Tainted Workout Experiences Diminish What Could Be Life Changing

For many people, it takes every bit of courage they have to show up to a gym or a yoga studio or a CrossFit class or whatever workout they have finally decided to try. For many, it is a triumph to get through the door. And for some, their first impression has them running like a bat out of hell right back out.

Customer service is a skill, a skill that not everyone has. To me, it is common sense. When it comes to fitness, it is all the more important to have that skill, ESPECIALLY for those people who it did take every bit of nerve they had to walk through that door. So. You show respect, you listen to what the other person says and you encourage. You do not belittle. You do not body shame. And you do not judge. At all. When it comes to health and fitness, someone’s first interaction is what can inspire them to want to take more steps when they have a positive experience versus what can traumatize them when it goes terribly wrong.

Let me tell you about my first CrossFit experience 6 years ago. Spoiler alert. It was awful, demoralizing and infuriating.

I was about 5 months out from a broken foot, prior to which I was doing high impact workouts like running and kickboxing. I tried to find a workout I could do while I was in a cast, but the thing about a cast is that you cannot get it wet. Working out results in sweating which can result in mold. Gross. So it was not an option. I was at one of my lowest points with a hella lot of life’s stresses yet I was not able to use my go-to therapy, fitness, to deal with it.

Needless to say when the cast came off 6 weeks later, I was ecstatic. I thought I could get back to my workouts, but go figure, that did not happen. I wanted to kickbox and run again like I did before I broke my foot, but I could not. I had so much muscle atrophy (my leg was half the size of the other) that anything involving my feet (i.e. everything) caused soreness, swelling and pain and just overall muscle fatigue. I was really frustrated because I probably gained 10 pounds (I lost almost all my muscle tone. Everywhere. Muscle tone that I worked my ass off to gain. So to say frustrated is an understatement).

I was at a loss as to how to get back into shape. A friend of mine, Nikki, who had been doing CrossFit a few years and had just started coaching, suggested CrossFit as it is totally scalable. She was really enthusiastic about it which got me excited about it too.

I found a CrossFit box to try out (a friend of a friend coached there), and so I set up a 1:1 consultation with the owner /coach. I was eager to go but also intimidated. CrossFit just sounded scary and I did not know what to expect. Well, what I did get was definitely not what I expected. Upon meeting him, I immediately got bad vibes from him.  It was very clear to me that he was one of the most arrogant, condescending, unqualified people the universe ever could have brought to me as an introduction to CrossFit.

He had me do a baseline workout that had rowing, air squats and push-ups. He was telling me repeatedly to go faster which I was not comfortable with as hello, I was recovering from an injury. My foot was sore. My knees were not properly aligned.  My stance was wide. I felt ridiculous. When I got done with the workout, he had the AUDACITY to tell me that my form was shit. Which mind you, not once did he give me any cues or guidance as to “how” I should be performing the movements. It was all “Move faster!” Super helpful, Guy.

And it got worse after that. He made repeated insulting comments about my height. For example, he asked if I wore heels all day to work and quickly said “well yeah of course you do. You are short.”

He asked me how I broke my foot, and as I was responding, I only got this far, “I was running—“

“Oh yeah no wonder you broke your foot running. 70% of runners have bad technique.”

“No, d-bag, I was not running recreationally. I was running in chunky flip flops through an airport to c catch a flight and rolled my foot.”

He made an assumption that I was a totally incompetent athlete and naturally my injury was due to my lack of skill. Prick.

At any rate, I could not get out of there fast enough. I walked out of there seething with anger and contempt. I was ready to write off CrossFit completely because this guy did a shit poor job of representing. And without any other benchmark, I was just done.

I talked to Nikki, and she was as appalled as I was. She reassured me that he was not representative of CrossFit and to not give up on it because of him.

Obviously, we all know my CrossFit journey did not end there. I am grateful I had the guidance from Nikki as I did indeed find another box with a polar opposite experience. The coaches understood my injury and my limitations. They were encouraging and positive. They were the true spirit in which CrossFit is intended to be. Coach D-Bag obviously should not be coaching or owning a box, and I was relieved to know everyone is NOT like him.

I feel fortunate though that I did not give up. I had enough confidence (and quite frankly, fury) to not allow one jack ass to make me think less of myself or my abilities. But the thing is, not everyone who has had a similar experience bounces back. For many, it truly is so traumatic, they give up completely. When you have an emotional and demoralizing experience, logic can shut down. While there are a million yoga studios and Pilate’s studios and CrossFit boxes, for someone who had trepidation to even show up, he/she is not likely to want to go to another. Our brains start to associate everything similar with one horrible experience, and the rest become guilty by association.

And so I share this story not for sympathy for me (as despite my bitter undertones, this was just a blip in my journey) but to bring awareness that this type of experience is NOT acceptable. And should you or someone you know find yourself in that situation, know that it is NOT necessarily a reflection on the sport/exercise as a whole. One person should not carry so much power to taint what could be a really important, life- changing step.

 

Dear PopSugar

Dear PopSugar,

I have followed and adored you for quite some time now, and I have enjoyed the frequent tips for fitness and nutrition. I fear though, that my respect for you has wavered after reading a recent article you posted entitled “The Top 4 Workouts to Avoid if You’re Trying to Lose Weight.” (link here ) I was astonished and admittedly maddened just a few sentences in and all the way to the end. As someone who considers herself to be healthy, fit and active, I simply could not disagree more with what was written. I am not a trainer, a nutritionist nor am I a doctor, so I will not be an expert on any physiological argument. I write to you though not out of anger or spite but to well, put it eloquently, call bull shit on this article. 

Too many of the points made are straight up blanket statements. The glaring message, starting with the first reference being in the title, blatantly says these workouts will not be effective in losing weight. Does that mean that there is not one single person who would not be a candidate to shed pounds on any of the 4 offending workouts (CrossFit, Yoga, Indoor Cycling and Cardio)? I am sure you do not truly believe that to be true yet that is more or less the message of your article. There are tons of success stories out there of people who did lose weight through these workouts. Not to mention, any combination of these workouts actually do complement each other. Also not mentioned, all these workouts have the ability to be catered to anyone’s fitness level and weight loss plan.

Ok, right, let’s really get into it. CrossFit, my love, was at the top of the list. PopSugar, here is what you wrote about CrossFit (and I quote): 

“CrossFit is number one on the hit list,” Rowley said in an email. “The risk-to-results ratio just isn’t there. If you’re just beginning your weight-loss journey, you likely won’t have the strength to get an effective workout without injuring yourself. It’s very popular, and I can see how fun and challenging it is,” he noted. “But the way the exercises are done is very dangerous, especially for someone not in tiptop shape.” 

 Remember, I am keeping science out of this. I will say that the arguments against CrossFit imply that only people in tiptop shape should ever attempt it. If this were the case, that CrossFit caters to more elite or advanced athletes, then well the franchise would be out of business. The athleticism and level of CrossFitters span the gamut. Not everyone that is new to CrossFit is a former collegiate athlete. There is a very prevalent population who begin after years or even a lifetime of being sedentary. Everyone has to start somewhere, just like any other sport or activity. People do not run for 26.2 miles the first time they put on their trainers (unless their name is Forest Gump) nor does someone perform an advanced movement like a muscle up in the first metcon (but oh that would be bloody amazing if they did!). The movements and exercises done in CrossFit are extremely flexible and scalable, hence the beauty of this phenomena. A beginner can very easily modify a workout to their level and still burn calories (which as a non -scientist, I am still confident that translates to losing weight).

For someone who has been inactive, they can very well perform very basic, NOT DANGEROUS movements putting them well on their way in their weight loss journey. (Air squats, short distance running/jogging, rowing, burpees, scaled push-ups, minimal weight push presses, box step-ups, sit-ups, jumping pull-ups, jump roping. Shall I go on?) 

 Ok then, moving on to the Rowley’s next offender: yoga. Mr. Rowley says:

 Rowley explained that yoga “has a lot of benefits, but losing weight is not one of them.” Although you’ll gain strength and tone up, if you’re aiming to shed pounds, “you want to work as much of your body as possible to lose weight and to stimulate your metabolism,” and Rowley said yoga is not the most effective way to do so.” 

I have tried yoga enough times to know that instructors strategically target all muscle groups, which to me require much strength, which burns calories, which leads to weight loss. Also, as a non-scientist of course, toning up  (as Rowley did state is a benefit of yoga) means turning fat into muscle which essentially is weight loss (or at least decreasing body fat).

From the little I do know about yoga, I am comfortable saying that the practice of it centers on the idea of balancing ourselves both physically and mentally. It quiets the mind which again, in my humble opinion, is the biggest obstacle in losing weight. It is more than the time you put it in at a gym or a class. I dare say that the practice of yoga can really reshape someone’s thinking which leads to making better choices about health and diet. 

So even for the sake of argument (as Riley makes) that yoga  is not the best method in which to stimulate metabolism, he would be hard pressed to argue that people do not carry the core of yoga with them in all that they do resulting in smarter choices. 

 The third on Rowley’s no fly list is cycling. His logic is much the same as that of CrossFit. PopSugar, I quote: 

 ” While indoor cycling classes are great for exercise veterans, Rowley said, “they can get out of control as well,” and the format of the classes can put you at risk for injury. “The rooms can get too hot, the movements can be too aggressive for some…” 

 Firstly, I want to know what  Rowley defines as an “exercise veteran” and should anyone who is not in said category, limit themselves to only the very basic movement that has been around since the beginning of time, walking? Anyways, I digress. Much like CrossFit, cycling is scalable. There is a little thing on every bike called a resistance knob which enables people  to have control over their movements so that they do not “get out of control” (which I also find this bit to be vague and would genuinely love to know more on that point). I have been taking cycling classes for close to a decade and have met numerous people in them who have great success stories of losing weight by cycling. With my small science lens, I do know cycling can demand a lot of output from your body which again, equals burning calories (leading to weight loss).

 Lastly, Rowley frowns upon cardio only workouts to lose weight. He claims that:

“Cardio will help burn calories but often can make you hungry, leading to excessive calorie-consuming after workouts.” 

 This may just be my favorite worst perspective in this article. PopSugar, in the closing of your article you advocate for resistance training, which Rowley defines as weight lifting. I am just as hungry after an all cardio workout (like running or stair climbing) as I am following a weight lifting session (which I do in CrossFit may I add). I chose though to not come home and devour an entire pizza or a box of Girl Scout cookies. So, what I am trying to say is that increased hunger is  not specific to cardio (or indoor cycling) workouts, and with that increased hunger comes discipline to make smart food choices. (If someone who is trying to lose weight is not proactively planning out meals and snacks, then perhaps they are not even that committed to losing weight. That is a whole other topic in and of itself). Anyways, discipline and self-control can prevail. That is key to losing weight no matter what the preferred method is. Ruling out cardio-only routines to lose weight is absolutely ill-advised. 

 PopSugar, you are blessed with a platform to promote healthy living to many viewers and followers. I expect more from you than what this article has provided: blanket statements. I walked away believing that YOU are advocating that there is only one approved way to lose weight (resistance training).  Right, because there is always only ever one way to get from Point A to Point B. Weight loss is just that cut and dry. People should not experiment and find out for themselves what works for their bodies. I am having difficulties suppressing my NJ sarcasm because I am so passionate about exercise and fitness. I revel in the idea that there is so much variety out there, and I want to promote all the 4 aforementioned workouts as great ways to explore for weight loss. 

 Sincerely,

Missy

The 5 Things That Make Physical Therapy More Than Just Fixing Stuff

With recently wrapping up the last of Physical Therapy/Personal Training, I leave with understanding so much more about myself in terms of how to train smart  and all that goes into being healthy when it comes to fitness.  (A side note and added bonus is it has taught me what sets a great therapist/trainer/coach apart from the rest).

  1. Seeing is just as important as feeling. (As a CrossFit enthusiast, I do strongly believe that one of the things missing from boxes are mirrors). There is a lot of benefit in actually watching ourselves work out. (I’m not talking about giving yourself a gun show although there’s no shame in that). It is seeing the details and breaking down a movement where you can actually pinpoint what you are doing right and wrong. At Physical Therapy, there are mirrors everywhere, and as much as I dislike seeing the agony on my face while I struggle through a workout, I do appreciate being able to see what my body is actual doing versus what I think it is doing. I tend to base how well I am doing a movement off of how it feels, which is important; however sometimes I can’t feel everything my body is doing at one time. Seeing gives insight into being able to correct form. For instance, I used to feel like I was off balance when I squatted after surgery, but I did not really understand why. When I was able to actually see myself squatting, it was obvious I was favoring my right side. My trainer (BJ) was able to give me physical queues while I was squatting to correct form.
  2. Form is more important than lifting heavy or getting a faster time. After having 1:1 PT sessions, I was lucky to have the chance to not be distracted by anything else. I solely focused on what I was doing which meant dissecting movements. (Seeing a theme here based on #1 as well?) It taught me that it’s ok at times when my body feels fatigued or something just feels wrong, to not worry about adding weight to the barbell or trying to power through to get a faster time or score. I had quite a few strength portions where I would lift very light weight to get in the habit of good form. I also had more than a few instances where BJ had me scale down mid workout when my body was fatiguing resulting in bad form.
  3. Get mobilizing! I spent a lot of time stretching out before a workout as well as having a pro stretch me out after. It’s painful. It’s grueling. It’s time consuming. It’s worth it. Often when form is off or something feels wrong, it could be your body’s way of telling you to stretch out. I am not an expert in stretching and mobility so I won’t spend much time on this point. I just want to say in my humble opinion, everyone would benefit for spending more time doing this, whether it is on your own, in a mobility or yoga class, via massage or one of my personal favorites, the hot tub. For those of us who CrossFit and do other equally aggressive workouts, our bodies need reprieve. We need time to recover and loosen all the muscles and tendons and whatever else we have to avoid injury (and to just feel good!)
  4. It is important that your coach/trainer is supporting your goals.  *I am putting a disclaimer that this is personally important to me, and so I am assuming it is to others. If it isn’t, well then I owe you burpees. One of the key factors that has gone into my recovery and getting stronger by the day is that I had a team backing up my goals and being just as vested in them as I am. When it comes to my own health and fitness, I am always working towards something. I am a woman who likes a plan, even if it’s a plan that someone else is putting together for me. It is no secret that plans are only as effective as whether they coincide with goals. Having people who understand you and your goals is fundamental.
  5. Have a connection to your coach/trainer. This is more like #4 part 2, so really the same disclaimer applies. (I have a lot more to say relating to the importance of connecting that is for a blog to come soon. Stay tuned). It can really take your fitness journey and goals to the next level when you truly feel like the person training understands you. They know your weaknesses and your strengths. They know your goals.

 

Injury recovery and working out can be just as mentally and emotionally trying as it is physically challenging.  I had many moments throughout PT of feeling utterly discouraged. I got through them because I had the best Physical Therapist and trainer who talked me through it, without judgment. I was able to be open and express what was going on in my head as much as what was going on with my body. It is normal and par for the course to have a therapist ask how your body/injury is doing. It is not as common but possibly more important that they ask how YOU are doing.  To this point, here is a perfect example. After I did my most recent body scan, I was completely crushed by the weight I had gained. I told them about it and they gave me solid advice (like reevaluate my diet and throw in extra cardio) as well as just gave me a pep talk. They did not discount what I was feeling nor did they make me feel crazy about it. They continued to be supportive throughout my dieting journey by checking in and asking how I was doing with it.  What was working? What wasn’t working?  They paid attention and it made a difference. (I would be a total liar if I did not admit to thoroughly being pleased with the compliments they gave me as the pounds started coming off. I will never grow tired of hearing about any muscle definition someone else sees in me!)

As much as I do not like to admit, I have gone to physical therapy quite a few times over the years. For many of those instances, I went really to just fix whatever was broken or not working right. I wanted to get in and get out so I could get back to my regularly scheduled programming. The last year and a half though that I have spent in PT has been life changing for me. Seriously.  It is why I strongly believe this time around departing from PT will end the long reigning slew of injuries.  It is because of all these 5 lessons I have learned that are setting up me for success and a healthy journey here on out. It has taught me how to train smarter and how to take everything I learned at PT with me in my journey.