I walked into one of my therapist who hasn’t seen me since the summer and she said, “wow… you look different!” My stomach dropped and the look on my face must have been horrifying.
She quickly explained that in the past, it was clear that I was a “body builder who spent time sculpting the body” but now ” you look more like an athlete, a pro baseball player”. And as we talked more and more, the discussion was about CrossFit and this new adventure of mine.
Why CrossFit, Ryan?
I’m an athlete is the short answer. I’m an athlete focused on human performance and developing habits, skills, and dispositions though diverse experiences. I’m always seeking the next challenge and next opportunity for growth in this area as well as the athletic mindset. That is the somewhat longer answer.
Really. Why CrossFit, Ryan?
The full story is a bit longer. When I awoke in my 30s to find my athletic self gone, I returned to my roots: athletics and fitness.
Bigger. Faster. Stronger. These were the words that guided my youth and early adulthood, one that was highly focused on athletics and human performance. But competition fueled that engine: football, baseball, basketball, powerlifting, and a taste of bodybuilding.
So being in my mid 30s, I saw a simple connection: bodybuilding. I set my target and went to work. In two years, I did fairly well ending on the national stage as a physique competitor. But here is the truth:
- I didn’t feel athletic
- I didn’t feel healthy
- I didn’t feel functional
- I didn’t feel good
This isn’t about that sport, which I will forever hold close to my heart. It is about ultimately my heart and soul always longing for a sport that
- Wants an array of atheletic abilities
- Focuses on intense training that comes from as many angles as possible
- Attacks the human condition from all angles: body, mind, heart, and self.
- Honors the jack of all trades athlete
- Challenges you mentally and physically
- Forces you to constantly grow and acquire more skills, techniques, and experiences from every source possible
- Thrives on hard work, multiple sessions training
- Designs nutrition protocols for peak athletic performance and overall wellness more than physical transformation
- Targets mentally and physically, hyper competitive athletes
- Evolves as human performance and capacity evolves
- Pushes you outside of the comfort zone of a singular idea and mandates well-rounded, diverse experiences
- And the list goes on…
So it wasn’t surprising that my path crossed with Crossfit; it, however, surprising that it didn’t occur earlier.
I didn’t understand CrossFit. No. I was ignorant of it. I thought it was a) a program for off-season athletes b) a sport that was kind of like weightlifting.
But as I trained for my physique shows, I had five different people from far different walks in life mention to me that I was built for and trained like a CrossFitter. I vowed to give it a try at some point.
Then, Colorado. I spent a considerable amount of time there between two national shows this past summer where I was exposed to the philosophy and underpinnings of it. I spent time experiencing it. I fell for it and decided that after the summer, I would get off the stage and try it.
In my short time with it, I can only say two things
- Where have you been all my life
- I’ve found my sport! (Yeah… too old and too late but better late than never!)
What I’ve Also Found: A Different Option than the Traditional Gym for many People
The real magic is what it means for fitness no matter who you are nor what your goals.
For obvious reasons, traditional gyms are the choice for many looking to get healthy and fit. The lure of a plethora of equipment, tons of weight, galleries of machines, and all the bells and whistles just sucks people in to the world that we’ve all been told is the solution. But that story plays out over and over for many. These items guarantee you nothing and leave many bored, confused, frustrated, intimidated, and ultimately unsuccessful. Many quit saying “I don’t have time”, “I wasn’t seeing results…”, “I was bored/lost/etc.” or “I felt stupid”
CrossFit is a CURE
Then there is CrossFit boxes. Of all the reasons people tell me why they give up, CrossFit boxes counter this with
- Community and Coaches
- Utility and Usefulness
- Resources and Results
- Energy and Excitement
Most of the time, my cardio is HIIT and Conditioning based so time flies. However, I believe steady state cardio has its place. In brief, I’ll add 20-30 minutes of steady state after HIIT during the offseason. I’ll also use steady state on days when I don’t do HIIT. Finally, steady state becomes a large portion the closer I get to a show. Right now, I’ve been at two 60 minute steady state sessions.
And that is a hamster wheel experience that gets old quickly especially for someone easily victimized by boredom.
But I’ve developed a few strategies that really help:
- Chunky Chunk: I’ll break up steady state into multiple sections and utilize different machines. For example, I’ll use 4 different pieces of equipment at 15 minutes each. This changes the mental and physical state. Wake up!
- Play Frogger: I’ll utilize different movements on equipment. For instance, I’ll go sideways, backwards, forwards, etc.. By breaking things into 30sec time frames, time picks up because the stimulus of change.
- Audio/Visual Learning Time: this is key for me. I listen to podcasts and watch videos of things of value to me (education, cooking, interviews, fitness events, etc)
- Course Experiences: I take a lot of MOOCs like Coursera. I’ll spend an hour in my course work.
- Curation and Writing: I actually spend a potion reviewing my various feeds and then write or tweet about them. I’m actually blogging this during cardio. I’ll do my Yelp work, blog for my profession, and work on my brand in fitness
This is a good time to say get distracted. If you focus on how much time is left, you’ll fight it and struggle deeply.
This is a post about education for the mere fact that it is about life. If you can bear with the length, you’ll see the points at the end (or jump right there). Nearly 20 years ago, I had a dream of being on the Mr. Olympia stage. Life has a funny way of working out and I took my athletic talents to the football field. But my dream never left me.
Three years ago, that dream began to haunt me. But I was 34 so I decided to get healthy. This past October, I saw how well my body was reacting so I set my sights on Men’s Physique bodybuilding Master’s class. A spinal injury brought things into perspective but also wasted away a lot of hard work as I sat dormant for months.
Entering Precontest Mode
With the doctors’ okay to begin, I recalculated with the help of an amazing coach and my lifelong mentor/father figure. We plotted a 16-week course and went to work with reckless abandonment. I started at a solid 248lbs, a bodyfat well into 20%, and a waste line nearing 40. Bottom line: I was strong and carried a good dose of muscle BUT I was an old School, off-season bodybuilder who was not in the ideal condition to begin a contest prep nor hit the Physique stage. However, hunger, focus, and passion can do amazing things.
Stress and Struggles
Precontest athletes are told and pushed to minimize stress, change, and problems as greatly as possible. It is the only way most say to be successful. As an agile person who thrives on problem-solving, evolving, and change managing, stress was something unavoidable. I just never realized the impact on one’s health, physique, and quality of life. That is, until this precontest phase where I saw dreams being destroyed by stress.
Mine was the antithesis of smooth:
- 14 Weeks Out: Pneumonia
- 11 Weeks Out: Bicep/Tricep muscle tears
- 10 Weeks Out: Pinch nerve rendering left arm out of commission for 10 days and even then it came back with up to 70% reduction in strength on lifts. Not to mention, could not use dumbells for final 6 weeks leading up to show.
- 10 Weeks Out: Interviewed and accepted new job
- 8 Weeks Out: Take on technical department along with already assigned instructional tech during transition
- 5 Weeks Out: We discover there is no Master’s class. I either stay the course and go into the Open (all ages and primarily young, talented folks) or drop out for a later show.
- 3 Weeks Out: Family member in accident and left on life support for 10 days. Two inches went on my waist during those 10 days despite no changes to training nor diet. Coritsol came visiting in a big way.
- 12 Days Out: We are ready to pull the plug. Body isn’t responding and continues to go in the other direction. Injuries making things unbearable for everyone.
- 10 Days Out: Minor fracture of left shin bone (unable to put significant weight on left leg while on stage)
Despite all of this, we still managed to get on stage…
Getting On Stage
The morning of the show, I weighed roughly 185lbs, had a 28in waist, and carried a bodyfat around 4% (estimated). I felt great the night before (photos in green) but we had a spill over the day of the show. I was furious and upset with myself for not listening to my body. So much work after so many setbacks only to have one small change cause water retention.
Right after prejudging, 1st, 2nd, and 5th hit a backstage shot together. You can see the water retention on my waste compared to 9 hours prior (photos in green).
Shots from the show after making a water/sodium manipulation error and then 90 minutes later after correcting it.
Evening show and the crowing of those that placed, the Top 5, who are now nationally qualified!
And The Results Mean…
I’m proud. My team is proud. I never expected to place in the Open. I was confident going into a Master’s competition but the Open is a different story. But I’m not satisfied nor am I happy. At 37, I chased down a dream despite every possible setback. But there is unfinished business. I have bigger dreams and I entered this precontest mode knowing this was a starter, a warm-up given 20 years off.
I sit now at 205lbs, nearly healed, holding bodyfat in check, and gaining strength every day. I’m going for it in a big way! Three years until 40 and I am giving it all I’ve got as I make a run at the Nationals.
I will also move forward with a much more transparent and active social media campaign during my run at the Nationals. I was confused, concerned, and reserved this time out of fear that personally and professional people wouldn’t understand. However, the outpouring of support personally and professionally tells me the journey can and should be shared.
Advice and Lessons Learned
- Build a Team #livelaughlove
- Contest Coach to Guide You (Mine, Bethany Halperin, is a master!)
- Nutrition Coach
- Stage Coach
- Posing Coach
- Stylist Coach
- Tanning Coach
- Chiropractic Coach (Dr. Clemens got me back in the gym and kept me there. Amazing!)
- Family Foundation
- Go To Person Over Everyone
- Trust and articulate the unique attributes of your body
- If you hire someone on your team, follow their program. If you have concerns, express them but never leave your coaches to believe you are following the program to the letter and your not
- Remove all stress.
- Patience! Patience! Patience!
- Don’t fix what isn’t broken
- Your mind and heart are your greatest enemies BUT the source of your greatest strength. Learn to be in harmony with these two
- Capture the entire experience in words, photos, sketches, and videos. I include a mood scale that I tackled daily
- Create a plan of action using Google and share with Team for ongoing tweaks, collaborations, and concerns
- Do a photoshoot a 1-2 after the show
- How do we create conditions for students to dream chase?
- How do we help students understand setbacks, failing forward, resilience, and focus?
- How do we minimize student stress, a silent killer of dreams?
- How do we discover, embrace, and grow the unique passions of each student?
- How do we coach students through mistakes and setbacks so they come out stronger?
- How do we come to understand things seen as different, counter or sub cultures, that students have found interests and sparks?
- How do we encourage students to find themselves and mentors/life coaches to guide them?
- How will you create conditions for teachers to dream chase?
- How will you help teachers to understand setbacks, failing forward, resilience, and focus?
- How do we minimize student and teacher stress, a silent killer of dreams?
- How will you discover, embrace, and grow the unique passions of each teacher?
- How will you come to understand things seen as different, counter or sub cultures, that teachers have found interests and sparks?
- How will you encourage teachers to find themselves and mentors/life coaches to guide them?
- How will you share and support your teachers’ passions that extend beyond the school – those living life-long learning but unable to model it?
A big thank you to Coach Halperin, Dr. Clemens, Capitol Nutrition, AllMax, Met-Rx, Billabong, and X-Sport Fitness. And without question, my family, my mentor Jeff, my friends, and my colleagues #horizon #livelaughlove