Father Andrew's Hot Body Gym

December 21, 2009

Crossfit Culture and the Lack of the Male Voice

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , , , , — Micah Vandegrift @ 10:52 am

As many of us are aware, there is a gendered element to almost any modern cultural practice. I was taught during my time in school to critique and question the culture that surrounds me, in effort to challenge myself as a thoughtful, informed human being and to hopefully inspire others to look at things differently too. I had not considered applying these skills to my involvement in the fitness/health sphere until recently, but when I started to think through what I was seeing and reading I knew I had to formulate some sort of commentary.

from Crossfit Unlimited

The culture of sport is, like many other aspects of life, inextricably divided on gender lines. We have addressed some of these issues in past posts on this very blog, and I don’t think I need to go through a history and update on the state of male/femaleness in American sports. Let it suffice to say that in recent years there have been considerable movements for the inclusion and acceptance of females as high-performing, capable, amazing athletes. In fact, I would go so far to say that Crossfit is doing a lot currently to empower females to their full potential, and in my brief experience with the Crossfit movement there seem to be as many female heroes doing Crossfit as there are males. As you might be picking up, my issue here is not with the treatment of females in the movement, but with the image of the males involved. So with this all in mind, here is my query – if this movement is so focused on creating a balance of health in real life, how do we account for the apparent lack of male voices discussing fitness, lifestyle and reality outside of the WOD and the gym? Is Crossfit, like the popular perception of many other strength-based programs, populated by a bunch of numskulls and jocks who care solely about their Over-head squat max?

Again, based on my short and limited experience with Crossfit, filtered through blogs, online videos and discussion boards, I’d like to think that those voices exist. There are some extraordinarily gifted and intelligent men out there who we see a glimpse of every now and again. (Jon Gilson of Again Faster and Robb Wolf come to mind). But, the overwhelming majority of writers/voices that are discussing and connecting Crossfit to real life, with personality and relatability, seem to be female. Two ladies that the team here at FAHBG like to follow are Thera Storm and Melissa Urban. My question is this: are there male voices out there writing about Crossfit AND life? And if, so why are they not rising to the top and receiving recognition within the community? To further complicate things, is the movement, by not having/encouraging such a male voice, relegating females to a particular role – as behind the scenes commentors/writers – and thus limiting their influence or agency in the Crossfit culture? I don’t even want to get into the objectification issue, as more and more hits on our blog are coming from searches for “Sexy Crossfit Girls” ect. (Not to mention 90% of the pics on the CFHQ website home page are of sweaty, good looking females.)

As a young, educated male with broad and varied interests, I would feel a lot more comfortable associating myself with the sport and community of Crossfit if it seemed like there were other, similarly interesting men in the movement sharing their experiences working out and living outside the gym. Fortunately, there are several such characters in our garage community, and I think we represent balance pretty well, pushing hard in the gym and pursuing our various interests with the same fervor. And yet, even as I am writing this, I can imagine the comments and heckling that one might endure if a male Crossfitter were to write and share about life the same way Thera and Melissa do. Perhaps this is all just that 14 year old punkrocker in me, tired of being picked on by the football team, wishing to bulk up like Henry Rollins, and still wear my politics and beliefs on my sleeve.

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This post was inspired positively by Thera’s amazing post on the value of women, Melissa Urban’s letter to her mom, and inspired negatively by the current controversy within Crossfit surrounding Robb Wolf. This is also meant as a challenge and encouragement for men in the community to speak up, write and share!

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October 1, 2009

Introducing Mrs. Sisson

Filed under: diet — Tags: , , , , , — Mara @ 1:20 pm

Here’s a great post by Mark Sisson’s wife, Carrie. She practices a primal lifestyle as well, and as a post-menopausal woman, she looks incredible. In the post she answers questions from readers regarding what she eats, how she exercises, etc.

Three things stood out to me:

1) She is a fish eating vegetarian (added fish to her diet when she realized she needed the protein), which is interesting for those of us/you who avoid various animal protein sources for one reason or another. Here is one successful primal person’s story on that. She also eats a lot of dairy (hooray!) and protein powder, probably to compensate for that lost meat.

2) It shows some of her food blog. She eats well over 100 grams of protein a day…. Dang! She is obviously in the “maintaining” category, so she eats a lot of fat. Abby, I thought this might be useful for you to look at!

3) It is nice to hear from a woman, and an older one at that! For us girls, and for any of you with mothers or sisters, this is inspiring and also addresses some of those questions that male bloggers can’t touch.

Posted By Mara

August 26, 2009

Changing the Language

Filed under: real talk — Tags: , , — Lady Who Cooks @ 12:25 pm


So besides getting my body hot, I love Crossfit for its equality. It seems as though this extremely masculine workout regiment is very accepting of the female presence, which is a very nice and refreshing change. I love when men not only accept that women are strong but also push them to get stronger. For women of the 20th century, it’s a positive and elating step away from the caveman era. Yet, besides this wonderful progression towards equality, there’s still a lingering problem holding us back, language. For example, lighter bar = woman’s bar. It appears as though anything that is lighter in weight obviously must belong to the ‘women’. Yet, don’t get me wrong, I know it’s purely unintentional. Even I didn’t really notice it till Andrew said something about the woman’s bar and I asked if he was referring to the lighter bar. For centuries women were made to feel as though we are the weaker sex, and it’s only been with the last few decades where we’re beginning to realize that we are a lot stronger than what people have given us credit for. Yet, don’t think I’m man bashing, because women have also been the ones to discredit themselves. I assumed the lighter bar was for the women, that was purely me but now I’m determined to change my mentality. I feel as though as long as I think the lighter bar is for me, I will always limit myself to a lesser weight. I am excited though that Mara and I have such wonderful and supportive guys to workout with. You guys push us forward and I hope we do the same for you.

August 25, 2009

Crossfit Success Story

Filed under: body image — Tags: , , , — Mara @ 7:10 pm

I love girl power so this is for you Mara!

Laura DeMarco: The Whole Enchilada!
By robbwolf | August 22, 2009

Most of you know Laura DeMarco from her remarkable achievements at the Dirty South Qualifiers and the CrossFit Games. I first met Laura at the CrossFit Nutrition Cert in Atlanta and all I can say is she is impressive in every way. Smart, direct of thought and an absolute ass-kicker of an athlete. She is the rare combination of genetic gifts meeting a solid work-ethic and mental toughness. Hers is an interesting story in that it progresses over the course of YEARS and shows how a shift in food quality was just as powerful a change in her health and performance as a shift in her training. A huge thank-you to Laura for taking the time to write this very personal and detailed account. Also, a thank-you to Laura for just giving it a shot and letting the RESULTS speak for themselves.

It all began with teenage body issues. I read health magazines, ate low-fat foods and tried to get more exercise. I wasn’t overweight, but I didn’t want to be. Although I was body conscious, the idea of fitness never came into play; I didn’t know any athletes and never participated in a sport.

When I was 15, I went to dinner at a relative’s house not knowing what was on the menu. The meatballs tasted a bit odd, but it wasn’t until after the meal that I was told it was venison from a deer my cousins had hunted and killed earlier that week. I was appalled! No, not Bambi! I decided at that point that if someone had the fortitude to kill, skin and butcher an animal, they had every right to eat it, but I couldn’t go through that process – I wasn’t tough enough. If I was not willing to deal with the blood and guts, perhaps I shouldn’t be eating meat.

Later that year, I decided to become a vegetarian, much to the chagrin of my family. They had no idea why I would want to go and do a thing like that. I believed that this was the best choice for my personal morals, the environment and my health. I had read about the carbon footprint of animal production and how it pollutes the environment with antibiotics and runoff. There was a ton of published information about how harmful animal products were to your health; what with all the cholesterol and saturated fat…who would choose to give themselves a heart attack? I took vitamins, steamed my vegetables and eschewed fat. I never even ate fast food (which was not a difficult task; back in the 90’s there wasn’t much in the way of vegetarian foods – even the McDonald’s french fries were cooked in animal fat).

College brought new challenges. To save money, I lived off of spaghetti. Lots of spaghetti. And bread. Cheap AND vegetarian! Even better, it was all fat-free! I woke up at 5 in the morning regularly to go to the gym, where I did my static stretching, weight circuits and cardio on the treadmill. I wasn’t fat, but I wasn’t fit either.

I continued to eat a vegetarian diet and stick to my gym routine throughout my twenties. When I had my daughter in 2000, I only gained 20 pounds through eating decent (though not Paleo) foods and exercising consistently. In fact, my labor was only an hour-and-a-half, and I credit that to regular exercise.

I took time off from my career to take care of my daughter, and ended up never going back to my field of Art Direction/Graphic Design (which was fine; I hated sitting at a desk for 12 hours a day anyway!). I worked at The Container Store managing visual efforts; unloading trucks, building fixtures, etc. It was physically demanding but rewarding, and it gave me the schedule I needed to help care for my child.

In 2005, I began working out with a personal trainer. I would work long, grueling shifts at The Container Store, then go to a pseudo-circuit training class for an hour. Breakfasts were Powerbars and coffee. Lunches would be half a loaf of whole grain artisan bread with a huge block of cheese and an apple. Dinners were up to a pound of pasta at a time. I killed myself at work and at the gym, and fueled myself on carbohydrates. Because I felt I deserved it, Fridays began to be reward days, with me eating half a take-out pizza then half a pan of brownies.

I was exhausted all the time.

About a year in with my trainer, he suggested I try changing careers again and becoming a personal trainer myself. I thought this ridiculous, especially since I had no athletic background – I didn’t know anything about fitness; why would anyone want to listen to me? Eventually, I rescinded, got certified and began working at the same gym with my (now-previous) trainer. I started doing two long, heavy workouts a day. At the time, I had a lot of stress in my personal life, and working out was my way of dealing with the pressure.

During this period, I got stronger, and I was building a decent amount of endurance, but I was dying physically. I stopped building muscle mass and my joints hurt. I got odd muscle twinges that got in the way of my workouts, and I was so tired I could barely function.

In 2007, my ex-trainer (now my co-worker) and I were introduced to CrossFit and received our Level 1 certifications.

I have no doubt that CrossFit saved my life.

I immediately dove into the CrossFit program 100%. Three days on, one day off. No more hours and hours of circuit training. My diet changed to a more Zone-ish approach, but I did not eliminate all grains (I still ate oatmeal for breakfast) or dairy. Within a few months, my ex-trainer became my business partner, and we left our gym to open our own CrossFit affiliate. It didn’t take long for CrossFit to completely change my exercise, my eating, my lifestyle and my career.

For a year-and-a-half, I followed HQ and was fairly successful. I was able to start the program strong enough to do Rx’d weights, but I had to learn pull-ups, handstands and other basic calisthenics. My very first “Fran” was under 8 minutes; my first max deadlift attempt was 225; my first 5k was twenty-four minutes. Progress was slow but steady for a while, but I had times where I plateaued, and even times where I backslid significantly.

When I started feeling depressed about my stagnant performance, I tried adding the Rippetoe strength program into my HQ cycles. I made some gains, but they disappeared as soon as I finished my three months experimenting with the extra strength work.

All this time, I didn’t think that maybe my nutrition could be negatively affecting my workouts. I Zoned judiciously, making sure I got enough protein (albeit vegetarian proteins, such as seitan, which is basically pure wheat gluten, and various overly processed soy ‘meats’), fats and carbohydrates. I thought those low-carb, high-fiber tortillas were awesome, and regularly ate them with Tofurky slices and hummus every day for lunch (gluten + soy + beans…yikes!).

In January of 2009, I was encouraged to attend Robb Wolf’s nutrition cert. Since he was coming to Atlanta, I figured why not? I fancied myself a nutrition nerd and I wouldn’t even have to travel – awesome!

Again, a perfect example of how CrossFit saved my life. I shudder to think where my health and performance would be five, ten or even twenty years from now if I had not attended this cert. I had been shoveling grains, soy, beans, gluten and sugar in my system for almost two decades…where might my health be if I had continued on for several more?

I had been a lacto-ovo-vegetarian for eighteen years, but the night of the cert I went out and had steak for dinner. I switched overnight and completely to a Paleo way of eating. No grains, beans or dairy. Animal protein at every meal. LOTS of fat. (For those of you who are wondering; no, I didn’t have any digestive issues with starting to eat meat again. Absolutely none.)

So here’s where it gets fun. I started making progress in my workouts. Real, measurable and out-of-the-ordinary progress. Keep in mind I changed NOTHING but my nutrition. My training is always CrossFit HQ. For example:

My deadlift was stuck at 275 for a long time. From August of 2008 through March of 2009, I hit 275 maybe one other time, but most deadlift efforts maxed out about 20 pounds below. Two weeks after changing my diet, I was messing around before a workout and picked up 250 for 5 reps, cold! I couldn’t believe it! A month later, in March, I picked up 286. One week later, 305. Two months later, 315. A month after that, 325. Last week I got 285 for 5, which was amazing to me considering my 1RM was 275 just a handful of months ago! (An increase of 50 pounds in six months)

Shoulder press was 103 pounds when I started CrossFit; it stayed the same (or went down) until two months after I changed my diet. March 29, 2009 – 105 pounds. April 2 – 107 pounds. April 4 – 110 pounds. April 7 – 112 pounds. By the end of June, I was up to 115 pounds. (An increase of 10 pounds in five months)

Like I had said before, when I started CrossFit in 2007, I was already fairly strong. My first front squat attempt maxed out at 185 pounds. However, my front squat remained unchanged until March of 2009, when I hit 187 pounds. Two months later, I had a 200 pound front squat. (An increase of 13 pounds in four months)

One last lift to note is that my back squat has gone up 27 pounds this year alone.

Olympic lifts have continued a positive linear progression that does not appear as closely linked to diet.

A quick note about body composition: my body weight hovered around 145-150 for most of the past few years; I’m not sure of what my body fat was, but it was most likely around 16%. With the change in my diet, I quickly put on about 5 pounds, and today I weigh in around 160. Apparently, this was all muscle mass I was in need of – the last Bod Pod test I had was in early summer, and it determined I was approximately 7% body fat.

Even with the increase in strength and body weight, I have continued to see progress with my speed and metcons. This is huge for me, because historically, an increase in strength/size would directly correlate to a downturn in all things related to calisthenics, speed and general huffing and puffing performance.

Lastly, I want to make it clear that I do not go OCD with the Paleo approach. I do not weigh or measure my food, though I do try to combine protein, fats and carbohydrates in each meal (however, not in Zone proportions). Once every week or two I eat pizza. Occasionally, I have wings and beer. The vast majority of the time I focus on food quality (local, organic, humanely raised), but I refuse to stress about food. Making good choices most of the time works for me and makes it easy to pass on the same advice to my clients. I have yet to see frenetic obsession about nutrition produce any positive gains in a client.

This year has been a whirlwind for me. I was able to come in 3rd place at the Dirty South Qualifiers as well as place 14th female overall for the 2009 CrossFit Games, and I credit Robb Wolf and his nutrition cert for a good portion of those accomplishments. I believe that successful athletes, especially those of us over 30, are made from simple, high quality Paleo foods. Gluten, grains, beans and similar Neolithic foods have proven to me to be detrimental to health and athletic performance.

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