Monday, April 25, 2011

Stages of Crossfit

I have been Crossfitting for over a year now (P.S. I just trademarked "Crossfitting" so don't use it.)  Anyway, I have been through some distinct stages and have written about some of them here.  I wondered if people go through the same ones as me.  After talking with a lot of Crossfitters (also trademarked), I believe the answer is generally yes.

[Warning - Salty language ahead]
Stage 1:  Duh
I think 90% of the people walking into the door for the first time have no clue what to expect.  Some have seen results and want in on it.  Others are sick of hearing about it from a co-worker, friend, or family member.  While yet others are "seekers" and are constantly looking for something new to try.  Regardless, Glassman said it best (this is paraphrased) "I can't really tell you what it is, just come to the box and I'll show you."

On our first day, most of us were slightly embarrassed at our newbie stature.  Everyone around seemed to know exactly what was going on... but at the same time, there seemed to be no real organization.  People were stretching, others were talking, some were already sweating and laying on the floor.  WTF?  Even after having the trainer/owner come over and start clueing us in, we were still a little overwhelmed.  This stage lasts for a few days, up to a couple of weeks.  Everyday is a new exercise we don't know how to do.  Slowly, we get comfortable and see people we recognize.  We aren't afraid to ask what something is and we know the drill: warm-up, stretch, WOD explanation, 3-2-1-GO, sweat, pass out, recover, go home.

Stage 2: Holy ShitSnacks... WTF have I done?
This stage often overlaps stage 1.  It begins when you cannot rise easily from the toilet a couple of days after your first Crossfit WOD.  You begin to wonder a little about your sanity, but a LOT about the sanity of the people at the box.  They almost seem to enjoy this thing called HELL in a box.  You ask "have I found the nuthouse for fitness buffs?"  (The answer is yes.)  This stage can last for a while but typically is 2 - 6 weeks.  It takes that long to begin seeing your way to finishing most WODs, learning you HAVE to change your diet, and understanding all of the different exercises.  But, you aren't sure how to talk about it to friends and family yet.

Stage 3: I Think I Like It
Oh yeah, you do.  This is a great stage and is usually indicated by your first purchase of a Crossfit T-shirt. Suddenly you find your voice to friends about this really awesome thing you are doing.  Results may start to show, but you definitely know the drill when you walk in.  You know the people, you talk about how sore you are, you lament the WOD and you joke about not paying the $1 for water.  You are still intimidated by most WODs, but you begin to believe in yourself.  You know you'll finish, or die trying.  You begin relishing the post WOD endorphin "fix".  Crossfit has officially "Crossfitted" you (again, trademarked, so don't even think about using it).  At this point, you'll soon need to start budgeting a separate line item for Crossfit apparel.

Stage 4: Obsession
I've written about this before.  I won't belabor it... but you need to know the signs.
1. You look forward to the WOD and begin predicting your time.  (P.S. You are wrong)
2. You talk about it ALL. THE. TIME. TO. EVERYONE. ALL. THE. TIME. ALL. THE. TIME.
3. You begin purchasing shoes, ropes, tape, chalk, progen-x, etc.
4. You can occasionally make the 5:15am WOD.
5.  You have "liked" more CF related pages than any other on FB.
6. You have a more CF friends than other friends.
7. You plan out your strategy for the WOD.
8. You begin trademarking Crossfit terms.
9. You "witness" to friends, family, and co-workers about joining you.
10. In all seriousness, Crossfit becomes a true lifestyle change: diet, habits, workouts, and it dominates your thoughts.

and the final sign:  you are in the "getting unbelievable results" stage.

Stage 5: Burnout
It has been said that if you haven't burned out on Crossfit, you haven't been working hard enough.  I thought this was bullshit, until I burned out.  Boy, it was rough.  I actually begin hating the WODs, dreading the box, finding faults with everything from the programming, to the form, to my results.  I had a seriously bad attitude and was grouchy when I showed up.  I did not realize it at the time, but it was very real and a little destructive.  Crossfitdom (trademarked) suggests you take a cycle off every 3 months to rest the body.  I believe this is great advice but also recommend slightly longer break every 6 - 9 months to rest the mind.  Essentially, you need to be "Crossfitless" for a few days (do I even have to say it? TRADEMARKED.)

For me, I decided to take off a cycle for my shoulders.  Then I got sick and missed a second one.  The second one allowed my mind to rejuvenate.  I was SO ready to come back after the 8 days off.  My burnout stage was over.  It was GREAT to experience the bad attitude because now I can head it off next time.

Stage 6: Mature Crossfitter
This is the simplest stage.  It is defined as "one who has passed through all the other stages."  I am unequivocally in this stage and I love it.  I'm still making progress, I still love it, but I can function without talking about 100% of the time.  I relish WODs, the pain they bring, and the progress they cause me to make.  It took me 16 months to get here.

On a Separate Note:
Honestly, there are times when I wish I could rewind and go through all the stages again.  It has been such a life changing... no, that is too tame... life... ALTERING experience, I really would love to do it all over again.  The pain sucked.  My results sucked.  I was LAST IN EVERY WOD FOR 6 MONTHS.  I'm not anymore, but some days I kinda wish I was.  There is a special power of being a newb and making superhuman leaps in progress.  It's nice to hear Trevor tell me "I never thought you would come back after the first week."  He laughs and tells me he has given up trying to predict who will take to CF and who won't.  Some "naturals" never come back but other dolts like me stick around forever (my words, not his).

So what stage are you in?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sore or Injured?

If you do Crossfit, we universally share at least one thing... soreness. At first, it can be debilitating and surprising because your first few WODs are typically cut in half (How can a few minutes of air squats in your first session cause you to seek out wheelchair providers?)  My legs were the worst. More than once over the first few months, I wanted to install handicap rails around my toilet. Luckily, I perfected the "1 hand between the legs launch off the toilet press" which mitigated the need.  But my arms weren't much better, but since I couldn't lift them the pain wasn't as acute. The worst was shampooing my hair. Who knew rubbing your head against "soap on a rope" could work so well.  I looked like a cow scratching his head on a fence post, but I didn't care.

In most workout programs, as you repeat often, you rarely experience the initial soreness again.  Not at Crossfit.  Even the most fit athletes, there will be WODs driving you so hard, your muscles will notice.  Some cycles are worse than others, but the soreness never completely mitigates.  In a weird way, I enjoy it. After over a year or Crossfit, if I'm not sore, I think I loafed.

This may sound like a bad way to train.  But actually it results from one of Crossfit's basic tenants, "highly varied functional movements".  We don't do the same movements everyday.  We "SHOCK" the body to get results.  This means we challenge it in constantly different ways.  The positive effect of this is VERY few repetitive motion injuries.  The negative effect is a more constant presence of soreness... but normally in a different spot than last week.

Now, what about injuries.  As with any sport, workout, or getting off the couch, injuries happen.  We know the spiel that it is usually a result of poor form.  Regardless, they happen.  How do you know the difference?   think if you've been coming a while, deep down you know the difference, but don't want to admit it.  The easiest way to tell the difference is the immediacy of the pain.  If you are working hard and the "soreness" is immediate (i.e. during the workout or just after), it is 95% more likely to be an injury than soreness.  Soreness typically takes 24 to 48 hours to feel painful.

The next best way is probably localization.  Soreness is more general over the entire muscle you've expended whereas an injury is typically localized to a tear, rip, or break.  If you feel an acute, localized pain, you are likely injured and need to stop.

What if it's neither?  There is a condition called rhabdomyolysis we should all be aware of.  Basically, it is an extreme breakdown of muscle tissue.  It causes damage to the muscle but can also be dangerous to kidneys if enough cells enter the bloodstream.  The good news is the condition is preventable in most cases with proper hydration and reasonable restraint when exercising.  Genetics can make you more or less susceptible to the condition.   Some CrossFitters have experienced it (and it was the main focus of a "anti-CF" article in the NY times 6 years ago).  But as I said, as long as you aren't going crazy and drink plenty of water, you are unlikely to experience it.

Crossfit... "making you sore in places you didn't know you had for more than a decade."