I made working out a part of my life. My husband of ten years has always been into fitness, and I have always decidedly not been, and it's honestly been a point of tension in our marriage. I've dabbled in physical hobbies; I took belly-dancing classes for a while, I did tae kwon do for a while, and on occasion, I'd make a point to go do the treadmill/machines at the gym… for a while. But I've never been able to find a groove. I would go, work out, be sore, take time off to recover, go back, be more sore… and eventually decide it's not worth being sore literally all the time.
My husband and roomies, who've always been fit, took up Crossfit a couple years ago. They loved it. It looked like torture to me: and, in fact, I had good reason to think it was. My roommate would constantly go on about how hard the workouts were - and I had this totally reasonable assumption that if reasonable people are complaining, then it's probably a bad thing. Crazy, right?
She is a masochist, don't get me wrong. But now I see that there was more complexity to it than that. She wasn't saying, "This sucks, and I hate it." She was saying, "I am shaken by how hard I was able to successfully push myself." Shaken, as in amazed and impressed and proud; but also shaken, as in sore and achy.
In May 2019, my husband pulled a total bait-and-switch on me (which is my biggest pet peeve, so you know I was salty): he asked how I would feel about us buying some sessions with a personal trainer at his Crossfit gym (which is called a "box"). I agreed; it wasn't expensive, and he enjoyed it, so why not?
It turned out that these were sessions for me. When we arrived, he peeled off to do some lifting on his own, and I was stuck alone with this coach. Her name was Michelle, and the only way I could describe her is like a fairy: she's beautiful, with golden skin, thick hair, tattoos of flora and fauna, an enigmatic smile, and absolutely miniature.
I was completely off-kilter because I hadn't expected to be on my own - and as the session went on, there was a clear disconnect. She thought I knew nothing about how to do this-or-that lift (because my husband had told her as much), but I lived in a house with three Crossfitters. I had done the occasional Saturday-morning workout with them, and I knew a bit. And thus, she had to re-evaluate her plan while I felt condescended to. It wasn't a great first day.
Nor were the second or third sessions very good. I would do my best, but I would become easily frustrated, especially because I knew that every effort was going to result in four or five more days of being sore to the point of immobility. One session, I cried the whole way home out of sheer exhaustion. I wasn't upset; I just felt like an overtired toddler. It was too much.
But Michelle worked with me on skills. She had to re-teach me how to do a squat (I can literally hear her saying "hinge back at the hips!" in my head right now). Before, I was leaning forward and balancing on my toes instead. At the beginning, I could only do it properly if I sat back only a few inches, and that made me feel pathetic. But Michelle wouldn't let that stand - in one session, she gave me a barbell to squat with, which showed me how the more centered form allowed me to bear weight without tipping over. Then, she scaffolded the skill for me: I would hold onto a beam, squat onto a box, and use my arms to pull myself up. When I could do that, she gave me a lower target, a ball.
After our sixth session or so, I had the strangest experience. I got home from the workout, and I had the completely alien impulse to just see if I could do the below-parallel squat we had been practicing, without the ball, without the beam to pull myself up. And what do you know? I did it. My husband was so thrilled that he sent Michelle a video.
It was groundbreaking for me. I had practiced, and I could see it paying off. I had never actually practiced a physical skill like that long enough to get significantly better at it. But also, I had never wanted to. I could have waited for the next week for Michelle to suggest not using the beam and seen then that I could do the squat, but I didn't. This was the turning point.
Once school was out, I signed up for the gym full time. I believed completely that there was a direct correlation between working out and being sore (because that had always been my reality), but that isn't the case. At the beginning, I would work out for one hour a week and be out of commission for four or five days. Now, I can do the same workout and be absolutely fine. If you can push yourself beyond those first six weeks or so, then the pain isn't as bad.
And because I know that, it can be fun! Here are some things I love about it:
- The workouts are posted online every night at 8pm, so there is this whole element of surprise and anticipation that I enjoy.
- Because the workouts are programmed, there's never that moment when you show up at the gym with no idea what to do. I remember going to a traditional gym and looking around just to see what machines weren't taken, and doing those, and then wondering when I had done enough. None of that here.
- You can modify or substitute literally every move, so it's inclusive of every skill level. I hated running, so I would row instead. I had an old hand injury that made wall balls difficult, so I just did something else. I do push-ups on my knees. It's okay! Everyone else is way more focused on what they're doing to judge what you're doing.
- The workout schemes are super different. One day, you might be trying to do a certain rep scheme in a certain amount of time. Other days, you're doing this rep scheme four times, as long as it takes you. My favorite is the "emom," short for "every minute on the minute," where you have a given task (say, ten squat or run 100 meters) that you must initiate at the beginning of the minute, and you get to rest with whatever time you have left over. This adds an element of strategy to each workout that makes it feel more like a sport or a game than just a workout. I might say, "I usually use 35 pounds for the front squat, but today, I only have to do ten at a time. Maybe I can add ten pounds."
- You get a "score" for every workout, and it goes on the board that everyone can see and it gets posted on social media every evening. Your score might be how much time you took or how many rounds you completed. My scores are not competitive, but it does make me feel like I want to do my best every single time. I want to be proud of the number by my name.
- The people! Even if you don't go to the same class as your friends, you still see their scores on the board, and that creates a fun sense of community. I am also not the most outspoken or social person, but my gym really embraced me anyway. We're all there sweating together, with all the encouragement and none of the judgement, and it's okay if I'm not the best with banter.
January will be my ninth straight month of working out, which is just surreal. We even ran a 5K obstacle race for Thanksgiving! I am so grateful to my coach and my family for supporting me and being patient, patient, patient. I hope that anyone reading this who wants to resolve to get fit, stick it out past the first six weeks or so. It will get better. Get a community of people who will support, understand, and yet push you. And if you have access, seriously, try Crossfit. It's a cult, which I will explore in a later post, but it's a lot safer, more inclusive, and more fun than you'd expect.
Make 2020 your fittest year yet!