlifting shoes or otherwise slightly elevate my heel. I may think of other benchmarks after I’m done here. In general these are the benchmarks I feel are “strong enough.”


Catching up

Today, Thursday, November 20: I taught kipping pull-ups and muscle-ups today. I did plenty of pull-ups and I almost got a muscle-up —  but no. Later I back squatted up to 5 x 3 at 175, being a little cautious and non-aggressive because of my back feeling fragile the past two days. I did a 53 lb barbell pistol on my left leg and almost, not quite, got it on the right.

Wednesday November 19: I did very little today, so tired. I worked on super narrow stance front squats emphasizing one leg at a time in order to try to progress on my weighted pistols. I didn’t even go to karate and feel bad about it.

Tuesday November 18: Anniversary of the “flood” disaster in the gym. Ugh. Glad that’s behind me. EMOTM 10 minutes, do 1 man maker first minute, then 3 second minute, 5, 7, etc. If you can’t finish, start over at 1 again the next minute. Record weights used and how high a number you completed. I used 20 lb dumbbells and reached 4 reps three times. My shoulders and triceps were hurting from Sunday, and supporting myself for the row on my right arm was so hard that it worried me a little. So I was very slow. Later that day I deadlifted but I only went up to 175 and only did three reps. My left lower back was hurting a little bit, the only part of my back that ever has pain, so I didn’t want to provoke it.

Monday November 17 in Kyle’s 4:30 PM class: Bench press up to 2 x 5 at 110. Then AMRAP 15 minutes 50 feet weighted walking lunges with emphasis on neutral back and “tucked tail” + 10 toes to bar. I got 7 rounds using 25 lb dumbbells.

Sunday November 16 in the gym by myself: I worked on sets of 3 cleans for 15 minutes, emphasis on full cleans, not power cleans. They went well. I tried to apply only as much power as I needed and drop under fast, and I felt that I actually was receiving them in a squat. I’ll make video next time. This was only up to 113 lbs. After that I recreated a workout I found in a workout log. Just now I found it here on FitNotes and it’s from Oct. 11, 2004, and it was my first CrossFit class. How many of each can I do in a minute, three rounds: pull-ups, push-press 65#, row for meters, and push-ups. Rest 30 seconds between each set. Looking at the notebook, Tom points out, “I don’t see anything about rest in the original.”

Saturday November 15 I went to karate. I have not run a mile in at least a week. It got sooo cold. Granted in the midday it was around 40 and sunny… I guess I lost interest. I’ll start up again. Every week feels differently tired and difficult with my three early mornings in a row. I get up at 4:45 Tuesdays and Thursdays and at 5:45 on Wednesdays. It is very hard for me to do other things after about 4 PM, even though I take a nap. Nonetheless, running a mile only takes less than 10 minutes, and I really did feel that it was good for me. I read recently in the new book “Higher Faster Stronger” that when we push the cardio a bit more than is comfortable, we grow more mitochondria. That appeals to me!

Monday, November 10 in class with Ellyn and Brian: For time,
10 DB alternating-sides snatch (1 dumbbell, 20 lbs)
10 burpee box-jump-overs 20″
20 DB alternating-sides snatch
20 burpee box-jump-overs
20 DB alternating-sides snatch
20 burpee box-jump-overs
10 DB alternating-sides snatch
10 burpee box-jump-overs
My time was 10:54, middle of the pack. (Why does it seem like every timed workout takes me 10:54??)

Below whiteboard photo is from Sunday’s recreation of the other (graph paper) photo’s workout from 2005.

2005-franworkoutfromnotebook 2014-11-15whiteboard-fran

Today’s buffet

I said to Kyle, what lift should I do? He said snatch balance. Whoa. Ok. I worked on sets of three overhead squats and three snatch balances up to 52 pounds. I felt that bench pressing has helped my overhead squat. Something in my back felt stronger. Although that was a light weight.

Then I did yesterday’s WOD: every minute on the minute five thrusters, add weight after every third round. I got up to 85 pounds and was happy with that. That’s a workout I could stand to do more often.

After that I had just enough time for 15-12-9 deadlifts at 155.

In the morning I had gone for my mile run, on the slippery leaf-strewn sidewalk in the wind, and that jog took me 9:55. It was a lot easier than my 9:55 on my very first one on the same route.

Last Thursday I went to karate and was the only student. It was so great! I had a private lesson from Sensei Aleeta. She helped me with a lot of kata details.

CrossFit Level 2 certificate seminar

I spent last weekend at CrossFit Belltown at the CrossFit Level 2 trainer seminar. The staff were Nadia Shatila, Todd Widman, Tommy Rudge, and Jesse Ward. They did a really great job of helping us trainees not to feel defensive and nervous — they weren’t just nice, but you could tell it was a deliberate, active effort to support us and make us as comfortable as possible. This was important because it’s hard to coach people under scrutiny from other trainers. This course isn’t graded, so it is really about the experience and the things you can learn about holes in your coaching.

I learned (not for the first time by any means) that I need to be more concise in cueing. When I make a correction while people are practicing what I have just taught, I need to slow down and stay with that person and that correction longer sometimes. This is to make sure they understand it, and have corrected it to the best of their ability, and that the others in the group understand what the point of the correction was (if I’ve pulled the person into the middle of the circle for them to see). I had to teach the push-jerk twice in a row specifically in order to slow down.

Earlier I had coached people in the press (I taught that one start to finish) and the med ball clean. Maybe the sumo deadlift high pull too, I’m already forgetting! In teaching the press, I used Rippetoe’s method. People found it surprising, but for me the point was to convey the information in an organized, effective, concise manner, and I find this method to be more technical and specific than the CrossFit method. Our coach for that session, Jesse, took this in stride but said it’s a bit nuanced for new trainees.

There was never any sense of defensiveness about information sources from outside CrossFit. In her wrap-up, Nadia encouraged us to look elsewhere as well as within CrossFit for training. I’m really glad I’ve always done that, because I’ve enjoyed it a lot and I appreciate that I have a pretty well-rounded body of knowledge (such as it is) because of this exploration.

Day 1 had small-group sessions where we worked on seeing, correcting, visual cueing, tactile cueing, praising, and one-on-one teaching. Day 2 had small-group sessions on group teaching and on programming. We’re supposed to “program for the best and scale for the rest,” so we invented workouts for Regionals-level CrossFitters. The weights and reps involved were so hard to relate to that if I’d been on my own, I wouldn’t have done a very good job. I would have been able to see and plug the holes in the sample programming they provided, but my workouts would have been too easy.

We had a fun workout at the end of each day. Day 1 it was, with one partner, do 100 wallball, then spend the remainder of 10 minutes doing barbell power snatches and see how many you can get. My partner was Christine from CrossFit RE, who I really liked. We used a 14# ball and did 59 snatches with 55 pounds. Prescribed was 65#. The idea of scaling was (1) not mentioned and then (2) scoffed at, but we did it because it seemed like a better idea.

My only criticisms of this seminar have to do with the teaching methods. For one thing, they never mention that we should provide context for each lift by explaining its purpose before we teach it. This is especially important because they use 5′ PVC pipes, or in this case varnished dowels, to teach all the barbell lifts. Trainees need to know how the lifts fit together among the other lifts and in the context of one’s overall training. This leads to my second objection, which is that you can’t teach a deadlift without a weight sitting on the floor. Taking a dowel at hip height and pushing it down to mid-shin and standing up again is not a deadlift, and they shouldn’t say that it is. A deadlift starts on the floor, or it’s not a deadlift. My third objection is that bracing — how to breathe to pressurize the trunk for a safe back — was never mentioned. At one point I realized this and I talked about pressurizing while teaching the push-jerk. It was too easy to overlook this critically important piece of safety information when we were using dowels that weigh nothing.

Because the trainees such as myself were already CrossFit trainers, it might be reasonable to assume that they know to teach bracing, and that they know how the deadlift works. But some of the trainees had very little experience as trainers, only months in some cases, so I think we should have been really hammering on how to pressurize and make sure everybody got it. It’s not an easy thing to see when someone demonstrates it. And regarding the deadlift, it is so fundamental and so powerful that it should be taught with more respect to safety and how it really works.

“These movements are a part of your DNA … One of the funnest things we do is teach the deadlift to people who’ve never seen it before” The people in the video below look like they’re new to it, but this talk by CrossFit founder Greg Glassman still inspires me: