Sunday, July 19, 2009

The summer of "broad, general, inclusive fitness"

To refresh your memories: when I first got back in the gym and started doing CrossFit, I felt like this. I don't feel like that anymore. I'm no longer scared, and I'm hooked.

Since May 25--my first workout day in DC--I've been tracking my workouts in Excel. Maybe a little creepy, sure, but also very revealing. The verdict: this stuff works.

The whole idea behind CrossFit is, basically, to keep your body guessing. The workouts are varied in every way: what you do, what order you do it in, at what weight, how many times, how fast. In the 55 days recorded in my spreadsheet, I've repeated the same workout exactly once. I've become comfortable with almost all of the olympic and power lifts (except these two, which I've never done). My gymnastics movements are progressing, though the pull-up still eludes me and I stick to girl-style push-ups when I have to do more than 10 at a time. I did my first double-unders. More importantly, I'm comfortable in the big boy part of the gym--the part where all the heavy things are and people grunt and there isn't a bicep curl machine in sight.

I have muscles! My legs and arms look different. Especially my calves--and perpetually small calves run in my family. I've managed to avoid hurting myself--which actually isn't hard when you practice good technique.

And the numbers just get better. That one workout I repeated? My performance improved by almost 50%! I can lift 110 lbs off the ground, I can lift 80 lbs to my shoulders and at least 70 lbs over my head. I can squat (and get up again) with 90 lbs on my back. Very soon these numbers will all be in triple digits.

You might be thinking to yourself, "who cares?" To you skeptics I say, number 1: it makes my life easier. I can lift carry-on suitcases into the bin over my head. I can walk home from the store with a gallon of milk and a gallon of juice at the same time. I can open bottles. I can run away from muggers faster. If you collapse on the floor, it's easier for me to drag your unconscious body to safety.

But above all, I actually like it. It's the only workout program I've been able to do for this long without getting bored. It keeps me interested and engaged. I like the lifts especially, and the technique involved in them, and how being efficient and using lots of muscles at the same time in particular ways can make you so much more powerful. It's really nice to see measurable improvement, to feel like the workouts are doing their jobs.

I've seen a difference not just physically, but also mentally. I push harder. I go faster. I do more. Not necessarily because I'm stronger--though I am--but because I have more confidence that, even though my mind is ready to quit, my body isn't. I can run each 400m faster than the last. I can push out another rep. I can do the workout of the day even though I'm sore from yesterday. And I hope, eventually, the mental difference I see in my workouts will translate past CrossFit to other parts of my life: I can read one more case even though I'm tired; I can write this paper today even though I feel blocked; I will pay attention in this class even though I'm bored.

People can get fit and stay fit using lots of things besides CrossFit. If you find something that works for you, that's great.* This works for me. I don't think I'll be competing in the 2010 games or anything, but I'm going to keep at it for now. And I promise, when I get that first pull-up, you'll be the first to know.

*Though please, for the love of God, don't bother putting in 45 minutes on the elliptical machine if you're going to read Us Weekly the whole time. If you can concentrate on Jon & Kate Plus 8, you're not exercising; honestly, you're probably not doing anything more strenuous than pooping.


Adam A. said...

Awesome. Motivational. And not creepy about the Excel thing. I went on a hardcore diet this spring and tracked my weight, my workouts, and my calories in a spreadsheet. With graphs. It was fantastic. Unfortunately, nearly all 10 pounds has found its way back to my belly and my butt, but it was fun while it lasted.

Emerson said...

I've been thinking about doing CrossFit for some time, and this post is probably the best endorsement of it I have seen. If I mention your name, do you get a commission for referrals?

saisai said...

Adam A.- That brings up a whole new set of issues for me... another post, maybe, another time.

Emerson- In case you're not kidding: I forgot to mention the best part about CrossFit. It's freeeeeeee! But of course you can pay me a finder's fee. I take cash, check, and Krispy Kreme Donuts.

For anyone thinking about starting CrossFit, let me just say: be patient. If you're new to lifts and whatnot, it takes a while to figure out what the frak is going on. The videos and stuff on the site are great. But if you're going to be working out without a trainer, go slow, don't even think of trying the workouts as prescribed (I still don't), and keep your body healthy.

Caroline and Kent said...

Good for you! I did my first (maybe 2nd) one last week, and I was sore for three days. :) Your words inspire! I thought running made me in shape, but this adds a whole other dimension.

roso said...

"more strenuous than pooping"


hello, caroline and kent.

also, saisai, you drinker of the koolaid, this post might be a little bit strange if i didn't know you and didn't like watching you deadlift things.

Anonymous said...

Hey Sai, it's been a while since I've checked in with you or even read your blog, but great to hear the CrossFit story. Really motivational.

After China, I got serious about my fitness, did the whole Excel keep-track-of-my-weight-and-workouts thing, joined an ultimate team, and in the past two months started doing Air Alert, which is both scary and fantastic. I've lost about 30 lbs. this past year, and I'm in better shape than I was in college.

Well, that was me bragging for a bit. Your post has made me think about doing CrossFit in the off-season.