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CrossFit: Pushing the Envelope

Be a pal and pick me up off the floor.

At some point you realize that both ends of a burning candle will eventually meet and that it'll take more than coconut water to bring you back from the depths.

In other words, this has been the toughest week so far in my CrossFit adventure. I've been completely wiped out—sluggish, sore and irritable. It all amounts to fatigue—brought on by the continuation of bad habits and lifting too much weight. 

Week 4

Everything went downhill after Friday's WOD (Workout of the Day). The workout itself went pretty well—seven minutes to do "push jerks", jumping jacks and sprints while holding 2.5 pound weights in each hand. But the problem, and this is where I screwed myself, was that I push-jerked 115 pounds—still too much weight.

Then, on Saturday morning, I met my friend Kate Moran at CrossFit Old Town. I got to the box without having had water or breakfast. The place was full when I arrived—more than 30 people, and this was the workout: 

Seven rounds of: 

  • 10 Toes-2-Bar 
  • 10 Push Presses (too much weight again)
  • 10 Kipping Pull-Ups 
  • 10 Jumping Lunges

After seven rounds of insanity, Kate dragged my corpse to breakfast. I'll admit that conversation lagged at the onset, but things came back into focus after a tall glass of water, some OJ and a plate full of eggs, bacon and toast.

"I need to change my habits," I said. "I need to drink more water, get some sleep and eat more than once a day and smoke less. I've even been thinking about the electronic cigarette."

Kate, who started with CrossFit OT two years ago, is in the best shape of her life. "Do it," she said. "That's what I did to quit. I needed to do it and it completely worked. I sucked the hell out of those things."

Since then, I've been completely zapped of energy. On Tuesday, I was back at CrossFit Liberation and was struggling with the workout, when, about 13 minutes in, owner Atom Ziniewicz came over and said: "James, I think you've had enough for the day. You should stop."

I walked away from the bar and then went back to it a minute later. "I told you to stop dude," Atom said, and then tapped me on the shoulder with his clipboard. "Hey, congratulations! You reached the classic CrossFit newbie burnout for wanting to accomplish too much way too fast. You've got to remember form and functionality first, and then you can put on weight. This kind of thing happens all the time at CrossFit gyms—people who get too eager to run before they can walk."

So, I'm now embarking on my fifth week of CrossFit with an eye toward fixing things that are weighing me down, and also on lifting the right weight. Otherwise, if you see me and I look and talk like a zombie, you'll be able to say: "How about that. Dude didn't take the advice!" 

CrossFit Liberation Trainers 

Scott Horton

Life changed for Scott Horton, also known as Panda, when he met Atom two years ago at XSport Fitness. Scott, who lives in Falls Church with his partner Tat Newsome, was overweight and suffered from sleep apnea and high cholesterol. 

"I'm not a self motivator. I knew I'd have to have a trainer to push me," Scott said, adding that his unskilled coach at the time expected too much from him early on. "I had a cardiomyopathy [heart disease] episode right there in the gym. So, obviously, I picked a new trainer. And there was Atom. When he wasn't with a client he was at his computer and not socializing. He kind of had this no-nonsense aura about him." 

Scott, 46, works as a hair stylist in Georgetown, and is one of the founding members of CrossFit Liberation. "I've gone from 335 pounds to 250, with a goal of 220," he said. "My previous health problems—gone. My doctor told me I was going to live for a long time. It's really changed my life."

His coaching style: "I'm very friendly, and I'm in it for the long haul. I will follow you to the ends of the earth to help you reach your goals."

Vivian Nguyen 

CrossFit has made a new woman out of assistant trainer Vivian Nguyen. She's lost 40 pounds since joining CrossFit Liberation last April, and at WODs, her competitive nature raises the energy level of the room with motivational outbursts (every time I work out with Vivian she hollers "Come on!" to someone). She is now the strongest female at CrossFit Liberation and can deadlift 315 pounds. 

As a coach: "I'm kind of goofy, not too strict," Vivian said. "I'm a motivator and a yeller. I'm so competitive. It sounds authoritative and angry, but it's filled with love." 

Vivian, 23, lives in Lorton and recently graduated from George Mason University and works as a business analyst for a government contractor. "My confidence is way up. I used to be a lot quieter," she said. "I couldn't do a pull-up and I was 40 pounds heavier. On that first free class I fell during 'wall balls' and I was so angry."

It took Vivian six months to get her pull-up. "I only recently got the kipping pull-ups down. I can now do five consecutively." 

Vivian gets nervous before workouts. "I'm terrified. It never goes away. I walk in not knowing what the WOD is going to be. It's exciting and it keeps me going," she said. 

Kerri McKay

Kerri McKay was made for CrossFit—she's tough, smiles through pain and has loads of patience. Coaching-wise, the 29-year-old D.C. public school teacher is pointed in her instruction. 

"I don't talk a lot," Kerri said. "I'm more straight to the point. I don't want people to get lost in what I'm saying."   

Kerri, like Scott, met Atom at XSport and followed him to CrossFit Liberation. "As a woman, to do things like dead-lifting more than 200 pounds and flipping giant tires can be very empowering," she said. "I ran the Army 10-miler last year and didn't even train for it. It was the first time I'd run more than five miles in my life, just because of the conditioning I've gotten here." 

Kerri, who lives in Fairfax, enjoys the familial atmosphere of the box. "People of all ages, races and interests are friends, and they probably wouldn't be without CrossFit," she said. "And this wasn't by accident. Very purposefully, we all wanted this place to be accessible to anyone, and we welcome you as long as you want to put in the work. There are no egos in here and everybody supports each other."

Connie Dicken April 05, 2012 at 12:22 PM
James- The weight will come. Don't push it and remember this is a process that takes more than 5 weeks! After your 3 months, you will see a difference!
James Cullum April 05, 2012 at 01:26 PM
Thanks Connie! My eyes are bigger than my muscles.
Wayne Pohl April 06, 2012 at 02:38 AM
James great write up......we havent met yet but i have been where you are and even still experience it.....as my wife said the weight will come! Coach is right, form is sooooo important. Even today after a year my cleans felt great, yhe best they had ever. Stay in the fight! Look forward to meetimg you.
James Cullum April 06, 2012 at 02:48 AM
Thanks Wayne. It's an uphill climb, and I appreciate the support!

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