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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

snatch.jpg

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

 

*To see the 2017 workouts, click here

 

 

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.

 

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