Asking Questions With Heart Behind Them

As a society, we have become so habitual and robotic in what we ask conversationally in social ­­situations. We ask really open ended questions, perhaps to allow the respondent freedom in how they answer, but I really suspect it is because we have gotten to be, well, rather shit at personalizing our questions.

Whenever I am in a ­­situation, for example, where I see someone for the first time in ages, I never know how to answer a very basic, universal question: “What’s new?” Let’s see. A nephew was born. I was promoted. I had some upgrades done in my kitchen. I got new a heating and air conditioning unit. I PR’ed my squat clean. I went to Bali. I went to Malaysia. I went to Mexico. I went to Guatemala. I have managed to keep a house plant alive for the last 6 months. I have been growing a lot spiritually. I started collecting vintage tea cups. I took a writing class. Oh? You were just asking, am I well and not in distress?

One of my biggest triggers is feeling like I am being asked questions off a checklist, like there is no heart behind them. It’s just an obligatory, polite adult thing to do.

“How’s work?”

“Same old. Stressful”

Check (Find the checkmark!!!)

“How’s your condo?”

“It’s good.”

Check.

“How’s CrossFit?”

“it’s awesome.”

Check.

When it comes to work, I am appreciative for my career and all that it teaches me about who I am and the leader that I strive to be. If you ask me about work, ask me because you want to know those things more so than you care about learning that my title changed to Associate Director. If you ask me about my condo, ask me because you want to know how fulfilled it makes me to be able to be a homeowner as a single woman, that it is something I acquired all on my own. Ask me because you have respect that I did it without financial help from family or a man. You should care more about that than the new lighting I had installed. If you ask me about CrossFit, ask me because you really respect that I have such a passion in life. Ask me how my journey has been now that I am injury free. Ask me about CrossFit because you are in admiration that I can get my ass out of bed every morning to grind hard. Don’t ask me because it’s just this “thing” I do.

When it comes to superficial conversations, I reserve those for water cooler chat or random encounters I was once insulted when a friend told me I am “particular”, but I then came to take this as a compliment. It reflects that I put thought into my choices, which include who I spend my time with. So if I choose to spend time with someone, right or wrong, I have an expectation to find some common ground and connection. Call me hippy dippy but I am far more fulfilled when I do feel that connection. I do not expect everyone I talk with to take questions to the next level, but at the very least, have sincerity and heart behind conversations. Otherwise, just smile and move on. I am ok with that too.

I want to walk away from conversations feeling entertained, enlightened, inspired, even a bit smarter. I am sure anyone can argue that I do not need to rely on people asking the “right” questions for me to feel connected or validated. I agree to an extent. To me asking questions shows the other person’s interest. I do not want to talk about spirituality to someone whose eyes are dulled with an expression of “please make this conversation end”. I take questions, and the right questions, as an invitation of interest. It does validate to me that people want to know me, they want to understand me and they want to catch up with me. We have all been in situations where we are talking and the other person is “uh huh”ing and “right”-ing without even listening to what you are saying. It’s the same defensive feeling we may get in scenarios where we feel like the other person rather be elsewhere because they are not stimulating conversation.

I realize this blog may make me sound needy or even indignant. So be it. This has been a tough one for me to post (I’ve been sitting on it for days). I know though I am not alone in having these thoughts and as always, I welcome feedback, whether it’s tell me to chill out or to tell me you too have been there.

One Week Left in the CrossFit Open: Time to Get Smart

Foreword: What is the CrossFit Open? Well according to the CrossFit games website https://games.crossfit.com/about-the-games it is a test to find the “Fittest on Earth”. To get there, the first step is the Open which anyone over 14 can do at affiliates around the world. Thousands and thousands and thousands of athletes register not to make it to the games, but to test their own fitness for 5 weeks enduring 5 grueling workouts.

With just one mysterious and sure to be harrowing workout left in the 2017 CrossFit Open, it is the perfect opportunity to regroup and remember what is important as we go into the final stretch. To date, I have seen so many inspiring moments that make me pretty emotional actually. (I love seeing my fellow athletes triumph and conquer).  I have also been witness to many of the downsides of the Open. In all the hype, it is quite easy to lose focus. Many athletes forget that The Open is not about where you place on the leader board. It is about how you tackle it, both mentally and physically.  It is about exposing weaknesses so that you stop running from them and start working on them. It is about how you did compared to yesterday and about where you want to be tomorrow.

  1. There is no shame in scaling. There’s a misconception that when it comes to the scaling option that it will not be challenging or it is seemingly easy. For those who are not quite at RX but (they perceive themselves) to be above scaled, they often are torn as to which to do? Do you go out of your comfort zone to RX or do you scale and just haul ass? The question should be, which makes sense for you and your goals?Athletes need to understand there is no shame is scaling. People often want so badly to RX because they think it has more prestige. Maybe it does but it is not about prestige. It is about doing what your body can handle and using it as a benchmark. Take 17.4* for example. The women’s deadlift weight was 155 (RX) versus 95 (scaled). If 155 is close to your 1 RM, my personal philosophy is why why WHY would you want to do that? You may get a few reps but you probably will not advance to the next part. 55 reps are A LOT which will inevitably lead to form being compromised (which is not a good thing)-if you can even lift the bar after a few reps. A friend of mine thought the scaled would not be hard at all, and despite that her 1 RM is about 160, she contemplated doing RX. Fortunately (and thankfully after our coach told her hellll no), she did decide to do scaled. And guess what? It was still a challenging workout despite that it was not RX. And guess what else? She killed it scaled and walked away feeling gratified.
  1. The Open is not the end all be all. Many athletes get so hell bent on achieving greatness in an Open workout as if it is the only ever true defining moment. The Open ought to be viewed as a milestone to set new goals to work towards for the next year. The Open is not the last chance to successfully ever complete a movement or get a new PR.  Doing 17.4* twice in one day just to attempt to get your first ever Hand-Stand-Push-Up (HSPU), for example,  is not advisable and can be argued that it is rather foolish. (athletes get Rhabdo making choices like that).  Not to mention, that perceived ego is what gives the CrossFit community a bad rep.

    Similarly (and in my own personal experience), for 17.3*, I knew going into it my goal was just to get to the chest of bar pulls up in the 4th round, and then gracefully call it quits. I was asked why I didn’t even try to snatch 95 pounds, and my response was because it’s 20 pounds over my 1RM. It’s like a 0.00421% chance I could snatch it. If I ever want to challenge my 75 pound PR, I rather do it strategically and not in an open workout where not only am I beyond my capability, I would be extremely fatigued with bad form (which would  be compromising to my health even if I failed). I would prefer setting a new PR on any old day when the strength portion calls for snatches.  I would be able to SMARTLY work up to (jumping from 65 pounds to 95 pounds as was the case in 17.3* is a ridiculously big jump for an average munchkin like myself). I do not want to go that heavy when I am racing against a clock. I am confident I can snatch more than my existing 1 RM, but I don’t need the open as the forum to try it.

    There are plenty of chances after the Open to reach your goals, so do not put unrealistic pressure on yourself to achieve something when you are quite frankly just not ready for it.

  1. Focusing on the “can’t”. There are always going to be times that even the best of the best will come across movements they struggle with or simply cannot do. Bitching about them though is counterproductive. There were a lot of complaints, for example, on social media about how unfair it was to have pull-ups in 17.2* for the scaled workout. “But I do not have pull-ups!” and  “This is ostracizing a lot of the CrossFit community” and other sentiments were expressed. If you look at the history of the CrossFit Games, the programming gets increasingly more difficult every year. Take last year’s Games where ring hand-stand push-ups  and the peg board were introduced. Many of the most elite competitors struggled with them.  It took them further out of their comfort zone which is the point.  I strongly believe it is symbolic of how much more evolved CrossFit is getting, and that the standards are constantly being set higher and higher. It demonstrates there are always scales with varying degrees of difficulty to achieve. Never stop at the next progression and never focus on not being where you want to be. If you can only get jumping pull-ups today, that just means you will work harder to get to pull-ups. And once you get pull-ups, you will find yourself one day doing weighted-pull-ups and bar muscle ups. It is about where you go and not where you start.

 

For the most part, I kept my sanity throughout the Open. Yes, I had moments where I wish I did better (like why the hell was it so hard to lunge with two 35 pound dumbbells? And why am I a snail on the rower? I wanted a HSPU!).  What prevailed for me is constantly reminding myself that this last year has been the first year since I started CrossFit that I have not been injured.  It is like every prior year of CrossFit for me was practice and full of mistakes, bad form and bad judgment. This is the first time in ages that I consistently have felt healthy and strong. In my recovery, I have focused on solid form, training smartly and progressively gaining strength back (and beyond). So during the open when I had moments of self-doubt or longing to be higher on the leaderboard, I reined them in by telling myself well this is far more than I would have been able to do a year ago. And I am damn happy with that. I cannot worry about how I ranked against other people because as we have established, it is not about that. It is really about me. I want to walk away feeling good about what I accomplished and not beating myself up for what I fell short on.

snatch.jpg

Do not become one of those people who are ruled by the whiteboard or the Open. It is just 5 weeks and 5 opportunities out of hundreds a year where you will have endless chances to continue to be a bad ass. And to continue to be an even more fierce bad ass than you thought you ever could be. Go into this last week of the Open with an open mind and a mature perspective. Do not worry about what the person next to you is doing. Do not worry about what you cannot do. Focus on what you can and you will leave this crazy experience feeling accomplished.

 

*To see the 2017 workouts, click here

 

 

4 Common Reasons CrossFitters Divorce Boxes

*Foreword: Since I anticipate being asked by several inquiring minds if this post means that I am not happy and switching boxes, let me clear the air and emphatically say, no… and yes. No, I  am not unhappy. Yes, there is truth in that there is a possibility I may make another box change, but that possibility is always there. (Ok so I just answered that like a politician…)  Your next question is, am I directly correlating the points below to where I currently CrossFit? Again, no and yes. I have been a member of 3 boxes, I have dropped into at least half a dozen other ones and I have friends at boxes around the country. So know that this post is not commentary on any one box in particular. It’s my collective experience and feedback.  Of course there are parallels to where I CrossFit now (admittedly both negative and positive, but that’s also any box).  When you read this blog, you will see that CrossFit is not cut and dry and it’s a journey. If this post causes any waves, I view that as a positive. I am ok with being  a wave.

Anyone who loves CrossFit will attest that it is a journey, and that is why it is not surprising that many of our journeys take us from box to box. It is really easy to fall in love with CrossFit and to fall in love with the box you sign up at. It is also just as easy to fall out of love. I wish there were published stats as to the percentage of athletes who switch boxes but if I had to guess  in my unscientific opinion based on experience and observation, I would venture to say it happens more times than not. Possibly at least 50% of the CrossFit population changes boxes. I personally have switched boxes twice in pursuit of adjusting to my own journey and doing what made the best sense for me at those times.

This begs the question obviously: what do athletes and members look for in a box? More importantly, what keeps members loyal and happy?

  1. Coaching.  Strong, great, dedicated coaches are an absolute must have. Great coaches can really keep members happy. They have positive energy and are encouraging. They are 100% focused while coaching. They treat members equally. They know athletes’ strengths and weaknesses so that they can give proper cues and instructions.

    When I think about why coaching is so important, I find two distinct reasons: One is to of course keep athletes safe and continuously progressing.  We perform complex and technical moves that when not done correctly lead to a high propensity for injury. NOBODY wants that, and so we rely heavily on stellar coaching.

    The other reason is because CrossFit  is a business and athletes are paying members. We expect the same professionalism we would get anywhere. This may be harsh but it needs to be said. Just like coaches expect a positive attitude and a can-do mentality from athletes, it’s reciprocal. Coaches expect athletes to come in and give it their all, and that is no different than what athletes expect of their coaches. Athletes do not want to be coached by someone who is paying more attention to their phone than the athletes working out.  And I get it. We are all human, including coaches. People can’t be “on” 100% every day. Off days will happen, but it should be the exception, not the rule.

    When an athlete feels like their coaches are checked out or not giving them the right amount of attention, it is to be expected that they are going to sign divorce papers to find a better suited box.

  1. Programming. This is possibly my #1 criterion these days. People want to get the most out of the hour they spend a day at their box. They want programming that is methodical and part of a bigger plan. Athletes want to constantly be challenged and see improvement.  Athletes want consistency without getting burned out. We want to be pushed beyond our limits smartly, and conversely, we do not want to walk away from a workout feeling like it was a warm-up.

    It happens that athletes may even outgrow programming at their boxes. I have seen blogs and posts and have had conversations on this topic.  Often athletes find they need to switch boxes to either train with more competitive people or have more competitive programming. I do not look at it necessarily as a slight to any box. Every box has to cater to a different demographic. For example, I drop into a box back east where many of their members do not have prior weight lifting experience and can get spooked by heavy weights. So their programming caters to that.

    If I am being honest, one of the reasons I have left th­­­e first two boxes I trained at was because of inconsistent programming. The programming each day was good, but collectively I did not find it to have a long term plan. While I respect there are benefits to having different coaches program on a rotating schedule, I found, for me, it did not work. Some months might be heavy on gymnastics while others may be highly focused on squats. I rather do everything regularly but more strategically and evenly distributed. I am highly prone to injury (and I am no spring chicken) which means I need to treat all muscles equally. I cannot afford to favor or discriminate.

  1. CrossFit is a business. I alluded to this in my first point about coaching. Members pay for a service so like any other business transaction, they shell out anywhere from $100 to $400 a month to get something back in return. So in addition to remarkable coaching and programming, there are many other factors that play into expectations when it comes to thinking of CrossFit as a business.

    It is like when I go to get my hair done or my nails done (yes I love my nails), I expect  the space to be clean, sanitary and safe. It shows pride and maturity by having a smart, positive space. Being a business also means that there is a schedule that works for athletes. Logistics play a big part in why people join a box and why they leave. Unlike global gyms where you can go whenever you want, having a class schedule that works for you is key in picking and staying at a box. When class schedules change (or jobs change or athletes move houses), it will happen that a box switch is inevitable.

    Being a business means constantly changing. I work for an Entertainment-Telco company, and I see this theme loud and clear every day. If we still sold only traditional cable and installed land lines, we would be out of business. To change, that means the owners and coaches need to be attuned to what the trends are, what the CrossFit market demands are, and what members and aspiring members require. CrossFit is ever evolving and continuously exploding which is a marvelous thing! Keeping up with it though I can appreciate,  is not easy but it is an absolute necessity. This is the perfect time to mention a perk of having a diverse membership. We come from all different walks of life with different skills and talents to offer. People who CrossFit WANT to help their box not because they expect monetary compensation. They want to help because it is their community and they have a vested interest in assisting to make it the best ever. Members are essentially a whole pool of business resources that should be tapped.

  1. Speaking of community, that is another reason it itself why people join and leave boxes. It is like dating: sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs to find your prince. Much like how boxes have to cater to their demographics, athletes need to find the demographic and vibe that works for them.

    Community in the world of CrossFit also implies that members look for more beyond just the classes, coaching, programming and the business side of it. Most boxes heavily promote their members and offerings on social media. They keep people connected so even if you go to 6 am class, you still may interact (albeit virtually) with the 7 pm class. Community also means Paleo challenges, burpee challenges (yes this is a good thing), social events and a slew of other non-workout specific activities. They all promote happy and healthy living, which is fundamentally what CrossFit is about.

    Good boxes in my opinion are inclusive. Anyone should feel welcome in any class they walk into. The responsibility of this does not just fall on the coaches and owners.  It is something that all members need to be accountable for.

Even though I do not personally own a box, I would be willing to bet many owners would agree that enticing members to join a box is hard and keeping them is even harder. My advice to owners and coaches for whatever it is worth is to listen to your members. Listen to your colleagues. Listen to what social media says. With boxes sprouting up everywhere, there are a lot of options for athletes. People will leave if they do not feel like their needs are being met.

To athletes, know that every box is unique and sometimes it takes being immersed in one to decide if it suits you or not. Athletes who CrossFit ultimately want to be their best selves mentally and physically, and should have the freedom to decide what environment, what box, will best foster that.

When I left my prior two boxes, I had very different experiences with the owners. One treated it more matter-of-factly  and basically just gave me the terms of my termination and the terms if I were to decide to rejoin. The other appealed more to the human side of me. He was heartfelt in wanting me to stay and was genuinely interested to know why I was choosing to leave. He listened to my feedback and vowed to make changes and even offered me a free month to give it another chance. While I politely declined, that box has been thriving, and so I would say it’s a testimony to his abilities as a good business owner.

Anyways, I digress.  I have so many points I can still make but I will leave you with this. Like anything else, there are pivotal points in any journey where you need to reevaluate where you are and where you want to go. Both times I switched boxes they were really hard for me to do. It is like switching jobs or moving or starting/ending a relationship. There are pros and cons but ultimately you have to do what’s best for you. I strongly believe if people can find all of the 4 mentioned things (good coaching, good programming, a business centric box and community) they are more inclined to be a loyal happy member.

 

 

The Lost Art of Journaling When it Comes to CrossFit

I picked up the habit of journaling years ago from my former Personal Trainer, Drew. He got me one of those little itty-bitty-tiny-hand-sized notebooks where we would write my workouts in along with the weights I did, scales and times I completed them in. It was by no means fancy, but it was efficient.  I still have that journal and am grateful for it, not just for the entertainment value . (I laugh at the scales I used or the “heavy” squat days I had). It is really easy for me to see how much I have improved since then and how much I continue to get stronger. Incidentally, my trainer had told me when I started working out with him, that he became certified as a trainer when he was in the army, which he was just coming out of.  A few years later, when I found that very same journal, I was struck by how oddly similar the workouts were to CrossFit.  I saw things like “Jackie” and “workout for time” scribbled in. It turns out Drew had been certified specifically in CrossFit (and either he neglected to mention that minor detail or he did and I just had no clue or appreciation for what that was). I discovered I was doing CrossFit well before I consciously made the decision to. At any rate, I have been journaling ever since.

Drew.jpg
Note that was back in 2008 and at that time, I could not do any unassisted pull ups. Also note Drew’s comment about needing more depth on back squats. Today, when it comes to both pull-ups and back squats, I am crushing them!

The benefits of keeping a journal are quite obvious, yet so many of us do not do it!  It is a way to track progress, and declines as that does happen. It is a way to track benchmarks and 1 Rep Maxes (RM) and things of that nature.  When you see  a workout and the coach says, “You should be snatching about 70% of your 1 rep max,” you don’t irritate him/her by saying “Errr but I don’t know what my 1 Rep max is.” Tracking helps guide us to know how much to lift or how to scale based on our workout history.

Call me old school, but my preferred method to journal is in an actual physical one. The journal I currently am using is just a simple lined paper one. I like to have it to flip through, sometimes to go down memory lane and sometimes to check and see what I should be doing for that day’s workout.  I also journal on the app, Sugar Wod for different reasons. I use that more for the social aspects of it: to fist pump my athletes and give positive encouragement in comments.  It also automatically stores benchmarks, hero WODs and 1 RM’s making it easier to have a place to go to as reference. As I also tend to workout in the first class of the day, I would like to think my commentary and tips help the athletes in the later classes.

Regardless of your method, be sure to include details in your journal. (I found this really great quick read on journaling here with some tips and methods). I personally do not have a formal method but I always add my own commentary in it. For example, if an old injury was flaring up, I’ll mention that to explain a scale I did.  From time to time, I’ll put notes to the effect of “felt really sluggish” or “was too tired”. Or on the contrary, “holy shit, I actually did that RX”.  I even use simple smiley faces and frowns.

I strongly recommend not just tracking successes but failed attempts as well. I will note when I fail at lifts, particularly when it comes to retesting 1 RM. I want to know that maybe in November I failed at  a 140 pound squat clean so that when I retest it a few months later and succeed, I can celebrate. Also as we know, not every day is going to be our best day. We may be weaker for a given number of reasons (more info on that here). Noting reasons or “off days” keep me grounded.

It is so very and utterly essential to write down what your specific scales are when you do not go RX. I note, for instance, how many ab mats I used if any for Hand Stand Push- Ups (HSPU). Maybe I did the last workout with 1 ab mat as there was a higher rep scheme, but today when the workout calls for HSPU at less reps, I may opt to do them without an ab mat.

The same is true for so many movements, like pull ups. Back before I could do them without a band, I would track what color band i used so that I could gradually and smartly wean myself off of them, which I did successfully after just a few months.   I can’t really speak to the science of seeing written data, but I can attest to there being a compelling mental or psychological element to it.  It often helps me mentally prepare  for the work at hand. There are days where I will see the RX workout and think, “I can’t  possibly ­do the prescribed  Shoulder to Overhead  weight at 105 pounds  for 30 total reps. That is just beyond me.” Then, I will find a past journal entry where I did do that same weight in a workout.  Recalling I did it before  (even if it was absolutely miserable) motivates me to do it yet again.

journal.jpg
Note: I wrote a failed rep at strict press, no band for ring dips and I scaled a workout on 10/5/16 to be kettlebell swings in lieu of clean and jerks due to soreness from the flu shot. I also threw in a cute little sad face. Again, my very own albeit antiquated but efficient methodology.

For those who use or are considering using SugarWOD, I strongly recommend you treat it like your own personal journal as otherwise, it can be deceiving at face value. Rx is Rx. It’s a fair playing field in that it is a given everyone is doing the same exact workout. When you see times and scores of your fellow athletes, it is evident who went the fastest and who had the most reps. When it come to the scaled sections, it is more complex (which I also should note, it is why CrossFit is really for everyone. It demonstrates how many different ways there are to scale to your level. #shamelessplug). More details are better than none. If you use bands in ring dips, or do push-ups in lieu of HSPU or maybe you do less weight in cleans, whatever it is, include it in your notes. Again, you will want those details down the line to benchmark.  I digress a bit but I feel compelled to mention this pearl of wisdom: You may have gotten the slowest time doing a scaled workout but it is quite possible your scale was the hardest. Use discretion when you either celebrate your finish or wallow in it. Keep in mind it is not apples to apples.

Journaling takes minimal time when you keep up with it daily or even weekly. Make it a part of your workout routine and that will prevent you from feeling burdened by it. It is a great tool for CrossFitters (and other athletes might I add). Think of journaling much the same as you do performance reviews at work. It is a way to set goals, track them and measure them regularly. For journaling to be effective, it needs to be much more than just logging for the sake of it. I had a conversation about this with one of my coaches at Concourse CrossFit, Ricky Sandoval. If you just write it down for the sake of writing it down, it is not really serving any purpose. It would be like counting calories for the sake of it without using it to actually tweak your diet or evaluate food choices.  There is power in knowledge, and having a workout log history can only help you in constantly progressing.

If this has encouraged you to journal, please comment and let me know how you are loving it! (Or hating it but I am confident that will not happen).