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.

Five days of every day life

Over on Facebook there has been a challenge going around (at least us Finns) to document five days of your every day life and post the photographs. So below is a glimpse of my every day life: work, dogs, fire and rescue, CrossFit…

Every day life 1/5

Every day life 2/5

Every day life 3/5

Every day life 4/5

Every day life 5/5

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.

The seductive danger of addiction

Spider web in rye field during sunrise

No, this post won’t be of any kind of substance addiction. But it is a direct continuation on the previous post in which I mentioned that I’m now addicted to CrossFit (as I expected to be). As easy as it would be to say that becoming addicted to taking care and improving my fitness is only a good thing, there are dangers involved.

Naturally the most glaring danger in addiction to fitness is doing too much – and in the case of a new athlete: too soon. But even these obvious points are not up for discussion today. What I want to bring up is very much an internal battle that every athlete faces at one time or another. It has to do with when not to go and train.

Let’s illustrate with my recent experience: two and a half weeks ago I was frustrated by how poorly I did during the WOD and how tired I had been that morning. I was out of breath earlier than expected and could not recover during the brief rest periods that were programmed. Later in the evening I had some very slight fever sensations, but nothing too serious. Two days after that (on wednesday) I was at the box again, but tackling the WOD a bit easier just to see how it felt. The following monday I was at the box again and everything seemed to go fine, so I decided to go for a run with the dogs later in the afternoon. 6K in +5°C, shouldn’t have been an issue, but the underlying cause for my poor performance a week earlier resurfaced and I really caught a cold. So, after a weeks rest, I’ve finally been able to return to the box this week. And yes, I have enjoyed every minute of it!

So, every time you are not feeling quite there, go read the list of 8 signs that you are too sick for the box over on Tabata Times and be honest with yourself. Giving your body time to heal from even a slight cold will help you get back much quicker.

P.S. I did have a better picture for this post in mind, but for the life of me I can’t remember when I took and and thus can’t easily find it.

Thank you CrossFit – I’m addicted

flatcoated retriever with a kettle bell

I don’t exactly recall when I first heard about CrossFit. Probably sometime around 2009 when Mikko Salo won the second ever CrossFit Games. I got more exposure to it off and on – mostly off. In early 2013 I saw this video of bodyweight exercises and slowly started looking more and more into CrossFit. Alas, at the time there weren’t any boxes near us, but I remember trying some WODs of my own. Fran – even heavily scaled and tamed – killed me but hooked me at the same time. With motivation like in the below video I had a goal…

Luckily at the same time I found out that a gym in Joensuu was building a box and would begin offering CrossFit. They started their first on-ramp in August, and I decided to enroll in October as soon as we’d be back home from a three week road trip in the US. Of course,  you know what they say about the best laid plans… 11 000 km of driving in three weeks caused both golf and tennis elbows in my left arm. So CrossFit and pretty much all other strength training was out of the question while I tried to settle down the inflammations.

In January I was finally able to enter an on-ramp and join the world of CrossFit athletes. Even though the first hour left me gasping and in pain until the next class, I knew this was my sport. Now, two months after my on-ramp ended and three months into my career as a CrossFit athlete, I know that I am hooked and addicted.

And yes, in the coming weeks I will be reporting on goals and progress so far…

BTW, pictured above is Luka with Anna’s kettle bell – even our dogs need their strength training :)