A Crossfit Experience by Chuck Waterman
The following testimonial contains my thoughts, opinions, and beliefs, based on my experience with Crossfit over the past few months. It deals more with the emotions and psychology of my progress as opposed to the analysis of specific workouts, because the psychological factors were the biggest obstacles I had to overcome. Some of these thoughts are blunt, some may ramble, and some may sound over-the-top – but they’re what got me to this point, so here goes.
I had no idea that a 20-yard stretch of beach and a lead ball could render me useless… all in less than 45 seconds.
Crossfit was put on my radar by my client at work. Paul is a retired USMC Colonel and avid (mild understatement) Crossfitter. He raved about his workouts every morning after his 6AM class, talking about how good it felt to kill Fran, and how he was positive he would be seeing another Filthy 50 sometime soon. My own workout experience was almost non-existent, so I wondered what the heck he was talking about, and began asking questions. Paul enthusiastically answered them all, and then suggested I come out to a free Saturday class to check it out – in fact, the next one was going to be a beach workout, which promised to be “really cool”. I had other adjectives for it by the time I got up off the sand.
First, some background. At the time these conversations took place, I was a 5’11”, 46-year-old male, and way out of shape… WAAY out of shape. I had played most every sport I encountered when I was young; catcher in baseball, a center/linebacker in football, and a downhill skier who avoided moguls at all costs. I had settled into a very sedentary lifestyle, where golf and fly fishing were my only avenues of activity (I won’t bother referring to them as exercise). My wife had gone so far as to bribe me with my dream car (a 1972 Corvette) if I would get my weight below 200 lbs. I knew my weight had been steadily creeping upward, but when I decided to hop on the scales last September and the needle spun past the 300 mark and settled in at 304, I knew I had to get off my butt and do something – so I took Paul up on his Saturday offer.
I showed up at the beach workout, and was introduced to Aush, Mallorie, and Glory. We proceeded to lug kettlebells and medicine balls about 3 miles (okay, maybe 300 yards) down the beach. We set everything down, and I was already beat – not a good sign. Then Aush starts talking about Burpee Thrusters and Kettlebell Lunges. Hmm. Okay then.. 3-2-1-Go. I did okay for the first 20 yards of the Burpee/Thruster thing, and started to make my way back by doing the Kettlebell Lunges – and that’s when it all fell apart. Even with the encouragement of Aush, Mallorie, Glory, and Paul, I collapsed within 15 yards. Not another freaking lunge in me. I sat in the sand and watched the others complete the workout and wondered how in the hell I had allowed myself to get into this kind of shape. I didn’t want others to know, but I was both embarrassed and pissed off. I went home and told my wife 3 things:
1. I met some insanely fit people that morning
2. That there were people there who had never met me before who appeared to be genuinely interested in my well-being, and
3. Everybody seemed to enjoy this torture.
The next Monday, Paul asked how I was feeling, and I bombarded him with still more questions – was this type of workout normal, and how the hell did these people get into this kind of shape? Paul referred me back to Aush, who I think believed he would never see me again after the beach episode. Aush led me through my introductory workout and, after getting equally gassed by that, I realized what I had to do; I signed up for the next chapter – Crossfit Foundations (a.k.a, my 12-Step Program).
Now I’m sorry if I sound like a shill here, but the Foundation sessions with Aush were brilliant. He worked with me on form and technique, and each session concluded with a heavily modified workout. As he explained what he wanted me to do, my insides were telling me that I’d be lucky to get through half, maybe two-thirds of what he was listing. As I began the workout, I became surer that my insides were right. Fortunately, Aush wasn’t listening to my insides – he’d allow me a short pause to catch my breath when needed, but made it perfectly clear that I would finish the WOD. Sometimes saying nothing is more powerful than saying anything, and Aush was the master of silence. Paul showed up for a couple sessions to monitor and encourage. Each session left me absolutely exhausted. But with the exhaustion I gained something more important, which was my Turning Point #1 – with each successive workout, I gained the confidence that I was capable of pushing myself farther than I ever thought was possible. There were days when I’d be so wiped out that I wouldn’t remember driving home after the workout, but when I got home, I’d remember thinking “holy crap.. I finished it! My daily conversations with Paul about each workout reinforced both my confidence and my focus to succeed. As a lung cancer survivor who had made immense gains himself, Paul’s “failure is not an option” attitude was a huge help.
The confidence I developed was one of the core reasons Crossfit has worked for me. The lack of that same confidence is, I believe, a major factor in why most inactive people remain inactive – it’s just too easy to believe that you cannot do something. Most people who join Crossfit won’t relate to this part – they are already in reasonably good condition, when compared to the general population. Crossfit offers challenges that you simply cannot find in a conventional gym, and most Crossfitters have a competitive element that thrives on these challenges. For those who are out of shape, overcoming the challenges of completing a sit-up, pushup, or muscle-up are a “drop in the bucket” compared to the psychological warfare your brain deploys, convincing you that a piece of chocolate cake is more comforting than the hell that is Burpees.
These negative thoughts are easy for overweight people to develop, because most overweight people have probably been facilitating and even perpetuating their own insecurities for a long time. They are very adept at it, and the more they profess to the contrary, the more expert they are. That’s a blunt statement, but it’s true – you can’t bullshit a bullshitter, and I’ve slung more than my share. Excuses are excuses, and if you don’t get off the couch, you’re making excuses. Here’s a list of my own Negative Thoughts before I started:
1. I can’t possibly do the same workout these people are doing – what the hell am I doing here?
2. I’m not going in there because I don’t want everybody else in the gym “staring at the fat guy”
3. If it takes me longer to complete everything we do (from the warmup to the WOD), am I going to be resented by everyone else for holding up the class?
4. Wouldn’t the trainers rather be working with someone fit enough to really get something out of their workout?
5. Wouldn’t a Belgian Waffle with ice cream be GREAT right about now?
The purpose of bringing these things up is not to perpetuate or endorse a pity party. I’ve raised them because it’s vitally important for overweight people to understand without question that perceived barriers are exactly that – perceptions, not reality. You are in charge of whether your next step is forward or backward. It’s a gut check (pun intended) for anyone who wants to pick up CrossFit, but especially for those who are out of shape – the only barrier to your success is your failure to believe you can take even a single step in the right direction.
So back to the training. I continued to work with Aush 1-2 times per week. Each session brought me satisfaction from my accomplishments, and again Aush struck the perfect balance between helping me acknowledge my progress while letting me know that there was always more to do. He had also introduced me to the Paleo diet, and weight was slowly but steadily starting to come off. The bad news was that I knew I needed to be in the gym more to achieve my goals, but I continued to let work and personal life get in the way. By the time I turned 47 in December, I was almost done with my Foundations sessions; I knew that I needed to fully engage; January 3 was my target date.
0600 on Monday, January 3rd marked my second milestone – participating in a regular class for the first time. I had met a couple people in the class while I was going through the Foundations course, so the environment wasn’t totally foreign, but I was still nervous. Lauren (whom I’d also met) was teaching the class, and as we went through warm-up inchworms and crab walks, she worked with me to scale my distances so I kept in tempo with the rest of the class. Negative Thought #3 had been alleviated within 10 minutes – this could work! Lauren also scaled and substituted exercises in the WOD (solving Negative Thought #1) to make it survivable. I left Day 1 exhausted, but satisfied that I could do this.
Over the next couple weeks, I gradually began to feel like less and less of an outsider. Lauren was seemingly a mind reader – giving me encouragement one day, and kicking me in the butt if I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough. By mid-January, my weight was down to 280. More importantly to me, I had started to earn the respect of the other people in the class, and Negative Thought #2 began to dissolve. Lauren, Paul, Lucie, Rob, Kevin, Petra, Greg, Patti, Sabrina, and Rene were noticing that, even though my totals were well behind everyone else’s, I was putting everything I had into the effort, and they would stick around to encourage me through my last reps.
January 20th still sticks out in my mind. We had an AMRAP of Front Squats, Burpee Box Jumps, and Pull-ups. At the end of the workout I collapsed onto the floor, trying to catch my breath and hoping to avoid a meeting with a certain clown. When I came to a minute or so later, I sat up to find that my weights and equipment had been put away for me. It was a small gesture by the others in the class, but one that (to me, anyway) signified my acceptance as part of this group.
I can’t overemphasize the importance of acceptance within the community. My personal belief is that the feeling of isolation is what makes most people overeat, and they seek consolation from something that will never reject them – whether it’s cake, ice cream, or pancakes. Acceptance can be a huge motivator, and the fact that acceptance in Crossfit has to be earned rather than just given is equally important, because it ties in a psychological benefit to working hard, in addition to the physical benefits.
There have been challenges along the way. I’ve dealt with tweaked calves, strained muscles in my rib cage, and some sore knees. But working with trainers to adjust/substitute workout elements and stretching/rolling out muscles go a long way toward making these little hurdles go away, and I’m not willing to risk slipping back into old habits by stopping my workouts.
Since January 3rd, I have continued to show up for the 0600 class every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. I’ve lost 52 pounds since starting Crossfit Foundations, including 9” from my waistline. The Dirty Thirty I struggled to finish on January 24th has been superseded by the Filthy Fifty I completed April 1st. I still scale several elements, but that doesn’t matter, because my only competition (at this point) is myself. I also finally realized that Negative Thought #4 was also a fallacy, because I was getting as much out of my training sessions with Lauren, Jason, Mallorie, Ron, and Aush as anyone possibly could, and I feel indebted to each of them. The Crossfit workouts themselves have made me fitter, but the community of Crossfit San Diego has empowered me to change the way I live. I still have 40 or so pounds to go, but now I know I’m going to get there.
Which brings me to Negative Thought #5.. Frankly, the thought of a Belgian Waffle with ice cream really doesn’t sound all that appealing anymore. All those carbs and dairy make me queasy just thinking about it, and I’d probably have to do an extra 200 Burpees to burn them off. I’d rather do them to get closer to that ‘Vette.
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