Tuesday, March 31, 2015

An Impromptu Interview on CrossFit, In My Dermatologist's Exam Room

This afternoon, I sat on the exam table at my regular skin cancer check, with my new dermatologist. 
She ran her fingertips over my arms and then arrived at the palm of my hands, startled.

"Oh, my! Why do you have such hard callouses on your hands?"

"I'm a weightlifter. I do CrossFit."
"Oh! I have heard of that! I attended a wedding over New Year's where the bride and groom and everyone at the reception were CrossFitters. That's how the bride and groom got together, in fact. What makes it different from any other workout?"

"Well, for me the main difference is the tightly knit community. If you are gone for even a couple of days you start to get messages from your CrossFit friends in your class saying, 'Hey, where are you?'"

"Class, like a time slot? You mean you show up at a specific time for a class? I thought it was just a free for all."

"Well, it might kinda get that way during open gym hours, but almost everybody regularly attends a designated class, like at 5 o'clock or 6 o'clock. I have been working out with some of the same people for as long as two or three years in our morning class slot. It's been a very positive experience for me. When I began, I was heading toward 220 lb. and sedentary. I could not climb stairs without getting winded!" 

"You started CrossFit in THAT kind of shape?"

I laugh. 

"It's OK to question my sanity. But I started with baby versions of the stuff I do now and worked my way up over a year, two years."

"People at that wedding were talking to me about it, but I thought it wasn't for someone my age."

"Well, we just celebrated the birthday of our box's oldest lady athlete, who is 60, and our oldest male athlete is 64, if I'm not mistaken."

She paused a moment to appreciate that.

"Where do you go to CrossFit?"

"I go to a box up north by the courthouse. But now there are, like, 5 or 6 boxes just in our immediate area."

"What did you call it? A box? Why a box?"

"We call it a box because the space is mostly empty, and we bring out our weights and organize them when it's time to work out. We do stuff without weights, too, like pushups and pullups."

"What about burpees? I hate burpees. And mountain climbers."

I laugh.

"Well, I hate them, too. And I hate running. But I kind of think of those as the broccoli of my workout."

She laughs.

"Do you run a lot?"

"Not great distances. Usually a quarter or half mile at a time, then we do some other stuff, then we'll run another quarter or half mile."

She returned to the task of my skin exam in earnest, but soon apologized for not properly introducing herself to me as I was a new patient.

"And I have just one more question. Did anybody push you into doing CrossFit, encourage you to do it? Tell you do to it? Or did you decide to do it by yourself?"

"Well, I kind of came into it backwards. I was cleaning up my diet and while I was doing that research online, I kept running into people talking about CrossFit, and I thought to myself, 'Maybe this is exactly what I need to get myself back in shape.'"

"Well, I have to hand it to you, that is really something else."


The above conversation had earlier today has been replicated as best as my memory can serve while composed to still make sense to my readers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Why Would Women Want to Lift Heavy?

I posted this super-dazzling record-setting deadlift to a CrossFit friend's Facebook timeline. The lady doing the lift in the video - Ms. Kimberly Walford - deadlifted 562 lb. at 152 lb. body weight - just an enormous, almost inconceivable strength to body weight ratio.

My CrossFit friend and I both LOVE to deadlift, so it was a shared moment of geekery. One of her friends asked, in all sincerity, "Why would women want to lift 500 lb.?" I think she was not asking about the figure specifically, but trying to get at the heart of why any woman would pursue or achieve superlative strength.


I have been thinking about her earnest question for a day now. I LOVE the chance to think over these things and for a moment appreciated how an outsider to CrossFit/lifting culture might ask, "Why?" I think it's a GREAT question. I know my parents are sometimes baffled listening to my (CrossFitting/lifting) brother and me as we wax nerdy on lifting personal records or skill achievements.

That said, lifting weights doesn't have to be an endeavor of crazy superlatives. You don't have to strive to hit some deadlift record to appreciate the health and functional benefits that a basic level of strength training provides. Modest resistance training benefits are a huge reason why some people aging into their 70s, 80s, 90s can still be spry and get around as well as they did in their 50s and 60s, while other aging peers lose the ability to bend over, squat, kneel, etc.

Once somebody learns their way around a barbell, though, it's not uncommon for them to get bitten by the bug to improve beyond the basic strength and functional fitness benefits. It's kind of like the difference between having learned how to pull together a basic meal that keeps you going (bologna sandwich on whole grain bread with carrot sticks) that will fill you up, and then wanting to learn how to prepare a meal with finesse (caramelizing onions to top stuffed pork chops next to a side of braised asparagus)...it's a difference between achieving functionality (the end is met in the weightlifting making daily life easier) and mastery (in which the pursuit of mastery is often a joy, too).

Why would somebody want to lift 500 lb.? A lifting record that big goes way beyond making grocery shopping, toddler-wrangling, piano-moving, and other basics of life easier. It's a fire-in-the-belly passion thing -- the same fire that drives some people to paint unspeakably beautiful works of art, or to break records for high jumping, or to master playing a piano piece...in other words, such achievements are not required for life, but watching someone pull it off is something of a work of art and peak physicality, just one more way that humans can far exceed limits not because they need to, but because they willed themselves to dazzling lengths. It's not just achieving mastery, *but also* the pursuit of mastery that humans experience as a pleasure in and of itself.

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