Building a Better Me

Katrin Davidsdottir (and by extension, Ben Bergeron, her coach) have been huge inspirations to me, both as a CrossFit athlete and as a person, and one of my favorite things about both of them is their approach to mindset. I’ve added my own thoughts and interpretations in here a little bit, but to give credit where it’s due, what follows is primarily a synthesis of what Ben espouses for all of his athletes.

Katrin and Ben often say, “Be the best you,” and that resonates so strongly with me. It’s not “be the best at X thing,” or “be as good as Y person,” it’s just, “Be the best you.” Being the best you is a unique goal, because there’s no one else exactly like you. Because it’s specific to you, it removes comparisons to others and also removes static goal posts. Your best is not, and should not be, the same as Katrin’s best, or my best. Even focusing in just on myself, those goals aren’t static either. My best today is different from my best yesterday and my best tomorrow, because I am constantly changing and constantly growing. It also removes the scarcity mindset of training and becoming better — my getting better does not take something away from someone else, or mean that they cannot also get better, and in fact, I should support them in being their best selves. It’s a never-ending and unbounded process — there are no shortcuts, there is no end point, and you get out of it only what you put in — and, to quote a friend, “That’s a beautiful thing.”

I learned about the principles of having a growth mindset (believing that through practice and effort, you can get better at anything) and the “1% better every day” principle (incremental progress compounding on itself over time) through weightlifting, before I started CrossFit and before I had even heard of Katrin or Ben. I even wrote a whole post about it, and how it made me feel empowered, how it made me feel like I had control over some aspect of my life and some control over my body, which is a huge area of struggle for me, as a non-binary trans person. But when I layer on, “Be the best me,” on top of the frameworks of a growth mindset and incremental progress, suddenly those things apply to all of my life, not just specific endeavors like fitness or drawing or these other really narrow areas. Suddenly, it’s like: “Oh, I can be a better me, I can be better at my life. I can be better at my relationships with people; I’m an introvert, but I can be better at talking to people; I can be better at talking about my feelings; I can be a better friend. It might be hard, it might require effort, it might be extremely uncomfortable, but I can grow and become better at it. This applies to everything.”

Being the best you, believing you can become better at anything, and that being a little better each day results in huge changes over time — I think of these as pretty foundational ideas, but when it comes to putting these things into practice, there’s a few other Ben/Katrin mindset tips I have found incredibly helpful:

  • Focus on what you can control. Ben lays this out as the following five factors of health: Mindset, Relationships, Sleep, Nutrition, and Exercise. These are the factors of health that you can control in your life. Within each of these, there’s more granularity, but that’s for another post. There’s also the factors of genetics and environment, which you can’t control (and when looking at things from a perspective of power and privilege, you also can’t deny), but since these aren’t things in your immediate control, focus on what you can control.
  • Sometimes you can’t control things, but what you can control is your response to them. Ben often gives the advice to approach things with an, “I get to” mentality, instead of an “I have to” mentality. I get to go to work. I get to have a busy day. I get to go to the gym. We often dress our opportunities as stress, but they are in fact, opportunities for growth. To me, I see this as less an “always be positive about everything” mindset, which I’m very skeptical about the usefulness of, and more a “Good or bad, everything is an opportunity for me to grow, and I should approach it like that” mindset. Negative things still suck, it’s not trying to convince yourself that they don’t suck and aren’t painful, but oftentimes, when bad things happen, it’s when we learn the most about ourselves. But they still suck, and I don’t agree that we should just try to convince ourselves they’re a good thing.
  • What I would also add to the above bullet, mostly as a reminder to myself, is to balance this out by remembering that stress, no matter the mindset we approach it with, fundamentally breaks us down and that recovering builds us back up, stronger than before. You have to make time for both processes, both in terms of fitness and in terms of life. Approach stresses as an opportunity to grow, but also recognize when to take care of yourself and recover. Just as you can’t train twice a day, seven days a week with no rest days and expect to grow as an athlete, you can’t expect the same out of your life, either.
  • Another thing that I’ve heard Ben say that resonates with me is that, “Happiness does not lie on the other side of achievement.” That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set goals to achieve, because goals are good, and represent growth, but rather, that you shouldn’t tie your happiness to your goals, because that will just result in fleeting happiness. As soon as you achieve a goal, you may be happy for a bit, but then you will start to focus on the next goals to achieve. And that’s the way it should be, you should never be completely satisfied. That doesn’t mean you’re not happy, just that you recognize there is always room to grow. Focus your happiness on growing as a person, on living your every day, and building your relationships.
  • I’ve always naturally been someone to focus on the process of doing a thing, and less so the goal, though sometimes to a fault, so what I often need to hear is not to be told to focus more on the process and less on the goal, but that sometimes, you just have to suck it up and get out there and do it. Another way to look at it might be that I get caught up in the micro process of a very specific thing. Like reading about and doing research about how to write a book. That’s a worthy process, but it’s a preparatory process to the process of actually writing a book, which is an even smaller process within the context of my life. When I get stuck on a micro process, I have to remind myself that sometimes, to trust that I am as ready as I can be, while knowing and accepting that I will fail at times and be stressed, but to do it anyways. “Jump and build your wings on the way down.”

And a final thought — I said earlier, “Getting better does not take something away from someone else,” and that, “You’re not trying to be as good as or better than anyone else,” but what about in competitive spaces? What about areas where there’s limited resources? Maybe the result you want is that you win first place in the competition or get the promotion over another person. You getting it means they can’t have it. And while that means you do have to perform better than them, when you approach training or practicing or working towards that goal, however that looks, all you can really control is your effort. This is what I’ve heard Katrin say many times about her training for the CrossFit Games. If you know that you gave it your best effort, every single day, every single hour, maybe even every single minute or second, if you’re really disciplined and committed, then you know that you’ve done all you could, regardless of the result, regardless of what your competition is doing, so why worry about results and others, when you can’t control those factors. If you give it your all, you can have no regrets. And if you lose, you can still know that you became a better you in the process, regardless of this singular, specific outcome, and that’s a victory in and of itself.

My Second CrossFit Open

My second CrossFit Open went better than I could have hoped for. After the 2018 Open (my first Open), I got my results back via the CrossFit Games app, and tweeted that I hoped I could get from the 66th percentile to the 80th+ percentile in 2019. And I got to 90th percentile (14,542/146,364) in 2019! So as far as long-term progress vs. goal, I couldn’t be happier!

CrossFit Open Result
2018 vs. 2019 Ranking: CrossFit Open Worldwide Rank and Percentile
CrossFit Open Gym Rank
2018 vs. 2019 Ranking: CrossFit Open Gym Rank

I do tend to perform well in the setting of our “Friday Nights Lights” atmosphere, where Friday night classes are canceled and our gym runs heats of the Open workouts and everyone hangs out and cheers. I get extremely nervous, definitely more than I should, but I think it helps me more than it hurts me, and “Friday Night Lights” is one of my favorite parts of CrossFit, hands-down. Getting to hang out with friends and work out with the crew, going out for celebratory drinks afterwards, meeting people from the morning classes who I often don’t get the chance to workout with or talk to otherwise, we even had an in-house DJ this year — it’s just the most amazing experience and a great five weeks, even though I’m often an anxious wreck every Friday! My first CrossFit Open happened only a few months after I joined the gym, so it was definitely a bit overwhelming, but now that I’m a more active and established member of the gym, it was a totally different experience.

In the end, I took second place overall in the gym, out of 44, which is higher than my actual total fitness level would merit, but since the Open so often emphasizes weights and skills, and since I am strong and gymnast-y, I do better than I normally do when just measuring conditioning.

Looking back at my post about my first CrossFit Open in 2018, I had these goals, and I achieved all of them before the 2019 Open!

  • Get handstand walks
  • Get bar muscle-ups
  • Get ring muscle-ups
  • Improve all other technical skills (HSPU, C2B, T2B, dubs, etc.)
  • BUILD A BIGGER ENGINE

Looking forward to the second CrossFit Open of 2019, my main goal between now and then, is the same as it was after the 2018 Open, and the same it has been since I started CrossFit — continue to build my engine without sacrificing strength, with a secondary goal of getting my ring muscle ups more consistent so I can safely do them as part of a workout and to work on chaining them together.

1 Year of CrossFit!

Today is my 1-year CrossFit anniversary!

I came to CrossFit having taught myself weightlifting in my basement, and that’s still what I love the most, but the variety of CrossFit is what has really kept me going. Since that first day, I’ve learned all sorts of gymnast-y things including all sorts of kipping and butterfly pullups, handstand push-ups and walks, double-unders, bar and ring muscle-ups and more! There’s just an endless list of skills to develop and train, and while at times it feels overwhelming to keep all your shiny new skills in practice, it also means there’s always something exciting to work on!

Overall, I’m super happy with the progress I’ve made in the past year. On top of cardiovascular/engine and gymnastic skills gains, my Olympic lifts have gotten much snappier and more consistent and I’ve seen significant PRs there due to technique improvements (turns out having a coach watch you and give you advice is better than going it alone in your basement), and while my big maximal lifts haven’t increased much, strength work is going to be my focus for year two, now that most of the skills are coming along nicely.

Putting all the exercise talk aside (which I love), I think maybe the most transformative part of CrossFit has been the community. As everyone who does CrossFit will probably say, the community is what makes it all work. Suffering together really does build strong relationships!

Additionally, for me, this is probably the first time in my life that I’ve felt a sense of actual community. I’ve had groups of nerd friends with shared nerdy interests, but CrossFit is truly is a community and a local one at that — it’s not just making friends, though you make plenty of those as well — it’s seeing people from the gym who you might not know that well yet, but knowing you have something in common with them and that you’d instantly help them out and vice versa.

Friendship for me has often meant hanging out with people (in real life or online) who are very similar to myself who have a relatively narrow set of similar interests to me, and while we all have CrossFit as a shared interest, being part of the gym community has meant building relationships with people from a wider range of backgrounds and experiences, and that is something that’s really important and healthy. I also have had to get used to (in a good way) constantly seeing people I know as I’m out and about. It’s like living in a small town again, but instead, it’s a small community that’s part of a big city.

Finally, my biggest fears, about being discriminated against for being trans, ended up being the least important aspect of my entire experience. The gym has been wonderful, and there were already a ton of queer and trans or gender-nonconforming members already. I don’t know exactly numbers, but a significant portion of the gym is queer and nerdy, so it’s absolutely perfect. I won’t say my fears about gyms and CrossFit and transphobia in general were unfounded, but my lesson in this instance was there are already queer and trans people out there, doing what they love and what you want to do — you just have be brave enough to go and join them. This sounds melodramatic in retrospect, but a year ago, fear was keeping me from doing something I’d wanted to do and find a community around for years, and now I’m doing it and I can say with certainty — the rewards far outweigh the risks.

Some highlights from the past year include doing my first CrossFit Open, doing OutWOD, a traveling CrossFit workout and fundraiser for LGBTQ CrossFitters, and meeting Katrin Davidsdottir at a Reebok store!

OutWOD

OutWOD

OutWOD Photo

OutWOD

Allie with CrossFit Athlete Katrin Davidsdottir

CrossFit, Lifting, and Non-Binary Gender

When I first transitioned back in 2009/2010, my transition was very much from one side of the binary to the other. Even as I was aware of and happy for people who were living outside of the gender binary, I still saw myself fitting into it.

As a result, I spent a long time trying very hard to achieve some degree of “approved” femininity. This meant that despite loving weightlifting and craving a community around it, I stayed away from gyms and coaches, both for fear of harassment and also because I wanted to program my own workouts to avoid adding too much bulk to my already wide shoulders. I constantly struggled with both loving feeling my body get stronger, but also how dysphoric putting on extra muscle made me feel. But when events aligned and I sucked it up and finally joined a CrossFit gym, I found myself actually loving my body (maybe for the first time ever), and as I started to feel comfortable — just as myself — among the wonderful community at the gym, I started to not care so much about where I fit into femininity (or masculinity). Movement has always felt joyful to me, but the more I let myself enjoy it and celebrate it, the more I realized that the breakdown of male vs. female wasn’t even a factor in this aspect of my life. And then I realized that applied to every part of my life.

The realization itself actually very much reminded me of when I first thought about transitioning: the anxiousness of navigating something new, mixed with the fear of leaving behind something that had defined me for so long, all still undercut by the giddy anticipation of instinctively knowing, “This is me. This is right.”

My relationship with my body, with my gender, and with fitness have all informed each other for as long as I can remember, and even more so over the past five or six years, but now, I feel like they’re indelibly linked. For me, both lifting and CrossFit are transformative activities, both literally and metaphorically: they’ve allowed me to feel agency, control, and ownership over how my body looks and feels, even when I’ve not been super happy with it; they’ve allowed me to not only grow and change every day, but to exceed what I thought I was capable of; and maybe most importantly, they have helped me gain the self-confidence to recognize, accept, and love myself and my body and to define where I fit (or feel comfortable not fitting) into the world.

A picture comparing Allie's back and shoulder muscle development from 2014 to 2018
2014 to 2018 comparison photos
Allie's 2018 Measurements, bicep, chest, waist, hips, thigh, calf
Current measurements

My First CrossFit Open

I just finished my first CrossFit Open! I almost wasn’t going to do it, because I could still do the workouts and not shell out $20 for registration, but someone at the gym mentioned that a good reason to do it early on, even if you weren’t quite sure if you were ready, was to at least have a score on the board to compare yourself to next year, which I thought was really good advice. It seemed likely that I would regret not having a benchmark to compare myself to a year down the road.

Now that it’s over, I can say that it was totally worth it, both in the sense of just doing the workouts and also being able to track yourself on a worldwide leaderboard. My gym does a “Friday Night Lights”-style workout on Friday evenings, which was a blast; I entered an RX score for every workout; and I’m really pleased with my overall performance! I was getting a lot of the RX movements a week or two before each workout, or in the case of HSPU, during the workout, and then managed to get 10 more! It was just a great experience all together, the workouts themselves, the camaraderie, and watching other people get firsts, personal bests, and otherwise exceed what they thought they were capable of. Which to me seems to be one of the defining traits of CrossFit – doing more than you ever thought you could!

I considered re-testing a few workouts (18.2 in particular, for a heavier clean), because I knew I could do better, but once I got a score in for each workout, I figured my time this year is better spent working on developing the skills and engine I need to do better in the 2019 Open. Next year is the year I’ll be more committed to making sure I bring my best possible performance to each workout.

I’ve got a year to improve, so my work is cut out for me:

  • Get handstand walks
  • Get bar muscle-ups
  • Get ring muscle-ups
  • Improve all other technical skills (HSPU, C2B, T2B, dubs, etc.)
  • BUILD A BIGGER ENGINE

But for now, I’m happy with my 2018 Open results, and looking forward to the 2019 Open!

CrossFit Open Result
CF Open Worldwide Rank and Percentile
CrossFit Open Worldwide Rank
CrossFit Open Worldwide Rank
CrossFit Open Result
CrossFit Open Region Rank
CF Open Result
CrossFit Open Gym Rank