Friday, May 9, 2014

My Story

Before stumbling into CrossFit, my entire life had been a long journey spent doing nearly everything possible wrong. My sport of choice as a child was soccer (one of the most dangerous sports, measured by injuries per hour played), leaving me pretty tyrannosaurus rexish (all leg, no arms). Numerous knee and ankle tweaks later, my legs were also prone to injury, despite their size. I compounded that with ultimate frisbee in college, more running (and shin splints, and twisted ankles, and sore knees)! Let's not even begin to talk diet. I ate like a power-lifter trying to pack on muscle, but without doing any of the work.
Mmmm.... nom nom nom. Sta-puft marshmallow man lurvs ice-cream cake!
I made excuses for myself, that although I was heavy, I was strong. And while that was true, it didn't make me feel any better about my body. I couldn't hang with the team when they went on their warm-up runs, and whenever the shin splints acted up (almost constantly), I was relegated to the sidelines, calling out plays, maybe subbing a point or two to let someone in better shape catch their breath. That point's worth of play would usually leave me panting for 15-20 minutes...

Out of college, responsible for my own shopping and food intake, I ballooned up to 230+ pounds. The one upshot was that I was still pretty strong, especially through the legs. Need someone to lug the drummer's bin of hardware into the club? I got it. Need someone to dance and jump around playing bari sax? I got it. At least for one song... However, I was even MORE unhappy with how my body looked and felt.

My first attempt at fixing the mistakes of the past was to go on Weight Watchers. In fairly rapid order, I dropped about 40, maybe 50 pounds (from 230+ to 180+), but again, without doing any work in the gym (or at home). I shed fat, and for damn sure I shed muscle. By the time I was done, if I ran into someone I hadn't seen in a while, the question I was asked was "Wow, have you been ill?" Yeah, that was the goal... The weight went right back on when I fell off the wagon.

Skinny sax man. Strong? Kinda. But not as strong as yesterday... 
I was finally introduced to CrossFit around 2008 or so. I started picking and choosing workouts off the main site WoDs, eventually bringing in CrossFit Football and Endurance WoDs that looked fun, or (more usually) played to my strengths. However, as the workload increased, so did my food intake. I got stronger, I got faster, but I also got bigger. I tried to eat clean, but was nowhere near what could be called "paleo." Pasta was still a staple, milk still made its way into my smoothies (which were based on whey protein anyways...). I also learned that programming is an art, both for a single workout AND in the log term. I co-created, with the guy who introduced me to CrossFit, a plyometric-based Tabata workout we ended up calling 'Beef Tips Gone Bad.' A funny reference ('Friends') for a workout that basically crippled me with a scorching case of Patellar Tendonopathy (or patellar tendonitis... I never had it officially diagnosed... I just had a lot of trouble walking up and down stairs for about a year...)

After a stressful move to Connecticut, which involved LOTS of time in the car on weekends, time away from my family during the week, the utter inability to find a move-in-ready house in a good school district (with one daughter prone to allergen-triggered asthma-like symptoms, and another little one on the way, there was NO thought of a fixer-upper)... I joined Elm City CrossFit, and have never looked back. Suddenly I had coaches fixing all my self-taught stupidities. Suddenly I had a given WoD to do, and couldn't pick what I wanted from the past week or so. Suddenly, I started seeing real improvements in my strength and endurance. Both are still completely shot from the Weight Watchers era, but they're coming along...

 Along the way, my wife has joined the box and fallen in love with CrossFit, both with the exertion AND the community; my daughter is a constant at the Elm City CrossFit Kids classes, which I co-run and co-coach; and the littlest one, now nearly 2 years old, runs around the gym with a 1# dumbbell throwing down squats like a champ. I've started trying to shed my multiple layers of accrued insulation, and trying to regain the strength I so casually took for granted in my youth.

In the run up to the 2014 CrossFit Open, ECC provided programming specifically designed to make us bigger, stronger, and faster. Opting into the program meant I was at the gym nearly twice as much for my own workouts, not even including coaching the Kids classes. Instead of a few hours a week dedicated to my own fitness, it was nearer to 10+ hours a week. More strength work, more olympic lifting, more endurance, more of everything. I tried to maximize rest time as well, but that part was harder with the kids and work schedule to work around. No child cares how much time you put into the gym that day, or how much rest you need, when they wake up from a nightmare at 3am. And neither do you... until the real alarm clock goes off, and its back to the gym, this time on 3-4 hours of sleep, rather than the intended 6-7 (which would still not be enough...)

The Open came, and for each workout I tried to map out a goal (with good, better, and best outcomes included) for each. I surpassed many of my own goals, got crushed on at least one workout, and in general felt better than I have in years. I certainly look better than I EVER have. Its nice to finally have pecs, rather than moobs (man-boobs), pushing out my shirts. I very nearly have abs showing, so THAT'S exciting. I don't think I've ever had visible abs! The weights are still going up, the cardio/endurance capacity is still inching up little by little. All in all, its been a good ride.

Additionally, the gym also hosted a Paleo eating experiment: three months of strict paleo, requiring food logs, before and after pics, benchmark WoDs, the whole nine. While I most likely would have fallen off the wagon pretty quickly left to my own devices, I managed to sign the wife up for the challenge, too. She was absolutely my salvation. When the smoke had cleared and the final scores were tallied, we had tied with another couple in a four-way tie for 2nd place! I can't speak for too many other Epic Eating Experiment participants, but we've kept our diets as clean as possible, and are continuing to see Epic results. I just recently bought a few new pairs of shorts, as the potato sacks I *had* been wearing were getting to the point of looking ridiculous. With a waistline reduced by three inches, and still setting PRs in all the major lifts, and just getting stronger and healthier, I'm in better shape in my late 30s than I was in my teens and 20s!

The upshot of the early part of that story is this: I own every part of my fitness now. The coach isn't responsible for my gains or struggles, I am. The person doing the programming is doing it for the entire gym population, not just for me. If I have a weak-point (goat), its up to me to address it. The complaints about CrossFit are myriad, and some actually carry a fair amount of water...if you're lazy and just do what you're told to and don't bother to take responsibility for your own goals and performance. You have to take responsibility for your own rest and recovery. You have to make sure YOU'RE feeding you enough calories so that you're building (or at least preserving) muscle while burning the fat. It all comes down to you. The best program in the world won't work for someone who doesn't OWN the process... and someone who
OWNS even the worst program will probably still get solid results out of it. Its all down to you, just as its all down to me.

No one can make you do it, and no one should waste their breath trying to make you. Either you're happy with your life, or you need to work to improve it. Everything else is inertia, self-deception, and laziness.

What's it gonna be, punk. Do you feel lucky?

Recommended reading:

Other crucial authors: John Welbourne, Martin Rooney, Zach Even-Esh, Robb Wolf, Greg Everett, Tim Ferriss, Kelly Starrett, and probably a BUNCH more I should be including here.

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