My Journey to Fitness – A Year of Working Out

What started out as a 6-week program, turned into a year-long CrossFit adventure. And though it was expensive, it feels completely worth it.

Disclaimer first though: I do not support any of Greg Glassman’s racist and homophobic statements. I am glad he is not the CEO anymore of CrossFit HQ and more importantly that my gym will no longer be an affiliate. Now, onto my journey!

You may have noticed a break in blog writing. I got stuck in a toxic job that ate all of my energy and left no room for creative thinking. It also caused me to stop paying attention to my health – both mental and physical. A little over two years ago, I took a chance and quit that job, without another one lined up. I worked part time, consulting for a few months before landing a full-time limited duration position that turned into a regular job. I spent some time recovering, finding myself a bit, with my main focus on my mental and emotional health. I adopted a dog, bought a house, started dating again, joined a chorus that was 5 minutes away instead of an hour+, etc.

Then, a year ago, my physical fitness really came to the forefront of my mind. While I have never been an athlete or extremely fit person, I enjoy activities like hiking, swimming, biking, etc. When I realized that I could no longer finish my favorite hike, a nice shady crisscross uphill hike in Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, I knew I needed to make a change. I didn’t like being so unfit I couldn’t be physical.

So, as I approached my 30th birthday, I decided to dedicate a year to getting healthy enough to enjoy physical activities again. It wasn’t about weight or body appearance, but about my physical health.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. Like most middle class women, I do have issues with my body and those certainly contributed to this decision (someone on BART (public transit) offered me a seat because she thought I was pregnant and I couldn’t fit into my favorite summer dress anymore, etc), but weight loss wasn’t the primary goal.

My carpool buddy at my previous job (our friendship being one of the few positives from that toxic place – that and my group of mentors/friends that we call the Wolfpack) was part of a CrossFit box (gym) while we were working together. She talked about some of the challenges and exercises, but mostly she talked about the community around it, which was great because in my mind some of those WODs (workouts of the day) had some sexist connotations to them. How is it okay to name an WOD “Fat Amy”? Talk about fat shamming. She seemed to really love the people at her gym and described CrossFit as a competition between yourself, not the people around you.

Inspired by her, I started thinking about trying CrossFit. I’m not a “gym” person. I’d much rather do a flip off a diving board or kayak in the bay. But when I came across a challenge that lasted six weeks, with no commitment to stay at the gym, I thought it was the perfect opportunity. The challenge included following a strict diet (for weight loss) and participating in 3 classes a week. I figured it would give me a taste of CrossFit and jumpstart my fitness goals. I signed up to participate. My carpool buddy bought me a jump rope specifically designed for double unders. It is Wonder Woman themed.

And on my 30th birthday, I went for my official weigh-in and orientation.

At the orientation, the chiropractor at the gym checked that my cohort for the challenge and I could all do the movements required. I have knee issues, so we chatted about that and he told me he’d make a note so the coaches would know to help modify anything for me. He asked us all to do a pushup to make sure we could do that motion. I remember another girl and I laughing hysterically at that request – as if we could do a push up! I’ve never been able to do one!

I’m not sure I really intended to stay with CrossFit after this challenge. But I was going to follow it strictly for six weeks.

After my first class, I felt okay. Then I went to my second and I was so sore afterwards I could barely move let alone make it to a third class in that week. Definitely, definitely out of shape.

The next week I made it all three times, but it sucked. I was tired and sore. My carpool buddy suggested Epsom salt baths, which did help, but it was rough going for a while there.

A couple of weeks in, we were asked to burn 10 calories a minute for 10 minutes on the rowers. We could rest if we hit 10 calories before the minute was up. I remember feeling hopeless – there was just no way I’d have a chance to rest. There were five of us and only one person ever was fast enough to rest, but we never stopped trying or cheering each other on. The coach pushed us – not in that scary way you see in films of coaches yelling at their athletes, but still challenging us to do better, pull harder.

I remember being introduced to wallballs, which are by far my least favorite exercise ever. Yes, I hate them even more than burpees, and I will go to the mat on that (pun intended). For those of you who are unfamiliar, wallballs consist of throwing a heavy, large ball up the wall, catching it, squatting, then throwing the ball as you raise out of the squat. They are awful. And I hit myself in the face a lot with the ball, even a full year in.

I sweated a lot. I didn’t lose weight and had to adjust the diet a few times. I hit myself with my jump rope trying and failing at double unders. I ripped my hands.

Then, about a month in, I noticed something – I was actually improving. There was just the tiniest of definition to my arms, never before seen. I was taking less breaks during high-intensity exercises. I did my first ever bench press. First ever, literally!

And suddenly, I was hooked.

A black kettle bell, a Wonder Woman themed jumprope, and sneakers sit on top of a racerback tank top that reads "Feminist" style like the Wonder Woman icon.

It’s not that I was a fitness model or even fit by any stretch. But I was improving and I was doing things I never even thought I was capable of.

So, I decided to keep with the challenge of going or doing a CrossFit-based exercise at least three times a week and getting at least 45 minutes of “active” minutes five times a week for the full year. It was incredibly tough and some days I didn’t feel like going, but except for when I was sick, I managed it. I worked out five times a week for a whole year!

From being completely unfit to semi-fit is a long journey and one I’m still on. I’ve read a lot of blog posts about people who were already athletic – runners, especially – who tried CrossFit for a year and now have super defined muscles and look fantastic. That’s not my story. There was a lot of “strive for progress, not perfection” over the past year.I’m still a little flubby and definitely do not have a 6-pack to show off. But I did achieve a whole lot during this year. COVID-19 did derail some of my achievements, as I had to workout at home for the last 3 months of the year and my heaviest weight for most of that time was an 8 lb. barbell. But it led to other improvements!

The cool thing about these WODs is that everything is scalable. If you can’t do a pullup, that’s okay. There are ways to get there. Resistance bands became my best friends. If the prescribed workout calls for 35 lbs., it’s okay to still use 15 if that’s all you can manage. It makes it very easy to track your progress.

Here are some of what I’ve accomplished:

  • I can run at least 400 meters without walking (I was walking basically the whole distance when I started). I am currently training for a 5k in September
  • I am close-ish to being able to do a pull-up. I started by standing on multiple resistance bands, then moved to one, and then moved to a few hanging. I had just dropped down resistance again when the coronavirus hit and I haven’t been able to check my progress since.
  • I can overhead press 85 lbs. and deadlift 93lbs.
  • I did my first bench press and have gotten up into the 60s on some of the max rep exercises.
  • I can do a “CrossFit push-up” – aka my body still hits the ground, but I no longer need my knees unless it’s getting high up in the rounds. This is a direct result of cornovirus – before shelter-in-place I felt like I had made basically no improvement, but all the body weight exercises made huge strides in this particular area.
  • I can do a few lunges in a row, something I haven’t been able to do since my knee problems first started occurring in middle school!

All-in-all, I’d say this year definitely paid off. My Fitbit tracker tells me I’ve improved my heart health (from high 70s and low 80s resting heart rate to mid 60s and sometimes high 50s). I did loose some weight and fit into my clothes a bit better. I went on that favorite hike in September and had no problems at all!

Small trunk redwoods
Redwood Regional Park – Oakland, CA

I think I’ll do another post about what I learned specifically, but I would be remiss to not mention in this post that I could not have accomplished this goal without an awesome community helping me. The people at my gym are awesome. We cheer for everyone and probably for the last place finisher the loudest. We push each other, but not to beat the person next to us, but what we think we ourselves can accomplish. The gym owner is super sweet and always ready to high five when you do something new – even if you don’t do it well. My BFF and carpool buddy cheered me on and celebrated when I achieved something new. My mom followed the diet any time she was with me during those first 6 weeks. But the person who kept me most motivated was my brother – he helped keep me accountable, helped come up with alternative, comparable workouts when I just couldn’t do a CrossFit day, celebrated when I hit milestones, and made me feel like I could do be strong, even though I had never seriously lifted weights before.

It has been a journey – and I’m glad I found my functional fitness family. Looking forward to being able to go back to the gym once coronavirus is more under control, a statement I never thought I’d make.

A black kettle bell, a Wonder Woman themed jumprope, and sneakers sit on top of a racerback tank top that reads "Feminist" style like the Wonder Woman icon. "My Year of CrossFit" overlays the image.
It didn’t ever get easier – I just got better. There’s no shortcut. It takes time to build a better, stronger version of yourself.

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