Thursday, July 14, 2011

Turning a Corner (or two)

The other day after complaining to my husband about my blistered hands and sore muscles--the result of a tough week of workouts, he said, "I think you've turned a corner". He went on to explain that he thought I was making progress with CrossFit.  I tried to act cool about it, but inside I was beaming.  Have I really turned a corner?  Finally?

Looking back on the entries in this blog, I realized I have gotten stronger.  I'm no longer doing puppies workouts, but pack workouts, every time.  Sometimes I have to scale the weights by 5 or 10 pounds, but otherwise I'm right there.  I've even done a few porch and big dog work outs. Those are the best days.  I'm currently on day 94 of the 100 day pull up challenge.  I jumped in at 63, inspired by a friend who was doing the challenge, and knowing I sorely needed to improve my pull ups.  So I haven't been doing this since day 1, but coming in at such high reps isn't easy.  Especially for me, a girl who has been known to cry, yes, SHED TEARS of frustration about the difficulty of doing just one pull up.

I can't believe it, but I actually enjoy doing pull ups now.

Sunset at our house in the mountains.  Who could ask for a better view while cranking out pull ups?

This alone is a huge change I never expected to experience. If I can learn to do something this difficult and actually start to enjoy it, well, then many things are possible. I'll stop now before I start to sound like a Hallmark card.

Now I'm just trying to figure out why it's taken me so long.  Why didn't I jump in and start making progress right away, or after six months?  Looking back I realize I had a ton of mental hurdles to overcome.  To begin with, I thought that all I wanted out of my fitness routine was to keep my weight in check.  I liked doing some cardio and fiddled around with weights, but other than that I just liked to get the work out over with.  When I was introduced to CrossFit, I was overwhelmed by the difficulty of the program and frustrated with a new way of eating that I thought was totally un-fun.  It violated my lax fitness expectations and required more discipline that I thought I had.  After many ugly work outs and pain sessions, it started to grow on me.  Journaling my results and breaking personal records especially changed my attitude.  After multiple set backs and personal epiphanies, I began to accept the barrage of new weird information and ended up loving the discipline/torture of it.  For the time I spend doing a workout everyday, I experience a state of Zen that I don't get from anything else right now.  For a few minutes, it's just me and the numbers.  

What makes this entry so hard to write, is that in less than a week I'll be boarding a plane to New York City, where I'll be living.  Goodbye garage gym and hard-earned fitness goals.  Much of that will be temporarily abandoned while we resettle our lives (and our three cats) in a huge expensive city.  Leaving our house in the country where we can do pull ups and sprints in the spacious back yard, and workout on our time at the garage gym will be difficult, not to mention stressful.

And have I mentioned that I'm a stress eater? 

We've decided we will be joining a CrossFit gym in New York.  I briefly entertained the idea of not doing so.  Of working out in a park, or doing CF in our tiny apartment, or even joining a regular gym (gasp!).  But these options are unrealistic and silly.  We know we love CF.  Like a religion, it's something we believe in entirely.  How could we live with ourselves if we joined a gym like Crunch?  We'd be frauds.  And we'd only approach such a place with the elitist arrogance of people who think they know more and are therefore better, which isn't right.

So we will join an affiliate, probably in Brooklyn, and it will be great.  It's the only way to keep up with what I've worked so hard to accomplish, and on top of that, it's a guaranteed way to make friends and establish a sense of community in a new, large, unfamiliar place.  This is the other corner, and although we aren't there yet, I can't wait.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Year/Holiday Hangover

Happy New Year Everyone! My attitude about New Year's is not so great...I'm a little skeptical of putting too much emphasis on it. A new year won't bring me a new, better, self, or a new, better life. In general, I think goal setting and self improvement depends on what's right for each individual, and isn't governed by the calendar. However, it's still a great way to take stock on the past and make goals for the time ahead.  Whatever it takes to keep pushing. Cheers to that.

Looking back, 2010 was pretty awesome because I got married. Our wedding was lovely, and we topped it off with an enchanting trip to Peru. I can't imagine having a better year anytime soon.

 Just married, and walking into the sun.

All reflections aside, how many of us worked up a sugar addiction over the holidays? I was thrilled to do some baking, which I hardly ever do. This year I made my family's traditional Czechoslovakian recipe for Kolache. I also tried some new cookie recipes while my husband cranked out several batches of eggnog.  It was all delicious and lovely, but it has to end somewhere. It HAS to end now.

And so over the past month I've savored the last cookies, chocolates, and sips of eggnog, knowing that when they're gone--they're gone. At the same time I've been eating more like a cave woman and am quickly remembering how incredibly delicious paleo and primal eating can be. This post has a few recipes to help us wean ourselves from holiday sugar addictions.

Paleo Date Balls

I came up with this recently while trying to use a bag of coconut that's been sitting on the shelf for a suspiciously long time. Dessert should not be an everyday occurrence, and if you're trying to clean up your diet I suppose it should be avoided entirely. But if you MUST have something sweet, just for the purpose of weaning, this little snack will help you out.


1/2 cup chopped dates (in food processor, if possible)
2 tablespoons honey or agave
2 cups toasted coconut
1/2 cup toasted sliced almonds
*These measurements are flexible depending on consistency.  You want a sticky mixture that holds together, so adjust the wet and dry ingredients accordingly.

Toast the coconut and almonds together in a small nonstick pan. Remove when coconut is evenly browned. Process dates with one tablespoon of honey or agave until they become a sticky, chunky consistency. Mix everything together in a small bowl with a spatula, only adding honey or agave until the mixture is moist enough to stick to itself. (Try not to overdo it). Add a splash of hot water to loosen the date mixture, if needed. Use a cookie dough scooper or similar tool to scoop out small compact balls. Place on parchment paper and refrigerate. The cookies will not stick together perfectly, so have fun using your fingers to mold them together. After some time in the refrigerator they should set up nicely.

The combination of chewy sweet dates with crunchy almonds and coconut is surprisingly good. This is much cheaper than paying for some of the paleo snacks that are currently available online. Play around with this recipe, use different kinds of nuts and fruits, or cocoa powder for a chocolate treat.

 Egg Muffins

Breakfast is a special meal, but can easily become redundant. This recipe comes from Mark Sisson's Primal Blueprint Cookbook, which I highly recommend. It's full of creative, delicious primal recipes, including unique surprises like these egg muffins. They are insanely easy, and provide a transportable breakfast.

I used eight eggs, a box of turkey sausage, and one green pepper. Simply beat with a whisk, fill muffin tins, and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Choose any meat or vegetable combination that pleases you. Take these to work with a piece of fruit and some nuts, and you'll look forward to breakfast. (Note, I would not recommend using paper liners. I tried them on my first batch and it made a papery mess. Greasing the muffin wells makes for a cleaner removal).

Good luck getting back to your hard-earned healthy habits, but don't forget to treat yourself along the way.

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats.
-Iris Murdoch

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

On the Grid: Recovery and Self Massage

First of all, get your mind out of the gutter.  This post is all about rubbing and ends with a naked blue man, so get over it.

Did anyone do the workout on the main site from August 22nd?  In case you haven't been scarred into remembering, it was:  400 meters walking lunge.  Yikes.  I did this in the back yard and it took me 9:28.  I'm actually not ashamed of my time, but boy am I paying for it.

This post is for those of you who've been so sore it's interfered with your workouts. I've written before about the importance of recovery, which I've paid more attention to since starting CrossFit.  I feel I should make a distinction between sore, and CrossFit sore. 

CrossFit sore is different in that the sensation is stiffer, and muscles are so tender they can barely stand any pressure.  It comes down to just plain painful.  This may be because muscles can develop trigger points, which are basically super sensitive spots in the muscles that, when pressed, can radiate pain locally.

I've always believed in massage.  I don't feel the need to get into the facts behind it, because apparently there's all kinds of conflicting research out there about whether or not it actually helps. I believe it does, and that's enough for me.  Being a real person with a busy schedule and a balanced budget, I can't afford to go get rubbed down every week. Sigh.

Fortunately, this lucky CrossFit girl received the Grid for her birthday this year.  It's basically an improved and updated version of a foam roller, a simple tool used to promote self massage, stretching, and myofacial release.  Basically you roll around on one of these and reap all kinds of benefits.  The Grid is different from the usual foam rollers in two ways:  the design is much more durable, and the grid-like pattern provides variation in pressure, that is, it's actually meant to mimic the feel of the fingertips, thumb, and forearm.  If you have developed trigger points the roller can be a little painful at first, but you will immediately feel the muscles relax, circulation increase, and the pain will subside.

I can't vouch for any other kind of roller because I've never used them.  What I do like about the Grid is that it provides almost instant relief, which is important when you're debilitatingly sore. It's also a product that is made to last, and I can't get enough of that.  Like CrossFit and all things fitness, this is not an easy solution. It requires a little bit of discipline in order to see true benefits.  Learning how to use this and rolling often is the best way to get relief.

I wanted to direct your attention to Trigger Point Therapy Australia; their website has an uber helpful "Body Biomechanics" tool that provides a wealth of information about soreness.  Just click where it hurts on the little naked blue man and you can access info about what's causing pain, and how to use self massage for relief.

Trigger Point Therapy sells a variety of products if you want to intensify your self massage regime.  Either way, take care of yourself when CrossFitting.  A disciplined fitness program requires disciplined recovery. Roll on!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mayonnaise: A Love Affair

I once heard someone refer to mayonnaise as "the white death".  As a kid I never understood what mayonnaise was, except that it was bad-- fattening, and bad for your cholesterol.  At picnics or delis I would wrestle with whether or not to add mayo, and would sometimes sneak a little gold packet of the white death before anyone saw.  I was never sure who would judge me and think I was gross for going for the white stuff.

Now as an adult who strives to eat a paleo diet, I realized mayonnaise is just eggs and oil. And easy to make! This realization has allowed me to burst forth from my mayonnaise-loving closet. 

I use the recipe found in The Paleo Diet  by Loren Cordain. Chicken salad, tuna salad, and cole slaw are on the menu each week at our house, and with summer in full swing, these salads are timely, delicious, and add a wonderful new dimension to paleo eating. If you happen to own the the magic bullet,  making this is truly a breeze because you can process and store your mayo in the same container.  And you thought the bullet was just for daiquiris...

Now that all the mystery and scandal around mayo has dissipated, I'm even more enticed.  I plan to commit to this homely condiment for a lifetime. 

And now for some mayonnaise-inspired art by Marc Johns.

Paleo Mayonnaise
  • 1 cage free egg
  • 1 tsp. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp. dry mustard
  • a little less that ½ cup of olive oil
  • ½ cup flaxseed oil  **to balance out the omega 3s and 6s. Clever, right?

1. Put egg, lemon juice, and mustard in your food processor/magic bullet, and turn it on for about 5 seconds.
 2. Slowly add oil mixture.
 3. Keep adding till the oil is all in and you notice the consistency of the mayonnaise is becoming thick.
 4. Place ingredients in a Tupperware and refrigerate it. It should stay fresh for about a week or so.

Monday, August 2, 2010

How We Move (or don't) in the Modern World

I've worked in an office for almost four years now, an environment that demands hours of sedentary activity, and compared to my previous jobs as a waitress, a nanny, and a graduate student, sitting all day has been a struggle.  Don't get me wrong, I'm totally lazy just like you, but what I hate hate hate more than anything is a day at the office where there's not much going on; no meetings, no deadlines, no training--and I sit, motionless for hours. It starts to feel like I'm just doing screen time until five o'clock when I'll switch to the car for the hour commute home (where I may sit watching television or writing for another few hours).  Luckily I find motivation in all this sitting, and get myself moving to the garage gym or my bike as soon as the whistle blows.  It's the only way I stay sane.

A few years ago I remember complaining to my boyfriend that 30 to 60 minutes of repetitive cardio and weight machines didn't seem to balance out the 10 or more hours of sitting I did everyday.  Those hours were spent working, then commuting, then watching TV or on the internet.  Even though I was technically active, my daily routine still felt unbalanced.

I recently discovered an article via Mark's Daily Apple, an excellent blog on primal living, about this extreme imbalance. In it, research shows that we need to move more than just the prescribed 30 minutes per day in order to fight heart disease.

Phys Ed: The Men Who Stare at Screens By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

...the men who sat the most had the greatest risk of heart problems. Men who spent more than 23 hours a week watching TV and sitting in their cars (as passengers or as drivers) had a 64 percent greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours a week or less. What was unexpected was that many of the men who sat long hours and developed heart problems also exercised...Their workouts did not counteract the ill effects of sitting.

Yikes! Not what the 30-minutes-on-the-elliptical-machine lovers want to hear!  Turns out we have to do a whole lot better to keep heart disease at bay.

As Mark often writes on his blog, we humans were designed to move, a lot, not sit on our butts all day and then run on a machine for 30 minutes at the same pace.  It makes sense, right? Mark has an excellent entry of his own about how to cope in a cubicle.   Reading this article was another break through for me, the girl who has learned how to do triangle pose in a bathroom stall, or can be seen doing push ups behind her desk in the afternoon.  Like I said, it's been a struggle, but this article proves that I've been on the right track, that extra movement is beneficial. 

So now I'm a bean counter of movement.  I pay more attention to my daily movements and try to make the most of them.  I used to make fun of hefty folks who parked far away from the front of the store in order to burn extra calories, but I now find myself doing the same thing.  Not to stay skinny, but to stay alive!  When it comes to chores, I have a new added appreciation for tidying the house. Also, it turns out that physical work often equals money saved. If we're moving, we're usually not consuming. If we do the work ourselves instead of paying another man or machine, we're saving dough! Yay!

Ways to Move...and Save

Here are a few things I've been doing to move more.  If you happen to be a person who makes a living doing manual labor, you're probably already laughing at this entry and scoffing at my complaints and research.  It probably goes without saying that this information will only appeal to fellow office dwellers. 

Start the day with a yoga video, or Thai Chi video, or any other video you enjoy. Sometimes I do 20 minutes, sometimes 40 minutes. It's free and convenient and feels great.

Walk during lunch: I've been doing this methodically for years simply because it's a nice way to spend the lunch hour.  It's free, and keeps me from making B.S. trips to Target where I can easily blow 50 bucks when all I needed was a birthday card.

Clean the car: I recently opted for the $3 basic car wash and decided to detail the inside myself.  This involved carrying out the vacuum, crouching, bending, and other unattractive ways of moving, but movement nonetheless. 

Squats: whenever and wherever. A set of 20 is enough to get my heart rate up and some oxygen back to the brain.  I do them all day long at the office, usually behind a closed door. (I'm sure my co-workers would thank me).

And oh yeah, CrossFit workouts! Many days of the week I'm quite sore from doing the WOD, and these light extra activities actually help alleviate the soreness.

The other great benefit is the time away from THE SCREEN. Interacting with people, animals, plants, listening to music, creating something--the brain is better off with some time spent with Real things. I'm sure there's a study somewhere that supports this.

And finally, so I don't feel like a total fraud, I must admit that I'm passionate about my couch.  Like, passionate.  When you've made your house home, it is a glorious place.  Beer, a husband, and a few sweet kitties make it all the more magical.  But only after one has earned it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Making Fun of CrossFitters

I like making fun of people, especially people who are so nerdily into something they create a sort of cult. Trekkies, Nascar fans, fantasy role playing gamers, intensive in-line skaters, etc. CrossFitters are no exception...except that they look cool, or so they think. Sure, I'm probably making fun because of my low self-esteem and insecurity, because I can't do 100 pull ups or never puked after a work out, or whatever.

What makes enthusiasts so interesting is the culture they create that, to them, is normal, but to outsiders, is freakish. I still consider myself an outsider in the world of CrossFit, quietly working out and whining about it on my blog, but I've gotten a sneak peak of this elite culture, and it can be funny. CrossFitters aren't dorks, they're just CrossFitters. Nuanced or not, there are several ways to spot one. But don't get caught making fun, because CF'ers could rip your head off and squat thrust your torso and wall ball your head 5 rounds, 100 reps each, for time. Here's my rundown:

CrossFit Fashions
If they're hardcore: tribal tats, an affiliate t-shirt with a bad-ass logo, the Vibram five fingers, knee socks, board shorts and a wallet chain (see the video below), and of course, going shirtless (note, the harder the work out, the more naked you must become). Sure, some of it's functional, but isn't it great that it all happens to look good together and distinguish you as an elite specimen of fitness? By far the coolest CrossFit fashion is war wounds; bruises and scrapes along the shins, blisters on the palms, and abrasions on the collar bones. I'm currently showing three blisters on my palms and a nice bruise on my left shoulder where I allowed a 25 pound dumbbell to come crashing down on me. So yeah, while scrapes and bruises are often signs of dedication and tenacity, in my case they are signs of weakness and stupidity. 

Gratuitous Photography
Taking photos of yourself or others doing WODs. I love photography, but sometimes wonder what the point is of having photos of myself looking so utterly tortured. Sure, the process is glorious and I love a good hard workout, but it's not pretty. I find it especially bad if you've had your fitness photos done professionally, and aren't a professional at anything.

Maybe some consider it a sign of a truly successful workout.  A badge, an initiation, a good story.  I think it's gross and have tried to avoid blowing chunks in any way possible.

The least fashionable and least funny, we all have one, but the trick is keeping it on the down low.  Luckily I'm not very strong or tough, so I can totally be above having one.

In all seriousness I'm thankful for a program that is so innovative, challenging, and honorable. Yes, honorable. Now, enjoy another video.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Hand Stand Push Ups: A Cool Party Trick.

CrossFit workouts incorporate movements I never would've dreamed of doing at a regular gym.  Some of the exercises remind me of something a dude would try at a party after a few drinks just to show off. Whatever their origins or purpose, some CF movements are simply exotic, but nevertheless entirely challenging. 

Take hand stand push ups, for example.  Not long ago I was struggling just to crank out a few regular push ups, and the idea of doing them upside down with body weight and gravity working against my toothpick arms seemed downright impossible. Ahh but that's what I love about CrossFit. It busts down those barriers in the mind that tell us what is and isn't possible.

I first became intrigued by this exercise when I saw competitors at the Superfit games in Charlottesville struggling to do them.  I also saw a girl doing them as a warm up, and she made it look easy.  Jealously quickly ensued. My fiance pointed out that her short stature helped, because the shorter your arms are, the less range of motion you have to cover.  This girl was doing them with a rubber plate, so she wasn't going down all the way, but none of that mattered. I wanted to learn.

Luckily I'm a natural at doing handstands.  All my years of yoga have helped with that, and I actually love being upside down.  I used to do a headstand while watching TV to practice my balance (which my family hated). Unfortunately, I'm kind of tall, so when I'm in the hand stand position it seems like I've got miles to go before my head comes anywhere close to the ground. Sooner than that, I inevitably reach the sticking point where toothpick arms go to jelly and I nearly crush my skull.

My approach to this exercise was to first just hang out in the hand stand position, usually for a minute at time. (This helped!). Then, I began to slowly lower myself until I couldn't stand it anymore, and promptly pushed back up.  I keep doing it everyday, somewhere around 10-15 attempts after finishing the WOD.  I use a thick piece of cushion for safety, and over the past week have been able to touch the crown of my head against the cushion.  Woooopty do.  It's a small success.

Check out this very excellent video from CrossFit kids that is both ego-crushing and inspiring. There is much to learn from and love about this video; the clever progressions, Duncan's dedication and tenacity, his little pair of high top chuck tailors, the dogs, and his early success.  (I also LOVE that he's working out in what looks like a climbing gym. Very cool).

The video has inspired me to put myself on a 6 week program, and to try some of the progressions Duncan demonstrated. Right now I'm technically in week 2, which  means I should be able to do a hand stand push up by about May 3rd. I'll keep you posted, and if successful, will be a happy CrossFit girl with a very cool party trick.