Crossfit Training Like a BOSS

I been runnin. I been runnin.

Big news update: I'm training for a crossfit competition this summer. Very excited. It's been a long time in the making. Here is a little interview I did with myself and a few pictures I took of myself (awkward).

How long have you been training?

  • Good question, me! I've been doing crossfit and similar style workouts (HIIT, Tabata) for nearly 4 years. At that time I had been working in a new job for several months and was finding it hard to find time to work out. So I joined a lunchtime class at my gym in the hopes of doing a really hard workout in a small amount of time.  Crossfit seemed like a great bang for the buck.

Did it work? Is crossfit a great bang for the buck?

  • Yes and no. Like any workout, crossfit is all about what you put into it. If you train hard and show up regularly, you will definitely see results. As in, you'll be stronger and you'll get better at it and you might even get addicted (like me). But it won't build you gigantic muscles overnight. And like any workout, it doesn't solve everything. Food is a big factor if you're hoping to lose weight. I lost 5 lbs pretty easily in the first month I tried it, but after that, nothing.

My gym. Where the magic happens.

What exactly is crossfit?

CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity.
— crossfit.com
  • Ok, I kind of needed to look this up. I know what it is at MY gym, and that's the only place I've done crossfit (so far). Crossfit workouts are intense, it's all about lifting as much as you can, as quickly as you can, in the shortest amount of time. The workouts are timed, so there's a fun, competitive component. And we write down our times and weights afterward. I keep my own book to record my 1-rep max for the weight lifting and a few of my scores and workouts. That's all about measuring my own progress and keeping myself motivated. One important thing about crossfit is the people. It's really fun to get together and do hard workouts with a group of motivated people (not muscleheads), just regular folks. I love it.

Why doesn't crossfit make you lose weight?

  • Honestly, I don't think crossfit ever promised to help anyone lose weight. So that's one thing. It's a high intensity workout that combines cardio and weights. It does not care about calorie burn so much. I think it's more about making you a powerful, dynamic person.
  • In my case, I learned this the hard way. After losing that first 5 lbs I quickly realized that the weight was not melting off. I got discouraged by the scale, so I stopped getting on it. Bad decision? Maybe. I certainly didn't lose the baby weight I was hoping to lose. I did the opposite, in fact. One year after starting my crossfit journey, I weighed the most I've weighed post-pregnancy.

What do you do if you want to lose weight and do crossfit?

  • I think you need to separate your crossfit journey from your weight loss journey.
  • For me, I needed to tackle my food game, big time. I won't get into the details of it (less caloric intake, basically), but I will say it was helpful thinking about how much you needed to eat for that day. On workout days, I ate more, especially protein, in the mornings. On other days, I stuck to my plan. Finally by the 1.5 year mark, I was slimmed down and feeling really good about myself and my workouts. I was kicking ass. And that's exactly when I got pregnant again.

Can you do crossfit while pregnant?

  • Yes! Obviously, check with your doctor first. My care providers (midwife and physical therapist) wanted me to be careful not to raise my heart-rate too high. So sometimes I needed to take longer breaks between sets or modify a movement or walk instead of run, etc. But I stuck with it and tried to basically do the same workouts as the class, just modified.
  • My coach, Heidie (pictured here being amazing), also did crossfit while pregnant. She was very inspiring. If you ask her if you can do this while pregnant she will tell you Absolutely! And she will tell you about how she went into labor while doing double-unders. It's a cool story. I won't ruin it. (She had a baby afterward and he's a very sweet two-year-old now.)

I can doooo it! 8 months pregnant, going to class.

I did it! 2 years later.

What are your goals with this?

  • My biggest goal was to go and compete. And I'M DOING IT!! After I had baby Hank, I resolved to get back into shape (and better than before) and enter a real competition. I got back in the gym at 3 months postpartum and all my workout buddies were preparing for the Crossfit Open. I really wanted to join, but I was like a floppy fish at that point. The following year I entered the Open, and I didn't do too bad. Out of the 8 or so competitors at my gym, I usually finished 5th/6th/7th. That was about 6 months ago. For the summer games, I am competing as a team with the lovely, Janelle. I'm hoping we finish in the middle of the pack. The middle-middle. Not bottom-middle. Ha!
  • So over the years my goals have gone like this:
    • Workout regularly (check)
    • Lose weight (check)
    • Get back into shape after having baby (check)
    • Compete!

Me and Janelle!

So that's my story, and off I go to THE GAMES on August 20th!!!

How to Have the Best Maternity Leave Ever in 5 Steps

It has been my lifelong quest to have the "best" everything, and maternity leave was no different. I started planning for it, literally, from the moment I started to think about getting pregnant.  There is no perfect recipe for a maternity leave, but for my money, I'd say I got pretty close.

Step 1: Plan WAY Ahead

Step 1 of the plan is to plan. I know. But seriously you need to think ahead if you're going to do this right. For one thing, does your employer have a family leave policy? Oh they don't?! Join the club! No one does. Your precious unborn child will need you after he or she is born. Somehow this fact is lost on the entire country, but take it from me, you'll need some paid time off. Your options:

  • Sign up for a short-term disability policy. Try and do that BEFORE you get pregnant because you'll get a larger benefit. Also you need to jump on it during open enrollment.
  • Save up your sick leave and vacation days. Make sure your employer lets you use sick time during maternity leave. Isn't that sneaky, sometimes they don't!
  • Consider a leave of absence. Without pay. Sometimes this is allowed, sometimes not. Talk to HR. Talk to other ladies who have had children at your work.
  • Save up. Obviously. How you gonna live without paychecks??

Step 1 part B: Talk to your boss. If you're comfortable.

Obviously this is very subjective. Think about whether this will do more harm than good. In my case, it did a lot of good. I have a great boss who is also a mom. She also appreciates the ability to plan ahead for our office. Lastly (and this is important!) she can keep a secret like a mother-. We had some coffee and a chat about 3 months before I actually got pregnant. I told her that my husband and I were hoping to expand our family. We didn't know when, exactly, but it might be a few months ahead. She thanked me for letting her know and for trusting her.

Based on our previous track record, my husband and I had been pretty fortunate in the fertility department. If we weren't fortunate this time, I'd probably want her to know that too because secondary infertility is no small deal. But as it turned out we were fortunate. Four months later she was asking me about this big conference scheduled for September. I had to tell her, no, that wasn't going to work because ... baby time 2015! She was over-the-moon excited. And then she kept that secret for a few more weeks until I was ready to share. I freakin love my job so much.

Whoa! Get out of the office before the baby gets out of you.

Step 2: Get out of the office before your water breaks over everything.

The question: When to start your maternity leave?

The answer: At exactly the point where you can't TAKE IT ANYMORE. You don't want to go too soon because you only have so much paid leave time. You don't want to go too late because you'll just hate life and all your coworkers and your cankles.

I had to ask around about this one, and the consensus was this. Try hard to stay at work until your due date. But don't stay past that. You're going to be struggling in weeks 38, 39, 40. But you can do it. I started leaving work early in week 39, and people were super understanding. Once we entered week 41 I was like No. Can't do it anymore. I'm not going back there without a baby.

Step 3. Decide: Take As Much Time Off As You Can -or- Spread Out Your Time Off 

In one camp, we've got TAMTOAYC. As much time off as you can get, all at once. Pros: 

- you get this incredible block of time off that you may never get again
- no work distractions 
- never need to do laundry, really, because PJs are always OK and never dirty  

In the other camp, we've got SOYTO. You take some concentrated time off at first, then spread out your days as you gradually return to full time work. Pros: 

- you'll get days off with your little one well into their 4th, 5th or 6th months of life
- breastfeeding is easier to keep going because you can keep up your supply on your days off with baby
- you'll also have regular face time with your coworkers and boss, who will see that you are committed to the team and also that you haven't died in a tragic laundry avalanche

I decided on a hybrid approach. It went like this:

  • Weeks 1-7: Totally off work. I think I answered 1 work email.
  • Week 8: Worked 1/2 day.
  • Weeks 9-14: Worked two 1/2 days per week. Tuesday/Thursday afternoons specifically.
  • Next month: Worked full time, but took Wednesdays off.
  • Next month: Worked full time.

This arrangement was amaaaazing. I worked it all out ahead of time. Most of my work was transferred to coworkers. But I asked to keep one project (a yearly report) that I do each year in December/January. This way I'd have one succinct project to focus on. I left my "out of office" message on and did not answer email unless it was easy/necessary. When that project was done, I started catching up on everything and got back in the groove. Gradually.

Step 3 part B: If Your Partner Can Take Time Off, Do That Too

My husband's time off was also hybrid:

  • Weeks 1-3: Totally off work.
  • Weeks 4-8: Worked full time, but took 1 day off per week.
  • Weeks 9-14: Worked full time, but covered for me on Tuesday/Thursday afternoons. (As in, he was off work and watching the kids during this time.)
  • Next month: Totally off work.

Doing paternity leave like a boss

Having some days home with me throughout my leave was the BEST. I was very worried about getting the postpartum depression, so this was integral to building up my support network. Also integral: regular visits with friends, play dates, coffee dates, visits from family, Christmas (that happened), social media, oh and WellMama too. Definitely WellMama.

Jake's decision to take that last month off work had two major advantages, aside from his total delight at taking a month off to bond with his baby. First, it prolonged Baby Henry's time home with us. He got lots of one-on-one attention. And no daycare germs until he was 4 1/2 months old. And no daycare expenses.

More importantly, I firmly believe that partners become really great partners when they get the chance to parent alone. Let your husband or partner (husband in my case) take charge for a while. Maybe it's a month, maybe it's just a weekend. But try and let them figure the parenting thing out. Babies will take a bottle, eventually. Dads will find things that soothe the baby. Together they will develop their own special relationship. Staying home all day with a baby (or multiple kids) is exhausting. Both parents should experience it if they can. It creates a healthy appreciation for stay-at-home parents, for daycare providers, for the work and drudgery and, at times, the joy of full time parenting.

Step 4: While on Maternity Leave, It is OK to Have a To-Do List, but... 

...You probably know what I'm going to say. Adjust yo' expectations. If you are Type A like me, this will be very difficult. In all likelihood, you will fail at this. Try this: first, go ahead and write out your whole crazy list, just go nuts. Think of everything you'd love to get done during this time "off." 3 months off from work? WA-HOO! Right?  

Wrong. Three months will fly by. Your list is way too ambitious. Don't torture yourself. Parenthood, especially NEW parenthood, is hard enough. 

But that doesn't mean you can't accomplish a few things. I hate it when everyone tells you to just calm down and embrace your baby and do nothing. I ... can't ... not ... do all the things!

So now that you have your crazy long list, start prioritizing. Slash and dash. But remember, it's very satisfying to cross some things off your list, so throw a few low-hanging fruits on there. 

Lastly, consider keeping a "Done List." You can create a Done List by writing down everything you got "done" that day. Include whatever you want: grocery shopping, creating a shopping list, watching HGTV, watching the baby sleep on your chest, building a custom bunk-bed. (Just kidding. Who builds things, honestly?) 

I've always been big on lists (can you tell?), so I was a little scared to give up my to-do list in favor of a Done List. But in the end, I'm so glad I did. I did it with only 10 days to go, but oh well. Now I have a few pages of memories of what I did, which grew increasingly funny and self-centered (Day 9: watched HGTV! Had coffee with Missy!).

Step 5: Enjoy.

Enjoy. This final tip goes for all the mamas who are on good footing health-wise. Who are not struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety. Who have reached a point of peaceful acceptance with their laundry-drenched living rooms and never-clean kitchen sinks.

Just enjoy. You never get to have a baby this small again. That is true every day that goes by. Don't drive yourself crazy thinking about it (as I did, at times). Just embrace it. And embrace that tiny baby.

Enjoy the little moments you get to have. It won't be a picnic every minute of every day. Sometimes it will be friggin unbearable. But sometimes you will get to have a great playdate with your stay-at-home mom friend at the local kids' gym, and you'll watch the kids goofing around and you'll think, this is so fun. It's 2:00 on a Tuesday! Sometimes you'll get to make coffee for your friend and you'll hear about her baby who is waking up every 1.5 hours at night. Your baby will chill out for a while, allowing you to be there for her and really listen.

I thought I would do these fun things "all the time!" As in, "we can go to the library for storytime all the time!" "I can write on the blog all the time!" It didn't happen. It took me a while to figure out that it wasn't physically possible to watch HGTV and take the kids to the park and catch up on my online course all at the same time all the time!

I enjoyed the moments though. I ticked a lot of things off my list. A couple of favorites:

1. Letting my baby fall asleep on my chest.

2. Going to WellMama and feeling the mama love.

3. Waking up late each morning next to my baby and trying to make Henry smile. Sometimes Olivia too.

That's what counts. Enjoy, mamas.

Is confidence a little overrated?

When I was 15 I signed up for choir. Not because I had singing talent. Not because I had a knack for music. I was simply young and foolish and uninhibited by reason and rationality. F it, I thought, I'm going to SING. That's what I want to do, and that's what I'm going to register for. So I sang (poorly), every first period from September to January of 1998 when my dreams of sweeping American Idol were suddenly destroyed by a mandatory course for athletes called Advanced Conditioning. Damn you, Coach Bowles!

hmv circa 1997

hmv circa 1997

During my brief career as choir singer #47, I made some important realizations. Firstly, I realized I had a lot to learn. The lingo was completely foreign to me. I barely knew the difference between soprano and alto and I only picked alto because my volleyball friend did too. Secondly -and this is either really fortunate or really sad depending on your perspective- our conductor was incredibly gifted. His advice was spot-on and perfectly articulated. He seemed to be able to hear all our terribly teenage voices at once, and he could pinpoint exactly what needed to be done to improve the sound. But he never came right out and told us that we should keep our day jobs because we were a motley crew of no-talent fools because, again, this guy was a pro.

Somehow my 15-year-old brain was able to simmer on this information and form a pretty incredible plan: I sucked at singing and had no idea what I was doing; our conductor was amazingly brilliant; perhaps I should listen to every single thing he told us to do, and DO IT. And holy poop you guys, the plan WORKED.

If he told us that we sounded too breathy, I would assume he was talking about me and try to scale back the breathiness, and *ta-da* the next time he would tell us that we sounded much better.

Seems so simple looking back. But it wasn't. Did I mention that I was an ego-inflated 15-year-old? The fact I was willing to really listen was kind of incredible.

Why? Making the decision to listen to my instructor required putting aside my confidence and really getting comfortable with my lack of competence. I had to embrace the fact that I didn't know anything before I could get any better. It was the kind of move that goes exactly against the advice I've been reading lately.

Consider the Confidence Gap. The authors learned that men tend to try for better jobs, bigger salaries, and they get them, simply by acting with more confidence.

In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality.
Women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements.

And guess who tended to reach the top first?

The authors found, essentially, that confidence mattered more than competence. Confidence was a stronger indicator of higher salaries, better jobs, more interesting assignments, etc. And men had higher confidence based on their studies, so men typically rose to the top. We all know that men rise to the top faster than women and more frequently. But here is what I'm trying to say... 

Is all of this a good thing? 

Is it good for us to be promoting the most confident workers? The ones who ask more frequently, who demand more? Is it good to emulate that logic? It is good to say to one's self, don't worry about getting that next certification or training, just TELL them that you're the smartest, wickedest person for the job and then TAKE it! After all, men do it and it works, so why shouldn't we?

Well, let me propose two reasons: 1) you're not a man so this isn't going to work quite like that, and 2) it's not right. It's just not right. I refuse to buy into the idea that confidence SHOULD outweigh competence. I know it apparently DOES outweigh competence, but it shouldn't. That's not how to run a business, or determine promotions, or create a beautiful sound from a young choir. Competence is what matters. Competence (with a healthy side of confidence) is what strengthens the team and builds the better workforces.

And here's another thing: Women may have much to gain by getting more confident, but a lack of confidence can be a secret asset, and everyone seems to be overlooking it.

When I think about the times, like high school choir, when I turned down the dial on my confidence and really tried to improve my skills, I got much much better at whatever I was doing. I know this is true of men as well. I've had conversations with male coworkers or friends that I am comfortable with, and I've asked them, "Can you admit for a moment that you don't understand everything about this issue? Can you set aside your argument for a second, and consider this other point of view?" And when they do that (when we ALL do that), we tend to have a deeper discussion and we both truly learn more. Because we aren't trying to postulate and impress each other with our ridiculous fake confidence.

And I see women do this artfully at work too. The cleverest women I've seen do this are actually just using a lack of confidence to get to a result that they were really pretty confident about all along. You've seen these moves too:

"Can you help me understand your reasoning?"
"I'm sure you've already thought of this, but what if we...."
"That sounds like a great plan, but I guess I'm not sure how [this other thing] would fit in? What if we tried..."

It isn't rocket science. But it isn't blind confidence either. Blind confidence is just lack of competence dressed up to look pretty. Good managers can see through it. And if they can't, I don't think they're really that good. Because you can hire a company full of peacocks and prance around acting like you know what you're doing ... but for only so long. Eventually that team of nerds down the road is going to catch up and catch on.

This I believe is true. Who cares if I have the data to prove it?

Professional and pregnant

Pregnancy is probably the single most important and visible thing that distinguishes women from men.  The way that we treat pregnancy, especially at work, is important.  I used to write about this issue when I was a wee college student many years ago (ok, like 8 years ago).  But living it is so very fascinating.

When I told my boss I was pregnant, he said "I am just going to treat you like a normal human being.  I don't want to be accused of giving you special treatment."  Gee, thanks.  Other people have treated me A LOT differently now that they know I am pregnant.  Sometimes they are kidding.  They tell Jake that he should be carrying things for me.  Or they offer to do things they'd never done for me before.  Or they just assume, in a very subtle way, that certain things will be more difficult for me or that I am more fragile than I was before.

I'm not sure how I feel about all this star treatment.  In many ways, I love it and appreciate it.  In other ways, the girl-power side of me doesn't want people to think that I am weak and fragile ... but I kind of am!  I am carrying some very special cargo in here, and all the changes in weight and stability, along with the morning sickness and constant headaches do take a toll.  I told my boss, "Listen, just treat me normally - if I'm sick, treat me like I'm sick."  I've been pregnant for 16 weeks without a single sick day from work, or a single change in my schedule.  ... But it will get harder.

It will also get more visible.  What do you think when you see a pregnant lady?  I sat through a court hearing in which two of the attorneys (out of 6) were visibly pregnant.  I could not stop thinking, "that is SO cool!"  Followed by, "I wonder how they do it?  Is she feeling up to all this?"  I was a little distracted.  A big pregnant belly carries a lot of baggage.  And for some, its probably all they can see.  The fact that the belly is attached to a very capable lawyer is lost.

I will be appearing in a trial next week.  It should be interesting to see what, if anything, is different.  The fact is, being pregnant is a very unique situation.  There is nothing like it.  You are not JUST sick, or JUST bigger - you are pregnant with a baby!  You HAVE to be treated differently at times.  If you work around dangerous chemicals, you have to be moved - but it doesn't mean you should lose your job.  Other times, you shouldn't be treated differently at all.  Like in court.

So, as I concluded many many long years ago, I think we need to THINK of pregnant women as equals, and still accommodate their needs, even when the needs are different.  And we should WANT to do this.  Because women make the babies.  No one else can do that.  And it is a very, very important job to have.