Progress Is Not Linear

by Michael Plank

I don’t know how many times I’ve drawn seen and drawn this graph, but it’s been a lot! Most of those times have been for myself. Next week we start our 3-week Level Method Assessment cycle at our gym. This is a fantastic tool we use to check in on our fitness and see some measurable results to our training. Every time we do an assessment though, someone asks “What if I level down??

Well… you might.

One of the great gifts of CrossFit is its obsession with metrics. It gives us objective data about whether or not an approach to fitness or nutrition is working. BUT the problem with that obsession is that it’s all too easy for us to get caught up in the micro instead of the macro.

Let’s say I ask you to do as many push-ups as you can in a minute, and you gave it everything you had and you got 10. If I have you rest for 5 seconds and then do it again, you will not be able to get 10 the second time. Does that mean you’re doing something wrong? Does it mean the approach is bad? Does it mean CrossFit doesn’t work for you? Of course not. It just means that we don’t have enough data points. Because if you do that same thing every weekday for a month and then we test your push-ups in a minute, you’re definitely going to get more than 10. The approach works, we just were zoomed in too tight.

We do our level assessments 3 times a year. Looking at your physical progress alone over a 4-month period is valuable. But it’s far more valuable to look at your overall quality of life over a 2- or 3- or 5-year period. Because, especially as the time you’ve spent training increases, every test is not going to yield a PR. The weights won’t always go up. The scale won’t always go down. That doesn’t mean you suck and it doesn’t mean that the approach doesn’t work, it just means we need to relax and zoom out a little. We need to look at a longer timeline and a bigger picture. What did you gain in character from training hard for four months? What did you learn about resilience and community and perseverance? What did you learn about yourself? Not everything that improves your life can be measured.

Level ups and PRs are always exciting, and we will help you celebrate every single one. But don’t sight of the forest for the trees.

Moms Make Better CrossFitters (and CrossFit Makes Better Moms)

by Lauren Grogan (originally published May 7, 2016)

 

Maybe CrossFit was started by a man. Maybe men hold the fastest times and get the biggest lifts. But I’m here to talk about what women in CrossFit gyms all over the globe already know:

CrossFit is the most feminist sport on the planet. Here’s why:

I have owned and operated a CrossFit box since 2014. Women make up the majority of our current membership. And as much as I would love to claim that we are a unique snowflake of a CrossFit gym, I don’t think we are. I think women outnumber men in many CrossFit gyms, because the qualities you need to excel at CrossFit come naturally to women. They may not always come easily, but I do believe they are part of our nature. I have seen them modeled for me in the women who have mothered me through my life. And I use them constantly as I mother my own children. In CrossFit I have found a sport that celebrates my innate strengths, those that all women access when they care for and nurture another person. CrossFit also speaks to a deep part of my soul, the part that needs to be pushed to keep improving, to strive constantly to be the best version of myself.

Let’s start with the easy stuff. This is how CrossFit makes me a better mom:

You’re not allowed to quit.

An unspoken rule of CrossFit workouts is that you do not quit. You might slow down, you might take a break. You might be lagging behind everyone else by a substantial margin. But if your coach is as good as mine (spoiler alert: he’s also my husband, so I’m partial) that coach will tell you to keep going. And so will your fellow athletes. They will tell you that you are strong enough. They will tell you you’re doing a great job. They will tell you to take a breath, then dig deep and jump right back in because you have more in the tank than you think you do.

Last night was a particularly rough workout for me. I was tired and cranky and I’d had a rough week. I told everyone this before we started, but I was there and with everyone watching me I knew I couldn’t just give up. Everyone else finished before me, and as they caught their breath they turned their attention to me. Two years ago that would have mortified me, but last night it warmed my heart. One of my dear friends, who was a relative stranger before we started working out together, knelt right next to me as I began my 5th and final set of heavy front squats. Her encouragement grew louder and more urgent until, when I had only three squats left she screamed, “this week did not beat you! You are stronger than it! You win! YOU WIN!’ I did. I won. I was tired, and dead last, but I finished.

I had some low moments this week. I was not the mother I dreamed I would be. I lost my patience, gave in to whining, and ignored my children instead of engaging them. But I did it. I made it one more week staying at home with my toddler, feeding him nutritious food and reading him the same books over and over and loving him even though he punched me in the eye. And when I struggled and wanted to give up, I had a tribe of women around me to tell me what a good job I was doing. There is not a parent alive who doesn’t need that.

You chose the hard way.

In a world full of ‘easy’ workouts, CrossFit stands out as the road less taken. The ‘hard’ way, the rugged option that is not for the faint of heart. The same could be said of parenthood. As a mother I am constantly struggling to chose the difficult path, the one that is sure to lead to a happy, healthy child but requires so much damn effort that it seems insurmountable. Vegetables instead of dessert. Books instead of TV. Cloth diapers instead of disposable. Patience instead of anger. As the mother of a six year old and an almost two year old, my future looks like a mountain of these kind of struggles.

Where I land on each of these kinds of struggles depends on the day, the week, the month. And the end is nowhere in sight, no matter how fast the internet tells me it will go. But I am surrounded by women who chose the hard way. They show up night after night to lift heavy weights, run in the rain, and leave it all on the floor. Because they know that their choices matter and that every single time they choose the hard way, they are one step closer being the best person that they want to be. And when I struggle to find the will to parent my child, I think of them.

Are you ready? ‘Cause it’s about to get heavy. This is how being a mother makes me a better CrossFitter:

It is Hard

My very first Mother’s Day was two days after I found out that the baby I had been carrying for 20 weeks was most certainly not going to have the kind of life I had dreamed of for her. In the weeks between that day and the day she was born, I learned a lot more about specifically which parts of her body worked and which did not, and which part of her brain was present and which was not. But I never learned why. No diagnosis, no syndrome; perfect chromosomes, healthy parents. Just a part of the 3% of all human pregnancies that mutate without cause. This is the human condition: life is hard for no reason.

We struggle so much, fight so hard, and still we can’t always change our circumstances. We are usually better because of our struggles, but that doesn’t mean we would ever choose them. I get stronger every time i do burpees. It sucks, I loathe it, I am almost never happy when I do them. And if I had the ‘choice,’ I wouldn’t. But you read what I wrote about not quitting right? I don’t quit. Because there are other things in my life that have been harder than burpees.

Birthing my daughter knowing that she had already died was much harder than any CrossFit workout I will ever do. But I did it, so that I could hold her in my arms and kiss her tiny face. And I will continue to do hard things, like CrossFit, because it feels like one of the most pure elements of the human condition.

These days, if I put on a hat, so does my toddler. He wants to eat whatever I’m eating, wear whatever I’m wearing and do whatever I’m doing. Which is why he does spontaneous burpees, and cheers whenever he sees someone running. As his primary caretaker, I am responsible for his entire worldview. That is a huge responsibility and one that I do not take lightly. If I was not constantly reminded of how closely he watches me, it would be easy to skip the gym and eat junk food all day long.

It is one of those fantastic human paradoxes that we take better care of our children than we do ourselves, but I’m sure it is true for most of the parents I know. So (in pre-COVID times) I drag him with me to CrossFit two or three times a week, even though it takes at least an extra half hour to prepare him, and messes up his sleep schedule (which makes my life harder of course.) Because I want him to see that I am strong. I want him to know that I make my health a priority. And when I hit that inevitable wall in my workout and I hear him yelling or see him clapping, I get the motivation I need to finish. Because what he needs, more than anything else, is for me to be strong and healthy and happy.

So I am.

Cultivating Stillness

by Michael Plank

 

In our gym, we use the Level Method Map of Athletic Progression – it’s a tremendous tool to help our members chart a path to lifelong general fitness. It shows us our strengths, it shows us where we could use some more work, and it gives us a path to follow so that we can get where we want to go. We spent all of 2020 also developing a Map of Spiritual Progression. The aim is the same: a tool to show us our strengths, where we can use some more work, and that lays out a path to follow so that we can get where we want to go. Our vision is to improve the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of our area, and this is one way we’re working on tackling that last piece of the puzzle. (More on this to come this year)

One of the first categories we look at developing is stillness. Cultivating stillness is a skill, and it’s way underrated.

Cultures, religions, and traditions around the world, for all of history, have had different strategies for cultivating stillness: Sabbath, meditation, walkabouts, silent retreats, and many others are all different roads leading to the same place. What stillness is has every bit as much to do with intention as with logistics. (So, for example, sitting still and quiet, by yourself, scrolling on your phone, probably is not cultivating stillness).

We live in a world in which attention is arguably the most valuable resource, which means things are clamoring for our attention 100% of the time. Cultivating stillness means making space away from all that noise. And what happens in that space can be literally life-changing.

I started my own journey of cultivating stillness when I was asked the last time when I took a full 60 seconds with no phone, no distractions, no self-development exercises, no trying to sleep, but just sitting and letting my mind wander in stillness. 60 seconds. I had no answer.

And so I started cultivating stillness in my life. My strategy came from a mindset coach and business mentor named Colm O’Reilly.

I started with 2 minutes. I went into a room by myself, closed the door, set a 2 minute timer, put my phone out of sight, and just looked out the window.

At first, that 2 minutes was almost completely consumed with remembering all the things I had forgotten to do that day. But that’s good. I would have forgotten them otherwise. After awhile (weeks), sometimes in the space of that 2 minutes, I’d get some minor insight (if I switch my Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, I can get an extra family dinner in each week). After a little longer, I started to notice it would help me detach when I let problems spin me up so that I got bogged down in the weeds. And after longer still, I began to notice more of a sense of lightness in my life.

And just to be clear, all I’m talking about here is stillness. For me, it’s not prayer, it’s not reading, it’s not even meditation (though it might be one of those things for you). It’s just sitting and looking out the window. It’s a practice, and like any practice, I wasn’t good at it when I started (I’m still very much a novice). And like any practice, I have good days and bad days as I slowly improve my skills.

The benefits of creating space for stillness are well-documented and abundant. But it can be difficult to start, and so here’s one way you might begin…

Step 1: Make time to stop and take 5 deep breaths (no screens or music)
Step 2: On another day, take time to stop and take 10 deep breaths (no screens or music)
Step 3: While sitting or walking, take 10 deep breaths once each week for a month
Step 4: While sitting or walking, take 20 deep breaths once each week for a month
Step 5: Sit still with no distractions for 3 minutes once each week for a month
Step 6: Build in duration and frequency from there.

A lot of the good things we want in life – things like meaning, gratitude, peace, clarity, calm – get drowned out easily by all the noise around us when they’re first taking root. Stillness is a powerful way for us to water that garden and let them grow to become a part of our lives the way we want them to be.

The Cost of Success

by Aimee Wojtowecz

In the world of CrossFit we often measure our success through PR’s; ever heavier lifts, faster workout times, 6-pack abs, but do we ever stop to think about what this might be costing us? When our singular focus becomes how much further we can push our bodies on any given day we lose sight of the bigger picture. 

I’ve only been a coach at UPCF for a short time but it has given me a whole new perspective on CrossFit and our community in particular. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing you all achieve your goals and I have big goals of my own, but it’s not all I’m chasing anymore. 

I started CrossFit several years ago to simply lose weight, to shrink myself into the beauty standards that are so often pushed on women (yes, I do realize men experience this too but I’m a woman writing from my perspective), and somewhere along the way it became about the goals; faster, stronger, fitter. Maybe you started CrossFit for similar reasons, your health, your fitness, simply improving the quality of your life. As we say at UPCF, all goals are equal. 

Yet watching all of you through the lens of a coach has revolutionized my goals. My focus has shifted from chasing my own performance to watching you all grow as athletes and more importantly as humans. I love seeing you all work hard but I love just as much hearing about how that hard work is changing your life, whether it’s being able to keep up with your kids and grandkids, moving heavy furniture, getting the farm chores done without help. It’s not all about the numbers but how those numbers translate to real life. Don’t forget to find the joy in your workouts and the joy in the connection and community that has been built at UPCF. If you find your workouts lacking the joy and love you first felt walking through those doors remember that it’s ok to change your goals whenever you want. Don’t let chasing the PR’s cost you all the other ways to measure success.

The Power of (Small) Habits

by Michael Plank

Especially if you’ve worked with Coach Jess on nutrition, you know how much we’re into a habits-based approach to change. What does that mean? Habits are powerful. Habits are mindless. Habits are things you do without thinking; even if you’re tired, even if you’re hungry, even if you’re busy. Brushing your teeth is a habit. Checking social media when your alarm goes off in the morning is a habit. Drinking coffee is a habit. They’re automatic.

Most of us want health and wellness to be like that. We want to live a life where eating a balanced meal is a habit, going to the gym is a habit, being hydrated is a habit. We want a life where we can do all the things we need to do to take care of our bodies and minds and have it not feel like work.

That life IS possible! (And we can help you do it). But the best way to start is to start small. Way smaller than you think.

We start habit coaching by working on low-hanging fruit; stuff that you know would be almost mindlessly easy, you just don’t do it yet. Want to be better hydrated? Can you drink 8oz of water between cups of coffee? No? What about 4oz? What about 2oz? What’s the least amount where you know you’ll be successful? Do you want to be more flexible? Can you stretch for 5 minutes after each class you attend? No? What about 2 minutes? What about 1?

This teeny-tiny, step-by-step approach works. BUT, we almost always get pushback. Because does 2 extra ounces of water each day really matter? Does 30 seconds of stretching twice a week really make a difference?

Yes. It does. Not at first… I’ll give you that… but it builds. We’ve seen it. And I bet you’ve seen it too.

Imagine that you’re in a room and there’s a giant block of ice in front of you; it’s huge, 3 feet square. The room is cold – really cold – let’s say it’s 26 degrees. Let’s say you’ve got a button you can push once every 10 minutes, and each time you push it, it will raise the room temperature by one degree. You push it and it goes to 27. You push it again and it goes to 28. You push it every 10 minutes for an hour and nothing happens to that giant ice block. But then you push it one more time and the temperature goes from 32 degrees up to 33 degrees.

You know what’s going to happen to that ice block now, right? You remember science class? Those little teeny-tiny step-by-step incremental changes to the temperature do make a difference. Because now that we’ve hit 33 degrees, as big as it is, as heavy, and solid as it is… as insignificant as one tiny degree is…

Now… that ice is going to melt.

 

The Importance of Taking Time for Yourself

by Alissa Iantosca

When you fly on an airplane, the flight attendant instructs you to “put your oxygen mask on first,” before helping others.  Why? Because if you run out of oxygen yourself, you cannot help anyone else with their mask.  The same concept holds true for when we’re not on an airplane, which is the majority of time during our lifespan.  

How many times have you put others first, or put off something that you wanted to do because of work, family, or everyday life events?  How often have you felt like you are being selfish, or felt guilty for taking time for yourself?  I’m sure the answer is “a lot.”  I cannot tell you how many times I have canceled going to the gym (my “me time”) because I had too many reports to write, or I had to show a house at that exact time, or I felt guilty that I had things scheduled after work for the whole week and wouldn’t get home until late, leaving Jason and the pups in a lurch.  So I’d skip my workouts and guess what?  I felt like crap physically, but even worse, and more importantly, I felt like crap mentally.  I would be angry with myself for skipping and would therefore be moody (sorry Jason) and not as productive as I would have been if I worked out.

I am sharing this with you because it is SO important to make, and take time for yourself.  You NEED to take care of yourself in order to take care of others!  By putting yourself first sometimes, you will be a better parent, spouse, partner, friend, worker, etc.  My “me time” is heading to the gym.  Exercise is a proven stress reliever and it boosts my mood and makes me a happier person.  In addition, I am much more productive when I take a little time for myself even if it means getting home a little later.  In the end I am a better partner, dog mom, Speech Pathologist, Realtor, and coach.   

Here is a little homework…I implore you to take time for yourself!  Schedule some “me time” into your week.  Start small if you need to and then increase the amount of time.  Put it in a planner, set an alarm, do whatever it is you have to do to ensure you are taking some time for yourself.  Here are a few ideas if you need them: exercise, meditation, take a walk outside, be creative or artsy, listen to music, read a book, take a nap… 

Do anything that will fill your bucket, so you can fill others’.