Maximum Effort Day

Today was “Maximum Effort Day,” and we all worked up to a max deadlift and did a max set of dips. I lifted 110 kilos and did 14 reasonably deep dips. We’ll do it again in about three months to see how much we’ve improved.
I liked seeing this one guy doing dips because he does them faster than anyone else, goes lower so that his shoulders are next to his hands, and pitches his head and shoulders forward as he hits the bottom. If I can learn to do dips that way I’ll be able to do a muscle-up. That was the best example of dips I’ve seen.
On the deadlifts we had some conflicting advice from two or three people on how best to lift a new max. I followed one set of advice and tried to lift 120 after lifting 110, when my own plan had been to try 115. I think I should have stuck to my plan. Plus they instructed us on a new way of starting the lift, with shins more vertical and hips higher, and I might have been better off sticking to the form I’d been using when coached by Dave. Still, I was happy to get a new max. It’s not twice my bodyweight, but that may be within reach in the coming months. I lifted 242 pounds and twice my weight would be 262.
Updated to say I know my lift does not measure up to the feats of Madeleine Albright and the 400-pound leg press! Gotta find one of those machines and see what I can do.

Deadlift Max

Last night we did some strength work including high-pull deadlifts, weighted dips, and regular deadlifts. We did several sets of three to five reps, increasing the weight for each set. I felt I still wasn’t too tired when we were almost finished with that stuff, so I kept adding weight with the help of a friend who did the pounds-to-kilos math for me. I ended up deadlifting a new max of 105 kilos, having added 5 to my old max of 100. If I can add another 13 or 14 kilos sometime this year I’ll have lifted double my body weight. Maybe in a month or two I’ll try adding another five.

This Year’s Goals

Last Monday I was at the gym when Nick was there, one of the coaches I don’t see as often because he works with the morning classes. We were talking about plyometric exercises and other jumping drills, and I said I wanted to be able to spring up onto the pommelhorse with both feet as I’d seen someone else (much younger) do. A month or two ago I had practiced by jumping onto higher and higher stacks of mats until I reached hip level. It seemed I should be able to jump onto the pommelhorse because it’s only an inch or two higher than that, but because of its curved top and its narrowness, I couldn’t make myself try it.
Nick said I could and should do it, and I couldn’t really refuse, so at his suggestion I got three mats and stacked them on the floor, then jumped from there. I removed them one by one until I jumped onto it from the floor. It was fun! I didn’t land fully enough on top of it to stay on, though, so all I was doing was springing up and right back down. I need to pull it out from the wall a little and land a little more forward, and I’ll be able to stay up there soon. I was pretty proud of getting up there at all because it had seemed so stunning when I saw somebody else do it.
Another goal for this year was a five-second unsupported handstand. Lately I’ve been able to do that if I first use the wall, then pull my feet away. I can often tighten up enough to hold a nice straight handstand for five seconds–not always, but often. It’s going to take a while longer to be able to snap into one without first overshooting to the wall.
I still half hope to do an unassisted muscle-up on the rings this year. Not too many women can do those that I know of. I have the strength for pull-ups and for at least a few ring dips. I can’t seem to make the transition from the pull-up to the pushing up from the bottom of the dip position. But this goal hasn’t been a high priority. There are several guys at the gym who have elbow problems that seem to be affected by doing or attempting muscle-ups, and I don’t want to try so often that I strain my elbows. When I do try, even though I don’t make it, it really makes my elbows ache for a few minutes.
And my other goal for 2005 was to be able to climb the rope by March, which I did.
Some next goals are: sub-10 on “Helen”; a 30-second L-sit on the parallel bars and other core/abdominal strength gains; and with that core strength, to be able to do the belly-grinder and the glide kip (the gymnastics move where you mount the bar after swinging out under it).

Ye Olde Healthe Faire

The giant building I work in put on a free Health Fair today, where you could get your cholesterol, blood pressure and sugar, body fat, posture, and bone density checked for free, plus get a free neck massage. I sat down at the cholesterol and blood-sugar table with my coworker, where we were each told to clean a middle finger and draw our own blood. The woman behind the table (technician? I have no idea who she was) used a lecturing tone to rush us through this process. “Look at the red letters on that poster. Look at this red plastic container. That is the color your blood should be. Look at your blood. What color is your blood?” she snapped.
“Um… I guess my blood looks a little dark?” I said, looking back and forth and trying to compare the colors of synthetic things with my own living fluid that I was pressing out of my own poor abused little fingertip.
“That’s right. Have you drank any water today? Have you had any coffee?” Supposedly my blood would have been a different color if I’d drank more water. And my total cholesterol was 200. “You’re too young for that!” she lectured. “Drink some water and that will go down within three hours!”
Yeah, right. “How about HDL and LDL?” I asked. No, she wasn’t able to break it down. And I know from my last doctor visit that my HDL is in the high 60s, which makes my 200 total count actually good and not borderline high, according to my doctor.
The next lecture was about exercise and nutrition: “Drink lots of water. You should drink half your body weight in ounces every day.” (Er, what? Sixty-five ounces? How will I know when I’ve drunk 65 ounces?) “Get plenty of fiber. Eat apples. Apples have absolutely NO food value–no vitamins, even–but the reason they are good for you is the FIBER.” Riiiight.
As I stepped away from her table, a woman standing nearby stopped me. “Excuse me–did I just hear her tell you apples have no nutritional value?” she asked.
“Yes,” I whispered. “But I think she’s wrong.”
“Well, I’m a dietician and I can tell you that apples are good for you. She doesn’t know I’m a dietician, but I am.” Okay, the apple part makes sense, but … an undercover dietician? I should have stuck around for the sting.
I gave the whole health fair little credibility for several reasons: the blood-analyzer/lecturer talked like an impatient know-it-all and had no visible credentials of any kind (plus we had to draw our own blood!); the whole “fair” was disorganized and staffed by people with no visible credentials and people who were selling health-club memberships and other things; and most of the credentialless and salesy people staffing the fair were more than a little overweight. I know that with the processed foods that are the most available in our world and with the long hours people work, odds are good that we will all end up overweight, but still, it seems like people working in the health business should set a better example. They’d boost their credibility. But I saw two people sign up to join the health club regardless of the beefiness of the health-club guys, so what do I know.
Next I had my body-fat percentage and blood pressure checked. My blood pressure was nice and low and my “resting” pulse (so-called by the health club guy, though really a resting pulse is not what you get when you’ve been up and about and standing in line for fifteen minutes while he watched someone sign up for his gym and then took his break) was “awesome,” he said, at 63. The next step was to check my supposed body fat percentage with some magic thing that I had to hold out in front of me with a good grip on the handles, like a tricorder. I asked what this method was called–as opposed to calipers or water displacement, which it obviously wasn’t. Neither of the health club guys knew the name. I think I just remembered that this magic method is called electrical impedance.
“It’s pretty accurate,” said the guy. “I check my body fat once a week with calipers and it matches pretty closely.” Once a week! Jeez. So anyway, my body fat was in the recommended range for my age and height. “Do you exercise?” he asked. I was thinking, oh please, don’t let him start touting his plastic gym to me. To his credit he didn’t.
I left without getting the free neck massage or the bone density check. Maybe I’ll go back down later.

A Banner Day

One of my goals for 2005 is to climb the rope all the way to the top by March. I was feeling lame because I hadn’t been practicing. Last week I realized March will be here soon, and I’m not going to make my goal of climbing the rope without, well, climbing the rope. Still, I continued to find one reason or another not to try… too tired… there’s no mat under the rope any more and what if I fall off? Can’t climb it without a mat underneath…. But last night Tom and I were both there and after the workout I said, okay, I’m supposed to practice my rope climbing, so I’m going to. I jumped and pulled myself up, grasped the rope with my shoes one on top of the other, and climbed all the way to the top! Hooray! Boy, did that seem like a long way to climb. Tom and Dave at the bottom were encouraging me and I felt like a little kid, listening to their excited voices and thinking, “Ooh! They’re so proud of me! I better keep going!” At the top, feeling like I was on top of a mountain in thin air, I reached up and touched the metal cap at the top of the rope an inch from the ceiling.
Coming down in a controlled manner was as hard as going up. The temptation was always to jump off. You feel like you’ve come down a long distance and surely it is safe to jump. Then you glance down and realize your feet are still way higher than people’s heads. I kept going hand over hand and managed not to rope-burn any part of myself. Near the bottom, I jumped down and was so fatigued and giddy that I almost fell on my face. I was breathing really hard and was boiling hot and thrilled to have met my goal. I just need to find out how high the rope is—probably not as high as it felt.
I made another landmark last night toward another 2005 goal, to do a muscle-up on the rings. Nancy and I and a few other women and guys have been working up to it. We use the set of rings that has a harness and pulleys attached, which support half your weight. In the harness, anybody who’s been working out for a while can easily do an assisted muscle-up. But I couldn’t when I started. Part of the ability involves sheer strength, and part of it requires learning how to pull up and throw your weight forward between the ropes at the same time. The harness is great for helping people learn the skill portion while working up to the needed strength. The next step is to add weight to the harness so that it supports less than half your weight. Nancy and Tom had built up to adding a significant amount of weight, concentrating hard, and successfully getting all the way up. I was excited for them and determined to catch up. Nancy seemed sure I could do it if I flung my weight forward more forcefully.
Last night I found out she was right. I tried the muscle-up with full assistance, added a light weight, did it again, practiced some deep dips, then muscled up with 24 KG attached to me. When I did the math later, with respect to my own weight and how much assistance I’d used, I was very happy and felt I’d had a breakthrough. I was lifting half my weight plus 24 kg, a total of almost 117 pounds… which is only 11 pounds less than my full weight… which means I may be almost strong enough to do an unassisted muscle-up. The terrible part of the muscle-up is when you’ve pulled up as high as you can, the rings are next to your armpits, and your elbows are still pointing slightly down. You have to somehow press down and back with the hands, and forward with the shoulders, until the elbows point straight back and the palms of the hands face down. That’s the mysterious part that requires so much practice (and strength). Then, once the palms are facing down, lots of strength is required to press up out of that super-deep dip.
Even if I keep doing the drill in the harness, adding weight so that I get little assistance, it may still be harder than I think to get the muscle-up on the rings without the harness and pulleys. The pulleys allow the rings to come down toward you when you pull on them, at least until you jump off the ground, when they then hold half your weight. The plain rings are not going to have any give at all, so if I jump into my pull-up, I won’t have even an inch of pulley momentum to work with. But I shouldn’t psych myself out—I should think positive. I’ll try the weighted, assisted version for several weeks, and I’ll start trying the unassisted one when I feel confident (as opposed to totally self-conscious). Tom is really, really close to doing an unassisted muscle-up. I think the only thing stopping him now is that his elbows fly out to the sides instead of staying tight against his ribs. You don’t have enough leverage that way unless you have loads of strength to spare.
Muscle-up technique photos here (scroll down), video here.

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.