CrossFit Workout

I realized later on that in my last entry I used the wrong phrase. It’s not a “forward squat,” it’s a front squat.
Tonight I had my first personal training session of four I’ll take before starting the CrossFit classes. I met Dave at 5:00. He started by showing me a kettlebell swing. The technique is based on a wide-stance squat where the pelvis sinks between the legs and thrusts forward into the standing position, with a little jump from the momentum, as the arms travel up to head level with the kettlebell. Video of the exercise is listed on the right side of this page. Some people think kettlebells are just a fad, but I liked the movement of this exercise and the natural grip on the handle of the bell. See kettlebells here, on one of the goofiest websites you’ll see.
Next Dave produced a pair of parallettes (made of PVC just like in these pictures) and asked me if I’m good at push-ups. “I dunno—what’s good?” I asked. I told him that on a strong day I’ve done 16 without stopping, so he had me try eight on the parallettes. These are easier on the wrists than pressing the palms on the floor and when you get really good at push-ups, you can dip your chest lower than your hands thanks to the extra height. Dave said my push-ups were pretty good but I was sagging just a tiny bit.
So my routine was to do three sets of 10 kettlebell swings and 8 push-ups. The kettlebell swing got a little more difficult and the push-ups got so hard that on my third set, I collapsed onto my knees at halfway up on number 7. I could not push one more millimeter. Dave then told me some things about push-ups that I never knew. He explained in detail how to tense the grip, the abdominals, the butt, the thighs, and the knees as hard as possible in order to do those last one or two push-ups. The whole body becomes like a stiff board instead of a collapsing dead weight and although it’s still really difficult, it allows one or two more reps to be done. In my enthusiasm to test out this idea, I did two more push-ups while I was still really fatigued. It was true. My arms still felt dead, but the rest of my body was cooperating a bit more instead of dragging itself down onto the mat.
Next, Dave asked me what’s the hardest abs exercise I’ve done. I was kind of stumped. At boxing we do lots of different ones in a row, so it’s the quantity and variety that make them so difficult. I had no doubt that Dave had a challenging exercise up his sleeve.
In a corner of the gym were two pieces of apparatus, one for back-ups and one for a combination back-up and hamstring curl. Dave showed me how to do sit-ups on the combination apparatus, extending as far back as possible with the stomach flexed while keeping the lower back pressed as if down onto a floor (though you’re in mid-air) instead of arching. I’m familiar with the need to keep the back from arching and we practice that at boxing in all of the crunches we do. He had me do several of those while he explained it and checked my back position, then had me do five more.
I got off the apparatus and he showed me the back-up–hamstring curl combo. I tried it too, thinking I might as well learn it now since he just demo’ed it. It wasn’t hard to do two or three of them but I know that doing a few short sets of those would make me sore for sure. Hamstring exercises involving body weight, as opposed to machine weights, are surprisingly strenuous considering those are some of the big muscles that support us all day long.
The final drill was on the rings (last on the list on this page, Knees to Elbows). First Dave had me show him whether or not I could do a hanging leg-lift. I hung there, hoping my rear end wouldn’t fly out backwards because of the instability, and tried to lift my straight legs out at a right angle to my hanging body. I couldn’t quite get them up much past 45 degrees, I think, though it looked higher from my wishful perspective. I did two of these and then he showed me what he really wanted me to do, which was the knees-to-elbows drill. In that one, you can use a bit of momentum to swing the feet up over your head. The challenge is in lifting the legs that high, in the intense curl of the upper body, and in maintaining the grip while doing these things. I had to do three sets of five, and it was hard.
We were finished. I was surprised to see almost an hour had passed, and I thought I didn’t feel tired enough. I jumped rope for a few minutes as Dave started a training session with someone else, and almost immediately the fatigue hit me. My arms didn’t want to swing the rope and my legs didn’t want to jump at any respectable speed or rhythm. I’m so used to the quick movement and impact of the boxing workout that it seems I need to jump rope in order to gauge my tiredness—as if, if I haven’t been bouncing around and punching, I can’t possibly be tired. Strange!
I enjoyed this workout and I’m going to be scared when I show up Thursday, because Dave said he’s going to have me work harder next time.
It was interesting to me that he placed the same emphasis on the hamstrings and on the lats (depending on the drill) as Cappy does at boxing. Tom and I are always asking each other, “How the heck am I supposed to use my lats to throw a punch?” Well, Dave corroborated Cappy, saying the lats should be doing the push-up just as they should be behind the punches in boxing. And the hamstrings provide the spring in the kettlebell swing. (Oh my. I’m a poet and don’t know it.)
Like last time, when I left the gym and drove home, I was in such a good mood that I felt like laughing. I can’t say why. But it’s great to try this new workout and learn once again that I love the physical potential of the body for its own sake. I don’t have an urge to ski or snowboard, rock-climb, or spar at boxing. Pushing myself physically in a gym, detached from everyday activities, feels like pure gratification.
Driving home I saw a guy riding a mountain bike in a perfect wheelie for something like a quarter of a mile alongside the busy street. I was smiling without realizing it, relishing the fact that someone can do that and wants to, even while part of my brain was saying, “What a show-off. He’s going to fall into traffic and it will serve him right.” Terrible! Is this some kind of social conditioning, where physical prowess is to be belittled? (Or am I just a jerk?) It seems like among most people I know—not those at the boxing gym, though—intellectual aspects of life are appreciated and physical strength and skill are not. Writers write about art, politics, business, and family life. It’s been harder for me to find good writing or have a good conversation about the physical human body and its capacity for strength and skill.

Follow-Up: First CrossFit Session

After last night’s workout I was wondering whether I’d be very sore today. I’m not. In the night, whenever I rolled over, I noticed I was stiff and fatigued, and that’s just how I feel today. It feels really good to stretch. I’m less stiff than I was last night by bedtime, and whenever I lift anything or even do something easy like washing dishes, my muscles feel tired. But that’s good. One part that is a little sore is the top fronts of my shoulders where the bar rested during the front squats. I still wonder if I’m going to be sorer tomorrow. Sometimes it really hits only on the second day.
One update to yesterday’s entry: Tom pointed out that for the deadlift, I was lifting almost my body weight even with only 30 kg on the bar, because the bar itself weighs 45 pounds. The total weight was about 18 pounds under my body weight. I had forgotten about the weight of the bar after the fact. I was extremely aware of the weight of the bar when I was lifting it alone for 20 reps of the push-press.
I’m off work today because of a couple of appointments. Later on I’m going to walk to the grocery store. Then after my doctor’s appointment, I’ll continue working on spreading the pile of wood chips in the yard to where I want them for my new future tree bed. I think that will tire me out and I’ll sleep really well again tonight. Now I have to plan when I want to go back to CrossFit for the four personal training sessions and send them email.

CrossFit North

I just got back from my first CrossFit workout session and I can hardly hold my arms up to type. (But that’s good!)
The gym is in an old military warehouse in a huge park that used to be Fort Something-Or-Other. It’s just a big room with a bunch of equipment. Like at the boxing gym, there are no lockers or showers and all the focus is on the intensity and technique of the workout. The CrossFit concept puts a lot of emphasis on strength training through Olympic lifts, starting with the deadlift and the squat. We do very little with weights at boxing, so I don’t even know what most Olympic lifts look like, let alone how to do them. One of the coaches, Nick, spent the whole session with me so I started to learn a little technique for some lifts. (Video and slide shows for all exercises are here.)

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