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Sunday
Jun102012

When It's Good To Be The Worst

Most of us enjoy being comfortable. I'd venture to say an equal amount of us enjoy being "the best", or at-least good at certain things.  A great question to ask however when comfortable or one of the best is,  "am I actually improving myself?"

Unless you are a freak of nature (in which case, my blog really won't teach you anything), improvement does not happen in stages or environments where one is comfortable or even proficient. 

Improvement occurs along the path of discomfort. 

People cannot be afraid of putting themselves in environments where they may mess up, or "fail".   Not to continue making everything about Crossfit...but this next anecdote involves Crossfit (sorry Crossfit Haters).

This past weekend I entered my first-ever Crossfit event.  The Crossfit for Hope event is a charity fundraiser to benefit St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital. Participants (and their affiliate gym) raise donation funds for the right to participate.  As I've covered previously, these environments can be very intimidating upon first walking in. Thankfully I'm a part of a tremendous gym that has a great team-oriented mentality.  We had more than a dozen members there, cheering each other on during our respective heats. Shot of me trying to recover before the final round, thanks to encouragement from Brendan, one of the teammates at my CrossFit gym.

Having only been doing CrossFit for close to six weeks, I am reminded daily that I have a LONG way to go  before I can hang with the "big dogs". Fairly consistently I am in the bottom 25% of the group when it comes to WOD times or rounds achieved. During the Hope WOD this past weekend I only improved my score by two points (from 191 to 193) and definitely ran out of gas during the 2nd round of 3. 

 I am not a person who enjoys being "bad" at anything (especially competitive sports), so you can imagine what a beating Crossfit gives my ego on almost a daily basis. There's actually a bit of embarrassment that comes with being one of the final people to finish a tough WOD while the fitter members cheer you on and encourage your effort (only because I'd rather be the fit one encouraging everybody else).

So you might ask, why do you even put yourself through this stuff?

Why even do Crossfit if you're so bad at it?

If you ask that question, then you're respectfully missing the whole point. It's BECAUSE I'm bad at Crossfit that I keep coming back for more. I love the fact that it shows me where my athletic deficiencies are. I love the fact that on a daily basis I find something else that needs lots of hard work and improvement.

I'm not the only one.  On a Sunday "Open Gym" session we have several girls who have struggled with their Olympic lifts, showing up to throw barbells around with the guys. They're not afraid to tackle their weak points. They're not intimidated by barbells and bumper plates, they attack them head on, even during a "free" day when they could easily have been on the couch or out at the lake. They chose to come in do work with the guys, and fight the fight to better themselves.

The point is this - don't be afraid to dive into the disciplines that normally scare you away. The road to improvement will have bumps along the way.

There will be setbacks.

You will have days when you want to hide your face in embarrassment, or crawl into a hole, or burst into tears.

If that's what you need to do in-order to overcome whatever emotions surface as you struggle with being one of the "worst", don't be ashamed.

Just keep coming back for more next time.

You climb a mountain one step at a time, and you improve yourself one workout at a time, one exercise at a time.

Don't be afraid of being one of the worst, embrace it. It will be that much more satisfying when you look back after a while and are amazed at how far you've come.

Sunday
Jun102012

Fitness Spotlight - Dana Sorensen

Recently I traveled out to San Diego for business, and had the chance to catch up with a grad school friend -  Dana Sorensen. 

Dana always was a workout fanatic (I can call her this because it's something we have in-common) and it was great to see what she's been up to.  We hadn't caught up in-person in six years, but I caught some recent photos of her on Facebook and was blown away.

Dana was always an extremely fit person - but she has recently put her workouts in overdrive and looks fantastic.  For the rest of us who have miles to go to improve our bodies, I asked Dana to take a minute and help spell out some of the tactics that have helped her get into such amazing shape.

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What’s your athletic background?

   I am a former softball player. I pitched at the Division I level for Stanford University.

I was lucky enough to have a successful college career which enabled me to compete for the women's national team. Following college I spent the next 6 years playing professional softball.

 
 

What is your coaching background?

I spent 5 years coaching Division I softball at UC-Davis and Oregon State. I was a volunteer for UNC while attending grad school there. Now I currently coach younger kids as a personal fastpitch pitching coach.

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

I start my weekdays with my morning workout, which goes from about 9 - 11:30. we do a variety of exercises from TRX, kettlebells, pull ups, push ups, box jumps, battling ropes, prowler and much more. after my workout I usually have a couple hours off before I go to work. I teach kids from about 4 -8   every afternoon / evening. Sometimes if I am feeling up to it I will hit up the gym again before work for a quick bike or treadmill sprint workout. I have about 50 clients so my work schedule keeps me busy and on my feet a lot! 

 Credit: Talitha Noel Photography
 

What is your diet like most days?

I wake up and take my multi vitamin pills, followed by a protein shake with almond milk and usually a rice cake with almond butter. After breakfast I take my amino acid pills, with my Spark energy drink from Advocare. Post workout I have another protein shake. Lunch is usually eggs, cottage cheese, fruit and some almonds and sesame seeds. During work I take down a 3rd protein shake, or protein snack bar. Dinner is typically fish, veggies or a broth based soup of some sort, and of course after dinner is my chocolate treat of dark chocolate!

 

Credit: Talitha Noel PhotographyWhat are the significant changes you made in your diet that have given you such great results?

I think its the combination of less carbs later in the day, lots and lots of water, increase in protein, and supplements that have all combined to help me lose about 7% body fat over 2 months. 

 

Any workout or health supplements that have been a great benefit as well?


I use Advocare products and I think they have really helped me shed those last stubborn pounds and helped me put on a significant amount of muscle.  I have also become really addicted to HIIT training, especially anything involving Burpees or a Tabata of any kind. I love the TRX suspension straps for my ab work, never thought I would have defined abs.

 

 

Do you ever count your calories or monitor carbs?


I don't count my calories, but I do avoid high calorie items. my diet is protein heavy and nutrient heavy so I don't worry to much about calories. I have been a fairly healthy eater for years, now I just do a better job of limiting my cards and keeping my protein intake up to the level that my lean body mass needs. I am a Pescovatarian so red meat and poultry are off the table for me. that helps keep my calorie consumption lower.

 


What’s the one cheat/reward food you can’t live without?Credit: Talitha Noel Photography

 Sweets! Chocolate hands down! Me and my whole family are "chocoholics", and I refuse to let go of  enjoying that, ha ha.


 

Any role models or heroes in the fitness industry?

Jillian Michaels has been a big one for me, her intensity and commitment to being healthy and strong has really inspired me.  Other than her I guess I am lucky enough to have some friends that I look up to and aspire to be as disciplined as.

 

What’s your favorite exercise/activity?  What’s your least favorite?

I love but also equally hate Burpees, I think they are the single greatest exercise you can do. I have become obsessed with push ups and pull ups, I think moving your body weight is so crucial in training.  I don' t think I could live without my TRX or kettlebells. They both give you so many different training options.

 

Credit: Talitha Noel PhotographyWhat's your favorite workout apparel brand?

Hands down I am a Nike girl! I have played for and coached teams sponsored by Nike so I have plenty of Nike clothes and really like their dri-FIT line.

I wear Lunar Glides for training, but do use New Balance Minimus for kettlebell work.

 
 

 

 

 

If you could send a message to women out there about eating right, being afraid of weight training, taking more classes etc. what would it be?

My advice is to let go of the insecurities and get in there with the boys and throw some weight around. resistance training combined with HIIT is the way to go, the less attached you are to the machine the more fun you will have working out.

I think the class setting is a great way to get in good workout, I love to socialize like most women so its the best of both worlds.

As for eating healthy, I can say I spent too many years counting calories and it was way to stressful. learn about the nutrients in food and how it fuels you and let go of the numbers. 

Monday
May282012

After One Month of CrossFit - Key Learnings

I've been a part of the Crossfit world (or "cult" if you ask some) for just over a month now, having officially joined Crossfit Dilworth a few short weeks ago.  In that time, many of you who read this blog have had questions about Crossfit, and hopefully I've been able to address a few of them.

With that said, I'd like to cover some of the key learnings I've had in my first month of Crossfit, as well as attack a few of the misconceptions that also exist.

 

1 - It exposes your weaknesses.

Despite having completed four half-marathons, I am NOT a good endurance athlete. I played football and ran track in college, so my attributes are more in-line with that sort of athleticism (plyometric explosion, short bursts of energy, Olympic lifting).  On several WODs, for the first round or two I would be fine. Whether it was burpees, box jumps, kipping pullups, or even cleans, I would sail through easily for the first few rounds or minutes. The tough part was looking up at the clock and seeing 10-12 minutes left on a 15:00 AMRAP.

My weakness has been endurance with a focus of not running out of gas early on in each WOD. Crossfit has exposed that, and shown me where my area of focus lies moving forward.

For someone else, they may have loads of endurance however they simply lack explosive or general strength. Another person may struggle to manipulate their bodyweight on a pullup bar. If you're an athlete, odds are that you are strong in some area, but probably weak in some other. Whatever the case may be, Crossfit will expose it.

 

2 - Crossfit gyms are minimalist.

The first time I walked into Crossfit Charlotte, I remember feeling overwhelmed and initially out-of-place. The music was loud, there was lots of loud thunderous talking, barbells and bumper plates were clanging everywhere, it was a shock to the system. Then I remembered that I used to LOVE this type of environment. My high school weight room was just like this. I had become soft and watered-down by fancy fitness facilities with climate-controlled temperatures, tons of vanity mirrors, ceiling fans, and fancy TVs everywhere.

Five minutes into my time at the Crossfit Charlotte facility reminded me of why I fell in love with training in the first place. It wasn't fancy, but it's not supposed to be. Sometimes fancy is bad, and less is more. Crossfit gyms are about function not fashion. They're not about comfort. Actually if your gym feels "comfortable" then I would question just how hard you are actually working while there.

 

3 - Crossfitters are encouraging.

I forgot all their names, but the Crossfitters that I met during my first WOD blew me away with how nice  they all were. The vibe was so welcoming and encouraging, that made a lasting impression.

While on a business trip to San Diego, I looked up a gym called Crossfit Mission Gorge. Using the GPS device (I still made a couple wrong turns) I found the gym location and walked in hoping to join for the one day walk-in fee. The coach was extremely nice and treated me like a guest (in the good sense).

My home gym, Crossfit Dilworth has the same vibe.  Our toughest WODs bring out the team atmosphere for which Crossfit has become famous. Even the most intense workout fiends that would normally scare people off, shock you with their encouraging attitudes towards others, particularly anyone they notice who may be struggling through the closing stages of that workout.

I have been floored with the balance of intense competitive nature with team-oriented behavior I have seen at virtually every Crossfit gym I've either visited, or heard about through close friends.

For those of us grown-ups who miss the camaraderie from playing on teams in high school and/or college that simply isn't achieved through running groups or fitness classes - Crossfit offers the closest facsimile that I've ever seen.

 

4 - It truly is scalable.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that the same weight that Person A is lifting, will be mandatory for Person B.  A good Crossfit coach instructs (or sometimes mandates) people to drop weights down from the prescribed load to an amount that allows the person to finish the WOD while maintaining proper form and technique, which obviously decreases injury risk as well.

 

5  - There is a twisted pleasure in the struggle.

I mentioned earlier that if a person's workouts are "comfortable", then I would challenge just how hard that  person is working. I would challenge how much that person is pushing his or herself to improve. Any improvement (physical in this case) comes with a degree of struggle. Doing the same elliptical or treadmill workout for 6 months consecutive will almost certainly result in a plateau and stalled improvement. 

The more I become familiar with Crossfit, I feel as though it is not about "being the best". It's about being YOUR best.

Whatever you are going to attempt in life, why not try to be your best at it? Why not try to become the best version of YOU that you can be at that one given thing?  But the road to your best begins with steps. Those steps involve improving every time out, every WOD, little by little.

It means five pounds more on your dead lift.

It means finally getting your chin over the bar on your kipping pullups.

It means you get through 10 burpees without gasping for air, when last month you were tired after three.

The bricks laid by focusing on improving yourself at one thing, little by little build a foundation. Eventually you will look back and marvel at what you have built.  The journey becomes the entire point of it all.  You begin to see the pleasure in the struggle.

CrossFit Games competitor Miranda Oldroyd put this into words beautifully with her blog post (link below) capturing her thoughts and feelings when spirits were low during a poor showing at Regionals. Her writing not only applies to Crossfit, or other fitness endeavors, but frankly applies to any walk of life that requires a mix of hard work and persistence over time.

"I could chose to be sad or to fight....I chose to FIGHT."

Thursday
May242012

What's Your Motivation?

I'm closing in on my first month after starting CrossFit, and as many of my friends (both "real" and Facebook) can tell I am officially hooked. Last Summer, watching the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games on ESPN, I was floored at the feats of strength, endurance, and competitive drive the participants showed. ESPN rebroadcast the 2011 Games this weekend, to coincide with the Regional Qualifying rounds which are currently  underway. 

Watching the Reebok CrossFit Games takes on a whole new meaning to me now that I actually am a CrossFitter. I can identify with the competitors in a whole new way. Their sweat and struggle "makes sense" to me now that I can sympathize with countless burpees, t-shirt and shorts covered in powder from grip chalk, blistered hands from kipping pullups, and the trademark post-WOD celebration pose.

Watching athletes like Rich Froning and Annie Thorsdottir (and the others which are too many to list) compete motivates me in a way that I haven't felt since college.

But despite the opening, this is actually NOT a post about CrossFit. 

This is about finding your motivation.

Are you motivated by an unflattering photo of yourself and want to lose weight? Keep that picture close by as a reminder of why you want to make a change.  Or you can spin it positive and post a few inspiring photos on the fridge or bathroom mirror. (Or try searching #Fitspo on Twitter or Tumblr)

Are you motivated by the countless runners and joggers hitting the sidewalks and roads now that the weather is warm?

Are you motivated by all the Before & After testimonials of former chubby people now flaunting their six packs seen on infomercials for "P90X" and Insanity?

 

Are you motivated by a family member or close friend who has a health scare or ominous report from their last visit with the Physician?

 

Are you motivated by the yoga instructor you always bump into that seems so fit, healthy, calm, and upbeat no matter what?

Are you motivated by the occasional television coverage of Ironman Triathlons or the upcoming London 2012 Olympic Games?

Don't let seeing those brilliant and dedicated athletes cause you to feel discouraged because you're "not on their level".  I could easily feel the same way watching  the world class CrossFit competitors, because I'm not on their level, or anywhere close. Instead it still motivates me to get out and continue to work to be the best I can be, because I know that the current version is no where close.

Can you honestly look in the mirror, or ask yourself in a quiet moment alone if you are the best version of yourself that you can be? 

If the answer is no, make a decision to make a change, starting today. There is no such thing as it being too late to start the process of improving your fitness, nutrition, and health.

What is your motivation?

Sunday
Apr222012

CrossFit Debut

If you've read this site for any reasonable amount of time, you've probably picked up on the series of references to CrossFit.  I've mentioned having several friends who are avid Crossfitters and have been gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) selling me on how much fun it would be to join them for a workout (or "WOD" in CrossFit vernacular).  Between my teaching schedule and work travels taking me out of town, finding the right day and time has been a battle for several months. 

Finally, this past Saturday the stars aligned correctly and I made the appointment to join my friends Howie, Jill, and Jenneane at their gym, CrossFit Charlotte for my first ever WOD. 

For background context, Howie (pictured above man-handling some Dead Lifts), Jill, Jenneane, and their brother Joe are all related and are part of the larger group I consider to be All-Star Alumni of my athletic conditioning classes.  We met there originally, and they have now graduated on to bigger and better things.  It may surprise people when they hear me applaud athletes and friends for "passing through" my classes at the Y onto new challenges after a few months, but that should be the goal of everyone who trains, to continually try new things and advance to new fitness levels.

 Anyways, after solidifying plans on Friday there was no backing out of joining them this time.  Most Crossfit gyms post the WOD (acronym for "Workout of the Day") the night before, so I was able to go to sleep with somewhat of an idea as to what I'd be in for.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I have been training for several months in-preparation for this day.

 

As seen above, the WOD featured as many rounds as possible ("AMRAP") in 20 minutes of the following:

  • 5 Clean & Jerks (Prescribed weights: Men 135lbs, Women 95lbs)
  • 10 Pullups
  • 15 Overhead Lunges (Rx weights: Men 45lbs, Women 25lbs)

I mention the prescribed weights, because one aspect of CrossFit I was not aware is that the weights are all scaleable.  Not everyone in the gym is as diesel as Howie, so everyone could bump their weights down to whatever amount is managable for their body type or skill level.

 

I ended up finishing with 6 rounds plus 8 reps (5 Clean & Jerks, 3 Pullups) as the 20 minute period expired. I made quite a few beginner's mistakes, which I suppose is to be expected.  For one, I started the period with mis-matched weights on each end of the bar, which is inexcusable stupidity for someone who has been weightraining since they were 14 years old. My first few Clean & Jerks felt awkward and unbalanced, then after two rounds of constantly adjusting my grip and altering my foot stance, I realized I had a 25 on one side and a 35 on the other side.

My form in kipping pullups (according to the Coach) was good for a first-timer, but mid-way through the #CrossfitHands WOD once my shoulders and forearms began to tremble and burn, form went south. 

Beginner mistake #2 was not using enough hand chalk for grip.  I've never been the type of person who likes making the same mistake twice, so after ripping open both palms (see graphic photo) I'll probably be either using more tape, or investing in some of the hand grips that gymnasts use.

We finished the WOD by heading outside for 10 hill sprints, which as sadistic as this sounds, took me back to the memories of football conditioning, and was a fun way to end the morning (again, in the sadistic sense).

I've made my feelings about CrossFit fairly well-known on this site so I won't bore by repeating once again.  After finally taking my friends up on their invite however I truly do "get it" and see why so many people have been swept up by this fitness wave.  Obviously every gym is different, and each has their own "vibe", but the atmosphere at CrossFit Charlotte was great.  A tough, competitive atmosphere that definitely made you realize you were in for a battle, however everyone was encouraging and positive. 

There was also a big emphasis on form and teaching, which is another of the widely-held drawbacks of  CrossFit among the masses.  It's true that Olympic-style lifts can be dangerous for those with limited experience, so qualified teaching and coaching is an absolute mandatory.  The coaches at CF Charlotte took special attention to any of the "first timers" prior to the WOD.  

We also spent a solid amount of time on warm-up and joint mobility exercises beforehand, which anyone who takes my classes can attest that I emphasize as well. 

Howie, Jill, and Jenneane always joke that I will soon be drinking the "CrossFit Kool Aid"...(as soon as the raw skin on my palms heal) they might be right.

He's much calmer than during yesterday's WOD, but here's an old video introduction with Coach Andy Hendel of CrossFit Charlotte as he first opened the facility: