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Monday
May092011

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)

Did you tell your instructor your whole exercise history? Because I'm thinking that this is not so much a question of Can I Do Crossfit? as Is There Exercise out There That Will Not Fill Me with Self-Loathing? (And I could not tell him, myself, because I know I would cry, and I hate crying in front of people. Or just generally. I would have to hand him a note and run away, proving that I am an immature loser.) Anyway, maybe he could steer you to something that would be a good fit, whether Crossfit or something else.

So I would arrange to talk to him, and then I would curl up under blankets until it's time for that talk, and also time to return to the psychiatrist.

And yes to getting the right meds.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSlim

I think it's great in itself that you have tried all these different activities. I totally sympathize with you; I've been the worst at gym since elementary school, loathed gym through high school, didn't go in the gym in university except to write exams...I've had all these body issues and depression issues too, and I'm only in my early 20s. Slowly, slowly, slowly I'm getting past that and trying new things....slowly. I actually really enjoy yoga, as I've found out, walking is a good therapeutic exercise, and I'm finding a workout in yard work even.

I've had an extremely bad year this year and have found some solace in exercise. It's hard to do, but when I do it, it helps. It's something to escape in to. And maybe that could be some good to you at this time. Lift your mood a little. It's active, and it's doing something. And you can always retreat to the covers afterward.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

I read the comments. I said I wouldn't but I did. So many comments! And what Jenny said really resonated with me about yoga. Recovering from VBAC (after never having really gotten my strength back after the c-section), I started doing "chair yoga" with a DVD. It was the best! I was exactly as weak and inflexible as I thought, and even with the modified poses, I definitely was challenged. As least I was at home and no one was watching. Eventually I started doing regular yoga--no chair, no major modifications--and that led to other changes I started: to jog, to lift weights, to lose weight...

I think there are a lot of ways you can become more flexible. Only some of those ways will support you as you also shore up your mental health. I don't vote for blankets--no endorphins and no feeling of accomplishment after lying around. Who said work out with old people? That's a good one! I've also heard good things about Nia (though it's reputed to make one feel extremely silly). The path your coach mapped out for you might be fine--but it sounds like it's going to take a long time and might be paved with many humiliations of the sort you're already overfamiliar with. Maybe I'm just channeling my own aversion to activities that sound like boot camp, calisthenics, CrossFit. Maybe you, Alice, have grown, in your gym-going, to like such things, as appalling as they sound to me? Of course you know you're the best judge. Except please don't lie around all curled up in blankets. Especially as your medications are adjusted, you need the antidepressant effects of vigorous exercise.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterReid

Oh, do I ever feel your awkward lack-of-mobility uncoordinated pain. You know the Elaine Dance from Seinfeld? THAT'S ME. Except not only when I'm dancing (which I don't ever do outside of my home, and only with my small children present b/c they don't judge--YET). I am uncoordinated walking or standing still. A few months back, a friend of mine invited me to a Zumba class. A very coordinated, vivacious friend who enjoys dancing and all things choreography. I did not know what I was getting into. I spent pretty much the entire effing class praying that it was all a bad dream, that I really wasn't dumb enough to go to a choreographed exercise group class, and trying not to cry b/c OH DEAR GOD THE HUMILIATION. Everyone kept giving me the "awww, poor thing" face. It didn't help that there were mirrors everywhere. Group exercise can go to hell, I tell you.

You know what my uncoordinated body can handle? Jogging. So I jog. And I ride my bike. I think you should not do things that make you miserable, and instead find some form of exercise that you can do with minimal humiliation.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara

If you are considering going through the time and expense of preliminary training sessions with Mr. Crossfit, may I humbly suggest just finding a personal trainer you like? Mr. Crossfit has a workout plan to sell, so he may not be the best person to objectively help you design a program that works for you (i.e. one that gives you a great workout now while helping you to reach your future fitness goals). Trainers are like any other service provider you might hire--do a little research, interview a few candidates, and go with the person you feel the best about. You are giving your time, your money and your body to this--you deserve to have such a significant investment pay off!

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie

What is important is how you feel about this. You have been going to the gym regularly for two years now- that is commendable in and of itself! Have you seen changes? Do you feel better physically? So you're not a nymph who bounds through classes gracefully, who cares? You probably never will be. What matters is that you have the drive and ambition to better yourself and keep trying. Do what you like and makes you feel good while you're there. Push yourself to try something new if you want to, but don't minimize your overall efforts. The end.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMissey

I do not have mobility or flexibility issues; I actually teach yoga, so feel free to hate me, or take what i am about to say with a grain of salt. I am, however, a card carrying depressive, and in my experience, I have found Iyengar enormously helpful, mentally and physically: it really makes explicit to me that mind is body and body is mind. It helps me with my body, it helps me understand myself, it helps me manage my depression. It is NOT, however, a magic bullet-I will always need my medication.

Iyengar yoga has a reputation for being harsh and rigid, but I have not found that to be the case. Certified Iyengar instructors are unbelievably, extremely knowledgeable-it's kind of like having a PhD in yoga, and have an extremely sophisticated understanding of anatomy and biomechanics. A good yoga instructor will NEVER make you feel less than because of a lack of mobility, and Iyengar yoga has uniquely therapeutic benefits unlike any other type of yoga I've practiced. I highly recommend the Iyengar Institute in NYC, and yoga in general for people dealing with mood disorders. I have found it particularly effective in facilitating mindfulness, which I'm sure you know helps so much to manage depression.

Having said that, I don't believe any form of exercise is the ONE TRUE THING, and when you find something you love, you will get mental and physical benefits from it. If you like crossfit, and trust your instructor, go with your intuition.

Another type of exercise I've found helpful are Lotte Burke/barre method style classes. Core strengthening, and really makes explicit that strength and flexibility are related, ie: an overly flexible body is actually an indication of weaknesses, and will inhibit strength, and vice versa.

I am sorry you are feeling shitty now Alice: been there, done that, and given my biochemistry, will undoubtedly at some point be there and do that again myself.

May 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterPamela Goldsteen

I too am amazingly uncoordinated. In college my friends would try to get me to run in front of them because it made them laugh to see me run. When I told my mom and aunt about this they laughed and told me that they used to laugh at how I ran when I was little. I don't really feel funny when I run, but apparently I look so funny that people actually laugh out loud. Anyway, my favorite physical activities are hiking and snowshoeing--basically walking for a long time in pretty place--extra distance and steepness are how I get in extra good workouts. It really suits me (and our dogs) very well. And actually, I am kind of uncoordinated on really rocky paths and when going down something really steep or slippery, but it doesn't really bother me (and it helps that my best hiking buddy falls down constantly). :) Find something you love and know that lots of people suck and moving themselves through space.

May 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterspaceranger

Anyway, obviously the first thing to focus on is whatever is causing your brain to tell you to be sad. Because of course that will make you view even the slightest wobble as catastrophic and the most humiliating thing. I have a semi-wacky idea: have you ever gone to a physical therapist? The very first thing any PT does with someone is to watch them walk. I wonder if there's something in your stance or walk that they could help you tweak that might shift things for you. Like, if you don't have a solid base of course when you try to balance you'll topple.

I had to re-learn how to sit/stand/walk/run when I was 18, and if you go to a good PT (which wouldn't be hard to find in NY) they can help with everything from how you plant your feet on the floor when you stand and walk to where exactly you hold your head (not with your hands, but more like, in relation to sticking it forward/back). Anyway, I think this may be a good idea for you because it's kind of like dealing with the problem instead of the symptoms of it, plus, as long as you don't have HIP or any other HMO, PT work is done in private, one-on-one, so there's very little humiliation factor. Even if you cried, they're very used to having people cry.

I'm sorry this is going on. If you have a way of working out that makes your body feel good and you're successful at it, it's okay to "rest" at that point. You don't need to keep pushing yourself until you're a Navy SEAL or anything, you know?

May 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreen

i'm with the person who suggested finding a private yoga instructor who isn't an asshole. Yoga helps fight depression.

Also wondering if you've ever heard of or tried Feldendrais? It's a class where you just lie on the ground and subtly, sometimes too subtly to see, move little bits of your body, to reroute your standardised patterns of movement. It really heightens your body awareness (leaves you feeling amazing also) and makes a big difference in movement patterns. I've only taken a couple classes in it, but they've both been super memorable.

May 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdeirdre

Sorry, that's Feldenkrais, not feldenrais....

May 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterdeirdre

Oh I know all about remedial high school because I was in it! The jocks went and lifted weights, we played kickball. The jocks ran 15 miles in 10 minutes, we ran around the track once at a turtle's pace. We took "learning to swim", the jocks practiced scuba diving... Oh it was humiliating then. But now my friends and I laugh and tell "remember when" stories of that stupid year

May 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKate

How are you! Dear.

May 26, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterr4i

Granted that I am late reading this and have no idea whether or not you continued on or not..but if you ever want to look into something that will leave you feeling good and looking good, look into t-tapp (t-tapp.com). It has gotten me into the skinny size 4 I was in high school..after 7 kids. Totally amazing. :)

June 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I found your site through a link on Mama Pundit today. I have enjoyed reading some of your posts. Not trying to give you any particular advice but wanted to comment on the struggle with exercise and coordination. I am a yoga instructor. No one would ever look at me and pick me out to be a yoga instructor. While I am slim and of average weight, I am not particularly flexible. I have achieved more flexibility over the years, but really I should have more flexibility given the amount of yoga I have done. Also, I have never had great muscular tone although I have been swimming laps (a lot of them) for most of my adult live and for many years prior to adulthood. The yoga sutras teach that effort is everything, not results. We can only control our effort. After years of teaching many students, I can see the benefit of yoga (and all physical exercise) impacting body acceptance. I can tell just from looking at a few of the photos on your blog that you look better than fine. You are definitely good enough. Forget about remedial gym and what anyone else may think about your fittness and ability. Just enjoy your efforts. The efforts bring circulation to the entire body and benefit you more than choosing to not do anything. If you want private lessons, take them. But don't feel that you are not qualified to be in any particular class, even if you can't do all of what the class offers. If you look around, you will see that one is good at one part of the class and is struggling with another part of it, even if you are struggling with all of it. You really are not alone and if you are doing the best you can, that really is great. I sincerely mean that, we are often sooo hard on ourselves. Try to let go of that!

June 20, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterbella

Crossfit is a great body conditioning/strengthening program. I once tried it and my muscles ached after the first session but you'll get used to it.

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July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Gardner

I liked reading your blog, thanks for posting such good content.

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October 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHowtolose

Find another activity where you don't feel bad about yourself. I tried lots of things and felt uncoordinated and sore and bad about myself. Then I'd have some chocolate.

Until... I found something where I didn't feel like that. It was fun! It was challenging! It was easy to incorporate into my everyday! It was cheap! I don't feel uncoordinated and slow. In fact it makes me feel graceful and fast. Just keep trying different things. Don't give up. We can't all be gym/classes/coordination people.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLia

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