December 17, 2013

My weightlifting story

I started out as a CrossFitter who was enamored with the power clean from the minute I learned it. Just a few months later I was able to do Grace at 85# in under 5 minutes – not too bad for a beginner.

I loved the barbell, and it seemed to love me back.

But over a year later, I had nearly the same time for a 95# Grace. And my power clean had been maxed out at 125# for about a year as well.

I wanted heavier weight on that barbell, so it was time for action. I scheduled a 1-on-1 session with Coach Aimee during a trip to visit family at my home-away-from-home, CrossFit King of Prussia. Spending one hour with her on my clean was simultaneously devastating and empowering. I had known I needed help, but I didn’t know my technique was so awful and I was so clueless!

It was a difficult re-entry into the conscious incompetence stage of learning, just when I was starting to feel like I might know what I was doing as a lifter. As discouraged as I was, learning how far I had to go also motivated me to continue to learn and grow as an athlete, and as a coach.

That’s when I took the plunge and joined Sandbox Athletics, and began to train under the direction of weightlifting coaches Doug Lane and Joe Hanson (ADC Jax).

Within a few weeks I had a fancy new pair of weightlifting shoes (Ristos!), and had competed in my first weightlifting meet — the 2010 Joe Dube Classic in Jacksonville, Florida. Earning my first official total felt like the moment I became a “real” weightlifter.  82 kilos wasn’t spectacular, but it was official, and it was mine.

A few weeks later I completed the USAW Level 1 Sports Performance Coach certification, with head instructor Harvey Newton.

At this point, I was on top of the world, learning something new nearly every day about this sport that I was falling in love with, and seeing progress in my lifts.

Things went a little south from there. Years of practicing barbell movements with an extremely hyperextended lumbar spine had left me with a very weak posterior chain, and hardly any ability to effectively utilize my glutes to stabilize my spine. As soon as I began to lift with proper posture in my low back, the smaller muscles that had been overcompensating for my lazy glutes freaked out! I spent the remainder of fall 2010 and winter 2011 dealing with muscle spasm issues in my low back / hip (for anatomy nerds, it was my right QL that was freaking out). I was very fortunate to have an amazing chiropractor who used both soft tissue work and adjustments to assist me in not only recovering, but correcting the underlying postural issues.

My injury let me know that my posture was absolute crap! I was walking around all day with a hyperextended low back, and trying to do CrossFit and weightlifting movements in this crappy position as well. I sent myself back to the ground floor, and relearned all of my basic movements — especially the air squat, back extension, plank and bridge. As I practiced my new weightlifting technique, the bar stayed unloaded, or very light — not only to avoid painful muscle spams, but also to make it possible for me to maintain my new, uncomfortable posture.

By spring things were improving. I was putting a little more weight on the bar, a kilo or two at a time. But then life got in the way of weightlifting.

My break from weightlifting continued into the summer, as I switched my focus to training to run the Marine Corps Marathon in October 2011. I continued to do some CrossFit workouts and a little weightlifting, but very rarely put heavy weight on the bar. I also began a weekly yoga practice that was an excellent reinforcement of the posture work I was already doing.

I did my second weightlifting meet in November 2011, just over a year after my first, and less than a month after my marathon. I was finally uninjured and ready to push my body to see what it could do. It was a huge victory to improve my total by 16 kilos with only 3 weeks of focused training prior to the meet. Not to mention training solo. I lifted in the 69kg weight class, snatched 42kg, clean and jerked 56kg, and totaled 98kg. Some videos: 3rd snatch miss, C&J make.

After the meet, I had a sense of peace that restarting from the ground up had been exactly what I needed to do to be successful in the end, even though it had sometimes felt like so much of the previous year was “wasted”.

My meet triumph coincided with becoming a weightlifting orphan — my husband and I had moved to his new military assignment in North Carolina, leaving my coaches in Florida behind. Hoping to jump start my training in 2012, I did a 4 week seminar with Dawn Hutchinson of CrossFit Wilmington during January. I learned a lot and PR’d all my lifts. (Video – cleans @ 50 and 55kg)

I continued training using Dawn’s programming into the early spring, but with her located an hour’s drive away, my commitment to weightlifting training fizzled out. I basically did CrossFit with a strength bias through the summer, fall and winter.

At the start of 2013 I saw a Facebook post for a meet within driving distance in March, and I knew it was time to get my training back in gear. I began training for the East Carolina Weightlifting Open using a 5 week cycle from Catalyst Athletics. My main goal was to get my official total into the triple digits, and push myself to make some heavy attempts that scared me. With my injury fully behind me, I needed to start to push the limits of my comfort zone.

Once I got focused in the gym and was back to training 5 days a week, the PRs started coming on fast. On February 6th I rack jerked 155# (~70kg), and then on February 9th I PR’d my snatch at 115# (~52kg) and also my C&J at 143# (65kg).

But in the midst of so much weightlifting awesomeness, a whole new opportunity presented itself. I found out that one of my long-time strong woman idols, Gillian Ward, had opened a gym with her husband — Crystal Coast Strength and Conditioning. Her focus was on the Starting Strength program, and powerlifting. So I decided it was time for me to try a linear progression strength cycle, to see where it would take me. My max back squat was at 170 pounds, and my front squat was at 160 — I knew I wasn’t likely to improve my clean and jerk much with those kinds of strength numbers.

For the rest of February I squatted, pressed, benched and deadlifted, plus accessory work, but only practiced my Olympic lifts twice just in the week prior to the meet. But the meet still turned out great! At the 2013 East Carolina Weightlifting Open I lifted in the 75kg weight class, snatched 50kg, clean and jerked 69kg, and totaled 119kg. I didn’t get any videos due to attending the meet on my own. I wish my 3rd snatch attempt had been heavier (it was tough to run my own warm-ups with their setup), but I definitely scared myself trying 69kg on my final C&J. Overall, HUUUGE success and I met the goals I had set for myself.

I ran my linear strength program through the rest of the spring (will post an overview of my LP experience soon), and then continued training with Gillian in the summer. I started to bring the Olympic lifts back into the rotation more and more each week.

But then another new opportunity presented itself — I was so fortunate to become pregnant with my first child in July. Training stopped being about “how heavy can I go?”, and switched to “what weights and movements feel good today?”. I was so fortunate to feel great during pregnancy, and I was able to maintain my schedule of training 3 days a week at CCSC.

In October CCSC decided to host its first Olympic weightlifting meet, and I knew I couldn’t miss being a part of that. My goal for the Emerald Isle Classic was to hit all my openers from my last meet in March. And I was successful in doing that! I moved up to the 75+kg weight class, snatched 45kg, clean and jerked 62kg, and totaled 107kg. Afterwards I was thrilled that I had kept my total in the 3 digits, even at 18 weeks pregnant. I hope my son enjoys watching the video of the meet someday. My favorite part is how my belt is “slung” under my baby bump.🙂

So this is my competition history, thus far:


I’m writing this post at 27 weeks pregnant (just about to start my 3rd trimester), and last week I snatched 98# (44.5kg) and C&J’d 133# (~60.5kg), so I’m feeling good about the strength I’ve been able to maintain so far. Baby Wiss will be arriving in March or early April, and I plan to be back on a competition platform in the fall of 2014 to see where I’m at.

And I’ll be back on the platform at least once a year, for as long as I can.🙂

May 5, 2013

Looking back at being a CrossFitter

I wrote this as a post in an online group that I belong to, and I felt it might be good to share in this space as well. It’s sometimes hard for me to describe why I no longer do CrossFit, and I think that this short essay helps to explain why.
Over the last 12 weeks I have been doing the Starting Strength novice linear strength progression. Basically my program focused on the squat, bench press, and military press for 3 sets of 5, and on 1 set of 5 for deadlift. Each session I added weight to my sets of 5 for each exercise. There were also some assistance exercises mixed in there, like pullup, pushups, hollow rocks, dumbbell rows, and dumbbell bench.
During this program, my strength numbers went up as follows: squat +65#, press +12#, bench press +20#, deadlift +70#. At the end of this program, I am solidly in Category 4 for my body weight of 165#, as ranked by the Starting Strength standards table
During this program there were maybe 5 instances where I suffered from noticeable soreness, and 0 instances where I was so sore I could not go about my normal activities without pain.
I did CrossFit on a regular basis for almost 3 years, from 2008-2011, until transitioning to a “mostly Olympic weightlifting with some CrossFit mixed in” routine during 2012. 
During my years of CrossFit, my strength numbers climbed into SS Category 3 and stalled there. I would often experience intense bouts of muscle soreness and feeling like shit from DOMS due to the extremely high volume of some CrossFit workouts. But despite putting myself through all of that, I did not get as strong as I wanted to be. I thought there was something wrong with me, that I wasn’t doing it right. I was miserable and felt like shit during really long and really heavy workouts, and hated them. And I thought it was because my mind or body wasn’t right.
In short, I blamed myself because CrossFit didn’t work for me like it worked for others.
Sound familiar to anyone? Replace the word “CrossFit” in the previous sentence with the word “the diet”.
The point I’m trying to make here isn’t that CrossFit is good or bad. Or that you should or shouldn’t do it. 
My point is that you need to stay present with your own intuition about what works for you, and how your chosen form of exercise makes you feel. Are you doing it because you really and truly love it? Or are you doing it because it’s “supposed to be” the best thing, or “it works for everybody else”, or “Susie So-and-so does CrossFit and loves it”?
My close friend Stephanie has a true love for CrossFit. She honestly craves doing a metcon, and the feeling she gets from a “classic” CrossFit WOD. Her body and mind vibrate with excitement and passion in the heat of the moment while she is doing a WOD. And I love that she has found something she loves!
But I have never been happier since I decided that CrossFit wasn’t what I loved — the barbell is what I love. I love scientifically designed workouts with enough volume to produce adaptation, but without too much volume to counteract my body’s ability to adapt. I absolutely hate randomness, and workouts that are long and difficult for the sake of producing a mental challenge. I love the science of progressive overload, and finding the delicate balance between work load, recovery and adaptation. And not only do I love that, it’s also the type of activity that MY body responds to. That lesson hit home to me very clearly as I observed my body’s reaction to spending 12 weeks on the Starting Strength program.
What I want to communicate to the other people in this group is that you don’t have to learn to love the sore muscles, mental challenge and physical soreness that come with CrossFit. Be OK with not enjoying CrossFit if you honestly don’t. Be OK with trying it and saying “this is not for me.” Because there will be many out there who love it, and want to encourage you to keep going with it. And you may find yourself trying to force it to work for you, just like I did.
I will end this on a positive note. I loved CrossFit intensely for 2 years, and could not imagine my life without that time. It catalyzed the process of change within me, in terms of how I see my body, and what it means to me to be healthy. CrossFit made it possible for me to find weightlifting, the athletic love of my life (not an exaggeration! :)), and I will be forever grateful. And maybe CrossFit is a necessary step in your journey as well. Be open to it, and give it a try! It could change your life too. But don’t be afraid to keep evolving and to keep searching for the way of moving your body that is magic to you.
July 16, 2012

CrossFit Games 2012

With the finish of the CrossFit Games 2012 yesterday, today seemed like a good day to finally recap my participation in the 2012 Open. Just a few months late on that.🙂

Here’s a shot of my final standings in the Mid-Atlantic:

I’m particularly proud of my score of 60 on week 2’s  snatch ladder. I managed to maintain pretty nice form through the whole workout. After recovering, I snatched 93# once, and then 98# once to cap off the day. Best of the 5 weeks for me, for sure.🙂

Week 4, I got two birds with one stone. Since I hadn’t ever done “Karen”, I was able to get a time for that WOD, plus complete workout 12.4.

Through my years of CrossFit blogging, I’ve made some friends. One in particular is my CrossFit twin — our times, loads and PRs are all eerily similar (except she can deadlift a LOT more than me :)). So at the end of the Open, one of my favorite moments was bringing her and I up in the Compare Athletes tool on the Games website.

Yes, she’s 18 years older than me. Talk about in-your-face proof that age is just a number, especially when it comes to CrossFit!

February 25, 2012

CrossFit Games Open Sectionals – 2011

Doing WOD 12.1 this morning inspired me to take a look back at last year’s open.

Again, thanks to Gabe Najarro for the action shots. Video credit goes to the MartiQ.🙂

Video of the ground-to-overhead WOD. I was blown away by how many strong ladies did this WOD with squat clean thrusters. The load of 110# was very close to my squat clean PR, so I definitely did this WOD 1 clean and jerk at a time.

A few pictures from the wall ball + knees to elbows WOD. I think there was another exercise in there too? Plus one from the chest-to-bar pullup and thruster WOD.

February 21, 2012

What Really Matters

My good friend, and life coach, Stephanie Vincent issued a challenge today.

She asked her friends to take a picture of themselves holding up what they seek, what matters most to them.

This request was in response to a talk show episode that she participated in, where guests and audience members wore signs on their chests listing their current weight. Check out her blog post here, and please watch her video response, it is awesome stuff.

After quite a few years of chasing a number, I’m now in a place where the number of my current weight no longer matters to me. I haven’t yet let go of chasing a certain appearance, but I’m getting there.

Struggles aside, what matters most to me, what I seek, is FEARLESS CONFIDENCE.

After snapping this picture, my phrase inspired me to do something a little more than Steph asked. Nothing symbolizes my journey into fearlessness more than putting myself upside down, so I filmed my sign and I on the rings.🙂

February 20, 2012

Skin in the game

My CrossFit peeps on Facebook have been asking each other one thing lately — are you signing up for the Open?

For me, signing up last year was a no-brainer. I registered as soon as the site went live, and then spent a month convincing as many Sandbox athletes as I could that they should sign up, too. CrossFit is all about community — how could we miss the chance to experience that on a world-wide scale?

This year, I’m in a whole new place, literally and figuratively. I’m living in a new town, and have been CrossFitting solo (and inconsistently) since November. While this weekend I finally found a CrossFit home where I can do the Open WODs (a new military affiliate, CrossFit Rifles), my current level of fitness leaves a lot to be desired.

Despite all of that, I’m signed up for the Open.

It doesn’t matter that I haven’t trained consistently since I began marathon training over the summer. It doesn’t matter that I will probably post some pitifully low scores because of my lack of conditioning. It doesn’t matter that I might have to scale down some of the loads to keep things safe for me.

None of that can matter, because as a coach, it’s imperative for me to keep some skin in the game.

I try to always hold myself accountable to do those things I ask my athletes to do. Signing up for the Open, and putting my scores out there for all to see, good or bad, is an important part of my commitment as a coach. If I believe my athletes will benefit from the experience of competition — then I need to provide myself that benefit as well.

Feel free to follow along to see how I do via my athlete profile.🙂

February 9, 2012

Coach Wiss in action

Many thanks to the talented Gabe Najarro who captured these images of an 8:30am CrossFit class at Sandbox Athletics. Lots to talk about that day — I was putting the class through Fight Gone Bad.

Sumo deadlift high pulls…

Wall balls…

February 8, 2012

Defining my coaching philosophy

During a recent conversation with my life coach, Stephanie, she asked me what was missing for me right now.


Since moving away from my Sandbox family in August, I haven’t had the chance to do any coaching, except for the random post-WOD conversation here and there. (Shoutout to CrossFit Inception for being my temporary home.)

Stephanie took my answer, and gave me a homework assignment — write down my coaching philosophy.

It was awesome to take advantage of my situation, and turn it into a positive — a chance to really think about why I am a coach, and what it means to me.

I’ve created a Coaching Philosophy page here to share a part of what I wrote, and I plan on posting more of it in the future. Please take a look and let me know what you think!