Posts Tagged by strength

Amanda Allen – Proving Fitness and Well-Being Can Begin At Any Age

What things come to mind when you think of the fittest people in the world?  I would bet that a 43 woman would not be in that list and that’s because you haven’t met Amanda Allen.  Amanda has won the CrossFit Games Masters Division (40-44) for two consecutive years and is here to prove that fitness and well-being can begin at any age.

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Amanda’s story isn’t that of a typical athlete.  After years of struggling with alcohol addiction and depression, she decided it was time to make a change at the age of 34. Amanda dove head first into a new adventure and became a World title triathlete.  From there, she took on the sport of Kneeling Canoeing which had recently become an Olympic event.  She devoted herself to the sport with the hopes of making the Olympic Team and turned CrossFit while training as a way to increase her strength.  She did not make the cut, but the story doesn’t end there.  At the age of 41 with only six months of training under her belt, Amanda qualified for the CrossFit Games and placed 19th among the fittest women in the world, some of which were half her age.  AMAZING.

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Photo Source: Amanda Allen

Amanda has continued to get stronger and better at the sport.  Not only has she won the Women’s 40-44 Masters Division at the CrossFit Games in 2013 and 2014, she signed with the National Professional Grid League team the Philly Founders, which has brought her to the States from Australia for an extended stay.  Since the coach of the Founders is also the Owner and Head Coach at my gym, CrossFit Milford, we have been lucky enough to have had her training here for the past few months.  

Photo Source: Amanda Allen

Photo Source: Amanda Allen

Amanda was awesome enough to sit down with some of the female athletes at CFM to talk about training, nutrition, and overall mental health one Saturday afternoon and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear what she had to say.  She shared her journey to the CrossFit games, training techniques and nutrition regimens.  She talked about the “controlling the controllables” which are basically nutrition, hydration, sleep, recovery and perception.  We learned how to best fuel for workouts, new recovery techniques such as floating, how tracking your menstrual cycle can help improve performance and a ton of other useful information specific to women athletes.

While all of this information was wonderful and what I had expected out of the seminar, I found that what resonated with me the most was Amanda’s outlook on self empowerment and positivity.  We have 100% control over our mindset and how we choose to live our lives, so why not choose a positive outlook.  She reinforced that being selfish isn’t a bad thing and that in order to become successful and truly happy we need to empower ourselves.  We should strive to find inspiration everyday and in turn inspire others.  She has even begun her own “Positivity Project” by writing down 3 positive aspects of her life every morning to get her in the right mindset everyday.  

None of this would have been possible without CrossFit.  Amanda says that it is the most empowering thing she has ever done and sees how it changes lives around the world.  I know it has changed mine.  It has helped Amanda become mentally, emotionally, spiritually and overall physically stronger everyday, and I couldn’t agree more!  

Photo Source: Amanda Allen

Photo Source: Amanda Allen

What a privilege to chat with a professional athlete and feed off of her energy for an afternoon.  While much of her nutrition and competitive training advice was a bit extreme for my goals, her advice on self empowerment and positivity is something that I can start working on right away that will make a HUGE difference in my life.  I am making an effort to fill my life with positive people and to cut out all of the negative shit.  Coming to the realization that being selfish isn’t a bad thing can be difficult to embrace and for others to understand, but you can’t be there for others if you don’t take care of yourself first.  Setting priorities and goals are what got Amanda to the top of her game and if I can harness a fraction of that determination, who knows where I can go!         

To learn more about Amanda Allen, visit her website and her Facebook page.  She also has two books that are on my must read list for the near future: Eat, Perform, Win and The Time of My Life.  But right now, you should check out this great video of Amanda in action as she trains for the 2013 CrossFit Games…

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My Two Year WODiversary!

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I have never ever ever in my life kept up with a steady fitness routine for longer than maybe 6 months.  Even with all the races I have run and continue to put on my schedule for the next few months, I haven’t kept up with my training like I should’ve.  But CrossFit…well CrossFit has kept my interest.  And it has not only kept my interest, but I fall in love with it more and more everyday.  It’s challenging, it’s fun, it’s rewarding and the friendships I have formed from it are just the best.  What is not to love?!

While I’m not exactly where I would’ve hoped to be two years into this journey, the improvements to my fitness, strength and confidence are unparalleled.  Here are some of those improvements compared to the first time I attempted a certain movement and then from a year ago.

  • Dead Lift: 63# >> 220# >> 225#
  • Back Squat: 53# >> 145# >> 155#
  • Front Squat: 58# >> 128# >> 145#
  • Overhead Squat: 43# >> 73# >> 85#
  • Squat Clean: 45# >> 73# >> 98#
  • Power Clean: 63# >> 103# >> 128#
  • Power Snatch: 53# >> 73# >> 78#
  • Thruster: 33# >> 75# >> 93#
  • Close Grip Bench: 48# >> 90# >> 95#
  • Shoulder to Overhead: 33# >> 85# >> 110# (split jerk)

Never in my life did I think I could lift over 100 pounds over my head…that’s insane to me! And the funny thing is, the clean & jerk is now my favorite movement.  I could do them all day!

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I still need to improve on the gymnastic movements like handstands and pull ups.  Hell, I still need to get an actual pull up!  Oh and double unders…I am ready to master those things.  But while those are not my strong suit, I have improved my box jumps and burpee efficiency by leaps and bounds.  

Other highlights in my CrossFit life this past year have included participating in Barbells for Boobs and raising money for breast cancer early detection screenings.  I can’t wait to do this again this year and I’m hoping to complete it in under 5 minutes this time!

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Also, attending the both the CrossFit Games Northeast Regional Competition and the actual CrossFit Games were probably the most inspirational and motivating ways to keep me moving forward with my training.  To see those dedicated athletes complete movements that I’m familiar with is simply amazing.

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My goals for the next year are to…

  • Get a pull up…I’d be happy with just a kipping pull up!
  • Master double unders
  • Get over 100 pounds in all of the movements above
  • Complete Grace in under 5 minutes
  • Get comfortable upside-down (aka doing handstands)
  • Get over my fear of box jumps!  

Totally doable!!  

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Coming up in just 7 weeks I will be competing in my first CrossFit competition…yikes!!  It’s the Disney Fit Challenge at Walt Disney World (of course it is at Disney!) and I’m going down with my lifting partner and life twin, Kat.  I’m beyond nervous excited!

So here’s to another year of lifting heavy things, getting faster, getting stronger, and just feeling RAD.  Big thanks to my coaches at CrossFit Milford, especially Jay, Colin, Ryan, Gina, Cesar, Dan and Amanda for always pushing me to be better and always believing that I can do the impossible.

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How One Day Can Change Your Life

Here I am…on the longest flight I’ve been on in over 10 years, writing to you at over 36,000 feet.  I’ve shocked myself today.  I woke up focused and had very minimal anxiety getting to the airport and even boarding the plane.  Maybe I was just THAT tired or maybe I’m actually dealing with this better.  I took an Ativan once seated so I could take a nap for a while, but that only lasted about 1.5 hours and once again…I’m ok!

This all might seem silly to a lot of people…this fear of flying thing, but it really is rooted in a not so pretty place that I’ve never gone into detail about here.  You see, I wasn’t always liked this.  I LOVED to fly when I was younger.  I traveled all over the U.S. including San Francisco, San Antonio, and Denver.  I traveled internationally to England, France and even spent 2 months abroad in Ireland.  Traveling was exciting…so many opportunities are available once you step off that plane!  

But when I was 21 years old, the world changed….September 11th happened.

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On that day I was living 5 blocks from the World Trade Center in a studio apartment at 33 Gold Street.  I had just started my final year at New York University and I was working in the Box Office at the Hammerstein Ballroom, one of the top concert venues in NYC at the time.  To say I was loving life was an understatement.   Well you know the story of the day so I won’t rehash that business, but to say the events greatly effected me is an understatement.  And it didn’t happen right way either…  

Soon after 9/11, I traveled quite a bit…to England, Arizona, Florida…but with each trip my anxiety grew.  I moved out of the city to Hoboken, NJ across the Hudson river, but I was still commuting in for work and school every day.  Soon I started having trouble on the subway, going through tunnels and being on bridges.  This is a problem when you have to use at least one of those things to get in or out of NYC.  My fear of being trapped, like I was on 9/11, was becoming overwhelming and crippling.   

I ended up having to leave NYC because the stress of having to go there everyday was too much.  Well that wasn’t the ONLY reason, but it played a large part in our decision to move to CT.  However the problem with that was now that I no longer had to face those fears everyday, my reactions were 1,000 times worse when I actually did.  I would have a full on panic attack driving over the George Washington Bridge.  I wouldn’t take the train into NYC or take the Subway for almost 8 years.  Getting on a plane was out of the question.  B and I actually DROVE to Florida for our Honeymoon…it’s amazing that man actually married me.  And the worst thing about all of this was that it was affecting my health because all of that stress would cause my UC to flare on a regular basis.

It was after that long drive to Florida that I finally woke up.  I couldn’t live my life like this anymore…I was missing out on LIFE!  B also turned to me and said, if you ever want to go to Disney again we are flying.  Well that right there is motivation enough to change! 🙂  With the help of a low dose of anti-anxiety medication and the will to face my fears, I am slowly working through all of my fears.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I need help here…

Now look at me.  As I finish writing this, I am sitting in my hotel room at the Disneyland Hotel after taking a non-stop flight from NY to LA.  That’s almost 6 hours on a plane people!!  I am having a blast at The Happiest Place on Earth with the love of my life and later this week I get to go the the CrossFit Games!!  How could I have denied myself these experiences?  

Sarah-Disneyland-2014

I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s far from it!  Last week I had a panic attack just thinking about traveling, but I’ve learned how to calm myself down and try to relax a bit.  Exercise really helps!  I’ve also learned that talking about it helps.  Sometimes you just ned to get all the crazy out because you otherwise feel like this…

Sarah-Disneyland-2014-Wild-Animal

So there’s the backstory to all of the anxiety-ridden posts you’ve seen and probably will continue to see over time.  It’s amazing how that one day almost 13 years ago completely changed my life, but looking back now it has only made me stronger.  I’ve had to overcome some major shit, but I’ve been trying to do it with a smile.  🙂   

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How Body Type Can Dictate Your Sport

Well runDisney has taken up most of my blogging time these past few weeks.  Last week was the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and this week was the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend.  I’ve been taking a break from running for a while, but I still LOVE Disney races, so I’ve been following all the fun and cheering on my friends along the way.  But all this running madness did get me to thinking…  

I recently saw this video on the difference between a sprinter and a marathoner.  It basically comes down to explosive strength vs. endurance.  This does apply to both sprinters and marathoners, but it also applies to numerous other athletes as well.  Where do I fall? 

Sarah-Sprinter-Marathoner

Sprinters train their muscles to react quickly and use short bursts of energy to achieve quick goals.  They need total body strength and muscle.  All that muscle gives them explosive power to run fast, lift heavy things and push extra hard, but it also adds weight, weight that makes it quite difficult to run a marathon.  That’s why these athletes excel at sports like sprinting, rowing, weightlifting and speed skating.  

Marathoners on the other hand do not need those strong, explosive muscles to run long distances.  They keep their weight down and train their muscles to carry them for long distances.  Speed and strength isn’t as important as endurance.  Besides marathons, these athletes excel at other sports like cycling and cross country skiing.

Well I don’t really fit into either category, but I definitely lean more towards sprinter than marathoner.  Yes, I’ve run a marathon but it was far from an easy task to complete.  I’m not exactly what you would call “light on my feet” and while I can endure many miles it’s not very fast.  My energy tank runs low fairly quickly.  I’m just not built like your typical runner.  Look at my friend Marc for example, tall, thin, fast, and runs ultra marathons…he’s your typical marathoner.  

Marc-Bigbie

I’m somewhere in between.  I have great explosive strength that allow me to lift heavy and I have increased my endurance to get me through half and full marathons, but I don’t completely excel at either.  And due to my genetic make-up, I probably never will.  I can train my muscles to be better in one area then the other, which is what has been happening with my CrossFit training.  I’ve been focusing more on lifting weights and slacking on my running, and I have seen a definite decrease in my endurance because of it.

Princess-Half-Sarah-Marc

So yes it’s genetics, but you can also train you body to excel in one area or the other.  Do you want to run marathons?  Focus on endurance and put in the time with some long runs.  Do you want to sprint or lift heavy things?  Work your entire body and build your strength.

Where do you fall?  Do you excel in one area or are you more 50/50 like me?  

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Inspiration From An 8 Minute Plank

You read that title right…an 8 minute plank!

You know the plank right?  Probably the best exercise to strengthening your core, where you hold your body stiff as a board while either in a strict push-up position or on your forearms.  It looks easy, but once you start doing a plank you know how insanely hard they are!

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So this brings me to tonight where I stood in awe and witnessed an 8-minute plank.  On my best day, I think the longest plank I’ve held is 1:30…not so impressive.  This was impressive.  But there are a few other reasons why this 8-minute plank was so incredible.

First, it followed a full CrossFit WOD.  This included 20 minutes of hang power snatch and power clean work building up to a 1 rep max and a 2 rep max respectively.  We then moved into 7 rounds of 10 deadlifts and 7 burpees….no big deal right?!?  Ugh!  We then rested for one minute and went into a plank hold for as long as we could.  You know how long I lasted?  30 seconds.  Seriously…30 seconds…fail.

This is me...

This is me…

Second, the woman who held this plank was 60 years old and she is seriously badass.  I first met Peggy early on into starting CrossFit and I have always been in awe of her positivity, determination and strength.  Earlier this year she broke her foot, but that didn’t stop her from still putting in the work at the gym.  I even saw her doing burpee box jumps with a boot on her foot…what?!?  I can’t do those on a good day!  Oh and don’t even get me started on how well she can climb a rope…sigh.    

So there she was after that insane workout, holding that plank.  We were all out of breath and spent as we put our weights away and there in the middle of the room was Peggy, holding that plank.  Our coach Gina got down and was encouraging her through it…counting down the minutes.  A group of us circled around and cheered her on.  The previous recored for the day was 7:35 at one of the morning classes, so Peggy set out for 8 minutes…and she got it!  I can’t remember the last time I felt that inspired.

When she got up, a group of us told her how amazing that was and how we could NEVER do that in our wildest dreams.  Ever humble, Peggy replied that she can’t lift like we can. And here is why I love CrossFit.  We all have our strengths and we all have our areas to improve, but we all see each others strengths as a way to make ourselves better. Peggy has the core strength.  Keira has mastered double unders.  Kat can out squat anyone.  Ari runs like the wind.  Ashley bangs out the pull-ups. And I can kick some ass on the Air Dyne.  We are all unique, yet inspire each other to be better everyday.  

I left today’s class with a HUGE smile on my face and I can’t help but thank Peggy for that. She proved that no matter what your age is, you can do whatever you set your mind to.  I can only hope to be that strong, both mentally and physically, for the rest of my life. Thank you for giving me a day to always look back on when I’m down to lift me back up again…you rock!

What inspires you??

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