The Older Woman’s Guide To CrossFit

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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…

 

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Allison June 11, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Thanks for posting this and glad you are trying crossfit. I’ll be interested to find out how you like it after your 9 sessions. I’ve been doing it for almost a year now 2x per week. It is still hard, I’m still among the worst in the class but I’ve gotten so much stronger, have made some great friends in the class and am always proud of myself afterwards. I now love it. My goal for the next year is to be able to do unassisted pull-ups! Keep up the great work!

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Erin H. June 11, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Hi,

I too prefer to workout at home and resent the time and money put into standard gyms. I actually just crossfit at home. I chose a trusted source with good scaling options (lots of options depending on your goals) for my wods and I purchased a pull up bar and barbell, and had an old adjustable weight dumbbell.

Honestly I am so happy working out at home that it would take a miracle box for me to consider going.

While a box is definitely helpful to learn to do things correctly the first time, (instead of over and over again like I’ve had to do) it’s feasible to do all of this at home

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Kim June 12, 2013 at 4:04 am

It may be feasible at home….but the encouragement and coaching you get at your box will help push you to get past your comfort zone and that is where the magic happens. And, if the community of the box is a good one the friends you make will probably change your life. :)

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Renee June 11, 2013 at 6:15 pm

I really appreciate your description. I am 5 years older than you, go to my gym regularly, but don’t feel like I push myself as hard as I would in a group and am way to eager to talk myself out of going to the gym at all, though always, ALWAYS happy that I went. I’m frankly quite scared of crossfit, but intrigued by the idea of it and am really interested to hear how it goes for you. I have a $10/month for life membership so it’s really hard to leave that for a much more expensive option. I’ll be following your progress. Good luck!!

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Marta June 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm

First of all, congrats on giving CrossFit a try. It’s the first step, the hardest step, but I promise you it’s going to be worth it, and probably even sooner than you expect it to.

A few things I think you should know:

- Not all CrossFit fundamentals class start with learning such hardcore stuff as “kipping”, and in my humble opinion they shouldn’t. Your first ever CrossFit WOD should leave you almost dead on the floor grasping for breath, but using movements you already (kind of) know, and are able to perform (more or less) well. So keep in mind that some of the “CrossFit” issues you may come across are more than likely “that particular box” issues. That being said – strongest band or no band, how awesome did it feel to get your “first pull-up”? I still remember the first time I did a band assisted pull-up back when I thought I was the weakest girl in the world… It felt like a million bucks and then some. And when you start moving down to lighter bands, and then that moment just before you get your first unassisted one… I’m almost there, but not quite there yet, but I know I’m gonna be over the moon! :-)

- I don’t agree that CrossFit requires prior preparation. Of course, it feels great when you get there for the first time and are actually able to do the stuff they’re telling you to do, but keep in mind that you are in a Fundamentals class i.e. you’re supposed to be being taught the very basics, and you’re not supposed to be expected to perform them correctly right away. CrossFit does indeed involve some deep squatting, but if someone can’t squat that low yet, then that’s their starting point, and they shouldn’t be asked to do any more – or feel bad because they can’t do any more. Whenever you feel you’re way in over your head (which we all do at some point), just remember that you’re already better than all those other people who are just sitting on their couches doing nothing. And you’re definitely already better than when you started, and will keep getting better and better – and at an “alarming” pace, trust me. ;-)

- The age issue. Again, this is probably a box issue, because in my box in California we had people from 15-16yo to people well into their 40s and 50s. Just keep in mind that you’re already INSANELY awesome for trying this kind of “crazy stuff” even though you’re not a bouncy energetic teenager anymore. And also, remember that it doesn’t mean anything – one of the most inspirational people I met at my old box was well into her 40s – already in her early 50s maybe? – and she was just amazing. Don’t be scared by all the young kids walking around making everything look ridiculously easy. Focus on your own progress, but let the inspirational mood of the box motivate you to push yourself harder each time!

– Last, but not least, don’t be discouraged by the fact that you hated it. It’s completely normal. Just use that “hate” and that feeling of “why am I doing this” to push yourself even further, and remember, you’re doing this -for- yourself, not -to- yourself. It’s something that, sooner than you expected, is gonna make you feel amazingly good about yourself, give you confidence, make you stronger, and basically make you feel like a superwoman that can do anything. The best moments are still to come :) Keep at it! We’re all rooting for you!!

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Alison Golden June 11, 2013 at 6:35 pm

Thanks for that perspective, Marta. I wondered about how my box compared with others but have no other experience. I still think, though, that you’d have to be pretty solid in your self-esteem to resist feeling pretty bad if you couldn’t do the running. It’s not that they make you feel bad, it’s just that most people would if they were walking back to the box five minutes after everyone else had finished. Perhaps the solution would be to go with a friend with a similar fitness level if that was a concern?

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Marta June 11, 2013 at 6:48 pm

No doubt at all you should take a friend. But also, I know of multiple people who weren’t able to do the warm-up 400m run in the beginning of every WOD. Heck, when I started (and I was an athlete when I was younger, even though I was out of shape when I started CF) it took me ages to do the 400m compared to everyone else, and there are still some people at the box who walk quite a bit of it. Your fitness level is what it is, and what you do during your CF WODs is always gonna be based on where you’re at. So never be ashamed of being the last to finish something, never be discouraged if you can’t do something properly, and remember – in CrossFit, we root for the last person to finish just as hard (or harder!) than we do for the first one. It’s about challenging yourself, it’s about becoming better and stronger, and this is possible for every single person, even if they start from not being able to do most of what is asked of them. I won’t lie, it does suck sometimes that you’re not able to do what seems so easy when you look at others doing it. But if your box is good – the trainers, the atmosphere, the people there – then they will be the ones who make sure your self-esteem is solid enough, by encouraging you, motivating you to push yourself, and rooting for you when you feel like you want to give up. That’s the beauty of CrossFit! :-) I hope you get to experience that soon! It’s what makes you go back every single day. The Fundamentals program is hard, and frustrating sometimes, and confusing most of the time (because you’re learning so many new movements), but once it’s over and you start doing the WODs, at your own pace of course, and you start to see how much better you’re doing compared to when you started, that’s when the real magic starts to happen :-) Remember, the only person you’re trying to “beat” is the old you, so look at others only for inspiration and motivation, never compare yourself to them, and you’ll be surprised by how many times you “kick your own butt” ;-)

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Fiona Trott June 13, 2013 at 1:19 pm

What a fabulously encouraging reply Marta! :)

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Nancy June 11, 2013 at 6:20 pm

I love that you are sharing your experience with us. I am the same age as you, and probably about the same fitness as you, and as weak as you. A pull-up? No thanks. I look forward to following your progression through the rest of your sessions. I looked into it briefly, but the cost put me off. I need to ‘make’ myself train at home. I even forgot, until now, that I had been doing the squat challenge. I took my first rest day and forgot to go back.

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Nancy June 11, 2013 at 7:06 pm

I will be 63 in a month ( and do not consider myself an athlete though I like to bike)…. I am most definitely the oldest woman at our box. I joined 18 months ago with the plan to work out last winter to stay in shape for cycling in the spring , and then quit. It was, after all, a lot of money.
By spring, I was so hooked on it that I couldn’t quit . It has been great both physically and mentally….. It is the most challenging thing I have ever done ( outside of natural childbirth) and the endorphin rush is addictive. My weight is the same but I have lost inches and gained muscles. I have never felt better .
When i first joined, I felt it was really pricey but realized after a few months that it felt totally worth the money.
I think the real key however, is the quality of the coaches and I have been lucky enough to have excellent men and women coaches who know their stuff, are patient , and yet inspire me to do my best.

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Carleen June 11, 2013 at 7:10 pm

Hi there so glad your first class went well. I too was totally freaked by the whole concept of classes with MUCH younger people as I was 53 when we joined. A couple of weeks in and we changed to Paleo …and have never looked back. We lost over 100 pounds between the two of us. We can keep up with our 7 Grandchildren and that is so worth it! CrossFit reminds me of Homeschooling which we did with our three children. You learn that life is all about hanging out with different people of all ages and I love working out with the young people our children’s ages. Our Daughter and Son In Law workout with us now, and our Grandson starts his CrossFit classes in July, to say he is excited is an understatement!!! Our trainers are amazing and we always feel safe with the workouts. Most mornings when I hop back into our truck for the ride home I say to my husband holy ^*£~ there’s NOWAY we would of done that on our own…the classes, and people push you to walls you never knew existed!! So yeah as a 55 year old woman I love CrossFit.

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Scott June 11, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Another suggestion for newbies, especially if you are concerned about the cost, because in all honesty, CF is pricey, keep your eyes on Groupon and Living Social, they always have CF deals going on, usually for the ‘on ramp’ classes, or as in some cases just 5 or 10 classes. After that, hopefully you’ve gotten to know the owner a bit and can swing a longer term deal with cash up front or something.
Oh, and a box is a box, I think, because the majority of them are housed in nothing more than a basic industrial strip boxy building with a VW motor repair shop on one side and a cabinetry shop on the other. The good ones don’t even have AC, they’re kind of like finding the best taqueria in town, it’s always a hole in the wall

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Niamh June 11, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Good on you I say! I started just 4 mths ago – with very little preparation in the 40 years prior (my mid-life crisis in full swing) and it took me 3 months before I got to the point where I didn’t have nervous butterflies before each wod. Now, I even look forward to it. I’m stronger and feel better than I ever have. My trainer’s got me on a 100 day push-up challenge as I struggled to get 10 done from my knees, so tonight I do 79 push ups (not all in one go of course!). 79 days ago, I would have thought it impossible! Keep it up, you won’t regret it. P.S. I may never be able to kip and that’s OK too, I am still prepared to make a goose of myself trying, each time I go to the playground with my kids. Hopefully they won’t wait as long as I did to start taking care of their bodies!

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Cindee June 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I’m encouraged by all the comments and advice. Especially Nancy since she’s my age. I’m turning 60 in November and started changing my eating a year and a half ago. GF then transitioned into Paleo in November. I’m ready to go somewhere that will help me with strength and endurance, apparently the prescribed workout for the over 50. I am looking into CF Gyms in my area (So Cal) and hope to find a fit really soon!

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Jane June 12, 2013 at 6:31 am

Wow – good for you, although even seeing the title made me feel super-anxious. I too wanted to try the Crossfit scene, didn’t think I was that out of shape either until I went….boy was I wrong….unfortunately to add insult to injury – we were pushed to finish regardless of whether or not your body had stopped functioning and I actually heard whispers from the owners wife about having my name put on the wall of shame….(when my body actually stopped functioning about 5 minutes before end of class) ..embarrassing and shameful to say the least and totally turned me off crossfit for good (or maybe just for now). I see incredible merits to crossfit – but the reality for some people is that it is going to be a bit slower of an introduction for them, so that they can feel like, although being challenged, they are not a failure – too bad the box I went to saw it only one way…I had to get my money back. No way was I having my name on some ‘wall of shame’ I also have to admit being congratulated for vomiting during a class didn’t quite sit well with me either – that gets you name on the ‘wall of FAME”. haha….guess yoga’s gonna be my thing. Glad you are branching out though Alison and I am gonna stay tuned to see if your reports continue to be positive – maybe you will inspire me to give it another try someday.

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Alison Golden June 12, 2013 at 2:17 pm

That is truly terrible, Jane. It sounds awful and I’m glad you didn’t go back. Your comment did remind me of two about puking during my session from our trainer, as in “No puking now, you guys” which kind of bothered me TBH, and I think is why I’m having a hard time recognizing the kind of experience that Marta describes above. I’m not going to get anywhere near close to throwing up over a workout and don’t want to be in a class with anyone who is but clearly some people do.

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Nancy June 12, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I was appalled by Jane’s description of a “wall of shame” at the cross fit box she tried. I would urge her to look for another box in her area ( they seem to be everywhere). I have certainly had times when I didn’t think I could finish something, but i was urged to continue in an encouraging, even loving way.. The spirit of community has been one of the happier surprises in this whole endeavor. I am in way better shape than i was 20 years ago.. Check the credentials of the coaches, perhaps more credentials beyond cross fit certification would be desirable., though not necessarily a deal-breaker. Maybe it is just the personality of the coaches…this is not a military boot camp even though it is tough. No one wants to be yelled at or shamed.Glad you got your money back.
As for the vomiting thing, well i admit our box does have a wall sign which i am thankfully not on….I don’t get it, much be some macho thing ….

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Jimena June 12, 2013 at 5:54 pm

Congrats on starting CrossFit! I have been doing it for a year now and love it. It is hard at the beginning, that is true, for the first 2 weeks I felt like throwing up and crying during the workouts…for real. I was completely out of shape. But once you get over that, you begin to really enjoy it along with all the milestones. It is also hard to forget about the fact that everyone is watching, but you will get over that too and learn to focus only on yourself. It may help to think that everyone else is so busy feeling miserable too that they are paying no attention to you, and the more seasoned crossfitters know that we have all been there, so they are not judging, if anything they just wanna cheer so you keep going. As expensive as it is, it will give you a level of strength, coordination and fitness like nothing else, and the community is great too (and I used to hate group gym classes).
By the way, it is called a box because of its shape. Keep it up and remember, believe it or not there will be things were you will be great very soon, but at first you just gotta suck it up. The best is yet to come :)

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Linda Esposito June 14, 2013 at 9:35 am

I just love the way you explore all the details of a situation! I’ve not had good reason to explore the CrossFit craze mostly because I pay an obnoxiously high monthly fee to my gym and they offer every kind of group class under the sun.

I still think you should give them a copy of your book :). Great exposure for them, and who knows, you may even score a few free sessions of torture. More deets and follow-ups, please!

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Anna June 18, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Thanks for posting this! I’ve always wanted a run-down on Cross – Fit – and this is perfect! I love your stream of consciousness style writing. It is very easy to read, and personable too. Kudos to you. Love the comment about old lady legs too!!! haha. v v funny. Will keep reading the updates! I’m a fitness lover myself, so we’re probably a world apart – but I’ve also had damage done that I’m trying to repair, so I feel like I relate to a lot of what you’re saying. I hate injury. On that thought – can I pose a question?? Just wondering if there are any paleo expert guides to replacing joint cartilage?? I know conventional ‘wisdom’ says once it’s gone it’s gone. But I just won’t believe it. Anyway, just a thought – and regardless, thanks fo the excellent website. Very very encouraging, inspiring and knowledgable.

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Jessica June 20, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Hi PalepNonPaleo mom…Is this the right site to see your WOD of the day? Jessica Billings:)

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Alison Golden June 20, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Jessica, they are here. But remember, I am just doing the fundamentals course so they are short and relatively light.

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