Some Frustrations about Weight Classes

(Content warning: FUCKING DIETS and cursing)

I am a late bloomer to athletics. Well, okay, actually I was on the swim team and a sprinter when I was young, but once the boobs started to happen, I basically refused to get into a swimsuit. Body dysphoria is REAL, folks, talk to your kids.

So it took me another twenty years or so to start exercising again. I began with running, which got me high (WIN), but started to wear on my body. I found an awesome bootcamp in Berkeley (Phoenix Fitness, Kelly Mills is my hero, I don’t know if she knows that though, I’m coming out with my love for you right now!) and actually made a few friends that I still see to this day.

Though the bootcamp was awesome, it left me wanting more in the realm of brute strength. I wanted to get strong and lift heavy. I discovered I wasn’t super into the long endurance cardio- which makes sense, since physically I’ve always been more of a sprinter than a marathoner (while mentally and emotionally, I know how to endure). So I found a CrossFit box that had opened up nearby just a few months earlier, and reveled in the phallic majesty of the barbell.

(Yeah, I know, CrossFit is cardio too, but I can handle 10 minutes of pull ups and cleans much better than a 45-minute bootcamp.)

I have done several CrossFit competitions, but none of them have involved weight classes. I’ve also participated in four annual Strengthlifting contests where my weight was used for calculating my Wilks score but not for determining how much I was allowed to lift. And being only quasi-competitive, I was just thrilled to participate and see if I could beat my own records each year.

This Strongman contest in September, however, does involve weight classes. And it’s not the kind of weight classes where you are simply compared to others of your weight class, sort of like they do with Master’s age folks. (I’m compared with others in the 40+ range, rather than with 20 year old whippersnappers).

No, no, that would be too simple and stress-free!

Instead, the weight we are required to carry/lift for our events is dependent on how much each athlete weighs. So all the physical prep I’m doing right now is to get me in a position to be strong enough to lift in the Lightweight class, which is not where I generally sit in my healthy happy emotionally stable place. Essentially, I have to cut weight to get into the weight class I have an iota of hope of becoming strong enough for.

Cutting weight while getting strong is generally not indicated. It’s kind of a bummer, actually.

It’s humbling to consider, every day, that all my training is based on the hope that I can cut weight to make this weight class. Which goes against two very important truths: If you want to get stronger, it’s best to eat more, and DIETS ARE FUCKED UP AND THEY ARE MEANT TO MAKE YOU FEEL SHITTY ABOUT YOURSELF. Also who the fuck wants to feel hungry when you’re trying to get strong and powerful? DOES NOT COMPUTE

But, this is where I find myself today. I have a lot of feelings about this, and SO MUCH MORE TO SAY about the intersections of self-worth, body size, taking up space, cultural expectations, restriction, personal choice, body modification, and disordered eating. So stay tuned…

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A typical meal while cutting. Pretty damn tasty, actually.

A peek inside my training (part 1)

If you’re wondering what I do on a daily or weekly basis for my training, here’s a general overview of the cycles and lifts I’m working through on my way to Nationals.

Prior to podiuming (yes- like Google, people have turned “podium” into a verb) at California’s Strongest Woman in April, I had been training pretty exclusively for CrossFit. It’s been a dream of mine to compete in NorCal CrossFit Master’s competition in Richmond, CA, ever since I started the sport in 2012. At the time, however, Master’s was 40+, so I patiently waited for years until the magic age of entry arrived.

When I turned 40 a year and a half ago, I had just moved, and my energy level and mental state had me in a position where I was lucky if I got to a CrossFit class three or four times a week. I did not have the spoons to start any kind of training program. So, I skipped that year, and vowed to train for NorCal Master’s the following year.

That was the year they changed the entrance age to 35, go figure. Hashtag ANNOYING.

Anyway, in September 2017, with NorCal Master’s arriving at the end of January 2018, I hired an awesome coach named Patrick Barnes who devised a program for me. We started with a hypertrophy cycle to try and increase muscle mass. Hypertrophy is essentially high reps at moderate weight, and the purpose is to grow the size of your muscles but not necessarily your strength. Then, we did a fast four week strength cycle to try and build strength into that mass. These are your 3×5’s at around 75-85%. Around November we began working on my “engine”- giving me shitloads of cardio and CrossFit movements I abhor like box jumps. (Always do the things you hate! “Chase your goats,” as they say.)

My favorite cardio workout of the whole bunch was a 100cal assault bike where I had to try and stay at a moderately-high level of wattage output for the entire duration. It SUCKED but surviving that feeling came in really handy during the CrossFit Open in Feb/March. I knew it only felt like the cardio was trying to kill me. So I guess it was my favorite only in retrospect, since I could really feel how useful it was.

Leading up to NorCal Masters, I received news at work that I would need to attend a conference which conflicted with the dates of the competition. After a lot of deliberation, tears, frustration, and angst, I decided that the work opportunity was too important. After all, at this point, weightlifting is a hobby. An expensive, time-consuming hobby, and one that I love- but it doesn’t pay the bills.

Ya that’s right- I’m a grown up and I have to make hard choices. I have to come to terms with loss every single day, and my lifting is no exception.

So, instead, Patrick and I decided I would train for the CrossFit Open in February, hoping to use it as a gauge of my fitness level and improvements over time. I did pretty well in the Open this year, coming in in the 90th percentile for my age and sex. I also used my ranking and scores as a comparison for the other folks who I knew were competing at the NorCal Master’s that year, so I felt a little bit like I was still keeping track of my standings and how I might have placed if I had competed in that contest.

I always have to remember: I’m training for the long game, so I can come back and lift another day. I want to have a long and diverse “career” in these sports because there’s still so much I want to do!

(stay tuned for part 2 to find out what my program for Nationals is like!)

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Chest-to-bar pullups during 18.5. This was my second-favorite of this year’s Open workouts. Photo by Kris Bates of Grassroots CrossFit in Berkeley.

Origin story of this blog’s name (warning: envy and comparison inside)

I mentioned earlier that writing is important to me. I keep a blog on my therapist website that’s mostly about topics I think potential clients/patients would be interested in learning about, or things that might draw people to me. I’ve never written anything specific about my strength training, weightlifting, or CrossFit experiences there- that is, until a couple of months ago.

I read a short essay from a therapist who recently tried CrossFit. It was a beautiful piece (it’s linked here); well written and captivating.

It pissed me off.

I felt something red-hot and fiery brew inside like a hot fermented beverage about to pop. ENVY, yep, that’s what it was. I felt envy.

I’ve been doing CrossFit for nearly a decade, I thought to myself. And here she is, four months in, saying all the things I WANT TO SAY!

And that’s when I realized: These are the things I want to say. Envy, it turns out, is a powerful motivator. It lit a fire under my ass straight to my keyboard.

In 20 minutes, I wrote a blog post called “Snatches and Psychoanalysis: The Mental Life of Weightlifting” that is by far one of my favorite pieces of all time. It was the kind of writing that came so fluidly because it had been waiting for me to set it free.

Thanks, other therapist. And thanks, envy, for showing me what I really wanted!

For me, lifting is SO much about my mental game. Weightlifting and strength sports are the playing field where I put so much of my self-learning to the test. And as much as I can prepare for a contest, the anxiety and nerves during competition are a force to be reckoned with.

I hope I can harness this feeling of envy, commitment, and knowing what I want on competition day….

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“And then a miracle occurs”. This awesome image is from HTTP://CROSSFITREGENERATION.COM/2016/04/THE-SECRET-OF-THE-SNATCH

The accidental competitor

I stumbled into Strongman earlier this year by signing up for California’s Strongest Woman, a novice strongman competition in Santa Cruz, on a whim. Well, maybe not a whim– my coach and trainer is a strongman competitor and kicked ass at California Mid-State Fair last summer (and won the contest). So it would be accurate to say I had a little encouragement.

Fast forward to April 14, when I won third place in my weight class in the Master’s division which automatically qualified me to compete in the Strongman Corp’s Master’s Nationals in Las Vegas in September.

My first thought was, “Well, shoot. I guess I’d better start training!”

This blog will chronicle my experiences with all aspects of my training, including:

What is Strongman? How do people get strong? What’s the difference between exercise and training? What is a competition like? What is it like being a woman in the lifting world? Do politics really belong in sports? Is it even possible to separate them since bodies are historically sites of political and social organization??

Writing is important to me. It’s how I process and make sense of things. With these writings, I aim to explore the experiences of me, a middle-aged gender-flexible person, psychotherapist by trade and psychoanalyst in training, as I embark on my very first Strongman contest preparation. Parallels to life, the universe, and everything will be made. Please enjoy lots of food pictures, squat videos, and musings about envy, greed, power, receptivity, humanity, love, justice, mental health, and community. 

I’m glad to have you with me!

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(That’s me, above, at California’s Strongest Woman’s opening event. I got 105# on the log clean and press. At the moment, it’s still my PR.)