The first month I was at CrossFit, Coach Perrin looked at my attempt at an overhead squat position with a combination of humor and disbelief. When I tried to squat, my ankles didn’t flex, my butt went back, my upper body, head and arms came forward and I found myself looking at the ground because I couldn’t pick my head up without risking falling backwards. I couldn’t get my arms any higher than parallel with the floor. Perrin had me hold on to one of the posts of the rig for balance. He told me to hang out like that for a while every day, and that I would progress quickly if I worked at it. Then he walked away shaking his head and suppressing a smile.
That was four years ago. Just this past week, I finally gained the ability to do overhead squats, a movement that requires enough flexibility to be in a full squat, holding a barbell straight overhead, with the chest up and arms locked out. Four years. To put that in perspective, it only took me three years to earn my law degree.
It took a lot of work. I mobilized after almost every WOD. I smashed my calves with a lacrosse ball to break up fascia and work out muscle knots. I did ankle flexibility exercises with an 88 lb. kettlebell on my knee. I would brace my back against a parallel bar, reach back and get a hold of the other bar and hold on to it, back arched, feet off the ground, looking like I was crucifying myself, and hold it for as long as I could. Basically, if it looked like a form of medieval torture or involved heavy weights digging into tender sinews, I tried to do it at least twice a week, for 2 minutes on each side.
When the time came to see if a coach would clear me to start putting weight on the bar to do overhead squats, I asked coach Mael to take a look. I grabbed a 45 lb. bar, took a wide grip, snatched it over my head and attempted an overhead squat. I could only squat down about 3 inches.
Me: “Wow. I must look like an asshole.”
Mael: “The bar’s too heavy.”
Me: “It’s 45 lbs.”
Mael: “It’s too heavy.”
Me: “I squat 250. I press 140.”
Mael: “Too heavy.”
Me: “Really? Really? I have to use a 33 lb. bar? I’d rather limit myself to a 3 inch over head squat.”
Mael: “Grab the 15 lb. training bar and try it with that.”
Me: “You have to be shitting me.”
Me: “But people will SEE!”
Mael: “The 15, if you please.”
So I pulled out a 15 lb. bar and proceeded to do about five solid overhead squats.
Mael: “Those looked great. You can start putting on weight.”
Me: “Huh. And to think it only took four years. What now?”
Mael: “Do them after class twice a week at first, adding 5 lbs. a week.”
Me: “Great. So in a year I’ll be able to overhead squat 275.”
So now I have overhead squats, and the humbling task of building up from a 15 lb. training bar. But you know what? It feels good to have so much progress ahead of me, and a great personal accomplishment behind me. I will check back on the blog in a year. I am quite sure that my max OHS will be 275 by then. Mael said so.