"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Thursday, June 14, 2018

Alternatives

Life has been an adventure lately and I have not had time to write because I’ve been too busy living it.

In fact, I am currently writing from a plane! #freewifiyessss

I have an entire photo update of May in the works that I have yet to finish, but today I want to tell you about something else.

I left you guys with The Murph Challenge and the story of how I kinda-sorta fell into CrossFit.

What I didn’t tell you was that that same day, I received an email from Trainer letting me know that he had just picked up a full-time job that wouldn’t allow him to continue training clients. He offered to set me up with other trainer friends of his in the bodybuilding business, and I initially said yes...but then I thought better about it.

I was upset because I liked Trainer’s style and trusted him: I knew he could push me to do more than I thought possible without injuring me, discouraging me, or burning me out. Just because of that, I would have continued training with him sans show goals but that was not an option at the moment either. The only options were  to not train or find someone else to train with.

This forced me to face a decision that I had been playing with for a while now: while I loved working my butt off for these shows and the suspense that comes with changing your body at will with a set deadline...I hated the vanity involved, the fact that you were aiming for a look that was ultimately entirely subjective. I already mentioned this in the Powerlifting post last year, but I will always prefer to compete for performance vs appearances. It’s the #1 reason why back in the day I switched from Equitation (we didn’t have Hunters in Puerto Rico) to Jumpers. Having done it with the horses already,  I knew I would ultimately do the same when it came to myself. I don’t want my success to be measured by a judge’s opinion and personal preference. I want my success measured in numbers, be it time or pounds or speed. I want it measured in hard data that is quantifiable.

I read Trainer’s email while still sitting on the floor of the CrossFit gym and all of these thoughts rushed through my head. I won’t deny that the first one was, “OH MY GOD I CAN EAT CARBS AGAIN!” After the March show, Trainer and I had discussed my goals and it had been decided that I would stay in prep mode to continue cutting and THEN set a show date once I reached x body composition. I wasn’t thrilled about this: I work better with a deadline, but I decided to give Trainer’s idea a whirl. He wanted me back on carb cycling immediately post-show and by the end of May it was making me nuts. I was so tired of being restricted in what I could eat. And I’m not even talking about fun food like cheesecake and ice cream and beer...I’m talking about freaking fruit and vegetables, which had to be limited to accommodate such a low number of carbs on the low carb days. My body continued changing throughout this period but without a show date in sight, it felt pointless to continue eating like a competitor. I wanted to eat for performance again, to be able to revel in having the superhuman strength and endurance I had discovered last October.

Now I would be free to focus on that again.

I had promised myself when I started this journey that I would not let it change the way I saw food or myself. The prep for the March show was unnecessarily brutal given that I had chosen that show with over 6 months to train and diet for it. The final stages of cutting had taken all of the fun out of it (I have never been so hungry nor frustrated prior in my adult life) and had frankly made me lose a big chunk of my trust in Trainer’s ability to get me ready in a timely manner. Communication had been a huge issue with him, and I had not realized how bad it was until we talked after the show. I still trusted his capacity for getting me more fit than I've ever been before in my life...but not to get me ready to the level I needed to be for the type of shows I wanted to do. Communication is absolutely essential in the trainer-client relationship when successfully getting people ready for these shows, and I was tired of asking for that. You also need to have a really solid knowledge and understanding of nutrition and its manipulation in order to get an NPC-worthy yet steroid-free look...and Trainer self-admittedly did not have that knowledge.

Post March show, I also felt the beginnings of becoming afraid of carbs, of resenting what I saw in the mirror. It was an enormous contrast to how I felt going into the July show last year, where I had been so stupid happy and excited both before and after the event.

CrossFit had been so good for me already by the time The Murph came around. It was a reminder that the human body is an amazing thing capable of incredible feats if we prep for it appropriately and believe in ourselves. The way we look has absolutely nothing to do with our athletic capabilities. 

A long, long, long time ago, I started working out because I wanted to look a certain way. What kept me coming back for more, despite having been horrible at sports in general, was the way working out made me FEEL. It made me see my body as a functional, powerful machine and not something that should look a certain way for someone else’s viewing pleasure.

I had needed that reminder so badly!

And so, with Trainer out of the picture, I turned around and moved on. 

Right around that time, @powerliftingwomen on IG posted a member question asking for advice on meal planning for strength sports. Other members chimed in with recommendations on sports nutritionists and I pricked my ears with interest: I wanted to learn to REALLY eat like an athlete, to figure out the right macro ratios for my performance, and to nip this growing fear of carbs in the bud. 

The opportunity to do so had just been dropped in my lap.

One member mentioned Black Iron Nutrition. Maybe it was the name, which made me think of kettlebells, but I zeroed in on that one first and went to check them out.

BIN is a small company made up of a team of sports nutritionists that participate in strength sports as upper level athletes, trainers, or both. As I read through their bios, my heart said, “These people. These are the people that you need to work with to get to where you want to go next.” You can read about them here and here.

They had a wait list, which to me meant that attention was higher quality and more individualized. I selected the coaches I’d be willing to wait for, and buckled down to wait. Figuring I’d be waiting for several weeks, I went back to IIFYM and had them re-do my Macros Blueprint with my increased activity levels: I was averaging anywhere from 2-3 hrs/day working out five days a week. Trainer had had me at below maintenance for calories and macros (1700-1750 calories/day while cycling carbs) and I knew that in order to keep my body changing and fuel it the way I wanted to, I needed to eat more. I just wanted to have an idea of how much more, and also where my carbs and protein intake should be at. 

IIFYM calories ended up being at 1850, with 220 g carbs and 120 G protein, huge change from the 40-70 g carbs and 200 G protein I had been eating prior! 😳 I gave myself a week to start decreasing protein while increasing carbs...and wow was it a mental adjustment. Yes, there was some initial water retention and loss of definition while my body adjusted, but I felt so much BETTER when working out that I didn’t care: I was able to ignore the previous knee-jerk response of, “OMG I look fluffy! I must cut carbs!”

Just one week into eating carbs every day, I was breezing through back-to-back WODs + strength classes or Open Gym in the mornings on my days off and then going for a run in the afternoon as well. I hadn’t felt this way since experimenting with carb timing back in October of last year. I had already been doing CrossFit for a month by this point: the change in how I felt from one week to the next was dramatic, the only change being that I was finally eating for performance. I actually hit 5 miles during my runs for the first time in over a year!

This day was so awesomely epic. I had not been able to squat more than body weight with proper depth since before the powerlifting block this past winter. I just had not had the strength for it. On this day, I did 155 lbs for reps AND got below parallel for all reps. It was an AMAZING feeling! 

And only one week after signing up for BIN’s wait list, I was contacted by the owner to let me know that one of my coaches of choice had become available. I chose to proceed. We are in week one of the changes my coach made to my nutrition and I’m already astounded.

Strength classes at the CrossFit box usually incorporate accessory work, powerlifting, and/or volume/hypertrophic work. They are meant to both complement the WODs and to strengthen athletes for the sport.

On this particular week, the Strength class was actually all cardio, and the first half of it was basically 30 solid minutes of sprints. Only four of us showed up for it: Andy, who looks like a Marine; Israel, who is a distance runner: he’ll do the WOD then go run 4 miles in like 20 minutes; and then George, whom I had not met before but had no issues keeping up with Israel, which is pretty astounding because Israel can outrun everyone. 

And the fourth person was me, the only woman, and also the girl that used to suck at all PE-type drills. And I was knowingly participating in this class.

And I kept up.

I have NEVER been able to keep up with men in anything physical gym-related EVER with exercises on the same scale. Until that day. 

George and Israel were neck & neck, and Andy and I were stride for stride for the most part. My cardiac conditioning is so crazy right now that my heart rate was dropping from 160 to 127 in less than 30 seconds (timed!) I wanted to die during this part of the workout but OMG it was amazing to finish it competitively!

After that we did box step-ups while carrying a medicine ball. Reps were until we couldn’t do any more. Then a couple minutes of rest, then another set of infinity reps. We had to do this 4 times.

It was just Israel, Andy and me for this part. 

Israel and I got into a sort of herd mentality: we’d both continue because the other was continuing. Andy stopped a few reps before we did. Isaac outlasted me for all except the last set...I got in two extra step-ups out of sheer determination!

The workout was finished with saddle stretches, which involved lying face-up on the floor with our butts and backs of our legs against the wall...and then spreading our legs out as wide as possible. As if we were on very wide horses. Or doing splits. Whichever imagery you prefer! Lol

We had to hold that stretch for 5 minutes.

I was fine for the first 2.5 minutes. And then Andy started teasing Israel, I’m sure to distract himself from the slow burn of the stretch, while Israel barely responded because he was focusing on surviving. I found all of this inexplicably funny...and so I started laughing. The more I laughed, the harder it was to stop. Then Andy and our coach, who had been directing us through this, both started teasing me because I just. could. not. stop. giggling. So yes, I got a major ab workout as well in the process!

You guys. It was SO MUCH FUN.

Then there was the day we did muscle-ups. Muscle-ups are a gymnastics movement. If you’ve watched gymnastics, you’ve seen it done. 

Muscle-ups on rings


The advanced version calls for doing it while suspended on the rings, just like a gymnast would. (See pic above) One step down from that involves the same movement with a pull-up bar (stationary, unlike the rings, which move). You can also do the bar muscle-up from a box so you can hoist your body weight into the air from a shorter distance. The simplest version of the muscle-up involves using the rings but with your feet on the floor. It’s awesome that there are so many variations to accommodate different fitness levels and also physical limitations. 

Our coach demoed the box muscle-up and I thought, “There is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be able to do that.”

Just a year ago, if someone had told me I’d even be considering doing muscle-ups AT ALL, I’d have told them they were out of their mind. 

It was initially terrifying to launch myself up from the box because if I had done it incorrectly, I would have dropped 15’ head-first on the other side of the bar. I am, after all, afraid of heights.

But instead I jumped straight up, locked my arms out, and hung suspended with my feet pointing down in the air and only my hands on the bar...and laughed out loud because I felt so amazingly...safe. It was this awesome, awesome feeling of both knowing my body and being able to trust that it would do what I told it to do and keep me safe.

Not only was I able to do the muscle-up, I was able to complete all reps and sets and finish feeling like I had done nothing at all. 

I can’t even. 😳😃😁🤣😍

I’m so very much in love with this right now, with CrossFit, and I want to explore it more.

Powerlifting is still on the roster: there is a gym that specializes in it only 30 minutes from where we live, so it’s within reach. At the moment though, I get to hang out with the three big lifts a lot more often than I used to thanks to the format of the gym’s Strength classes. Powerlifting isn’t always compatible with CrossFit though and it’s been such a journey to get here that I’m sticking with this for now. I’ve wanted to try this sport since we lived in South FL: there was a box right next to the warehouse where we bought our supplements and barn supplies. I used to enviously watch these uber-fit, super ripped people running and lifting heavy things and wanted so badly to be one of them. I never talked about it because I thought it was impossible, that I would be horrible at it, because I wasn’t athletic. 

Yet here I am now. Thanks to one trainer that believed in me and an unconventional sport that turned me into what I am today. 

When your body loves carbs and CrossFit