Can You Handle Uncomfortable?

Today, someone asked the CrossFit coach if they were getting many new people at CrossFit Acernus. He said that  they had been doing a lot of intro classes for people, but it’s hard to tell who will continue and who ditches after day 1.

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If people never come back it’s hard to know why. I made a mental list of reasons that certain people may not like CrossFit while I was trying to do hollow rocks later in the WOD. To just hold that position is somewhat tortuous, and it’s easier if you block it out by thinking of other things.

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Anyway, here are some reasons I think people try an intro class of CrossFit and choose not to continue.

1. CrossFit makes you uncomfortable. During the workout, even an intro class, you will be presented with things that you either cannot do, or can barely do. Also, things you’ve never tried, and things you haven’t done since you were young. It’s quite possible you will embarrass yourself in some way.

2. CrossFit makes you uncomfortable – LATER. After my first CrossFit workout, my abs hurt terribly for three days. I had to constantly roll over on my side in order to sit up. I weighed every decision on whether or not I would have to climb stairs. My body was so sore. I think there are two ways people will handle that excessive soreness.

            a. Like I did. I was excited. I thought “These workouts are going to kick my ass every single day. I’m going to be fit in no time.”

            b. The other possibility. “I don’t want to deal with this type of pain ever again. I’m going back to my safe hamster wheel.”

3. Admittedly, CrossFit is expensive. The pain, embarrassment, and money may be enough for people to not return to classes.

I suppose I get why some people don’t come back. It depends on your goals and your actual desire to get fit. What kind of fit do you want to be? All around, mobile, strong, quick, springy? Aesthetics only? Body building? Endurance?

CrossFit does not mess around. CrossFit begs you to make it a lifestyle. CrossFit begs you to push yourself. And once you get into it, you beg YOURSELF to get better. It becomes a mentality that other forms of fitness do not. It honestly feels like being part of an organized sports team. I try to understand the people who don’t have the competitive drives that I do. It would probably be more comfortable to workout alone, at home, with no one correcting me, no one pushing me, and no one making me do things that I don’t think I can. But I choose to make myself uncomfortable so that I can improve. CrossFit is the sport of improvement. If you can handle uncomfortable.

Moving to a New CrossFit Box

Since I recently defended my doctoral dissertation, I decided that my boyfriend had waited long enough and moved out of Pittsburgh to live with him. He has been attending a CrossFit box of his own, so I decided to join that one, CrossFit Acernus.  All CrossFit boxes are quite independent, so I was curious to try out a different style. There were major differences between the two.

Acernus

1. CrossFit Pittsburgh is an old school box. It’s dirty, and old, and the roof leaks, and there’s rust, etc. Probably because it’s one of the first 50 CrossFit boxes in the US. CrossFit Acernus is much newer and cleaner. I found that strange at first. I appreciated the dirty goodness that was CrossFit Pittsburgh. But believe me, I’m getting used to the new equipment and not going home covered in filth.

2. CrossFit Pittsburgh was MUCH bigger. Not in space, but in the class sizes and the amount of members. Makes sense since Pittsburgh is a much bigger place than Lebanon, PA. Yesterday, for the first time, I was the only member in a class. It was awkward since the coach only watched me, and no one was around to keep me motivated. I never had a class smaller than 10 in Pittsburgh. However, I like the class sizes at Acernus most of the time. The class size is usually around 6. This size is nice because it almost forces people to get to know each other.

3. CrossFit Acernus has cardio classes. I LOVE THEM. They are usually 1 hour long, and contain no lifting. It’s just straight sweat and heavy breathing for 60 minutes. They offer cardio classes once per weekday. They are more for people who don’t want to bulk at all, just lose weight. Don’t get me wrong – I love to lift. But I want to maintain my weight, as well. I want to have somewhat of a feminine figure. So I go to cardio class 3x per week, and regular CrossFit classes 2-3x per week. CrossFit Pittsburgh didn’t have a cardio class per se, but Saturdays there were similar to an Acernus cardio class.

Those are the major differences. One very nice thing is that both boxes have great, knowledgeable, and friendly coaches.  Also, people who CrossFit are consistently friendly people. I’ve never met anyone at either box that I didn’t like.

Something very intriguing about CrossFit that I have noticed is I can’t tell how old people are. There is a couple who attend CrossFit Acernus cardio classes who I thought were in their late thirties, early forties. They are 55! 55! I can’t believe when these people friend me on facebook. I think they are younger than me, and they turn out to be almost 40! I guess that goes to show that exercise leads to slower aging. I hope it works that well for me.

Pros and Cons of Early Morning Workouts

I’m not one of those incredibly lucky people who love to work out. I kinda hate it no matter what I do, but I always feel amazing after, and I love how it makes me look. Anyway, no matter when I work out during the day, I’m not happy about it, but getting up to exercise before work makes it even harder. I decided to look into why people say it’s better to work out as a start to your day. There are no reliable peer reviewed sources on the topic, so I’ll try to discuss what I’ve read on Ace Fitness and WebMD.

morning-exercise

Both of these websites say that it is a fact that those who consistently workout in the morning are more successful at making it a habit. I can’t find a real source for that anywhere, but it seems most experts think it is true. However, they also say that working out in the afternoon yields the best performance because the body has already been warmed up. Higher body temperature is correlated with higher performance.

My List

PROS of morning workouts

1. When it is over, I feel like a million bucks. I go home, shower, start my day refreshed… I feel more awake and alert throughout the rest of my day. I get more done, and I tend to make healthy eating decisions moreso than when I exercise at night.

2. It’s done. I don’t have to think about it, I don’t have to worry what the traffic will be like later. I can relax, do laundry, cook a nice dinner, do some reading, catch up on some shows… I don’t have to squeeze in a workout and a shower.

3. This is kind of nit-picky, but I prefer to shower in the morning. CrossFit gets me pretty sweaty, so I HAVE to shower after. If I go to class in the evening and shower after, it’s pretty wasteful to take another shower in the morning. But I LIKE morning showers. So working out in the morning vibes better with my preferred showering schedule.

4. I don’t get as stiff. After a morning workout, I go home and shower and go on with my day. This includes various movements, walking, climbing stairs, standing, fidgeting… After an evening workout, I mostly just sit around, then go to sleep. It allows my muscles to stiffen up a lot more.

CONS of morning workouts

1. Getting up. Uhhh… There was also a lot of talk on those two pages about circadian rhythms and how you are either a night owl or morning sunshine psycho. JK. But seriously. My morning CrossFit class is at 5:30 AM, and getting up is awful.

2. I don’t perform as well. I’m stiffer, I’m groggy, I do a lot of yawning. I don’t have the same powerful focus that I do in an afternoon workout.

3. I need more warm-up. I’m very stiff in the mornings after 7+ years of running and intense CrossFit workouts, I creak and crack everywhere. I need more time to work out those kinks than I do late in the day.

tired-at-gym

I guess when I’m looking at this list, the pros outweigh the cons, but the bottom line is that you exercise regularly at whatever time works for you. Don’t force yourself to get up if you’re going to hate life all day after.

What to do with any extra energy

Hi there. I was very tired yesterday from a allergy pill I took even though it was the make-you-sleepy kind. So I slacked off yesterday on the blog post writing. Don’t worry, I still went to CrossFit. Yesterday, we did a quick 20 minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of the following:

6 deadlifts: I did these at 135 #

7 burpee-pushups: just a burpee followed by a pushup

10 kettlebell swings: I did 1 pood (unit of weight, ~35#)

200 M run

kb

This was a tough workout. I completed most of seven rounds in 20 minutes, but each class is given an hour. So when we finished the AMRAP, we were told to work on something we have trouble with for the rest of the hour. I chose to work on power snatches which I am horrible at. But because I was dead from the AMRAP, my snatch form was bad before I even started. I went home feeling a little defeated and like I owed something more in physical activity for the day. I noticed my jump rope on the floor of my car. (Everyone who joins CrossFit should invest in a nice jump rope.) It has been shown that 10 minutes of basic jumping rope burns the same amount of calories as running an 8 minute mile, and can burn up to 700 calories per hour. That’s a pretty awesome workout for a piece of equipment that you can use almost anywhere (with a high ceiling, learned the hard way), and is simple to transport and store anywhere. Not to mention, most of them don’t cost $20.

A study conducted in 2010 showed that a 12-week rope jumping program improved shoulder strength and power in young female volleyball players (2).

A similar study conducted in 2011, showed that a 12-week rope jumping program improved performance and joint stability in a similar cohort of young volleyball players (3).

Celebrities who credit jump rope as a fit secret are Adriana Lima, Fergie, Kate Hudson, Katy Perry, Madonna, and Bar Rafaeili.

bar jump

So, I didn’t take much convincing. I started hopping, and felt fulfilled after about 10 minutes. It’s so easy and even more convenient than running. It is also considered to be less damaging to the joints because you land on the balls of your feet every time as opposed to the heel in running. This is not well studied, but widely believed among experts.

1.  “Jumping rope is cheap, portable, and burns more calories than you might think”. WebMD.

2. Duzgun IBaltaci GColakoglu FTunay VBOzer D. The effects of jump-rope training on shoulder isokinetic strength in adolescent volleyball players. J Sport Rehabil. 2010 May;19(2):184-99.

3. Ozer D, Duzgun I, Baltaci G, Karacan S, Colakoglu F. The effects of rope or weighted rope jump training on strength, coordination and proprioception in adolescent female volleyball players. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2011 Jun;51(2):211-9.

Lifting Changes Your Attitude

Throughout my life, I have been involved in many fitness-oriented ventures. I was a track and cross-country runner for seven years, played basketball and softball, participated in yoga, step aerobics, pilates, spinning, zumba, P90x, and intramural sports. With the exception of softball (sort of), all of these activities were similar in that you could improve your performance during the exercise or sport. For instance, I miss a shot in basketball. I’ll make the next one. Didn’t get a great time on that sprint in spinning? There will be two or three more I can push for.

It’s a totally different game when I go face to face with that barbell. I get that one chance. Of course, I can try again, but there isn’t that ease in the back of my mind that I’ll be able to make up for the miss. I’m not a strong person by any measure, but I am improving in my lifting. A about a week ago, I was thrilled to clean and jerk (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8miqQQJEsO0) 105#. That was the first time I put over 100# above my head. Earlier this week, I was working my way up to the same weight in the clean and jerk. I easily did 95#, and moved on to 105. Miss. I immediately felt a personal vendetta against the barbell. I went for it again before I was ready and missed again. Absolute fury. Never have I ever felt anything like that in any other physical activity.

clean up

No, this is not me. I wish.

I reloaded the barbell at 100#, 5# lower than my personal best. By this time, the coach was noticing my “bitch face” and wondered what was up. I explained what was going on, and how I had just loaded the barbell. He told me he wanted to see it. I missed again. He told me to walk away, get a drink, and come back.

When I approached the barbell again, still with my angry game face on, I thought through the motion. Most of the power of a clean comes from the legs and hips. I gripped the bar and tried again. The clean of 100# was successful. I calmed myself, and attempted the jerk. And dropped the bar. I considered kicking it, but instead, just walked away. My coach told me to let it go, try going back down 5 more pounds and ending on a successful attempt. My 1 rep max that day was 95#.

It became quite clear to me that not every day is a good day, regardless of the type of physical activity. But never have I ever felt so defeated. My coach said something to cheer me up, because I was obviously angry. He said that without failure, there is no appreciation for success. I think he appreciated my anger though. It’s definitely going to fuel me next time I attempt and 1 rep max clean and jerk.

clean

As I calmed down, I thought about all of the factors that go into a daily workout. Diet, sleep, stress levels, even weather. (Because of all the running I did when I was young, my knees get sore in the cold.) Maybe I didn’t get enough sleep the night before, or didn’t get enough calories. Whatever the reason, it alerted me that I should be keeping track of these things. Diet in particular. I really do eat mostly paleo, but I don’t watch my food combinations very carefully.

Now to be honest, for a lot of us, we’re never going to be olympic lifters or go to the CrossFit Games, so performance doesn’t really matter all that much. What matters is that we do the best we can that day to get a good workout for our health. Not performance. But I have one of those competitive minds that has trouble letting it go. Is mine a mind that would rather let it go? Or one that would rather relentlessly keep track of diet, sleep, and stress levels at the expense of social life? Here’s the answer. I’ll do what I can. I’m not going to reorganize my entire life to make sure I PR once a week on a lift. But then I’ll go face to face with that barbell again, and who knows what will happen?

moment of focus

The Pseudoscience of Motivation

According to the main source used by Wikipedia, motivation is defined as the purpose or psychological reason for an action (1). Motivation is an inner force that is shaped to wishes, desires, and goals -to minimize pain, maximize pleasure, or to serve basic needs, such as rest, hunger, and thirst (2). After the basics, Wikipedia gets all theoretical on us. Philosophers, politicians, psychologists… all arguing about the “model” that best fits human motivation. I think that motivation, especially for something like exercise, is probably highly individualized. What motivates one person may not motivate another. Everyone needs to eat, and everyone sees a direct result from not eating. Everyone should exercise, but the results or lack thereof are harder to see, especially at first. Here are the top ten things that motivate me to work out at least four days a week.

I like to think that there are two different types of motivation. Pre and post. For example, a pre-motivation of eating would be hunger. A post-motivation of eating would be health and nutrition. I eat because I’m hungry (before). I eat to be healthy (in the future).

motivation

Post-motivations: the more common for most people

1. It changes my mood. It gives me more energy and more motivation to do other things. For example, I had a lazy weekend, which is fine. We all need one once in a while. Monday morning, my apartment was messy and I hadn’t done any cooking for the week. I had all weekend where I was lazy and unproductive. Monday afternoon, I went to CrossFit, got home at 7 PM, took a shower, and hit it head on. I cleaned the entire place, and cooked up some lunches for the rest of the week. Something about a workout just makes me get my life in order. Maybe it’s the so-called “high” I get from working out. Who knows? I just know it works.

2. I can eat more. Not worse! More. I love food, I love eating, I love cooking… the more I get to enjoy those experiences, the better.

3. I like looking good. Since I’ve been going to CrossFit, my arms have toned up a lot. I didn’t think my arms looked bad before, but they look awesome now. I like showing that off by wearing tank tops (in appropriate places, of course). Also, I’m ready for any impromptu vacations or swim suit moments.

4. Science is a frustrating profession most of the time. I’m also generally an introverted person, so the stress of the day can really get to me. Exercising relieves that stress. I’m not much of a yogi, but running can be almost like meditation. If I have a particularly stressful day, I like to run it out.

5. Setting a concrete goal can really up my motivation. Preparing for a timed 5k or a Tough Mudder can motivate you to train. No one wants to perform badly when someone is watching.

6. The more I go on about CrossFit, the more people around me either a. get annoyed, or b. want to try it! Exercising to set an example is great motivation. I don’t have kids, but if I ever do, I want them to be around an active mom who is showing them how to live a healthy life.

Pre-motivation

7. Fitness magazines, NOT FASHION magazines, motivate me to work on myself. There are usually some decent tips in fitness magazines, although you should do some fact-checking. There are also usually interviews with great athletes, and I’m definitely not above taking advice from someone who is elite in their sport.

8. Success stories of any kind, but especially before-and-after photos really inspire me to keep up my efforts.

9. CrossFit is expensive. Once I toss that money out the window at the beginning of every month, I know I have to get to the classes, or it will be a waste.

10. This last one is both a pre- and post-motivation. My boyfriend is also an avid CrossFitter, and watching his transformation motivates me to keep going. I also like to see and hear the appreciative looks and compliments as he witnesses my progress. I think that anyone can benefit from a workout buddy of some kind. It doesn’t have to be a significant other, and you don’t necessarily have to work out together. You just have to support each other. Online, through blogs, fitness websites, texting, Skype, however you can manage. Knowing that someone is in it with you can be a great pre- and post-motivator.

exercise-motivation

1.  Schater, Daniel (2011). PSYCHOLOGY. United States of America: Catherine Woods. p. 325.

2. Wright, Robert (1995). The moral animal : evolutionary psychology and everyday life (1st Vintage books ed. ed.). New York: Vintage Books.

Savasana Juice Cleanse Diary – Part 2, and My Thoughts on Deadlifts

Juice Cleanse Diary – Part 2

I got quite a bit of attention for my first juice cleanse post. I thought I would update you since I’m now on my 5th day. I think I would  be enjoying this more if there was more variety in the juices. They all have apple, lemon, or celery flavors. This really isn’t my type of diet. Not that it’s not working. I can definitely tell the difference in my energy level, and an unexpected bonus is that my fall allergies aren’t bothering me as much. I probably won’t do this again mostly because I look forward to good, healthy food as a bright spot in my day. I enjoy eating whole, good foods. I don’t look forward to drinking the juice. So although it has many benefits, it’s not really the ideal way of doing things for me.

yucky juice

Deadlifts: Friend or Foe?

The deadlift http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WP8lEbeY4LM is one of the most basic barbell lifts there is. Basic, but not simple. Without proper form, deadlifts can cause more injury than almost any other movement. Let’s talk about why people even practice deadlifts if they are so dangerous. The answer is that they work many of the largest muscles in the body, and this style of lift is capable of moving the most weight. It is also said to increase the load capabilities of the spine by increasing the bone mineral density of the vertebrae (1). This idea has a law behind it called Wolff’s Law. It states that healthy mammalian bone will adapt to heavy loads (2). But you have to subject the spine to those loads if you want the benefits.

Current World Record Holders of the Deadlift

  • 114 Pound Class – E. Sajeeva Bhaskaran: 573.2 pound deadlift
  • 123 Pound Class – Lamar Gant: 639.3 pound deadlift
  • 132 Pound Class – Lamar Gant: 683.4 pound deadlift
  • 148 Pound Class – Dan Austin: 705.5 pound deadlift
  • 165 Pound Class – Oleksandr Kutcher: 793.7 pound deadlift
  • 181 Pound Class – Giovanni Brunazzi: 793.7 pound deadlift
  • 198 Pound Class – Ed Coan: 859.8 pound deadlift
  • 220 Pound Class – Ed Coan: 901.7 pound deadlift
  • 242 Pound Class – Yuriy Fedorenko: 892.9 pound deadlift
  • 275 Pound Class – Konstantin Konstantinovs: 948 pound deadlift
  • 308 Pound Class – Konstantin Konstantinovs: 939.2 pound deadlift
  • 308+ Pound Class – Benedikt Magnusson: 1015 pound deadlift

If you or someone you know has an aversion to deadlifts because of lower back pain, I would encourage that person to check their form with a pro and also read this great article with lots of tips and tricks to improve.

I am a firm believer, however, that strict deadlifts may not be right for everyone, at least at first. There is some hip flexibility that goes into proper deadlift form. A simple solution to this problem is to perform the deadlift with the barbell up on some boxes. As hip flexibility improves, the boxes can be reduced, then removed all together.

Also, anyone with any kind of previous lower back injury should consult a physician before attempting deadlifts. Any deficit in the posterior spine can be a weak spot for the vertebral compression created by a deadlift.

The bottom line is this: a deadlift can be one of your greatest fitness weapons if done correctly under qualified supervision.

deadlifts-big-muscles

 

1. Granhed HJonson RHansson T. The loads on the lumbar spine during extreme weight lifting. Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1987 Mar;12(2):146-9.

2.  Wolff J. “The Law of Bone Remodeling”. Berlin Heidelberg New York: Springer, 1986 (translation of the German 1892 edition)