Happy Favorite Day of the Week, everyone! 😉
One of the athletes I coach at CrossFit 925 and I just finished up his interview for our “Athlete of the Month” feature in this month’s newsletter. His responses brought tears of joy to my eyes – I had to share them with you all! Get ready to be inspired!
Rich Mlynek’s CrossFit journey began nearly one year ago back in January. During his very first workout – a Community WOD one crisp Saturday morning – he could hardly keep up with his partner and had to take frequent breaks. He could only do ten sit-ups at a time before catching his breath and struggling to do more. His lower body strength was lacking, as was his endurance. In fact, his high school football coach once told Rich he was such a slow runner that he’d have to be timed with a calendar instead of a stopwatch.
Despite the challenges CrossFit presented, Rich accepted them all. Fueled by his desire to keep up with his six year-old son and take back control of his health, he decided to discover his inner athlete at age 48. Today, Rich can do sit-ups with ease. He can back squat 275 pounds. He’s doing WOD after WOD as prescribed. And as for running, his mile time is down to 9:06, and he recently ran a 5K in just over 34 minutes.
925: What was your fitness routine/health like before CrossFit?
Rich: I was in terrible physical shape before I started CrossFit! I blew out my right Achilles tendon playing softball (of all things) in June of 2010, and after surgery had a subsequent infection at the surgical site. It took 9 months before the surgical site was properly healed. I gained about 25 lbs from inactivity and joined Lifetime Fitness, paid $100 a month, and didn’t go very often.
I had a long history of joining a gym, going semi-consistently for a while, then stopping when I didn’t get results. Really, after high school football, I didn’t know how to work out in a way that hit a variety of muscle groups and kept me interested. For years, my workout consisted of 30 to 40 minutes of elliptical or treadmill, and 15 to 20 minutes of machine weights, two to three times a week, and then hit the sauna.
Boring workouts resulted in skinny legs, an overly large top half of my body and a huge level of dissatisfaction! Also, I could never shrink my belly, which I’m sure was equal parts poor diet and not knowing how to address that in the gym.
925: What first inspired you to start CrossFit?
Rich: My friends Shea and JoLynn Posey told me about CrossFit. As soon as I heard about a program that is led by trainers, focused on all muscle groups, intense and fun, I was sold. It seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.
925: When did you start, and what were your goals?
Rich: I started in mid-January, 2013. My biggest goal was to be able to keep up with my six year-old son, who frequently comes with me to watch me work out. I couldn’t even run around in the back yard with a soccer ball without getting winded immediately. I wanted to be a Dad that could participate with my son, not just watch! I wanted my clothes to fit better and to maybe have to buy smaller sizes instead of always going larger. I told myself I would try CF for 2 months, and then decide whether to continue or not.
925: Did you feel any trepidation about joining?
Rich: I wasn’t really nervous about joining the program, because I knew I needed it, but as a 48 year-old really out of shape guy, I was concerned that I might embarrass myself by not being able to physically perform some of the exercises or complete the workouts. Thank God the exercises and workouts are scaled to the individual’s fitness level, abilities, and familiarity with the particular exercises!!!
925: What are some of the first exercises/types of workouts you did at 925? What were your initial thoughts on your performance?
Rich: I remember the first Foundations class with Coach Ben. He asked me to do 25 sit-ups. I got through about 10 poor sit-ups and then had to rest and struggle to do one or two at a time until I finished. I was horrified.
My first WOD was a Saturday community workout. I was excited and anxious that the workouts were team workouts because, although I’m competitive and the team dynamic seemed fun, I thought I would drag my team down. I was teamed up with a long time CF member who was in great shape. I did my best, but got winded really quickly on med ball twists and running. The WOD was a real rush and my teammate encouraged me and was really patient with me. This was just the beginning of feeling that everyone at Crossfit 925 is on your team and wants you to succeed. I was hooked from the very first WOD.
925: Did you ever feel like giving up or that CrossFit was too tough? If so, what encouraged you to keep with it?
Rich: After the first 2 months of consistently going three to four times a week, I had lost about ten pounds and was starting to see my level of fitness and stamina increase. The decision was easy to keep going. I thought for sure that the intense workouts would result in burnout or injury, and I was just going to keep going until one or the other happened, because that was what had always happened in the past at other gyms. Now, eleven months after starting, I’m not burned out and haven’t gotten injured!
Working to prevent any potentially negative results were the thorough warm-ups before the WODs and mobility cool-downs after the WODs. Also, I never repeated a workout in the first two months and 25 workouts – I was starting to see why people stuck with Crossfit as a long-term fitness solution!
925: What have been some of the biggest challenges for you during WODs?
Rich: Initially, my biggest challenges were lower-body focused workouts and endurance challenges. Even while working out consistently before I joined CF, I never did lower body strength workouts. The result was that I couldn’t get close to below parallel on a squat without losing my balance. And forget about adding weight and holding a barbell over my head; that was a formula for disaster and embarrassment! Also, because I was too heavy, I was a super slow runner and my feet were always getting injured (plantar fasciitis and metatarsalgia) before CrossFit. Amazingly, with practice on form and consistent WOD attendance, I have gotten to the point where squats are a strength, overhead weight lifting is now possible and getting better, and I have lowered my mile and 5K times substantially in just a few months.
925: How has your nutrition changed as a result of CrossFitting consistently? Do you think nutrition has a lot to do with your performance during WODs?
Rich: I have paid much more attention to nutrition as a supplement to my workout routine. I have cut down on carbs, dairy and alcohol and made a point of eating more protein, vegetables, and fruits. I eat eggs or yogurt for breakfast instead of cereal or breakfast tacos. For lunch, I set up a refrigerator salad bar at home with different veggies and chicken or turkey. For dinner, I have a protein like chicken breast, with a fresh vegetable like spinach or broccoli. I mix in the occasional boneless pork chop or steak. I sauté mushrooms and onions in olive oil for chicken and steak. I’ve mostly cut out pasta, rice, bread/pizza and only occasionally eat those carb based foods as a treat as opposed to the staple that they were growing up in an Italian family! If I drink, it is the occasional glass of red wine or one to tcold beers on the weekends. Bad eating usually results in slower times, less endurance and feeling terrible during workouts, so I try to stay on track.
925: What have been some of your biggest accomplishments in CrossFit?
Rich: Because I had never done any squats before CF, I’m really happy with my back squat of 275 lbs. Also, I’ve always been a really slow runner. My high school football coach told me that he should time me with a calendar instead of a stopwatch! So finishing a mile in 9:06 and a 5K in just over 34 minutes are really good times for me.
925: Have you achieved the goals you had in mind when you first began? If not, how close are you to reaching them?
Rich: I have achieved the goal of being able to physically keep up with my son playing in the yard, going on long hikes at Enchanted Rock with ease, biking San Antonio parks and running in 5K races and mud and obstacle runs. My waist size has gone from 38 to 34 for pants and my old clothes now look huge on me. My life has become full of much more opportunity and fun because of CrossFit!
925: Have you set any new goals for yourself? If so, what are they?
Rich: My new goals focus on consistency, finishing WODs before the cut-off times, reaching Rx weights and getting much better form for my overhead weight lifting. I would like to finish a 5K in 31 minutes and get my mile run time down to 8:30.
925: How has CrossFit positively affected your life outside the box?
Rich: I have more energy, I’m more focused at work, I’m more productive at home, I’m more active with my son and my friends, and my confidence is up. I sleep much better, so I’m not as grumpy and I’m more open to challenges and doing things that I wasn’t able to do before because I’m doing things in the CrossFit box that I didn’t think were possible every week.
925: What is your favorite thing about CrossFit?
Rich: The Crossfit COMMUNITY is my favorite part of Crossfit. The other athletes always pull FOR you, work WITH you and congratulate you and each other after every WOD. There does not seem to be the judgment and sizing up of each other like at other gyms. People seem genuinely happy to be there. We are all doing the same workout and we all struggle and accomplish TOGETHER.
Because the workout times are the same every day, you tend to see a lot of the same people every day and athletes get to know each other and seem to genuinely like each other and care for each other. This is a bonus and benefit that I never expected, but have come to appreciate every time I work out. The community encourages me to keep going, even when the workout is going to be hard, which it almost always is. Also, I like some of the crazy workouts, like pulling weighted sleds and carrying kettlebells or medicine balls up the street, as they break up the routine of weight lifting and regular aerobic activities like running or jumping rope.
925: Do you have any advice for anyone reading this who may be frightened or intimidated by CrossFit? What would you say to those who think they’re too old/fat/out of shape/lazy/unathletic to do CrossFit?
Rich: When I started, I thought I was too old, too fat, too out of shape and most likely lacked the energy and/or motivation to become a CrossFit athlete. Now I’m older (HA!), thinner, in better shape and have more energy and motivation in and out of the box BECAUSE of CrossFit. CrossFit will change your life in a positive way. Keep your mind open, listen to the coaches and your body and CrossFit will definitely change your health and your life for the better.