When I told anyone what I was planning to do the week of August 13th-17th, I was met with a lot of "that's crazy," and "No fucking way." Even the trainers and athletes I knew, who are in better shape or stronger than me, would say "I'm not ready for something like that - maybe next year, if I can train for it." People just did not understand the attraction I had to put myself through a week-long mental and physical challenge that I had very few qualifications for, other than being willing. "Why would you do that to yourself??" They asked. "Because I need to," I said. I'm used to most people not understanding what I'm doing. (I've always been very experimental.)
The mind is primary. This is the first tenet of Gym Jones and it is exactly why I chose to drop the globo gym account and train with them earlier this year. I came here to overcome a fear-based and negative prone mindset, period. PRs and fast times can come later. I have now taken every seminar and I can say, without a doubt, it is working for me and has completely changed some things I thought were fundamental to my nature. (spoiler alert: they weren't)
Where the Beginner and Intermediate seminars are based on learning the tenets of Gym Jones programming and knowledge, the Advanced Seminar is a bit more serious. It is for professional trainers and athletes to take their coaching or performance to the next level, or for those looking to specifically become a fully certified Gym Jones instructor. Instead of a weekend, it runs a full five-days and includes guest speakers and/or specialized fitness clinics every day, plus 2-4 physical tests and hard workouts (also every day.)
On Monday, we were welcomed with a rad swag bag full of goodies that came in handy all week long: skin repair spray, Oakley sunglasses, Gnarly nutrition packets, a Black Diamond headlamp, a Gym Jones limited edition t-shirt, a notebook, and we were treated to baskets of sport nutrition bars and hot Alpha coffee. Immediately afterward, we were tested with a 2K ski. There is no free lunch, here. You should know that by now.
After that, we had a workout designed by strength coach Jason Archibald. The goal was to lift 15,000 (10,000 for women) pounds worth of weight in one lift, for three separate lifts. So you picked any three big lifts you wanted and dependent on the weight you chose - you'd rep it out until you got to 15,000 pounds. Then, you'd move on to the next lift and repeat the process. However, to make it extra fucked up, there was a penalty every minute. If you picked deadlifts, every minute a bell would sound and you had to stop and do 10 burpees, then continue. If you picked overhead press, it was ball slams, and so on. The strategy had to be picking a weight you can rep out efficiently, the challenge was dealing with how quickly those penalties accumulated. By the end, you might do two penalty rounds in a row and not even get to your weight lifting. Needless to say, I fucked this one up from the getgo and had to really scramble at the end with 15 pound dumbbell bench presses to make it within the allotted time.
Next, we had a much needed durability and mobility session with Shane Heins from Onnit Academy. His helpful tips on breathing and mobility movements were what I drew upon for the rest of the week to keep from tightening up and panicking when I got close to that red line threshhold. He was not only a great source of technique and practice, but he led a mobility class every morning he was there. He'd also be behind many of us, coaching us through our pain and reminding us of the most important thing: to exhale.
And finally, what session would be complete without a little extra sadistic kick from coach Michael Hulcher? 100 burpees for time, and if you don't make it, the assault bike was going to get pulled out. ... You know, it's really amazing what you can do when threatened with an assault bike. I made time.
I felt proud I'd survived the first day, but also pretty beaten up and nervous that I had to do it all over again tomorrow. A large swollen bruise was accumulating on my right knee because I sprawl when I do burpees (it's ingrained from BJJ and MMA.) The voices that asked what I was doing there creeped in, but I swatted them out. I promised myself that if I finished this week, I would treat myself to some new gym shoes to replace the old battered ones I was wearing.
On Tuesday, we had a great presentation by Dan John, who cut every bit of bullshit about strength training right out and talked about boiling everything down to what is essential. All you need is a few specific movements, good habits and an uncomplicated set of tasks. If you require performance, you must train for performance, which is different than simply training for the sport itself. He was honest, and funny and best of all, real, in an industry that thrives off of reinventing the wheel every other year. We received a copy of his book Now What? which has since given me a lot of direction and good advice. He also treated us to a workout that contained his signature move, the goblet squat.
It turned out to be a nice warmup for the 2K row test.
Honestly, I choked. I row a 2K warming up nearly every morning I'm in the gym. At a moderate pace, I manage it within my allotted 10 minutes, If I kick it up for fun the last few hundred meters, I get a 9:30 or a skosh under. My time that Tuesday, when it mattered, was 9:44. I will make no excuse. I can say I was sore and tired and under-fed. I can say I didn't get adequate sleep. But the truth is, I caved under pressure. I lost my focus and my breath in a giant adrenaline dump and bottomed out. I've always been the gym PR person because I let my anxiety run me over when I set to perform. (Find the problem, fix the problem.)
Moving on, the affable powerhouse, Anne Casstevens gave us a kettlebell clinic. She cleaned up any funk in our swings and taught us her signature getups (which have a unique flow that I absolutely love.) I feel like my swing got ten times better within the first twenty minutes of her coaching. I look forward to working with her one on one in the future to really tighten up my kettlebell technique. I'd like to see what a few hours with her can do.
We finished the day with the Gym Jones signature "300" workout, partner style. I feel like we both gave it the best we had, but it just didn't happen for either of us within the time cutoff. Close, but not quite. Again, I can throw excuses out all day long, but in the end, I simply wasn't cut out for doing it that fast. I was tired and my confidence was wavering.
The voices crept in again on the ride home. What are you doing here? You pulled your abdominal wall. You are not an athlete. You should really sit the fuck down and stop trying to be at the table with these people. You can't even finish the workout. You don't belong.
When I woke up on Wednesday morning, I was in a dark place, indeed. My mind was bringing up every perceived failure in my entire life. I'm too old, I'm too small, too short, too light, I'm too weak, I'm too ambitious, they don't want me there, I'm a shit mom, my face is ugly... You know, the usual whacked out rabbit hole you go down, when you decide to self-loathe. I considered quitting.
And while I considered quitting, I finished my small breakfast and got dressed. As I entertained things I could say, texts I could send, the possibility of never being able to face those people again, I got in the car and drove to the gym. When I walked in the door, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself and ruminating about how easy everything would be if I didn't push myself so hard. So what else should I expect on that morning, but the workout that everyone fears most?
The Gym Jones Triathlon is a very short workout. That is the best thing anyone can say about it. It's a race that consists of 500 meters on the ski erg, 35 calories on the assault bike, and 500 meters on the rower. There is no pacing this, no easy part, it's pull the pin and GO. By the time you are done, you are pretty much on another planet, as many staggered, hobbled and fell off the face of the earth afterwards.
I went last. Jake Hutchinson reminded me not to let my face falter. He told me not to be a wounded animal, but an angry one. The timer went off and I did just that. For the first time, I fucking killed it. I did not stop, I did not slow down, I did not falter. And I did not, even once, make a whimpering noise or a hurt face. I had nearly the entire room around me, and my timekeeper coaching me through the whole thing.
It was the first test I truly rose to the occasion and performed. It was the first time I stuffed my fears and didn't even let them bubble to the surface. It was the turning point for the week, and, not to be hyperbolic, a part of my life as well. I completely beat a new path and changed my trajectory in seven minutes and forty one seconds. (I'm convinced I could have shaved off more if those damn bike pedals weren't stuck when I jumped on, too.)
And an hour earlier, I was contemplating giving up. Tsk. Tsk.
After the Triathlon, we had a thorough rundown of sport nutrition, led by Shannon O'Grady of Gnarly Nutrition. She was very helpful in laying out exactly which electrolytes were important for re-hydration, if you needed any at all, and which proteins were superior. Everyone knows you should consume protein and electrolytes, but the details matter, or it's a waste of money and consumption. Shannon is a wealth of knowledge and practice, because she is both a Doctor of Nutrition and an athlete herself. Endurance, strength, combat sports, you name it. She knows her shit and walks the talk.
Once Nutrition was out of the way, Joe Riggio and Dan Goodman from Varsity House Gym got down to business - aka, the "Business of Strength." They put on a great presentation of gym ownership and how to organize and manage your business. They talked about both grand plans and the daily ins and outs, plus marketing and retaining clients. I loved their straightforward style and practical advice. Definitely got the old Iron Beaver wheels turning...
That evening was the infamous Beacon Hill / Mount wire summit, which I did not get to join because of a snafu at home. It was the only test of the week I was not afraid of, because the aforementioned Shannon O'Grady and I climbed it the previous week. I chalked it up to fate telling me I didn't need the things that don't scare me (even though I don't believe in fate.)
Thursday gave us a small respite from hardcore workouts, but we got to try an endurance athlete workout, a powerlifting workout and an olympic lifting practice.
First up was Art O'connor from WUKAR Fit, a seasoned endurance athlete coach who is adamant about endurance athletes becoming as strong as they can. No one ever wished they were weaker. He took us through a quick, but effective, power workout for the people whose skill set is running Iron Man races or biking ungodly distances. It was a reminder that extreme sports have a large price tag, but that you absolutely should not break the strength bank trying to pay for endurance.
Next, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we had Brandon Lily, powerlifter and inventor of the Cube Method, talk about training for brute strength. But the best part of his presentation was the story he told that so many can relate to - family, pride, loss, rock bottom and redemption. It was so much more inspiring than another look at a strength program (like we all haven't seen a million of those...) Along with the heaping dose of heart, we got a deadlift primer and a workout featuring some moves I had never done before. It was a refreshing take on a beat up subject and actually uplifted the room.
Finally, we got to test our power clean skills with Matt Owen, Gym Jones Instructor and founder of Project Deliverance. Matt is just as technical as he is enthusiastic. He's the kind of guy that will listen to a Disney soundtrack prior to wrapping his knees and ripping your head off, if your head was a barbell. He gave us a presentation on how to program and schedule oly lifts for different sports and a power clean practice session. Some people really put their balls into it, but I stuck with an empty bar because it was my first time learning the movements.
It was a well-balanced day to keep the body moving, but recover and stay focused for Friday, which we all knew was going to be a grinder.
On Friday morning, I didn't wake up scared. I knew shit was going to hurt, but I knew I was going to finish. I said to myself, Alright bitch - you are one final day away from those new shoes you promised yourself. Lets go.
And let me tell you something, that morning was full of some of the most inspirational speeches I've heard in a long time. First off was Jake Hutchinson on the transformative power of can't versus won't and how to tell the difference. And then the floor was opened to Johnny Primo, Special Forces Veteran and founder of Courses of Action, since the first workout and test of the day was his design.
With a name like "Johnny Primo," you'd think he was going to strut around and pontificate about being a bad ass operator, but no. This guy is the real deal. He spoke about childhood trauma and bad decisions, failures and the ego driven behavior that led him to the military. He spoke about the grueling exercises he went through and the grit it took to get through them. And no, it wasn't some screed about eating nails for breakfast and washing it down with broken glass. It was an honest assessment of finding a place in your head where your body is not and staying there until the work is done. Something that stuck with me is there is no such thing as a "second wind" - the little burst of perceived energy you get somewhere between the second half and the last quarter is the realization that you did not give up on yourself.
I thought about all my "second winds" and realized he was totally right. Even this week. After the Triathlon, I caught another wind, but really it was me breaking through my boundaries and knowing I was past the point of quitting.
The Jonestown Massacre was up and I did so much better than I thought I could. The workout consists of: 1.5 mile run, 25 burpees, 50 mountain climbers, 50 little man in the woods, 50 hollow rocks, 120 M bear crawl, 25 burpees, and another 1.5 mile run to cap it off. I haven't run since high school but my mile pace turned out to be in the 9:30 range. Something I thought I hated turned out to be something I now consider to be worthy of working on.
After lunch that I could barely eat, We did The Jonestown Sprint (20 push presses, 20 burpee pull ups, 10 push presses, 10 burpee pull ups). I felt dizzy and low on blood sugar, but the women all gathered around me. They looked me in the eyes and said I had it, so I fucking did it. Gym Jones Women energy is something to behold.
One of my favorite things we do at the end of every seminar is the team relay. We all take it so seriously during the setup, but we know it's a whole gym exercise. Everyone jumps in, instructors, visitors, guests. People who can, do. And we all sprint to the finish line, not for ourselves, but for our team. Which team wins? Who knows, who cares. By the end, everyone is just mixing it up, flying to the finish line and smiling deliriously. It's a great community builder and a hella good time.
We all slapped each other's backs and laughed, knowing there was going to be one last obstacle.
The Assault bike.
It goes like this: two bikes are pitted against each other. You race your opponent in an all-out minute. Whoever has burned through more calories at the end of the minute wins and gets to stop. Whoever loses, tries again in round two. And if you lose that, there is a round three. Last man & woman standing have to do one last round.
You have to go all in or you will have to do it again.
For me this was a huge test. I could have cried on the inside about it. I could have trudged to the bike with a sad look on my face, thinking, I'm going to lose because I'm lighter than everyone. I'm going to lose because my legs are short. I'm going to lose because I haven't eaten more than a biscuit all day and the tank is empty..... First seminar Liz would have said all those things and slunk up to the bike, already defeated.
But I didn't.
I popped on, and tore it the fuck up.
For the first time I not only heard Michael Hulcher yelling in my ear, I could actually focus and listen to him. I did not let a sad ass little thought go through my head. I did not let a sad ass little expression crack my face. I listened to Michael and I pedaled my ready ass off.
I lost by 2 calories, but you know what? I wasn't afraid to do it again. I won my second round and walked off the slight pukey feeling knowing that I not only finished this test, but I absolutely and without a doubt grew so much since I first walked through that door with the iconic logo.
So to everyone reading this who still doesn't understand why... I didn't do this "to" myself; I did this FOR myself. In one week, I received many transformative bits of advice that I have applied and still apply today, I rose above my primal fears, I shattered the glass ceiling of what I thought my body was capable of, and, most importantly, I did not fucking quit on myself. I had a choice, to sit in a room with a demon and accept that space for the rest of my life, or stand up and get the fuck out of that room. I got out. Standing here, squinting at the sun, the whole outside world is coming into focus, I'm realizing my potential is limitless, and it's a beautiful view.
I tell a lot of people to give them a try, but many are still skeptical. It's too hard, too much pressure, too uninviting, is usually the answer I receive. I get it, I was also intimidated, at first. But what you are really afraid of isn't this gym. It's pushing yourself past your comfort zone. It's being held accountable and knowing you can't phone it in here. It's going to hurt, it's going to test you - for real. But the gift you receive of finding out what you're made of and that you not only CAN do it, you can do it to a level you never thought you could is something everyone ought to give themselves at least once in their lives.