I just came back from an hour-and-a-half walk with my baby in a front pack. This kid is getting heavier by the day and, right now, he feels about the weight of a baby gorilla, which fits his personality as well.
Since he came around three months ago, I keep thinking about writing about fitness. Here’s why: five-years-ago Diogo would struggle with the physical requirements of parenthood (let’s ignore the mental requirements for now). His regime of short walks on the beach and lying around not doing much while inhaling Coca-cola and confectionery wouldn’t provide his body with the sustenance required by a baby.
The food problem is subject for another post – eating well in itself would not give me the stamina I’m talking about here.
For the past few months, even though my brain might be mush from a hard night or a long day at work, my body still functions well. This means I can go around the house doing chores and go on walks with a baby and not feel like it was hard work. Sleep and lack thereof is also benefited. Among other things, I credit that to being able to stick to a healthy exercise routine for the past couple of years and making a habit out of it.
Here’s the thing, though – I hate exercising. I exercise a lot these days, but I still hate it. Feeling sore is a pain (PUN!), and I do not get the famous “exercise buzz”. I wish there was a way of being fit without having to move your body.
For many years in my life, exercising has been that thing that I HAD to do to not feel guilty (note I say “guilty”, not “unhealthy”). Moving to New Zealand, where everyone rides a bike, hikes a mountain, runs in winter, and generally considers avocado savoury food didn’t help in making that guilt any less bad.
This post is not about how a particular type of exercise saved my life, or how I finally lost all those kilos (I didn’t) and got fitter. I feel like five-years-ago Diogo needs this post so he can come to the future and realise that his guilt around not feeling fit wasn’t entirely because he is lazy and likes muffins for dinner.
And I feel like this might resonate with some people too.
I played many sports growing up. All types of football – that is, futsal, astroturf, large-field outdoors – volley, handball, basketball and had a mild competitive swimming stint in my teenage-hood. Playing team sports was always fun for me, but I wouldn’t be surprised if my teammates didn’t feel the same way.
You see, I’ve never been a graceful loser. I’ve got much better in the past few years, but mostly I have always been that guy that yelled at his teammates for minor mistakes and made sure that they felt the pain of not being the best player in the world. (I have music to thank for helping me get better at that.) Make no mistake, I’ve never been a great player of any sport I played, so generally I just did shoddy work and made sure I distributed the responsibility of the loss to others.
Once I mysteriously stopped being invited to join any teams, I had to pursue other ways of exercising because I was just becoming a fat blob. I repeatedly tried different gyms, personal trainers and group classes. I did the whole 3-month “Hey, I’m feeling pretty fit now!” thing, but then I got bored out of my brains. There’s something about gym equipment and the headphones, and the whole mirror attitude, that really never did it for me.
Okay, what then?
Look, I know Crossfit people can be very annoying because I’m one of them and I’m very annoying. Please, keep on reading, and you will see I have a point and the answer isn’t Crossfit.
In the end, I always had to force myself to exercise because I just never felt like it. But then I tried Crossfit, and I fell in love with the thing.
I wasn’t aware of why I enjoyed it so much until people close to me tried Crossfit and quit. Only after talking to them, I realised why it ticks so many boxes (pun intended) for me. This is what this post is about.
(Clarifying note: If you don’t know, “box” is the name of a Crossfit workout “place”. I’m now a dad and have the license to freely use puns, so sit back and enjoy.)
Team sport, but not really
Exercising alone or in a gym didn’t satisfy my inner social butterfly. The lack of interaction always made the whole enterprise feel lonely, and that didn’t help with my motivation. “What about the group classes?” I hear you ask. I tried them too, but in the end, it was just a bunch of people not talking to each other while facing the same direction and following the same dance moves, so no thanks.
In Crossfit, you are all going through the same terribleness together. There’s cheering up other people and sharing tips and asking the coaches the silliest things. That makes my extrovert self feel good. You take note of the people around the same level as you and make a bet with yourself to out-do them. And instead of getting angry at everyone for not carrying their weight (you’re welcome), you want then to do well so you can push each other.
This plays perfectly to my need for interaction and makes sure I’m a nice person to the people exercising with me. If I don’t live up to the goals I set it’s on me, and the best I can do is ask them how they did it and try to learn.
This is the reason why some people I know did a few months of Crossfit and decided it wasn’t for them. Some people are more disciplined than I and are able to motivate themselves. Some people don’t like the bar work. Some people like their headphones and being in their own space.
Lastly, I remember having a good time with my friends from the teams I played in after a game, especially a few hours after I had the chance to calm down. Crossfit also facilitates this. I have people I enjoy and look forward to seeing around. We have in-jokes and stories to tell. I never ever got that from a traditional gym.
Most people are not a competitive monster like I am and are just happy to move their bodies around and get a workout. I have to make sure one-month-ago Diogo has something to look up to.
When I started, I had very little ability to do Crossfit-y things. I couldn’t squat, do a push-up or pull-up, let alone lift heavy things. I know that because I have a record of most of the workouts I’ve done since I started, and I often go back and see how I did in the past.
A couple weeks ago I managed to clean and jerk 100kg (220 pounds in the silly system). That means I picked 100kg up from the ground and in two movements lifted it over my head. When I started, I could barely do that with 40kg. Although far from any athletic level, there is a weird sense of pride that in two years I taught my body to lift its own weight off the ground with (hopefully) good technique.
The traceability fact plays well with my academic and professional life. I know what I’m weak at (upper-body strength, cardio) and what I’m good at (lower-body strength, long workouts) because I can look at my logs and see it. I can come back to it and check where I should concentrate my efforts and see how I’ve improved. And also know exactly much my knee injury from a damn football tackle set me back.
So Crossfit then, aye?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Crossfit is the answer for me, for now. I don’t know how this might change in a few months. Crossfit just happened to play in two aspects of my personality that made exercising become something I’m able to tolerate and look forward to.
Like everything, once you get into something, you’ll obsess over it. I watch the Crossfit Games. I follow the big names. I’ve been through two Crossfit Opens, finishing twice as a strong middle-of-the-pack-er, thank you very much. I bought weight-lifting shoes that are completely impractical for any activity other than weight-lifting. On the days where was playing football and swimming a lot, I did similar things. And I regret nothing.
So what’s changed?
Nothing, other than the fact that now I know better what makes me happy. This means I get a healthy amount of exercise included in my routine and enjoy it.
I never ever really felt the benefits of exercising or felt like it made any difference other than made me “feel stronger”. But now, when I don’t exercise, I can feel my afternoons getting longer and my brain getting cranky. I feel like a million dollars after a good workout, and it clears out any niggles that might be clogging my brain. I finally made it to the other side after years of avoidance.
I’ve lost some weight, but not nearly enough to be ripped or thin. I’ve spent years of my life working on my chubbiness, and I’m not willing to give that away that easily. I feel healthy and great, so my extra kilos aren’t a problem.
I’ve flirted with the idea of taking it up to the next level a bit as it is getting harder to beat myself on my numbers. I’ve considered going to particular skill and barbell sessions. I researched Paleo eating, supplements and what “gluten” really means. In the end, I realised that wasn’t the point for me and carried on with the basics as I always have. Again, I feel healthy and great because I’ve found something that gives my body a good challenge.
Mind you, given what I said above, I could easily overdo it. Overwork is one of Crossfit biggest criticisms, and I’m glad I have coaches around me that always call me when my confidence levels go above my skill.
The only significant change I’ve made is starting to eat better, but mostly for two reasons. First, the documentaries around sugar from the past two years made me get smart. Second, as a consequence of the first, I started learning what real food is and loving it too. But still, I want to enjoy my food, and I mix that up with eating too much. I’m terrible at controlling portion sizes. I will always overeat, just to be on the safe side in case all the food of the world ends in the next couple hours.
As well pondered and scientifically based as this post is, I have only one message to pass across. As it is evident by now, my experience above makes me an expert.
I tried going to a gym for three years in a row, and I repeatedly failed. I tried going for runs alone, and I failed (I’ve now found a running group which I try to go to some Saturdays). At some point, I decided to try that thing where I saw some people flipping tyres and thought I could mix things up. The reasons the sport grew on me were not related to tyres at all.
Maybe you want a sense of accomplishment. Maybe what’s important to you is looking good or doing something someone hasn’t done before. The lesson from my current exercise life is that I had to try a whole bunch of different things until something worked for me, not because it was the right or perfect exercise, but because it gave me satisfaction in other areas that I love (namely social interaction and excel spreadsheet management).
The next time I feel like whatever I’m doing stops working, I’ll ask my friends what they do and why, until I find something that looks interesting. I’ve now finally reached a stage where I fully feel the benefits of exercising, as opposed to just knowing that it’s good for you. I’m not bothered about it being fun anymore, because, as I said in the beginning, the exercise part will never be fun for me. But the capsule around it is.
It took me many years of my life to finally embrace something that is good for me and my body, and although what I wrote above might be obvious to you, it wasn’t to me. I’ve read many things about the science of grit and sticking-to-it-ness, but things never were as simple as they looked in the books to me. I hope I wrote is of use to you. :)
I’ve just made a whole post using Friends GIFs.