The First 4 Weeks of Krissy Mae Cagney’s “Sexy Sculpt” Program

Hellooo! So the last time we talked, I was just starting my “off-season” and was still almost a month away from finals! Well finals were a big, stressful blur (just like Cady Heron’s first day of school), and I haven’t gotten my grades back yet, but I am reasonably confident that I at least didn’t fail anything, which I think is a good start. I more or less took 3 weeks completely off from anything barbell-related, but started going to the gym on the DU campus and playing around with some free weights when I needed to get out of the library. After a few days of dumbbell presses (and staring at the amazing spectacle of undergrad mating rituals that take place near the hamstring curl machine), I decided to look into finding a non-Olympic lifting strength program that I could use for some accessory work while my off-season continued. Cue Krissy Mae Cagney‘s Black Friday sale! After browsing around for a bit, I decided on Krissy’s 12-week “Sexy Sculpt” program, and, despite the fact that I cringe every time I say its name, I have been loving the program.

Krissy Mae Cagney, the author of "Sexy Sculpt." Who, incidentally, was a guest on GGW Episode 55!

Krissy Mae Cagney, the author of “Sexy Sculpt.” Who, incidentally, was a guest on GGW Episode 55!

I just finished the first 4 weeks of the programming, which signals the completion of “Phase One.” The program is broken up into three 4-week phases: the first phase is “strength building,” the second is “muscle building,” and the third is “fat burning” or leaning out. The program revolves around powerlifting moves (i.e. squats, presses, and deadlifts) and accessory work like box step-ups, lunges, push-ups, and lots of dumbbell curls. And it is definitely NOT as frou-frou as you would come to expect from something called “Sexy Sculpt,” and in fact it isn’t fluffy at all. The programming is 75-90 minutes, 4x/week, and I am always sore in all the right places the next day. And yes, at first I felt a little silly (and definitely got made fun of) for all the “globo gym” moves I was trying to pull off in the CrossFit gym, but I’ve pretty much gotten used to it at this point and am just trying to embrace it.

So you are probably thinking, Claire, a 12-week lifting program is not exactly an off-season. And you would be right. But the first time I put a barbell on my back after 3 weeks, I felt such a palpable flood of stress relief, that I realized there was no way that giving up lifting altogether was going to benefit my mental or physical health. So instead I have been focusing on staying away from anything that raises my heart rate for more than a minute or two at a time, while still acknowledging my brain’s need for a release every once in a while. And since this “off-season” is about trying to reduce stress in my life–not necessarily about rehabbing an injury, in which case I would want to be more strict about staying out of the gym–I definitely feel like this is doing the trick.

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So how’s my tremor, you ask? It’s the same. I found out that my cortisol levels were actually completely “average,” although who knows whether or not that’s normal for my body. But my hands still shake when I flex my hand or arm, my legs still shake a little sooner than they used to if I’m straining or off-balance, but either I’m getting used to it, or I am doing something right, because it isn’t really flaring up as much as it was when I was still doing a lot of olympic lifting and long WODs. Obviously I will eventually go back to full-fledged CrossFit, but I feel like this program has also been an opportunity for me to sort of get to know my “new” body, if being slightly tremulous is going to be my new normal.

Oh, did I mentioned I PR’d my deadlift by 15 pounds, my 5RM back squat by 10 pounds, and my 5RM strict press by 5 pounds so far on this program, too? Yeah, that’s not too shabby either. Also, it’s ALL stuff you can do in a globo gym (and in fact some of it is easier in a globo gym because it has things like cable pull-downs and hamstring curls), so if you are not a CrossFitter, I would definitely recommend checking it out in the new year! Unfortunately it is a little pricey without the Black Friday discount ($60), but for 12 weeks of detailed programming, I’d say it’s definitely worth it. If you’re interested you can check it out here.

A Blog Resurrection and an Off Season

Wow. It has been a while.

If you feel this way, I don't blame you

If you feel this way, I don’t blame you

In the past million years that I haven’t been blogging, here’s what I have been doing:

  1. I quit my job at the end of May
  2. I went on my honeymoon to Maui in July
  3. I started grad school in August
  4. I competed in Girls Gone Rx for the second time in September
  5. I ceased all social and practical functions outside of grad school… pretty much always

That about sums it up. And in response to my last post about my weight gain and my low sex drive and all that fun stuff, unfortunately I have not been able to figure it out yet. I have noticed a little bit of a difference with the Gaia Adrenal Health supplement, so I’ve been taking that pretty regularly, and it has maybe boosted me from about 5% to 8%, which isn’t a huge improvement but it’s not nothin. But I have developed a tremor in my hands, and sometimes in my legs. I’ve seen a neurologist, who told me that it’s not a brain tumor because the tremor is the same on both sides, and that it’s not Parkinson’s because the tremor only happens when my muscles are active (aka when I flex my hands or arms like when I’m trying to write, hold a spoon, or, y’know, put a barbell over my head). Beyond that, he couldn’t really offer me anything except a prescription for beta blockers, the side effects for which seemed way worse than the tremor itself. Then I saw an endocrinologist, who told me that my thyroid levels “could not be more spot-on,” so it’s not hyperthyroidism. I’m waiting on the results from an adrenal function panel, but the endo told me that she’d be surprised if anything turned up. Next stop is a functional medicine doctor, then an acupuncturist, then a chiropractor. Woooohoo!

giphy

Which brings me to why I am resurrecting my blog. Most of you know that I now have a podcast for CrossFit women called Girls Gone WOD Podcast. And if you didn’t know, now you know. We are available on iTunes and Stitcher Radio, and it has been a super fun experience, but I feel like it has sort of taken away the point of blogging, because anything I would blog about, I just talk about on the podcast instead. But during my neurology appointment, then again during my endocrinology appointment, then again when discussing my symptoms with a nurse friend, and then again every time I google my symptoms, it has been suggested to me that it might be time to take a break from CrossFit.

If there is one thing that my symptoms–low libido, tremor, anxiety, weight gain, fatigue–have in common, it is that all of those things are related to chronically high cortisol levels. I get anxiety, which gives me high cortisol, which keeps me from being able to sleep, which makes my cortisol higher, which makes me gain weight and maybe even lose libido, which makes my anxiety worse, which gives me even MORE cortisol… and so on. And even though exercise can have very positive effects on stress and cortisol levels, high intensity exercises (like the kind I do in CrossFit 3+ times a week) can actually elevate your cortisol, especially if you already have high levels. Try yoga, I’ve been told. Take up meditating. Go on more hikes. And maybe, they eventually suggest, take a little break from CrossFit for a few weeks. Not forever. But just to see if it helps.

So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m 26 (well, 10 days away from being 27), and something about my body is falling apart, and I need to do something about it. And if I am lucky enough that “doing something about it” just means taking a month or two to focus on mobility and hydration instead of clean and jerks and 400m sprints, then I figure I have it pretty easy. However I do worry that if I ignore these problems for much longer, I might end up in a much more serious position sooner than later.

Starting, well, last Wednesday, because that’s the last time I did a metcon, I am taking a break. But I’m trying to look at it as an off-season. Every other sport has an off-season, right? Skiing, biking, even professional sports like football. But I have been doing CrossFit 2-5x a week for the past 2.5+ years, and the longest break I’ve ever taken was for about 10 days last year when I had a mole removed on my back and had to get stitches (well that’s just a lovely visual isn’t it). That’s a lot of stress on my body! And the off-season doesn’t necessarily mean that you sit on the couch for 8 weeks, right? It means that you use the time to strengthen some weak muscle groups through low-impact accessory work, improve your flexibility, zero in on your diet, rehab nagging injuries. So, for the next 8 weeks, that is what I will be hoping to do. And I will keep you posted.

So, here’s to the off-season. Let’s hope it makes me less crazy.

A Story About Weight Gain That’s Not Really About My Weight

Just FYI, this post gets a little personal. You’ve been warned.

This week, we are starting a 3-week Primal Blueprint Challenge at CrossFit Jai. The parameters are pretty much the same as any and every Paleo challenge I’ve undertaken in the past, except that with the Primal Blueprint you are allowed some full-fat dairy if you tolerate it well (I don’t), some dark chocolate, and some carbs depending on your weight loss goals. So, basically, it’s Paleo, but for real life. I dig it.

Anyway, as part of the challenge, TJ had little paper journals made up for all of the participants, for us to track our meals and our points. Five points if you workout that day, one point for every hour of sleep you got, negative ten points if you don’t eat clean all day. That sort of thing. And on the very first page there are little spots for you to fill in your starting measurements: thighs, butt, waist, chest, weight. So tonight I went to fill out my little booklet, and I stepped on the scale for the first time in a few months. And I was shocked, to say the least, to see the highest number I’ve ever seen on a scale blinking back up at me. 138. Really? I weigh 138 pounds? For someone who has had a hard time tipping the scale past 125 for the last 2 years, how is that even possible?

But, I know how it’s possible. And no, this is not a story about how my muscles have gotten bigger and how I need to accept my body at any weight and how any size can be healthy. Those things can be true, but really this is a story about hormones, and about something that I haven’t really wanted to talk about, because it’s embarrassing. But isn’t the whole point of a blog to tell people the things that most people would never publicly admit? I thought so.

The reason I have gained almost 15 pounds in the past 6 weeks is because I have been taking bio-identical testosterone supplements. Why on earth am I taking bio-identical testosterone supplements? Because I, an otherwise remarkably healthy 26-year old, have zero sex drive, and I don’t know where it went. It rather mysteriously disappeared almost three years ago, during a very stressful time where I had recently been laid off, moved from Moab to Denver, was in the process of applying to dozens of jobs a day and hearing nothing back from anyone, and was generally racking up debt and feeling like I was unworthy of contributing to society. Ok, so maybe that’s a pretty obvious reason to lose your sex drive. But I did eventually get a job, I made some friends, I started CrossFit, I cleaned up my diet, I started sleeping better, I even started therapy. All of the things you’re supposed to do if you need to reset your system and uncover the secret to hidden health issues. But none of those things have helped. So, about a month and a half ago, I started taking testosterone supplements in the hope that they would help, kick-start something, anything, and give me something to work with. According to my doctor, my testosterone levels weren’t actually outside of the normal range, but we decided that it couldn’t hurt to at least try a little testosterone for a few weeks and see if that did anything.

But for 6 weeks, all that’s happened is a single day of headaches and some new acne on my chin. Oh, and apparently I’ve gained 15 pounds. So there’s that. But my sex drive? Nope, still hiding. And you guys, three years is a REALLY long time for a sex drive to go away. What the F.

Anyway, obviously I realized that I was putting on a little weight, but I pretty much just chalked it up to a few very busy weeks out of the gym. Never did I imagine that I would, seemingly out of nowhere, find myself at my heaviest weight ever. And at first, I really tried to be ok with it. I tried to remind myself that all bodies are beautiful, etc etc. But in case you can’t tell by the tone of this post, this is, ultimately, not a development I’m ok with. Usually these types of “Wow I gained weight” epiphanies come with the caveat that you are also hitting PRs, getting stronger, performing better. I, on the other hand, found myself about to pass out during the 2nd mile of Murph, almost literally blacked out last night during some rowing intervals, and couldn’t get within 10 pounds of my clean 1RM at a recent competition. Let’s just go ahead and say that this weight gain is not a sign of anything except for my body being seriously out of whack.

So now I find myself at a bit of a loss. I’m looking forward to getting through this Primal Blueprint challenge and hopefully returning to a more comfortable weight for my body, and I’m really looking forward to my job ending at the end of this week which means I will get to spend hours and hours in the gym every day if I want to. But I am really not excited that I still having no idea why this sort-of-important function of my body is not, well, functioning.

If you have ever dealt with this problem and have successfully come out on the other side, I would love to hear what worked for you… For the record I have tried just about all the L-whatever supplements, I’ve tried decreasing my workouts, increasing my workouts, adjusting my diet, un-adjusting my diet, stopped taking birth control, tried spicing up my sex life, and I’m even in regular therapy. But nada.

I think this is where I’m supposed to tell you the moral of this story, but so far I’m not really sure there is one. Except to say that I think I’ll be waiting a few more weeks to buy a new bikini. And that I think I just learned that sometimes, being ok with your body at any weight can actually be problematic if that weight gain is a hormonal cry for help. But hey, maybe this way I’ll win the nutrition challenge… So I’ve got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

Stir Crazy

So in my last post I talked a bit about how I pretty much have 4 jobs right now, which leaves zero time for CrossFit. Well, I’ve been trying to remind myself that in a mere 10 days, I will have nothing but time for CrossFit, but right now I am going nuts. I have been in the gym maybe a grand total of 3 times in the past 3 weeks, and one of those times wasn’t even my own gym, it was a fundraiser competition at MBS CrossFit. Which was great, but guys. I am going a little crazy.

Johnny-Depp-Crazy-Head

Also, let me clarify that I have been IN the gym almost every single day at 6AM to “Shadow-Coach” at CrossFit Elevation. It has been a lot of fun and I’m definitely enjoying getting to know everyone and getting to learn lots of coaching skills, but then I come home, throw together breakfast, leave 20 minutes later for my “real” job, then get home and either have more shadow-coaching to do, or I have meetings, calls, or work to be done for one of my other projects, or I am podcasting, or have to do things like, y’know, go grocery shopping or walk the dog or maybe even spend time with my husband. Last night I was so ready to go to the 6:30pm WOD and then got stuck in the worst traffic I’ve experienced in months, and by the time I got home not only was it too late to make it, but I was so annoyed at the world aka every other driver in Denver that all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and eat blueberries (so that’s what I did).

In general, when people gripe about not having time to work out, I want to call their bluff. Surely, you could carve out an hour–a measly hour!–to go to the gym. But now I get it. That is truly not always possible. And even though I felt good at the little fundraiser competition last weekend, and even though I know this too-busy-to-live-my-own-life phase will be over soon, I also feel like all my hard work from the past 2 years is just seeping out into my office chair every day. Like I’m going to show back up at the gym in June and have no idea where I am.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to control the things that I can: Eating well, sleeping as much as I can, watching YouTube videos about coaching cues and reading about mobility and I even bought a planner. You know, one of those little notebooks people used to use before calendar apps were invented. And it has pink stripes, so I guess for now that’s going to have to be enough. Hurry up, June!

Last but not least, these are the pants I will be wearing for Murph. It’s ok to be jealous.

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Gonna Be a Good One

leap

In case you haven’t heard the news, at the end of May I will be officially leaving my “big girl” job and becoming a CFL1 Trainer at CrossFit Elevation in Denver. I will also be taking on a few Marketing/PR consulting projects, and maybe even blogging every once in a while. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Logistically speaking, this transition has been a big leap of faith. The biggest leap has been in terms of finances, because turns out that being a CFL1 is not the most lucrative job in the world if you don’t own your own gym (and even then, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any CrossFit boxes on the cover of Forbes magazine anytime soon). Most gyms pay $20-$25 per hour-long WOD, and even if I was going to be coaching every single WOD at CrossFit Elevation (which I won’t be even close to doing), they still don’t run 8 hours a day. Luckily, by the looks of things I will hardly be taking a pay cut, if at all, thanks to a few extra PR/marketing projects I’m about to begin. I’m not trying to be intentionally blogger-vague here; they’re just some projects for startups that friends are working on that should be a lot of fun. 

Between now and the end of May, I’ll be shadow-coaching as much as I can, while also getting started on the projects that I’ll be working on after my full-time job is over. So, in effect, right now I have one full-time job and three part-time jobs; but even though I am a busy bee, I am still a bit in limbo. I can’t really start anything new at my “old” job, but I also can’t fully dive in to anything at my new jobs either.

I also don’t really have time to work out, which seems a little counterintuitive since I’m pretty much about to rearrange my entire life to make more time for CrossFit, but I just have to reassure myself that the balance will be more than tipped back in favor of CrossFit in June. And I am ridiculously excited to become even more immersed in the CrossFit community, to keep learning new skills as a CrossFitter, and to start learning how to be a great trainer and CrossFit ambassador to the athletes at CrossFit Elevation.

I’d be lying if I said that this wasn’t a big, scary decision. And it still tends to rear its head a little bit at night when I’m trying to fall asleep, raising questions like, “What kind of a career move is this?” “Are you even going to be any good at coaching CrossFit?” and “You are going to end up living in a box” (Ok, that last one isn’t a question, but I hear it in my head a lot anyway).  It really hit home recently at a doctor’s appointment, when we got to that question about how many times a week you exercise. I started talking about CrossFit, aka trying to convince my doctor that CrossFit is not inherently dangerous, and I said, “So much of it has to do with the gym you go to and the coaches you have.” I had also just told her about my plan to quit my job and start coaching, so she replied, “Well, then make sure you’re one of the good ones.” Well, here goes nothin. 

Balancing the Mirror

Like most women who discover strength training for the first time, my perceptions and expectations of my body have changed dramatically since I started CrossFit 2 years ago. I’ve never really been overweight, but I’ve never been an athlete (my athletic background mostly consists of aggressive show choir choreography) and I gained some weight after college that I wasn’t terribly comfortable with. I wanted to look like a 5’3-tall version of a Victoria’s Secret Model–long, thin, graceful, and yet somehow still vaguely athletic. I used to think that you achieved these things by eating canned tuna and raw spinach and going on hour-long runs twice a day, which was a problem, because I hate running, can’t stand raw spinach, and the only way I’ll eat tuna is if it’s equal parts mayonnaise. So, needless to say, I didn’t get very far.

But then I found CrossFit and weightlifting, and my Pinterest-board images of lithe women holding dancer’s pose with one hand and a water bottle full of detoxifying lemon-ginger water in the other hand were replaced with gifs of Camille doing muscle ups and Diane Fu hang-snatching, and I learned, most importantly, that there is no one-size-fits all approach to fitness and health. So I put my scale away, and I haven’t looked back.

Or at least, that’s what I tell myself.

But the truth is that I still care what I look like, and while I no longer have an “ideal” body type, sometimes I look in the mirror and can’t help but think that I put in way too much damn work to still be this squishy. But on the other hand, I am constantly hearing that I should care more about what my body can DO than how it LOOKS, and so I shouldn’t worry about putting on weight in the pursuit of performance.

However, I’m pretty sure that the squish that I’m talking about has nothing to do with my back squat and everything to do with the nachos I had for breakfast yesterday morning. And while a lot of people I know have been embracing the “Eat to Perform” or “Eat Big Lift Big” mentality lately, I just can’t get on board. I tried Eat to Perform and constantly found myself having to coach myself through big meals, which felt almost as unhealthy as depriving myself of food. The result has been an awkward combination of clean eating and extremely un-clean eating that has, in all honestly, gone beyond “experimenting with my diet” and now leans more towards just being lazy.

But more than anything, as I got more and more sucked into the Eat to Perform message forums, I started feeling like unless I was a bikini or fitness competitor, it was no longer ok for me to say that I want to lean out. In fact, I’ve sort of been feeling like being vocal about my aesthetic goals somehow will give off the impression that I’m not that serious about my strength and fitness goals.

I don’t know how I’ve managed to swing this far on the other side of the pendulum, because I’m pretty sure that most athletes would agree with me that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to get rid of body fat. But somehow I’ve gotten to the point where I’m almost embarrassed to talk about aesthetic goals, because I feel like I should be a better role model for embodying the concept that it doesn’t matter how you look, as long as you’re healthy.

So, just for the record: I want to look like an athlete, and that, to me, means having visible muscles and a flat stomach. I have strength and performance goals, but I also have aesthetic goals, and that doesn’t make me less serious about my fitness. I have a feeling that almost nobody who’s reading this would argue that point, but for some reason, that is the mindset I’ve gotten myself in… so now I guess it’s time to get myself out of it.

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