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On Crossfit and facing your fears (or not) 

Hello, my doves. How are you? You smell fantastic. Like some sort of pastry. Come closer.

This is going to be a long and rambling post but hell, you can skim it, or not even read it at all, if it comes to that. Right? Right. Whatever you decide, I hope you're comfortably seated, or standing, or maybe even lying flat on your back, with a screen hovering above you. Do you have one of those futuristic Hover-Screens™? So great.

I know some of you have been wondering how my mood is, and let me tell you! Just eechhh. Isn't that cheerful? Isn't that a happy sound? I actually took one of those online depression questionnaires today, and the result came back OH DEAR. And this is about 90% better than I WAS, so, well, you can imagine!

I have an appointment with my psychiatrist in two days, and I intend to give him a piece of my mind. My not-happy mind! I'm going to be all, "See here, good man, why am I not yet whistling a happy tune?"

I'll let you know how that pans out.

Until then, here's what happened today. Today I completed my Crossfit Foundations course. In case you're not familiar with Crossfit, it's one of those bootcamp-ish, lift-heavy-things-and-run-'til-you-puke workout places. People seem to obsessively love it, so I signed up for the Foundations course, in which you learn, duh, the foundations. This is supposed to lead you seamlessly into the regular group workout classes. Which I was a little scared of, to be honest, because I felt like I was perhaps less than ready for such a thing.

My feelings of incompetence despite completing the course surprised me, as I have been steadily and faithfully gym-going for the past two years--and also they didn't surprise me, as I have held the conviction all along that I'm still fundamentally weak and uncoordinated. This is a feeling that goes back as far as I can remember. I have never felt like I had any natural skill at moving my body through space.

Not only do I persist in believing this, it's also a belief that carries with it a huge amount of humiliation and shame. I seem to seek out activities that are going to poke me right in this incredibly sore spot, either because I'm trying to move past it and improve or because I'm looking for validation that I am a hopeless weakling and klutz.

I took kung fu until the instructor singled me out in class for my terrible form.

I took belly dancing until the instructor singled me out for awkwardness and general unsexiness (my terms, not hers).

I practiced yoga until one instructor spent the entire session adjusting me and asking loudly if I had some kind of severe injury that made me move that way.

I get it: I'm not flexible. But I keep giving up on these activities because I'm convinced that I'm not going to get any more flexible. And then I try something else, until I'm humiliated and I run away. And so on.

So even with my regular strength training, I had hit something of a plateau, because of the above inflexibility. That's when I decided to try out Crossfit. I have no idea why. Masochism? I actually thought the intro course was interesting, if intimidating and hard as hell. I thought I was making progress, although I know my instructor was concerned about my mobility issues.

By the way, there's another course, one that people who are not quite ready for the group classes can take, called "On Ramp." I had a feeling he'd tell me I should take this before I went to the group classes. THIS IS IMPORTANT TO THE STORY.

Instead, he told me that because of my mobility issues, he wants me to take 10-20 private sessions, then go to On Ramp, and then maybe I'd be ready for group classes. He wants me to work on my mobility issues, and he's worried that if I can't get proper form in some of the stances, I'll just injure myself and give up. Which he does not want me to do. Reasonable, right? So reasonable!

I will tell you, I wanted to die of humiliation, when he told me this. It was yoga all over again. And belly dancing. And oh, lord, kung fu. Once again, I was being assigned to Remedial Gym.

(Did I ever tell you how I had to take Remedial Gym in high school? Yep. Just soak that in, for a moment. REMEDIAL GYM. It's no wonder I have all of these goddamn issues.)

So now I have a choice to make: do I go for private sessions? Or do I give up?

Part of me wants to forge ahead. I've made some progress, and I've seen how far it is that I need to go. The worst that happens is after the set of private sessions, I decide I don't want to do it.

But part of me is wondering, why do I put myself in these situations, again and again, where I'm just left feeling terrible about myself? What am I in it for? Yes, I'd like to be in better shape. Yes, I'd like to feel strong and capable and coordinated. But surely there are ways of doing this that won't leave me just feeling awful?

Another factor is, of course, my brain chemistry, which is all off-kilter at the moment. Maybe once my serotonin is re-uptaking or not re-uptaking or WHATEVER I'll feel a little more confident in what Mr. Crossfit Coach is telling me.

Right now I only want to curl up under some blankets. This might not the best long-term approach for general fitness, but on the other hand the blankets are warm and soft and almost never mention my "mobility issues."

I'm throwing it to you, my beloved readers: what do you think? Crossfit? Something else? Or the blankets?

(And by the way: I don't question my instructor/coach's motives at : he's smart and his advice has always been spot-on. I like him a lot and truly believe he wants the best for me. I also happen to think he secretly is horrified by what an awful, uncoordinated idiot I am. This may just be me.)

Reader Comments (118)

I'm with the people who say do it if you enjoy it, and if it makes you feel good. I have never felt that way about a sporting-type activity (I actually just last week wrote about feeling like I am in remedial kung fu) until I found this program: Not only does it make me feel strong and capable, but last week one of my instructors referred to me as a sponge for learning this stuff. A sponge! I sat on the bench in soccer for three years in high school, getting worse every year. I can't even play kickball. It's amazing to be good at a sport.

You have to find an instructor who works for you, though. I have two very patient, encouraging instructors, and they make all the difference. I fear the day when I leave this city and have to find a new studio.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermarie

Alice, I am sending you a big big hug, and I hope you feel better soon. I think exercise is wonderful, and you're doing a very smart thing by staying active, whatever option you select.

To help feel more settled and comfortable in your body, perhaps you would like to consider taking a dance therapy course. It is a therapy based on the idea that movement and emotion are related. I've struggled to meditate or practice yoga, but dance therapy encouraged me to listen to my body in a safe, nurturing atmosphere and helped me to truly relax and feel more confident in my skin.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterViv

"This is a feeling that goes back as far as I can remember. I have never felt like I had any natural skill at moving my body through space."

Oh my, YES. My husband is constantly astounded, because it's not clumsiness, it's something beyond. You're braver than I am, at least you TRIED all those different things, I'm too ashamed and terrified to sign up for classes, gym classes just keep flashing before my eyes.

That said, I vote that you wait until your meds are sorted out and you're feeling better to make a decision.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

Ugh. I've been there. One thing to bear in mind is that, as frustrating as this all makes you feel, endorphins released by endorphins are GREAT for a whole host of brain chemistry issues. When I work out regularly (not the case for months), I am less depressed, more focused, and generally filled with more energy. It's the promise of this stuff that makes people DO crazy workout classes (because working out 'til you puke does not, itself, sound like a good time). So I know it's hard to hear and think when you're feeling depressed, but holding on and upping the exercise is WAY worth it.

Re: these classes, I'd be most worried about your getting hurt in these private classes. And making sure that the coach really does know and allow for your level of flexibility, rather than push-push-PUSHing you until you get hurt or realize you are not having fun.

But seriously, money is a consideration (do you feel like it's a waste of), but other than that, the worst that can happen is that you decide after a few private sessions that Crossfit isn't for you. But at best? Increased vim, verve, and vitality. Worth a try.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

Everyone here at the Embassy in Jordan seems to be doing Crossfit - of course, they're all soldiers and federal agents and Marines and those types, so naturally they already looked good. My husband keeps trying to convince me to join them, but HELLO, there will be a zillion soldiers and federal agents and Marines laughing at me. So I can't bring myself to try.

That said, if the instructor is someone you like, and he's willing to work with you privately, and you can afford it, I say go for it. You might get comfortable enough with it to keep going. And you might be able to let go of some of the hangups about it if you're in a private class and don't have to worry about the jocks laughing at you.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

In my view, being uncoordinated and depressed just means one is very cool and very smart.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterstarzstylista

It sounds like you don't hate Crossfit, you just hate the knowledge that you're not as coordinated/strong as you'd like to be. So how, exactly, is quitting Crossfit going to help that situation? It's OKAY not to be good at everything. It's OKAY to need more time than other people to pick up certain skills. You have a trainer you respect and who is absolutely looking out for your best interests. What do you have to lose? It's going to be frustrating and painful and sometimes you're going to feel like you're back in Remedial Gym. None of which, I understand, sounds very appealing. But you've tried a very wide range of things, and you've given up on all of them when you start feeling singled out (speaking as an ex-skating coach, who frequently worked with uncoordinated adults, I can't believe some of the things that were said to you).

Now you're working with someone who wants to work with you one-on-one to get you where you need to be. There is nothing wrong with this! No activity is going to magically be the fit where you feel graceful and athletic immediately upon entry. I say give this one a go. You will almost undoubtedly come out better for it.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I think you should try Nia:

Nia is a movement form inspired by a combination of dance arts, martial arts and healing arts. Great music, great moves.
But most important of all: you don't have to do anything you don't want or you can't do! It is a practice designed for people of all fitness levels (even those who don't have ANY fitness at all) who just want to move and enjoy their body. Principle nr. 1: The joy of movement. Listen to your body and just enjoy moving. Because every body should move to be healthy, but moving should never be a torture, fysical nor psychological nor emotional.
I hope you enjoy! (it sounds like an ad, but I have no financial gain in this, I'm Belgian and only teach Nia in Belgium :-) But I'm sure there are a lot of great Nia-teachers in NY and all of America. Nia is American, after all)

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiesbet (BE)

dear alice,

get thee to stumptuous.
krista feels your dorky pain. and she is smart and frickin' hilarious. a lot like you, in other words.

hoping you feel better soon.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermovingnorth

Oh my God, Alice! You are being so incredibly hard on yourself. Here's the thing: Most people aren't good at something right away. The ones who are? Genetic freaks of nature. Take the private sessions and do the extra work and you WILL GET THERE. Lack of mobility is a really common issue with weight-lifting and most people ignore this and get hurt. Do whatever it takes to not be one of those people. And listen: I am a mountain biker and I've been doing it for TEN YEARS and I still kind of suck at it. But I like it and I'm glad I persevered because I don't suck at it nearly as much as I did three years ago, five years ago, seven years ago. Weightlifting/Crossfit/exercise is not a game to be won, it's a process to work through. Give it some time and you will get better. Or, maybe you decide it's not for you and you keep looking for that thing that is. It's out there! I promise. (And I think you're awesome, BTW.)

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmblus

Wow...the problem was not you. The problem was that you had jerks for instructors. Anyone who really cares about fitness and helping people would never talk to you that way. It sounds like (hopefully) the Crossfit person genuinely wants to ensure you do not hurt yourself--but that does not mean anything is WRONG with you. Some people simply are not as flexible as others, and it takes more time for them to become flexible enough to handle certain exercises. My husband is one of those people, and our trainer has worked patiently with him for years--and there is a real difference, and he can do a lot of exercises now that he could not do a few years ago. Do not give up! Keep looking for someone who will work with you at your current level. When someone makes you feel small for who you are, just walk away. There are good trainers out there.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPriscilla

The way I see it, you can keep going in this awful cycle of trying something, feeling awful, and quitting. Or, you could do something different. You could see it through. If you see it through, then who cares what the outcome is? The point is that you did it. One of my favorite quotes: "If you keep doing what you've always done, you're going to keep getting what you've always gotten."

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLiesel

Go! Life is too short to feel bad about yourself, and that's why you should do it.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

There is no rush to get to the On Ramp class or any rush to get to the Group Classes. If you like the trainer, take the personal training classes. Do it!

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLynne

So, Alice. Listen. We're all good at some things and not so good at others. You're a freakin' fantastic writer. I would positively die to have that amount of talent. "Mobility issues"? Bah -- no biggie! You're being way too hard on yourself. You've been working out regularly for quite a while now. That's awesome for your body and I'd imagine you're super healthy as a result, which is the most important thing. I think you should decide whether or not to proceed with this class based on your fitness goals and whether you enjoy it. If so, go for it, private classes, On Ramp, and all, and don't worry about whether you're excelling at it. I also want to tell you I sympathize. I'm totally uncoordinated and always made a complete embarassment of myself in high school gym class, so I totally understand feeling like sportiness doesn't come naturally. (My husband, on the other hand, is good at every athletic endeavor he attempts. *sigh*) And I've had issues with those little seratonin buggers too. I hope you're feeling better soon.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeg

Let me ask you a question: Why do you need to be more flexible or coordinated? Right now, you can get through a reasonably pleasant day with your current status, right? Is your current level of flexibility or coordination inhibiting you in some way? (Okay, what I meant was: Let me ask you a few questions.) My point is, don't beat yourself up unnecessarily. Do not subscribe to fitness magazines that tell you you need to be more flexible *if* you're flexible enough right now to do the things you want and need to do. Take up a nice, easy exercise, like walking, and do that to maintain. IF, however, your coordination or flexibilty levels are inhibiting you from some important life need, then sure, keep trying (just not at classes that make you feel small). I'm not that coordinated either. It bothers me a little bit that I can't play a good game of catch with my son, but that's it. I can handle that little bother rather than be pummeled by a small, hard, white ball hurling through the air at me. Coordination, shmoordination, I always say.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmi

I agree with @TheQueen: Don't make the decision right now. Wait a bit, ease some of the pressure, clear your head a bit, then decide. The best decision for you will find you if you let it. No need to decide right this minute.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Pond

It sounds like we have the complete opposite issue - I love sports and can hold my own (or at least not feel totally out of place) in most team/individual sports. But I am completely intimidated by going to the gym and using exercise equipment... probably something about hating asking for help and being easily embarrassed. Logically I know that is silly - there are people who are there to help, and want to help... but I digress.

It sounds like you really do want to improve your mobility... so I think something private/one on one instruction is the way to go for a little while - just to help you improve, and build your confidence. If not with Mr. Cross-fit Coach, then maybe private yoga (as someone else suggested I think)... or maybe a physical therapist who specializes in mobility issues, if that's an option insurance/$-wise. Working with a PT might help decrease the fitness/anxiety aspect of the issue.

Good luck! I'm so impressed with how you went from nada to a regular consistent gym-goer!

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulie

As a fellow uncoordinated person (and person with a horror of being singled out in exercise class), I think you should go for it. I've heard a lot about how Crossfit helps build strength and confidence, and if individual sessions will help you get to where the group classes are less intimidating, why not do them?

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHillary

I appear to be in the minority, but my vote is to keep looking until you find a type of exercise that you love, that doesn't make you feel like the worst kid in the class, that makes you WANT to work at it and improve. Sure, there's something to be said for perseverence, but not if you're hating every step of the way.

I've tried lots of things in the past - gyms (which I hate), swimming (which I like, but my hair hates), rock climbing (which I like, but my wrists hate), various types of dance that I didn't fall in love with. Pilates and yoga I enjoy even though I'm the stiffest person in the class - in part because I have a great yoga instructor who is willing to adapt everything to each person's level. Walking outdoors is essential for my mental health. And I finally found a type of dance that I love with a passion - contra dance / American country dance (not C&W). Now that I've found these things that make me happy, I refuse to do exercise that I don't love.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSiri

Keep going! Getting fit will make you feel better.

Also no one is judging you on how well you are doing in your flexibility or fitness. They're just happy you're there trying hard. Seriously.

Here's a book I just read on fitness and brain chemistry, it really helped me understand my ADHD and why I need to bicycle 2 hours a day. Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

I have these issues. Lots of us must. I tried yoga and quit countless times until I found that one magical instructor that has taught me to stay on my own mat and not compare myself to the rest of the room. I still think I have a genetic defect, but I love yoga. I also did a one month boot camp in January and watched the instructor love on the young, fit people as he continued not to learn my name and say things like," Come on, go lower," with a snicker in his voice while I did push-ups. But I liked that feeling of being in my body, so I found another instructor and now I go to a 2-day boot camp. Yes, I come in last during wind sprints while reminding myself to stay on my own mat. But exercise is the number one thing that keeps my depression at bay, and coming in last has made me, as you say, deal with my own issues. So I am saying, yes, go for it. You can do it. And I hope you start feeling better soon. Much love your way!

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Schatz Alton

Here are my thoughts/suggestions.

I think you should continue with CrossFit, do the privates, the On Ramp and then the Group Classes. If you want to.

But I think you should also check and see if there are any gyrotonics studios in your area. It is incredible for improving mobility. It is very gentle and is excellent when done in conjunction with whatever other sport you are interested in. Here is the link to the one where I live for more general info:

I hope this helps.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I am the absolute wrong person to be giving advice about this. I managed to graduate from high school WITHOUT taking gym at all. Honestly, it is one of my proudest accomplishments. I don't like the outdoors or sweating. I have chickened out taking yoga because I'm terrible at following instructions and downward facing dog hurts my palms. The only thing I could see myself doing is running because all you have to do is move your feet. Right now, however, I am pregnant, so loading and unloading the dishwasher is my cardio.

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLouise

To add to what Toni said, I think you just would feel better with a different type of coach. I started a crossfit program a year ago, and a major reason I have been able to stick with it for so long is that I finally have a coach who motivates me instead of makes me feel like a fat, uncoordinated, inflexible loser. Many coaches/trainers assume everyone in the class is motivated by the same things that motivate them. As a lifelong non-athlete, it never worked for me. Until I met my current trainer/coach, I always left classes and programs with a sense of utter failure at all things physical. Now, I feel strong and accomplished, even though I'm never the best in class, and often at the bottom.

So what if your timeline is different than the trainer's timeline, or that of other people in the class? You're getting out there and doing the work and learning and improving. That's what counts. It took me six months to find the bottom of my squat, and I still look like I'm having full body spasms when I run. It's a process.

(Now, as an aside (and I have no affiliation whatsoever) there is a great website that can help with mobility issues: It can nice to be able to work on your own at home instead of being singled out during class.)

May 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

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