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Bodyweight Deadlift!

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Earlier this year, not at new years, but maybe February or March, I set myself two physical goals. February and March are dark and cold and windy and winter seems always to have gone on forever in New England. Even though I was off sailing in the Caribbean and trying to power through mentally, I couldn't shake the winter blues. Even my light therapy lamp wasn't helping.

I decided that I wanted two things before I left for Ireland. Before I officially turned 60. Before I switched my life up yet again.

1. Deadlift my bodyweight. 

2. One unassisted pull up.

So I started working with my coach at CrossFit Merrimack, once a week, in addition to my regular WODs, then only about 3 x per week. Each week he'd put me through strengthening or mobility or technique exercises and sometimes they were nearly impossible for me to do and left me gasping in a hot sweat, and sometimes they were terrifying (sits ups on a GHD) but most times they were exhilarating. 

I learned so many things but the big one was this: I won't break. As I've gotten older and then with two years off CF because of the pandemic, I had this irrational fear that if I lifted too much, I'd hurt myself. Maybe it was loss of confidence; maybe being away for too long; maybe not feeling like I had a CF home. Hard to know but it doesn't really matter. 

During this time of coached sessions, I upped my attendance from 3 x a week to 5 x a week plus the coached session, and usually yoga or active recovery on another day. One full day of rest. Over time I realized I didn't need as much recovery time as I thought. That I wasn't sore every day from hard workouts but my body was tired. That I could lift so much more than I thought I could. 

So today, my nearly 60 year old body, on a 6'2" frame, lifted 173 #, which is what I weighed when I stepped on the scale this morning.

I am a Glamazon. 

The pulls up are still a stretch, but I didn't think I'd get to my body weight inside of 8 weeks, so who knows? I know I often undersell myself, even to myself. 

As I sit down tonight to fill out an application for a writer's residency, I remind myself that maybe not today or even tomorrow, but maybe in six weeks or six months, I'll be lifting my pen in a room overlooking the Pacific Ocean, one of a select few accepted. I just have to do the daily lifting. 

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CrossFit in unfamiliar places

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I've been going to a different box for my WODs this week, as I'm at my brother's place watching the cats and dogs and teenager. Finding a box where you feel at home is like finding a community. 

The first place I started CrossFit, I was one of the first people to join as I'd been getting personal coaching sessions from the owner. When she said she was opening a box, I wasn't sure it was something I wanted to do, but she basically said if you want me to keep coaching you, you need to come. So I did. And I didn't know enough to be intimidated by all the 20-somethings who were young and beautiful. I was just trying to hold my own in middle age.

I attended there for I don't know how long, and then I moved to another box that was just easier to get to because it was on my commute home. I literally drove right past it. The box had a completely different feel. Much smaller. Very queer friendly and diverse because it was bang in the middle of the city. There was an urban garden on the roof, bees, and chickens in a corner of the lot. Totally community focused with discounted memberships and lots of outreach.

My box now is reminiscent of my first box - in a gritty, urban area - basically a warehouse with minimal equipment but everything you need to have a great workout. The dust blows in from the unpaved parking lot but after months of going there, it feels like my home.

These last few days, I've been going to the box I always go to when at my brother's. It's immaculately clean, all the equipment is shiny and new, but again, a bare warehouse and the 200 meter sprints are across a parking lot that runs parallel to MetroNorth. All the weights are in different places, the bars in scattered racks, and I still haven't found the resistance bands. That said, it too feels like home because we're all there for the same thing. A good WOD in a supportive environment.

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Steady stages

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Nearly every Tuesday, in addition to my regular WODs, I have a coaching session with the box owner. Often I find myself doing exercises that aren't what are on my 'To Do List', i.e., 1 bodyweight deadlift; 1 unassisted pull up. He has me doing things like GHD sit ups, 12 reps x 3 sets interspersed with KB deadlifts, 44 lb. each hand, 10 reps x 3 sets. As I move back and forth between those two exercises, I find little muscles in my body that I didn't know existed. I think back to my first round of GHD sit ups, and I thought I was going to fall off the machine and the muscles that cross my hip bones were sore the next day. 

Tomorrow, I'm sure I'll wake up and some weird muscle I didn't even know existed will be sore but I won't notice it immediately. I'll do some usual task, like taking the trash to the dumpster, and when I toss it in, I'll feel a tug and go "Ah hah! That's what he was working on with those KB deads."

As I'm working around my EMA, I find the same 'Ah hah' moments. Today as I was researching what it meant to be a laundress on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1880s, an entire scene came to me of my great-grandmother. She's in her late twenties, but only married a little over a year and heavily pregnant with her first child, hauling buckets of water up and down the tenement stairs. Sunday was the soaking day. Monday washing day and drying. Tuesday ironing and starching day. I picture her trying to wring out clothing by hand, hang it on the line, reel the line in using the pulley, reaching, wringing, bending again and again. 

I am writing around the central part of my EMA, strengthening all those writing muscles with research and flights of fancy so that when I do sit down to concentrate and pull all this material together, I'll have that solid core, where everything is working in unison and has been strengthened and is ready for that final, heavy lift.


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On CrossFit and writing

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Some days, the only time I leave my house is to go to CrossFit. Right now, my job is dull, and I'm killing time until June, when I can hand in my notice. So I do what I have to, but then, at 4:00 PM, I put on my workout clothes and run to my car and run into the box, and I'm excited to be there even when the workout is brutal and my body is tired and my brain is tired and I really want to stay home. 

The other element is that having done the WOD, I then, and only then, get to stop at Brew'd Awakening on my way home and get the caramel-pretzel-brownie. I'm allowed one sweet thing a day, and when the coffee shop has fresh ones made that day, I'm in heaven. 

Today, I was tired all day, tired going into the WOD, but 20 Wallballs, 10 burpee-box jumps, and 20 push press later, I'm tired in an accomplished, sweaty, glad-I-got out of the house. There was no caramel-pretzel-brownie but the fresh baklava was equally as good. 

Maybe writing is the same. Some days it's a struggle, but there's always that little reward at the end, the little sweetness that no matter how poorly or well I did something, a workout, a writing prompt, my paid job, the part I need to focus on is that I did it. Regardless of what I am doing, I'll get better over time. Consistency is key.

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My muscles are tired

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In the last few months, when I am not traveling, I have been doing 6 CrossFit workouts a week at CrossFit Merrimack in an effort to achieve the above-mentioned goals of deadlifting 170# and doing one unassisted pull up. The first goal is within reach. The second one is...well...the corporate term would be a "stretch" goal, a term I always found idiotic but then I find most of corporate-speak fairly idiotic. 

The first one is doable.

The second may be - or it may not. I'm 6'2" tall, female, 170#. That's a long muscled body to pull up a long way. My arms are - from gripping palm to arm pit - 2 feet long. I have to lift that straight up, no kipping, no assistance bands. .

Today was what I euphemistically term my rest day or alternatively, active recovery day. No weights. No burpees. No sprinting. 

But I did spend 4.5 hours slowly walking, bending and picking up trash with the Lowell Litter Krewe. We look like convicted miscreants, orange vests, those metal grabbers for picking stuff off the ground, pulling a trash bag behind us or carrying our five-gallon plastic bucket, picking up other people's trash. For fun. For our city. Because we live here. Our vests don't say "community service" but that's what we are in the truest sense of the word. We have not been ordered by the courts, but only by an internal moral compass and a chance to give back to the community where we all live. To see an immediate improvement in our environment and our neighborhood.

Regardless, after 4.5 hours of picking up trash, I come home and sit down and will rest the remainder of the day. The most demanding activity I'll engage in is this: writing, thinking, writing, thinking. That will tire me enough. 

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On learning to see

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Edited by Barbara Clough, Tuesday, 21 Dec 2021, 01:23

I find myself looking closely at people's faces and it's hard to look intently without staring. Or appearing to be staring. Or just staring. How else can you look intently at someone who is sitting 3 feet away from you on the floor of the gym? I noticed that my coach has really soft eyes with a charcoal rim that on a woman would be eye liner, but on him, it's just his dark eyelashes close together. And I noticed today that he'd trimmed his beard so it's less of a grizzled inch or so and more like a four or five day growth. When he comes over to coach me, I find he's an intent looker. Eye contact, questioning, "you doing okay? tighten up your core a bit more on the push ups - it's better form." It doesn't make the push ups easier but he is clearly looking intently at form all the time, on all of us, which really is his job but I've had some oblivious coaches. Then again, he knows I am coachable.  

The oddest thing I noticed in my intently looking people is that his legs are shaved. Well, at least part of the leg is shaved. He had on black shorts, not quite knee length. Then he had about 3-4 inches of bare skin encompassing the knee which was tanned, but then there was a dead straight line where the tan line ended and his naked, shaved calf, shin and ankles were on full display to the tops of his sneakers. I know he plays hockey but that is not a hockey tan. It's an I-run-in-the-summer-with-knee-socks-tan. Or something equally weird. And that white expanse of leg - not a hair on it. Looked smoother than mine because he doesn't have sun marks and varicose veins. How DO you get a tan like that? 

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Back at CrossFit after a lay off

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20 Toes to bar, 12 push jerks @35#, 50 double unders, 25 wall balls@8# 

After a layoff of nearly a month, it was fantastic to be back in the chalk scented, sweaty infused box and doing a WOD. I was slow, not surprising, and went light on the push jerks, also not surprising, but managed to finish in a reasonable amount of time without thinking I was going to vomit. I've often felt like I'd vomit but never actually have. For someone who was never an athlete in high school or college, and who identified as a runner until my mid 40s, finding CrossFit was enlightening. And I'm glad I found it when I did. I like the power, the feeling of the cold, gridded metal bar in my hands, the thwack as the medicine ball smacks against the 10 foot mark on the wall I even like the burning sensation on my palms as my hands slip a little on the pull up bar as I try to at least get my knees up over parallel - unlikely I'll ever get toes to bar, but I keep making forward progress. Good to be home. 

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Return to CrossFit

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After three weeks away, I was back at the sweaty warehouse with its nubbly rubber mats just barely providing some cushion against the concrete. With summer gone, the door was shut and it was no longer hotter and more humid inside than out. And people were glad to see me, asked where I'd been, wondering why I wasn't coming back. 

"On vacation, in Ireland, for nearly three weeks," I said. I'd always planned on coming back, glad to have found this gritty oasis in the Lowell. Glad to have a coach who helps us scale the workout, but a workout we all do. Not one for fitness and one for performance. It's all CrossFit. 

The thrusters were hard, the burpees exhausting, the toes to bar impossible, but I struggled through all of them, 21-15-9, as best I could. Glad to be my age and still showing up. Glad to be my age and still be able to show up. Even if I lay on the floor and there were fewer joints that didn't hurt then joints that did. And yet, I persist. 

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