In Balance - It's Not a Race, It's a Journey

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We are all aware of the benefits of exercise, and in the past few years the media has increasingly bombarded us with fitness-related information, advice and products.

The message is everywhere, reminding us just how important that minimum standard thirty minutes of physical activity per day is, whether for disease prevention, health maintenance and overall wellness (and let’s face it, body image or vanity). Personally, I know that I am very fortunate to have experienced an upbringing by physically active parents who have been practicing the healthy lifestyle tips and tricks that some consumers are paying to learn, but I know that many people were not raised with that sort of background.

 

The development of my attitude and habits concerning exercise began when I was very young, and have fluctuated throughout my life.  An adventurous spirit and a need for constant change have led me to try out countless forms of exercise. From group or team activities such as basketball, soccer, and aerobics/pilates/yoga classes to individual activities including skating, boxing, wall-climbing, bodybuilding, cycling and running, the critical factor that I have discovered in all my adventures in fitness is this: if you don’t enjoy your exercise, you won’t stick with it.

When it comes to fitness, one size does not fit all, and while one size might fit at one time, it may not fit later on down the road. For example, I have never had the patience or interest to include walking as part of my exercise routine. Now, 35 weeks into my second pregnancy, walking is the only form of exercise that ‘fits’ me and lately I actually look forward to my daily 30 minute morning stroll. 

The beauty of this era of media ubiquity, if carefully navigated by the critically-minded consumer, is in its endless resource of ideas on how to incorporate fitness into our busy lives. Our exercise routines do not have to be regimented or structured, just consistent and enjoyable. This could mean parking 15 minutes away from the workplace and walking to and from the office for one person; while for another, it is satisfied by putting in 3 hours of running each morning to shave a few minutes off their marathon time.  

Last year, a co-worker of mine introduced me to my latest fitness passion, which is called CrossFit. What is CrossFit? According to Coach Greg Glassman “CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program built on constantly varied, if not randomised, functional movements executed at high intensity” (find out more at www.CrossFit.com). 

(photo by Adreane Fraser Photography)

According to me, CrossFit is everything I ever wanted in a fitness program. It is intense, dynamic, adaptable and challenging. It has shown me how mentally tough I can be and also revealed my weaknesses and how much I can achieve physically that I never dreamed I could do. It is simple yet complex at once. I love the community atmosphere of the group workouts but appreciate the accessibility of workouts that can be done at home. 

So besides all that, in simple terms, what is CrossFit? It is a “fusion of callisthenics, Olympic weightlifting, circuit training, cardio, track and gymnastics”. The daily workouts include combinations of standard exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, skipping, pull-ups, 400 metre runs, along with weightlifting exercises like squats, barbell cleans, dead-lifts and more. WAIT – before you roll your eyes thinking that CrossFit only sounds suitable for Xena, Warrior Princess or G.I. Joe! All of these exercises are scalable to each individual’s physical capabilities and limitations. At Catalyst Gym, the place to find CrossFit here in Sault Ste. Marie (www.catalystgym.com), the casual onlooker would marvel at the cross-section of individuals participating in any given session – from a 35-year-old woman who looks to be 30-40 lbs. overweight doing push-ups from her knees, to a 50-year-old man with an oversized midriff shuffling through 20 more metres of a run, to a 19-year-old girl squatting with all her might using an empty barbell. They might see a woman in a wheel-chair performing overhead barbell thrusts or a middle-aged couple doing the same workout with their teenage son. There is even a group of women who attend sessions throughout the work week during their lunch hour to perform the modified version of the days’ workout, which is how I started out.  For the beginner, the key to success and progression in CrossFit is learning the basic moves and body mechanics from a good coach, and easing into the program starting at their own fitness level(even if you consider your fitness level to be ‘rock bottom’). If you have a CrossFit gym in your area, why not give it a try? It may just ‘fit’ you.

My CrossFit addiction culminated in the best fitness event that I have ever experienced on September 26, 2009 - my wedding day. After a few months of ‘CrossFitting’, I decided to give the 2009 Catalyst Games a shot. My line of thinking was that a good workout early in the morning would prepare me for the expected stress of the big day – and give my skin that bridal glow for photographs. Beginning at 8 a.m., competitors were to compete at 4 events chosen to evaluate aerobic capacity, strength, stamina, agility, power, and technique.

As with a regular CrossFit workout group, some were registered to do the workouts "As Prescribed", using full weights and distances, while others would be competing at scaled levels. I decided to go all the way and register in the “As Prescribed” group along with three other women. Each event was timed, and the competitor’s total time for the four events determined the winner. Since my hair and makeup appointments were booked for 10:30 am, I could only complete the first two events, but that didn’t matter to me, I wasn’t there to win the competition – just to challenge myself and enjoy the sense of achievement afterwards. 

The first event was ‘5000lbs Overhead’, where I had to move a total of 5000 lbs from the floor to overhead. I had to push 75% of my bodyweight on a barbell over my head as many times to add up to 5000 lbs – so that was 90 lbs, 56 times. Though this was primarily a measure of strength, it was timed, which made stamina a huge factor. It took me 10 minutes and 36 seconds to finish – possibly the longest ten minutes of my life! While the group of competitors waiting to perform their event cheered and yelled their encouragement, I found myself slipping into a zone and finding that inner strength everyone is always talking about. It was exhilarating!  

The second event was a 2 km Trail Run on a rutted, newly-cut trail in the brush behind the industrial park location of the gym. For someone that normally jogs on the road, the two wicked hill climbs posed a serious obstacle.  Having joked earlier about showing up for the wedding ceremony on crutches, I was mildly concerned when I lost my footing in the small creek that cut through the trail and scored a gash across my shin in the process. When I got up quickly and was able to keep going, the concern passed. Luckily my wedding gown was a full-length dress! This whole ordeal was over in 12 minutes and 10 seconds, and following some supportive and congratulatory hugs, I limped off to my car to rush home for a pre-salon shower. 

Although I didn’t actually finish the entire competition, I had accomplished what I set out to in just completing those two events the best that could. Looking at my wedding photos, I know that the beaming smile plastered across my face is a result of celebrating the special moment of marrying my best friend – but I also know that the extra gleam in my eye is there thanks to starting the day ‘on the right foot’.   I am really looking forward to my post-pregnancy return to CrossFit.  Needless to say, I am definitely sticking with this program, while it ‘fits’ me.  If you have yet to identify the type of physical exercise that you can enjoy at this time in your life, do not despair and don’t give up. Choosing a familiar route might keep you going, while meandering off the beaten path may lead you further. Either way, you can always get back on track. Fitness is not a race, it’s a journey. Take pleasure in it!