Posts Tagged ‘CrossFit’

English: WPA poster warning cancer patients to...

WPA poster warning cancer patients to be wary of persons claiming to be physicians and promising to cure cancer. Check with your internist or oncologist before beginning any particular exercise program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s post is from guest poster Melanie Bowen, a regular blogger for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Although this is not a cancer-related blog, I don’t know anyone whose life has not been touched by cancer, whether as a patient or as a loved one of a cancer patient.

Exercise has all kinds of benefits and can continue under unusual circumstances. I’d say cancer qualifies as “unusual circumstances,” although, sadly, not a rare one.

And, with that introduction, here’s Melanie:

In the past, patients with a cancer diagnosis were often advised by healthcare professionals to avoid any kind of physical exertion in order to preserve as much energy as possible.  No longer.

The medical community is finding a wealth of evidence showing the importance of exercise for the cancer patient to maintain weight and maximum health, endure short- or long-term medical interventions, and to improve their quality of life. All exercise programs should have well-defined guidelines and approved by a physician. Each person and diagnosis is unique, and therefore should have an appropriate regimen to follow.

Maintain strength and fight fatigue

Cancer patients may receive long-term medication, chemotherapyradiation therapy, or a combination of treatments. Although cancer itself can induce fatigue, cancer treatment itself  often increases weakness, lack of motivation and immobility.

Steps can be taken to help counter and cope with the side effects of cancer treatment. Daily walking, for example, can increase the drainage of toxins from the body and stimulate circulation to renew muscle tissue with oxygen.

In addition, research has shown that immobility restricts the lung function and may cause pneumonia as a complication. Patients with mesothelioma are especially prone to decreased lung function and may only tolerate exercises performed in bed. It is important to find physical activities that you enjoy: walking, weight lifting, yoga, water aerobics, CrossFit or something else.

Chair yoga, for example, is a form of yoga that helps compensate for health issues. Look for things that sound like fun and which emphasize meeting you at your current state rather than competitive exercise programs. If you are interested in CrossFit, it can be tailored to your situation. Whatever choice you make, be sure to find an experienced coach.

Maintain healthy weight to complete cancer treatment

Physical activity can promote appetite and help the patient maintain a healthy weight. Many cancer therapies and procedures are particularly difficult for the body to endure, and as patients lose weight and sometimes struggle to stay nutritionally balanced.

Patients with serious weight loss and nutritional problems may find their therapy postponed until they resume a healthier weight. The main goal of being physically active is to keep your body in a healthy overall state, which may not always entail losing weight — especially when battling cancer.

Maintain healthy immune system and avoid cancer complications

The lymphatic system is part of the immune system and is a network of vessels similar in structure to the veins and arteries of the body. Without a healthy heart to circulate and cleanse the lymph fluid, this system uses the activity of muscle and skeletal movement to cleanse the body of toxins and fight off the bacteria and viruses that enter the body. Simple movement and exercise of the body boosts this process and provides the cancer patient with a vital immune system.

Exercise increases survival rate for cancer patients

More cancer patients are surviving than ever before. With evidence-based research* in exercise and fitness, patients are successfully completing cancer therapies and prolonging their lives. Not only that, patients are reducing the risk of recurrence through healthy activity.

As always, consult with your doctor to find the most beneficial exercise plan for you and to ensure you maintain a healthy weight during and after treatment.

*[Ed. note: Voodoo Science: The Road from Foolishness to Fraud by Robert L. Park is an excellent book for non-scientists about evaluating medical claims (and other scientific theories).]


Crystal Mayhue, a 35-year-old massage therapist and SAHM (Stay-at-Home-Mom), balancing her part-time business with raising two young sons and  hanging out with her husband as well as CrossFitting, contacted me about her CrossFit experience. I loved what she had to say, and want to pass it along to you.  Crystal, you now have the floor (or screen…whatever):

From Crystal’s Pinterest board

I started CrossFit recently and I am so addicted. I refer to myself as “Chunky Girl Works Out.”

I started referring to myself as “chunky” after my first pregnancy. I’d developed a serious B12 deficiency which triggered a case of RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome) of epic proportions. The baby came and the RLS never went away. Baby number two was also a fan of B12. Lets just say RLS is here to stay.

As a result, I am constantly sleep-deprived which has resulted in weight gain. I would never have called myself an athelete, but I spent years weight training and doing cardio. As long as I kept an eye on what I ate and made sure I was physically active, my curvaceous body was kept in check. The minute the RLS hit and sleep was something I could not accomplish, the curves turned to “CHUNK”! I even have a Pinterest board ( named for it.

I waited two years to get into CrossFit for many reasons. I found out about CrossFit by way of Facebook, of course. I had reconnected to an old high school friend and she was always talking about going to “CrossFit.” I asked her about it.

I have what I lovingly refer to as “Exercise A.D.D”. I get bored so easily. I find running boring so I started doing mud runs like the Warrior Dash and the Merrell Down & Dirty. I got bored weight training on my own so I started taking BodyPump.

So, when my friend tried her best to explain the beast that is CrossFit, I was very intrigued. I turned to Google to find out more. Thirty minutes into my research I knew that sooner or later I was going to start CrossFit! The idea that it was mix of cardio and weight training and could happen indoor or outdoor and then you throw in kettle bells and a garage type atmosphere … I was in Exercise A.D.D heaven!!

One of the reasons for delaying my first CrossFit experience was “Super Fit Girls + Super Ripped Guys= WTF stares at Chunky Girl Works Out.” I had the itch to try it so bad I even had thoughts of setting up a backyard CrossFit.

I turned to my dear friend Google and his girlfriend Pinterest to see what it would take to create a “box” in my own backyard. I found I could do it on the cheap. But, honestly, I still didn’t totally grasp the whole of what CrossFit was and felt like I needed more instruction. And, quite frankly, I run a house and family and I am constantly in charge and making decisions. Sometimes I just want someone to tell me what to do and how to do it so I don’t have to think about it. I know, sounds lazy. But I’m a Mom, a wife, and I have a part-time Massage Therapy business. I don’t want to have to come up with my own workouts. I want someone to tell me what to do for once.

I have two boys. Very. Busy. Boys! My oldest will be seven in November and is in the first grade. My youngest is four and now attends all day PreK at the same elementary school as my oldest. I was overwhelmed at what the heck I was going to do all day. The idea that my baby was going to start school totally knocked me down. I knew that I was going to have to find something to do that would excite me or I was going down for the count.

We are a “traditional” family, I guess you could say. My husband works and I, for the most part, stay at home with my kiddos. The idea that I was no longer going to have my little buddy to take care of all day still brings me to tears. So, I set my sights on CrossFit. I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to see if it was as awesome as I had made it out in my mind to be.

So, I found a CrossFit box and signed up.

Finding a CrossFit box in my area wasn’t easy. When I first looked into CrossFit, there was nothing close to me. One day, I happened to be talking to a nurse in my doctors office  and she mentioned she did CrossFit. She raved about her box. She said the coaches were awesome and the members were like family and that she was in the best shape of her life. So, I went to the official CrossFit website and looked it up. Two CF boxes had opened in a somewhat close proximity to my home.  I only visited one of them. My nurse was so passionate in talking about her CF box, CrossFit of Locust Grove (Georgia), that I never doubted that it was the one for me. When I met the owner, Todd Springer, I was impressed with how he continually talked about CFLG being a family.

I started on a Monday morning. There were about twelve people in the class. There were men and women ranging in age from early twenties to late forties in a spectrum of fitness levels.

The first day I almost puked because I knew these people were going to die when they saw Chunky Butt walk in. But, you know. I have never met people more eager to help and guide and cheer a person on. I have belonged to many gyms…Gold’s, local athletic clubs, YMCA…. never have I ever had people so willing to help me catch on and want me to succeed.

The first person to speak to me, other than Todd the owner/coach, was a very fit, thirty-something woman. During each part of the WOD she made sure I knew where the equipment was, showed me what to do, and gave me encouragement. I was shocked. I tell you, I spent hours at my local Y before anyone ever even spoke a word to me. But, during a WOD that consisted of way too many push ups and box jumps, I had people that I had only laid eyes on that day telling me not to stop, to push through and that I could indeed finish the last round.

Since that first day I have attended morning, afternoon and evening classes. Each person I come in contact has been as helpful as the first. We have a Facebook group for members. People are always posting about getting together to go to events, or telling another member how great they did during the day’s WOD or just posting life stuff. They are family. We are family.

I have been apart of CrossFit of Locust Grove for two months. And, when my Dad was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, the outpouring of understanding and compassion from my CrossFit family rivaled that of my church family. Sometimes when you are mad at the world and feel like you have no control over anything—you just need to drag a tire across pavement, do a hundred burpees and seventy-five squat jumps and then hear someone tell you just how beastly you are because you finished.

CrossFitters, for the most part, really seem to have a passion for athleticism and really want for others to feel the same euphoria they do when finished with a WOD.  But, believe me, I know the fear of walking into a crowd of super fits….YIKES!!…..but I strongly urge everyone that is curious about CrossFit to visit their local box. The outpouring of support and  camaraderie that you get being apart of a CrossFit family far out weighs the nervousness you feel when walking into your first CrossFit class.

You can contact Crystal Mayhue by email at massage_momma (at) att (dot) net.

Everywhere you look, doctors and other health care professionals are touting the benefits of “moderate exercise.”  I’ve seen it recommended for fibromyalgia, depression, migraines and even GI problems. But how often do they define what “moderate exercise” means? A few years back, “perceived exertion” was the way to go; if you couldn’t talk while working out, that was a harder workout than you should do. The Center for Disease Control puts it like this:

Moderate-intensity aerobic activity means you’re working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat. One way to tell is that you’ll be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song.

On the other hand, CrossFit often talks about pushing the envelope to make yourself more fit. So what is the “right” thing to do?

You can find reasons to be afraid of pushing yourself or “intense exercise” in various articles, like this article from the Los Angeles Times, “Mixing Illness and Exercise“:

[T]here is also evidence that too much exercise, or extremely intense exercise, can reduce immunity. This is important for people who push themselves intensely when they work out and for those who train and compete in long events, such as marathons.

[The italics are mine.] So what is the right amount of exercise?  Like so many answers in life, it depends. Are you healthy for your age? Are you overweight? Are you recovering from a major illness or surgery?

WebMD takes a stab at defining “moderate exercise” by referring to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine:

To see how many steps per minute were needed to achieve moderate-intensity exercise, investigators monitored oxygen uptake in 58 women and 39 men while they completed four different 6-minute sessions on the treadmill at speeds ranging from 2.4 to 4.1 miles per hour. All of the participants also wore pedometers during the exercise sessions.

The results showed that for men the number of steps per minute to reach moderate-intensity exercise was between 92 and 102. For women, the range was between 91 and 115 steps per minute.

Interesting. But this study contains within it the same problem all studies have: It may be valid for a group whose members meet the same demographics as the group studied, but it may or may not be applicable to any particular individual. I can bet you that my hoss hubby walks this fast in his everyday walk, and to follow this recommendation would actually put his fitness level back a few steps.

For me, when I started this fitness journey, I probably would have been winded by this prescription because I was so very deconditioned. I understand the goal of the medical community: They want some sort of quantifiable amount that they can give patients without worrying about putting them in the hospital. It would be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all, but I don’t think that’s possible.

So let’s go back to the Los Angeles Times article, which goes on to make a very important point (and illustrates why you shouldn’t stop reading after the first couple of paragraphs):

This doesn’t mean you’ll get sick more often if you train hard. It does suggest that, to reduce the risk of illness, intense or longer workout days be followed with rest or with less-intense training days to give your body a break.

Hello.  The article is focusing on the effect of exercise on the immune system, but you could substitute “injury” for “illness” in the above quote and still be correct. In order to avoid illness or injury after working out to what you perceive as hard, you need to take adequate rest days for your body to repair itself. Wait? Isn’t that something we’ve already said that CrossFit preaches: Three days on, one day off is the optimal mix of exercise and rest.

The body has amazing plasticity: It can become accustomed to what exercise you’re doing so that doing the same thing may keep you from going downhill, but it certainly won’t make you any fitter. Even the brain, which was at one point believed to be pretty fixed in its abilities after adulthood, is now believed to be able to make amazing adjustments. That’s part of why you find a medicine, say an antihistimine, works for a while and then stops. The body adjusts. So why is “moderate exercise” always recommended?

My guess: It’s a safer recommendation. Doctors take an oath that says “Do no harm.” Some of us manage to get injured even with moderate exercise. However, there is a greater risk of harm if you take on a challenging fitness program and you (or your coach) does not know how to evaluate what your start point is and what your limitations are.

This point was re-emphasized recently by the CrossFit Journal in an article by Dr. Will Wright called “Rhabdomyolysis Revisited“:

New or prospective affiliate members should be introduced to the CrossFit methodology gradually. We need to take extra time to determine the baseline and capacity of these individuals as we introduce them to the CrossFit prescription. This includes inquiring about fitness levels, medical conditions, physical limitations, recent illnesses and family history. An introductory workout should be tailored to the individual. “On-ramp classes” are often employed at many affiliates, and these too should be structured to slowly increase the work capacity of the client as the intensity and breadth of workouts is increased.

This article was a response to a particular serious condition, rhabdo for short, that can occur if people do not start at the correct level, do not hydrate properly and do not get enough recovery time between workouts.

On the other hand, there are studies suggesting that interval training, defined as “short bursts of intensive effort interspersed with more moderate stretches” of activity is actually more effective than moderate exercise at both burning fat and increasing fitness. Shorter, high intensity interval training also helps overcome the main objection to exercise in the frantic, fast-paced world we live in: It takes less time to accomplish the same goals as “moderate exercise” prescriptions.  Yet another study indicates that the kind of training in CrossFit is better heart prevention than the longstanding “go walk” advice.

And it’s way less boring.

So, if done with a coach who is sensitive to your particular needs, the kind of varied, intense bursts of training that CrossFit integrates may be even better than that hour-long walk. And, for my money, you see results more quickly, which helps you stay on the wagon. I was thrilled when my daughter told me a couple of days ago that she actually saw the beginnings of a muscle in my arm. Who knew it was possible? So hang in there, folks, it’s worth the time and effort.

Pukey the Clown was among the reasons I was really not thrilled about trying CrossFit. I think clowns are generally creepy (except those at Cirque du Soliel), and a vomiting one is just too John Wayne Gacy for me. Why, I wondered, would anyone think working out until you vomited was a Good Thing?

The tradition at some CrossFit gyms is to handout a Pukey the Clown t-shirt the first time a participant throws up. According to Plano Crossfit coach Troy Dodson,

Our goal isn’t to make you throw up, of course, but it happens sometimes. The clown T-shirt is just to lighten things up and let the person know they’ve pushed themselves hard.

Pushed yourself hard? Or too hard? Or maybe you’ve done something incorrectly? Or do you just think you’re a badass if you workout so hard you vomit?

I’d pretty much put Pukey out of my mind until I thought I was going to throw up during a workout. I told Coach Gary, and he laughed and said “So you’re about to do a Pukey, huh?” I was irritated about that until he explained a bit more. From his point of view, vomiting during a workout probably means you’re doing something wrong. One of the guys in his group vomited during a workout, and they gave him a hard time about being Pukey the Clown. He hasn’t repeated whatever the underlying error since.

In my case, I hadn’t hydrated sufficiently (and slowly) before I started working out, and trying to gulp down water during the workout made me nauseated. If I had thrown up, it would have been due to a my own dumb mistake, and calling me Pukey the Clown *might* have helped remind me not to do it again.

On the other hand, I don’t find shame or ridicule much of a motivator, although there are award-winning coaches who’ve used it regularly and get results. Me, I’d just avoid the whole situation and not go to CrossFit anymore if I was actually shamed. If you caught me on a good day, and I perceived it as good-natured teasing, it wouldn’t be a good day (I’m an only child and wasn’t conditioned to teasing early on, so I’m probably overly sensitive, particularly in areas where I don’t have any confidence). I’m hard enough on myself and have enough internal criticism. As I’ve said before, I respond best to praise. Tell me I’m doing a good job, and I’ll try to top myself. Tell me suck, and I hang my head in shame and lose all motivation.

So I guess whether Pukey is a good thing or bad depends on two things: what the person using Pukey means by it, and how the person being christened Pukey, whether by shirt or commentary, feels about it. A thread on the CrossFit discussion board shows the split pretty well. The original poster casually mentions that he almost always vomits after workouts and was asking about how to eat afterward to replace whatever he’d lost. He clearly didn’t think it was a big deal; in a later post in the thread, he basically says that it’s proof he’s working out at high level. Others on the thread disagreed; I’m afraid I’d have to put myself in their camp, although the original poster would be correct in pointing out I’m not into it to compete. I’m just looking at getting healthy, and I just can’t reconcile throwing up after most workouts with health.

Anyway, some of the posters basically recounted the side effects of bulimia: bad teeth and throat irritation from the acid eating through both. But I particularly liked what Matt Haxmeier, clearly no weenie, had to say about the probable causes of recurrent vomiting:

You can make very good gains without puking on workouts…If you find that you can go fast enough to puke frequently:
a.) are probably sacrificing form.
b.) If not a.) then you should perhaps consider scaling up the weight or ROM so you can’t go as fast.
It’s much harder to puke on a workout using 75% of your max then 25% of your max.

Chris Walls chimes in with:

Or c) change your timing on when you eat prior to the workout, and/or drink WAY less water DURING the workout. You’re not going to die of thirst over the course of a CrossFit Class/WOD.

(Thanks, Chris. Wish I’d known that before…and I sure thought I was gonna die of thirst, but the close-to-barfing kind of cured me of that.)

So, fellow fatties and/or newbies, Pukey the Clown is, like most of CrossFit, what you make of it. I think of him, like most clowns, of someone to assiduously avoid. If you like him, well, I think you’re a little whacked, but you probably think the same of me. Again, the beauty of CrossFit is that it can accommodate both of us.

Just go puke where I can’t hear you, ‘kay?

On the backend of the blog, you can see what searches have led people to look at a particular page. One search I found interesting was “Greg Glassman hypocrite.” So I thought I’d take the bull by the horns and discuss the sometimes controversial founder of CrossFit.

First, as a general observation, the combination of competitive athlete and entrepreneur rarely affords a likable individual. Lots of people who knew Arnold Schwarzenegger (now in trouble again) on his way up to the top of the ladder seriously disliked him; if you have any doubts on the matter, watch the 1977 documentary “Pumping Iron,” which helped propel Schwarzenegger into the international spotlight. Interestingly, he had control over the project and showed “warts and all.” But even his enemies will usually admit that  Shwarzenegger has made positive contributions to the state of California.

Lance Armstrong is also back in the news, once again facing accusations of blood-doping et al. I live pretty close to his stomping grounds, Austin, Texas, and I have yet to have met anyone who has had any dealings with Armstrong who likes him. Almost everyone uses the same word to describe him: Asshole. But Armstrong has done a lot of good as well, raising both awareness of and money for treatment of testicular cancer. He has a great resource website,, with articles on fitness, health and diet, as well as my favorite tool, the DailyPlate, a food logging application.

So just because someone isn’t likable doesn’t mean they’re not right or that what they have to say can’t be useful. Around my house, we call that the “Rodney McKay” principle.

Now we come to Greg Glassman. Chris Shugart writes, in an article called “The Truth About CrossFit,”

The Truth About Greg Glassman

Greg Glassman is the founder of CrossFit. A former gymnast, the 49-year-old Glassman is credited with “creating” CrossFit in the 1980s, though the mix-and-match training system wasn’t officially named until much later. The first CrossFit gym was opened by Glassman in 1995 and the website was launched in 2001.

Glassman is a controversial figure, quick to make enemies. While he’s revered by some in the CrossFit community (many of whom clamor to get their photos taken with him), he’s also been called a “lunatic” by at least one former CF coach. “The major problem with CrossFit is Glassman himself. His personality, his ego … he’s now doing CrossFit more harm than good,” said the former coach, who asked not to be identified by name because of ongoing friction.

That squares with the grapevine reports about Glassman. I’ve never met the man, probably never will, any more than I’m likely to meet Schwarzenegger, Armstrong or McKay. What you hear is that he cuts people off who cross him and that he’s got a huge ego. You can get that impression from some of the articles he writes for the CrossFit Journal: He’s more interested in showing off than in communicating the material clearly. On the other hand, it may be that he assumes a higher level of knowledge with physiology than most of his readers will actually have.

That’s a problem experts often have. When I was a litigator, finding an expert who could clearly explain things to a lay jury without sounding like they were talking down to the jurors and who also had impeccable credentials was a monumental task. It’s not so much that they mean to be haughty, but that they are so used to talking to people who speak in the same jargon that they forget that not everyone understands it.

Try talking to a military member, for a rather common example. They speak acronym. I have to stop my son every few sentences when he talks about work to get an explanation for ABC or DEF. Compound that with the fact that he’s a reservist and is also studying physics, I can’t talk to him about work or school without needing an encyclopedia, dictionary and several textbooks. But it’s interesting stuff and worth the effort.

So it is with Glassman, in my opinion. He’s not really a part of my CrossFit experience except to the extent I have to try to decipher articles he’s written. He may have started it, he may be earning the big bucks from branding it and spreading it, but it’s bigger than just him. The men and women who have taken the CrossFit concept and spread it to their communities have made it their own. It’s like saying the writer of a textbook is the same as your teacher; they are not. It’s the people teaching you, the people coaching you, the ones you personally interact with that are important.

It’s also like judging a product by the company’s owner. I’ve met a lot of jerks who own companies that make great products. So what if they’re obnoxious? (Except for Mark Cuban. I’m sorry, but I have trouble with the Mavericks because of their owner, even when they were coached by Avery Johnson, whom I deeply respect. So I’m inconsistent. Who isn’t?)

Don’t let the textbook writer/corporate owner get in the way of a good experience. If you’ve found a coach and CrossFit works for you, then don’t sweat Glassman. It’s just not worth it.

My daughter-in-law said something encouraging when I was groaning and creaking in and out of a recliner because of my workout soreness. She said, “The bad soreness will go away after a few weeks; after that you’ll only be lightly sore.” Nice to know.

You can expect muscle soreness when you work out. You can expect your ligaments to be stretched and a little unhappy. Those pains actually seem to get better during a workout and bother you more after prolonged periods of disuse, although scientists aren’t sure why. Contrary to what we all thought, it appears lactic acid only causes the burning sensation you sometimes get while exercising, but not the “delayed-onset muscles soreness.” At any rate, the burn means you’re about at the muscle’s limit, and the soreness is part of the process of rebuilding muscle. So you can blow that kind of pain off and count it as part of retraining your body.

But there’s also the pain you need to pay attention to and consider whether you need to scale back until you’ve gotten stronger, and work on form and intensity. And some pain means you need to take a day or so off to heal, to see your doctor or even go to the emergency room.

It’s easy to get caught up in the “more macho than thou” games or to be embarrassed to admit you’re hurt because you don’t want to be perceived as a weenie. Don’t. CrossFit is great because it can accommodate injury or lower abilities, so take advantage of that flexibility. And if you allow yourself to be really injured, you’ll be off your exercise routine longer than if you take care of yourself.

It’s not just the deconditioned or the overweight who can injure themselves. Gary, my husband/coach who is in great shape and rarely injures himself, somehow hurt his back a little just the other day. He’s icing it and staying away from things that cause it to hurt “the bad way,” but he’s continuing to work out using the exercises that don’t stress it and scaling back on the ones that do until he can do them.

My knee injury flare is another case of when stopping is a good thing. Right now, the tops of both knees ache a little, but it’s not a sharp pain and I feel better after walking around on them, so I’m still good to go. But a few days ago, my left knee screamed at me during the workout. I’ve injured myself enough times to have a pretty good idea of when I need to pay attention and when I don’t, but whenever you have a sudden, sharp pain, that’s generally a bad sign. I iced the knee that day and the next, took an unscheduled rest day, and my knee was up for the next workout.

Sharp or intense pain that is qualitatively different from what you feel some hours after you’ve finished working out is something to investigate. Joints are particularly susceptible to errors in the form, or the how, of any exercise. That includes the joints you don’t generally think of, like the places where your vertebrae meet  (the bits that look like wings)(the facet joint) or the joint that is between your tailbone and your hipbone (the sacroiliac joint, commonly referred to as the SI joint).

I’ve injured both a facet joint and an SI joint. The first was when I was younger and lighter, and it still took me over six weeks to recover from, even with physical therapy and muscle relaxants.  Twice. I remember the second time better than the first, because I knew exactly when I did it. I was lifting a pile of casebooks in the law library from the bottom shelf and didn’t have my back in the right position and I felt a weird twinge in my back. The next day I could hardly straighten my back. That’s the kind of thing you see the doctor for.

The SI joint took a while to figure out because I had weird symptoms. The primary place where it hurt was in my lower left abdominal area, so the docs went through all the possible GI and GYN items first. It’s more common to hurt in your lower back or thighs, but referred pain like mine isn’t unusual. After exhausting the other possibilities (and when I’d gotten to the point that 2 vicodine at a time didn’t do anything but take the edge off the pain), I went to a physical therapist who shoved a finger in the right spot and almost made me yell, it hurt so bad. One good maneuver, and the therapist had the damn thing back where it belonged and the pain lessened almost immediately.

What I found interesting about the experience was that Stephanie, the physical therapist, had also had an SI joint problem at one point; she was a competitive pole vaulter, so not a deconditioned person like me. It’s more a matter of moving the wrong way at the wrong time, which can, but doesn’t have to be, a result of exercise. She did it stepping off a curb.

If you get a sudden pain and then a muscle bunches up away from the original pain, you’ve probably torn a ligament, and you need to call your doctor or get to the ER. That one’s pretty hard to miss.

Bottom line: If it hurts right away and really bad, check it out with a doctor. If it pings, pops or twinges, check it out with a doctor. If it’s the worst pain you’ve ever had or if you suddenly can’t move a limb or joint, go to the ER. If it swells and bruises, ice it and see the doctor. If it’s just sore or achey, particularly if it gets better with movement, keep on going. If your muscle starts burning, push the envelope, but if you just can’t stand it any longer, you can give it a little break to get some oxygen, and then get back on with your workout.

If you do something dumb like me, and bop the back of your head on the hyperlite during a situp because you didn’t make sure it was clear, well, you probably do it a lot (I do) and know the difference between something you’ll shake off and something you can’t.

Of course, I’m not a doctor or any other kind of health care professional, so if you have any doubt, check it out with the folks who are trained to figure it out. I can only share what I’ve experienced, not diagnose you.

As far as the soreness goes, hang in there. You’ll keep discovering new muscles (even in your hands and feet) you didn’t know were there, but that means you are getting stronger.

I vaguely recalled squats from the feared PE class of youth, so it was news to me that squatting is not only a key ability for functioning healthy, but also pretty tricky to do correctly. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman says it takes three-five years for “an athlete” to learn how to squat correctly, so I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself to do it completely correctly.

Squatting always reminds me of something my physical therapist, Stephanie Thurmond, once told me: “There is no day off for good body mechanics.” My husband is always giving me a hard time about having “old person” bends; I don’t always remember to lift with my legs or squat to do things like loading the dishwasher. I do the potentially dangerous thing: I bend at the waist.

Now, I should know better. In a former life, I was a litigator, and I deposed a lot of doctors about back injuries. Almost all of them, conservative or liberal, would tell you that bending at the waist to lift something puts too high a load on the back, particularly the lumbar spine, and can lead to joint and tendon strains and tears as well as the more serious herniated disk.

But knowing something and doing something about it are too different things. And if you’re obese and/or deconditioned, then your knees or hips may hurt when you try to squat (especially if you’re doing it incorrectly) and the involved muscles may not be strong enough to take the weight.

So my squats started on the 19.75″ high plyo box; when I made the move to the 18″ box (actually a box for stepping up and down on that I set on its side), I started having knee problems, so I went back to the plyo box to work on my form, strength and flexibility until my knees are ready for a deeper squat. Eventually I will get to the below parallel “mature squat,” but right now, form is king, and strengthening my joints and muscles to take the majority of the 242 pounds I weigh and lift it from a deep squat without injury precedes any other consideration.

Like a lot of beginners, I have trouble with the following parts of the equation:

  1. Keeping off the balls of my feet. The correct form is driven through the heels and out to the side.
  2. Keeping my knees from drifting inward. The correct form is to keep your knees tracking over your feet.
  3. Keeping my back in a neutral position. Throughout the squat, you should keep the bend in your lumbar spine.
  4. Looking down. You should keep your head up and look straight forward.

There’s more to work on after those four points, but those are the ones that I’m working on now. And this is the kind of thing that makes it imperative to have a good coach watching you; I had no idea I was looking down (and closing my eyes) until Gary pointed it out. I have no idea why I close my eyes … maybe I think it’ll make it go away.

And, from time to time, I try to argue that it’s my big ol’ butt that’s in the way of getting the squat right. Coach Gary won’t let me off the hook with that; he told me to raise my arms higher on the way up to get the counterbalance. So now I do it like I’m doing “the wave” at a ball game. It may look silly, but it gets me to stand up straight at the end, and since I’m in the garage anyway, I don’t really care.

Another thing that helped me was getting a pair of Vibrams. Yeah, they look weird and they take a little getting used to, what with all the separation between your toes (who knew toe socks would return as toe shoes?), but it’s really easy to tell if you’re on your heels or toes. I tend to hold my toes up during squats to force myself back on my heels.

If you want to know more, Again Faster has this great video called “Fixing the squat” about squatting the right way and how to fix it when you’re doing it the wrong way:

I’m figuring that if it takes “an athlete” up to five years to get there, it may take me ten. But I’ll get there when I get there.