Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Who Can Do 5 Strict Pull Ups?

I can!

On Sunday, February 19th, I went to the open hour at crossfit so that I could do my pull up day 2 workout without going all the way to the gym. I wanted to let my body get some rest this long weekend and so I didn't plan to do the WOD. I went a little light on my farmer carry, 35# rather than 53#, when I normally do 45# at the gym. I got the workout done, including my abs, and then waited for about 5 minutes, chatting and resting my arms up from the max time hangs I'd done at the end of the workout.

And then I decided it was time to try. I'd been stuck at 4 strict pull ups for nearly three weeks. I could smell the breakthrough, especially after taking Saturday completely off.

I seriously considered asking someone to record my try, but in the end I was too shy and too nervous. I thought I wouldn't be able to do it if I drew too much attention to myself. So I hopped up and got to pulling. By the third rep, I knew I was going to get it. The fourth rep was only as hard as the third usually was. And the fifth happened.

At least, I'm pretty sure it did. I hadn't had a full breakfast before going to workout, and, to be honest, I was feeling a bit muzzy headed. I wasn't entirely sure, so I didn't ring the bell and I didn't post about reaching the goal I had recorded on the goal board.

But on Monday, February 20th, I went in with a plan. The WOD consisted of a choice of overhead squats or back squats, then a short metcon of one of those movements plus jump ropes. My original plan was to work on back squats, so as to save my arms for the post-workout pull up goal attempt. But when I was there, I decided to work on the overheads - mostly because I really like them.

We were to do 8 sets of 8, working up to a heavy set of 8. I knew my one rep wasn't that heavy, so I started really light and went up very slowly. I'm pretty sure my pull up training helps with the overhead squat technique, in that my shoulders are much more developed than they would be if I weren't working on those pull ups. I got a personal record on my last set of 8, hitting 70 pounds.

And then I did more overhead squats in the metcon - 7 minutes of 10 reps overhead squats and 10 jump ropes. I did it at 45# and with single unders. At 10 reps, I probably could have done double unders, but I'm approaching the Open with the mindset that if there is jumping involved, I'm more likely to be doing scaled singles so I should practice them.

We stretched and cooled down. I got my phone and asked the coach to record for me, which he was happy to do.

He also cheered me along as I pulled my chin over the bar, once, twice, thrice, four times... five times.

And then six times.


I got 6 strict pull ups and crushed my goal. Then I ran around the box whooping, rang the bell with a running jump and I swear the glow still hasn't faded. Now I get to start working seriously on kipping pull ups. And chest to bar pull ups. And maybe someday... dare I suggest... muscle ups?

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Breath Control

In Crossfit workouts, especially ones with designated rest periods, I frequently hear the admonishment to "control your breathing." It isn't aimed at me specifically, but at everyone. Lower the heart rate, control the breathing, prepare for the next burst of activity as best you can.

I wasn't particularly athletic growing up, and was never into playing sports in more than a cursory fashion. I was never coached on such techniques and sometimes I felt like I didn't know how to control my breathing. I would just do my best to slow it down and press on.

On the other hand, I've been singing for as long as I can remember. Starting with Beatles songs with my dad and brother while my dad played guitar. Choir at church, where I sometimes acted as cantor at a weekday morning Mass when I was in gradeschool. The Young Naperville Singers for a year and a half. And I played the flute in school bands from 4th to 12th grades - I can't play the flute during a workout, but my body has the memory of the breath discipline playing requires.

So every now and then, a song I can sing along to would be playing during those rest times - playing loudly enough that I could tell myself that no one would hear me singing along and believe it. And I'd sing along and my breathing would be under control, just like that.

It happened yesterday. We were working out in pairs, which gave one person rest while the other worked. And while I was waiting for my turn on the rower, "Dog Days Are Over," by Florence and the Machine came on. I sang along and found that without any more effort than that involved with singing, my breathing was under control. I didn't feel out of breath. I felt ready to attack when it was my turn to sit and row. I even kept singing a bit while I rowed, giving a push with my diaphragm at greatest extension.

I guess I'll need to figure out something I can sing to any music, because not everything that gets played during workouts is singable - either I don't know the song or it's just a bunch of boom-boom electronic music without lyrics. Don't get me wrong, I like boom-boom, I just don't feel inspired to sing to it.

And I think that bringing that knowledge that I do have of breath control, no matter where it originated, will be helpful in future workouts. If anyone at my box hears singing during the Open, it'll probably be me.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Diet Challenge Redux

Back in October/November, I participated in a 30 day nutrition challenge. Basically, a low carb, high fat diet with an emphasis on hydration and sleep. I lost about 10 pounds in the course of the 30 days, and I dragged my husband along with me - although his following of the dietary rules was a little bit looser than mine.

Getting through that - especially the first week when I wanted bread, cookies, crackers, anything crunchy and carby and sugary - felt like an accomplishment in and of itself. But there were other benefits. It caused me, and my husband, to look hard at our dietary habits and make some changes.

We became less "treat" oriented. No longer were we buying ice cream every week (or every pay period). Candy intake got cut down significantly. And I found I didn't miss those "treats" as much as I thought I would.

I would never have broached the idea of trying that kind of diet again, but it turned out I didn't have to. My husband liked the results enough to want to do it again. We are not likely to ever go low carb full time, because of backpacking. (There may be a way to do backpacking low carb, but that is not how we hike our hike.) But periodic refreshes of our diet are another matter.

And so we've undertake a 28 day challenge - 28 days because that's two pay periods and fits better into our grocery shopping schedule. We're 12 days in, and doing well.

One thing that I'm doing differently is following my husbands lead (to an extent) and being looser in my restrictions. Because I was trying to lose weight as part of a challenge, I used an app to count calories and tried to make sure my caloric intake was low each day. This time, I'm just eating mindfully and keeping an eye on the scale and my body. I might try using the app again in the third or fourth week, but I think the first two weeks need to be devoted to letting my body adjust to the change in macronutrients.

Besides, it isn't solely about weight loss this time. I want to retain or gain strength as I continue to go to Crossfit in the weeks leading up to the Open. I want to practice discipline in restricting my diet, a kind of mental dress rehearsal for surviving on backpacking food during my solo trip. The weight loss is nice, but I know that some of it will come back when I reintroduce carbs on February 25th. Just 15 more days.

Not that I'm counting or anything...

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What's in a Goal?

Why have I gotten so focused on the goal of 5 pull ups? For that matter, why did I ever get obsessed with one pull up?

The other day in the lunch room at work, I mentioned my goal of 5 strict pull ups. I try not to talk too much about Crossfit at work, because there are whole memes dedicated to how obnoxious that can be. But I mention with moderation, especially since I convinced one co-worker to try it out - once. One of the responses I got was a kind of bewilderment. Why would anyone want to do a pull up?

I said that after starting Crossfit, it seemed logical. Pull ups are used in so many workouts. It's a way to increase overall fitness.

I casually justified and the conversation moved on.

But why did I want to do a pull up?

An image from my memory floats up. I'm in seventh or eighth grade, and it's time for the Presidential Fitness Test. I always dreaded the testing, because I've never been athletic. The only thing I ever did well at was sit ups - but that's beside the point. We were standing near the inside entrance to the gym where two pull up bars had been mounted on the wall for the test. Boys were supposed to do pull ups, but girls were only expected to do a flex arm hang. None of the girls in my class could even do that - except one. Gina McEvoy seemed to hang up there forever. But she never even tried a pull up.

Pull ups are a great overall demonstration of fitness. They're badass. And I want to do them because I was never athletic. Because I was never even expected to do anything more than a flex arm hang. And probably a little bit because doing a pull up makes me feel like I belong at Crossfit. Not that I ever feel excluded at my box, but it's like I've shown a certain measure of commitment by working so hard to get this goal. The only person I need to convince is myself and 5 pull ups is the way I've picked to do it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bicycle Blues

I haven't biked to work since mid-December. I'm really starting to miss it. Sure, it's cold outside, but that alone isn't enough to stop me. What stops me is the large piles of snow ice (snice?) that have gathered into the bike lanes or bike lane areas of every road between my apartment and my workplace.

I do see other people riding bikes, and I've thought about giving it a try, but I just don't feel secure in the ability of my bike to resist slipping and sliding on the ice. I have no desire to crash. And on some of these roads, there's hardly clear pavement enough for a single car, let alone two cars and a bike.

And so I wait for the snice to melt and the roads to clear and the temperatures to climb.

I wait for spring and the return of biking to work (except when it rains, because the roads get so slick and okay the truth is I don't like getting wet before work).

And I wait for the return of hiking season. It comes early this year, because I'll be attempting a section of the Idaho Centennial Trail that is desert and I've decided that late April is the best time for that. I've read too many horror stories about June attempts from the Nevada border. I'd rather be a little cold and be able to warm up from hiking than be so hot that I literally can't carry enough water to stay hydrated.

Still, it's good to have time to recover and rebuild strength. To store up the longing and desire for the wilderness adventures that await so that when the hardships and privations come they don't matter as much. They'll be what I wanted. What I waited for all winter long.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Pulling Up

I'm settling back down into a regular pattern of the pull up workout. 3 days a week, increasing weights and decreasing assists. That may or may not be the bigger factor with my recent improvement in volume. I still haven't gotten more than 3 strict pull ups in a row, but I got a set of 3 after a 38 minute workout, and another set of 3 the next day and another the day after that.

And I've done a set of 2 following a set of 3, so that's almost like a set of 5...

I know, not quite there.

Not yet.

But the other factor is my decision to go to Crossfit more often. I figure if I don't have access to a pull up bar at home, then I need to go use the one at Crossfit as often as possible to get at least 1 per day. Plus, there's a new incentive at the box to attend 20 or more classes in a month. Supposedly, there are prizes.

The biggest prize, of course, is increased fitness. I've read that there's a big different between going to Crossfit 2 to 3 days a week and 4 to 5 days a week. Right now, I'm aiming for 6. I made that 2 weeks in a row at the end of December and beginning of January, but then I got a cold and only made 4 last week. I'm comfortably on my way to the Commitment Crew though. I just need to stick to it.

I've encouraged at least two people to participate in the Open this year. Both of them are a bit hesitant, and I can understand that. It looks intimidating. I'll admit, I probably wouldn't do it if they didn't have the scaled workouts, because there's nothing fun about trying to do a muscle up for ten minutes when you simply aren't there yet. But with scaling, everyone can participate and test themselves.

Last year, I didn't finish ahead of very many people worldwide, even with scaling. But I finished ahead of every single person who signed up and didn't finish. I recorded every workout. I finished every workout to the best of my ability, and I hope I have the chance to revisit one or more of those workouts in this year's open. The new workouts are great and all, but getting a PR on an Open workout is something special. A way of signposting your progress, in front of the world, as it were.

That's my goal again this year, to finish every workout in the Open. And maybe, if the circumstances align, to try one Rx instead of scaled.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Snow Walking VS Snow Driving

There's been a lot of snow in Boise over the last few weeks. It started, charmingly, on the day before Christmas Eve and proceeded to record-breaking levels of accumulation and near-record low temperatures in the first week of the new year. Through it all, I got myself to Crossfit, with the trudge through the snow working adequately as a warm-up - at least on the days that weren't below 0.

One of the things I like best about my Crossfit box is that I live about a quarter mile away. It's easy to walk there, which means I never need to worry about parking and I have an opportunity for pre-warm-up warm ups and post-cool-down cool downs. I don't know that I'd go as often if I had to drive any significant distance. Being close motivates me. I have no excuse not to get over there.

I consider walking through the snow to be easier and safer than driving through it. I have more control over 2 feet and 145 pounds than 4 wheels and 2 tons - and if I fall, I affect only myself, not my expensive vehicle or other people or their expensive vehicles. The main thing that I change to get to Crossfit with snow on the ground is that I wear boots for the walk there and back and change into my gym shoes. Added bonus: saves wear on my gym shoes.

I have to admire far more the people who drove their cars through the messy wreck of our streets to get their workouts in. This kind of snow wouldn't be a big deal in Chicago, because it falls within normal parameters. Their fleets of plows and salt trucks would have handled it. Here in Boise, the yearly snow removal budget was spent by January 4th. The streets were not pretty last week. Deep snow compressed into ruts - high clearance required. Snow plows on the main streets exacerbated the problems on the side streets by piling the snow against them. There are still side streets that haven't been plowed, not even to clear the artificial berms.

But whether we walked or drove, a whole bunch of people were committed enough to come in through Boise's Snowmaggedon and Floodpocalypse. Others did Driveway Shoveling for Time instead. I'm happy to be a part of that community.