Working Out: Take the Good, Take the Bad

We tend to be our own worst critics. I know I am far too hard on myself far too often, whether it be at work, at the box or various other settings. This past Friday’s workout for me was no exception. My attempt at the prescribed strength portion was a total disaster (in my brain) and went far from how I envisioned. To give you context, it was an EMOM 10 (Every Minute on the Minute) where the odd minutes were 10 deadlifts (each round going up in weight till you had a challenging weight) and the even minutes were to be 10 chest-to-bar pull-ups. Let’s just say after round 3 of deadlifts, in which I could complete only 5 in that round, I had to go down in weight the last two rounds, might I add at which I was barely successful. As for the pull-up portion, it was like one of those bad dreams where you are so paralyzed, you cannot move. I spent a lot of time just hanging from the bar with virtually no range of motion or strength to actually swing. My plan was to do about 4-5 reps of chest-to-bar and then finish each round with regular kipping or butterfly pull-ups. Needless to say that plan went to shit in the 2nd round. I could barely even do kipping pull-ups, let alone butterfly or chest-to-bar!  I found stringing a mere 2 together was near impossible, which is not typical for me.

By the time I got to the METCON itself, I felt totally defeated and would have like to have snuck out unnoticed (which is not possible when you are just 1 of 2 people in class). Anyways, I managed to motivate to do it with my only goal of just being happy to move.

It was anything but an inspiring experience for me. As someone who works out most mornings, typically, my accomplishments at the box can really set the tone for the day. For the most part, my mornings go well and it keeps me in a positive space for the rest of the day. Of course, when I have bad workouts, just like I did last Friday, I was a total moody crank all day. I had to really to put my head back on straight that day, give myself a kick in the ass and put it into a different perspective other than my feeling like a total weak failure.  Once I did that, I reminded myself of a few really important things.

  1. I will not be on top of my game for every single workout. And that is ok. Having an off day where I cannot lift as heavy as I did even the week before or where I cannot string more than 2 pull-ups together does not measure my strength or capability. It is one day out of many.
  1. Working out is a process. One day’s workout is almost like a continuation from the days before. If you have a day where you go really hard and defy what seems possible to you, it is normal to function at a lower (albeit less inspiring) level the next day. For me (and probably many of you) I just cannot be a bad ass every day.
  1. There are ENDLESS factors that will negatively affect a workout. Here are the ones I encountered in Friday’s debacle of a workout.Germs! If you are starting to get sick (which if you are do yourself and everyone else a favor and STAY HOME!) or at the tail end of being sick, your body is expending a lot of energy fighting off those little jerks. Naturally you will have less energy to invest into working out. I had been sick the week before (well up until Monday), and I may have done too much too soon.Diet. When you think about why Paleo and other similar diets are appealing and have become so popular is because they teach us the right things to put in our bodies. They show us how we feel based on what we eat and drink (well really what we don’t drink).  The point being that what we put into our body can either fuel us or deplete us. For me, as I typically work out at 6 am, my dinner the night before powers me for what I will be doing the next morning. Before last Friday’s humbling workout, my dinner consisted of a salad and a vegan protein bar (I was too lazy to actually cook something that would have been more substantial). That was another strike against me.For us ladies, PMS. OMG TMI! Get over it, boys. This really is a thing. Every woman is different but I know I have experienced having far less energy a certain time of the month as have many other women I know. (Ladies, back me up here!) Even if I get the same amount of sleep or recovery, sometimes it will just not win when PMS is involved.

    Why am I including this is my short list of factors you ask? Because it makes the point that sometimes the logic for a subpar workout is not always entirely obvious. It also reiterates that our bodies are crazy complex things, and sometimes they may be off balance so to speak. (And if you want more scientific explanations, click http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/4-ways-your-mentrual-cycle-affects-your-workouts.html).

    Age. It’s a hard cold fact. I require more recovery and maintenance on my body (which is why I permanently have a foam roller and yoga mat sprawled out on my living room floor. It’s part of the décor really. It is also how I justify the increasing frequency in which I get massages). I feel like a car sometimes, like how many more miles do I have left in me to keep functioning at this level? Ok, sorry I digress. That could be a whole other post in itself.

4.   The most important and all-encompassing reminder though is this: I need to be far less hard on myself. I felt like my body betrayed me, despite that I understood why. My nature in general is that I fixate and torture myself over negative things I do or do not do far more than I celebrate or pride myself in all great things I do accomplish. Two days prior, I had a workout that was one of the hardest I ever did. I  felt like I was about 3 reps away from dying, which also means I I felt extremely gratified. I felt even more gratified considering the same workout had been programmed a year ago, which I had to severely scale as it was about 3 weeks after  knee surgery . So if I am going to be fair to myself, I should celebrate my success just as much as I obsessively analyzed Friday’s.  In that spirit, let me share with you what I did on January 5th 2016:

100 Step Ups (which were onto 1 or 2 plates at most)
30 Hang Cleans (no squats) at 65#
20 GHD sit ups
6 Rope Climbs
20 Alternating Hang Snatch with 20# dumbbell
30 ‘Push’ Press at 55# (by press, this would have been more of a slight dip)
100 Step Ups

Below is what I accomplished this past Wednesday, January 11th 2017:

100 Double Unders
30 Squat Cleans at 105#
20 GHD sit ups
6 Rope Climbs
20 Alternating Dumbbell Snatch at 40#
30 Thrusters at 95#
100 Double Un­­ders

To keep things in perspective,  I have every right to be damn proud of what I accomplished a week ago. I mean hello, I should be happy I can even do that many squats at that weight considering a year ago I could not squat at all.  I should focus on the gains. Thrusting 95 pounds a year ago (or really ever) would have been unheard of. I should be cheering as loudly about that instead of boo-hoo’ing over my failed deadlifts and pathetic pull-ups. Really, I need to celebrate the positives and let the negatives go. I need to reset and not be so hard on myself.

I fear I have gone off track a bit with the post (but at last this is insight into how my crazy obsessive brain works).  What I am trying to say is this. Take the bad days with the good ones. Sure, it’s totally ok, advisable even, to put some thought to understand what went wrong (there are always take aways that keep us improving), but do not let them define you. Keep moving on and remember, every time you step foot into the box (or yoga studio or boxing class or whatever your drug of choice is), you are winning regardless if it is not your best performance.

 

Time to Get Schooled On Common CrossFit Cheats

I recently came across a quote: “Cheating on your girlfriend is like cheating on your workout. Neither is acceptable” (CrossFit London ON).  Cheating happens more than we may like to admit, and it undermines and defies what CrossFit is about. Having said that, there are those who cheat deliberately, whether it’s miscounting reps or shorting movements. And there are those who cheat unintentionally. It might be due to not knowing what the movement standards are. It might be because someone is limited by injury or mobility (in which case, it is more of a scale than a cheat). It also can be because an athlete goes heavier than their abilities or needs to scale down to their level (which there should be no shame to do. It is better to scale and look solid than go too hard and look like a tool).

Whatever the reason is that someone cheats movements, this is the perfect time to get a little schooled on movement standards as the CrossFit Open is right around the corner. Let’s all understand what an honest rep is on a few different movements so we can all follow suit and help those around us who may need some extra guidance or assistance.

*Note: Cheating reps in many cases also indicates bad form which can lead to injury. I implore everyone to keep that in mind as above anything else, this is the most dangerous aspect to doing movements incorrectly or illegally.

**Note: This blog also by no means is intended to be an all encompassing technical reference nor am I claiming to be an expert in this domain. Any of the movements in the list below could be its own post, which in fact there are plenty out there if you google. I am including some references I found if you want to click to get much more information and perspective (and supporting expertise).

  1. Squatting to full depth. This means below parallel, ass to grass as we often say. This applies to ALL SQUATS: front squats, back squats and overhead squats. Also, full cleans and full snatches as they end with (front) squats. Thrusters have front squats too as do wall balls (more on this movement in #2). Do not forget the basic air squat (which are frequently shorted too). Squats may be done with just body weight, barbells, dummbells, kettlebells, med balls, etc. The point being, get full depth on any squat to have an honest rep. squat.jpg

    If you are not sure if you are squatting to full depth, firstly, do not assume you are. That just fosters bad habits. Secondly, ask someone, preferably a coach, so that they can help assist you in getting the right form to ensure you get full depth. Also, if a coach does tell you that you are not getting full depth, lose the ego and fix it, even if that means that you have to go lighter in weight.

    I found these 2 posts to have candid commentary as well as tips on how to squat correctly (and honestly).

http://crossfitoneworld.typepad.com/crossfit_one_world/2012/05/when-a-squat-is-not-a-squat.html

http://www.tabatatimes.com/why-deep-squats-are-good-for-you/3/

  1. Wall Balls (my favorite!) Firstly, I am kidding. I hate wall balls. Secondly, as they are not a short person movement, I have in my day cheated them in every way possible at some point along my journey of trying to hate them less (therefore, I can claim to be an expert in how not to do them). I fully understand how difficult they are but that does not mean it is ok to cheat them.

    Alright, so with that out of the way, remember as mentioned in #1 above, wall balls are 50% squats. SO GET LOW! A rep does not count if you do not complete a full squat. Similarly, when you throw the ball up, it must hit whatever the target required is. So if that means it has to be 10 feet, make sure you get it to 10 feet. Also, the ball has to make contact with the wall or target. If it’s all air, it’s all wrong. No rep.wall ball.jpg

 

  1. Push-Ups: the all American movement. They are difficult movements that require a lot of strength, and that is why they get so much respect. They are one of the most commonly cheated movements though, and I just find that to be rather unpatriotic.  There are too many ways to cheat a push-up so please read here for a post I wrote two years ago that gives many more details as to how to ensure you do an honest push-up.

 

  1. Burpees. We love to hate them. ­You know without a doubt they will be in The Open. One of the most common ways I have seen them cheated is by not either clapping overhead or touching a target (and yes, even burpees have variations. Often, you have to touch a 6 inch overhead target with both hands). There is a tendency when trying to quickly and ferociously crank them out to not get full height on them, so to speak. Same deal on the descend. Burpees can be cheated by hips and chest not making contact with the ground.

    On http://girlsgonerx.com/standards/, the standards are well outlined:

    Burpees Over Barbell
    The athlete must be parallel to the barbell at the bottom position, with the athlete’s chest and hips touching the ground. The athlete must come to her feet and must jump over the barbell with two feet to the other side where the athlete will start the next rep. You must jump over the barbell from both feet and land on both feet. One-footed jumping or stepping over is not permitted. Do not need to fully extend hips during jump.

    Burpees
    The athlete’s chest must make contact with the ground before the athlete can jump back up to the starting position. Athlete must jump and touch hands over head at top of burpee, reaching full extension of hips. Feet need to visibly leave the ground at the time of full hip extension during the jump.

    Bar-facing burpee
    Each burpee must be performed perpendicular to and facing the barbell. Your head cannot be over the barbell. The chest and thighs touch the ground at the bottom.
    You must jump over the barbell from both feet and land on both feet. One-footed jumping or stepping over is not permitted. The next rep will then begin on the opposite side facing the barbell.

  1. Gymnasty stuff on the bars. I am lumping a few movements together in this last point as they all have a common cheating trend: not making full contact or clearing the bar as prescribed.

    When it comes to pull-ups, often athletes can use whatever grip they fancy as long as their chin goes over the bar and that they fully extend their arms in between reps.  Chest to bar pull-ups require your chest to actually make contact with the bar. No contact, no rep.pull up.jpg

    Toes-to-bar. Your toes have to make contact with the bar at the same time. This is what I see as the most common way of cheating. If you don’t know for sure if your toes touch, most likely they didn’t. If you can’t get your toes to the bar, well then they are more like knees to chest. Girls Gone Rx explains the standards well:

    The athlete must go from a full hang to having the toes touch the pull-up bar. Both feet must touch the bar together at some point. The arms and hips must be fully extended at the bottom and the feet must be brought back to behind the bar, not out front.

I am calling all these out so everyone can be aware of encouraging and promoting  good honest reps. Often we do not even realize we aren’t doing honest reps so let’s just put it all out there. Let’s all agree to withhold the standard in which this crazy thing called CrossFit has fostered.  Let’s all hold each other accountable and help one another to learn how to do full honest reps. (And yes, I am deliberately repeating the word honest not because I have run out of synonyms but rather as I want to instill that CrossFit is about being honest as much as it is about being strong and fast). When we do honest reps, we are better CrossFitters. Let us all strive to not cheat or short movements. We will all be better for it.

 

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.