What does it mean to be “cerebral”?

Typical WOD face: It looks like I’m about to cry. Wah-wahhhhh! (Photo courtesy of Crossfit Southwest Portland.)

I’m no stranger to being called cerebral.

A few years ago, someone wanted to hire me at a television station to represent a program that was hosted by a really smart feminist activist. Their explanation as to why they wanted me to represent that show rather than the entertainment sections? Because, they told me, I was more cerebral. As in, I have an education. I have an advanced education, I can be well-spoken (when I want to be), I’m good around people (again, when I want to be), and apparently my level of intelligence is obvious when you meet me. Hmm.

I mulled that over, because at first, I was totally offended. Okay, so they won’t give the chick who has a masters the fun shows because it might be too pedestrian for her? This, to the gal who freebases Bravo like there’s no tomorrow when she visits her cable-paying parents.

And then I was like, Okay, they think I’m smart. Cool. 

But that was pretty much the last time I had heard the word “cerebral” in relation to ME. Until the other day.

Anybody who has battled a particularly brutal WOD with me knows that I have the tendency to make a lot of hideous noises when I’m putting forth a lot of effort. I don’t know why I do it…it’s sort of an automatic, unconscious reaction, and I know it sounds stupid and I know it makes me look weird, too.

Here’s another thing that happens to me: I have, like, super extreme emotions when I’m Crossfitting. There’s no other word for it. And they’re normally negative emotions, because it’s not every day you can PR and be super excited. Normally, this means that I look at whatever time or number I have to beat, don’t PR, and then get extremely upset. Or, I get really close, and then get burned out from lifting and lifting and lifting until I can’t lift anymore and am mentally and physically shot. Or, I just baaaarely miss that PR, and I pretty much start running in circles and screaming. “Intense” may even be an understatement. When I was at Crossfit Southwest Portland, I was putting forth so much effort at times (i.e., trying to flip a 600# tire…bad idea), that I got super lightheaded and almost passed out.

Obviously, this behavior isn’t the healthiest, but it’s pretty much the only way I’ve found to deal with my failures or my efforts at Crossfit.

The other day, I was part of an uncharacteristically small class—me and two other people—which meant that there was a lot more one-on-one time with Dean than normal.

We had to do a few things: Snatches, front squats, chin-ups. The snatches…as soon as I got to 65# (very light, I know), I started burning out physically. I pressed out the first rep, and then just couldn’t even get the second, third, fourth, etc., reps overhead because I was just thinking about it too much and trying too hard. I’ve had a hard time with my snatch (hehehe!) for a long time, and it just doesn’t seem to be getting any easier.

On to front squats, which would be my strongest movement of the triplet. I knock out a set of three at 95#, when Dean told me to go heavier because it looked far too easy.

As he watched me on my second set (100#) and then third set (105#), he stopped to tell me this:

It’s okay to make noise sometimes, but I really want to get you to a place with your WODs where it’s more…cerebral.

There it was…that word again.

I want you to try to calm down a little during the WODs…I don’t want you to keep on releasing this stress hormone, because it ends up making you feel down after a workout, which is the opposite of where you should be. And try smiling between sets.

First of all, how could you NOT love Dean? He’s always looking out for us.

But really, he had a very good point that has made me think a lot (obviously, since I’m writing a post about it…). I’m not sure if he actually meant cerebral, as in the intellectual sense, but I think he meant that it would be really beneficial to me to find my Zen spot when I’m working out…to look at it as a peaceful, cleansing experience, even if I’m putting forth crazy effort. That I need to relax a little bit and not take everything so seriously.

Another point…the stress. I am almost always under an incredible amount of stress from school and the five billion jobs I work. Part of the reason I Crossfit is to offload some of that stress, to work it out. But why should I go to Crossfit if THAT’S only going to stress me out more? It’s not good for my brain, and it certainly isn’t good for my body if it’s going to release tons of cortisol!

So, then, what does it mean to be “cerebral”?

In this case, I think that being cerebral would be to choose intellect (or calm) over emotion (or hurt, stress, extremes).

How am I going to do this?

You know…I have no idea. I’ve lived the last few years under stress. And under go-go-go-go-go during WODs. I get competitive. I let things get under my skin. How will I, all of a sudden, just….stop? I think part of my journey will need to be having healthy expectations of myself. When I was in Portland, I PR’d ONCE over the SIX weeks I was there. And when I PR’d I couldn’t believe it! I think that, for me, that would be a healthier way to look at things. It’s not possible to PR every workout, so I can’t get upset when it doesn’t happen.

I also need to stop comparing myself to others. I do what I can, not what the affiliate team can, you know?

And, of course, I can start smiling in between sets. I think that’d help a lot.


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Exuberant photographer, artist, writer, designer, wannabe chef, and Crossfitter.

3 thoughts on “What does it mean to be “cerebral”?”

  1. I’m so glad I found this blog, it’s inspirational to know that there are people out there like me (though I haven’t started my crossfit journey yet) so there is hope! I also struggle with extreme emotions when I’m working out, and I also take things too seriously. How have you managed to get ‘more cerebral’?
    Thanks again, I really appreciate your sharing!

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