A Catalyst for Change (Part 1)

Mark Twain:  “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”

I am crap at doing an AMRAP. There, I said it. Okay, maybe it would be more accurate to say that I wrote it, but either way, it’s still true. I am crap at doing an AMRAP … literally … as in, I stink at it. After 36 weeks of doing CrossFit, weeks marked by multiple missteps and a few adventurous advances, one of the things that stands out thus far is this: I am crap at doing an AMRAP! But that’s really okay, folks, because you know what? I don’t think that I’m the only one.

I was forced to contemplate this weakness of mine because, this past weekend, I took part in another CrossFit competition. Like Ma Kettlebell, I managed to survive (barely) the 2013 CrossFit Open, and in one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time” moments, I signed up for the 2013 edition of the Catalyst Games. You should not infer from this action that I consider myself to be particularly proficient at CrossFit. If there were 140,000 participants in the CrossFit Open, then my final placing was probably 139,000 plus eight or nine more hundreds. CrossFit seems to be designed for young, bouncy types possessing bodies of gymnasts, wrestlers and halfbacks, and I am a creaky 67 year old whose onetime nickname of “Lurch” tells you all you need to know about my coordination. Yet I signed up for the Catalyst Games anyway (I had the fever – cabin fever), and with it came the prospect of doing another series of AMRAPs. And in case you forgot how I opened this piece, I am crap at doing an AMRAP.

In his insightful book “Inside The Box,” T. J. Murphy defines the AMRAP (pronounced am-wrap) as an “acronym for as many rounds as possible completed in the time allotted for a workout.” It is a staple of the CrossFit workout philosophy, and it sounds fairly basic. Simply do the assigned exercises at as fast a rate as you can barely sustain over the designated time period, and rack up a huge total that you get to display next to your name on the whiteboard. No problem, right? Well, actually, it can be a huge problem, especially if you are someone like yours truly, and you go out way too fast, slow to a stagger, and death march your way to the finish. Yes, that tactic can create a crisis, but it’s the very same as one that I experienced long ago, an experience that resulted in one of those valuable “life lessons” your parents always warned you about.

Fifty years ago, in my first race as a high school quarter miler, I was cocksure of my blazing speed, and burst from the starting line in a cloud of dust (we had cinder tracks back then). Thrilled by the cheers of the spectators (a half dozen parents),  I opened a ten yard lead coming out of the first turn. But in less than one minute’s time, I learned that (a) you get no points for leading at the first turn, and (b) a spectacular start can be dwarfed by an even more catastrophic collapse. My ill advised sprint had cooked the starch from my stride, and I stumbled to the finish on legs of limp linguine. I never did that again, at least not in track, and I have not forgotten that there are times when being too fast is worse than being half-fast. Still, it has taken me longer to make the same connection with regard to the CrossFit AMRAP, but I don’t attribute that to failing powers of deduction. I think it had more to do with recognizing that my sprinting at the beginning of an AMRAP takes me to a position well behind everyone else instead of well ahead, and realizing that going slower would only make me bigger behinder. No big deal, though, because even old coots like me cannot forever persist in perpetuating our pacing problems, and our tempo tantrums will eventually resolve themselves. However, that still leaves the real problem that I have with the AMRAP, and that one is much more insidious.

I am winning

I’m Winning! I’m Winning! Only Eighty Percent Of The Way Left To Go!

Placing pacing aside does not alter the fact that an AMRAP is still “as many rounds as possible.” If you are rewards oriented, and are inclined to view each round of an AMRAP as the equivalent of the gold stars we used to get in kindergarten for doing something as noteworthy as putting all the square pegs in the square holes, then it’s easy to let your number of rounds define your workout. I, for one, do just that. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I salivate at the prospect of a big number after my name whenever we do an AMRAP, and I have to wonder whether, if Pavlov did CrossFit, would he call this the “the whiteboard syndrome?” If so, the question thus presents itself: is this hankering for a humungous number a bad thing? After all, from the time we entered the education system we have been encouraged to get as high a number as we possibly could on every test we took, and there can be no disputing that an AMRAP is a test of self. That being said, I think a distinction may be made. The difference, as I see it, is that in school we only got credit if we got the answer correct.

Being focused on finishing many rounds makes it easy to forget that each round consists of multiple repetitions of one or more exercises, and that each exercise likely involves the movement of one or more body parts through specific prescribed ranges of motion. My concentration on the “as many rounds” part of the equation has led me to overlook the “prescribed range of motion” part. To put it bluntly, I may complete what I consider to be a lot of reps, but the majority of them I probably do wrong. But, you might wonder, you’re doing the exercises anyway, so what’s the harm? Well, this makes me think back to one of my favorite proverbial rhymes, the one about “for want of a nail the shoe was lost,” and progressing all the way to the eventual loss of the kingdom. A little omission, if repeated often enough, can lead to a bigger setback. In my case, it has.

There is a heretofore unknown (to me, that is), but now frequently referred to (by those who know these things), collection of body parts called “the posterior chain,” and we work on it diligently in CrossFit. That is a good thing because I, for one, do not want to be the guy in the class with the weak link in his ass posterior chain. Unfortunately, as I like to say when I write about my kayaking buddies, wantin’ and doin’ are two separate things, and though I did not want to have that weak link, I somehow got one anyway. Due in part to my AMRAP deficiencies, I have discovered that “the posterior chain” can also become an abbreviated phrase for “the posterior chain reaction of pain.” Folks, thanks to my spectacularly sloppy form, I have managed to become a pain in my own butt! Somewhere, Ma Kettlebell is chuckling and thinking, “it’s about time.”

Fortunately, I came to this conclusion before tackling the AMRAPs that would define the Catalyst Games, and this discovery gave me time to adjust my attitude. The day before the Catalyst Games took place, the organizers warned advised the participants that the workouts would include a series of four AMRAPs, each two minutes in length, with a one minute rest in between. Since I couldn’t  avoid them, I would have to approach them differently. Using a sense of logic that only I would find appropriate, I deduced that it was the acronym itself that led to my shortcut approach to doing the exercises, which in turn led to the result that I Am Crap at doing an AMRAP. Therefore, the easiest way for me to correct this problem would simply be to change the name of the routine. This I have done. While all of the other competitors would be doing an AMRAP, I would be doing an AM-CRAP (As Many Correct Repetitions As Possible – pronounced am!-crap!). I knew that this would make me even slower than usual, and my totals would be puny when listed on the whiteboard and score sheets, but that was okay. It was time for me to adjust my approach, and coincidently, the Catalyst Games were being held almost nine months to the day since I started CrossFit. What other date would be more conducive to a new beginning? Besides, if it turned out that I was successful at this, then I could go back to being a pain in Ma Kettlebell’s butt instead of my own. That, alone, will make it worth it.

manure pileI Am Going To Get Through This Stinkin’ AM!-CRAP! One Solid Shovelful At A Time

[Note: in case you missed the “Part 1” part of the title, we (Ma Kettlebell and I) plan on doing a series of posts on the Catalyst Games. It was a tremendous event and left us with so many positive memories (AM-CRAPs included), that one post would not do the event justice, even for one as long winded as myself – you know, if I could transfer my blogging endurance into AM-CRAPs … ]

About Ol' Philosophizer

Having had the opportunity to develop wisdom and maturity over six plus decades doesn't mean that I'm always inclined to use what I've learned. Instead, I choose to believe that "60 is the new 16," at least when this creaky old body agrees to let it be so, and that is why my family cringes during those infrequent flights of fancy when I set out to prove that I am undaunted by my lack of judgment. The rest of the time, though, I'm either dispensing my scattered thoughts on our blog, or dreaming up new ones after I've settled in for a nap.
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2 Responses to A Catalyst for Change (Part 1)

  1. Pingback: A Catalyst for Change via The Catalyst Games, Part 2 | "Hey!" … "What?" … "What Did You Say?"

  2. Pingback: A Catalyst for Change, A Conclusion (sort of) | "Hey!" … "What?" … "What Did You Say?"

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