Better when I’m dancing

“Cate’s over there having a dance party,” Leslie laughed.

We were in the first rest minute of four rounds of five back squats at my feminist fitness studio, and I was dancing around my bar, treating it like a gracious partner. When the minute clicked over and I turned back to my weights, I quickly moved up to the heaviest weight I’ve lifted in this position.

I never go OUT dancing. But at the gym and when I’m running? I dance almost every day.

I’ve been gushing for months about the feminist #getstrong cross-fit style classes I’ve been doing since March. There are about 25 reasons I love this studio, ranging from its woman-focused, body-positive perspective, to discovering I can deadlift 145 lbs (and counting!), to the profound sense of community and encouragement I feel there. (Hi Nicole!) I think I’ve mentioned this before, but this is the only workout thing I’ve ever done I’m willing to do at 7 am.

The one thing I haven’t written about, though, is the impact of the music in the classes on me.

I’ve always been the kind of person who listens to music while I work out or run, but my music choices can get kind of repetitive. Sometimes I’m running and I think, “oh, this song reminds me of running in White Rock!” — and then I remember that I lived in White Rock more than 10 years ago. If my soundtrack is stale, is it possible that my workouts are stale too?

Judging by how re-activated I’ve become since I started working out at Move, I think the answer is a resounding yes. And yes, it’s the structure and the coaches and the community and the strength-discovery — but it’s also the music. Often, in the rest periods between sets, I dance around. Even — like in the back squat day — when I arrive at class feeling exhausted, the kind of moment where if I hadn’t signed up in advance, I would never go. (Late cancels aren’t refundable. It’s a good policy).

When the music hits the right note, I get energized — and then I’m dancing around the rig, or over to get a heavier weight. It particularly happens in Alex’ classes — she picks playlists that speak to me — and she always notices and cracks up. And in that moment, I am HAPPY from the inside out.

Last weekend I danced at the Shawn Mendes concert with my sister and nieces, which was fun — I especially enjoyed all of these girls and young women being completed unfettered.

(Well, I did get a little bored toward the end — my niece took a photo of me doing a crossword puzzle on my phone). But at this point in my life, I can’t imagine actually going OUT dancing. It STARTS after I’m already in BED! But when I’m moving my body in exercise, sometimes I’m approximating dancing — and sometimes — at Move or at lights when I’m running, I’m actually dancing.

In writing this post, I thought I’d end with sharing my current playlist. And then I realized I really just want an excuse to gush about Lizzo.

From my vantage point, 2019 was the summer of Lizzo. (If you haven’t watched her Tiny Desk concert, do yourself a favour and spend the next 10 minutes doing that now. It’s pure delight).

At the beginning of the summer, a colleague shared with me that the night before, she’d been at her best friend’s 40th birthday party — and her gift to her friend was a burlesque number she’d put together to Lizzo’s Because I Love You. “Because I love her,” she said simply. (I got to see some of the video — it was awesome). That embodied what I love about Lizzo — full-bodied, sexy, unapologetic, full-voiced, love yourself and your friends who get and accept you.

And then there’s this:

When I’m working out or running, I channel Lizzo. I’m my own soulmate — “look in the mirror like damn she the one.” Here’s my current playlist, so you can channel her yourself. It starts with Lizzo’s Juice and then wanders through an array of (mostly) women who’ve inspired me, raunchy, sexy, delicate, vulnerable and honest, all summer. (You can find it on Spotify under my cateinTO i.d).

Do you dance when you’re working out? What’s your soundtrack?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, works and dances in Toronto.


Filthy Fifty Rebranded for the Holidays

I walked into CrossFit London on December 24th for the 7 am workout.

The WOD (workout of the day) was posted on the board, Kris Kringle Fifty.

Um, rebranding has its limits.

For time:
50 Box jump, 20/24 inch box
50 Jumping pull-ups
50 Kettlebell swings, 12 kg/16kg
Walking Lunge, 50 steps
50 Knees to elbows
50 Push press, 20/25 kg
50 Back extensions
50 Wall ball shots, 14/20 kg ball
50 Burpees
50 Double unders

That’s CrossFit’s notorious Filthy Fifty.

I ended up doing step ups on the box and lowering the weight on the wall ball shots. I was happy that I could stick with the Rx (recommended) weight on the push press and on the kettlebell swings. No pink kettlebells for me!

One of my favourite things about CrossFits is how scalable the workouts are. See my earlier post on modifying CrossFit workouts.

I took the advice of the CrossFit coach and “chipped away at it.” I did sets of 10 and made no effort to do 50 in a row, “unbroken” as they say, of any of it. I just focused on the one thing I had to do and I didn’t even look at what was next. Taking off my glasses helped as I couldn’t see the board.

But even with modifying it and breaking it into pieces there’s still not much nice to say about a workout that has 50 burpees in it!

Here’s what Men’s Fitness has to say about this workout.

“A CrossFit staple, the Filthy 50 is a brutal series of taxing exercises that’s likely to seem endless if you’ve never done it before. The circuit includes 50 reps of 10 different exercises, all done as quickly as possible. Do 50 box jumps with a 24-inch box, 50 jumping pullups, 50 kettlebell swings, 50 walking lunge steps, 50 knees to elbows, 50 reps of push press with 45 pounds, 50 back extensions, 50 wallballs using a 20-pound ball, 50 burpees (dropping all the way to the floor), 50 double-unders.

This workout does a good job conveying the basics, and the madness, of CrossFit. This WOD gets to a lot of people at the knees to elbows stage, according to Sara Haley, star of Sweat Unlimited, a DVD series of extreme five-minute workouts. 
“[The Filthy 50] is such a challenge because you have to literally be good at everything. It’s a full-body workout** that includes cardio.” The sheer number of exercises can be hard to fathom, so it’s best to just pace yourself and focus on the task at hand, not on how much more there is to do. Of course, you can also modify this and do less of each exercise if you’re new to CrossFit and don’t want to dive in headfirst—try 20 or 25 of each during your first time through the circuit.”

Men’s Fitness lists a Challenge Time of 25 minutes. Even with modifications it took me 33:01. I enjoyed watching one of the super fit athletes do it Rx, as recommended, in a mere 20 something minutes. Strong and speedy.

In a weird way I’m hoping we do it again next Christmas Eve and I can do it either with fewer modifications or with a faster time, or both.

Image: CrossFit Christmas card
Image: CrossFit Christmas card

athletes · Crossfit · cycling · Rowing · training

Are athletes masochists?


The image above comes from a rowing tumblr, Don’t Feed the Lightweight. It’s tagged “Me trying to describe a 2 km erg test.” It made me laugh but it illustrates nicely, I think, the relationship between athletes and pain, and raises the question, “Are athletes masochists?”

What’s a masochist? Most dictionaries define “masochist” as one who requires or associates the experience of pain with sexual pleasure. But a secondary definition drops sex out the picture and it’s the non-sexual aspect of “pain-as-pleasure” that interests us here.

Elite athletes have even been dubbed “benign masochists” because they appear to enjoy the pain of exertion, says Dominic Micklewright, a researcher and curriculum director at the Centre for Sports & Exercise Science at the University of Essex in the U.K. Mocklewright is interviewed in a Wall Street Journal article on what separates those who love exercise from those who don’t. (I think the use of the word “benign” here is just a little bit “judgey,” as the kids say, okay as my kids say, since it suggests that sexual masochism is not so harmless but that’s a topic for another time, another blog.)

In my masters rowing group, we meet over the winter at the boathouse for regular erg sessions, But we also do something called Strength and Mobility training, and of course, it’s known as meeting up for  “S & M.” Nervous giggles ensue.

How close to the truth is it? What’s going on with the sports masochist?

Here are some possibilities:

1. We could think they experience less pain than the person who hates hard exercise because it’s painful. And it’s true that athletes generally have a higher threshold for pain. Have a look at Why athletes can handle more pain, Time Magazine. “Researchers didn’t crack the code, but they suggest resistance to pain can be learned over time, and an increase in exercise intensity can lead to endorphin release.”

See the article “Higher pain tolerance in athletes may hold clues for pain management,”

2. We might also think that the experience itself is different, that it feels different, that the elite hard driving athlete experiences what we’d call pain as pleasure. But I don’t think that’s quite right. Read the descriptions below. They’re talking about pain and suffering in the normal, usual senses of the word.

3. What seems different though is how the experience is valenced. You might recognize it as pain but find value in the painful experience. Suffering is good in this context, it makes you stronger, and over time you come to have positive associations with the feeling. I’ve written before about my three experiences of undrugged childbirth. Those are experiences that I thought were meaningful and I wouldn’t want to not have experienced that pain as odd as it is to say that. Tracy puzzled about suffering in her recent post on the good that comes from a tough ride.

Me, I like tough painful workouts. See one of my earliest posts on this blog, Why are painful workouts so much fun? I knew from cycling that I’d like rowing, for example. Both have a reputation for pain. I wasn’t worried about that aspect of CrossFit. Given a choice between a long slow indoor row or a twenty minute session with lots of sprints, I’ll take the latter anyday. Long slow steady state workouts bore me to tears and boredom looms larger for me than pain. Outdoor rowing and cycling, even on long slow days I do okay. That’s because I like the outside and I like talking to friends but I couldn’t do a slow recovery ride inside on a trainer without distraction. Without music, I’d be doomed and even then I might find an excuse to cut it short.

Clearly liking pain isn’t sufficient to excel sports.

Obviously fitness and strength matter more. It’s only true that she who suffers the most wins among equally well trained athletes. Suffering by itself won’t get you across the finish line first.

But is liking pain necessary to succeeding in sports? I’m not so sure.

(For an explanation of necessary and sufficient conditions see here.)

I think tolerance for pain is one asset in sports performance but there are other psychological traits athletes need. Different people bring different strengths to training and competition and I think some characteristics matter more for some sports than others.

It’s a matter of knowing yourself and knowing what strengths you bring to a sport. An appreciation of pain is something I’ve got but there are other traits I lack, such as concentration and focus during longer efforts. Time trials over 20 km and I start to write philosophy papers in my head. During rowing I often heard, “Sam, eyes in the boat.”

I’ll close with more quotes about rowing and cycling and pain. There are lots of them out there and they’re so very good.


“The hardest thing to teach an athlete is the ability to suffer. Those who know how to suffer know how to win.” US Olympic Rower Erin Cavarro

At the end of this year’s eventful Boat Race. “It’s very common for people to collapse in rowing,” explains Moore, “because they are racing to destruction.” It’s a sport, in short, for masochists. As Emery tells me: “You’ve got to enjoy the pain.” Read Rowing: the sport of masochists, Rowing is a punishing physical and mental workout. But you’ve got to enjoy the pain

“The aim is to bury yourself completely,” said Cracknell, with the kind of honesty about the event which suggests that whatever career opens up for him after he has stopped rowing, it is unlikely to be in advertising. “I like these machine because everyone else hates them. It hurts, really it hurts, but you mustn’t let it beat you. If you get psyched out by it, you’re in massive trouble. And believe me, even at the top level, people get psyched out. It’s a tough thing. It’s about commitment, not talent.” The mass masochism of indoor rowing


“Cycling is so hard, the suffering is so intense, that it’s absolutely cleansing. The pain is so deep and strong that a curtain descends over your brain… Once, someone asked me what pleasure I took in riding for so long. ’Pleasure?’ I said. ’I don’t understand the question.’ I didn’t do it for pleasure, I did it for pain.” Lance Armstrong

“Suffering is what professional cycling is all about, and champions suffer the longest. The ability to suffer can be heightened through training, which is why racers go out on the road for up to seven hours most days during winter and early spring.” — Samuel Abt (cycling journalist)

“Cycling is suffering.” — Fausto Coppi (5-time Giro winner, 2-time TdF winner)

More quotes on pain and cycling here.



One year anniversary at CrossFit London

Yesterday was my one year anniversary at CrossFit London and I decided to renew my vows. In plain terms, I renewed my membership. My plan is two classes a week over the summer, three in the fall and winter. I’d do more but I like the outside too much.

CrossFit in New Zealand was a bit more outdoorsy. Hill running, stair repeats, and flipping giant tires.

I’ve written before about some things I love about CrossFit and other things about which I’m less certain. See Six Things I Love about Crossfit and Six Things I’m Not So Sure About. On balance, it’s definitely positive.

This post is a bit different though. I want to evaluate the “me” side of the relationship, looking at where I might improve.

Here’s some things I pledge to do differently in year two:

1. I need to a better job figuring out where I can push myself harder, which modifications make sense and where I can level up. I’ve written a bit about this here, Leveling up at CrossFit: Rx versus modified workouts, and now it’s time to think it through and act.

2. I need to make more of a community for me. It matters to me. See Crossfit and what does it mean to say, “I would never do that by myself?” and Things you learn from working out with others for some of the reasons why. True most of the people are lots younger than me but we’re all there to get fitter, faster, stronger.

3. I need to not be intimidated by CrossFit competitions. I like competitions! There’s no age categories in the cross fit open. Maybe that’s what scares me off. But I can do it. It’ll be good for me and I’ll enjoy it.

So bring it on.

This is the year I’ll manage double unders and pull ups!

Crossfit · fitness · fitness classes

Crossfit and what does it mean to say, “I would never do that by myself?”

Sometimes I get myself out the door to Crossfit by telling myself it probably won’t be a particularly tough workout. Strategic self deception. You know the drill. Like when we tell ourselves it’s not that cold outside really. I fantasize that this morning will be all about skill development and will involve not very many reps of some heavy weights.

There are days like that at Crossfit. It’s true. But today wasn’t one of them.

Today we did the following:

40 wall ball throws (with medicine ball) You can see these here,

30 sit ups

20 push ups

10 burpees

You complete that in 3 min and then take a 3 min rest, repeat 5 times. If you can’t complete it in 3 minutes, you scale the workout. The first time through I only did 1 burpee so I dropped the weight on the medicine ball. I also do push ups from my knees. Please don’t judge.

This is exactly the sort of workout I would never do on my own. High intensity, high effort, racing for time. Of course, complete with a a giant timer on the wall and a beep to mark the end of 3 minutes.

On my own, I’d find excuses. But it’s not just that. For me, there’s a real positive value in watching others. I learn from them. I pace myself using the fastest and fittest. They’re doing the same routine but in weighted vests. They are good at pacing so I know if I follow them I’ll make it through in 3 minutes.

I also watch their technique. I wonder how Bob does burpees so fast so when it’s my turn to rest, I watch his form and try to copy it next time through.

Because we do this in shifts–my 3 min on is another person’s 3 min off– there are Crossfit work out friends there to cheer me on. It’s happy supportive cheering. We’re not mean to one another. (Unless someone asks.) And for me, that support definitely makes a difference.

At the end I often recall when I started Crossfit and couldn’t do a single burpee. Some people accuse Crossfit of being a bit cult like–and that’s fine, it’s not for everyone. “It wouldn’t do if we all liked the same thing,” as my mother would have said to dogmatic child me.

For me it’s an extremely supportive workout community and while it’s true I’d never do five rounds of that workout by myself, it’s also true I don’t have to.

fashion · weight lifting

Why deadlift? I mean, besides for the cool socks

I had a deadlifting breakthrough this past week. When I started CrossFit eight months ago I could deadlift about 40 kg.

Deadlifting made me nervous because as a result of a rather dramatic run in with a wave on a beach in Australia (which ended in the emergency room after being picked up by a huge wave while body surfing and then being carried into shore and going boom, crash into the sand) followed by a cross country ski collision the following year, I have a pretty twitchy lower back. (Where “twitchy” is just absolutely amazing compared to the outrageous amount of pain I was in following these accidents. I had no idea that you could even be in that much pain as a result of sudden impact without having broken anything.)

But last week (on Thurs, Jan 10 to be precise) I hit a new 1 rep max in deadlifting: 95 kgs. I benefited from advice from Crossfit coach Dave Henry (I worked on my breathing, my stance, and my grip) and it helped being cheered on by my training partners. Tracy has blogged about the joys of working out alone but this style of lifting really requires training partners.

What is the deadlift?  You perform a deadlift by lifting a loaded barbell off the ground from a stabilized, bent over position. The deadlift is one of the three canonical powerlifting exercises, along with the squat and the bench press. (I plan to blog later about the distinction between powerlifting and Olympic lifting and about how both of these styles differ from muscle specific body building.)

To get an idea of what’s involved you can read the wiki-how instructions or watch the You Tube video here, Aneta Florczyk, three-time World’s Strongest Woman, deadlifts 250 kg.

Clearly I have room to get stronger. She’s amazing.

But you might be wondering, since this doesn’t look easy or particularly fun, why deadlift? Here’s some answers:

  • “The Deadlift is one of the most ancient, fundamental and just flat out alpha lifts out there. In no other lift do you raise hundreds of pounds of weight off the ground with your bare hands. There’s really something magical about the Deadlift. You just don’t feel the same amount of confidence and joy doing Squats or Bench Pressing as you do while Deadlifting. There’s a reason so many people look forward to Deadlift day.” The Deadlift
  • It’s a whole body exercise working almost all of the major muscle groups (Spinal Erectors, Quads, Glutes, Hamstrings, Lower Back, Middle and Upper Trapezius, Abdominals and Obliques, Lats, Calves) and whole body exercises are great for developing full body strength, especially in the core. Your back will thank you for it.
  • Deadlifting has real functional applications. Picking stuff up off the ground is something we actually do, a lot. “When you perform physical labor, you frequently pick up items off the floor and lift them. Performing deadlifts develops the muscles and the movements that are involved in many forms of physical labor. Also, because deadlifts normally involve lifting heavy weights, they help you develop a strong grip, which is also associated with many physical tasks.” Read more at Livestrong, What Are the Benefits of Deadlifting?
  • “All lifters MUST wear extended knee socks when Deadlifting.”
    That’s what lifting competition rules say. And there is a practical reason, to prevent your shins from getting scraped. But they also come in lots of funky colours and patterns. See pic above and for more, lots more, see here. I know one reader of the blog wrote in to say she didn’t look forward to having to wear them to compete, but I have a soft spot for knee socks. Practical and cute.

athletes · fitness

Fitness, yes but fit for what?

Happy New Year!

For many of us, one of our goals for 2013 is to get more fit. But what do we mean by ‘fit’ exactly?

I’m just home from the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association held in Atlanta where I took part in a panel sponsored by the International Association for the Philosophy of Sport.

Defining fitness was one of the topics we discussed. Michael Brady, a philosopher at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale,  gave a great talk called “Crossfit: A Pragmatic Philosophy of Sport” which examined Crossfit’s pluralist account of fitness, of which I’m quite fond.

Writing about Crossfit, here’s what Tony Leyland has to say: “Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.” (Crossfit Journal)

Crossfit has a nice list of the elements which make up fitness:

1. Cardiovascular/respiratory endurance

2. Stamina

3. Strength

4. Flexibility

5. Power

6. Speed

7. Coordination

8. Agility

9. Balance

10. Accuracy

I’m asked a lot, in the context of this “fittest by fifty” campaign, what it means to be fit. I agree that ‘fit’ and ‘fitness’ have a few different meanings and maybe it’s not the most helpful concept. Some people think there’s only ‘fit’ in the sense of ‘fit for a specific task or event.’ But I like the Crossfit list approach.

The people who think there is only ‘fit for a particular activity’ within sports point to the wide range of abilities that athletes have.

In cycling, hill climbers aren’t sprinters and a really fit hill climber will look different and perform differently than a sprinter. The sprinters in the Tour de France struggle to make it up the mountains. They’re built for explosive speed, not climbing.

When you move between sports, it gets harder still. You can’t train for a marathon and build very much muscle. Body builders limit their cardio. You can’t weight train and build muscle and then compete in events that penalize weight.

What I’d like is to achieve is a kind of base level across activities that allows me to try new things without worrying about a fitness barrier. Marathon runners who can’t lift and weight lifters who can’t run have limited functional fitness.

One of the things that’s appealed to me about Crossfit is the ‘cross’ part, I like the mix of strength and speed workouts.I like the talk of General Physical Preparedness.

That’s part of the appeal of triathlon too. The extremes don’t interest me. No marathons in my future though I’d like to get good at what my friend Laura terms the middle distances, 5 and 10 km.

You can read more about Crossfit and fitness: and also “What is Fitness? in the Crossfit Journal

So yes, individualized fitness for specific sports but I still think there is a cross-sport account of fitness we can give. And in the new year that’s what I’m aiming for.

How about you?

Aikido · Crossfit · Rowing · running · training · weight loss

Is it time to ditch exercise?

Exercising, working out, or training? I almost never use the first of these terms and I have a strong preference for the 3rd. Here’s some thoughts about why.

Recently the media reported on a study from the University of Alberta that showed shows like The  Biggest Loser put people off exercise with its extreme depiction of what exercise involves.

From the U of A website: Researchers in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation found that watching a short video clip of The Biggest Loser fueled negative attitudes toward exercise, raising further questions about how physical activity is shown in the popular media.

“The depictions of exercise on shows like The Biggest Loser are really negative,” said lead author Tanya Berry, Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity Promotion. “People are screaming and crying and throwing up, and if you’re not a regular exerciser you might think this is what exercise is—that it’s this horrible experience where you have to push yourself to the extremes and the limits, which is completely wrong.”

Read more about this here.

For me, the word ‘exercise’ has negative connotations, even without The Biggest Loser. At best it sounds dull and joyless. I use the word to describe physio rehab that I do. Those are exercises but that’s about it.

I’ve been active a lot this weekend but, physio aside, none of it has been something I’d call exercise. Saturday mornings I go to Aikido where I practice and I train. The emphasis is on skill development and training seems to me to be the right word. True, I got really hot and sweaty during hajime training but getting hot and sweaty wasn’t the point. Moving fast, without thinking, putting the techniques in ‘body memory’ was.

Saturday afternoon I had a soccer game. We lost against the Chocolate Martinis. (An aside: I think nothing screams ‘middle aged women playing soccer’ quite like the team names. Last week we won against Cougartown.) Was that exercise? I ran fast and played hard but I wouldn’t describe what I was doing as exercise. I was playing. We were competing. Yes, it’s a recreational league but we do play to win. In the end we lost but we had a lot of fun.

And Sunday morning I’ll be at the rowing club for an early morning erg session. Again, there’s a lot of technique involved and I think of it as training, not exercise per se. For example, we did a really challenging drill Thursday night trying to match a pace slightly above our 2 km test pace but with a much slower stroke rate. Tough work and really hard to concentrate on technique. Usually my bike ride home from rowing is much slower than my pace on the way there.

Most weekends I also take my dog out for a 5 km + hike in the woods. Usually we run together. I love being outside and I like the feeling of running on trails in the woods.

So Aikido, soccer, rowing, bike riding, and dog-jogging. But no exercise?

I’d say in one sense that’s right. I do these things because they’re fun, a big part of what I think of as the good life. I spend a lot of time as an academic in my head, with words, books, and ideas but being physical really matters. It’s a key part of who I am.

No wonder inactive people are put off by The Biggest Loser’s participants. Those people are not having any fun. It’s joyless. They are exercising for one reason and one reason only, to lose weight. If that were my reason, I’d have quit a long time ago.

My advice to people who want to be more active is to find something you love, something you enjoy, something you’d do anyway even if you didn’t lose weight. We need to experience more joy in our lives, joy in moving our bodies in ways that feel good.

For you, that might be dance, yoga, walking, or gardening.

For me, I’m a competitive person and I like races and games with winners and losers. I also like skill development and getting better at something, like testing for new belts in Aikido, crit interval drills on the bike, or learning the technique involved in rowing.

It’s clear with cycling, the sport I love best, that it’s not medicinal exercise, taken in daily doses for health related reasons. Instead, at various times I’ve trained and raced. These days more often I ride for fun with friends. I also often commute on my bike and use it for practical transportation.

Even Crossfit–the one thing I do to which the term ‘workout’ really applies–has both a skill building (weight training, Olympic lifting) and a competitive element. It’s ‘as many reps as possible’ or ‘so many reps for time.’ I usually focus on competing with myself but other people there seriously train for the Crossfit games.

If exercise, as a term, works for you, great. But for many of us it misses the mark.  For us, let’s ditch talk of exercise and talk instead about all the fun physical activities that are part of the good life. I think sharing the joy in physical activity is a better route to getting more people moving than in prescribing exercise in medicinal doses.

body image · Crossfit · weight lifting · weight loss

Six Things I Love about CrossFit and Six Things I’m Not So Sure About

I started CrossFit in Dunedin, New Zealand at the end of the cycling season in March 2012. It was NZ autumn and days were starting to get cold-ish and wet. I didn’t want to join a traditional gym, running in Dunedin didn’t much appeal (hills, hills and more hills) and I’d been hearing the buzz about CrossFit for awhile.

Being the academic, geeky sort I did a lot of reading in advance and so psychologically at least I was ready for what they offered. I had fun moving from CrossFit women (my gateway program of choice) to regular CrossFit classes and then started at CrossFit London just a few days after my long flight across the ocean and a dateline. I thought I’d share here what I like most about this style of training and what I’m still unsure about.

Six Things I Love

1. Wow, Women, and Weights: I’ve been lifting weights–free weights, as some people say–since I took Fundamentals of Weight Training for academic credit at the University of Illinois in the 1st year of my PhD in 1988. I had a tuition waiver, so why not? I also took Intro to Sailing the next semester. The only small hitch was that I  got a B (my only grad school B) and it’s listed on my transcript as just “Fundamentals” so when I was on the academic job market I ended explaining to places that requested my transcript that it wasn’t logic or metaphysics.

I love lifting weights. I decided back then, in my mid twenties, that if I was going to be big I was also going to be strong. But I’ve never had much female company in the weight room. Don’t get me wrong. Those really muscly, very inked men in the weight room at the Y have been incredibly warm and welcoming and helpful through the years–they are some of the nicest and most gentle people at the gym– but I’ve always felt a bit of an oddball.

CrossFit is different. The gender ratio is about 50-50 most days and the women are strong and powerful. It’s so refreshing to see so many women lifting weights. Lots of them are lots stronger than me and that just makes me smile. I feel like I’ve found my people!

2. The Workouts: Intensity, Variety, Scalability

CrossFit workouts are intense. There’s nothing else like them. Burpees, box jumps, medicine ball throws, pull ups, sprinting, rowing, with some Olympic weight lifting thrown in for good measure. There’s also never a dull day. The workouts change every day and you just don’t know what to expect. Also, all of the efforts can be scaled to your ability. You might not be able to do pull ups (lots of people can’t) but you can do jumping pull ups or banded pull ups (with a big elastic band for assistance). So there is always a place to start and a place to move up to. That ability to measure, set targets, achieve goals really appeals to me.

They combine two things I’ve written about before as essential elements of good training programs, high intensity and heavy weights.

As Speedy joked at CrossFit Dunedin, “If you want to walk on a treadmill for hours and watch television there’s a Les Mills gym across the street with lots of that going on.”

3. The Teachers: Excellent careful instruction, nice ratio of instructors to students, and people who are really committed. Thanks Rachel, Grant and Speedy and Dave!

4. The Community: Yes, I own my own kettlebell and I could jump up on to my deck instead of doing  box jumps and I could do burpees and sprint out in front of my house. Would I? No. Certainly I’d never do them as fast. I love that the CrossFit participants cheer one another on. It’s an incredibly supportive and motivating workout environment.

5. It Works: My body has changed a lot since starting CrossFit. What most people want to know is whether I’ve lost weight and the answer is not very much. More than 5 lbs, fewer than 10. But I’m down a clothes size and I have all these brand new muscles in my core. I’ve had muscular arms and shoulders and legs for years but these muscles are new. I move more easily. I notice that it’s a lot easier to fall and get back up at Aikido. In fact, everything is easier, from running to picking up heavy things around the house.

6. I love kettlebells!

Six Things I’m Not So Sure About

1. The jargon: Again, I did my research so WOD didn’t throw me. It’s Workout of the Day. Rx is the recommended weight. AMRAP is as many reps as possible. And so on… It’s useful shorthand but the jargon can feel like it’s meant to exclude beginners from those in the know. There are lots of guides to CrossFit lingo out there but really, it shouldn’t be necessary.

2. Fitting it all in: I do CrossFit in the morning, three times a week in theory, and then lots of other stuff too (Aikido, rowing, bike riding, running, soccer) and sometimes the CrossFit weight workouts leave me too sore to do the other things I love to do. It’s a challenge for those of us who do CrossFit and something else to fit everything in. But that’s true I think for weight training in general.

3. Where are the older women? There are lots of women but not very many older women. Often I’m the only women not in her 20s! Most days there are women in the 30s as well but I’ve only met a few women in their 40s and 50s, both here and in NZ. No wonder the other women run faster than me. I read inspirational stories about CrossFitting grandmas but I haven’t met one yet. This is my favourite. I like her functional fitness goals.

Three years ago, Jean Stewart began to feel old. A proud woman, she realized she needed to make a change in her life to improve her long-term health.

“I see people who are stooped over and old, in their 60s and 70s,” Stewart says. “I don’t want to be that way. I was losing function for everyday living, stooped over and lifting things improperly. I just wanted to live my life (and be) healthy.”

As a retired physical education teacher, she’s always had a passion for fitness, but became bored in physical therapy-type exercise classes. Worst of all, she was tired of being treated like an old person who was incapable of physical activity. So, at the age of 83, Stewart decided to reinvent herself.

“She came walking into the gym with our newspaper ad folded under her arm and handed it to us,” remembers Cheryl Cohen, founder, owner and head trainer of Desert CrossFit in Palm Desert, Calif. “I asked her what she wanted from CrossFit and she said, ‘Well, I would like an easier time in the garden, getting down and getting back up again. I’d like to be able to move the 20-lb. bag of potting soil.’”

4. Paleo diets: I am a vegetarian, aspiring vegan, so not an ideal candidate for the caveman diet. I’m also not big fan of dietary dogma. I like the slogan over at Go Kaleo: “Eat real food. Move around a lot. Lift heavy things. And skip the kool-aid.” And besides there’s a fair bit of evidence our human ancestors were nearly all vegetarians.

5. I like to train hard while smiling and laughing as much as the next person but sometimes there’s a bit too much gallows humour around the CrossFit workouts that I worry puts off new people. At least, would put off new people who aren’t into pain and suffering. CrossFit tshirts exemplify this with slogans like the following: Embrace the Pain; Become the Machine; Your workout is my warmup; CrossFit on front, on back: “Hard. Fast. No Cuddling After”; Yes, you will pass out before you die.

This is my favourite though: On women’s shirts with image of weights–“I don’t cook, I clean.”

6. Why do the workouts get women’s names? Chelsea is 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats, On The Minute Every Minute For 30 Minutes. There’s also Fran, Angie, Barbara etc.

If you’re in London and want to give CrossFit a try, there is a free ‘give it a try’ class every week. You can register here.