My Year of Muscle: I did Crossfit 4 times and lived to tell about it

I started my 2014 year of muscle at the end of February with a Groupon to a Crossfit place near my house. Me and my Groupon hit the basic Saturday morning introductory class.

I was a nervous mess but felt better when we started with a 400 meter run (Apparently meters is the preferred terminology in Crossfit because I googled it and that’s ¼ mile.) Mostly because I at least knew I could do that. So it bolstered my confidence. Then my confidence got bolstered even higher when I managed to finish ahead of a 2/3 of the intro class. Granted 2/3 of the class seemed like they had not been exercising regularly prior to buying their Groupon. But still. I take my victories where I can find them.

Then we headed inside to stretch and do some pushups. From there we moved on to some instructions. First up, let’s learn to squat. This should be called “Let’s learn to free fall onto the toilet.” Because that’s what I have to tell you about my thighs for the rest of my time in Crossfit. It’s like Tom Petty is singing to me every time I go into the bathroom. And I’m pretty sure all we did were 20 of them. That’s how weak my thighs are as I begin the Year of Muscle. It’s like I’m held together with scotch tape. I had no idea.

Next up, we got a PVC pipe and learned how to lift a barbell in a variety of ways. First up, a deadlift. That means lifting the barbell from the floor to roughly waist high. You lift with your hips not your back though. Mostly what I learned was that my back needs to be straight and that I need to remind myself to bring my shoulders back. That’s according to the coach. According to the girl directly to my left that had no doubt rolled in via a Groupon, too, I should stick my chest out.

Next up were cleans. That sounds very weight lifter intimidating technical jargon. It basically means getting the barbell up off the floor to right across in front of your collar bone. You also switch your hand position when you get close to the top. You are also supposed to dip your knees a little. I’m told I’m supposed to do all of that in one smooth sequence. To experienced weightlifting machines, it’s probably like breathing. Unfortunately, I lack coordination and could not grasp the sequence of events. My lack of coordination successfully drew the instructor’s attention and got me some one on one time. It was mostly him confused that I could not bend my knees and switch hand position at the same time. Either I made some progress or he got tired of explaining. But at least we moved on other things.

Next up, pull ups. To demonstrate, some humongous monster leaped up to the bar and cranked out like 10 in quick effortlessly perfect succession. I’m pretty sure I’m the worst student in the class for openly laughing out loud while watching. Not because the monster wasn’t good at them but because we was so good at them. It was nuts. And I feel slightly bad calling him a monster because he was really nice and friendly and when he jumped down he made a point of assuring all the horrified ladies that we’d be able to do one too in 6 months or so. I didn’t realize “or so” had such a loose open end to it. Because I predict now that “or so” in my case would be way longer than 6 months.

The intro class had guys and girls in it. Guys then hopped up on the high bars.  Girls got a shorter bar with a little step or 2 big round weights stacked up in place of a step. We practiced swinging back and forth holding on to it with a our feet still supported.

Then it was on to wall balls. That’s where you get a really heavy medicine ball, throw it as high as you can up the side of the wall and go down into a squat as you catch it when it comes down. I predict I will hate walls balls far more than I will ever hate the pull ups I cannot do. Mostly because wall balls involve more squatting. And not just any squatting. Deep squatting. Me and the scotch tape thighs were horrified at just how deep I was supposed to go. I tried cutting corners not going so low but then the 14 pound wall ball was coming right back down that wall at me and those extra 14 pounds in my hands pushed me down deeper into the squat. Holy crud. The scotch tape in my thighs was ripping and fraying.

And then it was done. There was talk about class schedules. There was talk about how you can’t out train a bad diet. And then I went home.

My thighs didn’t immediately communicate to me how tired they were. So naturally I took a 4 mile walk and tried jump roping. My husband had been talking about “double unders” and I googled them and then became convinced I should practice them. “Double Under” is Crossfit talk for jumping rope only you are jumping up once and getting the jump rope to go around your body and under your feet two times. Normally you’d just jump once and the rope goes under your feet once. See where they get the name? See how it sounds easier than it probably is?

By the next morning, the scotch tape thighs were shrieking at me and I was in bathroom free fall mode. It was nuts. I foam rolled. I stretched. I whined. It sucked.
We had ice and snow and the entire universe was shut down for the day. I took it as a sign from the universe that the scotch tape thighs deserved an extra day of rest.

But the next morning I was up and out the door. And here’s where I get a little annoyed. I’m reading a book about Crossfit right now and I’m learning a lot. I’ve also googled the hell out of a lot of things. One of the things the book and most Crossfit websites mention is special classes for newbies. The book refers to it as “on ramping” and it’s to get you up to speed. Some places call them elements classes to essentially teach you what you need to know. Most have you go to a certain number of sessions or for the first month.

The Crossfit place Groupon brought me to doesn’t have that. Apparently, my intro class was it. The owner/coach had named two time slots that are the more newbie classes but he was mostly mentioning that there were more coaches at those sessions. But he said you could come to any. So I believed him because those 2 times didn’t work for me. One is right when I have to be getting my kids ready and to school in the morning. The other is during soccer/volleyball/piano/dance lessons time. I wanted 1 class time that I could go to consistently. I picked an early morning one that fit my life. Because my kid related duties are non negotiable. Picking a Crossfit place with convenient class times is significantly more negotiable.

So I go to this early morning class. It wasn’t a super huge class but the rest of the room was clearly very experienced. I was disappointed not to see any of the 2/3 of the intro class that I had successfully run faster than. But such is life in the wee morning hours. I’d introduced myself by name to the coach during the intro class. I’d even referenced my husband who goes there and worked in that I am new and clueless. I figure I’m going to stick right out in this experienced class. I’m not looking forward to it but I figure this must be how this works.

First up, some jumping jacks, we swing our legs around a little and then we stretch our backs. Then he writes the workout for the day on the board. In Crossfit that’s called a WOD. That is not pronounced the way it looks. It’s pronounced “Wahhhh.” Here’s exactly what he wrote on the board that day:

Bench 5-5-5-5-5
Power Cleans touch and go EMOM for 5 mins
Add 10 lbs every 5 mins
20 push ups x 5rds

At no time did anyone take me over to the board and explain what I was reading. But I guessed that bench meant bench press and I guessed that the dashes between the 5s meant doing the move 5 sets of 5 repetitions. I’ve done roughly that sort of thing at home with my little barbells. Except these are just guesses based on what I’ve read. And we didn’t go over form on a bench press at the intro class. And we didn’t talk about safety with the barbells or how much they even weigh. And we also didn’t talk about how much weight to start with or what weights the plates for the barbell come in or even what weights the barbell itself comes in. So there was hesitation and doubt in my soul.

Once he was done writing it down he went to his computer behind the counter. Everyone else in the room starts moving stuff and putting round weight plates on the end of barbells. I am standing there unsure where to head or what to do. My running buddy bought a Groupon too and she was standing there with me. And we just kept standing there figuring he would be over to see about us seeing as how he knows we are brand new. Except he didn’t. After standing there looking clueless for 15 seconds I actually took several steps towards the counter and asked him what we were doing. He then said bench press 5 sets of 5.

When we didn’t immediately get moving he must have realized more would be required of him and he walked us to one of the benches, centered it between the thing and told us what to do. He said we should spot each other and then my running buddy started and he walked away. We did just the bar by itself with no plates on it. We asked someone next to us and they said that bar by itself was 45 pounds. Another girl came late and ended up joining us and she was adding 30 pounds to the barbell for her turns. She tried to convince us we could too but she was wrong. I successfully convinced her I was working on not dropping the bar by itself on my teeth.

Next, power clean. I did not learn this from the white marker board. I learned this from someone else because I did not understand the board. That’s mostly because no one explained it. But that was the theme for the day so why should that be any different.

We started with a lighter barbell that someone tipped us off to that was laying against the wall. It wasn’t the end of the world to lift but my utter lack of coordination reared its ugly head again and I was not getting my knees to bend while I was flipping my hand position. The coach did not come over to assist us in starting this move. The girl we’d shared the barbell with showed us a couple times. Then after doing a couple a guy walked over from the opposite side of the gym to tell me I needed to bend my knees. I thanked him and attempted to not feel like the biggest loser on the planet.

Then the coach took another short break from behind the counter staring at his computer. We had the exact same conversation we’d had during the intro class. He kept trying to explain to me why bending my knees would make it easier. I kept trying to take a deep breath because I don’t need additional explanations about why I need to bend my knees. Intellectually, I understand the need for the bent knees. My coordination just isn’t there yet.

He stayed for two rounds. Then his computer withdrawal kicked in and he had to get back behind the counter.

Next up, 5 sets of 20 push ups. Right. Except we already did 20. And now we’re going to crank out 100. Yikes.

I immediately start doing girly push ups on my knees. Because I’m a girl. Because it’s only day 3 of my year of muscle and I haven’t gotten to regular ones yet. Because this is literally my first day at Crossfit and people she cut me some freaking slack. Except some tool on the other side of the room doesn’t care about any of that and starts calling “No knees.” I assume he called it several times. I even think maybe he was trying to be helpful and teach me the ropes because it was the same guy that had come over to tell me to bend my knees.

But, see, I was busy giving my pathetic girly push ups everything I had because I knew 100 was going to kill me. So I was pretty zoned out and didn’t realize anyone would be trying to shout at me. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him so he walked across the room to explain to me “No knees. It’s a gym rule. You don’t have to go deep but you can’t use your knees.”

My running buddy immediately switched to regular push ups whereas I stared at him in confusion. Because the one thing I felt like I grasped well was that you do girly push ups on your knees to work up to real push ups.

According to Google, in Crossfit they call that “scaling.” They set a workout for the day. You do the best you can to do everything. But if there’s stuff you can’t do, you scale the harder move down to something easier that you can do. So for pull ups, they put the little step under you. Because if they didn’t you’d just be there dangling. For bench press, the WOD may be a certain weight. But if you can’t lift that much weight, you lift less weight.

Well every Crossfit 101 website Google has taken me to says scaling for a push up is to do it on your knees until you work up to a real one. In fact, there’s even a name for it. They call them knee push ups not “girly push ups.”

So when this tool was standing over me telling me not to do them on my knees I had no idea what to say. I mostly wanted to just go home. Because how stupid and out of place is it necessary for me to feel on my first day?

To be helpful, the tool then said if I couldn’t do it I could help myself up. He was generous enough to then get down on the floor next to me to demonstrate what that meant. Again, because I guess he thought he was helping me. But it was essentially letting your stomach rest on the floor and sort of rolling up lifting your stomach off the floor last. It left my lower back hurting. More than my chest even. But once I started attempting his modification, he went back across the room to his spot. So it was worth it.

Naturally the coach was behind the counter staring at his computer during this. A nice guy next to me must have read shock and awe on my face. Either that or he sensed that I was on the verge of crying. So he told me quietly, “It’s okay to do them on your knees your first day.”

Another guy repeated that, too. And then I look over and I’ll be darned if I don’t see over in the corner the girl that shared the bar with us doing push ups on her knees. Seriously. That female wasn’t on her first day either. If you want to regulate on someone, how about her? Or if you are that militant about the rules, how about the whole freaking room? Or how about just shutting the hell up and not making people feel like outcasts?

And then we were done. No one actually announced we were done. But we figured it out and I put my coat on and got in the car. I cried on the way home. My optimistic hopes felt dashed.

I’m amazed I even regrouped enough to go back again. But I decided the problem must have been that I didn’t go to the 2 classes that were suggested for beginner. So I decided that must be the secret! I need to go to the right class! Off to the afternoon beginner class I went!
This is the face of a woman headed to a beginner class! Because that's secret!
The beginner class that is supposed to have more trainers. I can confirm there were more beginners in it. And I can confirm there were more trainers in the room. There were roughly 24 people in the class. Many of them were very new. 1 girl was on her 2nd week. Another girl was on her 3rd class. 1 trainer walked around the room guiding people. I definitely saw him helping people more than the guy from the first class. I’m told there 1 was one other in the room riding a stationary bike. The class started with 2 others in the room but they both left shortly after the class started. So, for the most part, 1 trainer for 24 people and most are newbies.

I liked having more clueless newbies to commiserate with. There’s always a feeling of comfort in not being the only idiot. But I did not like having to go in the evening. I am away from my children all day while I’m working. I view my time in the evening as time with them. So I felt like I was doing it on their time. They were in their pajamas when I got home. That further reinforced for me that it’s not how I roll on the regular. But I figured I needed to learn a few things so I tried it out.

The coach came out from behind the counter to announce the start of things. His comment about scaling was to say “Scale it to your ability.” We did a 400 meter run. Then we did some squats, some push ups and some deadlifts. I love how I just wrote that like I know what a deadlift is. Right. I totally researched it that morning on Google hoping I might feel less like a twit if I went in knowing what to expect. I even practiced at home in my bathroom like the total dork that I am.
Why, yes, that is a broom handle serving as my pretend barbell.  Note for future reference, those buckets don't make the pretend barbell sit as low on the ground as the real one does at the Crossfit place.  Future pretend Crossfit workouts in my bathroom will need to use something lower to be more authentic representations.
Keeping your back flat like a table seems to be key which you achieve by being sure you are sticking your butt out and pushing your chest out and shoulders back. Google also gave me the helpful tip of standing with the bar centered over my feet and the squatting enough that my shins sort of touch the bar before I start going up. I did not suck at deadlifts so that was a victory for Google and being a dork. I managed to deadlift 85 pounds and not die.

Then our WOD (workout of the day) was alternating Sumo Deadlift High Pulls (SDHP) and burpees. First we did 20 of each, then 15 of each, then 10 and then 5 and then the non robots in the room imploded from exhaustion. Because for anyone playing along at home that translates to 50 burpees and 50 sumo things.

My friend Google had explained that Sumo Deadlifts High Pulls were like a deadlift except that you have your feet wider apart like a Sumo wrestler and then you lift the bar all the way up to your chin. I sucked at it and kept forgetting to put my legs far enough apart. I used the 45 pound bar by itself and by the last one I could not lift it all the way up to my chin.

Burpees are burpees. That’s what the coach actually said in the room no less. Google says they are squatting, putting your hands to the ground, leaping your feet back so that you go to a push up position, leaping your feet back up by your hands and then leaping straight up. I say burpees are hard. Me and my scotch tape thighs didn’t do any leaping and there was nothing fluid about it. I stepped my feet back and forth one at a time, I did not do a push up when I got to the push up position and I stood up and then once I was upright I’d jump up with my arms up. So, basically, I was a complete mess. And I barely got through them.
Meanwhile, around the room, every clueless newbie in the room finished every single part of the workout ahead of me except for the 400 meter run. I finished the run in the first ¼. But everything else I was dead last. We did lunges across the room and back. I was last. We did push ups. I’m still down there and everyone else is standing up.

I normally would not care. Except there were people that couldn’t even run the 400 meters. There were people walking the 2nd half of it. There were several people that flat out just looked out of shape. I’m not saying that in a mean way either. I could care less. Because this girl right here has been way more out of shape and way more overweight than any of them. So I feel them and I know we all start somewhere. But it’s an observation I make because I’d like to know how the hell they cranked out 50 burpees and 50 sumo things ahead of me. There’s no way. There was some number fudging going on in that room. Had to be.

Finally, we did 5 sets of 10 toes to bar. I laugh just thinking about it. Toes to bar means you hang from a bar by your hands and try to lift your feet up to touch the bar by your hands. No really. It apparently requires a strong core. Sadly, my core is not strong. Sadly, my core lives in the Whataburger drive thru and is comprised of 96% marshmallow. For those of us with marshmallow cores, you mostly attempt to lift your knees to your elbows. I also found it challenging to get used to hanging from the bar that long. It’s hard on the hands. Naturally, I forgot my weight gloves that day. I’m nothing if not an expert at bad timing.

The coach mentioned to another girl that you could lay on the floor and try lifting your legs off the floor if you couldn’t do it. The experienced people offered to get right up there and crank them out. The newbies congregated to one side slowly dying. There was more widespread number fudging and I was the last girl desperately attempting to bring her knees up.

I guess he ran a timer while we were doing the WOD. I guess some people checked their time when they were finished. I have no idea. I also have no idea why half of them would need to check their time because they didn’t actually complete the assigned exercises in that time what with all the number fudging so I don’t really understand the point of even noting the time. And no one else in the room notes anyone’s time either. There’s no board where they write down your time or anything. I guess I could keep track myself but I was is an exhausted haze.

I took my scotch tape thighs home to rest. The next day I discovered I could not get my left hand behind my back. The pain built up and next thing I knew I couldn’t even pull my pants up with my left hand. I was doing everything with my right hand for 3 days. I totally blame the Sumo things. I also totally decided I needed my left hand to work so no more visits to Crossfit that week.
One of the reasons I'm convinced it was the Sumo things is that apparently it's easy to hurt yourself doing them.  So easy people make little graphics joking it must be from that.  Great.
Week 2 of Crossfit hit a snag when I turned my ankle on a 10 mile long run. I stupidly tried to push through it on Tuesday by running and lived to regret it. I decided to pretend I’m a reasonably intelligent grown adult and rest it for the rest of the week. I felt like a lazy bumpkin. And part of me felt like I was just avoiding the Crossfit place because I hadn’t been impressed with it.

Despite that I set my alarm and got up at the crack of dawn to start Week 3 off right. We started with a PVC pipe holding it and moving it behind our back up and over and to the front of our chest. Then 15 push ups and some stretching. Then we figured out our 1 rep maximum for clean and jerks. According to Google, a 1 rep maximum means figuring out the maximum amount of weight you can successfully lift for that specific move. In this case, the move was a clean and jerk. I did not have the luxury of Google to explain what the clean and jerk is though. Someone else in the class then explained that it’s basically getting a barbell up off the floor and up over your head with your arms straight. I’m supposed to bounce a little getting it up to my shoulders. And I’m supposed to kind of get up under it to push it up over my head from there. I mostly suck at it. The coach must have immediately identified my inability to master any move and made a beeline for me as we’re starting it. Can’t believe it took him this long to catch on but bully for him. He and I agreed that it’s about getting a feel for it and once I get it I will suck at it less. His way of saying that was, “I’ll be able to do it without thinking.” I did a lot of thinking about it that day though. Ugh. And, for everyone keeping score at home, my 1 rep maximum turned out to be 55 pounds. That is more than I would have expected so go me.

Next up was 10 rounds of 10 wall balls and 10 hang jerks. So that essentially meant 100 of each doing 10 of each at a time.

Hang jerks mean you hold a barbell just below your waist and you essentially get it up over your head. Then you bring it back down to your waist, take a deep breath, and then do it again. Wall balls are where you stand a foot from a wall with a giant ball in your hands. You throw the giant ball as far up on the wall as you can. It will then touch the wall and fall back down to you and you will squat and then stand back up and throw the ball again as you stand up.

It doesn’t seem too tough until you pick up the ball and realize it’s 12 pounds. The standard for girls is supposedly 14 pounds. The standard for girls can suck it. Because 12 gets pretty dang heavy when you do 100 of them and you’re hanging and jerking, too. And let’s not speak of what the scotch tape thighs thought of the squatting involved in wall balls. When I went to the intro class, the guy told me I was supposed to get really low in the squat. Like so low that crack whore showing me had my butt nearly to my feet. I made the conscious decision not to tear any scotch tape by getting super crazy. I went down until I felt it but not crack whore butt to the feet deep. By my third round if wall balls, my brain had somehow convinced me we only had to do 5 and I was high on life thinking I was still feeling pretty good and almost there. Then I read the little marker board again and I was trapped in an outer ring of hell with 7 more rounds to go. The scotch tape was fraying wildly by 100.
I was also using a bar that was 35 pounds and slowly trying to sap my will to live. The coach must have seen my will to live dribbling down the side of my neck and dripping on the floor. So he brought over a 20 pound bar he’d been hiding in a back room for when losers like me come to town. Either that it was against the wall and no one ever mentioned what the hell it was. Such sweet relief. There’s something you never think you’ll say about a 20 pound bar.

I’m nothing if not consistent so of course I finished the workout last again. People were actually leaving to go home and literally half the class had exited the room by the time I flung the last wall ball up and another ¼ of the class was by the door drinking water and getting their car keys out.

And that’s the last time I went to Crossfit. Stuff came up the rest of Week 3. And then the next week was the last week of the Groupon anyway and I knew there was no way in hell I was going to pay $100 a month to keep going to a place with such craptastic customer service. The cheapskate in my soul tried to tell me to get my money’s worth out of the Groupon. But it was $35 which is pretty bargain basement and maybe there’s a reason for it.

So that’s what I concluded. I’m not selling Crossfit down the river based on one crappy place.  My husband loves it too much to be so quick to dismiss it.  But I have decided to cleanse my palate a little so I’ll forget how annoying that place was. I’m thinking it’s time to set foot in a gym. With actual equipment. And weights.

Is it weird to be 39 years old and be intimidated by joining a gym for the first time? Does it make me a loser that I think I may need to Google gym etiquette so I don’t accidentally become the annoying gym idiot people hate?


The Running Nurse said...

Cross Fit can suck a big fat one! (Excuse my language). I would definitely join a gym and hire a fitness trainer for a month or so. You can thank me later. P.S. I did deadlifts today for the first time and they rocked my socks off! Good luck girl!

Vanessa said...

I had a similar experience when I bought a Groupon for Bootcamp. The owner/instructor was awful and she obviously had her clique of friends that she paid more attention to than to us newbies who had no clue what we were doing! Hopefully you have a positive gym experience!

Fabulously Always said...

This is exactly what I expected crossfit to be like. I also not big on competing and it feels too competitive to me....childhood school trauma ;) Always being picked last for every athletic team :)I have never been to crossfit, but everything I know and read tells me it is not a workout for me. At all.

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