core anatomy front back

Core Work is Crucial

When I recently went to see a physical therapist about my severe posterior tibial tendonitis, she said something pretty shocking at the end of our appointment.

“You have a pretty weak core, so you’ll need to work on that.”

As stupid as it may sound, I was slightly offended.  I am well aware that I don’t have noteworthy abs (or just…you know…abs in general), but I do crunches! I do side bends! I can do a full toes-to-bar!  Doesn’t that mean I have a strong core?

Turns out, not really.  As the physical therapist went on to explain, any instability from a weak core would translate into poor form/alignment when I was running or working out in general.  Actually, it’s kind of fascinating, because it speaks to something I love, which is the idea of the body working as a whole rather than a sum of parts. Your core being weak means that it’s unstable…which will affect how your hips align and move…which will affect how your knees align and move…which will affect how your ankles and feet align and move…which will affect how your feet hit the pavement…which will affect the force and how it is distributed back up through your joints…you get the picture.  The bottom line is that poor running form and joints/tendons that are prone to injury are a bad combo.  (See Exhibit A: Yours Truly.)

I decided to start specifically training my core 3x per week.  It’s nothing crazy, usually taking no more than 15 minutes of my workout.  Since up until last week I had not been running at all, I can’t really say how much of a difference it’s made in my running form.  I definitely have not sprouted a 6-pack (or even a 2-pack), and I don’t expect that to see any significant ab definition from my new core training.  What I have seen a difference in is my overall core strength and my posture.  Whereas I thought I had a strong core before, now I realize that I was just good at the select exercises I was choosing to do.  In reality, my overall core strength is moderate at best…which is why I will keep this up even after my tendon is fully healed.

So you see, a strong core is actually really important.  But there are a couple things to remember about core work:

  • Your core is not another word for “abs.” Abdominal muscles are part of your core, but so are your glutes, your internal and external obliques, your thoracolumbar fascia, your abductors/tensor fascia lata, and so on.  Be sure to work the whole core!  Choose movements that require your entire core to work together. Not just your rectus abdominis, not just your obliques, not just your transverse abdominis…the whole core. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re making an effort to include abs, sides, glutes, hips, and lower back, you should be doing pretty well.
  • Incorporate isometric holds for the most functional core strength.  Spinal flexion movements – such as traditional sit ups and crunches – will target your core (primarily abdominal muscles), but isometric holds tend to target more of the muscles that make up your core.  More importantly, isometric movements (those in which you hold a static position) develop isometric strength, which is your core’s primary job – stability.  Planks are a great example of an isometric hold, as well as all their variations (planks with toe taps, spiderman planks, knee-to-nose planks, T-roll planks, planks with a kick-through, and so on)…you can make it even spicier by incorporating sliding discs (like Valslides) so that stability is even more of a challenge.  Hollow rock and L-seat holds are also favorites of mine, not to mention they’re much harder than they look.
  • Put that core training to work by focusing on engaging your core muscles throughout the rest of your workout, and even throughout the day.  Take note of various movements that require some effort from your core muscles, and see if you are engaging your core in those instances or compensating somehow (momentum, shifting your balance, relying on other muscles, etc.).  Try to let your core do its job…if you are like me, you might be surprised at how much you’re compensating for core weakness.

For those of you who may be looking to incorporate more core work into your training – or spice up the core training you’re already doing (what trendsetters) – I’ll be sharing one of my newest go-to core workouts tomorrow, so be sure to check back!

Discuss:

How often do you train your core?

Have you noticed a difference in your athletic performance (or just your posture) when your core strength is better?

What are some of your favorite moves for core work?  –> I love sliding pikes (see demo here) and roll outs with an Olympic bar.

Is Running Really All That Great?

Since I first started working out regularly, I’ve had a kind of love/hate relationship with running.  I’m not a natural at it by any means, I’m not fast, and I don’t have crazy-good endurance.  My sweet spot is plodding along for relatively short distances without too many hills.

man running beach sunset swim trunks

I will never look this good when I run.

And ever since I first started working out, I’ve been an off/on runner.  If I’m running – or trying to, at least – I’m doing it most days of the week.  If I’m not really running, I’m really not running.  (Even if there’s cake at the finish line, I’ll still just powerwalk.)  These phases have typically ebbed and flowed, often based on the condition of my feet/ankles/knees/hips.  These days, I’m trying to rehab my left posterior tibial tendon, so I’ve not been running at all for the past two months or so.  Just this past week, I decided to hop back in the game and see how this old bag of bones would hold up…my ankle has done passably well, although probably could use more rest and rehab.  Not surprisingly, I found that I’d lost quite a bit of my running fitness.  Very surprisingly, I found that I kind of missed running.  Not in the sense that I was craving a run or have any ambition of ever becoming a distance runner, but that I’d forgotten how truly satisfying it was to have a good (remember that “good” is an extremely relative term here) run.

To watch dawn dance its way into day and smell the freshness of the early-morning.

To find a rhythm and get lost in thought at the same time.

To be sweaty and tired and breathless and keep going anyway.

To finish and sit down and feel your legs start turning to lead but you don’t give a damn because you’re already done.

You know…to run.

sunrise run

Since I’ll spare you a photo of my attempts at running – you’re welcome, by the way – here’s a blurry photo from the 3.5 miles I did with my dad yesterday at sunrise.

 But in spite of my ever-tumultuous feelings about running over the past decade or so, one thing did not waver, and that the belief that running was good for you.  For as long as I could remember, running and health had been associated in my mind.  Runners were healthy people, and healthy people were runners…unless they were elderly folks power walking with ankle weights in their velour tracksuits.  But still, that was the geriatric version of running, was it not?  Eventually I started to do some research, and then the CrossFit trend exploded onto the scene, which meant there was a LOT more backlash against the whole “running = healthy” ideology.  So I kept researching, and started to wonder if I’d been chasing after the wrong thing.

Like any good nerd, though, I sought out both sides of the story.  And now, a few years/one bum ankle/two “crunchy” knees later, I’ve come to my conclusion, at least for now.  Running can be good for you.

Running can be good for you.

It’s not necessarily bad, nor is it necessarily good.  Like so many things in the world of health, the benefits seem to depend on the context rather than an across-the-board prescription. So for those of you who may nerds or non-runners like me, or anyone who just enjoys my blathering on, here are the basic (really, so basic.  Don’t be too disappointed, nerd-friends.) pros and cons of the age-old running game.   Of course, other folks have said it much better than I can, which is why I’ve linked to them rather than attempted to regurgitate the same information in my less-eloquent and/or more offensive words. You’re welcome?

So let’s get down to it…Is running really all that great?

PROS:

  • Cardiovascular health.  Your heart is a muscle, and it needs training, too.  Training your heart muscle means putting it to work with a greater stimulus than that to which it is accustomed.  In other words, you get your heart rate up.  There are plenty of ways to do this (both vertical and horizontal….), but running is pretty damn effective at it.
  • Increase your VO2 max (this is basically the highest threshold of aerobic work).  For athletes, this is crucial.  And again, you can improve your VO2 max in many ways, but running is particularly effective.
  • Endorphins.  Who doesn’t love a good legal high?  No, seriously.
  • Stress relief.  Again, endorphins are coming into play, but if you run outdoors, all the fresh air can be a serious stress-melter.
  • Sprints.  There are incredible benefits to interval training, which includes both sprints and speedwork.  Those benefits range from greater explosive power, greater overall strength, increased lean mass, increased VO2 max, and more.

CONS:

  • High impact.  Running is inherently high impact, and that’s problematic for people with joint problems.  Proper running form, compensatory exercises, modified volume (total miles run/week), and intensive recovery techniques can help with this to a degree, but nothing will change running to a low-impact sport (unless you’re pool-running, in which case, carry on…).
  • Increased cortisol levels.  To be fair, all exercise can increase cortisol levels (heyyyy, CrossFit)…it’s just that running can do so more sneakily.  It is much easier to tax your body but not notice it with running  than it is with most other sports.  Particularly for those who do “chronic cardio,” meaning they are running for close to an hour or more 5 or more days per week, cortisol level can be increased to deal with the chronic stress on the body.  Higher cortisol levels mean more inflammation in the body means more risk for CVD (which is ironic, because many people choose to run at least in part because they want their cardiovascular system to be healthier).
  • Difficulty maintaining/building lean mass.  High-volume running is counterproductive to hypertrophy, which means that if you are looking to put on a substantial amount of lean mass, then frequent running (in the conventional sense, not including sprints) is going to interfere with that goal.  If you want to be successful, you’ll need to modify your goals/expectations or modify your training.  Kind of like that saying, “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once.”

BOTTOM LINE:

Running can be great for you, but you have to choose a style and training schedule that suits your goals and your body.

If your goal is hypertrophy and you’re lifting regularly, sprints and some speedwork could be a great addition a couple times per week.

If you are an endurance athlete, then you probably want a mix of longer runs, tempos/speedowork, and some sprints, along with cross-training and strength training for injury prevention.

….And here’s where I turn it over to the experts.   These are all really fantastic articles, and if you don’t have time right now, I’d suggest bookmarking them for later.

“Running Doesn’t Suck” from T-Nation  –> great advice for constructing a sprint/speedwork plan, and a must-read for anyone who’s ever avoided running for fear of losing “all the gains”)

“The Evidence Continues to Mount Against Chronic Cardio”  from Mark’s Daily Apple –> really interesting take from a former endurance athlete turned sprinter/poster-boy for primal eating  (see also: “The Case Against Cardio”)

 “Sorry, But Science Says Running is Good for You, Not Bad” from a guest post on GoKaleo –> excellent reminder that movement is good, and movement you enjoy is even better…and that includes running.

“You Don’t Have to Run a Marathon” from Daily Garnish –> truly fantastic post that I have gone back to and reread more than once (and while I reread books all the time, I rarely reread a blog post)

Run Less, Run Faster by Bill Pierce –>  great book that I picked up recently so that I can get back into running this time by “training smarter, not harder”…also sharing it with my Dad, who’s been using it to train for his Army PFT later this year (he wants to beat his previous PFT 2 mile time of 14:07).

 

Now enough of me, let’s hear from yall…

Discuss:

Do you love running or hate it?

Do you ever do sprints or speedwork? What about long runs?

What’s your favorite form of cardio/conditioning?

horizontal running fat amy pitch perfect

No Excuses (And No Arms)

I talked yesterday about the power of your mindset and the importance of training your thought habits.  How fitting that the same day that posted, I stumbled across this amazing family…Watch the video and read the (very short) story accompanying it.

Now try and tell me all about how hard life is for you.  Yes, life is unfair, and even more so for some than for others. But it is what you make of it, so choose joy.  Choose to make things happen instead of making excuses.  Choose to work your hardest and focus on the good. Choose to fight even when you’re not sure it will work out.  Choose to count your blessings instead of your challenges.  Choose to be active, to eat well, to rest, to play, to fight, to laugh at yourself, and to live with abandon.  Choose to strive for excellence and still give yourself grace.

The mother and son in that video could ask, “Why me?” And guess what – so could I.  I could ask why I was blessed with a healthy body.  At the end of the day, the answers to the whys are less important, because what matters is what we do with the hand we’re dealt.  That mother and son would no doubt be the first to say that they are blessed, because they know that as long as you’re breathing, you’re blessed.  Arms or no arms, healthy or sick, rich or poor, pretty or plain, fancy or simple, athletic or clumsy, you are blessed.  So the next time you’re temped to complain about your body or your workouts or your life, call a timeout and take a hard look at yourself.  You’ve got a body and a heartbeat, and I’m guessing most of yall also have two legs and two arms.  That’s more than a lot of folks can say.  Don’t begrudge your blessings, don’t make excuses, and don’t pity yourself for your hardships.  Give thanks for what you’re given, make the most out of your resources, and choose to chase after the life you want.

Train Your Brain – The Power of a Healthy Mindset

Well, it seems Monday has crept up on us again.  Like leg day, it always comes around, and few people enjoy.  Indeed, today’s starting off as a stereotypical Monday over here…when I went to make sure this post was ready to publish, I discovered that WordPress had somehow eaten in in the 8 hours since I wrote and saved it.  Obviously, I was delighted.  I live to rewrite blog posts.

This was how I felt today going into work for the 6th day in a row (and back again tomorrow).

This was how I felt today going into work for the 6th day in a row (and back again tomorrow)…and then again when I discovered my post had been devoured by the WordPress monster.

It’s perfect, though, you see, because what I wanted to talk about today was the power of training your mind.  I don’t mean that in the Charles Xavier kind of way – although that would be fantastic – but in the sense of creating habits of thought, perspective, and attitude.  The thing about life, even though it is beautiful and filled with more blessings than we’ll ever fully recognize, is that it’s not always fun or fair or in our control.  And when we are reminded of that persistent fact – when deadlines are pushed up, jobs are lost, hearts are broken, toes are stubbed, bodies are sick, blogs are eaten, goals are missed, and Mondays are Mondays – we have the freedom to choose how to respond.  That response starts with our thoughts, and more often that I’d like, that’s the only part of a situation that’s entirely in our control.  But that’s just it – our thoughts are the one thing we are always able to influence.

All too many of us put too much of our focus on controlling our bodies, and not nearly enough on controlling our minds.  I certainly include myself in that group.  The sad part is that these bodies won’t last.  Looking good naked is fun, and trying to keep yourself healthy is part of properly stewarding the gift that is your physical body, but even more powerful than your physical fitness is your mental fortitude.  In many ways the two are interconnected, but not necessarily.  I, for one, am far better at eating well and training regularly than I am at maintaining a positive attitude avoiding catastrophizing situations.    While I’m grateful for my physical abilities and plan to keep training as long as I’m able, I know that my mental strength and endurance will outlast my physical fitness and have an even more profound impact on my life.

Just like with training your body, the key to success is to create habits. Often, those habits start small.  For many of us, the most crucial thing to practice is a shift in perspective.  Instead of seeing Monday as an obligation to drag our tired bodies into the office, we can see it as an opportunity to set new goals for the week, to mark new achievements, and to experience new and unexpected joys.  Rather than thinking of all the unpleasant things that might happen and dreading the discomfort that would follow, focus on what kind of positives you want to be able to look back on when Friday afternoon rolls around.  When that alarm clock goes off every morning, don’t see it as an interruption to your sleep – think of it as an invitation to embark on another day of adventure.  I’ll be the first to admit that this is not easy, especially if you are someone who is naturally more serious, cynical, or prone to anxiety (or all three…poster child for fun, right here).  But just like the effort required for physical training, it is worth it.   Habits are created by small practices repeated time and again, and habituating your thought patterns is no different.  What feels like a momentous effort at first eventually becomes second nature, and one day you’ll realize it’s a Monday morning…and you’re enjoying it.

People who prioritize physical training typically have those that they idolize in terms of fitness – Frank Zane, Kara Goucher, Michael Phelps, or whomever it may be – it’s important to find role models you can look to and emulate.  A few of my role models in that regard are Louis Zamperini (whose story is told in Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken), Corrie Ten Boom (The Hiding Place had an incredibly profound impact on my life), Winston Churchill, and the apostle Paul.  Find those people whose mental fortitude is worth aspiring to and study them.  Discern their habits and figure out how you can apply those same habits, or the principles behind them, into your own life.  If you’re interested in something to give you a little push as you get started, I find these two articles (both are quick reads) inspiring and practical:  “13 Things Mentally Strong People Avoid”  and “12 Quiet Rituals of Enormously Successful Humans.”

This week, I’m challenging all of us – myself included – to put as much effort into training our minds as we do our bodies.  See if you can find one mental habit or perspective shift that you can work on this week.  Start cultivating a new habit in terms of your perspective or your attitude, and notice what kind of difference you find.  You just may surprise yourself.  After all, when you’re able to tackle Mondays, there’s really no telling what else you can do.

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Thirsty Thursday: Summer Drinks Edition

Around Christmas last year, I shared a post on how to DIY some favorite seasonal coffee drinks.  I’ve been getting even more creative with the beverages I’m mixing up this summer (on top of the usual copious iced coffee and iced tea), but it only recently hit me that I should share those so that everyone can raise a glass of summery goodness.  Like with all my smoothie “recipes,” these are really more of suggestions.  Add or omit ingredients and change up ratios to suit your preferences and make it work with what you’ve got on hand.  So if you’re thirsty, here are some tasty options to enjoy while you cool off!

“Mochanut” Frozen Coffee

mochanut frozen coffee

It’s like a drinkable Almond Joy candy bar, but without the risk of diabetes.  In other words, it’s everything you need in your life.

  • Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee packet (if you don’t have that, instant coffee powder + your sweetener of choice would work, too!)
  • cocoa powder (about 1 tbs will make it pretty chocolate-y)
  • crushed ice
  • almond milk
  • coconut milk (to taste…I used about 1/4 cup) or coconut extract (if you don’t have coconut milk)

Throw all that goodness in a high powered blender (I used my beloved Ninja with the personal cup attachment) and give it a spin.  Stick a straw in there, drink up, and pretend you’re on a tropical beach with a sexy bronzed cabana boy fanning you.

Jalapeno Iced Tea

jalapeno sweet iced tea (3)

This one sounds weird, I know, but I saw it on the menu at a local coffeehouse and gave it a shot.  To my amazement, it was actually really really good.  So good that I had to recreate it at home!  It’s not terribly spicy (although you can turn up the heat if you want!), and it’s not overly sweet…it just hits that sweet spot of being perfectly refreshing with a little “wake up” kick!

  • strong iced tea
  • jalapeno slices (fresh is ideal, just be sure to remove the seeds, but canned works if you drain it well)
  • sugar, stevia, or other sweetener (to taste)
  • lime juice (about 1 tsp per 16oz glass of tea)
  • lots of ice

Mix your tea with your sweetener of choice and the lime juice, then pop in a few jalapeno slices and stir things up.  Take a taste and be amazed.  Heads up, though – the jalapeno flavor will be stronger the longer it sits, so I like to make this ahead of time.  If you don’t want that much heat, wait until just before serving to add the jalapeno.

Coconut Iced Chai 

coconut iced chai

You could also make this a hot drink for the fall/winter (steam the milk and omit the ice), but something about the coconut + icy cold drink + summer heat makes it feel so right.

  • chai mix (powdered or liquid is fine, I usually use Tazo or Oregon brand)
  • coconut milk
  • almond milk (coconut milk can be really thick and a bit overpowering to drink straight, so I like to thin it out)
  • ice

Pour, shake, slurp.  Easy as that.  You could also blend this one to make it more of a milkshake-type deal.  That would definitely be a good idea.  Yes, do that.

 

Matcha Green Tea Iced “Latte”

coconut matcha green tea latte (3)

Matcha is incredibly good for you, as it’s chock full of polyphenols and antioxidants (long story short, those suckers keep you healthy and looking good).  Again, you could make this drink hot, but I prefer it cold.

  • matcha powder (you can find good deals online, like HERE)
  • sweetener to taste
  • almond milk, coconut milk, or a combo
  • vanilla extract
  • ice

Add everything to a jar/cup with a lid (I may or may not use my Blender Bottle for this…), shake it like you’re going for gold in the ShakeWeight Olympics, and get your drank on.

Mango Matcha Icee

matcha mango iceeSimilar to the “latte” above, but blended and fruity and more fun.

  • matcha powder
  • frozen mango chunks
  • sweetener to taste
  • almond milk, coconut milk, or a combo
  • ice (you won’t need a whole lot if you’re using plenty of frozen mango)

Grab your blender, get to blendin’, and then get to drinkin’.  This is seriously delicious, and I went through a phase where I made it 5 times in a week.  It was a wonderful season of my life.

 

There you have it…If  When you try these, be sure to share on instagram or twitter with the hashtag #summerslurpin…It will be like a virtual day-drinking (coffee and tea) party!

Cheers to summer! 

Discuss:

What’s your favorite summer drink?

Which is better – iced coffee or iced tea?

Monkeying Around: Trying Aerial Silks

Lately I’ve been working on getting out of my comfort zone more often.  It started with reluctantly taking a self defense class that sparked my love for fighting…well, really, when you think about it, it started way back when I put on a bikini for the first time in years and hopped in the pool, and then when I began practicing yoga regularly…but either way, I was back at it this past Monday when I took an aerial silks class with my friend Tricia.  I’ve never taken any kind of alternative fitness class, but Tricia is a studmuffin who can do silks, lyra (she recently did a beautiful performance – check out the photos HERE!), and pole, and is now preparing for a physique competition.  When she said I would love doing aerial silks, I decided to take her word for it and hauled my butt into a pair of leggings (who am I kidding, no one has to ask me twice to put on yoga pants) and then over to Alternative Fitness Studio in Roseville.  There were only two other students in class besides Trica and me, which was great because it meant we got more time on the silks, and it made for a more relaxed environment.  I wish I’d thought to take a couple photos of the studio itself, because it was beautiful – plenty of poles and silks to climb, a full wall of mirrors, and so much space to play!

silks class with Tricia 18 August 2014 (4)

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect going into class, but I was still surprised by a number of things.  For starters, silks is harder than I had expected.  I was actually starting to sweat at the end of the 60 minute class! I’m relatively strong and can do pull ups, so I didn’t think climbing the silks would be difficult.  Turns out I was right, and climbing wasn’t the hard part – it was holding on that was the difficult part, and my forearms and hands were on fire after a couple of climbs!  Of course, that may be partly due to a lack of technical finesse on my part, but my grip was shot and by the end of the night I pretty much just crumpled in a tangle of hand cramps and tangled silks.  I was, however, pleasantly surprised that my bad ankle felt great. On the other hand, my right foot (which I had used as my dominant foot during the class) felt really weird. I actually had to drive really carefully on the way home because it kept giving out when I tried to put more than a certain amount of pressure on the pedal.  Today it’s still felt off and the side of my right calf is pretty sore from knee to ankle, so I’m thinking I may have just pulled it slightly.   And obliques…oh, my obliques! I woke up today slightly sore in the midsection, and it wasn’t until this evening, when my sides were definitely sore that I realized it was from class on Monday.  Lifting your legs as you climb is apparently a great core workout – seems obvious, but I didn’t even think about that in class.  (I was a little more focused on not falling to my death, you know?)

silks class with Tricia 18 August 2014 (3)

 

Overall, I really enjoyed silks.  It was exciting to climb around, and hanging out upside down was even more fun than I had hoped.  It was exciting to see how much you could do once you mastered the basics of a footlock, and flopping around up in the air felt surprisingly graceful.  Of course, it may have felt graceful, but only Tricia looked graceful and elegant while in the air (I looked like a cheeseball).

While I definitely did not feel like any of it came naturally to me the way fighting seemed to, it was exciting to try something new and challenge myself.  It ended up being a good workout – now I understand why the instructor started off by saying that silks was the hardest of all the classes offered! – and I can see how you would build up quite a bit of strength from doing silks regularly.  If you’ve ever wanted to try an alternative fitness modality, I would highly recommend you give it a shot! (Local friends, you can check out Alternative Fitness Studio for $15 a class, or sign up for the $30-for-40-days deal they offer for newcomers.) I’m itching to try a pole class next…after all, after falling in love with calisthenics, mastering the iron-X has officially been added to my fitness bucket list.  Thanks again to Tricia for convincing me to give it a shot and showing me the ropes silks!

Discuss:

Have you ever tried any kind of alternative fitness? How did you like it?

What kind of class/competition/fitness-related-anything are you dying to try?

Can you do an iron -X? (And if you can, can you teach me???)

Stephanie’s Success Story: CrossFit and Consistency

Everyone has their own particular goals when it comes to health, and they face unique challenges on the road to achieving it.  Let’s face it – building those habits that produce a healthy life is not necessarily easy, especially at first.  One of the things I’d like to start doing here is celebrating each other’s victories in that regard by sharing success stories.  It’s important to recognize your accomplishments, and it’s great to also help others to recognize and celebrate their accomplishments.  You never know who you might inspire or encourage with your journey.  So in keeping with that spirit of celebrating each other, I’d like to share a little bit of my friend Stephanie’s story.

Steph is a CrossFitter.  She’s been doing CrossFit for nearly 2 years, and she loves it.  To someone who has never done CrossFit, that’s impressive.  (Those workouts are as intimidating as Rich Froning is beautiful.)  I asked Stephanie to tell us a little more about her journey with CrossFit, what she’s learned and how she’s changed over that time.  Reading what she had to say, I was impressed, inspired, and even tempted to go visit a box and check it out for myself.  Whether you’re a CrossFitter or not, I’m guessing you’ll feel the same way…

Stephanie CrossFit journey - handstand

1. What inspired you to make a bigger commitment to fitness, and to do Crossfit in particular?

Well I originally started to kick myself into gear with the full intention of joining the Navy. I needed to get my butt in gear if I even had a prayer of making it through basic training. So I needed someone or something to help get me there because I definitely could not navigate my way around a gym on my own. So I’d been looking into classes at the campus gym and stuff like that (which I would honestly probably have done for a solid week and then quit). But one day at the beginning of my senior year I stumbled onto a crossfit  YouTube video, and said that I was going to try it. School and work being what they were, it took me 6 months to actually try it and once I did I was hooked.  I had people invested in helping me get stronger and who made sure my technique was right and I had a huge community of people who liked to sweat it out just as much. My aunt and uncle generously paid for a full year at the box and that’s when I knew that I had no excuse not to go. So I made the commitment to go 3 days a week. That turned into 4-5 pretty quickly and that routine has stuck with me now for almost 2 years. (It’ll be 2 in December.)

2.  What was the biggest or most unexpected challenge in starting and sticking with CrossFit?

Getting out of your own way. You have to check your pride and ego at the door and be willing to learn and get better. When I started, I was nowhere near lifting anything close to heavy, and certainly was not doing the workouts the way they were prescribed. Most of the time I was just using the bar, but I was still working hard and making progress at my own capacity at the time.

Take my Snatch for example. (That’s the lift you see people going from ground straight to overhead with their arms in a wider grip) I couldn’t even get my brain to process that movement with a pvc pipe in my hands let alone do it with weight. My mobility in my hips was awful and I had to practice squatting pretty much every day. ESPECIALLY overhead squatting. It took me 3 months of skill practice to finally put weight on the bar and the most I could do was 55#. Then 5 months after that, I was able to stand up with 80# and I was ECSTATIC.

Everything is like that. Everything has taken time and practice and coaching for me. So after consistently practicing and working at it, I have made significant leaps in strength capabilities and I have a much wider skill set than I started with. We hear it all the time “there is no substitute to hard work.” So if you put in the work, the progress will come.

3.  What has been the most rewarding part of this journey besides the physical changes?

The strength!! The physical stuff is kinda whatever. To be honest the scale hasn’t moved for me in 2 years. I have remained at a constant consistent weight for 2 years. Which I guess is kinda cool in and of itself, but the cool part is that I can see and feel myself getting stronger.  Pretty much all of my lifts (with 2 glaring exceptions) are over 100# right now and I’m closing in on the 200s for squat and deadlifts.  But that has been incremental progress along the way.

Stephanie CrossFit journey - 2 years (2)

March 2013 — August 2013 — August 2014 [those guns!!]

4.  How has your body image/self-perception changed over the course of doing CrossFit?

I used to think that skinny was a goal. That skinny was this magical place that I had to be in order to feel adequate. And I’ll be straight up. There are still days I feel like that, and clothes shopping is still a disappointing and difficult experience (mostly because my arms and legs don’t fit in anything that isn’t athletic gear these days). That hasn’t changed, but I’m starting to realize that strong feels so much better. I feel more confident, energetic, and excited. I feel more capable of handling crazy things like rock climbing or stand up paddle boarding. While you may not see me shirtless in the gym anytime soon, I’m happy being stronger and I know that the rest will fall into place.

5.  What are your fitness/CrossFit related goals going forward?

I set some killer goals for myself this year.

1. Get a pullup. (OF ANY KIND) And I did :). Kipping for now. And I am not at the point where I can successfully string them together, but they’re there.

2. JOIN THE 200 CLUB. (Get 200# on my back squat. I’m currently sitting at 160, so that may not be realistic in 4 months, but I will be there soon) I WANT TO BE IN THE 200 CLUB SO BAD.

3. Rx one girl. OK this one will take some explaining. The “girls” are our benchmarks. They are killer workouts that serve as a metric by which you can measure your progress. They NEVER get easier. Take Fran, Fran is 21-15-9 Thrusters at 65# (for women) and Pullups. For time. My Fran time is sitting right around 9 minutes (because of my sad pullups). But doing it at the weight of 65# and completing the pull ups would be considered Rx. Normally I would be scaling the weight back or using a band for pullups.  BUT happy to say that I have completed this goal this year and right now have Rx times on more than one, which is pretty cool.

6.  Any recommendations for someone who is considering getting into CrossFit?

Just stick it out for a little while. When you start it is hard. It’s hard physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I know it’s not for everyone. But if you are willing to work at it, and be the person that isn’t that strong YET or isn’t that coordinated YET, then it will come. One of the coolest parts to see is just how far you’ve come. But starting is the hardest part. So you have to be willing to sweat for it.

Thanks again for sharing, Steph!  You’re a rockstar…maybe someday I’ll work up the courage to visit your box and give CrossFit a shot.  Keep on smashing those workouts, and be sure to let us know when you hit the 200 Club so we can celebrate with you!

Discuss:

Do you do CrossFit?  What’s the experience been like for you?

Do you have a fitness victory you’d like shared on the blog?  Shoot me an email if you’d like to be featured or to nominate someone else!