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Thoughts on CrossFit From a Woman's Perspective - Part II

The second installment in a continuing series of testimonials from the ladies of CrossFit Dilworth. Once again, this is hopefully a great chance for some of the women I train with each week to provide a glimpse into what CrossFit has added both to their fitness, and their lives overall.



As a female, what does CrossFit mean to you?

"I started CrossFitting for purely superficial reasons – to get “in shape” for my upcoming wedding. I’m almost embarrassed as I type that. While CrossFit did change my body in ways I never imagined any form of exercise could do, at some point it became more than a daily trip to the gym.

The initial intimidation wore off, and I began to welcome what I previously considered fears. The movements whose names I did not understand (what is a Clean and Jerk?? A Manmaker?!), the knowledge that I would finish last in the class, and the nausea that ensued from pushing myself beyond my physical limits were somehow addicting.

What’s more, these fears were empowering because little by little, I overcame them. Except the nausea – that still happens, just ask any Crossfitter."


How has CrossFit changed the way you approach your fitness?

"Empowerment is perhaps my favorite word to describe how I feel as a female crossfitter. Feeling strong inside the gym translates to feeling strong outside of the gym.

Working out alongside like-minded males and females who share in both my triumphs and defeats is exhilarating and motivating. I could not and do not remember what exercise was like before CrossFit, nor do I care to ever go back."




What does CrossFit mean to you?  

"Well, where do I begin…..I got to a place in my life where I had gained weight and was at my heaviest. So I tried: P90x, Group Power, Spin classes, Insanity and Kickboxing, which I did see some results but not enough because I still struggled to keep the weight off, tone up and I got bored. So I decided to try Crossfit (which I was pretty intimated by) and my body started changing, I noticed definition in my arms/abs and legs.

Crossfit also introduced me to a new way of eating and I have never felt better. So what does  Crossfit mean to me? I can’t really sum it up in one word because it’s so much more then that…..Physical, Emotional, Life-changing, Community, Healthy Living, Challenging and Passion but in order to really know what Crossfit means--you have to experience it for yourself!!"


How has CrossFit changed the way you approach your fitness?

"I was never really scared to weight lift: light weight and high reps. I was very scared of lifting heavy weights because I never wanted to look like a bodybuilder, I always wanted to have lean muscle and be tone. So when you so start lifting heavier weights you do get a little bulky but what is happening is your muscles are getting bigger and pushing the fat out.

Over time your muscle/body burns off the fat and then you have a lean/tone body. The important thing to remember is muscle burns more fat than anything! Now, I get excited when I post a PR (personal record) with any of my Olympic lifts! I also learned it doesn’t matter how long you work out, but the intensity you workout at…..Now I can’t imagine working out for two hours (like I use to at a gym)."


What would you say to other women who may be scared of, or intimidated by CrossFit?

"We were all there….walking into your first Crossfit box - everyone is yelling at/cheering for each other, dropping weights, equipment you never seen in a gym before, men with no shirts on and women in sport bras. It’s a lot to take in but after your first couple classes you find yourself craving that atmosphere and then you wonder how you ever workout before.

Working out a regular gym with different machines, treadmills, trendy classes, and everyone with iPods on (with no interaction with each other) is pretty boring and not effective to reaching your fitness goals. Once you start, your friends will begin saying stuff about Crossfit and won’t understand why you love it so much….. some of my friends call me “Crossfit Kristi” and personally I don’t mind it at all because I have never felt stronger and healthier!"




Why is fitness important to you?

"Growing up I never thought much about fitness, ate horrible and thought if I'm in decent shape now I'll be fine later. It wasn't until I was diagnosed with a heart condition and had surgery did I realize how important it was to challenge myself mentally and physically at the same time. My biggest struggle was as simple as walking up the stairs. I couldn't go but a few steps before my heart would pound, I would have a hard time breathing get frustrated and have to stop. I knew I had to do something if I wanted to enjoy everyday activities long term."

Why did you start CrossFitting?

"I decided to start CrossFit after talking to multiple people who had been doing it for only a short time and their bodies were completely transformed. I would get text messages from a friend in Seattle with a daily WOD and thought she was talking a different language. I had to keep asking “what is this?”, “what does that mean?”....”TTB...(toes to bar)...where is the bar??”

It took a while to convince me that what this fitness fanatic was doing was something I might be capable of. I was told I would absolutely love it and become addicted but I still harbored a fear that I would be too weak and not be able to keep up. I finally faced my fear when Jackie (who also trains at CFD) said, "Try it once, if you don't love it you don't have to come back. Just realize that everyone around you is at a different level and you go at your own pace."


What keeps you coming back to CrossFit Dilworth?

"The challenge, sheer exhaustion and the definition I see in places I never knew there were muscles! But most of all, it’s the environment. From the first class I took and still today, I've been encouraged not to give up and take it at my own pace.

The support you receive from people when you're the only one who is still doing the WOD and yet somehow you don't feel judged....it’s a feeling that is hard to describe. It’s the chants from those around you telling you "You got this, Amber" that make you seek out that last ounce of energy you thought was spent. The coaches and members at CFD have provided an environment that makes me want to push myself and make me realize it’s not what you can't do, it’s doing the things you never thought you were capable of."


Thoughts on CrossFit from A Woman's Perspective - Part One

From an outsider’s perspective, CrossFit can be intimidating – particularly among females.  I figured it was important to give a few of the ladies I train with at CrossFit Dilworth, a chance to express their thoughts on the sport, as well as the impact it has had on both their fitness, and lives overall. 

This is the first portion of what will hopefully be a series of testimonials to come…





As a female, what does CrossFit mean to you?

"To me, CrossFit is challenging, intense, intimidating, painful, exhausting, nauseating, exciting, empowering, and exhilarating. It's not just a workout...it's a lifestyle, it's a community, it's a support group, it's an extended family.

It's nerve racking and panic when learning the day's WOD, yelling and bitching while doing it, and then wondering what torture tomorrow's WOD will bring because you can't wait to get back and do it all over again."


How has CrossFit changed the way you approach your fitness?

"CrossFit is a commitment and it's a passion. It gives me the desire to push myself to the limit and to do more and do better. I feel guilty if I leave the gym knowing I somehow could've done more, whether if it was an extra few reps or a few seconds faster.

 I was a competitive athlete up until college and have remained physically active since. CrossFit has changed the way I work out for the better and has provided more changes in my body than years of previous exercise programs. I can deadlift 250lbs, press 150lbs over my head (which I never had a desire to do until I started CrossFit), and I am strong... but I am not bulky or manly looking (so ladies do not fear!)"

What would you say to other women who may be scared of, or intimidated by CrossFit?

"For any female on the fence, give it a shot. It's the most fun you'll have while working out and you'll meet some of the best people and make some of the greatest friends...especially if you come to CrossFit Dilworth!"





As a female, what does CrossFit mean to you?


"CrossFit is not only one of the most effective fitness programs, but also a way of life (not to sound too corny or anything...). For me, CrossFit started out as an awesome workout, but has grown to be the hub of my community and friends.


The best part: CrossFit is the vehicle to reach my definition of personal success. CrossFit is like having a second job - but one that you are overly passionate about and give your all to on a daily basis. It’s wonderfully rewarding, but can also be painfully frustrating.

Some days you feel like you are on top of the world, and other days you feel like the world is coming down on you. Like all other walks of life, there are good days and there are bad. But each day is new and you get to continue to work on your personal goals towards achieving things you never would have thought you could have done 6 months ago.


I believe CrossFit touches everybody who tries it, in different ways. For some, it’s simply a workout. For others, it’s a way of life. Many find camaraderie in the tough workouts, and friendship in the after hour parties. A few find CrossFit to inspire a new career as a coach. For me, CrossFit meant something much different when I started to now. Before it was just a tough workout. Now It has become a road to community and friendship. Above all, it is empowering and inspiring especially as a female athlete."

How has CrossFit changed the way you approach your fitness?


"Crossfit has definitely changed the way I approach fitness. Before CrossFit, you could call me the generic old "cardio queen". I ran alot, would do some light dumbbell circuits here and there, but no structured programs and definitely no heavy weights - because, as many girls complain, I didnt want to get "bulky". I could lose weight easily this way, but I had no tone and no definition in my physique. But as I began Crossfit and learned more and more about it, I realized i had been doing it wrong all along.


The key to fitness is not to spend hours upon hours in the globo gym on the treadmill, stairstepper, or elliptical... The key is to lift HEAVY. I had never truly seen the type of transformation that I have seen in females' physiques until I joined Crossfit. Women that say they are scared of getting "bulky" do not understand that they will absolutely NOT get bulky with Crossfit unless they are eating a certain way and taking tons of supplements.


So to say that my approach to fitness has changed after discovering Crossfit would be a huge understatement. I am a strong believer in short, high intensity workouts now over long, slow endurance based workouts (that I did as a former cardio queen). Fitness can be defined in many ways and varies largely for most people, but I truly believe CrossFit is one of the most effective forms of fitness out today."


What would you say to other women who may be scared of, or intimidated by CrossFit?


"YOLO. No just kidding.

 For those ladies that may be intimidated by Crossfit, I would say to just jump in there and give it a try before you judge it. You can never truly understand something until you experience it for yourself, so why not try it out? What is the worst thing that could happen? I know at first it is very scary and intimidating- people throwing around barbells, all chalked up and dirty, yelling profanities, loud music and super ripped guys/girls sweating through their clothes. But when it comes down to it, you are only doing it for yourself.


 Crossfit is an amazing fitness program, and regardless of intentions when you first walk in that door, it will leave you breathless and sore for a few days. I will say that women specifically should ease into it, especially if you aren't currently working out at an advanced level. Crossfit is great for everybody and will not only give you a great workout, but will help you build muscle that will in turn burn fat (if that is your goal). You will NOT become bulky.


Another thing - Crossfit can be modified for everyone, according to your level of comfort and/or any past injuries or sensitive areas. There are always ways to scale a workout, so do not ever feel like you can't do something. So to women who may be scared or intimidated, just give it a try before you completely blow it off! You may just end up falling in love...."



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.


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."


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: