My CrossFit Transformation Was Much More Drastic Than I Expected–But Not for the Reason You’d Think

My CrossFit Transformation Was Much More Drastic Than I Expected–But Not for the Reason You’d Think

Most people start CrossFit because they’re looking to lose weight, or get stronger, or get into the best shape of their life. Having played rugby in college, taught Zumba, finished a marathon, and taken up bodybuilding, for me, CrossFit wasn’t about the physical promises. I joined a CrossFit box (as the gyms are called) because I needed a job.

I moved to New York for what was, at the time, my dream job. But six months in, I called my mother sobbing. I’d just been given notice that the company would be letting me go in two weeks’ time. The eager post-grad haze had worn off, I was no longer certain I had chosen the right career field, and I was hit with a wave of loneliness.

After living in the city for half a year, I’d failed to make any friends. Late nights at the office had taken precedence over happy hours and girl-gang hangs. And because I’d often gotten off work late, instead of sampling New York’s fitness class scene, I’d opted for a 24-hour big box gym. There, I’d do some bicep curls, walk on the stairmaster, and after about an hour, flex, take some mirror selfies, and leave.

RELATED: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

Now, here I was, bummed out, wishing for pals to vent to about my impending unemployment, and in serious need of pulling together work. So when I saw on Instagram that a Manhattan box, ICE NYC, was hiring a front desk social media manager, I applied.

I’d talked (or at least, thought) trash about CrossFit in the past, even though if I’m being totally honest with myself, I had no reason to. But I guess there was a part of me that was a little intrigued with the whole CrossFit phenomenon and the community it promised.

My first interview took place directly following a class. Having arrived super-early, I caught the tail end of the workout and watched as the athletes congratulated each other and brought it in for a cheer. The ethos of the group reminded me of my time playing rugby in college: The coach was treated with respect, the team was determined and focused, and the athletes followed an implicit “No One Left Behind” policy.

While the promise of barbells alone couldn’t convince me to try CrossFit, watching a class and talking with the gym’s owner about community, fitness, and joining the two could.

After my interview, the owner called to let me know that if I tried CrossFit and liked it, he’d hire me. So I signed up for a class the very next morning. I thought taking a CrossFit class would be like updating my LinkedIn, flossing my teeth, or eating greens: a necessary evil.

Turns out, CrossFit is not a thing you just walk in and out of every once in a while. If it sticks, it sticks real good.

I’ve changed plenty since I was originally hired at the box. For one, I switched to a part-time role so that I could pursue a fitness writing career, but I still work out there and consider the box my home. Twelve months since joining the ICE NYC CrossFit community I can safely say the sport has changed my life. Here’s how.

RELATED: 7 Things to Know Before Trying CrossFit

It’s cliché, but patience is a serious virtue

Most boxes have an on-ramp process that involves learning the ropes (and basic barbell lifts and bodyweight movements), but because I had weightlifting experience from my collegiate days I was allowed to pass over those sessions. (If you’re thinking about joining a box, take advantage of these offerings; I regret missing the learning opportunity). Even though I had fitness experience, it still took a long time to figure out what the heck I was doing.

CrossFit defines itself as constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensities, and that constantly varied part… it’s a lot. There’s the snatch, and then there’s the power snatch. There’s also a hang power snatch, and a hang squat snatch.

This variety is part of what makes it fun; you get to try so. many. different. things! But that also means there’s an unending stream of things to learn. The go-go-go New Yorker in me loved the exhaustive list of exercises, but the athlete in me felt overwhelmed by the variety.

I had to learn to be patient with myself and my body. If I forgot the difference between a hang, a squat, and a power clean, I had to learn to ask. If I couldn’t string together more than a few pull-ups, I had to ask for drills that would help me be able to… eventually. I gave myself permission to not know what the heck I was doing, and then developed the patience necessary to be okay with the learning curve.

Winning isn’t everything

My position in rugby was wing, which is the position that scores. Racking up points for my team was my job, and when I failed to do my job well, a loss for the team was usually the outcome. I love winning, and I brought that love of winning to CrossFit. “Finish first” was my motto.

And sometimes I did. Sometimes I’d take the top of the leaderboard on a bodyweight WOD (which stands for workout of the day), and I’d smile smugly, feeling proud. But then the next day, I’d have a workout with heavy barbells, and no amount of willpower would allow me to lift the barbell and lift it quickly while keeping good form.

A few conversations with my head coach helped me realize that my competitive spirit will help bring results for any goal, but that when it comes to heavy lifting, there’s a cardinal rule: Technique first, consistency second, and intensity last. “I love how competitive you are and how eager you are to learn and get better,” she told me. “My advice to you: There’s no rush. CrossFit isn’t going anywhere. Take it slow, learn, work hard, trust the process. You’ll end up where you’re supposed to be.”

Rest days aren’t a sign of weakness

When it comes to getting stronger, you need two things: First, you need to work your muscles, which causes little tears in the muscle fibers. Then, your muscles need to repair themselves, which is a process that requires rest.

Before CrossFit, I would go to the gym six to seven times a week. I stuck to that same schedule when I started CrossFit. I often went seven days a week because it was all so new and fun. My workouts lasted an hour, but sometimes I’d join some of the CrossFit vets for an additional workout afterward. Surprise, surprise: I got an overtraining injury.

Six days of heavy weights and intense intervals every week is too much, and I probably would have gotten stronger faster if I had stuck to just four or five days a week and actually given my body the time it needed to recover between sessions.

The mind is a muscle that needs to be trained

Anyone can do CrossFit: The workouts are scalable, which means that people of all fitness levels can come to a box and do the workout of the day. But CrossFit is no joke. When it comes to barbells, box jumps, and burpees, you need more than physical strength. You need mental toughness.

If you want to achieve your best performance on a workout, you must be willing to suffer–we call it “finding the pain cave.” When you’re trying to snag a personal best, your body and mind work against you. But the pain cave is a place where I’m forced to ask myself just how much I’m willing to give to reach my goals.

Building the toughness necessary to endure the pain cave isn’t as easy as dropping to the floor and cranking out 20 push-ups. It takes work to get your brain to a point where it is willing to push longer and harder than it ever has before–and to know when to tone down the intensity. During my first year of CrossFit, I had to train my brain every single day through practices like journaling, meditation, and breathing exercises.

You don’t need to switch your eating habits to match your friends

Paleo. Whole30. IIFYM. Before these diets went mainstream, CrossFitters were jazzed on them. Until I started CrossFit, I didn’t realize the nuances of these diets.

I’ve dipped my toes in the waters of all of these diets for anywhere from a week to a month, and I always come out thinking the same thing: They’re just not worth it to me! Counting macros may work for certain goals, but it is hella time consuming, and it made me obsessed with food.

Similarly, while I liked the Paleo diet (and it’s even stricter cousin Whole30) in theory–lots of veggies, protein, healthy fats, some fruit, and no grains or dairy sounded okay–in practice, I became a hangry monster. Basically, cutting out all grains and added sugars meant that I ate fewer carbs, and carbs are really important when you’re exercising regularly.

While I thought trying out my friends’ eating habits would be a fun bonding activity, it always just ends up making me grumpy.

Abs really are made in the kitchen

A month into my stunt as a CrossFitter, I had the flattest stomach I’d had up until that point. Which meant I had a new-found confidence to strut around the gym in my sports bra after every sweat sesh.

But while I looked good, I was getting tired four hours into my workday and didn’t have the energy I used to. Could I have mono a second time? Why was this happening?

My coach guessed it: I was under-eating. My go-to meals and daily intake hadn’t changed after I’d joined CrossFit, and I wasn’t giving myself the fuel I needed to power through–and then recover from–the high-intensity workouts.

With a little guidance from the coaches in my gym and phone calls with a nutritionist, I revved up my breakfasts to include more protein and complex carbohydrates (wahoo for sweet and nutty overnight oats!) and made a point to have a snack between lunch and dinner. Suddenly my energy levels shot back up–and my abs have only gotten more defined.

RELATED: 11 Reasons Why You’re Not Losing Belly Fat

CrossFitters make great friends

CrossFit isn’t just special for its high intensity and unique lingo; there’s also a surprising level of camaraderie. I used to think that made CrossFit a cult, but it’s way more accurate to simply call it what it is: a community.

People usually work out at the same time every evening, so you end up spending five to seven hours a week with the same crew of 20 who are similarly interested in health and fitness.

While the concept of breaking a sweat with someone as relationship-building is not unique to CrossFit, in CrossFit “working out” really means something much more specific. It means changing your life and the lives of those you sweat alongside; it means being pushed physically harder than you’ve ever been pushed with a group; and it means calloused high fives, fist pumps, and even sweaty group hugs.

Candace Cameron Bure Claps Back at Troll After Getting Body Shamed for Her Weight

Candace Cameron Bure Claps Back at Troll After Getting Body Shamed for Her Weight

Candace Cameron Bure isn’t here for people’s negative comments about her weight.

Responding to a comment left on a sweet picture of the 42-year-old Fuller House star cuddling up with her 18-year-old son Lev, Bure spoke out against an Instagram user who left a body shaming comment about her figure.

“All that excercising [sic] and you still look like you weigh more than your husband, did you change your diet?” the social media user wrote in a comment found by the @commentsbycelebs Instagram account, which seemingly mistook Bure’s 18-year-old son for her husband of over 20 years, Valeri Bure.

Although Bure chose not to correct the social media user on that point, she did speak out against their body-shaming  comment.

“If a 25 inch waist looks big to you … then you’re looking through an altered lens. Be well,” she wrote.

RELATED: Candace Cameron Bure Is in Her Best Shape at 40: ‘I Feel the Most Fit and Strong That I’ve Ever Felt in My Life’

The Fuller House star previously told PEOPLE that she “feels the most fit and strong that I’ve ever felt in my life.”

In addition to fitting in workouts whenever possible, which can consist of anything from “a 20-minute workout a couple of times a week, or an hour five times a week,” the actress attributes her toned physique to the healthy diet she follows.

“I eat a very plant and grain-based diet,” she said. “I follow a more Mediterranean diet, so I eat lots of fresh vegetables and whole grains and fish. I don’t eat dairy very often, and I’ve cut most of the sugar out of my diet — I see the biggest effect from not eating as much sugar.”

RELATED: Candace Cameron Bure on Her Struggles with Bulimia: ‘It Was Never About the Weight, It Was an Emotional Issue’

While Bure has been open about struggling with bulimia when she was younger, she has recovered from it.

“It’s something that I’m always aware of and that I do think about, but having been healthy for so many years, it’s not something I have to think about on a daily basis,” she remarked. “It’s not something that I struggle with anymore. I really found my joy in fitness, and then as I get older I’ve just been fine-tuning my diet and I enjoy eating what makes my body feel the best.”

“I feel a real sense of accomplishment about what my body can still do, and I want to keep it in shape and keep it strong for so many years that are ahead of me,” she told PEOPLE. “You kind of take your body for granted when you’re younger, so the older I get the prouder I am of the things I’m able to do with it.”

The 8 Best Back Exercises for Those Hard-to-Tone Muscles

The 8 Best Back Exercises for Those Hard-to-Tone Muscles

Back fat, bra bulge … whatever you call it, it’s frustratingly stubborn. What’s more: Your desk job can actually mess with your efforts to sculpt your rear view, says Ideen Chelengar, a master instructor and Tier 3+ trainer at Equinox Sports Club Boston. That’s because when you sit hunched over all day, the way your shoulder blades function during exercise can change—and it may become even tougher to target your upper-middle back. Read: Ugh.

Of course, even if you were targeting those muscles properly, exercise alone wouldn’t blast away back fat: “In reality, losing fat comes down to your diet more than exercise,” Chelengar points out. But a challenging fitness routine—one that combines cardio and resistance training—plays a key role as well. And the benefits of back workouts go way beyond weight loss.

For starters, training your back the right way can actually help combat “computer posture.” It can also help balance out your body, Chelengar adds, since “[w]e tend to use our shoulders and chest muscles more often than our back muscles.”

So next time you hit the gym, try these eight moves and start building up strength in those hard-to-tone spots.

Thoracic Spine Extension

Start with knees on a pad, 1 to 2 feet away from a bench. Prop elbows on the bench. Sit back into hips (similar to how you would in Child’s Pose). With elbows propped and hips bent, drive chest toward ground. From here, keeping chest down, lift head up as high as possible. Then tuck chin down as though trying to lengthen neck. While keeping chest down, drive back of neck toward ceiling. You should feel this in middle of back, between shoulder blades. You may also feel some tightness through upper arm and armpits. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.

Why it works: When you live your days hunched, your shoulders don’t function as they should, making it tricky to target that lower trap and rhomboid area everyone wants to tone, says Chelengar. The first step to hitting those areas? Teaching your body how to extend from the thoracic spine and not the lumbar spine, he says. This move does that.

Cross Band

Start on back with arms up and hips, knees, and ankles at 90 degrees. Cross a resistance band around soles of feet so that right arm is pulling at left foot and vice versa. Start by reaching right arm as far as possible overhead. While you reach, make sure your legs stay still, ribs stay down, and that subtle arch in low back is unchanged. Bring right arm back to center. Switch sides. Complete 2 sets of 15 to 25 reps.

Why it works: “Maintaining proper posture is key to getting the middle-back muscles involved, and that means getting your core to participate,” says Chelengar. “This is a great way to teach your body the relationship between your arms and spine.”

RELATED: This Is Tracy Anderson’s Go-To Arm Workout

Back-to-Wall Band Vertical Retraction

Pull band lightly apart, maintain that tension. Press arms up and down making sure forearms stay vertical and wrists stay over elbows. Band can be in front or behind head. Complete 2 sets of 15 to 25 reps.

Why it works: This exercise teaches your body proper shoulder blade rhythm during a vertical pulling motion, says Chelengar. “I like using walls for feedback on your posture. Be aware of the subtle curve in your lower back and make sure you don’t hyperextend.”

Dead Lift

Start with bar in-line with boney part of ankles. With soft knees and flat back, push hips back until you can reach bar without rounding back. (If you still can’t reach, add more knee bend until you can.) Build tension in torso by squeezing shoulder blades together and down. Maintain a broad chest but tight core, drive through feet and push hips forward. (The subtle curves in back shouldn’t change at all through the movement.) If torso maintains stiffness, this forward movement will lift the bar from the ground. Complete 3 to 5 sets of 4 to 10 reps.

Why it works: But wait—deadlifts shouldn’t work my back, you’re thinking. And you’re right! “Proper dead lift is driven by your glutes and hamstrings,” notes Chelengar. “However, to actually move the weight, the horizontal movement of your hips has to be transferred to vertical movement of the bar through a stiff back and core.” There are few better ways to test your ability to maintain a good posture than the dead lift. Voila!

RELATED: 7 Moves to Tighten Your Core From Celebrity Trainer Anna Kaiser 

Bent Over Row with Horizontal Band Resistance

Set up light resistance band pulling at right arm from left side, perpendicular to torso. Wrap band around weight or wrist. Focus on keeping shoulder blades down as you pull. Leave about a fist-sized gap between elbow and ribs. Pull from elbow, not hand. Don’t rock torso. Stop at midline. Complete 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Why it works: This move is a difficult twist to your standard horizontal row, says Chelengar. “By adding the horizontal band resistance, you increase activation of the posterior deltoid—one of the hard-to-hit muscles on the backside of your shoulder.”

Vertical Pull

Legs should stay straight and still, ribs down. Retract shoulder blades (imagine pulling them into back pockets), and focus on keeping shoulders away from ears. Elbows should stay right under wrists, and you pull collarbone directly to the bar. If you find yourself hiking up at shoulders, add some assistance (or lower the weight if you’re doing lat pull downs). Control the descent. Complete 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Why it works: This might be a basic move but many people miss their middle back muscles through slight faults in technique, says Chelengar. Doing this move right targets the back spot-on.

Face Pull

Pull rope to face with high elbows. At the end, keep elbows up and try to rotate arms open as much as you can, as though pointing at glutes with thumbs. Keep chest broad and ribs down. Complete 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps.

Why it works: This exercise helps you work on retraction and external rotation—movements that are key for proper function and strength-building, notes Chelengar.

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Single-Arm Overhead Carry

Start with a single weight in hand at shoulder. Think about pressing weight up with shoulder, not hand. Reach up and get arm in line with ear. Keep chest up and ribs down. Upper back on the loaded side should be tight. Walk slowly forward maintaining a strong posture. Complete 3 rounds of 20 yards.

Why it works: “Being able to press a weight overhead required good scapula function, a stable spine, and a strong upper back,” says Chelengar. “The single arm overhead carry tests your ability to press and maintain that press under load.” If you do it right, you should feel your upper back just as much as your shoulder.

The Full-Body Strength Move That Helped Blake Lively Lose 61 Lbs. After Giving Birth

The Full-Body Strength Move That Helped Blake Lively Lose 61 Lbs. After Giving Birth

The blonde beauty recently revealed that heading back to the gym after giving birth to her second baby helped her shed 61 pounds. One move she relied on: the Single-Arm Single-Leg Romanian Deadlift. “With this movement, you’re balancing on one leg, causing your hip to have to stabilize, as well as working the back, glutes, hamstrings, and core,” says Lively’s trainer, Don Saladino, owner of Drive 495 in New York City.

Stand tall with feet together and a dumbbell or kettlebell in right hand at thigh and left arm out to side for balance. Hinge at hips, lowering torso until almost parallel to floor as you lift right leg behind you, toes facing down. The weight should travel straight down in front of right leg. Return to start and repeat. Aim for 2–3 sets of 8–10 reps per leg, three times a week.

Everything You Need to Know to Train for a Half Marathon

Everything You Need to Know to Train for a Half Marathon

If you happened to find yourself at one of the 2,800 half marathons in the United States in 2016, you might have noticed something: a heck of a lot of ladies donning race bibs. In fact, according to a national survey by Running USA, women account for 60 percent of the nearly 2 million people racing 13.1 miles every year. And it’s not just crazy twenty-somethings lacing up their sneakers so they can Instagram their #racebling. The average age of female half-marathon finishers in 2016 was 36.6 years old—a number that’s only increased over the past two years. Think all these women were speed demons? Nope.

The average finisher time was two hours and 23 minutes (which translates to about 10 minutes and 55 seconds per mile). The point of loading you up with all these facts? To prove just how accessible this distance is for women of all ages and fitness abilities. “The half marathon is a great, manageable distance for anyone,” says Roberto Mandje, a former Olympic distance runner and the chief coach at New York Road Runners in New York City. It’s a challenge, but an attainable one: “Yes, it requires a committed approach to training—but that commitment won’t take over your life.” And once you cross that finish line for the first time, you’ll be hooked on that “runner’s high.” Ready, set, run!

The I-Just-Want-to-Finish Plan

How it works: If you’ve never run a half, this program will help you gradually lengthen your distance over 10 weeks. Don’t stress out over how fast or slow you are in the beginning, Mandje recommends. “Just run comfortably for your first few long runs,” he says. “You can always adjust your goal half-marathon pace as your fitness and familiarity with the training increases each week.” To figure out your goal half-marathon pace, think about what time you’d like to finish the race in, then divide that by 13 miles. But be realistic—if a 10-minute mile is hard for you in shorter training runs, you might not be able to maintain that speed for the entire race.

The Get-Faster Plan

How it works: Already raced 13.1 miles and want to do it faster this time? Increasing your miles more significantly over the course of 10 weeks helps you get used to running faster for longer early on in your training. “Complement your biweekly workouts and long runs with a day of cross-training, like aqua jogging, spinning, or working out on an elliptical,” says Mandje. Not only will you feel fitter and stronger in general, but that extra strength primes your body to perform better at higher speeds and for longer durations—which is what you’ll need on race day.

How to fuel for a half marathon

An often-overlooked part of training? Your eating plan. “What makes you run fast on race day is consistent training,” says Kyle Pfaffenbach, PhD, the performance nutrition consultant for the Brooks Beasts, a professional middle-distance running team, and a professor of nutrition at Eastern Oregon University. “And the nutrition you’re taking day in and day out is critical in making that training happen.” Here, a crib sheet for what and when to chow down.

90 minutes before: Low-fiber, complex carbohydrates, and protein, like oatmeal, whole-grain toast with eggs, or whole-grain pancakes with sausage

“A mixed meal that’s high in complex carbs digests slowly, giving you a nice rise in blood glucose and insulin,” says Pfaffenbach. “Those 90 minutes give the insulin, which promotes the distribution and storage of energy, time to deliver energy sources into your liver and muscles, where you’re going to utilize them when you start running.”

Right before: Simple sugars like gels or energy chews

“As the race gets closer, nerves ramp up our physiology and it can help to consume easy to digest simple sugars,” says Pfaffenbach. “Simple sugars are the most easily digestible source of energy. Plus, as your insulin levels come back down from that first meal, a hit of simple sugars tells your body you’re not in a post-meal state, but that there’s energy coming in and you’re ready to exercise.”

During: Water and simple sugars

“If you’re just running at a little above conversation pace where you can carry on a conversation without feeling breathless, fueling is less of an issue. But if you’re trying to run every mile as fast as you can, you’re going to have to refuel over the course of 13 miles, because our bodies can only store 45 minutes to an hour of carbohydrates,” says Pfaffenbach. “I recommend 1-2 Clif Bloks or Honey Stinger Organic Energy Chews every 15 to 20 minutes. They’re easy to carry, easy to pop in your mouth, and won’t make breathing difficult. As for water, there’s no prescribed amount to drink, but it’s important to listen to your body’s thirst cues to avoid dehydration.”

Right after: Whey protein mixed with carbohydrates

“Taking in a whey or plant protein powder mixed with a little bit of carbohydrates—like fruit or chocolate almond milk—after endurance exercise is really important,” says Pfaffenbach. “It’s highly absorbable, has all 20 amino acids in ample amounts, and helps to stimulate protein synthesis and other recovery processes.”

Jennifer Garner Shows Off Ripped Arms After Getting In Shape for New Action-Packed Role

Jennifer Garner Shows Off Ripped Arms After Getting In Shape for New Action-Packed Role

Thanks to a new movie role, Jennifer Garner is in amazing shape.

While making an appearance at CinemaCon on Tuesday, the actress, 46, talked about amping up her workout routine for the upcoming action-thriller Peppermint, in which she plays a lone vigilante out to avenge the death of her family.

“It actually felt really good,” she said. “I was in pretty good shape going into it.”

Garner added boxing and martial arts into her workout routine to help prepare her for intense fight scenes.

“Everyone gets very invested and are you going to actually look the way we want you to look,” she said. “I don’t know if I did, but I just always followed what felt right to me.”

The actress shared a look at her gym sessions on social media earlier this year. She posted a video of her extreme workout routine, which she dubbed the “Recipe for Turning A Mom Back into Action Lady.”

Garner explained in the caption that she did an hour workout with Body by Simone and 90 minutes of “stunt team.” She also worked cryotherapy into her routine. For her pump-up playlist, Garner set the footage to “Canned Heat” by Jamiroquai.

Peppermint also marks Garner’s first return to action since starring as an international spy in the ABC hit show Alias.

“The thing about Alias that made it so special was J.J.’s [Abrams] script, and how compelling the stakes were for that character all the time,” she said at CinemaCon. “To do action for the sake of action has never interested me but this script was so smart. There’s no bigger stake than your children and nobody had never asked me in a smart way to do something as a mom for her child.”

She continued: “This was to avenge your child’s death, and there’s no bigger reason to go out and get into really good shape and then kill people.”

Peppermint hits theaters Sept. 7.