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Published: Sunday, 1/23/2011

New gym brings big changes

BY DAVE MURRAY
BLADE MANAGING EDITOR

It's that time of year when many of us take stock of our lives, or more specifically our bodies. Exactly a year ago this week I pulled a muscle in my shoulder opening the front door of The Blade -- that's right, opening a door.

I thought I was in decent shape. I watched what I ate and I worked out on the treadmill in my basement and lifted the occasional dumbbell or barbell. I wasn't bloating up like many of the guys my age.

But my shoulder nagged me, and a buddy of mine raved about a new gym downtown he had joined, so I grabbed my gym bag and stopped by. I thought I'd try out the machines and check out the sauna. I was in for a big surprise.

There were no machines, there was no sauna, but there was Todd Ovall, the owner of the CrossFit Lifesport Fitness gym on Summit Street just north of Cherry Street. It is not an exaggeration to say that he and his gym have changed my life, as well as my body.

This is not a story about a mid-life crisis, although at 56 I have more years behind me than ahead. This is a story about trying to avoid an old-age crisis. Both my parents had hips replaced, back surgeries, and other structural ailments. I want to avoid that and I believe a strong workout regimen will help me do that.

This is a story best told by numbers -- metrics Todd calls them. Numbers tell me how far I've come, how much endurance and stamina I now have, how strong I am. I'll deal with weight first. Although I didn't join the gym to lose weight, I dropped from 180 pounds to 165 pounds over the first six months at the gym and I've maintained at 165 since. I've lost my gut and added muscle.

But the numbers I'm most proud of have to do with the basics. My first 500 meter row I clocked at 2:43. My latest 500 meter row I'm down to 1:46. That's less than a minute shaved off the 500 meter, but I've worked hard, very hard, for those precious 57 seconds. The first time I tried jumping rope it took me 12:02 minutes to get to 500. My 500 time last week was down to 6:50. When I began I could do five push-ups -- yes, just five. Last week I could do 20 push-ups in 46 seconds and I could have done more, a lot more.

Friends notice that I have more energy and seem fitter and they want to know what I'm doing. They don't believe me when I tell them it's sit-ups, push-ups, jump rope, rowing, and pull-ups.

Pull-ups are killers, and one of the things I focus on every time I'm at the gym. I'm up to five pull-ups in a row, which sounds lame, but try it and you'll see how incredibly hard it is to pull your own body up and your chin over a bar.

Weight lifting is also a daily part of the program. I thought weight lifting was sitting in a machine and pushing or pulling. At CrossFit, weight training focuses on using proper posture, stance, grip, the arch of your back, the rotation of your hips. How much weight you lift is secondary to how well you lift it.

My goal is to lift more to become stronger, but the more important goal is to lift correctly. Todd won't let me lift more until I can show him I know what I'm doing.

My first week I could back squat 95 pounds, shoulder press 70 pounds, and dead lift 155 pounds. Last week I lifted 200 pounds in the back squat, 95 pounds in the shoulder press, and 255 pounds in the dead lift. That's bragging. More humbling is the overhead squat. Last week I could only lift 35 pounds in the overhead squat, and I didn't do that well.

Just as lifting my body up and over a bar is incredibly difficult, lifting a 35-pound barbell straight over my head and slowly squatting to the floor is almost impossible for me to do, but Todd keeps pushing me to do it over and over again.

I won't lie to you. There are times during workouts I start to think I can't do it, I can't finish it, but with Todd's coaching and encouragement somehow I do finish it, and then collapse on the floor, gasping for breath. But after a couple minutes I get up and feel amazed that I've just done the impossible -- or what I thought was impossible.

And I did it without machines or a sauna.

Contact Dave Murray at dmurray@theblade.com or 419-724-6069.



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