Today I completed my first “Fran” and I did it Rx. If that makes no sense to you I feel your pain. Several months ago that wouldn’t have made any sense to me either. Before I go further I need to warn you that my language is, at times, going to get a bit rough so hit the little X in the upper right to exit my page if that is going to bother you.
Fran is a workout said to have been named after a hurricane. Greg Glassman, the founder of Crossfit, is quoted as saying “If a hurricane that wreaks havoc on a whole town can be Fran, so can a workout.”
In Crossfit a number of workout standards are given female names. Fran is just one of them. Besides just being one of many Crossfit, nomenclature, marketing/branding terms that drive many non-Crossfitters nuts, Glassman says the workout names were given as a shortcut so people didn’t have to say what the workout was every time. Instead of saying it’s 21 front squats to an overhead press (thrusters) done contiguously followed by 21 chin-over-bar pullups done contiguously followed by 15 front squats to an overhead press (thrusters) done contiguously followed by 15 chin-over-bar pullups done contiguously followed by 9 front squats to an overhead press (thrusters) done contiguously followed by 9 chin-over-bar pullups done contiguously – once you know this is called Fran you just call it Fran – it’s shorthand and easier.
So today I completed my first-ever Fran – and as I said – I did it “Rx.” In Crossfit “Rx” just means “as prescribed.” Fran calls for men to use a barbell with weight totaling 95 pounds. Women use 65 total pounds. For pullups you have to get your chin over the bar when you’re up and you have to lower to full elbow extension (no short stroking) with no external assistance. If, as a man, you use 95 pounds and you do the pullups, unassisted with complete range of motion, you are said to have done it “Rx.” If, as a woman, you use 65 pounds with all of the elements in place (no assistance allowed) then you are said to have done it “Rx.” Not everyone can do it Rx and that’s perfectly fine. That’s called scaling and one can scale the load or add assistance to the pullups however is necessary. This is extremely common in Crossfit and necessary for many reasons I won’t go into here but which are probably pretty obvious if you think about it.
Now let me back up a bit and share with you how I felt about this workout prior to going into it. I was nervous as shit!
I’ve heard from many people that Fran is one of the worst, ass-kicker workouts and it’s like having your foot mashed to the floor on the accelerator of an automobile the entire time.
There’s just something about knowing you are going to go all out and, in this case, a big part of that all out means your heart is going to be beating out of your chest and you are going to feel so out of breath you’ll question your existence or at least why you ever agreed or decided to do this workout.
I did this first Fran at Crossfit Instinct here in Springfield, IL. I asked Coach Caroline to guide me through the warm up and to monitor and motivate as I went through it. I’ve been training for 32 years, non-stop. I’ve been a state champion powerlifter. I’ve squatted 600 pounds. I’ve gotten my body fat down to 3.9%, competed and done well at the state level of bodybuilding. I’ve run 5k races and done well. I became a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist in 2000. I’ve Coached adults and teens in lifting, fitness, weight management and more for decades now. Even so? Fran and the types of workouts and training I’m doing now include plenty of new movement patterns I’m not used to. I tell my students all the time to get specialized help, shorten the learning curve, spend the money and learn how to do it right – fill in the blanks of what you don’t know no matter how much you already know. Why should I be any different? I’m not. I know a lot. But I for damn certain don’t know it all. I’m incredibly respectful of that fact.
So Caroline asked how I was feeling at the start of our session and I was honest – “Sick to my stomach.” Now I wasn’t actually sick to my stomach but I had a nervous gut for sure. So I warmed up, did a little mobility work and, because I wanted to, we worked on some overhead squat technique, not enough to tire me out but enough to accomplish the goal and also to help continue to loosen me up. At nearly 50 years of age it just takes a bit more warming up and full-range movement patterns to get these joints ready.
Next we began the actual real warmup to prepare for Fran. This included some rowing, light kettlebell swings and box jumps. I’m a data geek so I decided to wear a heart-rate monitor the entire time. I don’t normally but I really wanted to see what was going on with this workout. Caroline said the goal of this warmup was to have me feeling upwards of 75% like I was already in a tough workout – prior to starting Fran. This, I’ve learned, is common and helps not only the body be truly ready to perform but it helps the mind be ready to work incredibly hard without freaking out – without panicking.
Then, with my heart rate sitting near 150, Caroline says “So do you want about a minute or 90 seconds before we start?” Well hells bells a part of me was thinking – “Jesus, I feel like I’ve already done a mini-workout, now I have to start this hell-on-earth Fran workout?” But I’ve been training Crossfit once a week for the past five months and the intellectual in me knew getting truly warmed up and prepared this way was best. So without further adieu the clock started counting down, the calm before the storm was here and senses of panic, dread and excitement were all present.
10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-GO! And off I went. Picked up the barbell from the floor and began my thrusters. My plan was to do 12 reps, rest a bit, then 6 reps, rest a bit and then 3 reps to knock out the first 21. And I’ll be damned – that’s exactly what I did. By the time I finished the 21 thrusters my heart rate was over 170 – I checked my watch. Seasoned Crossfitters will tell you, during your “rest” to take about 2-3 breaths and then pick the bar up and go again. Well I’m not seasoned and my goal was to stay calm, not panic and not max out my heart rate (about 180 bpm) too early. So my thought was I’d do 12 reps, drop the bar and take about 12 breaths. Then I thought I’d do 6 reps and take 6 breaths, then 3 reps to finish round 1 of Thrusters. My breaths weren’t perfectly in line with this but pretty close.
Now it was time to do 21 pullups. My plan was to do those the same as the thrusters, 12-6-3 with my breathing during rests about the same. And I’ll be damned I did that too with my breathing pretty close to my plan. Now my heart rate was hitting upper 170s every time I finished a set of reps. Even when I was back to the bar my heart rate never dipped below 170.
First round of pullups were done and it was back to Thrusters. I can’t lie. I dreaded this second round as I approached it. In my “plan” I wasn’t sure if I’d want to do 8 reps, rest, and then 7 reps to complete the 15 or if I’d want to do 5-5-5. I chose 5-5-5. But instead of my breaths, during my rests, being about 5 breaths and back to the bar it was more like do 5 reps and then take 10-15 breaths during the rest. It was REALLY sucking. My heart rate hit 181 here. The damn, dreaded middle phase. I got through it. And when I did, for a moment, I had that sense after getting through the 15 thrusters that I was on the downhill run – “just” 15 pullups and then 9 thrusters and 9 pullups remaining.
Back to pullups for 15. I knocked those out with 8 reps, rest and then 7 reps. I had a realization after doing this that I was better at pullups than the damn thrusters.
Time for the final 9 reps of thrusters. This is where Coaching comes in. What did I “feel” like doing? Maybe 5, rest, then 4. Nope. Caroline says something to the effect “All 9, no stopping, just get through it!” I kid you not I thought in my delirium “You’ve got to be fuckin kidding me!” But that push was just enough and instead of stopping at 5 I got to 6 and “rested” with the bar fully extended above my head, two quick breaths and then 3 more REALLY tough reps and it was DONE!
Now the last of the pullups, 9 reps, and I’ll be done! I took a good 10 breaths after the last thruster but I had a sense that since this was my last movement, and last reps, I was just going to knock out all 9 without stopping no matter what. And I’ll be damned – that’s what I did. “Time!” Caroline says. “7:22!”
I rarely get sick to my stomach no matter how hard I breathe but I was starting to feel it then – not terribly but it was there. I took a step outside and got some cold, fresh air for a few seconds, then back in to walk it off. It took SEVERAL minutes for my heart rate to get anywhere near pleasant – that was a tough ass workout – but it was done!
So as a bit of an epilogue I’ll say I’m happy with my 7:22 first-time out. But you know what I’m as happy about or maybe even more happy about? With all of my low-back problems (disc issues) my low back didn’t hurt at all. I had no injuries. I was a bit tired (15-20 mins post-Fran) but I felt, otherwise, fine. That is huge for me! No back pain – after that! I didn’t wear a belt of any kind either – six months ago I wouldn’t have thought about doing that without a belt to protect my low back.
So now what? I’m going to continue doing Crossfit once a week. As for my other training days I’ll do bodybuilding three days a week and low-impact tough cardio (elliptical, Airdyne, rower) three days a week. I’ve got to watch my joints and pay close attention to cues my body is telling me. So far so good. I’ve got a long ways to go and need, mostly, to work on my general aerobic capacity. I am, it’s improving, and I just need to keep training for both the aerobic and anaerobic stimulus and response I’m looking for. As it takes months and years to become really strong it also takes months and years to get a really strong aerobic system. No short cuts. I just have to be consistent, show up every time, do the hard work and the results will follow.
Thank you Caroline for the coaching, cues when my head was in panic mode, and for the motivation!