The Older Woman’s Guide To CrossFit

crossfit, women, kettlebell

These are my notes from my introduction to CrossFit. It’s a sort of journal. I don’t know how it will develop, what will happen, it’s just a stream of consciousness as I go through the process that you are welcome to follow along with if you wish. I’ll try over time to include some pictures.

Quick Links to The Older Woman’s Guide to CrossFit Parts Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven

The Background

I am a 49 year-old female. I spent most of last year injured with a fractured bone and torn ligament in my foot after I tripped at home (I know, sexy, huh?). I’ve slowly worked back to some level of fitness – T-Tapp, hill walking and a little (but not enough, it turned out) kettlebell manipulation.

However, I’m not an athlete by any means, I don’t do exercise for fun but for function. I can do every physical thing I need to live my life with ease. However, what I do is light work. I stand, I garden, I lift baskets of laundry and heavy pots full of plants, I can walk all day. I do not run marathons, compete in Iron Mans or Tough Mudders. I know people who do though, and we are not similar. :-)

I like to workout at home

I have never been a gym bunny – haven’t stepped inside one for over fifteen years, and when I have tried them, have only stuck with them for a couple of months at a time. I also resent the time I spend in traffic travelling to and fro, but fortunately this box is only twelve minutes from my house and I can stand that. Just.

And then there is the cost

I exercise at home for pennies. Nine sessions of CrossFit Fundamentals is costing me $200.

Strength

But, the reason I want to try CrossFit is that I want to get stronger. I can’t do a pull-up to save my life (you need the eyesight of a hawk to notice any movement at all in my attempts), and I don’t want to get “old lady legs” (old ladies will know what I mean). ;-)

The fuss

And lastly, I simply want to know what all this CrossFit fuss is all about. It is a natural part of the human condition to want to avoid being left out. I want to see what I’ve been missing. But I admit to being scared. Will it be excruciating? Will I make a fool of myself? Will I feel as ridiculous as I felt when I entered a gym called “Women of Substance” thinking it was for empowered women and finding I was quite wrong and it was for another category of women altogether?

I’ve been told over and over that I will love CrossFit, that I’ve waited too long to try it, that it will even change my life. Hmm. Can CrossFit convert this curmudgeonly old, weak, gym-hating non-athlete? We’ll see.

CrossFit Session One:

The set up

The group comprised seven newbies: four women, three men. I was the oldest woman by far, not just in the group but the whole place (there was a regular session taking place alongside us). Reflecting upon it now, I was probably older by twenty years at least. Demographics of my locale? Maybe. It didn’t matter as I found out. Those older than me were men.

Everyone in our group had injuries to consider, except me (I’m not sure if that says more about them or me). The class was an hour long. The place wasn’t as rough as the only other box (why do they call it “a box”?) I’d been in and was organized and efficient. We were given cards to keep on our key ring and swipe every time we attended a session.

I wore a form-fitted top, a loose top over that, and mid-thigh length cycling shorts. And cross trainers. I took water and my backpack but they had a bowl for keys at the reception desk which it seemed most people used.

On the reception desk was The Paleo Solution, The Primal Blueprint and Paleo Comfort Foods. Made me smile, I wanted to take a photo but got interrupted and I didn’t want to get thrown out as soon as I’d arrived.

The class

I don’t know the names of these exercises and I’m probably not complete in remembering all of them, so bear with me. Started with a 400m jog plus warm-ups. Floor work involved squats, “supermans”, some kind of rocking exercise on my back that I couldn’t quite get the hang of, push-ups, wall squats, pole work – taking a pole and raising it above the head – to the front and back and around the body.

We practiced kipping, again something I couldn’t quite get the hang of, and then assisted pull-ups using rubber bands of varying strength depending on the amount of assistance one needed. (I needed the maximum help, but by the end could progress to needing a slightly less resistant band.)

At the end we spent ten minutes completing circuits of five chin-ups, ten push-ups and fifteen squats. All of us (except one intensely irritating woman who could do everything) needed to rest. A lot.

The feedback

If you’re a woman, wear something that covers your knees, and a form-fitting top. You don’t want anything flapping and if you can’t do thirty full push-ups (not all at once), you will need to resort to using your knees like I did, and that got painful without knee protection.

I don’t think age was an issue at all, but fitness was. You can’t just go into CrossFit without preparation. I consider myself reasonably fit and flexible but not very strong. I had upped my squatting in the week prior and I was very thankful that I had. The hardest thing was the push-ups and I wished I done more of those beforehand to build up my strength.

I wasn’t asked anything about my level of fitness when I signed up but there was the expectation when I got there that you could do squats with your butt at least level with your knees and preferably lower, that you can run 400m, that you had some level of core strength.

The people were friendly and the box owner came through to introduce himself at the beginning, checked in with everyone at the end and was around during the class, too.

I was definitely pushed to my max. I had to modify the push-ups, then modify them again which left me a little mortified, but I could at least do the rest of the exercises although I was dripping and trembling by the end. Compared with my padres, I would say my performance was in the middle. We had a slip of a girl who was already very strong, but both the older men had to stop during the rounds at the end, one for dizziness, the other to protect an injury. That was okay. They knew their limits and stuck to them.

Did I enjoy it?

Hell, no. I hated it. Apparently this is quite normal. It wasn’t my thing at all. At one point, about twenty minutes in, I wondered what the heck I was doing there and whatever had possessed me to pay money to be so tortured. But I guess that’s why they make you pay for nine classes at once.

I guess it hit my level of expectation in terms of difficulty – it was hard and I did wonder how I was going to get through the session during the first third of it. But there are points of instruction during which you can rest, if not recover, and sometimes you just have to stop because your body will do no more. The coaches were encouraging, there was certainly no shame implied.

And then there’s the peer pressure support. I was really struggling to get ten more deep squats against the wall (after completing fifteen just a few minutes earlier) but because everyone was watching me, I pressed on even though I was grimacing and shaking with the effort. Ninety minutes later, my legs had recovered and the endorphins were buzzing.

We’ll see how I feel about it at the end of the nine sessions. I certainly feel very self-satisfied and pleased with myself as I write this a couple of hours later. I go back in two days. And I think I’ve earned my dinner.

Read what happened in CrossFit Session Two…