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Graceful Gains: Why Dancers are Falling in Love with Crossfit

When they find out I’m a Crossfitter, people often ask me what sports I played in high school, then give me a funny look when they hear I was never an athlete but rather a ballet dancer. It doesn’t seem like there’s a very clear connection there. How could someone who spent 15 years perfecting the graceful and classical movements of ballet find any interest in the rigorous, seemingly unrefined movements of Crossfit? It may come as a surprise, but ballet and Crossfit are a lot more similar than you may initially think, which might explain why there are actually quite a lot of former dancers who have converted to Crossfit. Here’s my rundown on the similarities between Crossfit and technical dance like ballet:

  1. Olympic lifting is an art. Not unlike perfecting the technique of a pirouette, the Olympic lifts employed in Crossfit are incredibly technical and require thorough skill practice to master. What may appear to be simply a display of strength is actually a high-skill movement that can fairly be compared to a movement in dance. For example, a clean pirouette in ballet requires that the dancer turn out from the hips, spot with her head, use the power from her plie to make it around, and keep her core engaged throughout the movement. A clean snatch in Crossfit is surprisingly similar. It requires that the lifter begin the lift with the hips back and knees out, barbell on the floor, then as the bar reaches hip level, she must quickly employ the hips to launch the bar, and then finally get low as the bar reaches the completed snatch position overhead, before standing up and completing the movement cleanly – all while keeping the core engaged. Contrary to the presumption that lifting is all muscle and no brains, Olympic lifts are a display of grace and skill, the mastery of an art.
  2. Dancers and Crossfitters both work at high intensity. Sometimes dance, especially in classical forms like ballet, is misconstrued as solely a skill-based, low-impact art form. Most dancers would disagree with such a claim. Becoming a good dancer requires rigorous training at high intensity, hours upon hours of painstaking skill work, and the surrender of any hope for normal looking feet. Dancers put in grueling work to become masters of their sport, so it really is fitting that they would find Crossfit to be comparable.
  3. Dancers go into Crossfit with many strengths already in their favor. From the flexibility to do flawless toes-to-bar to the quad strength to start off squatting pretty heavy weights, dancers have a lot going for them when they walk into a box on their first day. Many of the movements come fairly easily to them because of their background, so they feel like they don’t have to start from scratch when they take on this new sport.

As many similarities as there are between dance and Crossfit, there is one big difference that needs mentioned, as it is the reason I have opted to dedicate the majority of my workout time to Crossfit and not to ballet. The dance community, particularly in major ballet companies, places a significant emphasis on the lean, oftentimes rail-thin physique of dancers, to the point where dancers simply will not be hired if they don’t fit the definition of a typical dancer. I have been involved with dance my whole life, attended multiple intensives and dance workshops, and interacted with dancers from professional companies, and never once did I feel an emphasis on proper nutrition like I did the first day I walked into Crossfit. Crossfit has completely changed my perspective of what a healthy female body looks like, and how a healthy, active female should eat. Instead of worrying about whether or not our thighs touch a little bit when we walk, our coaches are concerned about whether or not we ate enough protein to make it through the WOD. While there are physical goals to work toward in Crossfit – maybe six pack abs, a toned butt, etc. – there is no rule about what the perfect Crossfit body has to look like. No one will look down on me if I gain five pounds, as long as I’m continuing to make gains and become better at what I do.

I don’t mention this last aspect of my comparison to give dance a bad rap. I loved dance all my life and still do. But I feel like the world is changing its idea of what a beautiful body looks like, especially when it comes to women. Crossfit boxes have exploded all over the world in just a few short years, and millions of faithful participants are slowly proving to the world that strength is beautiful, skinny is outdated, and being healthy is way sexier than being size zero. The dance community has so many good things in common with Crossfit, but it will eventually begin to lose out followers to Crossfit if it doesn’t get on board and embrace the potential of size 6.

This article is also featured in Tabata Times.

7 Things I’ve Learned from Garage Games Training

Liftweight

Photo courtesy of Glen Jones

The Mid-Atlantic Garage Games are creeping up on us! We’ve been training hard for about two months now, and we’ve got one left to go. So here’s what I’ve taken so far from my experience training for this competition:

  1. Two- and three-a-days are rough. And time consuming. I’ve spent more time at the box than I have at my house some days. Extra volume takes a lot out of you. I’m at the point where my days with only one workout and a skill feel like rest days. If you had told me a day with a WOD would feel like that two months ago, I would’ve laughed at you.
  2. More training = more food. OMG – I thought I ate a lot before. Ha! I probably eat the equivalent of one extra meal more everyday than I was eating before I began training for this competition.
  3. If I don’t sleep, I can just forget about it. There’s just no way to do 2 or more WOD’s in a day and work on skills if I don’t get at the very least 6 or 7 hours of sleep. I will bomb. Sleep is CRUCIAL.
  4. Sometimes when I think I’m giving 100%, I’m not. Really pushing myself these last two months since I signed up for the games has made me realize the distinction between my potential (what I can give) and my performance (what I choose to give). Sometimes these are vastly different. I’ve been trying more and more to make them match up, but it can be incredibly hard to do that. Some days you just don’t feel like pushing through the pain barrier to crank out those couple extra reps. Maybe you ate a little too heavily beforehand, or you had one too many shots the night before. Whatever the reason, you make up excuses in your head during your workout for why it’s okay for you to give less than your best. That’s not going to fly when you’re neck and neck with someone at the competition. This is my biggest area of struggle right now – envisioning what it will be like when I’m there, and trying to figure out how I’m going to out-perform that other person. I am definitely my own worst enemy.
  5. Go hard, but don’t go overboard. Two- and three-a-days are necessary when training like this, but it’s important to realize your limits and the rest your body needs. I’ve been pretty consistent with a 3-on, 1-off, 2-on, 1-off scheme for my week, and it seems to be working well. Rest days aren’t binge drink in front of the TV days, though. If I’m not mobilizing properly on my rest days, the next day I’m still just as sore as I was before.
  6. I’m not very competitive. Yikes, right?! Yes and no. I am slowly learning what it means to really have the desire to win. I never played sports as a kid, so the closest I got to competing was trying to move up levels in my dance classes. It’s not really the same thing. It’s been fun and challenging trying to change my attitude about my performance, because I’ve really never had to do something like this before. More than anything, I hope becoming a little more competitive will help improve #4, and push me to give as much as I can, instead of as much as I want to. That might be the difference between winning and losing.
  7. I love Crossfit. I knew I loved it before, but this has changed it a lot for me. It’s just such a great thing, from the camaraderie to the physical transformation to the overall healthy atmosphere. I find myself more and more advocating that others join, or at least try it out, because I really feel strongly that Crossfit is the best way to get in shape, stay that way, and feel good about all the hard work you put in. And I’m sure everyone thinks this about their home gym, but my box really is the best.

As always, please feel free to leave some love! I would love to hear about other experiences you’ve had training for competitions or whatever else you have on your mind.