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Today was a momentous day.
I managed to do THREE consecutive double-unders.
Thank you very much. *Takes a bow.
If you are not familiar with the term, let me explain. You know how skipping (feet together, no bounce in between) is already pretty hard? Well, a double-under is where the skipping rope makes two full revolutions before your feet hit the ground again.
I know. Crazy. The first time I heard about it, I dismissed it as impossible. Yes, I could see other people doing them at my gym, and on YouTube, but not ORDINARY people like me. Double-unders were for athletes – not middle aged women with a self-destructive passion for potato based products.
That was 10 months ago.
It has taken the best part of a year, but I can now do consecutive double-unders. If you had asked me last May whether that would ever happen, I’d have explained that it was about as likely as me winning the lottery. And I don’t even play the lottery.
Last May is when I started doing Crossfit.
I don’t even know why I decided to sign up. Like the dancing, it seemed completely out of my comfort zone, out of character, and unlike anything I’d ever done before.
I had been a member at a gym – where for a reasonably small fee I could use the weight-training room, Olympic size swimming pool, attend any of the hundreds of exercise classes, and even soak in a jacuzzi, steam room and bask in the sauna. But I got bored. Every visit merged into the visit before. I had a programme to alternate training legs, shoulders, arms and back, but I didn’t have the expertise to change it up when I needed a challenge.
I started to coast. I stopped making progress. I was on the biggest, slipperiest, most featureless plateau ever. And it turned out to be, not a plateau after all, but a slope – and, having been trudging up it at a steady but ever decreasing pace, I finally reached a point where I started to slide backwards.
Two reasons: I didn’t know how to keep taxing my muscles. If my programme said 10 reps at 35kg, then I’d keep doing that. I didn’t have the confidence to switch to low reps/heavy weights now and then, or introduce drop sets.
The other reason? My stupid brain kept reminding me slyly that people who train need more calories. And while I knew perfectly well that DIDN’T mean cake and crisp-type calories, I still justified it to myself. So the weight went back on, and the muscles I was trying to build became hidden behind flab.
I know feminism decrees that we should love our bodies as they are, but I have never had a particularly good relationship with my body. Being hyper-critical, over-analytical and a teeny bit neurotic, I couldn’t relax and just be ‘happy as I am’. Also, this may be a contentious statement, but should we be content with imperfection when better health is out there for the taking? Although I know I don’t look terrible, I still don’t feel that I resemble ME. Somewhere out there, is a nebulous but fabulous image of the ideal ME – I can’t tell you exactly how it looks, but I’ll know it when I see it.
And I don’t see it.
When I’m not the ME I want to be, everything starts to slide. I am short-tempered. I get angry with everyone around me, even though I’m really just angry with myself. I feel loath to go out, and therefore deny myself the things I love – the dancing, the socialising. I also feel like crap – physically.
It’s weird, but I’ve had enough years on this planet to watch the pattern unfold, and I swear that when my weight tips over a certain number, my immune system suddenly buckles. Instead of cheerfully seeing off those nasty germs, I will catch every cold going, and spend every evening in a hayfeverish state with bleary, watery eyes, and itching, swollen throat.
In other words, I have a HUGE incentive to keep my exercising, food-intake and body composition under control.
Last May I decided that my exercise regime needed a rocket up the backside. I had to stop pretending to myself that I was disciplined enough to motivate myself on my own. I desperately needed help.
When I chanced to look around the local Crossfit box and gym (their main studio is called a Box – it looks like a BDSM chamber, with ropes and rings hanging from the walls - it’s awesome) the enemy in my head kept whispering fiercely, “You’d be ridiculous here. You don’t belong. This place is for athletes with ripped physiques, tattoos and motorbikes. Go back to your pretty little gym with its vanilla running machines and spa. Or better still, go home.”
I ignored the voice, and went for my two introductory free classes.
I loved it.
I was scared, and I was in awe of the other participants, but I was also incredibly excited at the prospect of learning new techniques – Olympic weight-lifting, handstands, rope climbs, box jumps.
Crossfit aims to train the whole body in functional fitness – addressing strength, power, stamina, flexibility, cardio-vascular and respiratory endurance, speed, coordination, agility and balance in equal measure. The benefits are obvious – you become a more rounded athlete – but what was also important in those early days was finding out that there were things I was already good at. I might not have been very strong, but I was flexible. I didn’t have much power, but my coordination and balance were great. This was encouraging.
An ordinary gym doesn't supply the key ingredient that Crossfit has in abundance - the support of the coaches and other Crossfit members - who help you to keep going. In this community, we are different shapes and sizes; we are at completely different stages of our fitness journeys, BUT we all have something in common - a wish to be better; and we help each other to do that.
Over the past year, there were times I didn’t show up, and times when I kept crashing into a brick wall (figuratively. Oh. And literally), not to mention the times I was covered in bruises from man-handled barbells and whip-marks from the skipping rope, but I can’t deny that I have made progress.
This middle-aged woman can now do handstand push ups; 26 inch box jumps; clean and jerk, snatches and overhead squats…and consecutive double-unders.
The progress may have seemed slow, but I made it nevertheless. When I examine the decades I have been alive, and the unhealthy relationship I had with food and exercise, I can see that this progress is MORE than just a few double-unders and handstand push ups – it’s a complete about-face regarding my value and self-worth. It’s the first time I have patiently borne the sloth-like pace of improvement, without giving up and flouncing off. It’s the first time I’ve looked a terrifyingly alien challenge in the eye and persevered until I achieved it – kicking my preconceptions out of the window.
Maybe I’ve realised that I’m worth the effort. There. That admission was a long time coming, and I made lots of mistakes on the journey, but I can finally admit that I deserve to be the best possible ME.
Just that chin-up to work on now. I WILL have it by the end of 2017!