crossfit athlete Stefanie Hagelstam jumping over the bar

Sawotta 2016

A few weeks ago I spent the Saturday again at Sawotta judging and photographing between the heats in which I was a judge. This year the event had moved to a new venue – the Savonlinna Ice Hall. The new venue had more space for the audience, but since it was a cool summer day no part of the venue was especially warm even though there was no ice to be found.

crossfit athlete Liina Vartia running

I have to admit that I enjoy the double role of judging and photographing functional fitness events. Sure I could live with just photographing, but only judging would find me somewhat frustrated during breaks since I would be annoyed with the missed photographic moments while watching heats. And also when tiredness starts to kick in (as it always does in long events like these), photography keeps me more alert even during the downtime.

crossfit athlete clean and jerking

This time I also managed to be quick and go through my photographs and do some quick edit quickly so that I could get them out to the world. It’s been fun to see my photographs show up on Instagram in athletes’ own feeds. That’s all the thanks I need for this sort of photography which is done to support the growing CrossFit community in Finland.

crossfit athlete clean and jerking

I’m also overjoyed that the athletes appreciate and share also the images in which they don’t look handsome and pretty. I guess all of know full well that the faces we make during grueling WODs will never be pretty or handsome…

crossfit athlete Anna Ollikainen jumping and tripping over the bar

From a judges perspective the events this year were well planned and easy to judge – well everything except the double unders which are always hard to judge… There were some challenges that came from the change of venue, but on the fly changes to how some things were handled solved those quite well and the ability of the staff and judges to quickly adapt to changes allowed even quick paced heats to be handled with limited amount of hassle.

crossfit athletes throwing wallballs

From a photographers perspective the new venue was much better than the previous one simply because the white floor provided a neutral color when compared to the wood floor of the basketball court. Of course as is the case with any indoor venue, more light would have made photography easier but it was still a piece of cake when compared to shooting a gig in a small club ;)

crossfit athlete Satu Kansikas overhead squatting

Sprinkled throughout the post are some of my favorite photographs from the event. For the full set of over 200 or so, head over to our photogallery: Sawotta 2016.

crossfit athlete doing a pull-up

crossfit athlete tired after an event

crossfit athlete tired after an event

Sawotta 2015

In June I was a judge at a smaller Finnish functional fitness competition, Sawotta. It was my first experience as a judge in a CrossFit competition and quite valuable at that. It’s been long enough from the event that I don’t have any clear recollections that are unique to judging at Sawotta since I was also a judge later in the summer at Karjalan Kovin, but the photographs I took during the competition may well be of interest.

I promise to get around to writing a bit about my thoughts on judging at CrossFit competitions later, but meanwhile enjoy the photographs I took in between the heat where I was a judge.

OHS

15.1 and 15.2 – Yes, I really am that bad

The CrossFit Games Open season started almost two weeks ago with the presentation of 15.1 – the first of five workouts to be done during the season. I planned on doing the workouts, but held off on registering until about a week before it started. I finally decided to register just to get a bit more of a mental push to complete each movement to the full standard.

When I woke up on Friday and saw the workout for 15.1 and the surprise 15.1a I grimaced. I really can’t remember when I’ve snatched anything over 40kg last and my PR in snatch at is a measly 55kg which I’ve gotten during a weightlifting class when the focus was on technique and not weight. So the 52.5kg was going to be a challenge. T2B I’m ok with, but have trouble stringing them together especially at our gym where all of the pull-up bars are a bit too low for me.

I knew going in that if I can manage the snatches at all, I should be able to complete two rounds. In the end I surprised myself by finishing three rounds and doing 7 T2B on top of that. Now I’m annoyed that I didn’t manage to squeeze in another three reps to break 100 :)

T2B

15.1a was another beast entirely. Shoulder to overhead strength is something that I was dismal at when I started CrossFit so I knew I wouldn’t be getting any earth shattering results. My PR from January was 75kg in C&J so I had some kind of baseline. My first attempt at 70kg failed since I couldn’t quite get lockout. The second attempt succeeded. Then I decided to gamble and threw on 80kg of weight, which I attempted twice and failed both times. But at least I PR’d my clean while doing the attempts :)

So after 15.1 and 15.1a I was at 97642 worldwide.

When 15.2 was announced, I again faced a relative unknown. I’d just started working on chest to bars myself and had so far done them a few times before the WOD. However, I’d done them so that my collar bone had to go above the bar and not touch the bar. So during the warm-up for 15.2 I tested to see that yes, I can do C2B in singles, but I won’t be doing many of them. I did flirt with the idea of going scaled to get more of a metabolic workout, but decided to challenge myself more and stay RX’d.

The first set of OHS went unbroken and then I spent a long time working on getting the 10 C2B. When I went to continue my OHS I decided to squat with a slightly narrower grip to save my shoulders a bit, which worked but caused me to lose my balance after the sixth OHS. Then I had a hard time of getting the bar back up and simply failed to get any more reps in.

C2B

So with a score of 26 I managed to PR my C2B and even go up in the worldwide standing placing 88031 at the moment.

I’m not sure what I think of my performance in the Open so far. I’m satisfied with the effort I have put in, but the workouts have really highlighted how far the sport has come in a short time. The results that the top athletes have posted are simply amazing.

I’m also uncertain on how this will affect my future training. I’ve already noticed that our normal scheduling doesn’t challenge me to the level I wish it would but have struggled to find something that I could stick with instead. A few friends are following Ben Bergeron’s Competitors Training which I could possibly start following myself. So far even most of the open workouts there have seemed like insanity in most cases, but now I see why. Being able to do the programming RX’d would give a better chance of getting at least semi-decent Open scores while at the same time increasing my own strength and conditioning.

What I feel that competitors training lacks though is focus on additional skill-work. So that is something that I’d have to add on and find suitable programs for from somewhere else. Any ideas dear occasional readers?

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An Anniversary – my first year of CrossFit

Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of my first CrossFit on-ramp session. Sure, I had some exposure to CrossFit and the workout from earlier and had even tried to do some on my own at the fire station. I have to admit that I was somewhat nervous when the first session started. After all, I had no idea how I would cope and survive.

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While the first four weeks of the on-ramp were times of sweaty exertion in the classes and suffering from muscle fatigue and pain in the times between, I very quickly knew that I was hooked. I have never been one to embrace routine or enjoy safety in doing what I know. The reason why I work in IT is that I love the challenge of creating something new and continuously learning. CrossFit is a fitness paradigm that very well fits my interest in continuous learning and skill progression.

So, what have I gained during my first year?

  • First of all, I’ve learned even at almost 40 my body is very ready to learn new skills and tricks and it is still very much capable of getting in better shape. I can honestly say that I am now in the best shape that I have ever been.
  • I have lost 14 kg of weight since I started, but gained muscle mass even despite the weight loss. By every count my body is now in the healthy range and I have surpassed what I ever dreamt could be my weight. The last time I probably was at this weight was before I stopped growing.
  • I have made PRs (personal records) in every thing I’ve tried, and broken my PRs several times during the year.
  • Most importantly, I have truly learned how to enjoy physical activity and moving. So much so, that I crave it if I take too long a break from physical exertion.

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As any true geek, in addition to going to classes I have immersed myself in the world of CrossFit by reading about in online. Partly to learn new skills (hello YouTube) and partly to study nutrition, my body, understand programming etc. What struck me quickly from reading articles from around the world was the emphasis on community. I never would have thought it possible, but there is a strong community at our box as well. Even among us strong and silent Finns. And of course, doing a grinding WOD is always easier when there are others experiencing exactly the same around you.

What happens at the box should stay at the box…

What happens at the box should stay at the box…

My very first exposure (as I have previously written) was with Fran (21-15-9 of 43kg thrusters and pull-ups). Fran is infamous in the community for very good reason. Whatever your skill-level is, it is a burner. The first time I tried it a year and a half ago, I could barely complete three thrusters and three pull-ups. I finally had the courage to try it out right after new years. My time? 9:10, thanks for asking. At least it was under my goal and I managed to do it RX’d.

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I already know from my reading that typically the first year is easy since almost every time at the box leads to a new PR and the second (or following) year is harder because progress is slower. I have set many a goal for myself, most of them cautiously realistic and doable. I also know myself well enough to know that as long as I feel progress even if I do not reach my goals I will not be devastated. Stagnation is what I fear and at the time age should not be a limiting factor to my progress.

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As for my goals? Well, by the beginning of June I should be able to deadlift two times my bodyweight (BW), squat 1.5xBW, and move my body weight from ground to overhead. Skillwise I should have double unders quite well mastered by then as well as managing at least one muscle-up. Once we get to summer lets see what else will be added to my goals for the year. Most of all, I want to keep enjoying moving as much as I do now and continue staying injury free.

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So, those are some of the thoughts I have had after my first year of CrossFit. And how did I celebrate my anniversary? By going to the box and doing a WOD, of course. :)

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Disclaimer: At the time that I started I had no idea that the gym I go to was not an official affiliate. Finland had a conflicting licensing issue and only in the end of 2014 was it resolved to CrossFit Inc’s benefit and the gym I go to is no longer in any way licensed to use the term CrossFit in their marketing. But as an athlete I will continue to claim CrossFit as my sport wherever I do the workouts: at home, the fire station or any other gym. And honestly, even if our city had an official affiliate (which we don’t at the moment) – our current coach is excellent in coaching weightlifting as he has competed in powerlifting at a high level.

View of a CrossFit box

Life is full of risks – so why is CrossFit so dangerous?

View of a CrossFit box

As a new CrossFitter I haven’t been able to avoid some of the controversy that surrounds CrossFit, especially it being too risky and dangerous. Even before starting it I was aware of some of the controversy surrounding the sport. But I’ve never been able to understand why it is supposed to be so dangerous. After all, any activity where you move around has its own risks. Somehow, blaming a sport for injuries has always seemed liked a cop out to me – especially if the sport itself has tools to allow you to modify everything you do based on your own skill level.

However, one of the best write ups on the matter that I’ve read is by Games athlete and medical student Julie Foucher (it’s also up on Huffington Post if you want to read it there). I really recommend reading it as your first stop (yes Mom, this means you ;) ).

There’s also a good article defending CrossFit in general over on T Nation that I came across via Twitter. While honestly I’m lucky enough to have a coach from an olympic lifting background, I can understand some of the criticism surrounding bad coaches. But honestly I am certain that there are bad coaches in any sport and the fact that CrossFit generally encourages people to get coaching and places significant weight on mobility and agility is very much a benefit.

Of course, a good coach will be able to gauge everyones skill level and give encouragement to scale back when needed, but again I am a strong believer in personal responsibility. Sure CrossFit encourages you to embrace the pain and work through it, but it is a different pain. It is the pain of being tired, feeling like your lungs are on fire, but still going strong. That is very different from doing something that is simply too heavy for your strength or too challenging for your skill level. And yes, this means that in practicing snatches I keep going back to the light-weight bar to hone my technique. Snatches and I simply do not get along at the moment.

In addition to the dangers related to doing any kind of (challenging) physical activity, there is also a medical condition that is touted as a CrossFit staple – rhabdomyolysis. It’s interesting to note that the fact that many lay-people (CrossFit coaches, active athletes etc.) know about it is seen as a sign of rhabdo’s commonness in CrossFit instead of it being simply a case of understanding the risks in the sport. At least for me, an information junky, being fully aware of the different risks in whatever I do is a part of being a responsible human being.

Do I think that I am at risk for rhabdo? Honestly yes – as is everyone else that does multiple repetitions of heavily straining work. Do I think that it is a matter of personal choice – mostly yes. Practically all the cases that I have read about have multiple signs of early warning symptom being described. Knowing the risks and evaluating your body’s response to work is important in identifying when to stop embracing the pain and taking a step back – either by slowing down the pace, stopping to rest or taking a longer break from the sport. Being an endorphin or CrossFit junky at the expense of your own health is simply not cool. I also know that my motivation in CrossFit is not competing, but being more fit so that I can better function in every day life and as a fire fighter.