When I told my son and daughter I was going to start Blind CrossFit they both exclaimed: “Oh mom, I don’t know if that is the best thing for you. It’s tough and fast.” I must admit, I wondered myself. I’d researched via the internet and learned about the WODs, AMRPs and EMOMs (Workouts of the Day, As Many Reps as Possible and Every Minute on the Minute). Turns out my balance, strength and confidence has benefited incredibly by my regular training. So how is this adapted for me as a visually impaired/blind person?
I really had to think about this one.
Right away the owner/trainer had no concerns about me in a class. Their encouragement and positive attitude gave me the confidence to try. First, I got a walk-about of the room. I took the trainer’s arm and literally walked the perimeter of the room. Past solid dark walls, high, lit windows and around equipment and back to the front of the gym, touching and feeling things to know what was there. I also asked questions about shadows I saw and Hamish and Tori identified what they were. For example, I can see the light of the glass wall. The brightly lit wall is the front and the back wall is a solid shadow flanked by two light vertical panels. There is a white board where the WOD or “workout of the day” is written. Not available to me but good to know.
At each piece of equipment I felt the body position of the basic exercise. I then did the exercise and they adjusted my body as needed. We both learned quickly of each other’s abilities and styles of communication. I knew right away that this would be a success for me. The can-do attitude and the comfort with physical closeness and touch of Hamish and Tori are accepting of everyone and our individual abilities.
CrossFit begins with an assessment of the basic movements and fundamentals of body mechanics. I went to 2 initial classes with 3 girlfriends. We had one-on-one instruction and adjustments. For me, my right knee did not track directly over my ankle. It preferred to fall to the inside. So I repeated the squat technique while my knee was held in the correct position. Then, when I could feel the correct movement, I was good. Then others had their individual adjustments and we were treated very much one-on-one. Basic movements of pulling and pushing were reviewed. Techniques and proper mechanics for push-ups and box step-ups were practiced. We use the rowing machine for warm up and interval training. The same approach was taken to this exercise. One-on-one of the 3-step “legs-body-arms” rowing technique was covered.
It’s interesting to note that sometimes we row for a timed amount for warm-up sets. Other times we row for a calorie amount which is a completely different effort. Then there are times we row for a distance amount. Again, a different exercise on the same piece of equipment. Basically each workout we do a warm up set, a strength set and a cardio challenge set. Rolling and stretching are encouraged. Yoga is offered to gym members at a discounted rate. Yoga complements cross fit with the mental focus, strength component and deep stretching positions.
If you are visually impaired or blind and have wanted to try CrossFit training, do it! As in all things in life, be open and accepting of direction; be curious about what you may need in this unfamiliar environment. If the first gym is not a fit, go to another. It’s all about the people you will be in the relationship with. There is no point making a trainer take you if they feel it is a burden, a no-go for safety or whatever other reasons. I find the people make the difference and the relationships are what build the tapestries of our active lifestyles.
I’ve been going to CrossFit training for six months and am amazed at the gains I’ve made in strength, proprioception, my ability to confidently handle increasingly heavy weights and of course general conditioning. Our ladies’ training group has grown to nine participants and we are bonded in our commitment to train and encourage one another. It’s fun.
I come to CrossFit from a back ground of competitive swimming and skiing. I am familiar with many workout techniques. I seldom remember advancing as quickly and confidently as I am in this type of training.
One major adaptation made for me is that I hold onto either Hamish or Tori as they demonstrate to the class. I do this at the same time as they are talking. I’ve had instructors who prefer to show me after but I feel better about not holding up the class by being involved in real time. This takes a certain type of confidence and comfort on the trainer’s part.
For example with a back dead-lift, I feel where the bar of weights is held and the body is positioned while they give a verbal and visual to the class. Then I put one hand on a trainer’s hip and another on the shoulder to feel the movement as the demonstration is performed. Often on the first rep I have my hands on the shoulder and hip for example, then on the second rep the back and the knee. I’m pretty good understanding the explanations but sometimes different words are used and I need to clarify what it means. Basically they say a picture is worth a thousand words. True if you can see. Touching is worth a thousand words to the Blind.
Once set up at a station I am pretty independent except for the box step-ups. I hold onto Tori’s hand and arm. We both notice that the pressure I need to hold on with is getting less and less as my strength and balance improves. As the number of participants is growing in our class I am conscious of taking too much of Tori’s time. I have used the box pushed up against an apparatus for rings and pull-ups. This works to balance me in space as I step up and down. Years ago my goal would have been to be able to do this exercise on my own. Truly, now at 55 my goal is to train through the exercise and be able to do it again another day. So no point risking injury of knees, ankles etc. just to say I can do it.
Our trainers make it fun. My training partners all help out with loading and unloading weights. Carrying around weights and bars I simply stay out of. I’d probably do more harm than good to either my training mates or the gym itself.
What amazes me is that I memorize my ‘stations’ and number of reps for the WOD (Workout of the Day) then out of my tired blur always comes a gentle guiding touch. The trainers are aware of our fatigue and take my hand to the next station when they notice I am slightly lost as I am too tired to concentrate. It all feels so natural now. No matter whether it’s from the wall medicine ball lifts to the blocks, the rowing machines to the kettle bells or back to my water bottle, they are always there I feel absolutely normal in the class if that makes sense. We laugh at my technique of kicking my feet forward into the space in front of me to find my bar, or knee pad or whatever. It’s just the way it is. This saves me leaning over and feeling for things.
I also walk this way with my arm angled as I cross the open space into the coat and shoe area. Everyone there is so great at grabbing my hand for guidance. Today though, I was talking and turned around to almost sit on the lap of a quiet woman I had not yet met. What an introduction that would have been. She spoke at the last minute before I bent my knees to sit and change my shoes. I hate this. But it is a reality of my life, usually this “almost sitting on someone’s lap” happens on the buses and sky trains in Vancouver. We have to laugh at ourselves and each other sometimes.
It’s the people and relationships that make the difference in our lives. This is especially true and pivotal when living with a disability. If people don’t believe I can, then basically I can’t. The energy to overcome their disbelief is often prohibitive and I’ve learned its best finding another place and other people to be in relationship with. What is the adage, “surround yourself with like minded people”?
If you are visually impaired or blind and have wanted to try cross fit training, do it! It’s a challenge and I find it has improved my general balance and strength in other activities I enjoy such as hiking, skiing or paddle boarding.
As in all things in life, be open and accepting of direction; be honest about what you may need in this unfamiliar environment. If the first gym is not a fit go to another. It’s all about the people you will be training with and under. There is no point making a trainer take you if they feel it is a burden, a no go for safety or whatever other reasons. I find the people make the difference and the relationships are what builds the tapestries of our active lifestyles.
There are booby traps in life for all of us. The unexpected. This morning it was my training mates who waited for me at the open gym door. There was a large kettle bell holding the door open. Not typically at the corner of the door where those little feet things are. This one was in the middle of, basically, a slightly more than ‘ajar’ open door. A big shout out to my mates. A coffee shop in the village keeps their door open with a ski boot. I’ve done a good fly over that. But now I know it’s there , as long as he keeps it in the same spot, I’m good. Life is so exciting, it’s about the unexpected challenges that make us grow and reflect upon ourselves and our behavior.
Congrats to these 2 young trainers who are amazing in their knowledge, easy acceptance and integration of individuality in their gym.
I assure my kids now, “This is a great workout for mom.”