As I finished the indoor rowing season with February’s CRASH-B sprints, I considered the dead-spot in my fitness/self-abuse calendar between erg season and when on- the-water rowing can resume without too much risk of killing myself with a hypothermic capsize on Cotuit Bay. More erging was not an option – I’ve got 1.3 million meters logged in since June and don’t feel the need to pile on any more.
It was obvious to me after the CrashB’s, that if I am going to move to the front tier of master’s rowers next year I need to focus on sheer strength. My cardio-vascular/VO2 max capacity is fine, my legs and lower body are fine, it’s all the rest that needs to go to the next level. Whaling away, an hour a day, on a machine as specific and restrictive as the erg is the very definition of putting oneself into a rut. I needed some cross-training, some exposure to some different routines, and the traditional gym wasn’t going to cut it.
So the solution was to join Cape Cod Crossfit.
I’ve blogged about Crossfit in the past — I took it up on my own in the spring of 2008 and stuck with it until the following winter when a torn rotator cuff knocked me out of action. The program – or cult, or whatever you want to call it — was started in the late 1990s by former gymnast Greg Glassman in a couple bays of an industrial park in Santa Cruz. The philosophy is pretty basic and can be stated in 100 words:
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, clean & jerk, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouetts, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”
I took to Crossfit because it can be done solo — without paying dues or showing up, or worrying about how you look when you do it in a crowd. It prizes fundamental, primitive exercise. No fancy Nautilus machines or stair-steppers or spinning classes. You pick heavy stuff up and put it down. If you can use your own weight to good effect – think a classic pull-up or push-up — then that’s the way to go. Crossfit also loves the Concept2 ergometer (which is how I became aware of the program in the first place), and more and more Crossfit-trained athletes are starting to dominate the world indoor rowing rankings.
Crossfit happens six days a week in a former Blockbuster store in an upscale strip mall in the next-door town of Mashpee. A big welded pull up rack runs down the center. A couple dozen plywood jumping boxes, four ergometers, an array of cast iron kettlebells, and about 20 Olympic free-weight bars. Add in some gymnastic rings, a couple floor-to-ceiling ropes, and a lot of jump ropes and you pretty much have the classic Crossfit gym or “box.”
I prefer the 6:30 am session which starts with a “warm-up” that would be most people’s workout. Burpees (the most evil calisthenic devised), kettlebell swings, wall-ball throws, and 500 meters of rowing gets me far more than just “warmed-up.”
The workouts vary wildly from day to day. Running one day, shoulders the next. Some take a half hour to perform, some five minutes. They are nearly always done as a group and against the clock, so there is an element of competition involved.
Today we did the workout of the day (or WOD) known as “Diane” (standard Crossfit workouts have female names for some reason). This consisted of doing 21-15-9 repetitions of deadlifts and handstand push-ups for time. I loaded the bar with 225 pounds and did the handstands from a kneeling position on a tall jumping box (modifications are permitted and strongly advised). The owner/coach Mark Lee walked everyone through 20 minutes of instruction on how to perform a proper deadlift and pushup, then he set the clock and counted down “Three-Two-One” and I was off.
Lifting 225 pounds off the floor to a standing, hanging position 45 times is not a trivial pursuit. Alternating those lifts with a blood-rush-to-the-head handstand is just plain mean.
I finished just under 7 minutes, stretched out on the floor and was home by 7:30.
Two months in and I am definitely feeling a serious difference. Soon I’ll start mixing in rowing workouts and begin testing myself against the 2,000 meter distance.
Marc Monplaisir, a fellow masters rower, is blogging about his experience with Crossfit and rowing.