60 Days of Crossfit – A Skeptic’s Review

Woman and Bar

CrossFit. Saying the word evokes two kinds of responses. One is the wide-eyed stare of awe accompanied by OMG, I heard that is SO hard! The other is the sneering sort of disdain where they roll their eyes and insist CrossFit is a cult for meat-heads. There’s even a phrase for the latter referring to its cultish following: Drinking the Crossfit Kool-Aid.

I fell somewhere in between the two responses above. Clients often asked me what I thought of it and I always replied that I heard it was good but that everyone I know who tried it had also been injured. I wrote it off as another fad and intended to stick safely within the comfort zone of my typical (ineffective) workout.

So how then did I talk myself into trying CrossFit?

I mentioned in a previous post how I fell off the fitness wagon for about 18 months.

Fast forward through the general stresses of life like moving back and forth across town a few times, a couple of breakups, a nearly empty summer client schedule, dwindling funds, and lack of exercise, and I have to admit I put on a few pounds. Well, ok, more than a few. Even worse, my energy was lacking, my strength was waning, and the depression demons were starting to eye my growing discontent greedily.

Determined to get my body and my health back, I tried a few things. Group-based tabata training was fun for a while but the repetitive plyometrics on a concrete floor led to an injury that still bothers me nearly a year later. Personal training and group fitness through my gym was good at first, but I quickly plateaued and got bored. A co-worker suggested I give CrossFit a try. I even did the thing where I rolled my eyes and spouted a few excuses. “Yeah, but it leads to injury. Yeah, but they do gymnastics and stuff and I can’t do that. Yeah, but I don’t want to work out with a bunch of over-zealous meat-heads.” The truth is, I had no experience with CrossFit and was basing these opinions entirely on hearsay.

Haters gonna hate

Haters gonna hate

I justified starting not for myself, but because I would then have an honest opinion to give those who asked me about it. I researched a few gyms (they call them boxes) and put out some inquiries. Voodoo CrossFit 512 in northwest Austin was the first to respond in a timely manner so I begrudgingly went to check it out.

Join me at Voodoo!

Join me at Voodoo!

I’m not going to lie. I was scared. I was afraid I was too out of shape, that I would embarrass myself attempting to do olympic lifts, handstands and ring dips. Within two weeks though, I was hooked. Here’s why.

1. Every workout (WOD – workout of the day) is different. Boom! No more boredom!

2. Every day you look at the WOD with shifty eyes and think there’s no way you can get through it. An hour later you leave feeling elated because you DID do it!

3. You become more competent and confident in what your body can achieve every week.

4. You work out your brain too as you assimilate new technique and form. Neuroplasticity y’all. It keeps you young.

5. It inspires a healthier diet. You will begin to notice how your food affects your workout. Indulging will make you feel sluggish, bloaty and nauseated while eating well allows you to conquer your workout and still have energy left over to complete your day.

6. You instantly gain a new family. The community aspect of CrossFit is always talked up and I’m learning that it’s truth. Turn to anyone to ask for help and it is given, take motivation and strength as people cheer you on to finish, gain renewed energy when, dripping with sweat and barely able to stand, someone offers you a high five with a beaming smile and tells you what a great job you did. Plus, this is a huge bonus when you need strong people to help you move.

Voodoo Dolls April & Jenny help each other out at a competition.

Voodoo Dolls April & Jenny help each other out at a competition.

7. You gain a dozen new role models. I thought everyone would be chiseled and intimidating but you walk in and see men and women of all different shapes and sizes totally kicking ass. It erases the stigma that you have to have a flawless body and 8-pack abs to be strong and fit. These are ordinary people achieving extraordinary things.

Starting to sound pretty good right? Not as scary as you thought? To be fair, it’s not all sunshine and roses and there is a flip-side.

1. You MUST know your limits. Body awareness is a key factor so that you can identify when you may be lifting too heavy, your form isn’t quite right, or you are teetering on the edge of overexertion. Someone new to exercise may not know the difference and could be more prone to injury.

Crossfit Fail

What I fear will happen every time I pick up the bar

2. You will doubt yourself. Staring at the bar thinking holy shit how am I going to manage this? is your opportunity to overcome. All movements can be scaled and as long as you don’t quit, you win!

3. There is a learning curve. Besides a whole new vocabulary (AMRAP, EMOM, WOD, WTF?), it takes time and repetition to learn these highly technical skills. Ask for help, again and again, and again, and again some more (sorry, Scott!).

4. It’s hot. There’s no A/C in the box so if you are prone to heat exhaustion this may be a limiting factor for you. Get used to sweat dripping from your nose, your hair, and down the crack of your butt. Take comfort in the fact that everyone is as dewey and glowing as you are.

5. It’s expensive. It is a chunk of change, but you are paying for accountability, community, self-confidence, and results. If it’s at all within your budget, it’s totally worth it.

6. Calluses, bruises, marks and scars. CrossFit is a sport, and stuff happens sometimes but no one complains and they often wear their wounds like a badge of honor.

7. Hunger. After a few weeks you will want to eat everything. Many an overheard conversation in the box starts like this “You know what sounds so good right now?”

But wait, what about the results? Oh, that’s what you’ve stuck around for? To hear my amazing transformation story? Well, I don’t have one…yet. I haven’t lost any weight, but I’d say in the past two weeks or so I am starting to notice my muscles feeling denser and more firm and my hunger is ramping up (yay, metabolism!). I err on the side of caution with my lifts so I don’t aggravate any of my previous injuries, but as my technique and strength improves I think I will develop the confidence to go heavier and harder. Many of the people I have met do have amazing transformation stories though, and it inspires me to be patient when you see what they have achieved within a year. In the meantime, I am actually enjoying my workouts and I’m happier than I have been in years.

You may love it, you may hate it, but I hope that if you have never tried it that this post inspires you to give CrossFit a shot. I still remain a bit cautious. Instead of gulping the Crossfit Kool-Aid, I’m savoring it in sips.

Titanic Crossfit

 

Look At My Muffins….Look At Them!

muffins

I’ve been reading a blog, Mackenzie’s Clean Eats, from a local Austin author for a few months now. Along with sharing her impressive weight loss journey and success from eating clean and working out, she likes to clean up recipes like burritos or pad thai and make them a healthier guiltless meal.

There was a bunch of overripe bananas sitting on my counter neglected by one of my roommates. Around Christmas I used to make my famous banana chocolate chip bread and give it away as gifts. This stuff is heaven in your mouth, let me tell you. I couldn’t let those sad overripe bananas be tossed away, but I also didn’t want to be burdened with eating an entire loaf of banana bread on my own (seriously, I could eat the whole thing in about 3 days). I decided to clean up the recipe, a la Mackenzie, and see what happens.

I tried two variations.

Batch 1: I simply reduced the sugar by half, butter by half, and substituted some unsweetened applesauce for the missing butter. I used dark chocolate chips instead of semi-sweet. These turned out pretty darn tasty, I didn’t even notice the missing sugar.

Batch 2: I halved the sugar again (so we’re down to 1/4 of what the recipe called for), did the half and half butter applesauce combo, but I added a scoop of whey protein and ground up 1/4 cup of flax seeds to throw in.

I wasn’t sure how the protein/flax muffins would taste. Have you ever smelled freshly ground flax seed? I gotta be honest, it’s weird. The batter was a lot gummier too and I was worried they would be really dense. But, lo and behold, they came out great and though I did notice these being less sweet and slightly grittier due to the flax, they were still stupid good.

Ok, enough of the blabber, you’re thinking, but are they good for you? Well, I don’t know if I would go that far, but at least they’re less bad…by quite a bit. Unfortunately, not paleo friendly since I used standard white flour and sugar but I’m sure there are paleo adaptions for a similar treat. Oh, look, here’s one!

Check out the original recipe nutrient profile vs. the protein/flax variation:

                                Original                                Protein/Flax
Cals:                          
260                                            169
Carbs (g):                  
40                                              25
Protein (g):                
 4                                                 5
Fat (g):                          
9                                                 6
Sugar (g):                  
22                                               10

Not so bad, eh? To further discourage my mindless nibbling of tasty treats such as these, I put them all in the freezer so when I pull one out I have to patiently wait 15 minutes or so before I can eat. Basically, I have to plan my intention to eat one. I think it helps.

Enjoy!

20140226_073513

Banana Chocolate Chip Power Muffins (Because adding “power” to any recipe makes it sound cool)

3 medium overripe bananas (mashed)
2 eggs
1 1/2 C flour
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C butter (softened or melted)
1/4 C unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp baking soda
1 scoop protein powder (I use Jay Robb’s Vanilla Whey)
1/4 C whole flax seed
1/3 C dark chocolate chips (I chopped mine into smaller pieces)

Preheat oven to 350. Whisk together eggs, butter, sugar, and applesauce. Add in the mashed banana. Stir in flour, baking soda, protein powder and ground flax seed (I used a coffee grinder). Chop up your chocolate chips and stir those in. Spoon into muffin cups, bake for 15-20 min. Should be golden brown on top and a toothpick will come out clean. Serves 12.

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Accountability Update – Month 1

It’s been about a month since I posted about attempting to gain some accountability towards my fitness goals. So, how’s it going? Um….let’s just say I could use more time.

No, no, it hasn’t been a total disaster, but the lack of results have led me to put some new rules in place. Let’s review:

My exercise goals weren’t as realistic as I thought. I never made it to training and yoga in the same day. I always intended to do 60 minutes of cardio on Friday, but the reality was more like 35 to 40 and that was at a low intensity. The weather was really crappy here for a while so I didn’t make it outside on Saturdays very often. We had a break from dance rehearsals for a month but that will be resuming this week. And, last but not least I got nailed with a chest cold and didn’t work out for about 9 days.

My nutrition improved a smidge, but I thought I could handle an “everything in moderation” attitude. Yeah…no, I can’t.

I don’t feel like I totally failed though. Some progress was made with overall consistency and I feel like that is a good first step. Lifestyle change is trial and error and while I’m disappointed I didn’t have any changes in body composition, I set the stage for better adherence.

This month I will be trying a few new things. I started nutrition tracking again via MyFitnessPal. While it can be a pain in the ass, it helps me be aware of what I’m taking in and keeps me from thoughtlessly grazing on the goodies in the break room. Plus, after just two days, I realized how deficient I am with my protein requirements. I’m only getting about 50-60% of my goal. Huh. Who knew?

I obviously have a hard time with the length of my cardio sessions. So, I plan to keep them at just around 30 minutes, but I will commit to increasing the intensity with intervals (HIIT or Tabata) or at the very least, just a more challenging steady state. Now that the weather is warmer I find it pretty easy to get out on the weekends for at least 60 minutes of walk/jog or hiking with friends.

So, that’s the scoop after month 1. Lots more work to do but we’ll get there little by little!

NatureBox Snack Service – A Review

NatureBox helps you eat healthier without needing to change your eating habits. We focus on snacks because that’s the easiest habit to change.”

This is from the NatureBox Mission Statement. Their goal, to make you healthier one snack at a time. Since starting back at a desk job, I don’t have the convenience of running to the refrigerator every time I get hungry. When I came across their ad on Facebook (damn you, Facebook ads!) I decided I would give it a shot.

NatureBox

I eagerly awaited my first order, which arrived approximately a week later in a tidy rectangular box. Your first order is a sample box with 5 bags of assorted goodies left to the discretion of the Gods of Packaged Snacking. So when I opened my box I was a little let down that 4 out of the 5 snacks were…vegan. GASP! 2 of them were corn products…seriously? Well, ok, but at least they are from non-GMO corn. And another was a granola product. So, coming from a mostly paleo diet, 80% of my snacks didn’t jive with me. Luckily, I am not a purist and have no allergies that would send me running to the bathroom or reaching for the Benadryl, so I tore everything open and began to sample. My first box contained:

  • Cherry Berry Bonanza
  • Vanilla Macaroon Granola
  • Masa/Flax Crisps
  • Toasted Corn Kernels
  • Pistachio Power Clusters

The vanilla macaroon granola was heaven in my mouth, but it was pretty much dessert in a bag. The pistacho power clusters were also very sweet, as well as the cherry berry bonanza. The masa/flax crisps (think healthy Fritos) were so salty I couldn’t even finish them and the toasted corn kernels (like Corn Nuts) were ok, but you’d better have strong teeth to chow down on those puppies. First impressions on flavor…not so hot, but these snacks are Nutritionist Approved!, so I took a look at the back of the bags.

Let’s examine the Cherry Berry Bonanza for a moment.

Berry Label

The second ingredient is sugar and if you look at the the total carbohydrates it is 33 grams per serving. You know what else has 33 grams of carbohydrates per serving? A full size Snickers bar. Yep. At least a Snickers bar has 4 grams of protein with all that sugar (not that I’m condoning snacking on a candy bar…step away from the vending machine). Not sure how this one  became Nutritionist Approved. The other snacks were a little better but still not in my ideal realm of nutrient composition and many of their products contain soy ingredients. No bueno.

The second month of service you can log in to your account and choose your own snacks. I picked out the following:

  • Plantain Chips
  • Dark Chocolate Almonds
  • Peanut Butter Nom Noms
  • Smokey BBQ Peas
  • Dark Chocolate Cherry Trail Mix

Much happier with this second round so far. The peanut butter nom noms and chocolate almonds were still too sweet, but had sugars under 11 grams per serving. The plantain chips are amazing. Light, crispy and just salty enough. I think they are my favorite of the snacks. The trail mix and BBQ peas are tasty too and much more acceptable with the sweet/salty factor than the first order of snacks.

My opinion of NatureBox is that it is a good transition for people who tend to snack on vending machine food looking to improve their food choices. It’s a good start. There are many options to choose from and their selection varies from month to month so you can always find new things to try. For $20/month, it’s not a bad way to ensure you will have some moderately healthy snacks around when you need them; especially if it keeps you from eating the donuts in the break room. Many of the products are high in sugar or sodium, and contain soy or vegetable oils, which I prefer to stay away from. If you are looking for a gentle push towards eating better then give NatureBox a try, but if you are a purist you’re better off seeking your own snacks where labels can be read meticulously before purchase, or just make your own from scratch.

21-Day Sugar Elimination: The good, the bad, and the chubby

We all go through phases in our life where our good intentions with diet and fitness get left behind. For me, I didn’t just fall off the wagon, I took an epic swan dive off of it and then got dragged behind for a few miles. Yeah, it was that bad, or at least, it felt that way to me. I decided I needed to take charge of my diet again, especially now that I have a consistent schedule. I decided to try a 21-day sugar elimination challenge. 30 days can feel like forever, and two weeks isn’t usually long enough to see results, but 21 is pretty manageable.

The What:

No processed food, no fruit, no honey, no sugar (obviously). I grappled with the idea of whether to include grains or not and opted for occasional grains. No wheat, but I did make some savory millet muffins to satisfy my texture cravings. I also did use stevia occasionally. I made up my own rules for this challenge, however, there is an official version of the 21-Day Sugar Detox complete with guidance and meal plans here.

The Why:

My weakness is poor planning. I dread coming up with meal ideas and I absolutely loathe going to the grocery store. If all the ingredients are there and a plan is in place I have no problems with the actual cooking. The sugar detox was less about eliminating junk food like candy, soda, or donuts which I don’t eat anyway, and more about actually cooking real meals on a regular basis instead of reaching for a Lara Bar as dinner (oh, yes, I did).

The Bad:

The first few days were a little rough. I had some mild headaches and fatigue as my body made the switch from carbohydrates to fat as its primary fuel source. Meal planning and prepping was definitely an effort and I had to set aside the time to make it happen. I never made it the full 21-Days. I didn’t think about Thanksgiving when I started this challenge. This holiday isn’t that indulgent for me, but I didn’t anticipate leftovers and it fell apart quickly after that. I only survived 15 days of the challenge.

The Good:

This was so much easier than I expected. I thought my sugar cravings would turn me into something like Gollum, lurking around my kitchen, tearing food out of my cabinets looking for any morsel of chocolate I can find hissing “my precioussssss!!!” I’ve totally been there before; you probably have too. Admit it. Honestly though, I didn’t have many cravings. I found that some tea or coffee with a little stevia easily squashed the sugar monster when it started to rear its ugly head. I did have success with planning ahead and cooking real food. Usually doubling the recipe to ensure I had lots of leftovers for lunch and dinners throughout the week. Now that I know I CAN do this, it will be much easier to commit to and maintain in the future.

The Chubby:

Yeah, ok, I admit I did this a little for the weight loss. I know that eating proper whole foods is the key to having a healthy lean body and I wasn’t eating enough of it. I did lose almost 3 pounds in the 15 days I stuck to the challenge. That’s actually pretty good considering I haven’t been working out at all. It was the difference between pants that were unbearably tight, to pants that are now merely uncomfortable. Now that I have had some success with this experiment and will be starting to train again this week, I see no reason why I can’t get back to the fitter version of myself I was a year ago.

The Takeaway:

A challenge like this should never be used as a quick fix. Instead, view it as an experiment to see how your body, mind, and mood are affected when changing variables such as nutrition, fitness, or mindset. I noticed that when I did indulge in sugar again, the headaches came right back. I wasn’t expecting that but I’m glad I know that I have immediate negative reinforcement to keep me in check. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t complete the challenge, but instead of binging on cookies because I failed, I’m going to celebrate the success of my 15 days and use that to fuel the coming weeks, months and years of a healthier lifestyle. I won’t be perfect, but I’ll be a step closer. I also think a challenge like this would be good to do a few times a year to help reset any bad habits that have crept back in and keep you aware of your goals.

Changing bad habits doesn’t have to be agonizing and dreadful, but it does require effort and that effort is critical to the success of your goals. What effort will you commit to today, right now, this very moment?

How I Decided to Stop Being Miserable and Start Kicking Ass

When I tell people I am a personal trainer for a large gym chain, they usually exclaim how awesome it must be to be employed at a place where you can work out anytime you want. I thought the same thing when I started. A year and a half later I now understand that though I like working with my clients, the gym is still a job, and that means when my time is my own, the last thing I want to do is be there longer for my own workouts. This led to less and less motivation until I realized one day that my clients were becoming fitter than me.

Fast forward through the general stresses of life like moving back and forth across town a few times, a couple of breakups, a nearly empty summer client schedule, dwindling funds, and lack of exercise, and I have to admit I put on a few pounds. Well, ok, more than a few. Even worse, my energy was lacking, my strength was waning, and the depression demons were starting to eye my growing discontent greedily.

My recent relationship failure was a wake-up call. I immediately decided that I didn’t want to be the person who reclines on a chaise lounge with the back of their hand to their forehead exclaiming “woe is me!” Nope, unacceptable. I decided to use this opportunity to become something better. I took a few days to process the sadness, then got to work.

fainting_thumb

“Woe is me!” Hell no, not happening!

It was a convenient coincidence (or was it?) that during this time Groupon happened to offer two things I had been wanting to try: Kettlebell classes and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Both of these classes were close to me and even fit with my schedule. Realizing I needed to be out of my gym’s environment to succeed, I immediately signed up for both.

I have committed to going 5 times a week, as long as my schedule continues to allow it. Having an obligation each morning helps keep me focused and more productive throughout the rest of the day. Working hard next to new moms, overweight empty-nesters, cancer survivors or ultra-fit triathletes boosts me out of the depths of loneliness as we cheer each other on. Now, in week 4, I am starting to notice my endurance improving and my muscles becoming firm again, I am eating cleaner than I have in a year, and I have even lost 2 pounds so far. There are still bad days, but being healthy and strong makes them a lot easier to take on.

Want to hear the best part? The best part is knowing that I am doing this solely for myself. This is my practice, what I do that will lead me one day to say I’m proud of who I am and what I have accomplished. Like a catalyst in a chain reaction, this growing confidence will spread to other areas of my life, and to other people in my life. We’re going nuclear, baby, yeah! An explosion of greatness is about to happen!

415575_424625037551784_1253440103_o

Effecting worldly change whilst kicking some ass. Go me!

Authors note: This post took quite a U-turn. The original intent was to write about injury prevention, but sometimes you just gotta go with the flow and express the message that needs to be given. This helped me process the past 4 weeks of emotional turmoil; I hope it helps you in some small way too!