What a Workout Might Tell You about Your Next Boyfriend

Guest post today by Nicole Iden.  My friend and generally an amazing person. I feel big gratitude and honor that she is sharing her words for this blog. Enjoy!

There’s strength. And then there’s strength.

I am recently single.

Technically it’s been 2 years, but given that I was with this guy my entire adult life, as a percentage of my total years on earth it feels recent. But that’s a story for another post.

 So I’m recently single, and I hate dating. I’ve gone on what feels like a million dates in the past few years and it all ends up feeling like a rerun of the same old show: we get a drink or a bite, we chat about life, and I try to figure out who this person sitting across from me really is. If we’re at dinner maybe I can see how they treat the waiter. If we’re playing a game, maybe I can see how they deal with winning or losing. But discerning the quality of a person’s character over the course of periodic drinks is a sloooooow process. And I lose patience.

Enter my dear and amazing friends. These friends of mine are invested, often aggressively, in my happiness. And as a recently single woman, many of my friends have focused this love and attention on my dating life. 

“Nicole,” they say, “you need to be dating more. Let me fix you up.”

“I’m not really into it. I’ve been on tons of dates. They’ve been a waste of my time. I’m good, thanks.”

“Let me try,” they say. “Let me fix you up. Now. Do they HAVE to do crossfit?”

“No,” I reply, “not at all. But it helps.”

Then I get the eyebrow raise. “You know Nicole, not every guy you date has to squat like 400 pounds and be all ripped up.”

 And that’s when it hits me. I see now. This dear friend of mine thinks I want a crossfitter because I want the muscles. But that’s not it at all. I want a crossfit (or a weightlifter, or a strongman) for who they are. Not what they look like. I want a crossfitter because it’s so easy to tell what a person is made of when they’re in the gym. Suddenly I don’t need a dozen dates to figure out who you are. We only need a few workouts for me to see right inside of you and for you to see inside me.

Are you the first person to finish the workout? Are you lifting the heaviest weights and moving faster than anyone else in class? Good for you, but I don’t care.

Fast forward 10 minutes to when the very last person is still struggling to finish out every last rep. Are you still there cheering for them? 

That’s what I care about.

What about when the dude squatting next to you hits a 10 pound PR at the weight you’re warming up with? Do you celebrate with him just as loudly as you celebrate your own PR?

When your coach corrects your movement, do you listen with humility and then try your best to do what they cue? What if, God forbid, she tells you to take weight off the bar? Can you put aside your ego and do what she says?

 When you miss a lift or your feet get tangled up during double unders do you throw the rope or the weights like a child throwing a temper tantrum? Or do take a breath, collect yourself and try again. And try again. And try again.

Do you do every single rep called for in the workout? Even when no one is looking and no one is counting and if you did shave a few reps the only person who would ever know is you?

Do you have bear crawl races with the 3-year olds that visit? Do you spot the 6-year olds on the rings and the pullup bar? Do you challenge them to a flex-off?

Do you flirt with the 70 year old grandmother? And then talk to the teenage girls about getting enough to eat and staying safe on social media?

 And if you have a goal – whatever it may be – are you willing to quietly and persistently put in the necessary work? Can you work through that grueling, unsexy, mind-numbing skill work day after day, until eventually, even if it takes weeks or months, you have achieved your muscle-up, your handstand, or your very first pullup?

 We don’t just leave sweat and chalk on the floors of our gyms. We leave bits and pieces of our true self. We leave evidence of who we are, of what our hearts are made of, and what kind of humans we can be.

So dear girlfriend of mine, do I want someone who is physically strong? Of course I do.

But more than that I want someone with a strong spirit, a strong work ethic, and most importantly a strong heart. Someone who elevates others rather than themselves.

That’s the kind of strength that makes me weak in the knees.


Where is your head when you are training?

I recently read Dan John’s Intervention. I am so in love this this book. There are many good insights and tools.

Dan JohnThis is one of my favorite quotes:

“Always strive for a quiet head, efficient movements and a sense of calm while training.” Love.

He goes on to say “True, it is difficult to look elegant with sweat burning in your eyes, but try.” 🙂


I talk to my athletes all the time about being aware of their mind set:

“I can’t do this.”

“This bar is heavy.”

“This sucks.”

Does any of that sound familiar ?  🙂

Do those words at all motivate you to finish your work out or put your best effort forward? No? Me neither.

What if you just stayed in the present moment and dealt with what was right in front of you? What is your focus in the present moment?

  • The next rep that you need to get.
  • That next step you need to take.
  • The motion that you are in now and only right now.
  • Think how amazing it is that your body is responding – trying, working with your mind to get the work done.

There should only be words of encouragement and motivation flowing.

Yeah. It might be hard. Oh well. You will be ok. 🙂

As I have said before about CrossFit, at a minimum you will survive at best you will thrive.

Even if you should fail at this work out (what ever that might mean), what can you be learning from it?

  1. Do I need to be better fueled?
  2. Did I not get good sleep the night before?
  3. How has my stress level been?
  4. Do I need to go back to basics a bit on this lift or move before I add this much intensity again? What do I need help with?

Or really did I just bring the best I had on this day and THAT was all I had? That is perfectly ok.

How are your mental messages when you work out? How aware of you of what is running through your head?


If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

The Crossfit Open 213

I love the CrossFit Open.

I love hearing about people coming together and cheering each other on.

I love anticipation of waiting for each week’s work out being released.

I love being scared about the work out.

I love the strategizing around it.

The Open is like a rally cry.  Its energizing. People get focused, pumped and excited. Not many of us have hopes of the regionals but exciting to be part of the greater CrossFit community, some thing that ties us to CrossFitters around the world.  Its a chance to really test what we have been doing in ways it feels like a daily WOD doesn’t.

I love (yep! another list of love!):

  • the refocus on the standards.
  • practice judging and being judged by the other athletes.
  • the facebook reports of people getting PRs – mulitple times of surprising themselves by what they got done.
  • every one surviving the suck of burpees and snatches together!

and this is just week 1! WHOOP!!

I love the Crossfit Open.

Me Snatching at 12.2
Me Snatching at 12.2
Me at 13.1
Me Snatching at 13.1

All You Wanted to Know about CrossFit – Part 2

In part 1 of this series,  I took a stab at answering the common questions I often get asked around CrossFit as well as providing basic information around what it is and expectations. This week, I will be providing my perspective on some of the issues with CrossFit as I see them.

I love CrossFit. I coach it. However, I am not so blind to see that it is not a perfect system.   First, nothing is perfect and second, it doesn’t do any one any good to blindly cling to dogma about any one system or subject matter.  Keeping an open mind and seeing the pros and cons of something while being able to discuss those things in a reasonable manner is how I try and approach most things..even those things that I hold dear in life.

1. CrossFit CAN be unsafe.

  • The reputation is out there and just like stereotypes it comes about often for good reason. The bar is low to open an affiliate  – $1200 for the Level 1 class plus the $3000 or so to pay for the affliate name to be able to call yourself a CrossFit gym.  Some one with little to no experience training people, programming or little regard for the safety of their athletes can open a gym. It happens. Inexperience with training people and programming and lack of or inadequate concern about safety added to the intensity of CrossFit can be trouble.   Of course, keep in mind that people get injured in regular gyms, sports teams and just being active in life all the time so there can always be risk with physical activity.
  • A frequent criticism is the use of the Olympic lifts for high reps especially at heavier loads as being unsafe and a poor practice.  I don’t come from an Olympic lifting back ground so I don’t feel qualified to comment on if this is the right way to train or not. It was CrossFit that actually introduced me to these lifts. I love them and am fascinated by them.  It was however doing a workout where I did power cleans at 95 lbs where I hurt my back some where around the 45th rep.  Might I have gotten hurt doing something else? Maybe. Will I do high rep, heavy weighted Oly Lifts again?  Probably not.

2.  The programming might not be right for you depending on your goals.


  • The thought behind CrossFit programming is to be random: crossing the spectrum of time domains and a range of activities, preparing you for the “unknown and unknowable”. The idea behind this is to help you get generally better at every thing – referred to as General Physical Preparedness (GPP). It is the opposite of specialization.  The programming may not help every single athlete meet their individualized goal. Not every one will simultaneously get as strong as they want to be or as lean as they want to be on one program. I will say, in general,  though you will get stronger and more than likely leaner (although there are many factors at play for that).  Know what your goals are.  You might need supplemental work to get better in the areas that you want to get better at. (Please don’t think I am recommending CrossFitting 6 days a week and then adding extra cardio or weight lifting! MORE is not better, better is better!)
  • A common complaint from the fitness industry about CrossFit programming is that there is no periodization.  I have found for many, but not all, CrossFit gyms this is true.  In athletic training, there is the training season, the offseason and a prep/improve time.  You don’t need to run at 100% capacity all year around.  Our bodies just aren’t meant for that. Some CrossFit gyms do program in deload weeks to help their athletes recover but it is not a consistent practice. You will need to be smart and monitor yourself around this.
  • It is not sports specific training. If you want to be an Olympic lifter, soccer player, baseball player, etc you will need to spend most of your time doing that. CrossFit can certainly help with the conditioning and mobility but you will need to get better at the skills you need to play your sport.

3. The Clock and The Board. Kick AssAt each CrossFit gym there is a board where scores/times/reps are written down.  Each workout is timed. There are positives to this for sure.  People rise to the occasion in the competitive environment and do more than they thought they could.  Also, there is truth in ‘what gets measured gets improved’. Consistent measuring of workouts helps you to see where you are improving.  All good things. However, the clock some times gets in the way of getting work done. People get overly concerned with what is written on the board and how they did in respect to others in the class or for the day and it can take away from how you feel you did on any given work out.  I feel like some times work outs should be run with out a clock especially with beginners and let them build confidence in their skills and what they can accomplish.  Who cares what the clock is? How much ass did you kick today?! 🙂

4. Drama I think because I fell so in love with CrossFit that I took the drama that I heard about to heart.  De-affliating some really respected fitness industry people, outing and shutting down people who criticize CrossFit HQ and crazy twitter battles really made me question if I wanted to be involved in any way with CrossFit. I had to take a breath and remember that none of that has ANYTHING to do with the athletes at my gym or my gym owner and the type of environment he works to create. I love my CrossFit gym. I love the CrossFit community in Richmond and at each one of the events that I have attended and other boxes I have visited.  I have no idea what the drama and politics are at other corporate headquarters of places I enjoy frequently –  Apple, Facebook, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods –  nor do I care. I have since tuned out the drama and just focused on what I love about this way of working out and the awesome people involved it.

Again, no system, company, ..um.. anything is perfect and CrossFit is no exception to that.

Despite some of the drawbacks I think it is one of the best things out there for challenging people and help them grow to be better in life. I do love it for that reason especially.  I am going to keep coaching it and supporting the amazing community that is CrossFit.

Would love to hear your thoughts on what I presented as the positives and negatives to the phenomenon that is CrossFit.


If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

All you wanted to know about CrossFit Part 1

One question I get asked all the time is “What is CrossFit?”

I typically answer with “How much time do you have?” 🙂

The official description is “Constantly varied functional movement performed at high intensity.”

Um. Ok. What the hell does that mean?

Crossfit. Better than Yesterday

Constantly varied means the types of exercises, the duration and the intensity will change with every work out.  With CrossFit, you can expect to encounter body weight exercises (squats, pull ups, push ups, lunges, situps), Olympic lifts (clean, jerk, snatch), barbell lifts (bench, deadlifts, back squats), Kettlebells, running, rowing, biking, jump roping and gymnastic type movements (handstands, rings, etc).  Just to name a few things. Keeps your body guessing and keeps you from getting bored.

Functional movement opens up a whole can of worms in the trainer/exercise world but I will keep it simple by saying this means using moves that involve most of your body to get the work done and moves that translate to things you do every day (push, pull, squat, press, carry).  You won’t find too many single body movements here – biceps curls, leg extensions, etc. This helps increase fitness level and should keep us motoring longer in life.

High Intensity is the piece that seems to scare people most. It is also the most personal component. People see the CrossFit games and assume that the expectation is that every one at a CrossFit gym MUST be like that.  Not at all. The intensity is set by you. That is dictated by your current conditioning, how consistently you are moving with good technique, your personal goals and what you bring to the gym on any given day.  It can mean that while one person in the class is sprinting 400 meters, another athlete is walking to the 100 meter mark and back as that is intense enough for them to do.  It is all good and you will get cheered and supported with what ever intensity you bring.

Answers to other questions you may be asking:

  • You don’t need to be in shape to start. That is the point of going to get stronger, fitter.
  • You also don’t need special skills in order to start. Just show up and be willing to learn.
  • Yes, there are people of all ages, shapes, sizes and genders that go.  (Moms, Dads, single people, married people, skinny people, fat people, people who have never worked out before, former high school/collegiate athletes, fit people, gym rats, teens and kids, brothers, sisters, people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, stay at home people, people who work part time, people who work full time,  etc)  ALL ARE WELCOME.
  • No, Its not all like it is on TV. CrossFit can be a work out or it can be a sport. Most people do not perform at the level of the world class athletes you see on ESPN2.  CrossFit gyms are mostly filled with your average (fabulous!) person who wants to come in an be better: healthier, stronger, fitter, etc.
  • No matter what I say to you before hand you will be scared before your first CrossFit workout.  It is ok. Fear is just an emotion. You will be ok. 🙂
  • Cost. CrossFit will cost you more than your average gym. You are essentially paying for group personal training.  Each gym has their own cost structure but it normally ranges from $120-170/month depending on how many times you go each week and other things that may or may not be included. Typically this works out to about $10-15 per class.

You know if you are at a good CrossFit gym when:

  • There is an on boarding program where you learn correct technique and to move safely
  • The coaches know your name, stress safety and technique and are encouraging (and hopefully friendly!)
  • There should be no pressure to lift heavy before you move well.
  • The community should feel welcoming, not judging
  • Eventually you are moving better and hopefully more pain free

My personal experience:

Kara being zen with the barbell
That’s ME!!

What I love about CrossFit:

  1. The Growth – Facing something that scares you and getting through it makes you grow plus I have learned so much about working out and human movement since I started CrossFit. I am better for it.
  2. The Community – I love knowing the people at my gym, having them know my name and encouraging and supporting each other through some really mentally and physically tough work outs.
  3. The Olympic lifts – I had never had any exposure to these before CrossFit. Now I am obsessed.
  4. The Strength – I am stronger and have more muscle than I did before I started. It is the intensity and work I had been looking for my whole life but never knew I was missing. 🙂  Plus focusing on being stronger makes me so much happier than focusing on being skinnier.

I hope this addresses some your questions about what CrossFit is. If it doesn’t feel free to post them down below.  As Jen Grabham said in her interview on ZenBarbell “Take a leap of faith and just try it.”  You will be so glad you did.

Current CrossFitters, I would love to hear if I missed anything or if you would like to share your story about how you started with CrossFit that would be great too!

Stay tuned for next week when I give my thoughts on the dark side of CrossFit. 😮


If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

Interview with CrossFit Coach Jen Grabham

This month on ZenBarbell, I interview Jen Grabham, one of the owners of West End Crossfit. I met Jen for the first time in the Short Pump Lululemon Store when we were both ambassadors for that store at the same time. While not its not the CrossFit gym where I coach, I often stop by West End CrossFit for a workout or just to chat about coaching/CrossFit stuff. Jen and Tim have always made me feel completely welcome at their gym.  I love that they are so open to sharing, growing the greater CrossFit community and helping everyone get better.

Jen prepping for a lift
Jen prepping for a lift

I wanted to interview Jen as she exemplifies many of the values that Zen Barbell is all about. She is one hell of a coach (caring, thoughtful, creative, motivating and I consistently learn when I am around her) and she is a bad ass. This woman lifts heavy weights very well. (Can’t you tell by how big and bulky she is?! ha!)

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself Jen.

Hahaha, not too much to tell.  I’m a wife, mother of 2, and an individual who is passionate about helping other people realize their potential.

2. How did you come across CrossFit? What did you connect with about it enough that you wanted to have your own box? Did you grow up being athletic? 
I first learned about CrossFit roughly 5 years ago through a friend who was a Navy EOD specialist.  I was a personal trainer at the time at a local YMCA.  The day I decided to visit CrossFit.com to find out what our friend was so excited about, the WOD was 30 muscle ups for time.  I immediately dismissed CrossFit based solely off of this one workout.  I had no idea there were scaling and modification options.  Tim finally convinced me to try a benchmark wod about a month later.  “Cindy” was my first go at CrossFit.  I was a gym rat.  I spent no less than an hour and a half in the gym on any given day.  I just knew there was no way this 20 minute WOD would challenge me.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Seven minutes in I was ready to cry Uncle!  I was immediately hooked. Initially,  I really connected with the competitiveness of CrossFit.  I was a Division I athlete and CrossFit was the closest I had come to that “rush” since graduating college.  As far as finally coming to a decision to open up our own box?  My ultimate goal in life has always been to help other people.  I never knew in what capacity until I became a personal trainer.  CrossFit just seemed like a natural fit.  It produced tangible, measurable results and was concerned with a TOTAL approach towards a healthy lifestyle.  I did grow up being athletic.  Volleyball became my passion once I got to high school.

3. How often do you encounter the argument that women shouldn’t lift heavy? Why do you think this is so prevalent? Do you think it is starting to change?  
I, along with our other coaches, encounter this argument with nearly every woman who walks through our doors who is a newcomer to CrossFit.  I do believe media plays a huge role in women not wanting to lift heavy for fear of “bulking up.”  We are flooded with images of women in magazines and in TV commercials who are thin with little to no muscle tone.  The “cute” clothes are made for those with no ass, no thighs, no shoulders and no lats.  Ask any woman who lifts how much of a nightmare it is to shop for a great fitting pair of jeans.  🙂  Traditionally, the skinny body type is praised and desired and the muscular body type is criticized.  I do think this is slowly starting to change and I think CrossFit has played a monumental role in this change!  Quite honestly, all body types deserve to be praised.  All bodies are not created equally!  The healthy, beautiful, strong body has MANY different shapes and sizes and deserves to be celebrated never criticized.

4. What are the big differences, if any, do you notice in training women vs training men?

Honestly, it’s a pretty level playing field. We have women who are JUST as competitive and driven to lift more weight and better themselves as their male counterparts. I think it’s more individualized differences among members not male/female differences.

5. How important is mind set in training? In life in general? What has helped you most in your life in learning about mindset (books, people, movies, etc)?

I think this is where a lot of people miss the mark. Mindset in training is CRUCIAL. We’ve all had the experience of looking at a WOD and low and behold ALL of our goats are listed. The success of that WOD is dependent on how an individual mentally approaches it. They can defeat themselves from the beginning with “I can’t” or “I suck” or look at it as opportunity to challenge themselves and step outside that comfort zone. Experience has taught me most about mindset in life and of course CrossFit. I’ve been both. I’ve been negative and positive. The positive is much more difficult but elicits the MOST return! Negativity also sucks the life out of those around you. Who wants to be a life suck?? I highly recommend Words by Lisbeth. She has a knack for telling it like it is and I think her blog resonates with people through all walks of life.

6. What advice would you give to some one who might be interested in trying CrossFit but is too nervous or feels like they need to get into better shape first? Take a leap of faith and just try it. Scout your local boxes. All have their own unique vibe. Find what fits your personality and needs. Those with concerns about having to “get into shape” first? The intro sessionshould leave these individuals feeling like they could have done a little more. Everyone knows CrossFit can kick your ass. There’s plenty of time for that! But how many amazing success stories might you miss out on if you design an intro session that leaves the previously sedentary individual defeated before they’ve even begun? Find a box where the coach is willing to put in the time and effort to scale and modify wod’s to accommodate your current fitness level. This is imperative to success!

Jen coaching athlete
Jen coaching one of her athletes in competition

Any other parting words or thoughts?

I feel very fortunate to be a part of so many different journeys and to have a staff who values every single member’s progress.



Jen coaches at and co-owns West End CrossFit which is located at 3641 Cox Road SUITE Henrico, VA 23233.  You can also find WECF on Facebook!



If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

A Moment of Competition

This past weekend I participated in the Superfit Crossfit competition in Charlottesville, VA.
Going in to the competition, I was not worried about the work outs as it was all weights I could handle and skills that I comfortably have but I was surprised by how I was left gasping on the floor after each one.  While comfortable with the movement, the workouts where short and intense and harder than I though they would be.
For most of the moments I was able to stay where I wanted to be – in the moment. Before my first workout, I stepped on the floor, as the timer counted down my judge happened to say “Don’t forget to have fun!”  I was grateful.  It immediately reminded me to breathe and smile.

As I picked up the barbell again and againbreathe, power, gratitude, smile

As I felt my lungs burningbreathe, gratitude, smile

As I felt my heart poundingbreathe, gratitude, smile

As I negotiated one more rep from myselfbreathe, power, gratitude, smile

I know I showed up and gave what I had. It doesn’t really matter to me that I placed near the bottom. I had my friends there, which was so fabulous, providing all kinds of encouragement and support. I love what my body did for me over the weekend and how I just enjoyed the process of it all.

Feeling nervous at all about an upcoming event? Try these tips:

1. Go in with Gratitude for what ever your body is about to help you do.

2. Breathe.  It helps put you in the here and now so that you can be present and caught up in the stories running through your head

3. Smile.  It reminds you to have fun and enjoy the process. It also releases mental tension so that your energy can go where it belongs – into your body to fuel your heart, lungs and muscles. Plus it makes your fellow competitors suspicious.  🙂


If you want to learn more about loving who you are and getting peace with your body but aren’t sure how to do that, let Zen Barbell help you! Check out the 30 Days to Stop Hating Your Body program here.  

No. What can you REALLY do?

Do you ever read a blog post or a status update that breaks your heart? The other day I read a blog post from Nia Shanks that just socked me in the gut. It talked about a woman she was working out with and complaining that she wasn’t seeing results. As Nia patiently watched her, it was clear that she wasn’t lifting to her full potential. She didn’t know what intensity really was. Yet, she was in the gym loyally many days a week putting in the work like she knew she should.

I did that for years. I have loved lifting for a very long time. I spent hours a week in the gym, week after week, year after year. Never getting to what I thought I should. I learned most of my weight lifting from magazines like Shape, Oxygen and Muscle&Fitness Hers. They gave me the exercises and the sets and reps but could not convey what working hard REALLY felt like. I never had an in person coach or mentor to help me see what I was capable of. I know some people discover this all on their own but I tend to be Ms. Comfort Zone or Ms. Consistent Energy – carefully throttling my energy so I know I can make it comfortably all the way through my sets/reps/workout. That means I rarely pushed myself as I needed.

Until I found Crossfit. I was shown true intensity. I really for the first time was able to test what I could do.
I am stronger now than I ever have been before in my life and I love it.
Yes, I wish I would have had crossfit or a coach that would have keyed me into this YEARS ago but I didn’t. I have it now and I plan to make the most of it that I can for as long as I possibly can.

  • Weight training does too many good things for your body to be half-assing your way through workouts.
  • Are you doing what you are fully capable of in the gym?

    1) Get a mentor (a coach, a personal trainer who is worth a damn, a friend who can push you, a great lifting partner): some one who can watch and help push you further than you thought you could go. The feedback and insight is invaluable.

    2) Test yourself Yes, 10 reps of a back squat at 85lbs might feel like enough but put 10, 15, 20 more pounds on the bar and see if you can step up to the challenge. Safety first and always, of course!

    3) Growth comes from being uncomfortable. If you are comfy with your routine in the gym but you are wanting to continue to get better then change it up.