Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Running Hot

Last night, Mandla issued a challenge. I was sweating profusely, having gone through a set of Cossack switches in the 90-degree heat.

"I've held it for eight minutes," he said enigmatically, his tone humble.

Eight minutes of anything doesn't sound like a long time on its face, but I know better. Eight minutes can feel like eight hours under the right circumstances.

We were about to meet the right circumstances.

With Mira on my left and Jaime to the right, I assumed the swing stance, feet twice shoulder width, toes slightly turned out. My shoulders were firmly in the socket as I pulled my pelvis into a posterior tilt and sank down into the stance, following Mandla's example.

"Hold for a minute."

The difficulty of the exercise creeps up on you, starting with slight tension in the abdomen and the hamstrings. The burn intensifies, and travels to the quads. Your body commands release, the nervous system decrying the insanity of the exercise by firing uncontrollably. Our minute felt like hours. The space-time continuum was ripping and tearing as I sat back, trying to remember to breathe.

I tried to think happy thoughts. My mental image of birds, meadows, and streams quickly turned into spikes, chains, and Inquisition-era torture devices.

Sweat cascaded down my arms and legs, forming a puddle beneath me. It was pooling around my shoes when Mandla called time. I stood up, my legs running hot with lactic acid.

They were beginning to unwind when he spoke again.

"You made that look easy," he said, addressing Jaime. "Let's try it for two minutes."

We assumed the position. The burn came quickly this time, settling in my thighs. I pressed my hands out in front of me, exaggerating my breathing as I fought to maintain control. This time, I failed. At 1:20, I stood up, letting out a guttural cry and reeling backward.

"Back down, Jon."

I checked my feet and sank down. My body refused to cooperate with my efforts, and I rocketed out of the stance after a few short seconds.

"Back down."

Mira and Jaime hadn't moved, a couple of rocks surrounding a pogo stick. I resumed the hold, slightly embarassed at my repeated failings. At two minutes, we stood. Mira had fire in her eyes.

This was not my first contest of will.

Athletic progress requires that we pit our minds against our bodies, pushing beyond our current physical limitations. In Crossfit, the contest is not to remain still, but to continue moving. When the last round seems impossible, you have to push through, fighting the urge to quit.

Through this process, you retrain your body to accept escalating physical demands. Your breaking point moves further out into the distance, until it is so far away that you have trouble reaching it.

The body has built-in governors. We are born with an aversion to physical discomfort and pain--our bodies are programmed to avoid harm. Touch a hot stove, and your reflexes cause your hand to recoil in milliseconds.

During exercise, your body tells you it's uncomfortable. Then it screams. Your muscles shake as they endure stress, and then they refuse to work at all. Unfortunately, your body doesn't always know what's good for it.

When we override our innate control mechanisms, our bodies are forced to adapt. Lactic acid ceases to act as a brake as your muscles become more adept at using it for fuel. Muscle contractions become more forceful as your nervous system recruits more muscle fibers with each signal. You develop endurance and strength.

Through repeated breakdown and rebuilding, your muscles become larger. Exercised in the correct energy pathways, they generate tremendous force in a short period of time. You develop power.

My contest of will was over for the night. We practiced the swing, the one-armed deadlift, and good mornings, stressing body awareness and moving the pelvis independently of the legs.

As I watched, Jaime and Mira went through a grueling set of cleans and presses.

In the short time that I've worked with Mandla, I've seen significant improvement in several areas. The most obvious is flexibility. Prior to beginning joint mobility and kettlebell training at Boston Kettlebell, I was extremely static throughout my hips and lower back. I couldn't drop into the hole in any of my squats, and my hamstrings were very tight.

I've trained with Mandla four times. I can drop into the hole easily. Although I have a long way to go, it's kind of ridiculous how effective he's been.

I encourage you to seek out new methods of training. The greatest thing about Crossfit is its adaptability. When we find effective methods, we incorporate the newfound knowledge into our programs. We know that adopting different styles, sports, and methods makes for more complete athletes, and we refuse to cling to dogma for its own sake.

If you're interested in Mandla and Boston Kettlebell, click on his link in the right-hand sidebar, or drop me a line. I answer all the Again Faster email personally, and I'd be happy to put you in touch.

Go faster!


Blogger Kim said...

J-thanks again for your encouragement and help yesterday! :) Again, FASTER!

7/18/2006 07:02:00 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Gilson said...

You're welcome! Way to pick up the pace on the last mile!

7/18/2006 08:48:00 PM  

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