Mike's CrossFit Journey

Hi, I’m Mike. I am 42 years old, I’m a teacher, a husband, a son, and a father of two. Two months after my 40th birthday I went for my yearly physical. My doctor told me that I weighed 318 pounds, and if I didn’t start taking medication to control my blood pressure I would not likely see my 50th birthday. I’d steadily gained weight since my 20s when I left basic training at 189 pounds, but I never worried about it. I’d done diets, meal plans, and  even spent short periods of time “going to the gym”, but it never stuck. Any weight I lost, I’d gain back and usually gain even more. The weight made me sick. The weight made me depressed. When I got depressed I would eat, and drink alcohol to excess. I was a smoker. I decided that I needed to change: serious, permanent change in order to live the life I wanted. See, when you are as overweight as I was there are a whole host of things you can’t do, or have a much harder time doing. Things like:

  1. Buying clothes. - You can’t by clothes just anywhere. I wore an XXL t-shirt (on my way to an XXXL), and had a 44 inch waist. Stores don’t stock many units of these sizes so you rarely get exactly what you want, and shopping takes a long time. You can’t buy dress shirts just anywhere, you need the “Big & Tall” section.

  2. Getting a Canoe or Kayak. - Most are rated for 250 pounds. Those that are rated for weights over 250 are easily 3 times as expensive.

  3. Going to a fair. - Avoid the rides because they are simply not rated for your weight, even if they are the safety harness is incredibly uncomfortable, make sure you can rest plenty, bring lots of water.

  4. Playing with your kids. - Sitting on the floor hurts when you are so heavy you need a supported back.

  5. Camping. - Just the act of getting into and out of a tent would be panting torture.

  6. Hiking - It better be flat, and it better be short if you want to be able to move the next day. Don’t even consider a 4,000 footer.

  7. Driving for more than an hour, or watching television with your arm around your wife’s shoulders. - Sitting in an upright position for long periods of time is painful and causes numbness in your hands.

  8. Sleeping - If you try to lay on your side or stomach you lose feeling in your arms.

  9. Traveling - Make sure there are plenty of bathrooms because blood pressure medication leads to frequent urination.

I also knew that if I changed everything at once, I would fail again. A different tactic was required. I was wracked with anxiety about exercise. When you are obese, being around fit people is terrifying. You always feel like you are being judged (whether it's true or not). In a gym you feel like you don’t belong. Many exercises are impossible because of your sheer mass, and others are too confusing. You have no where near the confidence required to ask another person for help.

For me, the safest thing to do was to start with nutrition. I started by eliminating, or dramatically reducing those things that didn’t fit into the Paleo diet. By August of that year, just by eliminating a few things (like my nightly english muffin with butter, and skippy) I’d dropped 9 pounds. I’d also managed to gather up enough courage to go to the gym (during its off hours). I found an uncomplicated full body dumbbell workout program, and did it 3 times per week, I did cardio (elliptical only, I was so heavy that 20 minutes on the treadmill would cause me to have to skip a day working out because of knee and ankle pain) two days a week. I kept myself accountable by tracking everything I ate with a nutrition app, and by posting regularly on Facebook about how things were going. I didn't make the posts for the accolades from others (though those were great), I did it because I wanted to be further encouraged when memories came up a year later. I kept eliminating unhealthy foods, and increasing my workout intensity. I lost 30 pounds by the time I turned 41. Then I plateaued. This would normally be the point where I quit entirely, but I kept on. I was making gains, feeling better, and could see how eventually I’d meet my goal. I bought a belt that was two sizes too small. This was my “skinny guy” belt.

Virtually since the first Facebook post I made about changing my life, a high school acquaintance began pestering me about trying CrossFit. I didn’t go because I was scared. Any internet search will immediately tell you how hard it is. Any pictures you find on that search will be of humans with godlike levels of fitness. I envisioned a room full of super fit “Do you even lift?” sorts of men, and women who would be grossed out by the fat, sweaty guy in their midst. The looks of pity and revulsion I expected were crippling to my ability to go to a box and even try it.

After I hit my first fitness anniversary I hadn’t seen any more movement on the scale, or any marked improvement in six months. I was starting to get frustrated, and could sense the old spectre of doubt creeping up on me. I knew I was about to give up. Then I said “Screw it” and decided to go to CrossFit. I convinced myself that I would bail immediately if it sucked. It absolutely did not suck.

I went early to my first class, and some of my fears were realized. There were some super fit people doing some really complicated, hard-looking exercises. There were also some people in similar condition to me, and even some who were in a little worse shape. I went through the first workout (heavily modified), and I was hooked. I immediately signed up, changed some scheduling to fit the Mt. Washington CrossFit class schedule (4:15 M-Th is my class), and began going to class 2-5 times per week. I was motivated, but still in terrible shape. I could barely do single unders with a jump rope, I had no shot at a pull up, I couldn't do a box jump, could only get to about 45 degrees in a squat, and couldn’t even complete a workout as prescribed. Here’s what sold it for me: Everyone in the place was excited to see me. Everyone from one of the fittest humans I have ever seen, to others looking like me were thrilled to see me, meet me, and encourage me. I came to CrossFit for the workout, I’ve stayed at Mt. Washington CrossFit for the community.

Now, I’m past 42nd birthday, and have been doing CrossFit for just over six months. I’ve dropped 30 additional pounds (currently at 260 pounds) I am on the second notch on that “skinny guy” belt. I can always finish the “fit” workout as prescribed (I sometimes do so when I want an active rest day), can usually do the “comp” workout as prescribed, can box jump to a 24 inch box like a pro, can easily single under, can do a pull up, and my squat is 90 degrees or better. My PR Deadlift is one of the highest in the box at 345. My blood pressure was described by my doctor as “perfect” when I met her to stop taking my blood pressure medication. My average resting heart rate is 59. When taken as a whole my medical numbers consider me to be “fit”. I’m still heavier than I’d like to be, and don’t quite look the way I want, but that will come. I no longer worry about weight fluctuations because I know I’m moving in the right direction.

I have a whole host of new friends, and have continued to work on my nutrition to keep my goals moving forward. I have dropped to a 38 waist, and an XL t-shirt (likely a Large soon). It won’t be long before I need to buy new clothes (again). By the time I’m 43 I fully intend to have lost over 100 pounds, and be doing my workouts consistently at the “Comp” level (sometimes delving into Yoda). My goals this year are to meet my goal weight of 220, and do Fran (A benchmark workout) in under 10 minutes. Oh, and all 9 of those things I mention above; none of them are my concern any longer. My only regret is not doing CrossFit from the start. I’m not special. I’m just a middle aged guy with a family. If I can do this so can you.