I had lots of energy this week and I worked out four days in a row (six days in the week): Running and calisthenics last Sunday, CrossFit on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and boxing today. My shoulder is slowly getting better. I haven’t been doing hanging exercises or overhead lifts, until today when I used 5-pound hand weights to do some rotator-cuff strength exercises.
I hadn’t been to boxing in almost three weeks. I told Cappy I’m still going to the other gym and trying a bunch of new things and that I’d hurt my shoulder. He helped me look at my habitual shoulder position and how they want to curve forward, whether at rest or exercising. It is as if the strong pectoral muscles pull the shoulders out of position thanks to both my daily job of sitting at a computer and to the pecs being stronger than some of the back muscles. It’s all a little vague in my mind, but I find it easy to believe that my shoulder joints, given my age and sedentary working life, are not seated properly. That can’t be good for overhead lifting.
The boxing workout seemed long—not surprising, considering how intense but short the CrossFit workouts tend to be. The boxing workout is an hour of sustained effort. The thing about CrossFit, though, is that I can always stick around and do more work after recovering from the really intense part. I like having both a structured, demanding workout and flow time to try whatever I feel like trying.
I mostly felt strong at boxing today. The first thing I noticed was that when we did our most demanding jump-rope round (out of several consecutive 3-minute rounds of jump rope), I never stopped. In this round we alternated 30 seconds crossovers and 30 seconds doubles (the rope goes under your feet twice per twirl). That was always an especially difficult combination for me. Crossovers require more precision with the feet and more stamina in the shoulders than regular jumping, and doubles of course are a huge cardio spike. After the first 30 seconds of doubles, crossovers never seem like enough of a rest. Then before it seems reasonable you have to start the next interval of doubles. Three minutes is a long time.
Recently I’ve been able get through this combination without stopping. This is not an especially meaningful benchmark, except to me because of its familiarity. By “not especially meaningful” I mean it hasn’t made me a fast runner. Surely it has increased my stamina, speed, and coordination in other areas to some degree, though. Everything we do at boxing is part of the reason I was able to start CrossFit and enjoy it right away instead of feeling like I was going to die.
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.
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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.
Yesterday was my (and Tom’s) second anniversary of starting to work out at Cappy’s boxing gym. When Tom and I went for the first time two years ago, we were sore for a week. The boxing fitness class is a one-hour workout divided into three-minute rounds with only a few seconds in between. On that first day, we did about six rounds of jumprope to start, which seemed like a cruel joke. We said later that we’d both been thinking after the first round, “Whew! I survived three minutes of jumprope—hooray! Oh-oh, what’s next?” And the answer, several times, was “more jumprope.” You have to be kidding, was my recurring thought.
Also on that first day I remember doing “ring-rope” and “side-to-side medicine-ball chest pass,” two drills that we now count on doing in almost every workout. “Ring-rope” means crouching low to duck under the rope and into the ring, then ducking back out, then back in, back out, back in… for three minutes. The rope is just over knee-high, so in addition to the aerobic effects of crouching and standing as fast as you can, you also get a tremendous groin and hip stretch and a burn in the upper legs. “Side to side medicine ball chest pass” involves two people face to face about four feet apart. Together they step sideways as fast as they can, in a sort of skip or gallop, while flinging the medicine ball back and forth straight across at chest level like a basketball pass (but with a much heavier ball). This gives you a huge cardio spike and an upper-body workout at the same time.
The refrain on that first day, at least in my own mind, was always, “You have to be kidding….” Nonetheless I was pretty sure going in that I was going to want to continue. I’d been working out on my own at the Y or another gym for three years. All of a sudden I realized I was bored and wanted to try something really tough. At the end of that first boxing class, I pulled out the checkbook and signed up for five more classes. I was so worn out that I could hardly hold the pen to write the check. Tom and I immediately went out for Chinese food.
Tom and I went to his gym the next day to try to work out our unbelievable soreness. We jumped rope, walked on the treadmills, and played a little basketball. I went back to Cappy’s three days later and felt intimidated when it turned out that that night’s class was being taught by Julia, not by Cappy. I had wanted everything to be predictable. (I’m not that way any more—maybe because of the boxing classes?) I remember that Julia had the class do a round of crossovers and doubles (jumprope). I started to be able to do crossovers, but as soon as my technique started to smooth out a little, I’d be exhausted and have to take a short break. Then I’d start over and try the doubles (jumping a little higher and turning the rope faster, so that it goes under your feet twice per jump). I’d manage to do one and then I’d stop to reorganize my feet and my rope. Julia said, “The idea is to just keep doing them—do one and keep going with a whole string of them.” Again I thought, you have got to be kidding.
I took one of the extra jumpropes home and started practicing on days I didn’t go to boxing. Gradually I built up my rhythm and stamina. Jumping rope is still hard because, like a lot of other parts of the boxing workout, as you get better, you naturally try to go faster or do something harder. It has not yet become rote or easy or boring.
Cappy mixes up the workouts, substituting a large variety of drills while keeping a few of the basics like jumprope, ring-rope, and the side-to-side medicine ball pass. Lately, one of the more difficult drills has been “crunch-punch,” in which you lie on your back with your feet straight up and grasping a heavy bag that is hanging above you. While holding the bag in place with your feet, you crunch up and punch the bottom of it as hard and as long as you can. Another one that Cappy recently introduced, which some of us like to complain about, is to do crunches while a partner stands over your feet and throws a medicine ball down at you. You have to both catch and return the ball while you’re in the top position in the crunch.
When I do some of these hard exercises, or simpler ones like pushups, which I’m terrible at, I sometimes feel like I must be a real weakling. Then I get a bit of perspective and remember that these drills are really hard, and I wouldn’t have been able to get through three minutes of them two years ago without taking a substantial break. It feels great to be fit.
Tonight was a first. I went to the boxing gym for the usual 5:30 fitness class and I turned out to be the only student. I kidded around with Cappy and Mike (who was on his way out) that if nobody else showed up, I was leaving, because I was afraid Cappy would kick my a**. Which he obligingly confirmed that he would.
Years ago I would have been so self-conscious that I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of the situation, which amounted to a free personal training session. Instead I would have desperately wanted to leave. I can remember several times when I tried taking private guitar lessons and could not stand to play (let alone sing) by myself in front of someone who was watching, evaluating, and “helping.” Something—a combination of years and varied experiences, I guess—has taught me to concentrate, set aside self-consciousness, and be in the moment when it would be easier to be distracted or worse. At least at Cappy’s Gym, anyway. I don’t know if I would be any less self-conscious if somebody asked me to play them a song on the guitar. I should try out that idea.
It says a lot about the atmosphere at Cappy’s that I would feel as comfortable there as I do. He has a gift for giving individual attention without making you feel too scrutinized. During one round of jumprope I thought about the fact that people would soon start arriving for the 6:30 class, and my inclination was to dread that , thinking I couldn’t handle other people seeing me exercising by myself—maybe it was okay to work out alone with Cappy, but not with other gym members watching. I’m happy to say I quickly abandoned that mindset and concentrated on what I was doing.
Sure enough, at about 6:15 two or three people came in. I couldn’t hear them talking over the music and the punching bag until Trisha called out in my direction, “It’s Fran’s own special class!” I instantaneously ran through my mental habit (from grade school) of realizing that I was being mocked, and ran right on through it to today’s reality that I was not being mocked. I flung my gloves in the air in a joking triumphal gesture at Trisha and then went back into my own little world of punching the bag.
I’m glad to have lost a lot of my unwarranted self-consciousness over the past few years. I think it’s connected to being married to someone who never judges me and also to having left Chicago, where all those grade-school adventures happened.
The workout went well, but I didn’t get as exhausted as I normally do because we spent a bit more time talking and adjusting my movements. I did stumble onto a useful way of visualizing how to use the legs and the back, instead of the arms and shoulders, to throw punches. As the fist is shot forward, brace the muscles all down the back of the body by imagining you’re braced against a wall behind you. This visualization was a useful addition to my growing awareness of keeping my shoulders back while punching at full extension. I don’t claim to have all of this down pat, but it is fun to try to create a mental picture that I can describe.