It was late 2004 and I was browsing through the professional fighter training forums on Sherdog.com trying to steal some cutting edge training secrets for my own Judo training and to help better condition my judo students. I was 32 and contemplating a return to judo competition as a masters athlete after several years off due to injuries. I came across a video of two pro fighters performing a workout titled G.I. Jane. I watched in fascination and wonder as they ground through 100 burpee pull ups. I could not imagine having the mental or physical strength to complete 100 burpees or 100 pull ups in a single training session let alone 100 burpee-pull ups in a row. I followed the video link through to CrossFit Norcal (no, I did not attempt the workout) one of the first affiliates, then owned by Robb Wolf. From there it was a short jump to CrossFit.com and the CrossFit Journal where I avidly read Foundations and What is CrossFit and wondered if this Greg Glassman had a screw loose. Everything CrossFit suggested flew in the face of what I’d learned as a certified coach and trainer and yet Glassman’s grasp of the science was solid even if his interpretation defied convention. One other thing, his training approach better resembled the way pro athletes in most sports trained and clearly explained why my hours spent in the gym working the pec deck and lat raises had failed to produce the athletic results I always hoped for.
I decided to test it (no, I still did not do G.I. Jane) and the results were remarkable. In my first two months I went from a 150lb deadlift to a 350lb (oh, those beginner gains)! And then I ran a 7K snowshoe race on Mount Seymour with a triathlete friend despite having never trained for endurance before. A few months later I ran my first 5K pushing my son in a stroller and actually finished before some of my unladen friends who used to crush me running back in university. And of course my judo game took off. This CrossFit stuff was incredible!
And then from 2005-2008 I half assed it. The only CrossFit gym in Canada back then was CrossFit Vancouver and I lived in Langley so all my training was improvised in my garage but you know how that goes: After the first couple month’s success I continued checking the daily WOD on the CFHQ website religiously. Every day I would read the WOD with fascination and occasionally, if it looked fun and the mood struck me, I might even do the workout. Or some watered down version thereof. Inevitably I’d be crushed and would take a few weeks off CrossFit playing with my kettlebells instead and convincing myself that my own workouts were just as effective. Of course I avoided anything daunting like Murph or G.I. Jane. On those days I found there were too many important obligations in my day to commit so much time to doing such a long workout.
Winter 2008, after suffering another judo injury and with my ticket to the Masters Judo Championships in Brussels (that is not me fighting but it is my division, I am on the sidelines watching) already purchased and the event fast approaching, I decided to stop half assing it. I was by now living in Vancouver so I marched over to CrossFit Vancouver and paid Kelly Frankson $800 up front for 10 PT sessions. It was after my return from Brussels that Kelly booted me out of personal training sending me off to join my first group classes. I don’t rightly recall if G.I. Jane was the first group class workout I ever did but it is the first one that I clearly remember doing. Partly because I immediately remembered having watched it years earlier on Sherdog.com. That crazy, impossible looking workout that had first drawn me into CrossFit was now about to become my workout of the day – I couldn’t believe it, in CrossFit you can try to run but eventually the workout you dread is going to find you. Another reason it is clear in my memory is because it was one of my early experiences with FOLN: Fear Of Large Numbers. 100? 100! Had I ever done 100 anything before? Are we really going to do this? Does the coach really expect any of us to finish?
And then there was the hand tearing. I was only about 25 reps into the workout when I discovered that my hands were bleeding. My surprise at the sight of torn hands should tell you just how new I was to CrossFit. It hadn’t occurred to me that this might happen. I was perplexed. I was only a quarter of the way into the WOD and already my hands had given out, What was I supposed to do? I did the logical thing and approached Sheppy, the group class coach, showed him my torn hands and asked his advice. He told me to tape them up and carry on. Oh, so that’s how it is here. I had just learned something new about the CrossFit ethos: we are not the type of people who are stopped by a little bit of pain or blood, we’re the kind who get the task done no matter what. Now I’m not suggesting this is right, that this is good or that I want my athletes to mutilate themselves for the sake of machismo but I really was neither shocked nor taken aback. I came from a time when the Judo coach’s answer to head injuries was “You just got your bell rung, shake it off and get back in there.” And my Dad had played football much of his life and their answer to joint sprains was much the same: “Walk it off, get back in the game.” So I threw on some tape and did another 75 burpee pull ups and was mildly surprised and more than a little proud of myself to realize I had done it! I’d done the impossible: 100 burpee pull ups! And that day I discovered the secret to CrossFit and overcoming FOLN, it’s the answer to that classic riddle:
Question: How do you eat an elephant?
Answer: One bite at a time.
And when you approach the WOD that way it really is not so bad. I no longer fear G.I. Jane. I just break it up into mouth sized morsels. This time around I chose 10 reps at a time. Chest to bar because, why not? It’s 2021 and at 49 I’m much fitter than I was back then in 2008. This time I started with a tear in my hand courtesy of the bar muscle WOD I completed the day before. I threw some tape on it and got it done. No big deal. A little nostalgic really to be doing 100 burpee pull ups with a bloody hand again. And immediately afterward the WOD, my son convinced me to skip lunch and take him on a 1.5 mile trail run with 200 feet of elevation gain. Not that I recommend back-to-back workouts but when you know how to eat one elephant, the second is much the same, I just took the trail one lead-legged step at a time and even managed to grind out that last hill and beat the young guy to the finish line. Elephants: if you can eat one, you can eat them all.
The Rx’d calls for a pull up bar 12” above your reach. Try it if you want a challenge. If 100 pull ups sound like a lot to you or you usually use bands or ring rows, choose a low bar instead or set up a box so that you can do burpee jumping pull ups. If you are doing this from home with no available pull up bar try using a sturdy door frame and do jumping pull ups that way.
1 min Full Body Rock
1 min Lat Pull Ups
Burpee Pull Up
Pull up set up
WOD: G.I. Jane
100 Burpee Pull Ups