Sometimes It Takes Stitches to Find the Right CrossFit

I have done a lot of really clumsy, stupid, embarrassing shit that I normally can just laugh off without thinking twice about it. I have had countless near accidents that were probably a hair away from cracking something open or needing stitches. Basically I have tempted fate many MANY times, and it finally caught up with me. In the most embarrassing way I ever could have imagined. It also gave me cause to pause (and re-evaluate).

As you probably know, I have been on a serious quest to find a different CrossFit box to switch to. I have taken this more seriously than when I have gone car shopping or even job searching (well in a past life at least!)  It is my health and well-being that are going to be affected and well, I take that very seriously.

Finding a CrossFit box is more than just finding a place to workout that has the right class schedule and is less than 7 miles from where I live. It is about finding the right environment, coaches and programming that are going to keep me getting progressively stronger all the time. I want to look and FEEL better every year because I do not want my 20’s or 30’s to have been my peak. (I say this about my experience, but I also encourage everyone to take that into consideration. A lot of people stay at a box often that is not the right fit for a slew of reasons, one of which is they may not even know what better is. This could be another blog post in and of itself so I digress).

I had found a box that I was going to try for a month, but I was not 100% sure if it was the right fit for me. I figured I would not know until I tried and was set to do just that until I had posted a blog I wrote earlier in the year called “4 Common Reasons CrossFitters Divorce Boxes” (link here) to a CrossFit Masters group I am in on Facebook as the members share information and questions. Anyways, I am glad I did it because an owner of a box that is just under 7 miles from where I live reached out to me to drop in. I think he just really wants masters athletes there which I am happy to represent (although after my embarrassing incident, he is surely going to reconsider).

I did drop in and I did like it. I was excited too because he invited me to come back the next day when he would be working out. I should mention, he’s a Regionals/Games athlete. I felt like I got invited to hang with the cool kids. So when I got there for my second drop-in, it kind of felt like meeting CrossFit celebrities. (It was him and 3 other equally bad ass coaches). Despite feeling intimidated, I was digging the vibe. It was a bit exhilarating to know I would potentially be a member at a box where there is that kind of caliber (and for the record, I am NOT insinuating I am ever going to be a Games athlete! I just mean it is inspiring as a unicorn to be working out alongside that talent and coached by the best of the best).

The workout that we were going to do had chest-to-bar pull-ups.  After the warm up, I figured it would be wise to do one or two before the actual workout since truth be told, I am not the best at them. I hopped up on a bar and swung (probably violently as I tend to do that to make sure my chest makes contact with the bar). It happened pretty fast so I’m not 100% what went down (or up) exactly, but at some point in my swing, I smacked my forehead at full force into another bar maybe 6 inches above the one that I was on. Yeah, I somehow managed to not see that when I picked my spot to do a pull-up.

I do not even know how to explain the pain of having my head go crashing into pure metal other it felt like this sort of slow shattering sensation. It was then very quickly followed by pure shock like “What the FREAK just happened?”  It is also possible that due to shock or denial, had someone not said “hey get down, you are bleeding” I would have proceeded to attempt another pull-up. (I never said I am the brightest bulb on the porch).

When I got down from the bar, I went totally numb at that point other than a little tingling in my nose which thankfully I did not break. I was being asked if my head hurt while we were attempting to stop the bleeding. I felt no real pain at that point. Just sheer and total humiliation. (And I probably said at least a dozen times, “I am fine. I am just so embarrassed.”) My ego hurt far more than my head, at least for the ten minutes until I left to go to Urgent Care.  I was also annoyed that I did not even get a workout in which made me even more so embarrassed. (Have I mentioned how embarrassed I was??)

Anyways, I did have to get stitches (3 of them) but it could be worse. I did not break any teeth. I didn’t crack my skull. It is just a bit of a gash prominently on my forehead that may or may not scar. (Also for the record, I typically cannot hit a target to save my life. You should see me trying to do wall balls. Yet, I somehow managed to hit my head dead center. I aced that one).

So I will probably be known as the new girl who needed stitches from a pull-up, but it also made me realize a few things.

For the first few days after my sweet little injury, I was freaked out about the realization of just how many things can go wrong. Because like any sport, there is always the risk for injury. I have already had my share of injuries, and really wanted to believe I was beyond that. I realized I could either continue to wallow in self-pity and fear what may or may not happen, or I could just get over it. I chose the latter. I knew that it would take more than 3 stitches to keep me away from CrossFit.

Despite how much of a drama queen I may feel like, it has made me very aware of something that I did not really want to admit to myself. I had lost my zest for CrossFit. Over the last few months, I have not been enjoying it. I have just wanted to get in and get out.  I have not really cared a whole lot about what my WOD times have been or how many reps I have done or even how much weight I have used or if I felt stronger than yesterday. And that is no way to be.

The fact that I am still looking forward to going back and becoming a member is very indicative of how much I am in need of a change.  The reputation of their box is astounding and getting a small taste of it has like reawakened the bad ass hidden in me (well I guess re-awaken is up for debate. I am not a bad ass, I just want to feel like one. Again).

I know that when I can get past this little blip (because in due time, it really will be just a blip), in the long run, I will get stronger there. I also know that I am sure to discover my areas of weaknesses and problems with technique that will be hard on the old pride too, but a necessary evil to get better. If I can handle walking out of a box after 15 minutes to get stitches, I can handle anything.  My point? The experiences that leave us humbled are often the ones we need the most.

 

 

Do’s and Don’ts of Injury Recovery

Thursday December 8, 2016 marked one year since I had Arthroscopic knee surgery to fix a pesky meniscus tear I had. I have come so far since that day, and besides being damn proud of the work and results, it has reminded me of the do’s and don’ts of injury recovery.

  1. Do visualize and envision what you want. With injury it is all too easy to be discouraged because of setbacks and pain. I had many moments where I seriously questioned if I would ever get back to doing CrossFit and running and kickboxing and all the other crazy shit I love. I often would be frustrated as all get out and found myself thinking perhaps I ought to trade it it all in for knitting and bring back step aerobics. It sounds ridiculous ;and once I realized that, I started picturing myself hitting my goals. (I even had a dream once of doing CrossFit. Ok maybe two dreams. Who am I kidding? I lost count).  I stopped resigning to what I could not do, and allowed myself to fantasize about what was yet to come. And guess what, over time, those dreams and fantasies became reality.
  2. Do not do too much too soon. All injuries are different and recovery times vary. Regardless, it is important to recognize that one good day does not mean throw caution to the wind and go all out. Recovery requires a whole lot of patience and self restraint. I learned this when I started squatting too soon. I had maybe a week or so where all felt great. Then, before I knew. it, the knee pain came back , and I was frustrated once again. I am by no means a doctor or physical therapist or even someone who is proficient in anatomy. I just know that recovery means we need to ease our bodies back into things. Surgery in particular (as in my case) is essentially trauma to the body. We need to be kind to our bodies and respect the healing process.
  3. Do celebrate the small wins along the way. As mentioned above, you can’t do too much too soon. You can’t be frustrated that you aren’t lifting the same weight you used to. Give yourself time, and celebrate all the milestones along the way. Granted these milestones are things you may have scoffed at back in your hay day, but you don’t get somewhere in one leap and bound. It takes many. I never thought I would smile ear to ear just from doing a little old air squat, but guess what? I did. It’s a big deal.
  4. Do not expect big wins overnight . Small wins lead to big wins. Here is an example of my reconciliation and reunion with squats.
  • I had knee surgery on December 8th.
  • On March 10th I was doing  air squats at about a quarter of full depth.
  • On May 20th I did my first full depth back squats at lighter weight (75 pounds and to put that into perspective, my 1 rep max prior to surgery was 200 pounds).
  • On July 15th following a squat cycle, I hit a certifiable full depth back squat at 190 pounds (only 10 pounds shy of my PR).
  • On October 31, after another squat cycle, I  hit a 195 pound back squat (only 5 pounds shy of my PR).

You can see by this timeline, it took me months and intervals to make strides. I did not regain my abilities a month or even two months after surgery.  You also are safe to assume that to my point above this, every one of these milestones was just as rewarding to me as those first air squats I took. I also have faith and trust that one day i will hit a 200 pound back squat again, but I am not focused or worried as to when. As long as I get there safely, that is all that matters.

squat lifecycle.jpg

  1. Do reevaluate the way you had been training prior to injury. For me, as my surgery was (knock on wood) the last of a string of injuries, I was over injuries. (That is putting it mildly. I was actually heart broken-sick and tired-ready to disown my body-kind of over it).  I had to really take a long hard look at the way I trained to find out WHY was I getting injured consistently. I found that I was not always smart about the way I trained. I would do a 280 stair climb three  consecutive times (for those in LA, Baldwin Hills was my spot) and then go to CrossFit and do a WOD where I had to use a lot of leg muscles that were already fatigued and beat up. I often sacrificed form to hit a heavier weight. I knew I had to train differently as I recovered that was also sustainable long term. Which leads me to the next “Do”.
  2. Do put programming as your first priority. In reevaluating my injury history, I concluded that smart programming was my absolute #1 priority in how I should train.  This lead me (actually prior to surgery as I had knee pain for months before I sought medical help for it) to making the tough decision to switch CrossFit boxes. I chose to go where the programming was insanely good, and where I knew people to have made some ridiculously impressive gains. It also lead me after surgery to stay with Physical Therapy longer than perhaps most people would. I feared going back into the real world on my own and falling back into my old habits. So by switching where I trained and with different coaches/trainers, I enrolled myself on a healthy journey. *Shout out to both Adan and BJ, my coach and trainer respectively, that I do not know how you do what you do with programming,but I am forever grateful for it.
  3. Do put in the time smartly and the results will come.  This is not even necessarily specific to injury recovery but is worth mentioning. With learning to squat again, I did not just attempt squats and do squats all live long day. I had to do many other things to get there, like balancing exercises and strength work (and mobility! Oh how I heart mobility.) There is a tendency to JUST practice the one lift or one skill in order to hit our self imposed goals. Take pull-ups for another example. You can’t expect to just walk up to the bar every day until that one magical day that you can achieve a pull- up. You have to put in time working on engaging the right muscles (note earlier comment, I  am not anatomy expert.  I am inclined to say engage lats and scapula) and shoulder strength to slowly build up to a pull-up. 

     

    A year after surgery, I do admittedly find my life to be of two eras: pre-surgery and post-surgery.  It really is because of all the changes to my training and mindset that I differentiate “then” with “now”. Because of these do’ and don’ts that I do religiously live by, they serve as both a reality check as well as a benchmark. I never want to take for granted being healthy nor do I want to ever minimize all the work I do every time I train. I am undoubtedly at my all time strongest (and getting stronger). I am doing workouts now (even many at RX) that I would not have been capable of prior to being injured. I say this not to be a braggard but rather it truly is my wish for all of you to adopt them so you can continue to train smart and to continue showcasing everything great about fitness (particularly CrossFit).

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.

 

 

 

Top 4 Reasons Why CrossFit Sucks -Debunked!

I recently conducted some very official research (I polled my friends on Facebook) to find out why people either do CrossFit or why they chose not to. I realized from the responses I got from those who do not find CrossFit appealing, that well, CrossFit is terribly misunderstood. I can’t deny though that they touched on many of the stereotypes, that to be fair, anyone who does CrossFit would admit to there being some truth to them. From the outside, CrossFit seems like a craze created by the devil.  CrossFit athletes (yes we are athletes) appear to be weight lifting-arrogant-hyped up-injury prone bros and swolemates who grunt, sweat and over indulge in bragging about snatches, PR’s and squats. I want to, acknowledge that yes, these things do exist, but more importantly, I want to debunk these stereotypes (maybe once and for all?!)

  1. CrossFit is dangerous and you will get injured. Yes, injury happens at CrossFit. A lot. I ask though, does it happen any more frequently than any other form of exercise or sport? Many running injuries, for example (much like those obtained through CrossFit) come from the lack of stretching and mobilizing; over training; lack of rest days; improper technique; and plain stupid luck. When someone running experiences an injury, we do not tend to denounce running as a sport. Yet, when it comes to g­­etting injured at CrossFit, there is an immediate reaction and assumption that CrossFit caused it.

The onus of injury should be on the individual athlete more so than the sport itself. We are all adults. We have the ability to choose for ourselves how much or how hard we train. We know when something in our body does not feel right. If we are injured because we feel peer pressure or that competitive feeling sets in, again, that is within our control. CrossFit is designed to have varied workouts and to always challenge us. Yes, it is a demanding and high impact sport, but it is completely possible to train at that level safely. Many CrossFits start athletes out in their fundamentals class so that newbies can focus on technique and continuously build on that.

Not every CrossFit box is the same. Some are better than others depending on their coaching, members and programming. A good box has coaches who are paying attention to their members and all the details that go into movements. A good box has members that are encouraging and supportive. A good box has programming that is methodical, calculated and designed for gains. If you find yourself in a box that does not have these 3 things, then there is more likelihood for injury. Again, we are all adults. We have the ability to recognize a good environment from a bad one. Be proactive enough to research and find a box that encourages and promotes a safe fitness environment, and injury is less likely to happen.

 

  1. CrossFit is too competitive. CrossFit is perceived to be highly competitive, which some people find alluring and some people find unappealing. Quite a few of my friends stated this as a reason as to why they have no interest in CrossFit. I can respect anyone who does not want to bring that to their fitness. However, just to be devil’s advocate, I will say this. I think of the competitive aspect as it is what you make of it. While some athletes’ egos thrive off of that competitiveness, there are plenty of athletes that use it for their own personal gain and gratification. Some are happy they beat someone else in a PR, but for most, they are happy they beat their own PR.

 

I also know it is entirely possible to take classes alongside other people and not give a hoot about what anyone else is doing. There are plenty of people who love CrossFit and pay no attention to the competitive side of it. For many of us, we are most competitive with ourselves. We strive to be better today than we were yesterday. For me, there are times I do benchmark myself off of others and it pushes me to get those tough reps in during a metcon or to push through that last 200m run. I get stronger from people around me, not necessarily because it is competitive. Rather, it is inspiring. To see someone do something you want to do can be quite motivating.

 

Also for every ounce of competition, there is twice that showing support and encouragement to boxmates.  Many people CrossFit because of the camaraderie and not the competition. Sandra Dickson of CrossFit SouthBay reinforces this well, “I’ve stayed for the past 4 years because of the camaraderie of the classes and the friendships I’ve made.”

 

  1. CrossFit is too intimidating.

One of my friends said she feels intimidated to go to CrossFit and would want to be fitter and stronger before going. (Which for the record, I have heard other people say this about not just CrossFit but global gyms, boot camps and other group classes). People who CrossFit come in all shapes and sizes and all skill levels (not everyone is a Rich Froning or Katrin Davidsdottir). We are all at different levels and that is what is so amazing about it. CrossFit is so scalable that you could have 5 people doing the same workout with totally different variations. For example, not everyone can do a Handstand Push-up (HSPU) so when a workout has them at Rx, it is common to see some people doing them (with varying degrees of difficulty even: some with 1 ab mat, some with 2, some with none) while other athletes may be doing hand release push- ups and others may be doing inverted push- ups. No matter the scale, everyone is experiencing the same feelings of suck and elation. What is challenging for one person to the next is all relative.  If you are scaling appropriately, the person cleaning 130 pounds versus the one cleaning 65 pounds is not having any easier of a time.

Personally, I prefer working out with people fitter and stronger than me. It is so gratifying to be successful at something that you previously had only been able to envy. I also like being able to be the one motivating others. It is what keeps it exciting and somewhat altruistic.  Some days you are the ones getting encouragement and some days you get to give it.  As Feo Diaz of CrossFit PT6 in Krakow says so well, “I do it because it’s much more fun and engaging than going to the gym by yourself. It doesn’t matter if you finish first or are still going after the time cap. The people in the CrossFit community always support and push you to do better.” I think this is far more prevalent in CrossFit than the intimidation factor.

  1. CrosFit is expensive. Along with CrossFit comes the finances. My friend, Jackie, who is a tennis fanatic asks, “Isn’t Crossfit expensive? Tennis is $8 for 2 hours.” Touché, Jackie, touché. Yes, CrossFit is expensive (it can be anywhere from $99 a month upwards of $300). I will argue though that if CrossFit is something you love, when it comes to finances it is how you prioritize this expense. Coming from someone who has worked for a cable company, there are plenty of people on budgets who manage to spend $120 a month to binge watch television. Whether or not that is practical, it goes back to the point that it is how you chose to spend your money. If fitness and health are a priority for you, it should be less excruciating to dole out the cash for it.

I fully acknowledge the cons to CrossFit.  I fully recognize CrossFit is not for everyone. If it is any consolation, I have desperately wanted to get on the yoga train without much success. So I totally get it. The world is full of choices on how to be fit and healthy. I simply would hate for stereotypes to be a deterrent for even trying Crossfit.  I also believe CrossFit to be a great phenomena that should be recognized for everything it has to to offer. Poojita Puligundla of CrossFit Fremont had one of the most encouraging testimonials about CrossFit that I hope puts some of the negative perceptions to rest.

“Pre CrossFit, I did work out but I was very limited in the sense that I would just stick to the treadmill or the elliptical. After I got exposed to CrossFit I do so much more because I’ve been trained by wonderful coaches about the importance of having the right form, exercising different muscle groups etc.  Apart from that, it gave me a whole new perspective on my ability to challenge myself. I am the kinda person who can get comfortable too easy and with CrossFit I’ve never felt like I stopped at my comfort zone. I’ve learnt to push myself and started enjoying tiny victories. For ex: Before CrossFit I couldn’t do a single push up and now is a different story. This experience is beyond exercise for me, it’s changed my mindset.”

 

Good Form Trumps All

Last week, a day after returning from a trip half way around the world, I was pretty jetlagged. I managed to get through a full day of work and really was itching to work out as I did minimal exercise while I was on vacation. I made it to class at the box and the strength portion was power cleans. I was a few sets in when a friend  gave me the best compliment I ever could want. He told me that my form was so good on cleans and that he was jealous of this. If this had been a year ago, my most coveted compliment would have been “wow you can clean so heavy!” Having someone validate without solicitation that my form looked awesome meant the world to me.

As I am now 4 months past knee surgery, one of my primary focuses has been on form. When I work out during my PT sessions, my form and mechanics on EVERYTHING I do is highly scrutinized by my trainer and physical therapist. Now this may sound like a complaint. It is quite the opposite. It’s the best gift they can give me. They are helping me to break so many bad habits I have that I never even realized.. When you start to pay attention to form on anything you do whether it’s something basic like an air squat to something more complex like a deadlift or power clean, it is very eye opening.

When you get caught up in the adrenaline and agony of working out, it is so easy (and common) to just want to get through it without even caring or noticing that proper form is being compromised. I used to be guilty of this. I would not know nor care what my form was as I was too busy watching the clock or counting reps or challenging myself to lift heavy.

Right now, I care far less about lifting heavy as I do lifting pretty. Having one on one time with my trainer at PT is just as much an education as it is a workout. I adequately get my ass kicked every time I go while still leaving there with so much more self awareness then when I started. With an injury, it forces me to tell my ego to simmer down. By doing so, it has opened me to being far more receptive to feedback. This is not to say that it is an easy process. It still can be difficult to hear all the things I do wrong and so yes,  I have moments where I feel like GOD I am just sucking at being athletic.

Then I have moments like what I described where a fellow boxmate tells me how absolutely amazing and beautiful my form is. (Ok fine, in reality, he probably said something to the effect of “Missy, your form looks so good! I am impressed!”) Anyhow, the important thing is it reminds me that practice makes perfect. It reminds me that not all rewards or progress are instantaneous. It reminds me that to big changes are like a continuation of subtle changes. While I may not see them exactly as they happen, when they all come together, it is simply wonderful.

The other key takeaway from getting that beloved compliment was the timing of it. Keep in mind that I worked out about 26 hours after I landed back home in LA. I was tired.  I am fairly sure my brain was still on a beach in Malaysia. I had not lifted weight in two weeks. I had every reason to have my form go to shit. But it didn’t. Much to my delight, my form was actually quite good. I could not think of a better testament to how effective focusing on form for the last few months truly has been. Good habits take repetition, patience and a positive attitude. I am to the moon that I am starting to see the light at the end of a tunnel. I am coming out on the right side of injury and I could not be happier.

 

 

 

Working My Way Back

I never thought I would hope a doctor tells me I need surgery until I had a tear in my meniscus. My MRI came back inconclusive.  After trying a PRP shot, physical therapy and cutting out a lot of movements, I was pretty much just over being restricted and in pain all the time. I was seriously relieved when my doctor and I decided I should have arthroscopic surgery. A week later, he went in there, got rid of the tear (yup there was a tear despite that it wasn’t visible in the MRI) and cleaned up some other cartilage damage under my femur bone. After a few days on my couch, I was feeling mentally ready to get the healing show on the road.

It’s now been two months since surgery and my knee is progressively improving. My mindset with this injury compared to others is different. I used to be all gung ho on CrossFit and my goal with any injury was to get that shit fixed ASAP so I could get back to CrossFit 5 times a week like a nut. This time around, I took a step back and started really thinking about how do I have a healthier balance of CrossFit with other areas of fitness? I have hit a lot of PR’s and milestones and am damn proud of them. But I am also ok that I am not at that level right now. I am not dissing CrossFit by any means. I am just reevaluating my former obsession with it. There are aspects of it that I do thrive off of (like the varied workouts, being pushed hard, gymnastics stuff and lifting).  The main distinction I have this time around is that I absolutely never want to get injured again. I have said that before  without actually being smart about making that realistic. Like with tendinitis in my shoulder,  while I essentially rehabbed that body part, I fucked up my knee in the process. I am over the days of swapping injuries.

So it is a shift in my mindset. I have accepted that 5 days of CrossFit right now would not be the smartest move for me.  I have too many imbalances as a result of my knee injury that I need to focus on. I favor my right side and have to consciously engage muscles on my left side. For example when I do a back squat, I literally have a conversation in my head of ‘ok, slowly go down, stay in heels, don’t rush coming back up and don’t lean to the right.” Over time I will get these habits down without even having to think about it but my muscle memory is not there… yet.

I do seriously love love LOVE lifting. I would be lying if I said I did not miss lifting heavy. I do get somewhat humbled and bummed when I back squat weight that used to be my warm up weight. I get over that pretty quickly as I am honestly just grateful to be able to have an almost fully functional knee again. I will never take for granted that I can do things again like squatting and jumping. I am on a path to do them at optimal form so I can be consistent and safe.

I can’t benchmark off of my previous PR’s to gauge percentages for lifts. My new benchmark is my knee and how much pain things cause it (it will take many more months for my knee to be fully functional and pain free… and that is ok as it is giving me the opportunity to focus on doing things the right way).

I am fortunate to have the best Physical Therapist and aide (who is now my personal trainer) as they support me in healing and helping me reach my goals. I often question if I should really ever do high impact stuff and I share those thoughts with them expecting them to tell me I should never squat again or run or do anything that I enjoy. That never happens. They tell me I will get there and they will help me in that journey. My physical therapy has now become full on workouts where they program specifically for me. I still have goals as that is what will forever motivate me. I have said it before and I will say it again. I LOVE WORKING OUT! Even when it’s fucking miserable or I feel like I may puke. I am extremely ecstatic that my workouts once again make me sweat my ass off and leave me winded.

Ok so I am sure you are wondering what exactly are my goals? Here they are in an email I sent my PT team:

1. Stay injury free
2. Lose some weight and get leaner/more toned (I want to get back to
where I was before I had tendinitis in my shoulder)
3. I don’t care about things like snatches or overhead squats. All other movements
are fair game for me. I don’t necessarily expect or care (ok maybe a
little) about squatting as heavy as I have before. I do want to work
my way back though to it. Same thing with cleans and deadlifts and
other movements.
4. Improve on gymnastics stuff! One day I’d like a muscle up. And I
want to learn butterfly pull ups.

So basically I want to be a bad ass 😉
But seriously though, obviously not at the expense of being injured again.

There you have it. I am practicing patience right now in my workouts and putting my ego aside as much as I can.  It’s ok if I sacrifice shaving a few minutes off a workout time as that’s less important that compromising form or risking injury. It’s ok if I scale my workouts to what seem to be a beginner level. It’s ok because I honestly get a feeling of euphoria when I can actually do a workout in its entirety without having to swap out movements.

Life is good. I cannot complain. I am fortunate I am back to working out frequently, only now with a different routine. I have 2 days a week of Crossfit, 2 days of personal training (aka physical therapy) and spin class twice a week. I rest when I need to without the guilt I used to have of missing a day. My body isn’t where it was before fitness level wise and while  I know I will get there, I recognize I have to pace myself. Overall, I am on the road to recovery and to safely get back to being the bad ass that I once was.

 

 

 

Feedback

Picture this. You are at the box. You are rolling out and have the perfect view of everyone in the class before yours. You notice someone struggling with a front squat as his/her chest is so far forward making it almost impossible to stand back up. Or maybe you notice someone doing ring rows with a slouched back and you worry he/she is going to strain his/her shoulders. Do you say something? Perhaps if it is someone you know fairly well. But then again, maybe not. You think to yourself “I am not a coach or an expert so who am I to correct someone?”

Reset that line of thinking. Anyone should feel comfortable giving tips or recommendations to a fellow athlete especially when it comes to safety. Don’t be the guy who just cringes when seeing bad form and never says a thing to the offender directly.

Here are some guidelines that will give you the confidence to help a fellow athlete out:

1) It is advisable in cases where you see someone that needs a tip who you have not yet had a chance to meet, that you do introduce yourself before you go right into what you think is helpful mode. Nobody wants someone coming out of left field who they don’t know that it is not a coach screaming some obscure “tip” at them. There is no shame in helping someone in situations even if YOU are dropping into THEIR box as long as you at least establish a first name basis and are diplomatic about it (more in #3 below).

2) Safety first. Always. If you see someone performing a movement that is unsafe, say something to them! Or if you are not comfortable doing that, tell the coach so he/she can work with the athlete.

3) Don’t be a jerk about it. It’s all in the delivery anytime you give feedback (whether it’s at the box or outside). Avoid saying things like “dude you are doing that all wrong.” or “Oh man that was ugly.” Be helpful about your feedback. If you are noticing something is off, you should be able to pinpoint what the problem is. Tell that to your fellow athlete. Give specifics. Make your feedback helpful and in terms that they can use to correct it. Example: “You were so close to getting that kipping pull up. You had momentum but lost it right before your chin got over the bar. Try to keep that momentum going and you will have it.” Be positive and there is a good chance your assistance will be warmly received.

4) Know when to say it. If your fellow athlete was doing a movement wrong but safety wasn’t being compromised, you do not necessarily need to tell them right there and then. Maybe they weren’t clapping on their burpees or didn’t do an honest push up. You can wait until the metcon is over to correct them or give a tip for the next time they have that movement in a workout.

Since we are talking about giving feedback, I want to add a quick comment on how to receive feedback. Be gracious about it. Know the other person is coming from a good place so do not let your ego get in the way of accepting something that could potentially help you improve.

Injury is an Opportunity for Improvement

Special thanks to Tabata Times (www.tabatatimes.com) for posting another article I wrote:

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a physical therapist or anything along those lines. I write this from my own experiences.

I have had my fair share of injuries.  Aside from the one that broke a bone, I have not let them stop me from still being active. With my most recent injuries of bursitis and tendinitis in my shoulder, I have taken on a very different mindset that I want to share. Injury is an opportunity for improvement.  This is not me sugar coating how much injuries can suck. Let me explain.

We assume injuries typically sideline people. Depending on what the injury is (and what restrictions your doctor has put you on), it does not mean that you cannot remain active while recovering.  It is very common when injured to immediately start rattling off all the things you can’t do. For me when I got my diagnosis, it was no more practicing to get my first butterfly pull up. No more muscle-up attempts. No more push-ups. No more push presses. I went through a few moments of being irritated (and that’s putting it mildly) that I had to break up with some of my favorites.

Like many injuries, mine are caused by over-use and bad mechanics. (A side note to anyone thinking CrossFit breaks you: CrossFit does not break you. Bad habits and over training break you).  There was no point blaming it on bad luck as that had nothing to do with it. It was my own doing and not listening to my body. I had been having symptoms in my shoulder and arm for months and months that progressively got worse as I didn’t let up on things that aggravated it.

Now that I am in Physical Therapy, I am learning how our bodies find ways to do movements (albeit incorrectly or not safely) to make up for something not correctly working.  I am sure my shoulder has not been working the way it should for years.  I need to now retrain my shoulder to be healthy. I have to consciously focus on in engaging my lats and scapula so that I can properly perform the movements I had to temporarily kiss good-bye.  Doing rehab for my shoulder is not easy physically but more poignantly it is mentally a tough pill to swallow that I can’t perform them at the capacity I used to. As I mentioned though, I was doing them incorrectly so getting injured was bound to happen. Now as I learn the right way to do things, I take solace in knowing it is an opportunity to improve. Sure, I will probably see major dips in what were my PR’s initially, but over time as I reintroduce movements into  my workouts, I will actually do them better and more efficiently.  I will reach higher potential with a good shoulder than I ever could have with a bad one.  While it’s now been 6 months of limited shoulder work, I am optimistic I will fix this for good.

That’s not all. There is another perspective to consider when thinking about my new mantra of being injured is actually an opportunity to improve. As mentioned earlier, when injured, there is a tendency to think of all the things you can’t do. Sure, this is helpful in terms of steering clear from them. Don’t stop there though. If you are going to list off the no’s, come up with the things you can still do. Give yourself new goals and find something else to improve in or get stronger. There are tons of ways to be creative in CrossFit where you will still get a maximal workout without compromising an injury. Can’t do shoulder work? Fine then, focus on squats. Fix your form and make certain every squat you do is absolutely gorgeous. Work towards a new back squat or front squat PR. Give your brain (and your body) a break from having an injured pity party and focus on the positives.

When you get stronger at one thing in CrossFit, it inevitably leads to being stronger in others.  There is no reason to assume or fall victim to all injuries by letting them slow you down.

Injured… Again

Injury has struck again. This time it isn’t my foot, it’s my shoulder. I have bursitis and tendinitis which is restricting a lot of movements for me right now. The rule of thumb I follow is I cannot do anything where my elbows are at shoulder height or higher. So things like pull ups, toes to bars, push ups, burpees, presses, jerks (to name a few) are on the No Fly list for now until it is healed.

Naturally I am bummed to be injured yet again. It is never easy to have to adjust my workouts (and mindset). A few of my 2015 goals are on hold which makes me a bit down and out. I literally dream about doing muscle ups and butterfly pull ups. The kicker is I do believe I have (“had” might be the better word right now) the strength to do them. It was form and technique I had wanted to practice to be able to do them. I definitely get jealous when I see people doing them or even practicing because I wish that would be me shouting to the universe that I got my first muscle up. But at atlas, I do not let myself go there very often.

I learned a lot from being injured before and so this time around, I am deliberately taking on a very different mindset. When I was dealing with plantar fasciitis I was pretty down about it. I would get frustrated if I did something that caused my foot to hurt. I would get frustrated even just thinking about the things I couldn’t do. I had a lot of meltdowns and pity parties while I worked through healing that injury. Mentally I was way more negative than I am right now. This time around, I choose to remind myself (more successfully than I did last go around) that these injuries are temporary. Not only are they temporary but they don’t require surgery. Resting it (and getting anti-inflammatory shots every 6 weeks) is all I need to do. It’s also my own fault I have them (overuse of my shoulder) so I can’t really blame this on  bad luck (like when I broke my foot running in flip flops through an airport. That was just stupid and bad luck). It’s my own drive to push myself that got me to where I am and it’s that same drive that will get me out.

I push away thoughts about what I am missing out on and chose to focus on new goals that are within my reach right now. My biggest goal right now is squatting. I am in the 7th week of the Hatch Squat Cycle, which for those who aren’t familiar with it, I can safely say it’s the most difficult and challenging squat cycle I have ever done. It is 2 days a week (typically I do them Mondays and Wednesdays) of 4-5 sets of Back Squats and then 4-5 sets of Front Squats. They tend to be at higher percentages of my 1 RM’s often at higher volumes. I am so spent from doing the back squat portions that when transitioning to Front squats, no matter how “light” they are, they still suck. I’m driven though to keep pushing through the pain because I am setting new goals for myself to make up for the ones I have to put aside. I want very badly to be able to back squat 200 lbs. (my current 1 RM is 184 so it is quite possible and realistic). I would love to also add another 15 or 20 lbs. to my front squat (currently I can front squat 160). And in the process of squatting my ass off literally, I hope by the 12th and last week of this cycle, my booty and legs will look fantabulous. New goals are helping me get through this injury.

A few other glaring differences that are making this injury more manageable are that 1) “misery” loves company and 2) customized programming.

Not that I want anyone else to be injured but I am not- so- secretly happy that I have a workout buddy who is also in the #noshoulderclub. My friend and fellow athlete, Amy, is also dealing with an injury in her shoulder with very similar restrictions as me. The days we are both in LA, we work out together. While we can’t be part of main class, it at least makes training feel not so lonely. (If I wanted to train solo, I for sure would not be at CrossFit). It also helps me stay on track and commiserate after a workout was done as to wow that was way harder to do than it looked on paper. It keeps me feeling like I am not in this journey alone. Not to mention Amy has one of the strongest and most humble workout ethics that I admire so it’s very encouraging and positive to be working out side by side with her.

Ok so onto #2 that I mentioned above. Sure, I could continue to go to main classes and have the coaches modify them for my shoulder. My concerns with this are 1) I can easily walk into a class with a workout that has all movements I cannot do so I would essentially be doing a customized workout anyways. Example: 21-15-9 HSPU, ring dips and push-ups. I would not be able to do any of those movements. 2) As talked about earlier, I have new goals now. I NEED goals to help me feel like I am working towards something and not just working out for the sake of working out. The best solution for this is to have someone program customized workouts for Amy and I. And who better for the job than Zoo? We hired her to program 5 days a week for us and so far, it’s been amazing and challenging. She has been super creative with finding movements and coming up with metcons that we would not necessarily encounter in CrossFit. It’s a mix of standard stuff with even some body building movements. Our workouts are obviously very leg heavy with a healthy mix of ab and core stuff as well. We do arm movements where we can so despite an injury, we still feel like we are using the muscles in our arms where we can without pain or discomfort.

Sure, I could make my focus to just not make my injury worse. That would be a logical, healthy objective. But if you know me, I thrive off of getting stronger. As I said, CrossFit and being active is more than just being active or maintaining for me. It’s about constantly getting stronger and better. I’ve posted about this before and I think this point is worth repeating. Having an injury does not mean you have to halt all progress or that you will get weaker. Ok yes I concede that I would be naive to think I am not losing some of my shoulder strength but I’m not losing all of it. (I flash back to being in a cast for 6 weeks where years of hard work were washed away from 6 weeks of total inactivity. I lost muscle everywhere, not just my leg. So I know it could be worse than my current situation). My legs and core are stronger than they ever have been. The volume of work I put them through I would not have been able to sustain 6 weeks ago. By my legs getting stronger and improving my squats, this will translate into so many other movements. When my shoulder injury is kicked, I know in my heart of hearts that I will see incredible improvement across the board.