The church of Crossfit

Yes, dear reader, I do Crossfit.

I know, I know. I don’t do Crossfit because I bought the gospel. I think the whole thing is a bit dubious. The faux-patriotic thing. The not-focusing-on-one thing approach to training. That annoying obsession with stupidly named workouts. And so on.

I never heard of it until a couple of years ago, but when I had done the paleo thing for a few months I realized there is a Crossfit gym (sorry, I won’t call it ‘box’) two blocks from my apartment.

I used to half-heartedly lift weights in my thirties, in a regular gym and at home, but I didn’t really have a clue and I didn’t get very far.

I thought getting more serious about exercise, beyond walking, running and cycling might be a good idea. So I joined.

I sucked pretty bad at the beginning and then I got slightly better. And now, almost two years later, I haven’t really improved much. My personal records have mostly stood unchanged for a year or so. Given that I’ve done Crossfit three or four times a week, all out, for 21 months that looks like epic failure. Failure on my part? Failure on my coaches’ part? Failure on Crossfit’s part?

Weirdly, I actually look pretty muscular now; more muscular than some of the much stronger women at the gym. Maybe because I’m relatively skinny, so it shows more. But my (now discarded) scale said my body fat percentage didn’t really change.

I used to get really depressed after workouts (I refuse to call them WODs), wandering home ready to burst into tears, when I’d attempted some heavier weight and failed miserably. It wasn’t for lack of trying. I was angry with myself for not getting better. I’m sure my coaches were a bit frustrated too – they’d given me a lot of extra attention, and if it wasn’t working, it either meant I wasn’t trying hard enough or their coaching wasn’t good enough.

I used to search for “crossfit failure to gain strength” or “crossfit women plateau” on some of the bigger Crossfit message boards and never find much, which made me feel worse. Was I really the only person out there for whom Crossfit wasn’t working?

Now, it could well be that this is really a case of technique, and chances are that if I adopted a more rigorous program focused on strength like Starting Strength I might actually improve. Get over those half-assed, random combinations at my gym. And yet, most everyone else there seemed to always get better, just not me.

But then again, I’ve always been really lousy at almost every sport from a very early age, even though I spent my childhood outside, running, cycling, digging, rollerskating, scootering, building and whatnot. Which made me think there had to be a genetic component. And it does turn out that some people are exercise non-responders.

As the New York Times reported “Hidden away in the results of almost any study of exercise programs is the fact that some people do not respond at all, while others respond at an unusually high rate.”

Which makes me think that I might be one of those people for whom exercise does not lead to many measurable changes.

But why do I seem to be the only one so afflicted among the many people at my gym?

Well, the penny dropped about half a year ago: survivorship bias. The people for whom Crossfit does not lead to measurable improvements tend to drop out and choose some other kind of exercise. New people start all the time, but only a few become regulars. In other words, I am the only idiot who doesn’t get measurable improvements and keeps going regardless.

That changed my thinking completely. I still go, I still don’t make any “progress”, my coaches still give me the ‘sad’ face whenever I fail at my attempts to get to new personal records. But I absolutely, totally do not care. I am not interested in any serious strength programs – I get obsessive about stuff, and the last thing I need is yet another thing to get obsessive about. Crossfit is a decent workout, it’s fun, the people are nice, the gym is two minutes away. I give it my best, and then wander home and do something else. It’s not part of my identity. I don’t do the weird lingo. It’s just exercise.

That’s enough.

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Kill your darlings

Not the movie.

An invitation to never stop questioning all the beliefs you hold dearly. Chances are, at least half of them will turn out to be wrong. If your identity becomes too wrapped up with them, you’ll either end up demoralized or deeply wrong. I come from a long line of people who built their lives on grand explanations of everything, and then spent years sorting through the wreckage.

Life is messy and whatever truths there are don’t take the form of bumper stickers, memes or Pinterest platitudes.

This post is really a tribute to one of the bloggers I’ve been following for 11 years. Most people will take a few wrong turns in that long of a time, and if you slavishly follow them they’ll take you down with them. Krista‘s been a critical thinker, a skeptic, a learner, a hater of dogma, a rejector of certainty and just a general badass.

Here is an edited list of some of her thoughts on turning 40. The full list is here.

  • Being addicted to “a solution” is just as fucked up as being addicted to a substance. This is characterized by rigid all-or-nothing thinking (“If I eat one cookie, I’ve failed”); shame and guilt (“I hope nobody finds out I’m a bad ___ and a fraud”); cult-like devotion and fanaticism; self-righteousness and intolerance (“Diet X is good, and if you don’t believe that, you’re an idiot”); along with reductionism and over-simplification (“Everyone should do Workout Y”; “Food Z is the answer”). If you find yourself obsessively seeking, information-gathering, surfing blogs and websites, arguing your point of view on the interwebs, analyzing or ruminating over your “issues”, and generally in continual “self-helping mode”… your problem-solving behavior is part of the problem.
  • “Training” and “working out” are good. “Movement” and “living actively” are better. If you focus too much on a single sport, or on a structured “plan”, then it’s easy to get overtrained and bitter, out of balance, and/or bent out of shape when stuff doesn’t go your way. Waah, I missed a scheduled PR on a bench press!! Waah, my foot hurts and now I can’t go on your scheduled run! Waah, doing the same exercise the same way for 6 months has given me tendonitis! Who gives a shit!? Fuck the plan and the percentages. You have a million other things you can do if your mantra is “live actively”. Plus then you don’t sit on your ass feeling smug for 23 hours of the day because, well, you “worked out” today. Magical things happen at a biochemical and spiritual level when you move your body. Mix it up, get out there into the big ol’ world, and just fucking move as much as possible.
  • Talking about your workouts, your body fat, your weight, and/or your food intake is very, very boring. Put the fucking iPhone away and have an actual unmediated experience with a meal. Nobody gives a shit if you’ve gained 3 lbs, what your Fran time is, whether you knocked a few minutes off your 5K, or whether you’re currently off grains. Mention it only if it’s crucial — like, if you have a peanut you’ll die, or explaining to your physiotherapist how you busted up your knee — and shut the fuck up about it otherwise. I apologize to all my friends for 2007-2010, during which I was deep in crazy exercise-compulsive/food-obsessive town and considered my diet/body fat/general neuroses an acceptable conversation topic for about 3 years straight. (See “good listening skills”, above.)
  • The only way to “get over” your body issues is to live as if you are already over them… which means not ruminating over them, or posting apologetic approval-seeking selfies with the caption “I know it’s not perfect, but I’m OK with that.” Go have fierce and fantastic sex with the lights on. Go have an adventure. Go sit and listen to your wondrous immune or circulatory system humming and marvel at its orchestrated splendour. Go do anything other than navel gazing. Please. You are already perfectly fine and a testament to Nature’s brilliance.
  • Also, the world does not need more articles by bourgeois educated white women whining about they’ve “come to terms with” their thighs. Jesus Christ people, there are bigger fucking problems in the world. Pull your head out of your privileged arse, toss your skinny jeans, and go help someone who actually has problems. Part of your social privilege blinders is thinking that everyone needs your public display of self-loathing narcissism. (And yeah, I can take this just as much as I dish it out. As Part of The Problem and the One Percent, I vow to never produce such an article. Every time I even think of writing that article, I will go and volunteer at a soup kitchen.)
  • Get over yourself. Nobody cares about your dreams. Except maybe 1 to 3 people. Love those people hard and try to see yourself through their eyes, instead of the tunnel vision of a harsh, impervious mass culture that has nothing to do with reality. As my esteemed colleague Craig Weller once told me, “The minute I start worrying about whether my eggs are cooked just right, I’ll put myself back on a plane to Somalia.”

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