In October of 2017 I celebrated 7 years of Crossfit at Crossfit and Fearless: 7 years of injury-free, life transforming, physical fitness and rehabilitation doing primarily Crossfit. I lost around 65-75 pounds, transformed my physique, healed old injuries (and prevented new ones), and I’ve become a top-percentile physical specimen of a 50 year old man. My heartrate, blood pressure and cholesterol are so low that doctors have to make sure their equipment is working correctly. I do Crossfit 4-6 days a week, I eat okay, and I maintain a very busy lifestyle in the entertainment business. I have learned that consistent discipline, scaling weights, avoiding impact movements and focusing on form and endurance are the secret formula to long term fitness in Crossfit.
After 7 years, I’m the healthiest and strongest I’ve ever been (even when I was a high school football player), I look better in a swimsuit, I sleep better, focus better, I can work longer and harder than ever in my life. My flexibility and mobility are great too. I’ve never injured myself doing Crossfit and this year I actually reduced the level of potential injury from a car wreck which injured multiple disks in my neck and back.
My story began in October 2010, when I convinced Crossfit and Fearless to advertise with my new television show, The Austin Variety Show. The show had been running on local broadcast television station KBVO for 9 months and a were popular late night weekend showcase of Austin music, comedy, and burlesque. We were developing a scripted reality show about the making of the live show, and the owners of Crossfit and Fearless agreed to sponsor the production of the show. There was one catch to their participation: I was to be the product placement alongside their advertising.
It made sense, at 43 years of age and almost 250 pounds, I was a walking billboard. I had rapidly gained 30-40 pounds a couple years before sitting at a desk, running a grassroots nonprofit for Austin musicians. The weight just wouldn’t come off although I was going to the gym, lifting weights and riding 6-10 miles a day on a bicycle 3-4 days a week. 18 hour sedentary days, a mostly fast food diet, and a host of physical injuries from my 20s conspired to make me a fairly typical overweight out of shape 40-something guy that “just couldn’t get the weight off”. My clothes were too tight – and not at all complimentary, I was embarrassed about my appearance, I couldn’t walk up stairs without being short of breath, I couldn’t tie my shoes without holding my breath, and I woke up in pain every day.
I had been extremely active in my 20s and early 30s – and had injured myself in nearly every activity I undertook. I had two dislocated knees and shin & elbow splints from playing football, a totally dislocated shoulder and injured back from attempts at riding bulls, dislocated hips, injured ankles & wrists from skateboarding, and back problems compounded by wakeboarding over 20 hours a week for several years in a row. I’ve literally injured every major joint in my body. And after 20+ years of smoking 1 ½ packs of cigarettes a day, I almost died of double viral pneumonia in 2002 and sustained permanent scar tissue in my lungs. I had every good excuse in the world why I shouldn’t undeartake an extreme fitness regimen like Crossfit (and Krav Maga, which CF&F offered at that time). But I’ve since learned that anyone – ANYONE – can benefit from Crossfit’s combination of strength, mobility, and endurance.
When I began at Crossfit and Fearless, I couldn’t get 100 pounds overhead, I couldn’t do a single pull-up, I was out of breath after climbing a flight of stairs, my legs fell asleep when I sat too long, and I hated to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror when I was getting out of the shower. When I did the Crossfit Elements class, I was sore for 3 days afterward.
Over the years I’ve seen plenty of “New Years Determination” in myself and others; that resolve to get in shape, lose weight, and eat better – usually on a deadline like swimsuit season, a major life event, or on some other unrealistic timeline. It almost always spells failure and disappointment, and it makes returning to the gym even more difficult. I’ve had great success in Crossfit breaking my achievements into roughly 9 month intervals. For instance, I started with just 2 classes a week for the first 9 months, and added another day each week 9 months after that. In a few years, I was at the box 5-6 days a week, and my entire life shifted naturally to maintain that frequency. I use the same technique with weights and movements, giving myself “permission to suck” for months at a time while I master movements, naturally building strength – without causing injury. In this way, I’ve come to be able to do most workouts at RX (prescribed) weight.
There are still movements like running, box jump-overs, broad jumps, etc. which my body just doesn’t like sustaining the impact. I can do the movements, but then I’m in pain for days and can’t do tomorrow’s WoD as well. So I give myself permission to not RX these movements in workouts because I’ll be more likely able to walk without pain when I’m 75 years old. It’s a fair trade that keeps me able to come back to the box tomorrow. That’s an element of fitness we often overlook; if I hurt myself today, I could be out for days, weeks, even months while I recover. I’ll lose my momentum and have to start over and endure the pain of being new at Crossfit again.
One of the most important lessons I saw was a friend who was a few years older than me and in competition form, with an intensity and proficiency that was amazing. He looked great and could go hard at any WoD thrown at him – until he hurt his back pushing his limits. He admitted it was a dumb mistake, but in the heat of the moment his judgement failed. He had no history or practice of letting himself back off so he could return to the gym tomorrow, even though he might not get a new PR today. As a result, he was out for a couple years, and I didn’t recognize him when I saw him next. He came to classes for a couple weeks but couldn’t take being new and having so much trouble with movements he once mastered. He disappeared and never came back. He went from competitor to struggling beginner – because he tried to lift too much one day. It’s a lesson that I use regularly at the box.
I also love the community of Crossfit. It’s friendly yet competitive, supportive and encouraging. Crossfitters are a certain type of person, one who’s motivated, determined, disciplined, and tough. On my good days I’m a Crossfit cheerleader, and on my difficult days I’m inspired and validated by my classmates. I love being in a tribe of people who push themselves, strive to achieve more, while being communal and supportive. I love being surrounded by people who are trying to be their best, working diligently to improve and challenge themselves. And I’m so grateful to Carlos and his family for keeping Crossfit and Fearless’ legacy alive and expanding.
My fitness has many benefits that are sometimes unexpected. For instance, earlier this year I was in a low speed rear-end collision that totaled my car and herniated 3 disks in my neck and upper back. I happened to have my head turned on the impact, and unexpectedly tweaked my neck. The damage pinched nerves causing numbness in my arm and fingers. I had to reduce my workouts once again, although I had become really strong and proficient at most lifts. I suddenly couldn’t get much weight overhead because of nerve impingement. So I’ve focused more on cardio while recovering. I realized that my fitness before the accident greatly determined my level of injury, pain, and recovery. Had I not been so fit, I shudder to think about how that little wreck would’ve changed my life. I’m recovering slowly, patiently, and rebuilding my strength little by little.
Before the accident I was at a peak of strength and ability, although my endurance has increased since the wreck, from doing mostly cardio-based training. At this peak, I was able to get well over 200 pounds overhead, I could deadlift 375 pounds, do 22 unbroken pullups, a 2 minute 20 second handstand, and I competed in my 4th Crossfit Games Open. I still have problems with double-unders and I can’t do a mucle-up, but that’s why I keep coming back and building a little more (in those 9 month inrcements).
Lastly, my diet has improved greatly. I’m not into the Paleo discipline, but healthy fats are my friends and I avoid carbs and sugars in large amounts. I love fried foods, burgers and donuts and I enjoy them in moderation. I don’t drink, so that eliminates an entire difficulty of carbs and complex sugars… But I’ve had a 6 pack for most of the last year and I look pretty good for a 50 year old guy. I’ve got the physique of a Crossfitter, and I can spot another one in a crowded store, bar, or gathering.
I’m grateful to Crossfit and Crossfit and Fearless for my health, my stamina, my appearance, and my determination to be my best. I hope to share a WoD and a laugh with you. And I hope to age well, in excellent health and with a higher quality of life.
I document my progress at @tdillingerfitness and http://troydillingerfitness.com. Please follow and join me on this journey.