* See below for an explanation of this photo. Please. *
It’s the first of the month, that means a new batch of athletes are starting at Rocket CrossFit. This is pretty much my favorite day of the month. I love the potential, and in many cases the courage, that fills the air as we embark on a month of Blast Off. Each and every one of them has placed their trust in us, and I truly treasure that. I tell them how their safety is my #1 priority, that we never work through pain, that it can be hard and we’re all in it together. But what they’re really trusting me with isn’t their bodies, it’s their emotions.
I always start the first session with something that is almost oddly akin to a Kumbaya circle. (Oddly, because I am one of the least woo-woo people you will ever meet.) We introduce ourselves, talk a little about our athletic background (or lack thereof), any injuries or physical limitations that we need to know about, and, of course, goals.
Ah, the goals. Most common: lose weight.
Which is when I sheepishly tell people that I have gained 20 pounds and 2 sizes since starting CrossFit. I was really skinny before. Which, to be clear, is fine. I was healthy and fit, had a perfectly fine relationship with food and my body. But when I discovered that I love lifting weight, I got bigger. I’m still kind of tiny, in the grand scheme of things, but my body is very different. How it changed surprised me, and even I had to struggle a little to believe that it was okay. Eventually, it became awesome. Bodies have a lot to teach us.
In the years that we’ve been open, I’ve seen people lose nearly 100 pounds, gain weight, change shape in myriad ways. I’ve seen people who are just naturally tiny stay that way, and naturally big stay that way. I’ve seen people not change weight or overall size at all, but become really strong and healthy and more empowered in their lives, able to do things they couldn’t. Weight means NOTHING. Getting comfortable with your own body and using it how you want to means everything. It’s fascinating to watch people on a journey of exploration and acceptance with their bodies. It is, by far, the most gratifying part of being a coach.
And here’s what that taught me: 1. Your body is in charge. 2. It can never be about what you look like, it’s about what you can do.
There are so many things that you can do to improve your overall health, and we’ll talk about all of them in the gym, eventually. But the first thing that you have to understand is that if you do everything you can to treat your body well, it will show you what it looks like. It’s like a slow reveal, unwrapping a gift, finding an answer to a question you didn’t really know how to ask.
It will show you, you don’t get to decide.
Day one of Blast Off is always about shedding fear and expectations, and being open to the journey. Then redefining both the expectations and the journey:
1. This is not about how much you weigh. Ever. It’s not about how much you weigh, because that number is so meaningless. We don’t talk about weight loss. I certainly don’t assume that’s anyone’s goal, though if they tell me is, I will gently redirect it away from that. I will suggest we set goals about things you want to be able to do. Carry groceries up the stairs. Run with you dogs. Play soccer again. Ski. Whatever. Real world goals. Not gym goals. Not shopping goals. The focus on numbers, here, takes away from the point of life. The point of life is finding joy in doing things. It is not in trying to squeeze yourself, in any way, into an external standard. We do NOT talk about weight in our gym. We talk about doing things.
2. It’s not about how much weight you can lift. Ever. The focus on numbers here can cause injury. Our focus is always on form and challenge. If your form is solid, then you get to challenge yourself to try more. But the ONLY person you’re competing with is your shadow voice that is telling you that you can’t do it. You’re not even competing with the you of yesterday, just the you of today. Over time, yes, the you of today will almost always be able to do more than the you of a month ago, and that’s awesome. Because that’s you, doing more than you used to be able to. But we try really hard not to foster any sort of competition beyond that which is truly good-natured amongst friends who enjoy it.
3. It’s about letting go. The sound that I love most is the sound of heavy weight crashing to the ground because someone bailed on a lift that they couldn’t get. I love it. We love failure in our gym. Why? Because it means you found your limit and were willing to try. But also because you were willing to let go of something that wasn’t working and was going to harm you. Think about that. Think about that metaphor. Does it get more awesome than that? I’ve had athletes report back to me that the thing they got most from doing CrossFit with us was learning to risk failure, then learning from failure, and letting go of both expectations and things that would harm them. HELLO! Brings tears to my eyes. That’s why I love this sport.
4. It’s about embracing change, change that you can’t control. Most of us have, I think, spent a lot of time trying to conform to what society tells us we should be. And look like. I don’t think we have any idea what our bodies really want. When you’re pushing your body, you have to learn to listen to it, or you will get hurt. We beat people over the head asking them how they feel, and modifying workouts for them all day long. They think we’re being nice, but that’s not actually it. We’re teaching them to listen to their bodies, communicate what they’re feeling and embrace it by doing something different. It is that, more than anything, that I think leads to the empowered body-acceptance that I so love. We teach them to love and protect their bodies, and their bodies reward them by doing amazing things. For me, and I think many others, that’s why it was okay when my body started changing in a way that I wasn’t expecting. Because I had learned to listen to it, and it was telling me how it wanted to be.
I am almost 45 now. I’ve given birth, nearly died twice that I can remember, climbed mountains, had my heart-broken several times, watched dreams fall apart, watched dreams blossom better than I ever knew possible. All of it. And I am more in love with my body than ever before. Even with my boobs getting caught in my armpits, my thighs rubbing together, my muffin top sneaking over my waistband begging to be nibbled on. (Please.) And I credit sports, I really do. CrossFit specifically. I have learned that it will always be about how good I feel doing the things that I want to do in life. And it’s my body that makes that possible.
I treat it well. I listen to it. It rewards me. Living life truly is its own reward.
That’s what I try to teach people when they come to Rocket. How to rock it.
Anyone – especially a coach – who tells you that they can help you achieve a body type that you want, or can help you make your body look a certain way, is lying to you. They’re trying to sell you something. All the better if its unattainable because then they can keep selling you yet another solution to get you there. Please, run screaming from them. And their brethren in the diet industry that do the same thing. A good coach will help you make healthy decisions, find joy in life, and help you fall in love with the body that you discover.
(I’m gonna need a bigger gym.)
* A note on the photo. I almost didn’t post it because I can hear the backlash from all sides. The “you think that’s hot” right alongside the “of course you think you’re hot.” But here’s the genesis of this photo…. I was getting ready for bed one night when my husband was on duty at the firestation, and I saw my body in the mirror and thought how amazing it is. I was so pleased by how much I love my body. If you hear arrogance in that, you are missing the point….. I am a 45 year-old woman who loves my body, with all its obvious quirks, that struck me as a magical and wonderful act of rebellion in a world that has billion dollar industries trying to convince women not to love their bodies. And I did NOT always feel this way. I meant to send it to him, and don’t think I ever did, but I know that he loves my body too, exactly as it really is.