Right for you, wrong for me

A few of my closest female friends are crossfit fans and encourage, cajole, try to bully me into joining them in this endeavor. Mostly we agree to disagree, but 2 of my friends have completely guzzled the koolaid and are born-again crossfit disciples. L started about 2.5 years ago, and B about 2 years ago. Friend M has been doing crossfit about 5 years. Just some brief background of their longevity in this pursuit compared to my training partnership with J (about 2.25 years).

L is having shoulder surgery next week, her second this year. Both shoulders were injured doing something at her crossfit box. B had to have her knee repaired last year, and just did something very serious sounding to her low back earlier this week. Either way, she’s not going to be doing much other than walking until that heals. M has had 3 serious exercise-related injuries in the last 5 years, 2 of which resulted in surgical procedures, and has been sidelined for more than 12 weeks on various occasions this year due to exercise-aggravated injuries.

All have lost significant amounts of weight: L is down 86 lbs., B is 60 pounds light, and over 100 lbs. for M since taking up this hobby. Each of them average about 4 days in their gyms each week when healthy and capable of that type of exercise. They use their weight loss and lesser time commitment as rationalization in our discussions about diet, exercise, better health. I would not classify them as arguments, but we have many times had discussions escalate and grow heated and shut down that topic by agreeing that we  disagree about priorities and what matters most to each of us in our overall health pursuits and reaffirm that we remain caring friends.

I am not especially strident in defending my methodology, but when the topic comes up, I start ticking off the injuries, surgeries, weeks and months of physical therapy for them as a group versus me with none of the above. And when it comes to their weight loss progress versus my own, I believe we are speaking in terms of apples and oranges. I am diplomatic and tactful in not pointing out how much weight is regained or how much more lock-down restraint must be deployed with diet while they are sidelined with injuries.

There was a time when I would remain silent in such discussions, having limited experience or confidence in my own opinions and no skin in the game. But that’s changed; I have now notched my second year of consistency in the gym and do have some thoughts about the reasons we do not exercise or improve our eating habits.

It’s too hard. It IS hard, especially at first. Social media, television, glossy magazines in the checkout line in the grocery store are full of promises of quicker, easier methods to drop weight than spending hours in the gym or eating rabbit food for the balance of our lives.

I don’t have time. Our world is full of distractions that are far more interesting and pleasurable than slogging through sets of squats and rows and presses or the cardio equipment. There are way too many more cheap and easy food sources than buying and preparing healthier meals at home.

I need to lose weight before I can exercise. Our minds are full of the idea that everyone else in the gym or who exercises regularly is thin and fit and not struggling, not breathing very hard, not sweating, not swearing where our untrained selves want to die on the floor in a puddle of sweat in the first 5 minutes.

I don’t know how. This is one I can completely get behind, because it can be complicated. But it doesn’t have to be complicated. Everyone knows how to walk. If that’s all you feel confident to do, go forth and do it. There are also millions of online fitness resources and videos. Or if you have the resources, join a gym and book a few sessions with a personal trainer.

If you’re just getting started, I feel your pain. From direct personal experience, I know how difficult and how painful it is to take the first baby steps into altering our lifestyle habits. But there is no fool-proof supplement that melts fat or minimizes the need for a consistent movement program. There is no magic bullet or perfect program that is fun, easy, and fast. Obesity is an expensive condition, both on our bodies and on our wallets.

So yes, I am well acquainted with the excuses and reasons we don’t take better care of ourselves. Heck, I still employ a few of them on occasion myself. But telling me what I’m doing is somehow less correct than what you are pursuing with regard to exercise and diet is a lot less effective than just letting me go forth to work toward the best version of myself possible. Why does anyone do that? Why do we (sometimes) insist there is only one true way?

I posed the question in an email to my crossfitter friends. They all responded, a bit embarrassed that I perceived it that way, particularly with the specific examples I cited. In their defense, they are very excited about their weight loss and what they have found, what has turned their lives around, and they are eager to share their success. I’m very excited for them, delighted they have found something that works for them and provide satisfaction and success. My polite declining their invitations to try it is not a snub or disapproval; it is simply that their program does not suit me. We are friends, and they were understandably upset that I received their enthusiasm as criticism of my own approach. Faced with their words from prior conversations, they have the grace to admit that they have gotten carried away on occasion. That’s fair; it’s not like they are clubbing me over the head every time we chat. (Most of the time we’re too busy talking about work, parents, kids, other family relationships, and their dating interests to talk too much about exercise and diet.)

In many ways, I understand why it happens. We are middle aged women, taking control of our health and fitness and making genuine forward strides. There are a lot of reasons to be very excited about where we are now, where the path leads next. My concern about the injuries they are sustaining mostly relates to my concern for their health and longevity as well as to their criticism of my own efforts. Fab trainer J describes crossfit enthusiasts as “cult-like behavior” and from my own experience I know it a genuine and accurate observation. Anyone pursuing crossfit as their mode of exercise – I wish you well and hope you get stronger, stay safe, remain healthy. But is it the best method when you are continually getting injured in the process?

I love these ladies and I only want them to remain happy, healthy, and physically capable. Anything that gets all of us up and off the couch is important and to be applauded, and while I have reservations about their choices, I fully support and encourage all efforts to move more and lengthen our lives with regular exercise and movement, better food choices, healthier lifestyles.

With so many injuries between the 3 of them, I simply question the sensibility of their choice of sport.

I freely admit the very idea of getting hurt, being sidelined from injuries is extremely frightening to me. I have worked so hard to get this far and do not want to lose any ground because I am stupid in or out of the gym. As someone who could trip over hairline cracks in the sidewalk, I am accident prone and well aware of all the dangers in the day-to-day business of living my life aside from all the perils of the gym with the weights and machines (death traps, all of them if I am not careful). So I hired fab trainer J to teach me how to do things correctly, to hopefully minimize my access to injuries from poor form or general exercise ignorance. Our training partnership has never been about motivation, inspiration, or even accountability; it has always been about teaching me and expanding my level of understanding with regard to an area of life (exercise) I knew little to nothing about.

Perhaps this is a difference in perspective between me and my crossfitting friends. They are strong-minded, intelligent women, and I suspect that quality alone relates to the depth of our disagreements. But they are more independent and blaze-their-own-path whereas I accept that my natural brilliance has a lot of built-in limitations. I have endured plenty of frustrating setbacks in the gym – everything from completely baffled by hinges and Romanian deadlifts to balance to the limitations of generally untrained muscles getting slowly whipped into shape. I am painfully honest that I can only handle so much disappointment from my own independent effort before I simply abandon the program and the quest.

I strongly disagree that a crossfit gym program is equal or somehow superior to my training partnership with fab trainer J. I also do not believe that one-size-fits-most when it comes to our individual better health quests. So imagine my lack of delight when anyone suggests I’m somehow “wrong” in my approach. Excuse me – off diabetes drugs, losing weight (albeit slowly), reshaping my shape, HAPPY –  please do not be so bold as to tell me I am doing something incorrectly.

The email exchange on this topic has been a productive and ultimately positive conversational interaction and cleared up a lot of misconceptions about what we say and how we say it. Yes, I too have developed strong opinions on best practices when it comes to exercise. I don’t think anyone deserves to get hurt; I know injuries happen no matter how careful we are in our individual pursuits. However, I am true believer in learning how to exercise safely and sanely, including consistent practices between training and absolutely committed to the idea that warming up appropriately before getting started on my List of the day will go a long way to prevent injury. While I am not someone who does a lot of stretching, I do understand the benefits and anticipate that it will become a component of my exercise routine at some point in the future. Time is a finite resource and right now I prefer to spend my available allotment in the gym and primarily with resistance training.

What prompted this discussion among my friends today? Injuries in my fat loss group. Not crossfitters there, but a torn back muscle while doing goblet squats and some other back injury from chest presses. Both were admittedly more inconsistent exercisers utilizing more weight than was wise to burn more calories and fat in this outing. Now they are both gym/weight training sidelined for 6 to 8 weeks and confined to walking and physical therapy. Nothing wrong with walking, but they also lose any flexibility with diet if they wish to achieve their fat loss goals.

I honestly don’t get it.

I know I am far more conservative in my exercise pursuits, but I’m a true believer in the long game. A healthy lifestyle includes a sensible diet and regular exercise, and it is a process, not a goal to be achieved and then celebrated as a triumph. If there was a way I could get from fat to fit significantly faster that did not feel like I am living a miserable life, I might be willing to consider it. Ultimately, I value my joie de vivre too much to be so reckless about abusing my body with exercise or winnowing my diet so severely that I instinctively know is unsustainable.

For me, this is the right path. And as I told my friends, your mileage may vary.